Friday, February 22, 2008

So I decided to do a special event station...

So I decided to do a ham radio special event station.

See, I have just co-written a book about the USS Nautilus and her historic trip to the North Pole in August 1958. I had the pleasure of writing the book with the late Captain William Anderson, the gentleman who was her skipper for the journey. The event was worldwide news—easily the equal of the first moon landing—at a time in our history when America needed heroes and something of which to be proud. A few years ago, Time Life Books named it one of mankind’s greatest adventures. However few people today are aware of the impact of that dangerous mission and the role it played in our eventual victory in the Cold War. (The book, THE ICE DIARIES, will be out this June, to be published by Thomas Nelson .)

There will be several 50th anniversary commemorative events this August and I thought it would be especially exciting to do a ham radio special event station to raise awareness of what Nautilus and her crew accomplished, not only in the US but worldwide. I also suspected that it would be a real hassle to pull it off, especially considering that I have a day job, write and promote books on the side, and would like to occasionally be on the radio doing some operating.

I was wrong about the hassle. Or at least I have been so far.

Applying for a special event station call sign turns out to be remarkably easy. The steps are right there in several places on the web ( for example). I simply sent a request to one of the Volunteer Examiners who handle those one-by-one calls, told her why I wanted to do the operation and when, and requested one from a list of several that seemed to be available for that time period. In a few days, I had N9N, my first choice, for a two-week period that surrouned the anniversary of the Polar crossing. It works nicely for “Nautilus 90 North,” the historic radio message Captain Anderson and his crew sent to President Eisenhower and the Pentagon when they emerged from beneath the ice after the successful transit from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Pole. (For the geographically challenged, the North Pole is at 90 degrees north latitude.)

My dream is to operate August 2 and 3 (the 3rd is the actual anniversary date) from Historic Ship Nautilus herself. She is now berthed on the Thames River at the Naval Submarine Museum and Library in New London, Connecticut (see image above). I live in Alabama and I immediately began trying to figure how to get permission and handle logistics by long distance, how I would assemble and transport a station a thousand miles, and who I could get to help me set up the station and man it for two long days. On a whim, I found the web pages for a couple of amateur radio clubs in the area and dashed off emails. Within hours, I heard from several wonderful folks who indicated they would be interested in helping. Among them was a representative from the Navy Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) group from the area. They not only are willing to provide several complete stations but will also assist in working with the museum and library staff in making arrangements.

We are still awaiting approval from the Officer in Charge at Historic Ship Nautilus but reaction to the idea has been positive so far and we are confident we will be able to operate from the vicinity, if not from the ship. We are already talking about antennas, amps, power and bands with the MARS group.

I keep waiting for Murphy to have his say, but so far, so good.

I’ll keep you updated on the N9N operation here as well as on my web site at

Don N4KC


Anonymous said...

Nice post! Didn't know about your book on the USS Nautilus. You might be interested in the story of the original Nautilus journey many years before that. It's in my Long Delayed Echoes Podcast number 45 in the 'Explorer Series'.

It's a pretty good story too! :-)

73 de Jeff, KE9V

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I tried the link to your story but got the dreaded error 404. I'm excited about the Nautilus book. The story has never really been told before, and working with the man who lived it was an absolute blast!


Don N4KC

Nick said...

Great news Don! I hope all goes well with the special event station. I know you are getting alot of response for volunteers, but I would love to help out in any way possible. I have never been part of a special event station, but would love to be, given the oppertunity.


Anonymous said...

Nick, thanks. Unfortunately for you, it appears the event will be done from Groton, Connecticut, where the Nautilus is berthed next to the Submarine Force Museum. Otherwise I'd take you up on your offer.

Hope to "see" you this weekend while we are walking.


Don N4KC

Anonymous said...

Hi Don

Good info. I am an operator on the USS Batfish (W5HOY) and I really enjoy working on the boat. While we don't use original equipment we do really enjoy working all the men and Women of the era and thanking them for thier service to our county.

I am also responsible for creating a new station WW2SOT which is for the Spirit of Tulsa Squad of the Commemorative Air Force. We have established the hanger operation and will be putting a station in a restored C-47. The call sign for it will be WW2HAM.

We will look for you on the Nautilus and perhaps can share info at that time. Keep up the good work and blog!


Anonymous said...

Charlie, thanks for the post, but especially thank you for what you do to keep Batfish alive and well and in the minds of hams everywhere. (You know I wrote a book about her, right?) I've got my WW2SUB QSL prominently displayed here in the shack and have worked the boat quite a few times.

Good luck with all the other projects and I'll look for you from the Submarine Force Museum and N9N in August.

Don N4KC

Anonymous said...

Ran across you on the Web bcz I enjoyed Nautilus 90 North in junior high, and just read

..."... You know what the message was?"

" 'Latitude ninety degrees north,' "...

in Reamde [sic!] by Neal Stephenson. I soon satisfied myself that I didn't misremember Anderson's account, and thot you might know if anyone besides the fictional character Chet believes Anderson mis-stated it.

I would assume the encryption was at least an old-fashioned one-time pad; would inaccurately quoting the radio message have been a plausible security measure, protecting a one-time pad based on a published work?? (I'd like to think they were basing them on random-number generators running on IBM big-iron by that time!)

Thanks, GRZempel AT Comcast DOT Net