Radio Questions


Oct 18, 2014
Probably a silly question but I find it difficult to get my head round how the ship radio actually worked. I haven’t seen any reference to a ticker tape being used for receiving messages. It is quoted that Phillips could send 39 words a minute!!! This would not be much use if the receiver wasn’t just as talented; assuming he would have to write down each letter to make up a word. Not being musical I often wonder if people can read a music score and hear the music in their head. I read that Phillips was listening to the broadcasts while getting ready for bed; would he be able to translate the code to words without a pencil and paper? He told the Californian to go away, he was too busy sending messages; how would he receive and send messages at the same time? I have tried to find answers without success.


Dec 11, 2012
The radio was entirely audio. There was no ticker tape. It would have made a series of beeps which could be heard in a pair of headphones. beep beep beep beeeeeeeeep beeeeeeeeep beeeeeeeeep beep beep beep . That's what other ships would have heard when Titanic sent it's SOS message.

The telegraph operators would have been able to just listen to the beeps and understand the message. They were rigorously tested by the Marconi company, which they worked for. If it sounds difficult, it's just like learning a second language. The difference is that it's easier because only the letters have changed, all the words are still the same. Once you got enough practice, you wouldn't need a paper and pencil to hear it. The telegraph operator would write down the messages so that the passengers could read them.

About the California: All the ships could hear every other ship simultaneously. It's kind of like when you go into a crowd. You can hear some people louder than others, and the are rules like taking turns and being polite. Basically, Phillips was in the middle of a conversation when Californian ran up and started shouting in his ear.

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