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.
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
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
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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."
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
A small monument with a
reproduction of Marconi's head stood prominently in view beside the
replica of his radio transmitter.
PIONEER OF WIRELESS COMMUNICATION
SON OF ITALY
CITIZEN OF THE WORLD
Born in Bologna April 25, 1874
Died in Rome July 20, 1937
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:
Marconi's South Wellfleet
- 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.
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
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
"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."
Dan Kenneth Phillips
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Dan Kenneth Phillips
For further information
about Cape Cod, visit
the Cape Cod Information Center.
For information about the National
Kent's Milwaukee Home Page has many broadcast
Send any comments
about The Distant Listener via E-mail
Dan Kenneth Phillips
To Chapter 8 - Hermit of the Essex Coast
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