AT&T to end HF SSB radiotelephone service

One of the most important single-sideband radio services to long-range sailors is the high-seas AT&T HF SSB radiotelephone service. AT&T has operated three powerful shore stations that blanket the world’s voyaging regions with their powerful signals. These stations are KMI in San Francisco, WOO in New Jersey, and WOM in Miami. All three stations are slated for an immediate shutdown on February 28, 1999.

“AT&T is discontinuing high seas radiotelephone service because the demand for more sophisticated and cost-effective methods of communications have outpaced the need for terrestrial radio,” said Janice Burenga, AT&T Public Relations.

“AT&T’s high seas radiotelephone service has played an integral role in the development of maritime communications,” added Vince Zuza, AT&T’s Mobile Satellite Service Manager, in a letter to AT&T High Seas customers. “However significant the accomplishment, time and technology have steadily advanced commercial mobile satellite communications. So much, in fact, that demand from seafarers for more sophisticated and cost-effective methods of communications has outpaced the need for (our) terrestrial radio service.” Zuza suggests customers make the switch to AT&T Sea Call satellite service, using Inmarsat marine mini-M terminals registered to AT&T, with Inmarsat terminal equipment from Mackay Communications for a price of $5,000.

Many ocean voyagers are far out at sea and regularly depend on AT&T for their calls home, their call-ups to the U. S. Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center in an emergency, and, most important, receiving phone calls from an 800 Sea-Call phone number they have given their parents, kids, or friends in case of an emergency back home. “There will be no gradual phase-out of our serviceon February 28, 1999, all 3 stations are planned for a complete shutdown,” commented one of the AT&T technical operators, who are always on the front line to handle incoming calls from ships at sea. “With our powerful transmitter and receiving antennas, many mariners call us first when they have a Mayday, too,” adds another high-seas technician. Although the Coast Guard does offer long-range AMVER frequencies, they do not necessarily guard the working channels for distress call-ups.

A powerful public-correspondence, privately owned radio station in Mobile, Ala., call sign WLO, stands ready to handle all high-seas radiotelephone and high-seas Coast Guard emergency calls.

“WLO is on the air, big time, on marine single-sideband, and our powerful antenna system will easily pull in ship station signals from almost anywhere in the world,” said K.C. Robinson, a technical radio expert at WLO.

“We can immediately arrange for service over the air, via e-mail, fax, or by land line, and our rates are the same as AT&T, and in some cases actually lower,” said Rene Stiegler of WLO.

WLO rates are $4.99 a minute with a three-minute minimum from ship to anywhere on the U.S. shore without any land line charges. If you make that call on 2 or 4 MHz, you save a $2 a minute. WLO is on the air 24 hours a day, operating on the FCC-assigned ITU channels listed in the sidebar along with the upper sideband frequency assignments. Hourly shore-side traffic reports for ships at sea are broadcast on ITU Channels 414, 830, 1226, 1641, and 2237. All channels are monitored 24 hours a day except for ITU Channel 836, which is an alternate 8 MHz working frequency. Your call-up should include your ship name, your ship FCC-assigned call letters, your approximate position, and the WLO ITU channel you are broadcasting on. Close-talk the mic for maximum power output, and make sure your call-up from ship to shore lasts at least 45 seconds so the technicians can select the right antenna system for best signal strength.

You could register with them over the airwaves, but it is never a good idea to give out credit card information over the air. WLO only has limited collect-call capabilities, so register ahead of time with them over a secure circuit: telephone, 334-666-5110; fax, 334-666-8339; e-mail, To e-mail with questions about their service, contact

Most marine SSB transceivers offer a full complement of all worldwide ITU public correspondence channels. Fifteen of these hundreds of ITU channels have been factory-preprogrammed for WLO ITU channel assignments. Single-sideband operators with direct frequency entry equipment would first store the higher frequency in receive memory, then store the companion lower frequency in transmit, making sure that both transmit and receive frequencies are in the mode upper sideband (USB).

Mariners operating the new ICOM M-700 Pro will discover their B bank and C bank 50 memory channels stored with AT&T frequencies, rather than WLO frequencies. Same thing with the ICOM M-710 when dialed into the 00-160 user channel memory. On the M-710, simply switch over to the ITU-memorized channels, and dial up the permanently installed ITU channel banks that correspond with the WLO ITU assignments.

On the new ICOM M-700 Pro, as well as the older ICOM M-700 original, you have capabilities of writing over what has been previously memorized by following the key-entry steps detailed in the M-700 user manual. You will actually be writing over what has been previously stored for AT&T user channels. The procedure is to first key in the ship-station receive frequency, and then key in ship station transmit in an old AT&T memory position. To confirm that you have executed the keystrokes correctly, you should see the higher frequency on reception change to the lower ship station transmit frequency when you squeeze the microphone button. Both transmit and receive are on different frequencies (duplex), and both must be in the upper sideband mode.

ICOM marine dealers can easily write M-700 Pro WLO channels into memory via computer. But this will require a trip to the dealer with your radio or a technician coming out with a laptop. You should try entering these 15 channels yourself over old AT&T channels, and this way you will begin to learn all of the neat things that you can do with the M-700 Pro.

Other equipment from SEA, SGC, Raytheon, Kenwood, Furuno, and Radio Holland may already be permanently loaded with all ITU channels, including the 15 WLO channels. You should immediately make plans for alerting your friends back home how to get a hold of you through this new public correspondence carrier, and set up an account with them so you are not exchanging credit card information over the shortwave airwaves.

Will there be a stay in the shutoff of AT&T high seas service? In talking with them, I think it doubtful. The Federal Communications Commission will normally authorize the proposed discontinuance of service unless it is shown that customers would be unable to receive service, or a reasonable substitute, from another carrier. You can write the FCC in Washington, D.C., about how the turn-off of AT&T high-seas radiotelephone service will affect you personally or financially.

However, perhaps the best approach is simply to sign up with WLO and go with a well-established service that can put in a powerful signal wherever you voyage.

By Ocean Navigator