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WBL - Buffalo, NY

This Ship-to-Shore station served boats on the eastern Great lakes - Erie and Ontario. I can only vaguely remember hearing it, and my personal recollections of it were very limited so almost all of the information presented here is courtesy of others.

Map showing WBL somewhat east of Niagara Falls.
WBL's last location.  There were at least
2 earlier locations in Buffalo proper.  
Photo of the WBL building as it appeared recently
  WBL building  -  2004 photo by Daniel Gurzynski

A recently taken photo of the WBL site showing the building and 2 towers
WBL was started by RCA in the 1920s (?) and was located to serve both the bulk-carriers, and  freighters on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.  They utilized the 161 KHZ CW band for long distance communications.  On a 24 hour basis the lower frequencies yield longer distances.  Other early (1935) WBL CW frequencies were: 177, 410 (Distress frequency), 425, 3106, 3120, 4140, 4790, 6330, 6210, and 11205 KHz.

Following are a number of newspaper articles (1937 to 1968) from the Buffalo Library archives.  They are available because of the generosity of Bob Balantine, W8SU.

This short 1937 newspaper article indicates that the station was located in the offices of the Great Lakes Transit Corp. on Erie Street, but was planning to relocate to a new building to be built on a pier at the foot of Michigan Ave. in Buffalo.  There is also a brief mention of the station's equipment.

Left  -  The WBL site as it appeared in 2004  -  Photo by Daniel Gurzynski

The June 30, 1941 FCC Annual Report indicates that a Coastal-Harbor station (radio-telephone) had been approved at Buffalo, NY during the preceding 12 months.

Some of the images that follow are large and will appear blurred if they are displayed at the browser's default size.  Read the the Photo Viewing page if you don't know how the make your browser maximize the images.

This RMCA 1946 document gives frequency and schedule information for WBL and two other RMCA stations.  Here's a 1946 RCA Calendar advertising both CW and radiotelephone service at WBL. 

This long 1954 newspaper article describes the importance of the station to Great Lakes shipping, mentions the increasing radio traffic from foreign ships, gives the cost of calls, and mentions the names of the staff.  There is little about equipment except mention of the two 147.5 ft. TX towers and that the  receivers are remotely located a half mile away.

By 1963 it was apparent from these February and July newspaper articles that RCA was not making a profit on the station and had sought FCC permission to shut it down.  Substantial rate increases and reduced service hours were employed to keep the station, which shipping interests deemed as essential, operating.  New ownership for the station was also explored at this time, but no ownership change was made, and RCA continued to operate it.

However, two years later, in February of 1965 this Buffalo Evening News article indicates that RCA had had enough, and would be asking the FCC for permission to close WBL down or would, "practically give it away to any agency interested in maintaining ship-shore radio service." 

This RMCA document from sometime in the late 1950s to 1966 gives the WBL frequencies and schedules for one year in that time period.  Note that the last paragraph concerns a frequency change for the RMCA inland rivers stations, and indicated that it is scheduled for Oct. 31.  Knowing the year of this change would date this document.  Can anyone help with this?

The last article in the newspaper series is from August of 1968 and indicates that the station was not sold to an agency but instead was sold (in 1965) to Fred G. DesJardins, RCA's WBL station manager since 1945, and Gregg M. Eberman, a former broadcast station chief engineer.  At this time they were keeping the station operating 20 hours a day during the shipping season by working one-man shifts - 70 hours a week each.  Seven AM, three FM and two CW frequencies were in use at this time.  Per the rubber-stamp imprint on the QSL card below their company was known as Great Lakes Marine Radio, Inc.

At some later time the station was again sold to Robert Schober.  Little is known about the station during his ownership.

Here's a blank RCA Radiogram as would have been used by the CW ops at WBL and on the ships communicating with it in the 1940s.  Thanks to David Ring, N1EA, and from a later period, we have an RCA Sea-Letter  and  Telegram Form.  Though one of these is from KPH they could also have been used at WBL or on the ships that it communicated with toward the end of the RCA ownership period.  

WBL QSL card dated 7/17/70.
Card courtesy of Phillip Temples - K9HI

Daniel Gurzynski reports that he worked at WBL for a summer in the late 1970’s as an operator, working for Bob Schober part time while going to college. We connected  both private pleasure craft and freighters to landline phone service on VHF at that time.  It was usually manned 6am to 12 midnight, 7 days a week in the summer - the busiest time.

Can anyone contribute more information about this station?

Here's the start of a Crew page for WBL - few entries so far.