The First Radio Broadcasts From Ships

Parts 1 and 2


[Taken from: Adventist World Radio's "Wavescan" - (DX Programs WS333 and WS336). Many thanks to Dr. Adrian Peterson]


1. Early Wireless

Radio broadcasting from ships goes back a long way, almost to the beginning of wireless experimentation itself. The early experimenters in Europe, including Marconi himself, demonstrated the value of wireless communication by installing primitive experimental apparatus in small boats and transmitting messages across the intervening ocean. This form of wireless communication was also demonstrated in the early years between Catalina Island and the California coast in the United States, and between Rottnest Island and the state capital Perth in Western Australia.

However, as far as broadcasting is concerned, maybe we could designate the first occasion as the coverage of a sporting event, the Kingstown Regatta in Dublin Harbour, Ireland. Marconi installed a wireless transmitter on a tug boat, the Flying Huntress, and he transmitted the progress of the boat race in Morse Code for the benefit of the Dublin based "Daily Express" which printed the results in a special edition. This was a two day sporting event held on July 20 and 22 way back in the year 1898.

The first voice broadcast from a ship was conducted by the Kentucky inventor, Nathan Stubblefield, on March 20, 1902. He was giving a public demonstration of his wireless system and he sent voice messages from the ship Hartholdi on the Potomac River in Washington, DC. Among those who heard the messages on shore were several congressman and other public officials.

The first wireless program with music and speech was broadcast from a royal navy ship, the Andromeda, in the year 1907. This broadcast was organized by Lieutenant Quentin Crauford and at the time the "Andromeda" was anchored at Chatham, an inlet off the Thames Estuary on the east coast of England.

In recounting the event, Wireless Operator Crauford stated that he adapted the spark wireless transmitter with the callsign QFP on the "Andromeda" so that it could broadcast music and speech. His historic inaugural broadcast was a patriotic concert program performed by navy personnel.

This surprise broadcast was heard by wireless operators on board other navy vessels anchored nearby. However, as a security measure, Lt Crauford was not permitted to publicize the event, neither before nor afterwards, though the event attained historic significance as the first wireless broadcast in England and the first from a ship.

Some nine years later, a ship broadcast was made from Ireland which they now claim as the world first. The event took place during the now famous Easter Uprising at a time when Ireland was striving for independence.

The cable linking Ireland and England had been deliberately cut and in an endeavor to get the information out, a broadcast was made from a ship wireless transmitter. Republican leaders occupied the Irish School of Wireless Telegraphy, repaired a damaged ship radio, and transmitted the information in Morse Code.

This unusual broadcast was on the air for a period of nearly 20 hours, beginning at 5:30 pm on April 25, 1916. However, it is not certain as to whether the wireless transmitter was still in the ship or whether it was temporarily located ashore in the school property.

And finally in ship broadcasting for today, we move to Russia. During the communist revolution in Russia in 1917, Vladimir Lenin announced the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in a wireless broadcast from a navy cruiser anchored at St. Petersburg. He had the wireless operator on board the Aurora, send out the information in a series of Morse Code broadcasts.

These days, a picture of the "Aurora" is featured on postcards used as QSL cards by Russian amateur radio operators.



2. The Great White Fleet

At the turn of the century 100 years ago, the United States had just emerged from a series of military excursions in the Caribbean & Central America as well as in the Pacific. In an endeavor to exert a wider international influence, it was decided to build up the navy and to send it on an extended tour of the seven seas.

Quite simultaneously, Marconi and a host of other experimenters were making rapid strides in the development of the new wireless apparatus, both in the Old World as well as in the New. Wireless was now enabling rapid communication from country to country and from ship to shore.


For a preliminary series of test transmissions, wireless apparatus was installed on two battleships, Connecticut and Virginia, and trials were conducted in September 1907 off the Atlantic Coast of the United States. These wireless communications were conducted successfully between the two battleships as well as with the land-based station CC on Cape Cod.

As a result of these experimental transmissions, a total of 24 transmitters and receivers were installed on the major vessels making up the flotilla that would sail the world. The main network transmitter was installed on the battleship, Ohio.

Altogether, 16 battleships and 4 destroyers, together with additional support ships, were assembled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard ready to make the 14 month tour around the world. All of the ships were newly painted a gleaming white and hence the flotllla became known as the "Great White Fleet".

Each of these massive ships bore the name of an American state, except for one which was called the Kearsarge. Radio callsigns were allotted to each transmitter on each ship; some were just abbreviated initials such as GC on the "Georgia" whereas others were internationally accepted callsigns such as KSZ on the Virginia.

This navy convoy began its epic 46,000 mile journey on December 16, 1907 just one week before Christmas. Their onward journey took them down the Atlantic Coast of South America, around Cape Horn, and up along the Pacific Coast of South America to California.

At Long Beach, a coastal suburb of Los Angeles, two ships from the "Great White Fleet", were released and two came in as replacements. The battleships Alabama and Maine were released and they were replaced by the Nebraska and Wisconsin.


The next stage of the grand tour took the navy flotilla to Hawaii, then on to Auckland in New Zealand, across to Sydney in Australia, up to Japan via the Philippines, and then across to China, and around to Colombo in British Ceylon. The final stage of the tour took the largest convoy the world had ever seen to Aden and then into the Mediterranean and out across the Atlantic back home again. By the time this flotilla returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yards, 15 months had elapsed and it was now March in the year 1909.

Along the way, many goodwill wireless broadcasts were made, consisting of both speech and music It should be remembered that radio broadcasting on land had not yet begun and it was in fact still a dozen more years before radio broadcasting would be launched.

As the "Great White Fleet" proceeded around the world, many wireless broadcasts were made, to passing ships as well as to land based communities. The first series of major broadcasts was made to the combined navies of the United States and Brazil off the Atlantic Coast of South America.

On the Pacific side of the South American continent, another series of broadcasts was made to the combined fleets of Great Britain and Chile. While anchored at Long Beach in coastal California in April 1908, the Ohio made several broadcasts of music and speech.   

As the flotilla made its way across the Pacific, several long distance broadcasts were made for the benefit of radio operators in Hawaii, Auckland and Sydney. Likewise, radio operators in the Philippines, Japan and China also heard a similar series of wireless broadcasts.

The historical rundown of the "Great White Fleet" informs us that additional wireless broadcasts were made for the benefit of professional and amateur radio operators in Colombo, Aden and Egypt, as well as to Greece, Turkey and Gibraltar.

When the "Great White Fleet" returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yards at the conclusion of this historic diplomatic and radio jaunt around the world, the entire assemblage of wireless apparatus was removed from all of the participating ships and placed into storage. Thus concluded a milestone event, not only in the history of the sea, but also in the history of radio, an event that is seldom chronicled in the pages of the modern radio historian.






1. Early Wireless

Year Ship Call Country Location Broadcasts References
1898 Flying Huntress   Ireland Dublin Boat race results

Boat race Kingstown Regatta Dublin 20 & 22-7-98; WS184

Boat race Dublin;  82.7 YBWT&T  1898 22

1902 Hartholdi   USA Washington Test broadcasts 1st voice message from a ship; WS187
1907 Andromeda QFP England Chatham Navy broadcasts World’s 1st broadcast from a ship; WS184
1916   Ireland Dublin Irish Uprising

Easter Uprising; WS187

Easter Uprising; RNB 17-1-94 83

1917 Aurora   Russia St. Petersburg Lenin speech

BBC Engineering 13

RMI 201B

Article RA373


Amateur QSL card


2. Great White Fleet

Year Ship Call Country Location Broadcasts References
1907 Alabama AB-KSX USA World tour Good will programmes Withdrew in San Francisco
Connecticut   Test transmissions off Cape Cod; RA373
Georgia GC  
Illinois YN  
Maine   Withdrew in San Francisco,
Minnesota MIN-WMI  
Missouri HN Postcard
Nebraska   Joined in San Francisco
New Jersey   Postcard
Ohio   Main transmitter; RA373
Rhode Island    
Virgina KSZ-KYD Test transmissions off Cape Cod; RA373
Wisconsin   Joined in San Francisco

More references concerning the Great White Fleet:

QSL albums



Postcard Collector 6-99 32

December 10 1907 - Feb 22 1909.

24 transmitters & receivers

16 battleships 4 destroyers 14 month world cruise; WBE 1907 began 46,000 miles, Atlantic and Pacific; WBE Hampton Roads VA, Cape Horn, West Coast USA, Hawaii, Samoa, Auckland, Sydney, Philippines, Japan, China Sea, Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, Mediterranean, Hampton Roads;

Prior to leaving San Francisco, the composition of the U. S. Atlantic Fleet was changed by  the substitution of the Nebraska and Wisconsin for the Alabama and Maine. (The Alabama and Maine preceeded the fleet to the United States via the Suez Canal.)


The Great White Fleet

Another Great White Fleet Site

FAQ Great White Fleet


Click here for Parts 3, 4 and 5