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WGK - St. Louis

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Operator at the WGK operating position about 1950
John Frank at the WGK Operating Position in 1951 --- From RCA Advertisement

Why was WGK, which was west of the FCC's Mississippi call letter dividing line, not KGK?  The 1935 FCC Annual Report contains the following statement: "The coastal telegraph station formerly located near Cincinnati Ohio, has been moved to St. Louis, MO., in order to serve more efficiently ships navigating the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio Rivers."  It is very likely that this station was RMCA's WGK, putting it on the air in St. Louis in 1935, and making it the first station serving towboats. 

This raises many questions about the history of CW for commercial communications on the rivers.  When did the towboats start using CW?  Were there Radio Officers on the towboats or were the captains and/or pilots also trained as CW operators?  Much additional information about the pre-WWII era is needed here. 

The 1942 FCC Annual Report says: " --- the commission licensed a new coastal harbor station at St. Louis, Mo ---."  This was the beginning of WGK's radiotelephone service.  However, this RMCA 1946 document indicates that WGK still had CW capability at that time.

In the 1940s the station was located at the foot of Rutger Street in St. Louis on the 2nd floor of the Mississippi Valley Barge Line terminal.   There was an excellent panoramic view of the Mississippi from the operations room.  Although MVBL was probably the largest WGK customer there were many others notably Federal Barge Lines.

There were two identical operating positions at the station. In the photo above, the unit with the sloping front panel was the main controller for the station. The telephone dial on the upper right, was the dial for the two-tone ringer system that was sometimes used to selectively call a boat .

The main transmitter was made by Wilcox, and is identical to the one shown in the photos of sister RMCA station WCM - Pittsburgh. It had four large roll out bays, one for each frequency. In each bay the power was 2KW and used four Eimac 450TL tubes in push-pull. The AM modulator consisted of two 450TL’s.   All four antennas at the station were wave dipoles and all were fed by open wire feeders spaced 6 inches apart. They were supported on telephone poles about 60 feet high.

William Hutchinson, W7EX,  an operator at WGK from 1947 to 1952, supplied some of the information above.  Bill's Recollection Page contains interesting additional material.  

Here is a 1951 RCA Advertisement showing its Ship-to-Shore radiotelephone services for towboats on the Mississippi River system.  Here's a 1946 RCA Calendar advertising both CW and radiotelephone service at WGK.  However, Bill Hutchinson reports that by the time he arrived at the station in 1947 CW was all but dead.

By the time Ray Gartman bought WGK from RMCA in 1967 (and also WCM for $90,000 total) it was located in Granite City, IL on the Chain of Rocks Canal, on Levee Road, the eastern side of the levee, about a mile north of the interstate 270 bridge.  No trace of the building or tower and antenna array show up on current satellite imagery.  Ray's son Mark worked at the station during the 1968-69 summers and his Recollections Page chronicles the Gartman ownership of three of the rivers stations: WGK, WCM and WJG.

Charlie Soroka, who had been doing electronic maintenance on the boats, eventually bought WGK from Gartman.  He was the station's last owner.

QSL card issued in 1969 for reception in 1959 - Signed by Charles J. Schwarz
Card courtesy of Jeff Yates


Some of the WGK crew and their recollections.

Can anyone else contribute more information about this station?