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Martin Williams

Martin's memorable radio career began in 1914 in Cambridge City, Indiana, when, at the age of 9 he sweept the floor of the railroad station across the street from his house. The railroad telegrapher befriended young Martin and taught him the continental code, then used by wire telegraph services. This event "sparked" Martin's interest in communications and radio which set him on a path he would follow the rest of his life.

At the age of 14 Martin was introduced to spark-gap radio transmitters by Fred Rowe, one of the first amateur radio operators in the area. Martin built his own equipment and within two years was making local headlines with his new wireless station. Martin chose the callsign KKA -- Yes, chose, as all that was required to operate an amateur radio ยท station in those days was the know-how.

In 1922 Martin worked for both Western Union and the Postal Telegaph offices. The following year, on completion of High School, Martin enrolled in Dodge Radio School at Valparaiso, Indiana, now Valpo-Tech. Even though the vacuum tube had been invented several years earlier, they were still almost totally unheard of except in textbooks like the one studied at the Dodge school. It covered everything known about vacuum tubes in its day -- it took only one page!

After graduating from radio school, Martin went to Chicago and took the commercial radiotelegrapher's test offered by the newly-formed Bureau of Navigation of the Department of Commerce. It would be some time before the Federal Communications Commission would appear on the scene. Martin left Chicago with a First Class Commercial Radio Telegraph License in hand.

The Radio Corporation of America recruited him for a position as telegrapher onboard the "F.B. Squires," a freighter plying the Great Lakes. In less than a year Martin was promoted to Station Manager of the Cleveland RCA Marine station WCY. During this stay in Cleveland, he equipped several ships with radio equipment and direction finding gear.

In 1924 and 1925 Martin spent much of his time in New York. All the RCA-owned ships' radio equipment and those of Henry Ford were to be converted to vacuum tube. Before the conversion, the standard equipment on board ships was a Marconi QMS (qunched multiple spark) radio transmitter and a Marconi 106B crystal receiver. Ford owned a fleet of ships he was sending into the rain forest of South America in order to set up his own rubber plantations. Martin equipped them with the needed radio gear on an RCA contract. Henry Ford was very particular about his radio equipment. As far as it was practical, all knobs, trim and controls on all his ships had to be silver; cost was not important.

Mr. Ford asked Martin to be Chief Radio Officer on the voyage to South America, but he declined, sending instead his friend and associate at RCA, Ralph Humes. It was during his stay in new York that Martin met the famed Guglielmo Marconi, whose office was across the hall from Martin's. RCA had been formed in 1919 and bought Marconi Wireless that same year, giving RCA a monopoly on communications gear.

WGO Marine Radio: In 1926 RCA promoted Martin to District Manager of the Great Lakes region. He was responsible for all marine radio communications in the district and worked out of RCA's marine station WGO north of Chicago. He had over 60 radio operators and 32 ships under his managemet.

On all of his voyages across the Great Lakes, Martin had only one close call. While traveling on Lake Michigan the ship became lost in violent storm. The engines were cut and the station lost all power and could not send an SOS. Manrtin recollects that the crew gave up hope of being saved and fell on their knees begging God to save them. Someone's prayers apparently got through and the ship and all its crew survived the storm to sail again!

After District Manager of the Great Lakes region Martin was promoted to RCA's NBC broadcasting division as engineer of radio station WTAM - Cleveland. He never returned to marine communications, but enjoyed a long career in broadcating and electronics.

This content was extracted and heavily edited from the May 1987 issue of Monitoring Times Magazine. Issue and full article available at Archive DLARC.

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