Station NMC

Tour of Coast Guard Master Station NMC - July 1, 2003

CAMSPAC = Communications Area Master Station Pacific

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Sign at the entrance to NMC at 17000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Point Reyes National Seashore The entrance to the CAMSPAC station building.

On July 1st, 2003 a special event was held at the Coast Guard radio station NMC located at Point Reyes, CA (in West Marin County). This is the reception and control site. The transmitting site is at 482 Mesa Rd., Bolinas, CA

This station is one of two master stations that handle all long-distance radio communications for the Coast Guard. (This station serves the Pacific hemisphere, the other serves the Atlantic hemisphere.)

The event was the retiring of a specialty or rating that designates a US Coast Guard man as a qualified radioman. The rating was commonly known as "Sparks".

In the past one unique skill of a radioman was mastery of Morse code. For this special event, messages were sent and received using Morse code (CW). The use of Morse code by the Coast Guard was previously discontinued on August 16th, 1994.

The first Coast Guard communicators were known as Radiomen but earned the nickname Sparks because of the electrical nature of early wireless equipment. "Sparks" also became the term to describe the lightning bolts that became the emblem of the Radioman rating designator. In 1994, the Coast Guard changed the name of the Radioman rating to "Telecommunications Specialist", in order to better reflect the job being performed by the communicators operating in the digital era. Although the rate had undergone a significant change, the traditional sparks remained the symbol of the Coast Guard Communicator for another decade.

Today Coast Guard Communicators face a new change, as the Telecommunications Specialist rating becomes incorporated into two new ratings, Information System Technician and Operations Specialist. Along with the passing of the TC rating, we are also witnessing the retirement of the long held insignia for the Coast Guard Communicator - the "sparks" rating designator.

No one was wearing the actual "Sparks" rating insignia, but an officer still wears a similar insignia on his shoulder pads. This is Warrant Officer Potter with shoulder insignia. He was the person who sent the last official Morse code message from CAMSPAC (using the Guam transmitter) in August 1994  

At Noon a commemorative message was transmitted using CW on two frequencies: 448Khz and 8574Khz. Here's the message that was sent.(PDF format) The actual transmitters and transmitting antennas for NMC are remotely located in Bolinas, CA. The receivers and receiving antennas are at the CAMSPAC site in Point Reyes where these photos were taken.

Loren R. O'Banion,
CAMSPAC CMC, sending CW message.

Senior Chief Petty Officer (SCPO) Heckler, CAMSPAC sending CW message Hecklerr sending CW message Heckler sending and on-lookers

After the commemorative message was sent, messages were exchanged by several current and former marine commercial stations using morse code. Stations included: KPH, KLB, and WLO

Loren R. O'Banion,
CAMSPAC CMC receiving "copying" a CW message

Loren O'Banion typing message into Notepad while copying CW. Senior Chief Petty Officer (SCPO) Bill Heckler, CAMSPAC copying CW message Bill Heckler adjusting audio while having a QSO (radio conversation).

Bill Heckler receiving and on-looker

This operating station is normally used to remotely control CAMSLANT stations. The screen on the left is a PC that controls the receivers. Here's a close up of the receiver control screen. This is a Windows program that is running on several PCs throughout the station to control the receivers over a LAN. This is a rack of recievers that are computer controlled via the LAN

Overview of the operating room.

This operating station is used to handle a modern form of radio teletype (SITOR) normally used by todays ships for messaging. Most of this is completely automated. This room contains the controls for broadcasting. Weather by voice, sitor, weather FAX, Notice to Mariners information to ships are broadcasr periodically.. This is the HFDX console. It manages digital communications to USCG ships on HF frequencies and via satellite. On the wall to the left is one of 4 large plasma TV screens that can display info from a computer screen. Today it is displaying the QSL log.


There are a number of antennas at Point Reyes. These include microwave, satellite, and HF antennae.

Antennas 2,3,6 and 1 from left to right. Antenna 2 is a horizontally polarized log periodic aimed South. Antenna 3 is a horizontally polarized log periodic aimed West

Antennas 3, 6 and 1 from left to right. Antenna 6 is a vertically polarized log periodic aimed West. Antenna 1 is a horizontally polarized log periodic aimed NorthWest.


Antenna 4, is a vertically polarized log periodic aimed NorthWest Antenna 5 is a vertically polarized Log Periodic aimed SouthEast

Close-up of antenna 5

Antenna 5 more detail Antenna 7 is an omni- directional antenna. Note the birds nest at the top. Closeupof antenna 7 note the intricate web of wires.

Antennas 8 is an omni-directional inverted cone.

Antennas 9 is a rotatable horizontally polarized log periodic Antenna 9 Antenna 10 is an omni-directional inverted cone.
This page and all images are by Glenn Meader, N1ZKW and are released to the public domain.
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