The Telegraph Office

by Neal McEwen, K5RW


from "Yarn of the Month", RADIO Magazine, December, 1938, Anonymous

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"Thanks for the memory of 27 years of radio. I've had many a headache and many a heartache, but I've never been bored.

Memories of my first earphone and crystal and the faint signals of a far off Navy station (120 miles). Of trees, chimneys and poles used to support long stretches of aerials. Of ships with one wire aerials, and ships with four masts and an aerial 350 feet long with thirteen wires.

Memories of trips I have made across the North Atlantic. Of storms that battered us for days and days until we ached all over from the very effort of trying to hang on to chairs, tables, bunks, receivers and rails. And a frantic captain demanding weather reports.

And memories of the North Atlantic in midsummer when the whole sea was as smooth as the quietest harbor. And our 32 day run from New York to Buenos Aires when for five days off the eastern tip of South America I couldn't hear even one signal on the receiver.

Memories of the beautiful clear Belize tones of a Federal Arc on 600 meters with a chopper. If you listened with a good crystal it was almost music. Of the powerful blast of those British naval sparks that always started up with a high power warning as they pulled the gap open and turned on the air blast, about 15 KW on 600 meters. Or maybe it was our receivers.  I recall the operator on the Chilean ship who asked me "Please repeat the last part as my magnetic detector ran down."

I can remember my first radiophone signal, from an airplane, in 1917. I have heard arc transmitters modulated and sounding presentable. A lot of ham rigs sound worse today. I have zealously guarded the one bit of galena that really worked, and I have just as carefully guarded the only carbon mic at an early broadcast station.

I have memories of long watches at sea, of the listening to distant signals and the feel that they were just next door. Of friends of the air that I knew by their fists but never met. Of friends that I saw die of disease and disaster. I once read the funeral service for a dead passenger when the captain was too drunk and the mate couldn't speak good English. And where the weights came off of the sack, the body floated on the waves.

Memories of countries and peoples, of majestic liners on trial trips, memories of the thrills of a new radio record, of standing watch for 48 hours at a stretch when the weather was bad or when my assistant was too drunk to sit his.

I have many wonderful memories. But I hope most of all that others will remember me when they hoist one over the bar at the Typhoon Anchorage, the Hong Kong Hotel Bar, Kelly's in Panama, Esmerelde in Buenos Aires. Wherever operators gather, to talk of old memories, I'll be drinking with you and saying, 'Thanks for the memory.'"

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Neal McEwen,