Fomer Maritime and VOA Station, KFS/KROJ

Well, faithful readers, the landmarks are getting a little more obscure and harder to research, but that just makes them all the more interesting! This month I'm going to talk about the "antenna farm", which from the air looks like a bunch of toothpicks stuck in the middle of the marsh just southeast of the PAO 31 runway near Highway 101. From the ground (the facility is a very short walk from East Bayshore Rd) you realize just how many antennas there are and how tall they are.

"On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph and the code bearing his name, sent the first message by telegraph. "What hath God wrought" (from Numbers 23:23) was sent along 35 miles of steel wire from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore. Since then Morse Code has been used extensively for long distance communication - first by wire, and then by radio. Even when HF and VHF radios became ubiquitous in the early 1900s, Morse Code retained its usefulness. Because the Morse Code signal is so much simpler than voice or data, it can be sent using very little bandwidth (using a technique called Continuous Wave, or "CW") and can be heard even through severe atmospheric interference. It can also be heard much further than voice using the same amount of power. These advantages together made Morse Code the standard for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication for nearly 100 years.

"In 1910, the Federal Telegraph Company was formed in San Francisco to build a large radio station on the beach near what is now the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. That station, call sign KFS, initially consisted of a single spark wireless transmitter for communication in Morse Code, although additional transmitters were added rapidly. After the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, all ships were required to have Morse Code equipment on board and a radio operator on duty 24 hours a day. Thus started an 80-year long era of ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication. Federal Telegraph was one of many companies that provided commercial communication service, charging companies by the message.

"KFS was taken over by the U.S. Navy during World War I to allow communication with U.S. battleships. The station was moved in 1921 to the marsh just east of Palo Alto (the current "antenna farm"), and the San Francisco station was closed in 1927. Around this time the station was also sold to Mackay Cable & Wireless. In July, 1943, a new 50KW transmitter was activated at KFS under the callsign KROJ and provided a relay service for the Voice of America. This service was terminated in 1945 at the end of World War II.

"The exact corporate history of the site after WWII is impossible to ascertain (at least by me), but during the next 30 years it was owned by ITT World Communications (which eventually called the site Palo Alto Radio) and then KFS World Communications. The site still contains an old, unused mailbox with the ITT name on it at the front gate.

"For the engineers among us, the antennas include twelve full-wave dipoles, two inverted cones, and a loaded vertical. Seventeen transmitters were in use for CW. KFS built a separate receive site six miles south of Half Moon Bay. If you've ever been doing emergency landing practice in those fields south along the coast from HAF, and noticed a whole bunch of tall antennas near your favorite field, they are the KFS receive antennas. The receive antennas include three log-periodic dipole arrays, several wire V-beams, and several rhombics.

"ITT had transferred much of the Palo Alto site to the city in 1977 and held an easement for their continued operation. In January 1994, Palo Alto bought the easement from KFS for $370,000, thus securing one of the last remaining large pieces of the baylands not under the city's control. There are currently no plans to renovate or demolish the site, although in 1994 there were some rumors about turning the large radio building into a youth hostel. Obviously this hasn't happened yet.

"In 1995, the U.S. Coast Guard officially stopped listening for Morse Code distress calls. KFS sold the Half Moon Bay facility to Globe Wireless, a company specializing in maritime communications (including email and telefax) using satellite and HF communications. With the newly available communications technology, they decommissioned all Morse Code transmissions. The last commercial radiotelegraph transmission in North America was made from the Palo Alto site at 2359 UTC on July 12, 1999. The final words transmitted by KFS? "What hath God wrought"."