Saturday Night Radio

 

110 years ago Saturday, people were reeling from the terrible news of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic.  The doomed luxury liner, thought to be “unsinkable,” was the pinnacle of luxury, comfort, and technology.  Titanic‘s innovations were many; shipbuilders Harland & Wolff embraced a host of new ideas like the new “Marconi wireless” technology.  They saw to it that Titanic‘s radio room was outfitted with the very latest equipment and most experienced operators.  Wireless telegraphy would play a key role at every stage of the sinking of Titanic, including the rescue.  And it is entirely possible that without the wireless, there would have been no survivors at all.

The sinking of Titanic was the first real global media event.  In hours, the shocking news had traveled around the world.  But there is really only one first-hand, real-time account of what happened that night: The collection of wireless messages sent between Titanic and those who frantically tried to organize a rescue.  Meticulously logged, the wireless messages between Titanic, other vessels, and shore give us an as-it-happened record of that fateful night.

In tonight’s two-part program, which first aired on BBC Radio on April 15, 2012, the 100th anniversary of the sinking, the original dots-and-dashes of those Morse-code messages have been brought to life with 21st-century speech synthesizers.  Tonight, it’s the sinking of Titanic, before, during, and after, as told by the haunting, chilling messages left behind…

“Titanic: In Her Own Words”  Part I

“Titanic: In Her Own Words”  Part II

The photo below is believed to be the last photo of Titanic afloat:


So let’s end on an up-note. (How’s that for a segue?) For that, we turn to the brilliant satirists at The Onion:

The Onion, April 16, 1912
World’s Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-berg
Titanic, Representation of Man’s Hubris, Sinks in North Atlantic 1,500 Dead in Symbolic Tragedy

New York, April 15 — Officials of the White Star Line have confirmed the sinking, during her maiden voyage, of the R.M.S. Titanic, the world’s largest symbol of man’s mortality and vulnerability.

First reports of the calamity were received Monday at the London telegraph office of the White Star Line, which owns the nautical archetype.

Message from the Carpathia

At 4:23 a.m. Greenwich Standard Time, the following message was received from the rescue ship Carpathia:

Titanic struck by icy representation of nature’s supremacy STOP insufficient lifeboats due to pompous certainty in man’s infallibility STOP Microcosm of larger society STOP

Indifference

It is believed at this time that upwards of 1,500 passengers aboard the metaphor may have perished in the imperturbable liquid immensity that, irrespective of mankind’s congratulatory “progress,” blankets most of the globe in its awful dark silence. Seven hundred more passengers survived to objectify human insignificance in the face of the colossal placidity of the universe.

Among the prominent passengers ironically missing and believed perished are New York millionaire John Jacob Astor, mining tycoon Benjamin Guggenheim, railroad president Charles Melville Hays, and presidential military aide Major Archibald Butt, providing further example of man’s inability to cavort with God, no matter how wealthy or powerful he may be, as well as the vast indifference of the universe toward even the grandest of human achievement. Late word indicates, however, that the well-to-do and the privileged constitute a great majority of the living. It could not yet be determined whether this betokens a form of maritime social Darwinism or a particularly overt form of social injustice.

Irony

Although unconfirmed as of press-time, it is rumored that the Titanic was proceeding at a rapid pace through ice-berg-laden waters in order that her captain might flaunt the ship’s great speed, making all the more ironic the demise of this paramount symbol of man’s hubris.

An architect from the firm of Harland & Wolff, which constructed the great metaphor, was stunned and aggrieved by the significance of the tragic event.

“I spent the better part of two years re-drawing the marble on the grand staircase at the first-class entrance until it represented absolutely the right dimensions for showing off the daintily luxurious evening wear of the wives of the industrial millionaires. Now that staircase will provide an entrance only for the plankton, moss, and other marine life that inhabits the frigid North Atlantic seabed. I dare say that is ironic.”

Hyperbole

“Let us take a step back from the horror of the tragedy,” said Lord Peter Hothcrofte, a British naval historian, “and view it in terms of its grander significance. Simply put, the Titanic was more than a gigantic crystallization of the accumulated triumphs of 200 years of Western industrialization wedded to the firm but icy hand of Science triumphant. It was a ship larger than any ship need be, which therefore also make it somewhat of a hyperbole.”

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There are 12 comments.

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  1. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I’m no expert, but I have heard (read) that some ice warnings were not passed along to the bridge from the radio operators, who were Marconi employees on loan and perhaps overly concerned with passenger transmissions.

    • #1
  2. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    I believe that was the standard deal in the early days: you got the operator(s) along with the equipment.  Wireless-as-a-service, to use our present phraseology.

    • #2
  3. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Here’s a piece about how wireless messages were handled on the Titanic.

     

     

    • #3
  4. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Here’s the Titanic wireless room as presented in the TV series “The Time Tunnel.”  (The page I got it from had it vertically “squashed” some, which some places do to make older shows appear “widescreen” when they were clearly not made that way.  Some just crop instead, but either one is a travesty.  I used Windows Paint to restore it to original form as best I could estimate.)

    It seems likely that they used an existing movie set, but I don’t know which movie.

     

    • #4
  5. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    I was thinking about the Titanic just the other day, in the context of ‘progressive flooding’.  This is a nautical architecture & operations term referring to the phenomenon where one compartment gets flooded…leading not only to the ship settling somewhat in the water, but also to a change in trim, namely, bow down…which can lead to other compartments overtopping their watertight bulkheads and spilling water into previously-safe compartments.  I was thinking that the term might be apt as a metaphor to describe many things that are going on in America and other Western countries today.

    • #5
  6. Addiction Is A Choice Member
    Addiction Is A Choice
    @AddictionIsAChoice

    Wow!  15 likes!  That makes this the most popular “Saturday Night Radio” EVER Ever ever …. Thanks, everybody!

    • #6
  7. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    Wow! 15 likes! That makes this the most popular “Saturday Night Radio” EVER Ever ever …. Thanks, everybody!

    Sorry, I forgot mine.

    • #7
  8. Addiction Is A Choice Member
    Addiction Is A Choice
    @AddictionIsAChoice

    In addition to being the most-liked “Saturday Night Radio” ever, this is the first to be promoted to the Main Feed.  How exciting!  Thanks (again,) everybody!

    • #8
  9. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    In addition to being the most-liked “Saturday Night Radio” ever, this is the first to be promoted to the Main Feed. How exciting! Thanks (again,) everybody!

    Congrats! You deserve it Addiction.

    • #9
  10. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Holy Crow, those “Honor and Glory” walkthroughs. If they ever finish it, that’ll be an amazing game. Even if they don’t, the recreations are remarkable reference tools.

    • #10
  11. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Slightly off topic, but I recently read about one of the survivors of the Titanic who led quite an eventful life.

    This guy led an eventful life. Charles Lightoller (1874-1952) is most well known as the Second Officer on the Titanic and the highest ranking officer to survive her sinking. However, that was neither the first nor  the last sinking ship he survived. He went to sea at age 13 on a four-year apprenticeship on a sailing ship – visiting ports all over the world (Rio de Janeiro, Calcutta, New York City, etc). When he was 15 he survived his ship running aground on a small island in the middle of nowhere (Ile Saint-Paul   which is located about half way between Australia and Antarctica has as good a claim as any to that title), and on another occasion put out a coal fire that saved his ship from disaster.

    At age 21, he served on his first steamship and continued climbing the promotional ladder in the merchant marine making it to first mate. However, he quit the sea and headed for Yukon to prospect for gold during that 1898 Gold Rush. When he realized he wasn’t gonna strike gold he cowboyed in Alberta, Canada before hoboing his way across the continent and back to Great Britain where he resumed his merchant marine career.

    Skipping ahead a bit – when World War I broke out he made his way into the Royal Navy and, since he was not in the Grand Fleet, he saw a plenty of action on a number of smaller ships some of which he commanded. He was on one ship which ran aground and another which sank after a collision. He shot down a Zeppelin and sank a U-Boat and was awarded a couple of medals for valor and rose to the rank of commander.

    After the war, he apparently had a hard time getting positions in the merchant service because of his service on the Titanic so began a nomadic roaming from job to job (innkeeper, chicken farmer, real estate agent).

    During World War II, he entered some sort of Home Guard (something called the Small Vessels Pool) where he patrolled various English rivers. When Dunkirk occurred in 1940, he took part, sailing his small boat licensed to carry 21 passengers and rescued 127 British servicemen.

    Along the way he found time to marry and raise five children.

    All in all, a life well lived.

    Charles Lightoller Second Officer Titanic

    The Sundowner at Ramsgate Maritime Museum

    • #11
  12. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    tigerlily (View Comment):

    Slightly off topic, but I recently read about one of the survivors of the Titanic who led quite an eventful life.

    This guy led an eventful life. Charles Lightoller (1874-1952) is most well known as the Second Officer on the Titanic and the highest ranking officer to survive her sinking. However, that was neither the first nor the last sinking ship he survived. He went to sea at age 13 on a four-year apprenticeship on a sailing ship – visiting ports all over the world (Rio de Janeiro, Calcutta, New York City, etc). When he was 15 he survived his ship running aground on a small island in the middle of nowhere (Ile Saint-Paul which is located about half way between Australia and Antarctica has as good a claim as any to that title), and on another occasion put out a coal fire that saved his ship from disaster.

    At age 21, he served on his first steamship and continued climbing the promotional ladder in the merchant marine making it to first mate. However, he quit the sea and headed for Yukon to prospect for gold during that 1898 Gold Rush. When he realized he wasn’t gonna strike gold he cowboyed in Alberta, Canada before hoboing his way across the continent and back to Great Britain where he resumed his merchant marine career.

    Skipping ahead a bit – when World War I broke out he made his way into the Royal Navy and, since he was not in the Grand Fleet, he saw a plenty of action on a number of smaller ships some of which he commanded. He was on one ship which ran aground and another which sank after a collision. He shot down a Zeppelin and sank a U-Boat and was awarded a couple of medals for valor and rose to the rank of commander.

    After the war, he apparently had a hard time getting positions in the merchant service because of his service on the Titanic so began a nomadic roaming from job to job (innkeeper, chicken farmer, real estate agent).

    During World War II, he entered some sort of Home Guard (something called the Small Vessels Pool) where he patrolled various English rivers. When Dunkirk occurred in 1940, he took part, sailing his small boat licensed to carry 21 passengers and rescued 127 British servicemen.

    Along the way he found time to marry and raise five children.

    All in all, a life well lived.

     

    Charles Lightoller Second Officer Titanic

     

    The Sundowner at Ramsgate Maritime Museum

    Seems like a pretty amazing guy today, but a whole lot of “ordinary” people from back then, would be exceptional today.

    • #12
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