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South Jersey

Monday, May 28, 2001
Radio operators broadcast from `Big J'

CHRIS LaCHALL/Courier-Post
CHRIS LaCHALL/Courier-Post
Bob Westcott of Bridgeton mans the microphone for the Battleship New Jersey's first amateur radio transmission in 10 years Saturday at Camden's Broadway Terminal.
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    Courier-Post Staff

    "This is November Juliet Two Bravo Bravo," ham radio operator Bob Westcott of Bridgeton says into a microphone, broadcasting his call sign identification code. Radio waves go out across the planet, and Westcott waits for other radio stations to respond.

    "This is a special events station for the Battleship New Jersey radio station. Does anyone read?" Westcott continues. He is making the first worldwide transmission from the battleship - soon to be a floating museum on the Camden Waterfront - since it was retired in 1991.

    Westcott, a 79-year-old ex-Navy radio operator, was the first operator who manned the new Battleship New Jersey amateur radio station during its inaugural broadcast Saturday. Westcott used to send and receive encoded messages aboard the battleship during World War II.

    The first hams to respond were a husband and wife, Janice and Richard, from Michigan. Following ham radio protocol, they gave their call signs but not their last name on the air.

    "Kilo Charlie Eight. Hotel, Mike, Germany. QSL ( acknowledge)," came a woman's response.

    "You're the first contact I've made (from the New Jersey) since some time in 1944," Westcott told the woman.

    "The name here is Janice. We are located in Michigan about 35 miles north of Detroit, and my husband would like to be No. 2," responding to the new calling station, Janice replied.

    "Well, that's the way the husband usually is. He always comes in second," Westcott quipped, drawing laughter from his fellow hams.

    Other ham operators responding to the morning broadcast were from the Midwest, Kentucky and from within New Jersey, including Cherry Hill. Transmissions from other countries come more often at night.

    Some hams asked when the ship, now being restored at the Broadway Terminal in Camden, would be open. They were told public tours will begin in the fall. One ham from Indiana said he hoped to get to New Jersey to see the ship.

    Other club members gathered around to listen to and operate the radio during the broadcast from a small interior radio room on the main deck level.

    Westcott was almost at a loss for words afterward. "I can't really explain how I feel," he said. "It's quite a sensation - like Christmas morning."

    He also had another surprise - an onboard reunion with Jack Schaar, 78, of Barnsville, Pa., a radio operator buddy he served with on the ship.

    Static interfered with some of the communication during the event, sometimes making it difficult to hear other hams.

    Club president and engineer Peter Greene of Marlton, who rotated with others as operator, said that was due to stormy weather on the East Coast combined with solar flare activity.

    The radio club, in conjunction with defense electronics contractor L3 Communications of Camden, is still using volunteers to refurbish the ship's other electronic equipment in Radio Central and a second radio room on the ship.

    "This is a great day, a culmination of months of effort by a lot of guys trying to get our radio station together," Greene said.

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