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Recollections of Mark A. Gartman

I don't know the complete history of all three stations WCM PITTSBURGH in Irwin, PA, WGK ST LOUIS in Granite City, IL and WJG MEMPHIS in Memphis, TN but I know a little.

My father was Raymond A. Gartman, owner of all three stations at one time or another.

In 1947 Ray and his partner Jimmy DeChauise (I'm sure I butchered the spelling) started WLO MOBILE. They also had a side business named Marine Electronics, dealing in equipment for marine vessels. Jimmy bought out Ray's share in 1967.

The same year, Ray bought RCA's WCM PITTSBURG in Irwin, PA and WGK ST LOUIS in Granite City, IL for a total sum of $90,000.00. That was a substantial amount of money in those days but probably less money than musically formatted stations.

Someone was wondering why WGK was not KGK since it was west of the Mississippi River in St Louis. Technically, WGK wasn't in St Louis, it was across the river in Illinois which is east of the Mississippi River. (Editor's Note: From FCC documents it appears likely that WGK was originally in Cincinnati and moved to the river's edge in St. Louis (it's location in the 1940s) and kept the call after the move.)

When Raymond bought WCM and WGK; WGK was located on the Chain of Rocks Canal, on Levee Road, the eastern side of the levee, about a mile north of the interstate 270 bridge. I tried to find the building along with the tower and antenna array on satellite imagery but it's no longer there.

During Ray's ownership, the station managers were Frank Deedrick at WCM and Clayton "Smitty" Smith at WGK. Even though I knew both of them, I only worked under Smitty at WGK during my high school summers in 1968 and 69.

I remember when Ray filed for approval on rates to be charged by the stations. For voice radio telephone charges it was $1.00 for the first 3 minutes and .35 for each additional or partial minute along with any long distance charge the telephone company may have. For traffic to or from the boats that were in message form printed on a Western Union teletype machine, the charges were $1.00 for the first 3 lines and .35 for each additional or partial line. I remember taking traffic from the boats and typing the information onto a teletype machine that punched holes in a one inch wide paper tape. Each character or number typed was punched in the tape in different configurations. Later in life I thought it strange that the punches making up characters or numbers on the tape, if punched out across the tape, equaled 8 holes and spaces. Each hole or space represented a bit and it took 8 bits to make a byte or one character like computers today. Each hole that was punched was probably 'on' (as a computer) and the space where no hole was punched was probably 'off' (as a computer). Once the tape was finished, it was placed in a transmitter/reader; we dialed the boat's office and flipped a switch that sent the information at 100 words per minute to a teletype on the other end. They were also called a TWX machine. It was spooky fast for the day.

It was fun for me to operate an HF phone connection. Once the land line was connected through the radio, you had to manually transmit when the land party wanted to talk and then not transmit when the vessel was transmitting. To make things interesting, most of the time, the land party never said "over" when they were through with their sentence. After becoming seasoned HF operators, most of us were able to listen to nothing more than inflections in the voice to tell when to let off the transmitter foot switch. After becoming very proficient, we probably couldn't even tell you what the conversation was about.

The VHF phone connections were much easier. All you had to do was hook them up and listen for them to stop talking.

Each inland-rivers marine-radio station was assigned two 2 MHz channels, one being the emergency channel; and 1 each 4, 6, 8, 12 and 16 Megahertz channels. Around 1971 the frequencies were basically split in two to create SSB (Single Side Band). When listening to SSB on a traditional HF receiver it sounded as if everyone was muffling their voice so no one could understand them; much like being too close to a microphone and over-modulating. During Ray's ownership, HF transmitted and received on the same frequency. The signal is sent up to the ionosphere, bounces off to the ground, bounces off again to the ionosphere, back and forth, sometimes all the way around the world. We used 2 MHz at night close in; 4 MHz at night far away; 4 MHz at day break close in and far away; 6 MHz during the day in the U.S. and sometimes 8 MHz. I personally spoke with an airplane on the ground in the Nederland back in the early 1970's during the day on our 12 MHz channel. We were required by the FCC to continuously monitor all our assigned frequencies. It was pretty noisy during a storm or during sun spot activity.

Someone stated that one of the stations must have had special provisions in their license to accommodate aircraft. Anything that had a port and starboard (not a land based or mobile station) and could dial their transmitter into the frequency was legally able to contact a marine radio station.

VHF stands for Very High Frequency which is above the FM radio dial in your car. The VHF marine bandwidth was in the 150-160 MHz area. That's 150000 KHz. VHF was great for voice calls because there was never any static like on HF. VHF was FM and was transmitted on one frequency and received on another frequency making it full duplex. At the time, the only channels that operated duplex were the marine-radiotelephone-service stations on channels 24, 26, 27, 28. All normal operating (boat to boat, boat to lock, etc.) channels on VHF sent and received on the same channel therefore you transmitted then let off the transmit button to receive.

In late 1968 or early 1969 Ray bought Skipper Warner's WJG MEMPHIS. WJG was located in a pecan orchard behind Skipper's house. Jerry DeGregory Senior was the station manager. I worked under him from 1970 to 1976. Jerry was a funny guy and a great harmonica player. During WWII while Jerry was riding a troop train here in the States, the train was sabotaged, wrecked and really messed up one of his legs. They were able to save it but they had to fuse the knee. Each time he sat down, one of his legs stuck straight out in the air.

In 1970 the station was moved to South 3rd Street (Highway 61) south of downtown Memphis. I did find the location on satellite imagery but the HF antenna array and tower are no longer standing. Ray designed the operating boards that you see being used by the ladies pictured in the later WJG pictures. The boards integrated all the radios, phone lines, remote transmitters, monitors, and speakers in one working location. Each board was identical and could be operated from any position. You could connect any equipment with any other equipment at any location we had. The WJG transmitter (the later grey colored one pictured, not the early black ones) was the new state of the art SSB/HF transmitter. I remember mounting the VHF antenna on top of the tower along with my brother. I asked my brother if the leather safety belt I was using was safe since it had a little nick in it. He said it was so we went up top to install the antenna. A week later my brother was using the nicked belt on one of the shorter telephone poles setting an anchor for the HF omni-directional net and the belt broke and he fell a few feet to the ground. He wasn't hurt but it sure gave me chills to think I was a couple of hundred feet in the air leaning back into that belt while installing the VHF antenna. I definitely believe when it's your day to go, then that's the day but, I also believe we should do everything in our power not to hurry that day along.

Ray sold WJG to Bill Miller in 1971. I continued to work for Bill until 1976. While working for Bill, we installed VHF remote locations north and two locations south of Memphis; all operable remotely by the operating boards my dad had originally designed and built. I left Memphis in 1976 and moved back there in 1982 and found that Bill Miller still owned the station but had also opened a bar/pool hall named Miller High Life. Yes, I did go there a few times.

I can't recall the years they worked there but here are some of the people that came and went while I was at WJG from 1970-1976: Lloyd Rowland, David Smith, James Walton, Rayburn ?, Judy ?, Johnny Jones.....and more that will probably pop into my head when I'm not trying to remember. I knew Jimmy DeHart, Harold Hopper, Pat Patterson who were all electronics guys that caught boats to repair the on-board electronics, but didn't work with them.

I thought Frank Deedrick bought WCM Pittsburgh from Ray in 1974 but seem to be mistaken.

One of the marine electronic technicians in the St Louis area, Charlie Soroka, eventually bought WGK St. Louis. I doubt that he would remember me. He used to catch tow boats at lock 27 and lock 26 and get off the boats after electronic repairs were done.

The tow boats never stopped except for picking up and dropping barges. Their fuel, groceries and crew were taken on while moving. Each tow boat used approximately 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel in 24 hours. That sounds like a lot but, they were more efficient than trains or trucks. Tow boats used 550 BTU's of thermal energy per ton mile to move the same as trains at 750 BTU's of thermal energy per ton mile and planes at 15,000 BTU's of thermal energy per ton mile. In the hey day of tow boats which was the 1950's through the 1980's, everything we touched was in one raw or processed form or another shipped on one of our intra-coastal waterway systems located in 46? of 48 of our contiguous states.

In the middle 1980's Ray bought another high seas station in Galveston, TX. He was contacted by people he knew in the FCC. They indicated the station would be shutting down soon but was in an area that was in need of the services. He got it up and running successfully within a year. I can't remember the call sign but I do know he sold it about a year later.

Raymond A. Gartman was an electronic engineer and an innovator of his day in the maritime communications sector. I went with him to attend meetings that took place at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington where policy was made on maritime communications. He was on the board that represented the maritime and electronics side of these meetings. I was fortunate to meet Lou Arnow with the FCC in the maritime division. It was all very impressive to me.

Ray was born March 1912 in Washington County Alabama and passed November 1997 in Baldwin County Alabama at age 85. I miss him a lot.

Mark A. Gartman - Winter 2006-7

Reconstruct the E-Mail address: gartmanm at bellsouth dot net

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