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Photos transmitted to Antarctica

Photos transmitted to Antarctica

June 2, 1968: Earl Darnall puts a picture on the cylinder of a radiophoto machine as Ellis Wampler prepares to talk to a crew in Antarctica as part of a project to send servicemen photos of their families during the long winter when mail cannot be delivered.

This photo by staff photographer Art Rogers accompanied staff writer Roy Harris’ story in the July 14, 1968, Los Angeles Times:

An American serviceman can get pretty lonely when the nights are six months long and mail call doesn’t come until morning.

That’s the way it is at McMurdo Station in Antarctica – in addition to being cold – where 250 men serve as a “wintering over” crew to keep the camp operating until the darkness gives way to the summer months of September to March.

But a group of Los Angeles ham radio operators has broken the ice barriers with a homespun radio photo system. Through it they send pictures of relatives to the men across the 7,000 miles between the Southland and South Pole.

The military surplus radiophoto machine. which uses amateur radio wavelengths, is operated from a “ham shack” in Earl Darnall’s photo shop at 17642 S. Clark Ave., Bellflower.

And after more than two weeks of transmitting, the operators hope their project, which they call Project Facsimile Antarctica, is just beginning.

The ham operators are Ralph Steinberg of Long Beach, Darnall, Ellis Wampler Sr., of Rossmore and William Stoker of Garden Grove.

Since June 19 they have transmitted 14 pictures provided by families of U.S. Navy personnel at McMurdo….

In May, the last barrier to transmitting was eliminated when the federal government granted a permit to the amateur photo operators to send pictures “for moral purposes.”

Early last month, they began sending pictures, but ran into a new barrier–unpredictable magnetic storms. The storms turned the most beautiful picture into radio static.

The ham operators kept in contact with McMurdo by radio and a special teletype system, Steinberg said. But poor air wave conditions persisted until June 19.

In the first few days of operation, six photographs were transmitted, with apparent success.

The radio photo machine employs a roller-like device and transmits light and dark impulses to a receiving machine. Final copies at McMurdo are on thin radio photo paper because there is no facility for glossy printing.

A large photograph takes about 30 minutes to send, Steinberg said, depending on magnetic storms.

“We never know what conditions will be, or whether we can get through,” he explained.

Similar rotating photo transmitters were used by the wire services and the Los Angeles Times until 20 years ago. When transmitting over phone lines, an 8-by-10 inch black and white print would take about eight minutes.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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