The ship sinking…seawater coming up higher and higher on each deck. What would you do?
Grab your cell phone. Call or text for help.
If wasn’t that simple back in 1912.
The wireless was the only means of long distance communication between Titanic and other ships (the Morse lamp was used for ships within visual range as well as rockets) as well as land.
Much has been written about the Marconi wireless and how novel it was to the passengers on the ship.
Who can forget the scene in the film when operator Jack Phillips “yells” back to the operator on the nearby Californian, “Shut up, shut up! I’m working Cape Race.” (Cape Race was the first wireless station in Newfoundland and the only land station to receive the Titanic’s distress signal.)
Frustrated, the operator shuts down his wireless and goes to bed. No further communication with him was possible that night.
He didn’t hear the “CQD” or the “SOS” after the Titanic hit the iceberg.
The Californian didn’t know until it was late the ship was sinking.
According to newspaper reports at that time, CQD was the British landline operators’ signal (“CQ” for “all stations”) with the addition of “D” by the Marconi company for added emphasis (danger).
“SOS” was adapted because of its distinctive Morse Code pattern of three dots…three dashes…three dots.
According to an in-depth article by Frances Williams at Suite 101: “Only five months before the disaster, New York had received the first wireless transmission from Italy and for many years Marconi had been working to improve the range of his transmissions.”
The Titanic had a first rate wireless room and could receive signals as far as 400 miles during the day and seemingly unlimited range at night.
Which meant they weren’t the only ones sending messages back and forth (the Titanic had sent 250 messages during the voyage).
According to the NY Herald, April 18, 1912, something had to be done to regulate the wireless lest more disasters at sea take place because their distress signal wasn’t heard. “Wireless meddlers” crowded the airwaves with messages and a Senate bill was drawn up to set up to regulate operators with a license.
No post about Titanic and the wireless would be complete without mentioning the two Marconi operators and their dedication to duty.
J.G. Phillips, 25 years old, was the chief operator and had served on the Mauretania and the Lusitania. He had been with the company for seven years and did not survive.
Harold Sydney Bride, 22 years old, had only been with the company twelve months and did survive. (He was on the same overturned lifeboat along with the hero in my romance novel, “Titanic Rhapsody,” Captain Lord Jack Blackthorn.)
It was Phillips who sent the famous wireless message to Harold Thomas Cottam, the sole wireless operator on the Carpathia:
“It’s CQD, old man. Distress call.”
Mr. Cottam was off duty and had not gone to bed when he heard the distress call. He insisted on waking up Captain Rostron. Because of his actions, 705 people survived that cold, bitter night.
Why was Mr. Cottam listening to the wireless if he was off duty?
He was hoping to catch the Saturday night football scores broadcast from Cape Race.
His alertness was a touchdown.