The KPH Project

In cooperation with the  Point Reyes National Seashore, part of the National Park Service, the Maritime Radio Historical Society has taken on the job of preserving and restoring KPH, one of the most famous coast stations in the world.

KPH began its life at the dawn of radio. Its first home was the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, from which it derived its first call letters, PH. After the 1906 earthquake and fire the station moved to several locations. These included Green Street in San Francisco (where the neighbors were kept awake by the crashing din of the rotary gap), Hillcrest in Daily City (where the operators were plagued by the local skunks) and Marshall, on the east shore of Tomales Bay at the long wave receiving station. Eventually the KPH transmitters found a permanent home on the mesa west of the small town of Bolinas while the receiving station and control point was established on the mesa of Point Reyes.

Along the way federal regulators added the K prefix to the original PH, creating KPH, one of the most famous radio call signs in the world.

Radio operators ashore and afloat came to regard KPH as "the wireless giant of the Pacific". Only the best operators worked at KPH. They were there 24 hours a day, ready to help with everything from the mundane messages of maritime commerce to urgent requests for assistance from ships in distress.

The KPH signal literally spanned the globe. Radio operators on ships in the far corners of the world were comforted by the steady signal of KPH in their earphones.

As technology progressed the end of Morse code was predicted many times. But KPH soldiered on providing good, reliable service to the maritime community. The end came at Bolinas in 1997 when Globe Wireless purchased the license and the big transmitters were finally shut down. On July 12, 1999 Globe Wireless sent the last commercial messages in Morse code from KFS, their master station near Half Moon Bay. It was the last time the famous call KPH would be heard on the air - or so it was thought.

Click HEREfor a report on what it was like to be at KFS on the last day of commercial Morse in North America.

Today the former KPH facilities are part of the Point Reyes National Seashore which has a strong interest in the important role the station played in the history of radio communications. The Maritime Radio Historical Society has been working with the Point Reyes National Seashore to preserve and restore KPH with the goal of eventually creating a museum dedicated to this great station that was once heard throughout the world.

On 12 July 2000 KPH returned to the air from its original location, using its original equipment and its original frequencies - generously made available by Globe Wireless, the current owner of the KPH license and operator of the equally famous KFS from which the last commercial Morse message was sent.

Veteran operators, radio engineers and those with an interest in radio history gathered at the Bolinas transmitter building to watch the station come on the air one year and one minute after the last Morse transmission from Half Moon Bay. Commemorative messages were sent by hand by the operators who once stood watch at the station. Contact was made with several of the last remaining ships still equipped for Morse transmission.

It was a moving occasion that we came to call "the night of nights".

We have assembled a collection of pictures showing KPH at various points in its history for your viewing pleasure. Take an armchair tour of KPH and see how this great coast telegraph station evolved through the years. Enjoy...

- Historic -

Photos documenting the history of KPH from 1919 through the 1970s. See the buildings, equipment and operating personnel of KPH in its glory years. Most of these have never before been publicly available.

- KPH Today -

Pictures of KPH as it appears today including the buildings, transmitter gallery and control room at Bolinas, antenna fields and the artifacts that remain from the great days of the Alexanderson alternator.

-Night of Nights -

KPH returned to the air one year and one minute after the last commercial Morse message was sent in North America - and 3 years after the station was shut down and left for dead! In a memorable event that we called the "Night of Nights" veteran operators once again sat at the key of KPH to send commemorative messages that were heard worldwide. Join them for an inside look at this great event.

- Jack Martini's Journals -

Jack Martini "DM" was the last manager of KPH. He worked under Frank Geisel, "Mr. KPH", and was one of Frank's "pillars of strength" along with Ray Smith. When Jack became manager of the station he didn't know he would be the last in a distinguished line. But when it fell to him to finally close the station he left all the receivers on to keep a symbolic watch over the airwaves. That tells you a lot about the kind of man Jack is and how he felt about his job and KPH.

Jack kept a journal during his time at KPH. We are privileged to present it here. Read about what life was really like at KPH in its glory days.


View all images as a slideshow

KPH Mashall

KPH Mashall
KPH Mashall

Here's a later version of the KPH operating position at Marshall, thought be be taken in the 1930s.  The IP 501 receiver has been relegated to a shelf while pride of place is occupied by a home made medium frequency (MF) receiver in front of the operator to the left.  This receiver was said to be very sensitive but not very selective.  To the right is the man himself, Frank Geisel, the most famous manager of KPH.  A welcome addition is the horn speaker, allowing the operators to dispense with their earphones at least occasionally.  The land line sounder remains in prominent view.  Perhaps most striking is the kitchen clock - without silent period markings - as the station time piece.

Courtesy of Point Reyes National Seashore Museum

KPH CW Operating Room

KPH CW Operating Room
KPH CW Operating Room

This is the MF position in the 1960s which was in the corner of the room where position 4 now is.  Note elaborate arrangement for running long punched paper tapes, the creed keying head in the lower right and old style message rack.

Courtesy of Point Reyes National Seashore Museum

KPH Hillcrest Interior

 KPH Hillcrest Interior
KPH Hillcrest Interior

Here's a wonderful view of the operating position at Hillcrest.  There's lots to see here.  Note the Marconi 106 receiver to the left on the operating table with a one stage audio amplifier to the right.  Overhead is the main antenna disconnect/lightning switch operated by ropes.  On the wall is another large antenna knife switch.  What are presumed to be the transmitter control panels are on the right.  But most notable to the modern viewer is the hard to see grip of a revolver in its holster nailed to the right leg of the operating table.  We wondered for a long time about the purpose of this pistol.  But Richard Johnstone, who was an operator at Hillcrest, talks about it in his wonderful book "My San Francisco Story".  It turns out it was used to control "our little black and white friends", the skunks that liked to hide under the building!

KPH Hillcrest

 KPH Hillcrest
KPH Hillcrest

MRHS members Mike Johnson and Richard Dillman set out to find the location of Hillcrest, using an old map and their best guesses.  Upon arriving at the location they were deeply disappointed to find the top of the hill occupied by an exclusive gated community, the occupants of which were doubtless unaware of the historic spot they occupy.

KPH Hillcrest

 KPH Hillcrest
KPH Hillcrest

Not being quitters, Johnson and Dillman bushwhacked around to the north side of the hill.  There they founf an indentation in the ground and antique concete foundations.  Could it be?

Frank Geisel, Mr. KPH

Frank Geisel, Mr. KPH
Frank Geisel, Mr. KPH