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SS United States Radio Communications

SS United States Radio Officer Paul MacCarthy

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.  

SS United States Radio Officers

(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. 

SS United States RadioTelephone Operators

Radio Officer William Walker at radiotelephone desk (R) and Radio Officer Paul MacCarthy (standing)

SS United States Radio Officer Paul MacCarthy Adjusting Transmitter

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.

SS United States and RMS Queen Mary Radiograms

Radio Officer Paul MacCarthy adjusting radiotelephone transmitter

SS United States Ocean Press October 24, 1955

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. 

SS United States Radiogram to the RMS Queen Mary

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. 

SS United States tour of radio room

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.

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