“CQ. CQ. Calling CQ. This is special event station WR2DX – whiskey romeo 2 delta x-ray – calling from Sea Girt Lighthouse on International Lighthouse / Lightship Weekend. Calling CQ.”
Participating local amateur radio operators – hams – rigged two antennas onto the railing of Sea Girt Lighthouse tower and connected them to two radio transceivers set up on the porch August 21. From there they broadcast CQ – the internationally recognized “calling any station” signal – in hopes that hams at other lighthouses and elsewhere around the world would pick up their signals and respond.
Hams at some 400 lighthouses and lightships in 50 countries were broadcasting to one another and to countless other hams joining the fun in the 17th annual International Lighthouse / Lightship Weekend. The event, first held in 1994, was the idea of two amateur radio enthusiasts in Scotland.
“The basic objective of the event is to promote public awareness of lighthouses and lightships and their need for preservation and restoration, to promote amateur radio and to foster international goodwill,” according to event organizers.
This was the sixth year hams broadcast from Sea Girt Lighthouse. It is just one of numerous special events hosted there by the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee as part of its mission to preserve the landmark’s history and to make the facility available to community non-profit groups and Sea Girt homeowners.
Some two dozen local hams from two area radio clubs – the Neptune Amateur Radio Club and the Jersey Shore Chapter of the North American DX Association – took turns working the two Sea Girt transceivers.
After sending out the CQ call, an operator would then spin the tuner up and down the shortwave frequencies designated for this event and listen in hopes of finding hams responding. Each operator was teamed with a mate who recorded details of their contacts: call letters, operator’s first name, location, strength and clarity of the signal on a 10-point scale, brief messages.
Listening In, Joining the Fun
The crackle of the radios, cryptic messages spoken into microphones or tapped out in rapid-fire dots and dashes of Morse code caught the attention of passing beachgoers. Many people came up to the porch to listen in and watch the hams in action. Among them were 12-year-old Kiera Mulroy and sister Erin, 7. Kiera was familiar with ham radio, having read a book on the subject.
Under the guidance of a licensed ham, the sisters teamed up at the microphone at the transceiver on the west side of the porch to send out the CQ call on the 20-meter band. Erin would begin the CQ call, identifying the special event and the station call letters. Then Kiera would pick up and complete the call to any station.
Taking a turn at the other transceiver on the east side of the porch was Phil Martin, 15, a licensed ham operator from upstate New York who was visiting his grandmother, Kathryn Matthews, a lighthouse trustee. Phil, who has volunteered at the lighthouse as a tour guide, made several contacts over the 40-meter band. After he handed off the microphone to the next ham, Phil joined lighthouse trustee Conrad Yauch in polishing the front door knocker and handle.
Dozen States and Points East
The event was not a competition, but an exciting challenge in which all present shared in the satisfaction of making contacts and exchanging information with fellow hams near and far – some very far away. When a ham reached a state or country not previously contacted, word quickly spread across the porch and the excitement grew.
One of the first transmissions picked up loud and clear by the local hams during the listening period was a CQ signal from a lighthouse in Belgium, although the Belgian operator did not pick up Sea Girt’s response. Antenna height, radio power and especially atmospherics are factors that make signal transmission – propagation – unpredictable.
The determined operators at Sea Girt Lighthouse pressed on and succeeded in reaching hams in more than a dozen states, including neighboring states as well as Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. They also connected with hams in Canada, Northern Ireland and points east.
Several lighthouses were contacted:
- Fire Island Lighthouse (built in 1826), the first beacon many European immigrants saw in the approach to New York Harbor and Ellis Island.
- Fort Niagara Lighthouse (1872) on the Niagara River facing Lake Ontario, at Fort Niagara.
- Marblehead Lighthouse (1821), on Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio. It is the oldest Great Lakes lighthouse in the U.S.
- Point Clark Lighthouse (1859), on Lake Huron, in Ontario, Canada.
Contact was also made with a lighthouse in Maine, although the transmission cut out before the lighthouse could be identified.
Several times during the day, veteran hams turned off the microphones and plugged in their keys to transmit Morse code, which has the advantage of traveling farther than voice transmissions.
In the final hour of broadcasting, a ham working the 40-meter band scored the most distant contacts in quick succession. Working the key, he tapped out the CQ signal (– • – – • – • – ).
The signal bounced from the lighthouse porch up to the tower antenna and then skipped all the way to central Europe, eliciting a response from a ham in Russia. A few minutes later, the local ham was conversing by Morse code with a second ham operator in Russia.
Sharing the Sea Girt Story
Each contact was kept short, lasting only a minute or two, so that hams could get onto their next contact. During the brief exchange of technical information and location details, Sea Girt Lighthouse was identified as US00036. Each participating lighthouse had a different numeric designation.
The local operators, equipped with the same factsheet that tour guides use during Sunday tours, imparted a few historic Sea Girt Lighthouse details (built in 1896, 4th order Fresnel lens, projected its beacon 15 miles, illuminated a blind spot midway between Navesink and Barnegat Lighthouses).
73 and QSL
In the tradition of amateur radio, each operator ended a transmission either saying or taping out in Morse code the number “73,” which is ham shorthand for “best wishes.”
In the days that followed, yet another tradition was observed – the mailed exchange of QSL reply cards between operators who made contact during the event. Many hams proudly display their QSL cards in their radio shacks at home.
A QSL card is confirmation of a completed transmission. The hams who transmitted from Sea Girt Lighthouse appropriately sent their contacts picture postcards of the 114-year-old landmark.