Historic AT&T high seas radio station to be demolished

The remains of shortwave radio station WOO — for decades the Atlantic coast hub of American Telephone & Telegraph’s high seas radio service — will likely disappear in the coming weeks.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with contractor Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure Inc., plans to remove more than 500 antennas and poles that stud 222 acres of salt marsh on New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay.

The site at Good Luck Point was the transmitter station for WOO, which from the early 1930s onward was a shore-to-ship critical link to U.S. bluewater and coastwise shipping. Right up to the dawn of cellular telephones in the late 20th century, mariners could place telephone calls by contacting the AT&T marine operator on VHF channels.

High seas and overseas radio operators at AT&T's New York City switchboard in 1943 handled calls through station WOO. AT&T photo.

High seas and overseas radio operators at AT&T’s New York City switchboard in 1943 handled calls through station WOO. AT&T photo.

Also known as the Ocean Gate site, the transmitter worked in tandem with a receiver site about 15 miles south on the marsh at Manahawkin, N.J. Both were part of AT&T’s national “long lines” system, along with stations KMI near San Francisco and WOM near Miami.

An operator at radio station KMI in California, 1966. Maritime Radio Historical Society photo.

An operator at radio station KMI in California, 1966. Maritime Radio Historical Society photo.

As technology changed and users began falling away, the stations still provided single-sideband (SSB) radiotelephone service up to February 1999 when AT&T announced it was ceasing operations. Satellite service had usurped the old manned shoreside station model, and the company was selling customers on its own Sea Call service using Inmarsat technology.

The New Jersey sites were soon abandoned, and the Good Luck Point tract was purchased in 2003 by the non-profit Trust for Public Land, to be donated to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

Among boaters passing on Barnegat Bay, the decaying antenna array is jokingly called “the telephone pole farm.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists always wanted to clean up the site and restore the marsh to improve its value for wildlife, but never had the money.

That changed after Hurricane Sandy hit the region in October 2012. Parts of the 47,000-acre Forsythe refuge were inundated with wreckage from  flooded homes and marinas, and the wildlife service eventually got $15 million out of federal Sandy relief funding for the cleanup. Some $1.7 million of that will go to clearing the Good Luck Point site, which is getting priority with the limited funding.

Contractors will use airboats to work in the marsh and bring cut-up poles and steel in for disposal. Some poles will be left standing, for use as osprey nest platforms.

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Historic AT&T high seas radio station to be demolished – dxradio.de

  2. Terry Hammonds on

    A perfect example of how technology eliminates some jobs while creating a whole set of new ones. It has been happening forever. Thanks for sharing this perspective on progress.

  3. Gregory Marino on

    I grew up directly across Barnegat Bay from this facility…on Coates Point. Maybe one mile as the crow flies. Through the 1960’s and 70’s and before I went off to college, I will always remember when WOO went into the “transmitting mode” for there was no watching of television until they were through. In the back of my mind, I can still hear my dad “cussin up a storm” because the transmission interrupted “All In The Family” NFL Football and such.

    Today, as a ham radio operator, it’s fun to research just slightly more about the systems that served so many for so many years but now, really know how they worked! And, I can’t even begin to imagine what worth WOO was during WW II.

    So long WOO but, unlike the masses, I’m certain you mean a bunch more to me than most who will read anything about you. Not just the sounds of muffled Single Side Band and Amplitude 15,000 watt transmissions but, looking out across the Barnegat Bay through so many years at this brick..but now meaningful…structure

  4. “who calls WOM high seas?”
    In the 70’s & 80’s to hear that inquiry,
    meant you were getting closer to the correct frequency to talk from way off shore to your boss or whoever!
    Magical moments for sure!
    Thanks to operators “on the beach”.

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