Chicago Shortwave Station in Indiana

In our program today, we are as it were, Back Home Again in Indiana, this time, to tell the story of the Chicago Shortwave Station that was located in the western area of northern Indiana. This shortwave station was on the air for a period of some ten years, stretching from 1933 up until it was closed as an international security measure during World War II. 

This new shortwave station in Indiana was established by Mackay Radio, and its first operator was Lewis Coe, who became well known in the pre World War II era as a prolific radio historian. He went on to write several books on early radio history in the United States in which he presented valuable information from both the technical as well as the operational point of view.

Back during the year 1932, the Mackay Radio Company established a line of shortwave communication stations stretching from New York, across the United States to San Francisco, and onward to Honolulu, Guam, Manila and China. In order to ensure reliable communication in Morse Code across the United States, Mackay needed an intermediate relay station somewhere in the middle of the continental United States. Chicago and its environs were chosen for this purpose; and specifically, two country locations just across the state border in Indiana.

The location for the combined operating facility and receiver station back at that time was on an isolated 120 acre tract of land in a remote area in Merrillville Indiana where the only access was at the end of an unmarked dirt track.  The experienced Morse Code operator Lewis Coe took part in the start up of this Mackay Radio Station and he became their first Chief Operator.  Morse Code communication on shortwave from this station under the registered callsign WMEC was made in both directions as needed, towards Mackay stations WSF in New York in the east and KFS in San Francisco in the west.

Soon after this Indiana station was inaugurated, it took part in a double monumental and historic event.  This is how it happened. Back during the early 1930's, there was a space race on between the United States and Russia, to see who could be the first to fly the highest in altitude. In a joint project between the National Geographic magazine and the United States army, a high altitude balloon was launched from a country location near Rapid City South Dakota on July 28, 1934.  A second attempt was made on November 11 during the following year (1935), and a record height of 74,000 feet, a little over 14 miles, was achieved.

On both occasions, the attached gondola carried a small shortwave radio transmitter for live communication with the ground below.  The signal was then relayed to shortwave stations W9XF in Chicago, and to W3XL and W3XAL in New Jersey for worldwide coverage.

The airborne transmitter made its broadcasts on 13050 kHz and it was registered with the callsign W10XCX on the first occasion, and with the callsign W10XFH on the second occasion.  The radio station on the ground below was identified with the callsign W10XCW on the first occasion and as W10XFN on the second occasion, and it transmitted with 200 watts on 6350 kHz. The Mackay radio station WMEC in Indiana participated in the transmission tests from the air borne gondola Explorer (1) and Explorer 2 on both occasions.  These test broadcasts were designed to discover what is the effect of super high altitude on the transmission of a shortwave signal.

The transmitter facility for Mackay Radio Chicago was installed in the center of a 90 acre marginal farm property at St John Indiana that had been obtained at a bargain price.  There was a 10 mile separation between the two facilities for Mackay Radio WMEC, with the receiver station at Merrillville and the transmitter station at St John, some 24 miles south east of Chicago. During its 10 years of communication service, several shortwave transmitters were installed at St. Johns, including one at 10 kW, which was considered at the time to be quite high powered.  In 1938, Operator Lewis Coe was re-appointed by Mackay management as the Chief Operator in the transmitter station at St. John.

With the American involvement in World War 2 in the middle of last century, changes came to the shortwave radio scene also.  Some stations were taken over by the government, some were abandoned.  Station WMEC was closed in June 1942, as a wartime requirement, and then it was taken over by the American Army Signal Corps. Beginning on August 1 (1942), the Signal Corps leased station WMEC from the Mackay Radio company with the intent of opening a radio circuit with an American air base located at Churchill on the edge of Hudson Bay in Canada.  However, when the Hudson Bay project was cancelled, Lewis Coe was then required to remove the electronic equipment from the Indiana station and ship it to the large Mackay Shortwave Station at Brentwood on Long Island, New York.  The equipment was then rebuilt and shipped again, this time to Algiers in North Africa, where it was installed as a new Mackay shortwave communication station rated at 50 kW.

The last project that Lewis Coe worked on for Mackay Radio was the re-furbishing and re-opening in 1945 of their New York shortwave station WSF which had been closed during the war.
The Mackay properties in Indiana were sold off after the war.  The location of the receiver station for Mackay Radio WMEC at Merrillville Indiana is now in use as a large shopping complex, the Southlake Shopping Mall, at the southeastern corner of Lincoln Highway and Mississippi Street. The location of the transmitter station for Mackay Radio WMEC at St. John in Indiana is now under water all year round at a small lake on the north side of West 93rd Avenue, opposite West Oakridge Drive, we would suggest.
(AWR-Wavescan # 542)

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