RMS Titanic Radio Facts
While not strictly dealing with amateur radio. in the early 1900s there were many similarities between amateur and commercial services. The operation of the RMS Titanic service gives a good insight into what radio was in its infancy.
The RMS Titanic was the largest, most luxurious ship afloat when it set sail on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. Five days later, she was a broken wreck on the floor of the Atlantic, having struck an iceberg.
Much was made of the Titanic’s radio operation, but few details are general knowledge. Some of the behind-the-scenes facts are:
Titanic’s callsign was MGY
There were two radio operators on the Titanic – Jack Phillips (senior operator) and Harold Bride (junior operator)
Both attended the Marconi school in England to obtain their certification as Marconi operators. The course of instruction was very inclusive. In addition to general telegraphy, students were expected to have an in-depth knowledge of radio devices in order to repair them, weather as affecting radio propagation, and numerous other facets. The school was originally a six week program, but quickly became much longer. Harold Bride attended for eight months.
For their pains, their starting pay was 30 shillings (about $1.50) per week, which equates to $37.50 in 2017 dollars. It went up fairly quickly. Bride was making £4 (about $20) per month ($502 in 2017). A senior operator could make double that.
That was for operators on British ships. Operators on American ships made about $45 per month.
Operators were hired and worked for the Marconi Company, not the shipping lines. They signed ship’s articles to be placed under the command of the captain.
Only the larger ships carried two operators. Most only had one. They set their own hours, although they were expected to be on duty whenever they were near other ships. Operators were issued a chart showing the sailing routes, with projected times they would be close to other vessels.
One of the results of the Titanic disaster was that a 24 hour listening watch became mandatory on all ships having wireless.
Titanic’s radio was described in the post-disaster hearings as a “five kilowatt set, the disk discharger fitted with magnetic detector and valve and receiver and emergency gears”. It was a spark-gap transmitter, Morse code only. It operated on both 300 and 600 meters. The range during the day was about 400 miles and up to 1000 miles at night.
The Titanic disaster was the first use of the signal SOS. Up until then, the general call for an emergency was CQD.
For detailed information on Titanic’s radio equipment, please visit:
RMS Olympic (sister ship to the Titanic) Radio Room