A cross-country, station-hopping relay this month recreated the January 27, 1917, route of the first formal Amateur Radio transcontinental message traffic bound for ARRL Headquarters. This method of traffic handling is in the DNA of the then-nascent national organization for Amateur Radio’s name — American Radio Relay League. Kent Trimble, K9ZTV, organized the January 27 commemoration, in which a message originating at W6UE, the Cal Tech club station in Los Angeles, hopped to K8ZTT in Denver; to W9ABD in Jefferson City, Missouri; to KT2D in Albany, New York, and finally to W1AW. The message was addressed to ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher, NY2RF. The commemorative event chose 160 meters, as it was the band closest to the 200-meter wavelength used for the original accomplishment.
“The spirits of 6EA 9ZF 9ABD 2AGJ and 1ZM send commemorative greetings on the 100th anniversary of first transcontinental relay of formal message traffic 73,” read the message, which, for a signature, included the call signs and locations of the stations involved in the relay.
As Trimble reported, the message originated at W6UE at 0801 UTC and followed the same path of the 1917 message relay. “Despite deep QSB, persistence paid off with Bob Dillon, KT2D, confirming receipt before completing the route to W1AW at approximately 0930 UTC,” Trimble recounted. That was 4:30 AM in Connecticut.
“Great work, all, especially W9ABD’s patience working through the QSB and QRN on the long Jefferson City-to-Albany leg,” Dillon said. W1AW Station Manager Joe Carcia, NJ1Q, reported that copy on KT2D was fair, with some troublesome noise and fading.
In 1917, two messages originated by the Seefred brothers to ARRL President Hiram Percy Maxim and one from Lindley Winser to ARRL Co-Founder Clarence Tuska were relayed from 6EA in Los Angeles to Capt. W.H. Smith, 9ZF, in Denver, to Willis P. Corwin, 9ABD, in Jefferson City, to Kenneth Hewitt, 2AGJ, in Albany, and finally to Maxim’s 1ZM in Hartford, Connecticut. The routing for this month’s commemorative event was identical to that of a century earlier.
The very first effort to move formal message traffic via Amateur Radio from coast to coast, on January 4, 1917, “was broken up by static,” according to an account in Two Hundred Meters and Down, by Amateur Radio historian Clinton DeSoto, W9KL.
DeSoto said the January 27, 1917, triumph, in which three messages were relayed across the US, was topped a few days later on February 6, when a piece of traffic originating on the East Coast made its way to the West Coast, with a reply reaching the East Coast all within 1 hour and 20 minutes.
“This marks the first real Amateur Radio communication with a definite address,” noted an article, “Trans-continental Traffic Begins,” trumpeting the January 27, 1917, accomplishment in the April 1917 issue of QST. “We are told that broadcast messages have been put across [the country] before, but it is an altogether different thing to get something across by luck, trusting to any station who may happen to hear it, and to handle a message to a definite address through definite relay stations.”
In 2007, the Mid-Missouri Amateur Radio Club in Jefferson City, Missouri, observed the 90th anniversary of that historic night with a special event honoring the then-teenaged Willis P. Corwin, 9ABD, the operator at that second point in the relay in 1917. W9ABD today is the call sign of the Corwin Heritage Amateur Radio Club in Jefferson City.
“We set up within feet of his original spark-gap shack,” Trimble recounted in a 2008 Electric Radio article, “and the mayor of Jefferson City dedicated a plaque on that site in his memory.” Corwin died in 1959, on the 42nd anniversary of the January 27, 1917 milestone.