LOS ANGELES — The Queen Mary, an ocean liner that once sailed the North Atlantic, is now permanently berthed in Long Beach, California, where it's a tourist attraction and hotel. In one of the rooms aboard the ship, the tradition of ship-to-shore wireless operations is continued and visitors are introduced to the hobby of ham radio.
A young visitor recently got an introduction to Morse code, the system of dots and dashes once used for wireless communication. Amateur radio operators, called "hams," still use it today.
The Queen Mary was the pride of the Cunard Line after its 1936 launch, and is now a popular tourist attraction.
The wireless room preserves the ocean liner's communications hub. Queen Mary Commodore Everette Hoard said it was a lifeline in emergencies, providing two-way messages -- ship to shore.
“And not only did they carry several transmitters for transmitting the ship's business, they also, even in 1936, had radio-telephone service,” said Hoard.
Today, volunteers from the local amateur radio club show off old equipment and operate new gear, as they talk to hams around the world.
“Just chit-chat, back and forth, some of them for hours at a time, many on voice, some of them even on Morse code,” said wireless room manager David Akins.
Volunteer Kurt Freitag said the wireless station is popular with visitors and hams overseas.
“When we get out there and say, this is W6RO, our call letters, we get a pile up. People go, that's the Queen Mary, and they all jump in, talk to me, talk to me, no talk to me,” said Frietag.
Ham operators help with communications in disasters, from earthquakes and hurricanes to winter ski accidents.
The man who helped create the ship's ham radio operation, Nate Brightman, said helping in emergencies is an important part of the hobby.
“That's the big reason that the government is so nice to amateur radio operators and gives us all these frequencies to use, because we serve the public. It's a hobby and it's a lot of fun, but it's also very valuable to the country,” said Brightman.
These volunteer radio operators are continuing the heritage of seaborne communication on board the Queen Mary, reaching out to visitors to the ship and radio enthusiasts worldwide.