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WJG - Memphis, TN

WJG Telephone Company Letterhead

The idea for WJG, the first radiotelephone station on the inland rivers, was the brainchild of two men: Loyd J. Carlson was the Chief Engineer and the technical brains while  Russell V. Warner provided the funds and industry connections.  Not much is known about Carlson as he left the station in 1945.  Warner was known by the men on the river as "Skipper,"  He began his career in 1908 as a 15-year-old coal passer.  By 1913, he had earned his first river pilot's license.  Ten years later he brought the first commercial towboat through the then newly-opened Lakes-to-Gulf Waterway into Chicago.  Later, he piloted the first diesel towboat, the Mary Elizabeth, on the lower Mississippi River.   In the 1930s he and George H. Tamble combined their river related businesses to form the firm Warner and Tamble.

Though the federal government used CW for communication with it's boats, prior to 1936, commercial towboats on the inland rivers had no way to communicate with those ashore.  If the boats needed provisions or assistance in an emergency, they had no recourse but to keep on steaming until they reached the next town or settlement.  Carlson and Warner realized that installation of radios aboard the towboats and ashore could potentially save money and lives.  But getting a Ship-to-Shore radiotelephone station authorized in 1936 took some doing.  The 1937 FCC Annual Report indicates that R. V. Warner and G. H. Tamble applied for  a radiotelephone station at Memphis on 2558 KHz, but it was denied on April 13, 1938 because the Commission had allocated 2558 to New Orleans. However, the Commission suggested a re-application for 2538 KHz would likely be favorably received. The 1939 report indicates that a station at Memphis had been licensed.  When it came on the air, WJG was an AM operation on the HF (high frequency or shortwave) bands.  Could 1936-1938 operation have been experimental?

In a 1977 interview, Warner said, "I remember that the government didn't want to give us a license for two-way radios.  They said there was no need for it. But other fellows," he continued, "didn't think so, and so we got Old Man McKellar (Senator Kenneth McKellar, the dean of the U.S. Senate at the time) to pull a few strings and that helped change a few minds.  Once we got the go-ahead, radios went like wildfire." 

Much of the information about WJG's early years was provided by Jack Estes and his recollections are interesting reading both for additional information about WJG (including the early frequencies) but also about the early years of other river stations.

Memphis Harbor showing WJG's first location
WJG's First Location on a Memphis Harbor Barge
Map showing WJG's 4 locations in Memphis.

G. H. Tamble was not actively involved with the WJG part of W & T, and according to his obituary  died in 1951.  Warner continued to run WJG as well as the thriving towboat business.   Here, courtesy of Jerry  DeGregory, Jr., is a 1967 WJG advertisement which ran in the Waterways Journal, and an enlarged view of the photos from that ad with caption information added.  The ad includes the only photo we have of "Skipper" Warner.

Warner retired in the late 1960s, and passed away in 1983 - see his obituary.  In late 1968 or early 1969 he sold WJG to Raymond Gartman, the owner of WGK and WCM.  Gartman operated the station for 3 years and made many improvements.  He sold to Terrence B. ("Bill") Miller (W4JLA) in 1971 and Miller owned the station at least through 1982.   There is more about the station during Miller's ownership in this 1982 newspaper article.  Mark Gartman worked both for his father and for Bill Miller, and his recollections provide much information about his father's ownership of the three river stations and his own working years at both WGK and WJG.  Wanted additional information about the station during Bill Miller's period of ownership. 

Jimmy DeHart operating WJG
Jimmy DeHart Operating WJG - Late 1940s       Jack Estes Photo
WJG Operating Console
WJG Operating Console - Late 1940s               Jack Estes Photo

Two big WJG transmitters. Must be almost 8' high.
WE-14C 400 Watt AM TX at WJG's Second Location
Jack Estes Photo
Small white building on concrete blocks - snow on ground
 WJG shack - Pecan grove location - About 195?
Photo Courtesy of J. L. DeGregory, Jr.


Radio operator at control position
Jerry DeGregory at the WJG Controls - Barge location?
Photo Courtesy of J. L. DeGregory, Jr.
Jerry Degregory at the WJG Controls - Mid 1950s
Jerry DeGregory at the WJG Controls - Pecan grove location - About 195?
Photo Courtesy of J. L. DeGregory, Jr.

Radio operator at teletype machine  
WJG had 4 locations in Memphis.  The first from 1939 to 19?? was on a barge as shown above.  The second from 19?? to 19?? was near Skipper Warner's home in a large Pecan grove on Vaughan Road just north of Tutwiler Ave. Wanted: additional photographs of the early WJG.  The third location from 19?? to 19??, where most of the pictures below were taken, was at 3765 S. Third Street (Hwy. 61).  The last location (probably only 2 or 3 years and FM only?) was in a brick building on September Place (Ave?).


The operator on the left is Johnny Barbieri

The succeeding years saw a variety of technical changes and improvements as WJG continued to serve the needs of the people on the river.  New SSB equipment was installed  at WJG in 1967 well ahead of the mandated changeover from AM, and AM and SSB were both in use for several years.  The addition of the first remotely-controlled VHF-FM stations above and below Memphis occurred in 1971.  They were the beginning of a network of stations which eventually stretched from Louisiana to Illinois. 

WJG Operating Room
WJG Operating Room           Jim Pogue Photo
WJG Operating Room
WJG Operating Room           Jim Pogue Photo


These 1989 views of the second-floor operating room show the two operators sitting before a Christmas tree-like control panel of flashing red, yellow, green, and white colored lights.  Routinely, they completed over 8,000 ship-to-shore telephone calls a month - by 1989 most of them via a 13 station network of VHF-FM stations (Map) remotely controlled from the Memphis operating room.  During the winter months, this total went up even higher as mariners rushed to get their cargoes and boats out of the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers before they were frozen in.  Next to the console was the handset for the SSB equipment (on the first floor) and its SELCAL (ringer) gear.  Out of sight behind the operators a small PC on wheels kept track of the locations of towboats, and compiled information on cargoes, barge transfers, etc. This information was then passed on to the towboat and barge owners.  Just outside in the next room, an old National Weather Service teletype clickety-clacked with information on river stages and other meteorological information of interest to the rivermen.

Here are some views of WJG's antennas and building at the Hwy. 61 location.  The station wasn’t very visible from the highway, and there  was a only a small one lane road leading to the area where the station was housed.  

WJG's old Channel 5 (2782 KHz) was by far their most used channel in the late 1940s.  Later on additional frequencies were utilized the most common being 6455 (AM) for daytime operations.  The small white chart on the SSB transceiver cabinet below lists 6 channels.  Not all the numerals are readable in the original photograph and some have been erased, but the line-up was something like the following:


Frequency     WJG Ch. #
2086            Channel 1
2783.4         Channel 5 (Erased)
6465.4          Channel 2 (Partly erased)
408?            Channel 3
??? 8           Channel 4
12???          Channel 6
However, the business card below also mentions a
Channel 7 so the chart doesn't tell the whole story.
Help please.

WJG business card showing some of the AM and SSB frequencies.

Here's a 1959 QSL card courtesy of Jeff Yates
WJG SSB transmitter in 6' cabinet
WJG's 1KW CAI HF Transceiver - 1989  
Jim Pogue Photo


By 1989 WJG was mostly an FM operation and the only SSB frequency used was 4087.8 KHz.  In 1991 that was changed to 4089 KHz to match the new ITU/FCC marine channels.

WJG's license must have had some unique license provisions or it received some special authorizations from the FCC, for over the years, this marine station provided an unusual variety of communications services. In the 1970s, a mining expedition contracted with the station to provide them a means to contact their home office from a remote location in the mountains of Colorado. Before satellite communications were common, WJG was the expedition's only link with the outside world for over six months.

The mammoth overnight delivery service Federal Express has its global headquarters in Memphis.  WJG operators were sometimes called by FedEx planes with requests to hook them up for phone calls with the home office.  

Stanley Adams, W4SBA reports that WJG was also a licensed (certified?) frequency monitoring station. Via its frequency standard it provided area AM-FM and TV broadcasters with their required monthly frequency checks. 

WJG was an informal operation.  The operators were known by name to the boat captains.  Some of the WJG crew and their recollections.

In the later years of operation WJG and the 13 Station VHF-FM network were sold to Maritel.  One of the operators recalls that several of the former WMI/LEC Great Lakes stations that Maritel bought were controlled from Memphis.  Information needed about the timing of Maritel's takeover and operation of the station and network.

After over 60? years of service on HF WJG shut down its 4 MHz SSB operations in 1994.  The manually operated VHF-FM station network also ultimately fell victim to satellite and cell-phone competition, and was discontinued in 1995.  However, the Bits and Bytes Newsletter carried this notice in 2003: "Maritel, Inc., which, along with its predecessors, has operated marine voice service for 30 years is discontinuing the service effective June 6.  The company attributed the action to new more efficient technology that has emerged in recent years, and said "Marine VHF radio equipment simply has not evolved to meet market standards."  Information about the Maritel operation between 1995 and 2003 is needed.