When Hams Helped Polar Researchers Come In From The Cold

We always enjoy [The History Guy] videos, although many of them aren’t much about technology. However, when he does cover tech topics, he does it well and his recent video on how ham radio operators assisted in operation Deep Freeze is a great example. You can watch the video, below.

The backdrop is the International Geophysical Year (IGY) where many nations cooperated to learn more about the Earth. In particular, from 1957 to 1958 there was a push to learn more about the last unexplored corner of our planet: Antarctica. Several of the permanent bases on the icy continent today were started during the IGY.

It’s hard for modern audiences to appreciate what the state of personal communication was in 1957. There were no cell phones and if you are thinking about satellites, don’t forget that Sputnik didn’t launch until late 1957, so that wasn’t going to happen, either.

Operation Deep Freeze had ten U. S. Navy vessels that brought scientists, planes, and Seabees (slang for members of the Naval Construction Batallion) — about 1,800 people in all over several years culminating in the IGY. Of course, the Navy had radio capabilities, but it wasn’t like the Navy to let you just call home to chat. Not to mention, a little more than 100 people were left for each winter and the Navy ships went home. That’s where ham radio operators came in.

Hams would do what is called a phone patch for the people stationed in Antarctica. Some hams also send radiograms to and from the crew’s families. One teen named Jules was especially dedicated to making connections to Antarctica. We can’t verify it, but one commenter says that Jules was so instrumental in connecting his father in Antarctica to his fiancee that when his parents married, Jules was their best man.

Jules and his brother dedicated themselves to keeping a morale pipeline from New Jersey to the frozen stations. He figures prominently in recollections of many of the written accounts from people who wintered at the nascent bases. Apparently, many of the men even traveled to New Jersey later to visit Jules. What happened to him? Watch the end of the video and you’ll find out.

While being a ham today doesn’t offer this kind of excitement, hams still contribute to science. Want to get in on the action? [Dan Maloney] can tell you how to get started on the cheap.

26 thoughts on “When Hams Helped Polar Researchers Come In From The Cold

  1. But it continued. Thefirst ham magazineI ever saw, QST for April 1971, had a ham in Antarctica on the cover. He’d done so many phone patches that they gave him a trip down there to see things.

    When the Bowdoin went to the arctic in 1923, a ham, Don Mix, was aboard to handle the radio.

    At 3:30 am Eastern on June 1st, TCM is airing Secret Land, about Ooeration High Jump in 1946.

  2. This post beings back memories of IGY in 1957. I was a 15 year old ham and youngest member of the Narragansett Amateur Radio Club in Rhode Island, near the main SeaBee base in Quonset. We set up many phone patches to local families who had members “on the ice” as Antarctica was known. Even though SSB (Single Side Band) was being used at the time for voice communications, we used AM because the club’s transmitter was an old Viking II. I am still active as KB3SII in California. Now you can visit the ice on a cruise ship. Steve … .. ..

    1. It’s hard to imagine a 135W AM transmitter being suitable for useful communication with Antarctica, but obviously it was done. You’re right, SSB was in place but not predominant. And I suppose some people at home listened in with shortwave radios they happened to have.

  3. It’s truly a shame that ham radio doesn’t get the recognition or the respect that it had back in those days.
    Even amongst the newer hams these days, the seriousness about how huge a responsibility and great privileges that are entrusted to the Amateur radio Licensee.
    Hams are given the keys to just about every corner of the entire radio spectrum.
    There is so much more to being a rightful and proper amateur radio Licensee.
    Ham radio used to be the premium talent pool and spawning ground for the advancement of electronics and electronic engineering, communications and computer technology.
    In the US, many Hams were employed in many of the technical industries that enabled the Space Race. Aerospace was a common career path for many ham radio enthusiasts.
    Communication on a worldwide basis is a relatively new thing for most common everyday people. Sure we have had landline bases telephones for decades and decades, but it was not so common place to reach out and touch someone overseas. It was cost prohibitive. Even phoning your grandmother across the nation was considered long distance and would result in a costly long distance bill at the end of the month.
    Everyday folks didn’t get to have the international exposure to others on the global scale , like they have today on the internet.
    Amateur radio operators have had to represent like ambassadors of goodwill and act with diplomacy. Radio waves know not many geographical and cannot discern any political boundaries . It has been thru international cooperation and unilateral convention that treatise managing radio spectrum uniformally that made for the creation of a internationally recognized and mostly self governing Amateur Radio service in the first place. International Telecommunications Union was formalized and agreed upon thru treatise before and beyond the formation of the United Nations. To this day the ITU manages spectrum issues on the international arena. ITU has a long history of recognizing the contribution of the Amateur Radio Service. ITU is the governing entity that creates the guidelines for spectrum management that individual nations must abide when forming their policies. The FCC in the US is the federal governing agency that mandates and manages rule over the airwaves in the United States. By international treaty the FCC must recognize and allocate the amateur radio service. Contrary to often popular belief, much of the requirements for licensing and management comes down to international treaty and not simply just the FCC!
    For instance much disdain for the proficiency of a Morse code requirement, as well as disdain for the removal of such requirement gets blamed upon the FCC! The FCC must keep it’s policy in check with the ITU.
    So much of the Amateur Radio Service has been taken for granted and unrealized.
    The numbers of licensees has been in decline. Technologies have outpaced the qualifications for new licensees. As technology has changed the qualifications have declined. Some argue that the lowered bar of qualifications has been due to the politics and pressures of US national ham radio lobby that seek to create larger ranks of members and political agenda of radio vendors.
    Many blame the indifference and even the poor on air operating habits and lack of discipline on the lowered qualifications to receive Amateur Radio Licensing, as well as a serious disregard to enforcement.
    Much of the indifference had led to a poor behaviour and lack of respect on the air, with so many that operate with the attitude of indifference and carelessness. In the US there are many scofflaw that operate with such indifference because of a blatant disregard for consiquence. They seem to think that FCC has lost all control.
    My opinion is that attitude is shortsighted and fails to respect the bigger picture.
    That this is a service that is international and is mostly self governing. It was created by intelligent and honorable persons to provide a place to further experimentation and provide for a means of communication assistance to others with the skills and equipment provided by the hams is needed. It is far more than a simple hobby and it is not some open unregulated rouque single band public service such as Citizen Band.
    The Amateur Radio Service and the vast spectrum entrusted to hams must be respected and the operators that utilize that spectrum must respect and honor the responsibilities that are so greatly granted to them.

    1. Re: “not some open unregulated rouque single band public service such as Citizen Band.”

      Sure it is. Have you been on HF lately??? There has been no
      FCC enforcement is over 20 years. Can you say “7.200Mhz LSB”
      or most of 75M at night.
      Makes CB look “clean”
      You must live in a alternate “spectrum” haha
      (31+ years in and a 13wpm Extra)

  4. WOW! Little did I realize that I’d be reading about Ham Radio communications to the Antarctic today when I opened up Hackaday.

    I wintered over at South Pole Station (yes, the one at 90 deg South) in 1962. We were still part of Operation Deep Freeze, except now it was DF 62, the year you wintered over in. The Navy still ran the logistics and the radio gear for Navy communications, but there was a Ham shack with a Collins SSB receiver and a 1 KW transmitter. The antenna I can’t remember, but it capable of multi-band operation. My colleague from the National Bureau of Standards was actually a Ham operator himself and had been working for Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa so we had an experienced operator on our end also.

    I don’t remember Jules or his brother, but it’s possible that we went through them sometimes; but they may have been away at college by then.

    The lady we did use a lot for communication was Betty, W6QPI in San Diego, California. She somehow always got through no matter how bad the solar storms were. We later found out why. She also had all Collins gear with a 1 KW transmitter and a rotatable, multi-band antenna. At the end of the year we decided we should reimburse Betty with a few dollars for all the postage for radiograms and phone patches that she sometimes paid for so we sent her a check for about $30 (X10 for today’s money). She replied by mail and sent back a torn up check and a letter saying “Not to worry! My husband is a Beechcraft airplane dealer and I have the best you can get in radio gear. I really don’t need the money and I love helping you guys communicate to your loved ones in the US”

    I myself made two phone patches to the US and a couple of postcards; others did a lot more.

    My colleague and I worked on three experiments: the C3 Ionosonde for measuring the height of the ionosphere at frequencies from 1 o 30 MHz, a Riometer experiment for measuring the strength of solar cosmic rays and a VLF experiment for Stanford University.

    Nowadays things are different. The Internet is available all the time and phone calls can be made at the right time of day.

    1. They were still using ham radio into the early 90s in Antarctica. My dad did a few stints down there (summers) and we’d get calls in the middle of the night from some random ham who volunteered to relay the call for us — and this was back in the days of expensive long-distance phone calls! Some generous folks out there.

      Because it was simplex, we’d have to talk a while, and say “over” and then he’d flip the switch the other way.

      Best story: we were staying with friends for a week. The father of their family was like “strangest thing — we got a call in the middle of the night saying he was Santa Claus or something.” Took us a while to get “North Pole” out of him, and then it dawned on all of us that my dad was probably at South Pole station…

      One of the first e-mails I ever got was from the Polar Duke, which had a satellite uplink to Bitnet. Had to head off to the central Vax machine to print it out. Now, like you say, they’ve got better networking than we do here.

    2. “Nowadays things are different. The Internet is available all the time and phone calls can be made at the right time of day.”

      Dude, the internet is here for ~30 years now.
      If we hams hadn’t neglected Packet-Radio so much in the past, our own packet-based infrastructure would still be here as an alternative.

      It’s the living in the past that caused amateur radio it’s current position in society. Among other things.
      Sticking to a glorious past isn’t enough, we still have to show society what we’re good for. We must earn and defend our frequencies. Over and over again. They’re no eternal gifts. Also, we must invest in the VHF/UHF bands! 2m, 70cm.

      HF is useless to commercial users, but they lick their fingers for the 2m/70cm bands.
      Especially those satellite companies.. Unfortunately, most hams here are so sentimental over HF that they don’t see the incoming danger or just don’t care. 😔

      I mean, some of us aren’t even willing to use modern telegraphy equipment (terminals, elbugs) for Gerke code telelegraphy, hi. 😉
      Heck, some oldtimers don’t even know what really CW stands for or what damped waves were.

      That being said. What we need the most currently is humor and confidence, I think. We’re still here, after all! If that isn’t remarkable, then I don’t know. Vy73s/55s

      1. The problem with hams is that people are still people. There are good hams and there are outright hostile and rude hams. Especially hostile to new operators. Sure there are digimodes and all, and I can just avoid these people entirely, but I really see no point anymore for practical use. You see these in the articles about how great ham radio is: Memories and stories of the past.

        If a war so big comes that we require hams, then a lot of humans would need top equipment to profit from it. Nevermind, it would be useless, without encryption the enemy would just listen in.

    3. My grandfather [and namesake] was Stephen Barnes, the principal scientific leader at Byrd Station. He was studying ham radio communication and the ionosphere in Antarctica in IGY 57-58. Pretty amazing stories from that man. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your reply for many reasons. Thanks for that!

  5. Would have been nice to give full name and call sign of the teenager in question, especially as he, Jules Madey – K2KGJ, left a comment on the video. Enough ham operators read the Hackaday and expect such information..

  6. I recall in the late 70’s building an interface and controller to allow our ham club repeater to connect to a phone land line. We had mobile phones long before cell phones. Certainly not private, but still pretty neat to do.
    History is neat to remember when looking back at technology. Innovating solutions and making the impossible happen. What will it be like in 50 more years?

    1. My father experimented with those fancy microwaves in the 1970s. 10GHz, I think. He used that link he made for a phone patch at some point. So he could make/initiate phone calls while sitting in a car. That was real amateur radio, I think. Experimenting with then-new technologies, I mean. 🙂

      Makes me wish that was still the case or the norm. Radio amateurs that are up-to-date on a wide scale, I mean. And eager to learn new things and willing to unlearn old falsehoods. No one forces them to use that knowledge or own cutting edge equipment whatsoever. It just would be respectful to the other hams, from this century. If OMs would still learn new things, that would be awesome. So they wouldn’t embarrass the current gen so much, I mean. Hi. 😉

  7. The military has used amateur radio for a long time. The MARS program allows military radios and military operators to make contact on amateur radio bands for things like “phone home” patches known in the military as morale calls and also the MARS system is used as military to amateur band emergency response relay networks to support disaster operations. The military does also have their own phone patch capability but prefers to keep those channels free for operational use. Military radio equipment is often used because it is just as capable of operating on amateur bands as military bands, the military encourages its radio operators to get amateur licenses to interoperate on these bands and military operators often do this as volunteers. When I was an Air Force communications specialist I often used spare radios and systems to operate MARS communications. A lot of amateur operators liked to talk to us because we were in the Azores which is in the middle of the Atlantic and a desirable QSO since there are not a lot of civilian operators on the small islands. They liked to ask about our extremely extensive and powerful HF stations. We had massive antenna farms and very expensive transmitters and receivers on dedicated separate transmitter and receiver sites known as Cinco Picos Transmitter Site and the Villa Nova Receiver Site. Both sites were operated by the 1936th Communications Squadron of the US Air Force.

    Antarctica was a bit tough for us since most of our fixed antennas were oriented for East/West communications as a primary relay between the East coast of the US and Northern Europe ( primarily used huge rhombics oriented that way) but we did have other antennas that could do North/South pretty well. We ran voice and VFCT 16 channel teletype tone packs on four independent sidebands for military traffic with frequency and spatial diversity.

  8. This article strikes home. I was 17 years old and a new ham in Essex, Md in 1969 as sunspots were peaking. I worked both kC4USV and KC4USN, McMurdo and South Pole respectively One night I did a phone patch for a South Pole scientist with his wife in nearby Bel Air. They had nit spoken in many months. Ten minutes of “I love you and miss you so much”. Not a dry eye on the frequency. I was galvanized by the power of radio and went on to spend 55 years as a broadcast engineer. Mike Starling KB3MS

  9. I agree with another poster. Paul Siple, Eagle Scout, Sea Scout and Antarctic explorer is a great story. He also participated in developing the “Wind Chill factor.” He also made all 5 expeditions to the Antarctic with Admiral Byrd. He would be an interesting topic for an article.

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