Tour of Coast Guard Master Station NMC – July 1, 2003


On July 1st, 2003 a special event was held at the Coast Guard radio station
NMC located at Point Reyes, CA (in West Marin County). This is the reception and control site. The transmitting site is at 482 Mesa Rd., Bolinas, CA

This station is one of two master stations that handle all long-distance radio communications
for the Coast Guard. (This station serves the Pacific hemisphere, the other serves the Atlantic hemisphere.)

The event was the retiring of a specialty or rating that designates a US Coast Guard man as a qualified radioman.
The rating was commonly known as “Sparks”.

In the past one unique skill of a radioman was mastery of Morse code. For this special event, messages were sent and received using Morse code
(CW). The use of Morse code by the Coast Guard was previously discontinued on August 16th, 1994.

The first Coast Guard communicators were known as Radiomen but earned the nickname Sparks because of the electrical nature of early wireless
equipment. “Sparks” also became the term to describe the lightning bolts that became the emblem of the Radioman rating designator. In 1994,
the Coast Guard changed the name of the Radioman rating to “Telecommunications Specialist”, in order to better reflect the job being performed by
the communicators operating in the digital era. Although the rate had undergone a significant change, the traditional sparks remained the symbol
of the Coast Guard Communicator for another decade.

Today Coast Guard Communicators face a new change, as the Telecommunications Specialist rating becomes incorporated into two new ratings, Information
System Technician and Operations Specialist. Along with the passing of the TC rating, we are also witnessing the retirement of the long held
insignia for the Coast Guard Communicator – the “sparks” rating designator.


No one was wearing the actual “Sparks” rating
insignia, but an officer still wears a similar insignia on his shoulder
pads.This is Warrant Officer Potter with shoulder insignia.
He was the person who sent the last official Morse code message from
CAMSPAC (using the Guam transmitter) in August 1994

At Noon a commemorative message was transmitted using CW on two frequencies:
448Khz and 8574Khz. Here’s the message that was sent.(PDF format)

The actual transmitters and transmitting antennas or NMC are remotely located in Bolinas, CA. The receivers and receiving
antennas are at the CAMSPAC site in Point Reyes where these photos were taken.

After the commemorative message was sent, messages were exchanged by several current and former marine commercial stations using morse code.
Stations included: KPH, KLB, and WLO

USCG Website