Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New York Harbor Police Radio


I read a reference to Police radio with an implausibly early date of 1916. It stated "New York Harbor Police begin using Marconi Spark Transmitters to communicate with police boats and other ships in the harbor using Morse Code." That and similar language sits on a number of websites all lacking citation. The claim is incredible but possible. The Pennsylvania State Police had it's own telegraph network on 250 Khz as early as 1923. But 1916 is very early. There was no radio. Wireless had spikes in popularity following the news reports of the Titanic by wireless. But in 1916 Sarnoff was just hatching his little radio scheme. Radio as we know it did not yet exist.

According to the The Encyclopedia of New York State the NYPD started radio-dispatching patrol cars in 1917. I also found a 1916 article in Wireless Age about the NYPD Signal Corps. It mostly discussed the Marconi 10-Inch coil among the automobile wireless equipment. But it also mentioned their "instructor in wireless" sergeant Charles E. Pearce. (He may also have operated his own ham license as 2ES.) Anyway Pearce was quoted as saying "It is equally valuable as a civic asset as it is obviously an indispensable military equipment..." A representative of the magazine was invited to listen in to broadcasts from their car. He heard Wannamakers Department Store station WWZ and also signals from sea gate outside New York Harbor.  This was WSE, a station that debuted in 1906 as MSE, a Marconi operated station. Starting in 1919 for WWI, the US Navy seized that station and operated it as NAH.  In 1922 it became WBC.

Later in the same article the communicate with NYPD harbor police boats.  A 1918 article in McClure's magazine also notes the Harbor Police was in touch with their boats by wireless. the boats communicate with each other by a wig-wag. A wig-wag is not a thingamabob, or whatchamacallit. It's like semaphore with lights, which at the time may have been arc lights.

A 1919 Issue of Wireless Age describes what we now call navigational beacons "One of the most helpful uses of wireless has been inaugurated in the radio compass stations now being installed at harbor entrances around the New England coast."  The article lists them at Prices Neck on the Rhode Island shore and Watch Hill but laments the lack of them in New York.  So they had made progress... but not that much progress.