Why write this book? Contents of the book People who made this possible People who influenced the author Dedicated to: About Dan K. Phillips

A Historic Visit to Cape Cod, MA

THE DISTANT LISTENER
E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips


1. Preface (Four Corners )

Includes photographs of Four Corners and the background of why Dan wrote this book.

2. The Photographer - (Tucumcari, N.M.)

Dan goes to Tucumcari, New Mexico, to visit the photographer who took Ian Frazier's picture for the the book Great Plains

3. An Outlaw and a Politician - (Las Vegas, N.M.)

He travels to the Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider Museum to visit the "smartest lady in the world."

4. The Blues Brothers - (Las Vegas, Nevada )

Who would have guessed that riding an airplane-dressed as Shumu the whale-, would take him to the mysterious rhealm of multi-millionaire Howard Hughes.

5. Mysterious Adventures With Mark Twain - (Reno. Nevada )

Read some weird stories of a bunch of "wild consultants" who spend a week in Nevada exploring!

6. The Poet - (San Francisco, CA. )

This story describes his first visit to San Francisco to celebrate a wedding anniversary. He discovers the "ghost" of Jack Kerouac and hits several other literary high spots while here.

7. The Distant Listener - (Cape Cod, MA. )

Visiting Cape Cod,he discovers Henry Beston and Gugliemo Marconi. This leads to a history lesson on the beginning of radio listening and a unique baker (Ollie Ross) known to have picked up every radio station in the world. Was Ollie Ross for real?

8. Hermit of the Essex Coast - ((Jekyll Island, Georgia )

Jekyll Island is a special place for Dan. Study the billionaires who inhabited this island every winter. Listen to their stories of richness and pettiness.

9. A Writer and A Preacher - (Savannah, Georgia )

Did you know that the sign indicating where Flannery O'Connor was born is really a lie? And did you know John Wesley once fell in love here and caused a major disturbance because of this love affair. If you have read The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you need to read The Writer and the Preacher to capture even more weird tales of Savannah.

10. Patti's - The Best Restaurant in the World (Grand Rivers, KY.)

This is Dan's favorite eating place in all the world. Read this story and discover how a pot-bellied pig named Calvin Swine became the symbol of great American cooking.

E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips

 

On a map Cape Cod looks like a deformed claw hung in the middle of the ocean. It is a ragged arm tattered by a contemputuous sea. In summer the heat is sweltering. In winter, northeasterners play havoc with the playthings of summer. Cape Cod is 2,521 air miles from Four Corners.

I went to Cape Cod to visit Henry Beston's cabin, to see the place where Marconi transmitted his first transatlantic radio signal to England, and to visit an old friend - Ernest "Lefty" Cooper.

We spent the night in Dennis Port at the Colonial Village."Meeting rooms. Fireplace. Oven in cottages. Private beach," said the Mobile Travel Guide. The private beach (I thought it meant it was on the beach) was a mile away and was just beach access at another hotel.


THE OUTERMOST HOUSE



Saturday morning I began hunting for Beston, Marconi, and Cooper.

According to Beston's book, The Outermost House, written in 1928, he said, "My house stood by itself atop a dune, a little less than halfway south on Eastham bar. I drew the home-made plans for it myself and it was built for me by a neighbor and his carpenters."

In a 1964 ceremony on the dunes, the Outermost House was proclaimed a National Literary Landmark:

"The Outermost House in which Henry Beston, author-naturalist, wrote his classic book by that name herein he sought the great truth and found it in the nature of man. This plaque dedicated October 11, 1964 by a grateful citizenry, at a ceremony denoting the outermost house a National Literary Landmark."

The plaque was signed by Endicott Peabody, Governor of Massachusetts, and Stewart L. Udall, Secretary of Interior.

At Eastham, I stopped at the tourist information center and asked for directions to "The Outermost House." The middle-aged patron behind the desk, with a note of perplexity on her brow, said, "Sir, I'm sorry, but it blew away during a storm in the 70s, but if you follow this road by our information house for a half of a mile and follow the path toward the ocean you can see where it was."

I followed her directions along a thin path that led to the the Atlantic Ocean. I walked through a field of purple wildflowers, and in the distance I could see the ocean and a sandbar. With camera ready, I photographed a distant, imaginary spot where Henry Beston lived. I never found the historic marker.


THE MARCONI SITE



At South Wellfleet, a small sign signaled the entrance: "MARCONI STATION SITE -- NO BEACH ACCESS. Site of first United States Transatlantic Wireless telegraph station. Built in 1901-1902."

Guglielmo Marconi, known as the Father of Radio, was the first person to send a signal across the Atlantic by radio. That pioneering feat, in December 1901, won Marconi the Nobel Prize for Physics. Marconi (1874-1937) was an electrical engineer and inventor from Italy, the son of an Italian nobleman.

As a youth Marconi studied the scientific accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison. He successfully transmitted wireless telegraph signals as early as 1890 - between tin plates mounted on posts in his father's garden in Italy. He was 16 years old.

Inspired by his short-range successes, Marconi gradually increased the distance between transmitters and receivers: In 1895 - one mile; in 1899 - 20 miles from a ship to the shore; then a signal across the English Channel. His premier dream was to send a signal across the Atlantic Ocean.

In December of 1901, at his Newfoundland station, Marconi received the first transatlantic signal; the letter "s" tapped out from a station in England.

On January 18, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, using Marconi's equipment, sent a message from the South Wellfleet Station on Cape Cod to King Edward VII at Poldhu Station (Cornwall, England). It was to be the first two-way transoceanic communication and the first wireless telegram between America and Europe. The message was as follows:

"In taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity which has been achieved in perfecting a system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on behalf of the American People most cordial greetings and good wishes to you and to all the people of the British Empire."

Theodore Roosevelt, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, Jan. 19, 1903

Few people understood the importance of this event. No one could see a need for a radio. A radio? For what? To listen to all night talk shows, or political addresses, or baseball games? This futuristic thinking in 1903 meant nothing.

The night of April 14, 1912, changed everything. An American Marconi operator received a distress signal from the Titanic - the world's most technologically advanced ship. The operator noted that this "unsinkable" ship was sinking fast in the freezing darkness off the coast of Newfoundland. Many lives were saved because of these radio messages. The value of radio was never questioned again. The operator of Marconi's station was David Sarnoff, who later became the president of RCA and helped shape the evolution of radio and electronics in the United States and around the world.

A small monument with a reproduction of Marconi's head stood prominently in view beside the replica of his radio transmitter.

GUGLIELMO MARCONI
PIONEER OF WIRELESS COMMUNICATION
SON OF ITALY
CITIZEN OF THE WORLD
Born in Bologna April 25, 1874
Died in Rome July 20, 1937

The honorable Ecideio Ortona, Ambassador of Italy to the U.S.A. to The Honorable John A. Volpe, Ambassador of the U.S. to Italy.

Shortly after my visit, this irreplaceable likeness of Guglielmo Marconi's head was stolen. There was much concern in the radio world; "Marconi's Head Gone," read ominous headlines. A collection of money from radio fans worldwide yielded a reward of $25,000 for the safe return of Marconi's head. The head soon appeared without fanfare.The only question to me was: why would anyone want Marconi's head sitting on the dining room table?' Or, perhaps more importantly, if you were to try to sell his head, who could you sell it too? Who was Marconi anyway?

A replica of four tall towers as they looked in 1903 was inside a covered pavillion. A small building was centered between the towers. Wires were draped in several directions. A chronology of the stations history was listed:

CHRONOLOGY

Marconi's South Wellfleet Wireless Station

  • 1901 Marconi selects site and begins construction of the station.
  • 1901 In November a severe storm wrecks the station.
  • 1902 Station rebuilt with antenna supported by four heavy wooden towers.
  • 1903 First transatlantic wireless messages sent between the United States and England.
  • 1906 Marconi's engineers warn that cliff erosion is endangering the station.
  • 1912 Station operator hears a distress call from the sinking luxury liner Titanic.
  • 1917 After 15 years of commercial service, the United States Government closes the station for wartime security reasons.
  • 1920 Equipment salvaged, towers dismantled, and buildings abandoned to the sea.
  • 1961 Site acquired by National Park Service as part of Cape Cod National Seashore.

I read with interest several other notes describing the station:

Below is a transmitter schematic diagram. It included a 60 cycle alternator, 110 volt storage battery, condenser, charging generator, antenna tuning inductance, tape machine for automatic keying, rotary spark gap, high voltage keying relay, radio frequency chokes, and a rotary gap motor start box.

The headquarters included a manager, two engineers, and three operators who lived on the site. No trace of the building remains.

Twelve steel cables, each one-inch in diameter, secured each tower against high winds. The guy wires were anchored to "dead men" of crossed timbers buried eight feet in the sand.

The transmitter house held the 20,000 volt condenser, antenna tuning coil, and the whirling spark gap rotor could be heard four miles downwind. The foundation is still visible. The transmitter was powered by a 45 horsepower kerosene engine generator that supplied 2,200 volts of alternating current to a Telsa transformer that stepped it up to 20,000 volts. A smaller direct current generator kept the batteries charged.

The antenna wire was shaped like an inverted pyramid. At the top was a square of heavy stranded copper wire. Attached to this were 200 smaller wires that converged in midair just above the transmitter house. There were four towers built almost entirely of 3" by 12" lumber which provided support for the antenna. Each stood 210 feet high. It was a magnificent structure.

Looking toward the sea, some of the concrete formations that held the towers in place were visible. These included: broken pieces of concrete and bent anchors that once held proud heavy guy wires, crossties strewn out across the sand, and a wooden fence that serves as a small barricade against the remains of the tough Atlantic Ocean. These are remnants of another day, of a generation of dreamers who didn't realize that this investment of their time would one day change the world.

In what seemed like an obituary was this sad note:

Here stood one of the world's great pioneer radio stations. Marconi's South Wellfleet Wireless, or "Old CC." Unfortunately, the historic station was dismantled and abandoned in 1920, and the ocean has eroded away over half the land it occupied.

The model encased behind you depicts the station as it appeared in 1903 when it transmitted its first overseas message and this was followed by what seemed like a note of finality.

"The huge towers, the roar of the old spark-gap and the excitement of wireless contact with some distant listener are gone forever from the dunes of South Wellfleet."

E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips


THE WORLD'S GREATEST RADIO LISTENER



Sitting at the Marconi site, I began listening to WOMR-FM, 91 megahertz, in Provincetown. WOMR-FM is a noncommercial, public radio station dependent upon the gracious gifts of its listeners. The announcers are unpaid. The listeners sporadic.

The announcer was playing a song by the United States Coast Guard Band and mentioned that this was possible because "Spiritus State of the Art Pizza" had donated funds. He then gave the station identification announcement. "This is WOMR, 190 Commercial Street in Provincetown. Outermost community radio," and he gave the name of the show as, "Forward March."

This announcement was followed by a series of French military marches, as well as this comment: "Anyway, we don't know the composer, the band, or the conductor,' then a lengthy pause of 25 seconds and more march music. The music was scratchy, indicating that the record was old and needed to be replaced. Then a further announcement; "Let's give this unknown band another shot." Again, a lengthy pause, a march, and more community announcements. Then, the highlight of the hour; "This is the greatest of all French marches, Father of Victory." A pause of 19 seconds followed, then the music. The announcer was Ernest "Lefty" Cooper - the World's Greatest Radio Listener.

Ernie Cooper loves the Smoky Mountains. When he vacationed there in 1958, he visited me for two nights at my home in East Tennessee. We spent all night listening to my Hammarlund HQ-100 all-band radio searching for rare and exotic radio stations. During the day we visited radio stations that he had received on his radio in New York City.

I was 15 at the time, and "Mr. Cooper," as my mom called him, seemed to be pretty famous. He was the musing editor of DX NEWS - a weekly magazine published by the National Radio Club. The purpose of the magazine was to help radio listeners receive more radio stations. Musings were notes written by DXers (distant radio listeners) from various parts of the country, describing in detail their latest important radio catches. The musing section was read by all the members. DXers searched that section looking for tips that might help them to log a new station.

The publisher of DX News was Ray Edge, a policeman in Erie, Pennsylvana. He was one of the original founders of DX NEWS and famous as a broadcast listener in his own right. Mr. Edge and Mr. Cooper were really "it" as far as DX News was concerned. They held the magazine together and sent out copies each week to all the members. It was quite a job: typing 20 pages, memographing over 300 copies, then mailing copies to all the members.

Many Dxers cried for a more democratic system of government, but Ray Edge with a rather stern frown would say, "The person who does all the work should be the one totally in control. As long as I do all the work, I'll do it like I want to!" It was a philosophical statement that often caused mumbling at various DX gatherings when National Radio Club members talked about the hobby.

The first licensed commercial radio station in the United States was KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, founded in 1920. In those days, there were few radio listeners and few radios. By the early 1930s, DXing was an exciting hobby. The National Radio Club was founded in 1933 to help radio listeners hear more radio stations. It was one of only a very few magazines dealing with the "new" radio hobby. DXing was serious business. Since there were few radio stations, it was possible to hear stations world-wide if a person listened at the right time.

DXer's tried to see how many stations they could verify. To verify a station, the DXer sent a letter to a radio station they had heard. The report they sent included: the date, time, commercials heard, program names, and the announcers names. The station checked this against their program log, and if the information was correct, mailed a letter of verification. In some cases, they sent an EKKO stamp - a postage size stamp that went into a verification book that included a place for every radio station in the United States and Canada.

The premier verification collector today is Ernie "Lefty" Cooper, WOMR's premier "Forward March" announcer. Presently, he has almost 5,000 verifications from broadcast band stations. Ernie Cooper began listening to the radio as a teenager. His father had been a DXer; and when he died, Ernie took up the hobby. To this day he prides himself on having kept some early verifications of his father.

Besides DX News, a classic help in those days was a magazine named RADEX, or Radio Index. It was the TV Guide of that era. It was a more general purpose magazine and reached a larger segment of the population.

One of the my prized possessions is a mid-summer edition of Radex, number 60, published in June of 1932. I paid $5 for it at a National Radio Convention in Louisville, Kentucky in 1980. Carlton Lord, one of the original editors, was at the convention, and was auctioning to the highest bidders a few of the Radex magazines he had left.

That particular edition has these headlines on the front cover: "Opinions of Experts on Aerials and Ground, Can a New Zealand Ten-Watter be received in Brooklyn, and The Foreign Short Wave Stations Arranged by Frequency."

RADEX also included a listings of every radio station in the United States. In the copy I bought, Carleton Lord had every station he had heard underlined in blue. Those he verified, he placed a red mark beside. Out of approximately 950 stations listed, I counted 771 that Lord had heard. Lord was near the top of the heap. Few people could top his record during those early years of radio listening.

The only person who claimed to have heard every station was a baker named Ollie Ross. Supposedly, he had become so famous he was hired by foreign governments to install his secret underground antenna. He never explained the secret to anyone. All that we know is that someone claimed they saw him bury a radiator in his backyard, and that often - in the middle of the night - he would fill it with a liquid of questionable content. Unfortunately, his claims often were questioned. How he could have heard California in broad daylight from New York has never been answered. No one else could do it. Only Ollie.

It is rather interesting to note that in the early 1980s the United States government placed an antenna in Wisconsin that covered hundreds of square miles. Officially, it is to communicate with submarines anywhere in the world by sending signals through the ground. When I read about it, I thought, If Ollie Ross had been here he could have done it cheaper.

For some reason, many DXers claimed strange and mystical qualities to explain their reception of certain stations. The ocean, for instance, was the ultimate DX aphrodisiac. The signals seemed enhanced after traveling across the water. Many DXers moved to the ocean to increase their number of radio catches.

Other DXers claimed that the full moon brought unusual catches, or that when the barometric pressure reached certain critical levels, conditions improved.

One DXer, Dave Thomas, followed eclipses around the world in search of the ultimate signal. Thomas was also the owner of WUMS (World's Unlicensed Marine Station) - the only station in the country licensed to a riverboat roaming the Ohio River.

When I first met Thomas, his Ohio license tag read WUMS. Thomas was somewhat of a legend among DXers. I remember Bob Foxworth, an engineer at WCBS in New York City, and I setting up a hidden tape recorder to record his words of wisdom. His operation of WUMS caused concern among other DXers. There was a feeling that his was an illegal operation, being on a boat and all, and a somewhat sporatic signal since he only turned it on once or twice a year to see how many DXers could hear it.

In reality, his station was licensed by the old Federal Radio Commission - predecessor or the Federal Communications Commission - and it would "literally" have taken an act of Congress to have taken away his license. Efforts at deleting his license failed. The station remained active. Thomas's exploits yielded questionable results. Many times he claimed hearing stations that dozens of other DXers near him could not hear on the same frequency. Many people called Thomas a liar!

Radex also had many other features. A complete listing of every program on the networks was included. Some unfamiliar names to me were: Yeast Foamers, Do Re Me, Funnyboners, Sinclair Wiener Minstrels, and Moonshine and Honeysuckle. As anyone can see, it was exciting listening to the radio in those days.

Feature articles, such as Singing Sam and Other Stars, excited the audiences of that day. Familiar names found in Radex included: Don Ameche, Jack Benny, Lowell Thomas, Guy Lombardo, Amos 'n' Andy, Paul Whiteman, Cab Calloway, and the Mills Brothers.

One of the great disappointments of Ernest R. Cooper's life was the Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles. It was only after the New York Mets won a world championship in 1969 that he could become a baseball fan again with integrity. I might also mention that Ernie was left-handed. In the 1950s he referred to himself as "Lefty Cooper." Later, he dropped the name, thinking it had an immature quality about it. I might also mention that Cooper hated country music.

Now, 30 years later, I am on my way to Ernie Cooper's to repay a visit. A few years ago, after he retired from being a banker in Brooklyn, he moved to Provincetown MassMassachusetts. He planned his move thoughtfully. Provincetown, to him, seemed the perfect place to listen for new radio stations. It was many miles from the powerful New York radio stations that frustrated him for so many years with their 24 hours of interference each day and night. And, because it was near the ocean, the water's supernatural radio qualities made it the premier location for receiving European radio stations and stations in the Caribbean. For Ernie Cooper, it was heaven.

According to reliable sources, Cooper gets up at 2 am everynight and searches for new radio stations. He listens for 3 hours, then returns to bed and sleeps late.

In Provincetown, I tried calling Ernie on the phone. No one answered. I ate lunch, visited the Provincetown memorial to the Pilgrims, and called again. Nothing. After an hour I gave up and returned to Dennis.

In reliving this experience, I realize that I was attempting to rediscover a part of myself that was lost over 25 years ago. I was searching for the days when it was possible to hear any radio station anywhere in the world. Now, because of so many stations, interference makes receiving new stations difficult.

It is rare as lost over 25 years ago. I was searching for the days when it was possible to hear any radio station anywhere in the world. Now, because of so many stations, interference makes receiving new stations difficult.

It is rare when I can hear a new station, and when I do, it's usually a couple of hundred miles away - not on the other side of the world like it use to be.

I drove slowly back to Dennis. It was late afternoon. I would swim, eat a large supper, sleep fretfully, and leave early the next morning. In prophetic fashion, while driving down the coast of Cape Cod, I remembered the note I had seen earlier, the note that symbolized my life at that very moment, an explanation of the futile search of discovery I had attempted.

"The huge towers, the roar of the old spark-gap, and the excitement of wireless contact with some distant listener, are gone forever from the dunes of South Wellfleet." Selah!


E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips



For further information about Cape Cod, visit the Cape Cod Information Center.
For information about the National Radio Club.
Kent's Milwaukee Home Page has many broadcast radio links.

Send any comments about The Distant Listener via E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips

To Chapter 8 - Hermit of the Essex Coast

How To Develop A Spiritual Journal Process of Spiritual Growth Sitemap of Dan Phillips Works Thoughts In Solitude With Merton Thomas Merton Retreats Spiritual Direction Workshops Thomas Merton - Monk and Poet A Pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemani A Pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemani How To Develop A Spiritual Journal Process of Spiritual Growth Sitemap Spiritual Direction Workshops Merton Retreats More Thoughts with Merton in Solitude


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Dan K. Phillips, is the author of FOUR CORNERS - A LITERARY EXCURSION ACROSS AMERICA and is the editor of the monthly travel e-zine The Web Surfer Travel Journal. He also writes extensively on the works of the monk and poet, Thomas Merton. Please check all of these sites. THANKS! To E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips

 

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