After 71 years, WLO operators go off the air

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Zach, who notes that WLO have announced that as of 04:59 UTC on July 1, 2018, “there there will no longer be 24/7 operators on duty at the Mobile, AL stations.”

Here’s a screenshot from their announcement on Facebook:
The end of an era indeed. Thanks for the tip, Zach.

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8 thoughts on “After 71 years, WLO operators go off the air

  1. K F

    I worked at WLO about 30 years ago right after undergrad school when I needed a job. It was nothing at all like I imagined growing up listening to WLO’s channel markers on my shortwave radio. I imagined nicely-dressed and highly skilled people manning the equipment and state of the art buildings etc. Nope.

    It was a run-down, small three-bedroom house modified and packed with surplus equipment racks and equipment. It also had very dated, warping wood paneling in the SITOR room. All this was patched together somehow so it worked. The house was on maybe five acres or so, I think, maybe ten. It had an old shack barn behind it. The antenna field had several towers holding Yagi’s. There was also a cross of loops on the ground for LW operations (sometimes ships would call us on Morse using 500Khz) and there was a microwave dish we used to relay our signals to the main transmitters on the Mobile Bay. It was an amazing assembly of old, surplus equipment interconnected into a hodgepodge of computers. PC towers, the kind you have at home, did a lot of the work too. They were on the floor or shoved between a desk here and there. There was a room where all the computer routers and switches were placed. Imagine an eccentric ham operator turning his whole house into a ham shack with no regard on how it looked. That’s what it was/is.

    I’ll be honest here. The Morse operators were the only ones really qualified in radio via commercial licenses and most were former military, like me. I was a Morse operator. Most of the people manning the equipment were unskilled/uneducated people from the Mobile AL area trained on site. They were mostly former fast food workers who got the job by knowing someone else who worked there. This type of worker reduced cost by not having to pay skilled radio folks or offer any benefits at all. They didn’t offer any form of health insurance or even a retirement plan — nothing. Morse operators made more pay because we had commercial licenses and were skilled in a way, but it wasn’t a lot by any means. Alabama was a right-to-work state and this reared its ugly head even at the coast station.

    The owner foresaw the end coming and kept sending out notices that lay offs would occur due to decreasing traffic at the station. He bought and merged two other coast stations in the hopes that would increase revenue, but it didn’t. The unskilled people working at WLO refused to find other work despite his warnings. They hung on like vultures. I was already looking for another job the first day I saw the “house shack” and the type of people who worked there — I kid you not.

    It was satellite phones that ultimately killed the company and all US coast stations. The cost of using them kept going down and pretty soon, you didn’t have to go thru a coast station in order to call a loved one while at sea or contact your company to report your cargo amounts, speed, ETA etc. US vessels switched over to GMDSS and didn’t have to send in their AMVER Morse reports to the station anymore. Then, the nail in the coffin for us Morse operators was when the Coast Guard ceased using Morse Code.

    When I was there, the only activity was the early morning rush of local fishing boats who couldn’t afford satellite phones. For about an hour, they were the early morning rush in the voice room. After that, almost nothing. The same was true for Morse. All the ships would call in starting at 6am M-F. All the traffic would be received and whatever was on the traffic tree sent out and by 10 am. It would gradually fade to sporadic contacts the rest of the day/night. I’d have maybe five to ten ships call in via Morse on the swing shift and almost nothing on the mid shift. This only got worse as time went on.

    So, that’s the truth of working at WLO. At one time the traffic trees were like Xmas trees they were so full of paper. They were spinning metal “trees” with paper messages clipped on them. When a station called in, you would un-clip the paper traffic and send it to the ship calling in. That’s why they were called “traffic trees.” It was a good time for coast stations. Again, technology killed the need for a third party station to relay traffic. Still it’s sad for me to see WLO off the air 24/7. It was comforting to know it and all coast stations were out there 24/7. Take care and 73, if anyone is still out there…listening.

    Reply
  2. Mario

    I know that WLO had computer voice weather reports that I used to listen to, along with CW markers, that is about all I know of recent activity. And WLO Shipcomm, run by radio amateurs that sent RTTY and Sitor messages to ships at sea, I have that frequency in my SDR# frequency manager as it was nice to hear those reports. Not sure if that station is also going off the air too?

    Correct me if wrong, thanks.

    Reply
  3. Bob Dyer

    Who are they ? And what did they do ?sounds like something that was connected to wirld war 2, if so i tip my hat to them

    Reply

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