Digest>Archives> July 2003

Light Reflections

Radio Telegraphy Protocol

By Sharma Krauskopf


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Last month I talked about my visit to the Out Skerries Lighthouse located in the Shetland Islands of Scotland and the terrible condition the keeper’s buildings were in. When the attendant keeper, Bobby Johnson, and I were rummaging around in the things still in tact we found a memo in an old order book full of fascinating documents.

Among them was one dated 1956 from the Northern Lighthouse Board to the keepers. It seems the keepers had been reported by the central office in London to the board for using the “radio telegraphy” to transmit messages that were not in line with the regulations for its use. The subject of the disputed communication was viewing television and someone needed to get out of his or her pyjamas.

All sorts of images and ideas crossed my mind after reading this memo. Evidently the keepers were using the “radio telegraphy” to discuss the latest television programs. That seems a logical thing to do when you are an hour and half ferry ride from the main island of the Shetland archipelago and on a small island away from where most of your Out Skerry neighbours lived. There could be some pretty funny explanations for the comments related to pyjamas which makes me chuckle. I have to admit this is not something that you would think they would use their only link to the outside world to discuss.

No matter what the subject of the communication I can understand why they would use the radio in this manner. Living in another remote area I have great empathy for the keepers but I have telephone, television and the Internet, which allows me to keep contact with the outside world. There are times I just need to hear the voice of another human being so I pick up the telephone to call a friend to discuss not very important things. Sometimes I need to hear something else besides sheep bah bahing, wind blowing, and waves crashing (Not that any of those sounds are bad!).

It seems to me this memo was a little harsh. Anyone valiant enough to be in charge of the Out Skerry Lighthouse ought to be allowed to use the “radio telegraphy” to communicate with others about any thing as long as the business of tending the light was carried out. Being a keeper was a hard, lonely and physical job. They needed some recreation. Watching television was a logical answer for passing their free time and sharing it with others seems okay. Now, whether the pyjamas issue was good recreation and important enough to use the “radio telegraphy” only the keepers knew.

This story appeared in the July 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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