Sooke Coast Guard Radio (VAK) Sends Its Last Morse Code Message

by John M. MacFarlane (VE7AXU / VA7PX) 2011

Chris Hyde Sends Last Message

Chris Hyde sends the last message in Morse code from Sooke Coast Guard Radio 1992.

In 1992 I received a call from Wayne Fullerton the Manager of the Sooke Coast Guard Radio Station to tell me that they were about to send their last message in Morse code (CW). He called me because he thought that I might be interested to observe the proceedings.I am intensely interested in radio technology and practice so I jumped at the chance to take pictures and witness the scene.

On March 31, 1992 I drove out to the Sooke Coast Guard Radio (VAK) installation which served the Greater Victoria area. I recall that there was a note of sadness in the air at the station, particularly when the operator, Chris Hyde, sent the final message.

VAK is the callsign of the old Sooke Coastguard Radio station. For readers unfamiliar with the letters associated with radio stations these are unique address identifiers assigned to radio stations so that they can be easily identified. There usually have three letters for shore-based stations and four letters for ship-based stations. Some call signs are alphanumeric - containing both letters and numbers. They are also assigned to aircraft, commercial radio and TV stations and other radio services. The author holds assigned call signs VE7AXU and VA7PX to indicate that his stations are respectively located in Delta BC and Mayne Island BC.Other radio operators know him by these callsigns but may not know his name.

I took photos and gathered artifacts for the collection at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia collection from the station. I had a great interest in radio work and shared their understanding that this was the start of a passing away of a technology that had dominated communications for almost a century.

Chris Hyde Sends Last Message

Chris Hyde sends the last message while Wayne Fullerton handles telephone traffic 1992.

VICTORIA CG Radio VAK

(Confirmation of details courtesy of Wayne Fullerton and Jerry Proc).

According to Wayne Fullerton, radio station VAK was established as a Canadian Government radio station on Gonzales Hill (sometimes known as Shotbolt Hill), in Victoria in 1907 but opened officially in 1908 under call sign VSD. In 1913 the call sign was changed to the familiar VAK in accordance with the Berlin Convention. In 1940 the station was moved 12 km to the north at Gordon Head where it remained until 1967 when it was again moved, this time to McMillan Road in Sooke BC.

As part of the 10 year West Coast Radio Consolidation Plan and the subsequent merger of Vessel Traffic Services and Coast Guard Radio, the Sooke radio station was closed on the 31st of March 1992. Services were ‘remoted’ to Vancouver Coast Guard Radio VAI in Richmond BC and Tofino CG Radio VAE in Ucluelet BC. The call sign VAK remained dormant until the new Victoria Marine Communications and Traffic Services station opened in Patricia Bay, officially in February 2000. Once again VAK was back on the air – even if only handling marine VHF".

Wayne Fullerton transcribed the "Final CW Broadcast" from Victoria Coast Guard radio in Sooke (VAK) on March 31, 1992 at 1600 hrs PST. Sensing the history of the moment (and perhaps being somewhat nostalgic) Fullerton recorded the transmission on tape. The transcription of that Morse code text was sent by operator Chris Hyde as follows:

	On 500 KHz: 
	CQ CQ de VAK VAK
	Station Closure MSG QSW 430 KHz AR
	On 430 KHz: CQ CQ de VAK VAK BT
	At 2400 UTC VAK will close forever after 84 years SVC
	VAI and VAE will handle MF CW and RT
	Good Bye to all stations and ships at sea. 
	73 NW QRU QRT CL AR VA

On the recording tape at the end of this broadcast, the vessel c/s KSBZ calls VAK, ((VAK de KSBZ K) there is a pause and VAK answers ... KSBZ de VAK GB 73 E E. Chris Hyde at VAK then sent the following: CQ de VAK NW Closed QRT 73 AR VA Another station "NTRI" (an American naval ship station) called in response ... "VAK de NTRI 73 AR" but Chris Hyde at VAK then sends simply, "GB" (meaning good–bye). No further transmissions were made.

Fullerton went on to say "This transmission was not the last CW transmission from the West Coast. The last CW transmission from West Coast was sent at least a year (1998) before the last CW transmission in Canada also due to changes brought about by the West Coast Consolidation Plan. Since this was a planned service termination, all stations were broadcasting a NOTSHIP to that effect for a month prior to shutdown. Broadcasts were sent by each station on a predetermined schedule so whichever station was "last on the broadcast schedule" would have been the station that sent the last CW message from the west coast. That station's call sign is not known at this time".

Radio Room in MV Noordam

The radio room in the MV Noordam 1990.

It is thought that no vessel at sea today (2011) is capable of handling radio traffic in morse code – operational staff simply do not have the knowledge and skill unless they are also licenced Amateur Radio operators. In any case most vessels no longer carry the appropriate equipment. (Any reader with knowledge to the contrary is invited to contact the author.) Satellite telephone and HF/VHF voice radio transmissions have superseded any need to use CW (Morse code). Licenced Amateur Radio operators (ham radio) may be the last CW operators practising this ancient art on the air.

Sooke CG Radio sign

The identifier sign at the installation.

Coast Guard vehicles c1992

Canadian Coast Guard vehicles in 1992 livery.

The VAK antenna

The antenna at VAK Sooke Radio 1992.

Edito’s Note: In 2018 we received an email from Bryan D. Fisher (RMC, USCG) that stated "I was a CW operator at the U.S. Coast Guard Communication Station San Francisco (NMC on Point Reyes, California), from 1980 through 1984 and heard stations VAK, VAE, VAI, VAJ, and other Canadian stations very frequently. I commend you on your very interesting article and have enjoyed all the pleasant memories it resurrected for me from my own CW days. As an added note, the last vessel who called VAK, call sign NTRI, was the USNS Wilkes (T–AGS–33), a hydrographic survey ship of the US Military Sealift Command."

Acknowledgement:

Thanks to Wayne Fullerton and Jerry Proc for their help in confirming the details of this article. They used their many contacts to identify the personnel in my photos from 1992.


To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2011) Sooke Coast Guard Radio (VAK) Sends Its Last Morse Code Message. Nauticapedia.ca 2011. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Sooke_Radio_Last_Broadcast.php

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