SS United States Radio Communications
The radio room operated 24 hours a day and offered two-way passenger communication via telegram or radiotelephone. The radio room was located on the Sports Deck below the front funnel. There was a reception desk where passengers could enter an outgoing telegram. Radio bellboys would deliver incoming telegrams directly to rooms.
Radio Officer Paul MacCarthy at reception desk
There were typically seven radio operators on board each voyage with one or more operator(s) on leave. Each day they worked 2 four-hour shifts. Only the Chief Radio Officer mingled with passengers.
(left to right) Chief Radio Officer Leslie Greer, Radio Officer William Holland, Radio Officer Earl Foster, Senior First Radio Officer Robert Theander, Radio Officer Stephen Gray, Radio Officer William Walker, Radio Officer Paul MacCarthy
The Big U was the first ship to offer radiotelephone service directly from passenger’s rooms. The radio officer in the radio room would arrange the call with an AT&T station at Ocean Gate, NJ (callsign WOO). The transmission mode was Single Sideband (SSB) and required careful tuning for natural sounding voices.
Radio Officer William Walker at radiotelephone desk (R) and Radio Officer Paul MacCarthy (standing)
One radio officer responsibility was copying the news transmitted by WCC that would be printed as the on-board newspaper “The Ocean Press”. Radio officers copied news transmissions from WCC on a typewriter with only capital letters (called a mill) using 3 layers of carbon paper. When it was time to change operators, they would “handoff” copying by pointing to the next radio officer. As soon as the transmission was complete, the ship’s print shop would pick up the typed copy.
Radio Officer Paul MacCarthy adjusting radiotelephone transmitter
Ocean Press from October 24, 1955
As private communications, passenger messages that were sent are largely lost to history. However, some communication between ships has been preserved. The SS United States had a special relationship with the Queen Mary having broken her speed record to take the Blue Riband trophy.
Message from SS United States to RMS Queen Mary on her final voyage
Several SS United States Radio Officers have told us that they were able to give their families tours of the radio room when in port.
Kevin Stuart getting a tour of the radio room
Images courtesy of Richard Ostrowski, past Radio Officer SS United States and SS United States Conservancy.