Chatham, Cape Cod Massachusetts
Chatham is the site of RCA Global Communications famous ship to shore coast station "ChathamRadio/WCC", which served the seafarers of the world for most of the 20th century. Throughout the station's lifetime, RCA "brasspounders" manned the receiving site, located in Chatham Port, in duplex operation with remote transmitters located some distance away. The transmitter site was initially located 40 miles to the west, in Marion Massachusetts, then relocated following WWII to a site in South Chatham, a mere 3 miles away.
Buildings at the Chatham Port site were constructed in 1914 as part of a venture of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America. A number of brick structures were built in Chatham Port including the operating building, a power house, a few single family homes and a 15 room "hotel", which served as an on-site residence for the radio operators. Most of these structures remain intact today, with the operating building housing the Chatham Marconi/RCA Wireless museum, while the hotel serves as administrative offices and education center.
In addition to the Chatham Port buildings, a massive antenna structure was completed in the fall of 1914. An inline array of 6 tubular steel masts, averaging 350' in height, supported a "flat-top" antenna stretching a mile to the west.
Chatham Port Circa 1919
The flat-top was a Marconi design dating to the early 1900's. When the antenna proved to be not as effective as was originally believed, and the quick migration to higher frequencies, the antenna and 5 of the 6 masts were removed in 1919. The mast closest to the operating building remained, supporting antennas of a different design until the early 1950's.
WCC Circa 1922
The U.S. Navy took control of the facility during World War I. After the war, foreign dominance of the nation's international communication infrastructure was deemed contrary to the national interest. At the urging of the U.S. Government, an all-American company, the Radio Corporation of America, was formed to take over the holdings of the parent British company. Marconi's American holdings were sold to RCA in 1919. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America was subsequently dissolved and was never able to conduct radio operations in Chatham/Marion.
In 1920, RCA put Chatham/Marion on the air, briefly providing point-to-point service to Norway and Germany under call letters WSO and WRQ. In 1921, as the point-to-point business was destined to move elsewhere, RCA launched its premier high-seas radiotelegraph service, adopting call letters WCC. In the early days, the station was known as Marion Radio, but in the 1930s the name was changed, and the station became known to generations of mariners as ChathamRadio/WCC. RCA often referred to WCC as "Marine Radio Central", giving rise to the station being known as the
"World's Greatest Coast Station".
During World War II, the U.S. Navy occupied the Chatham Port site, copying encrypted messages from German U-Boats. With the exception of that wartime duty, WCC provided radiotelegraph service 24/7 from April 1921 until it's closing in July of 1997. At its peak, WCC handled over 1,500 messages per day.
Some notable customers were The Hindenburg who sent its final message via WCC; Amelia Earhart received weather reports from WCC; Admiral Byrd during his polar expeditions and the passenger ship SS Santa Maria during its' hijacking - just to mention a few.
Today, the buildings at the WCC receiving site remain intact. appearing much as they did when first built. The WCC Amateur Radio Association operates W1WCC from within the historic WCC operating building, under the auspices of the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center (CMMC). CMMC is a non-profit organization working to preserve the history of Marconi/RCA in Chatham.