White House Communications Agency

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Col George J. McNally was the first commanding officer of the White House Army Signal Agency and its successor the White House Communications Agency.  He was responsible for Executive Office telecommunications from 1941 until his retirement in 1965.  WHCA was responsible for all Presidential electronic communication, and in addition carried out numerous special projects, for example the "world's longest telephone line" linking Soviet Chairman Khrushchev's hotel room in Los Angeles to the Kremlin switchboard in Moscow.  The agency also pioneered many of the audio-visual devices that served the president and the news media over the years.

The WCHA's interesting history is outlined in "A Million Miles of Presidents" 2nd Edition by George J. McNally.  If I can obtain permission from the publisher, I'll scan the book and add it to this page.  McNally was "removed" from office in 1965 and replaced by Jack Albright.  His further reminiscences about the agency are recorded in:



WCHA evidently used quite a bit of TMC equipment, as you'll see by reading further.  These included both fixed and mobile installations, including John Kennedy's Presidential train.  Oddly, I've never spoken to anyone was at TMC who recalls this particular "customer".. there may have been a "need to know" issue here!

I have been fortunate to be in touch with Jerry Sutton, a member of the WCHA from 1963 to 1968.  He provided the following account of his time at the Agency:

      Rather than explain my main area of responsibility during my tour of duty with WHCA, I have attached a Certificate of Achievement that I was awarded upon my discharge from the army. I also attached a copy of my first class FCC license with the WTE endorsements.
Army Certificate WHCA NSN.jpg (4109956 bytes) FCC 1st class license (front) 001.jpg (9593128 bytes) FCC 1st Class License (back) 001.jpg (8238328 bytes)
Jerry's Certificate of Achievement from the Army for his service in the WHCA. Jerry's 1rst Class Radiotelephone license (front...) (...and back)
      I, along with several other members of WHCA, attended a TMC school at a facility in or near West Nyack, New York in 1964 or 1965. I recall visiting the World's Fair in Queens on a weekend so the date was one of those two years. The school was three or four weeks and was taught by Bill Henneberry using his book as the basic course material. Bill was an excellent instructor and brought a wealth of knowledge and personal experience to the classroom. We learned SSB theory and saw demonstrations using TMC equipment. We were not familiar with SSB up to this point as the military schools we had attended did not cover that particular method of modulation. During a factory tour we saw equipment under construction including very high power transmitters. I was impressed with the "vapor phase" method of cooling high power final amplifier tubes and the solid "heavy metal" construction of these transmitters. 
     The equipment we used was the TMC 1kw or 750 watt transmitter along with an operating console and 35 foot vertical antenna and tuner. I don't recall the exact military designation, but the 1kw transmitters had the dual needle SWR meter mounted in the top of the cabinet. I particularly liked the dual needle (Forward and Reverse) arrangement for tuning the vertical antenna. Receiving equipment consisted of R-390 receivers and various ancillary equipment. These were installed at my primary duty station (Mt. Weather, VA.) and at Camp David, Washington, DC. and several other locations in West Virginia and Maryland. While our main RF communication links were point to point microwave and two-way FM radio, the TMC radio equipment gave us the capability of voice and secure teletype communication to anywhere in the world. In April 1967 we took a pair of 1kw transmitters and receiving equipment to Uruguay in support of President Johnson's attendance at the Inter-American meeting of Chiefs of State in Punta del Este. We installed the transmitters in the upper floor of an office building in downtown Punta del Este and set up a receiver site out of town. We also installed a Collins KWM-2, linear amplifier and 35 foot vertical antenna at the hotel we stayed at. This was used as our own phone patch link to WDC and Camp David. We had some difficulty keeping a solid radio circuit at times due to major sunspot activity which kept us bouncing up and down the frequency bands. I recall one day, at the transmitter site, we were hearing radio checks from Washington on a 32 mhz handie talkie sitting in the office building window. One of our people, on a whim, called the White House for a radio check and received an immediate answer of 5x5. The path, which was 5000 plus miles, lasted for about 5 minutes and then faded out. 
     When I left the agency in 1968 the transmitters were still in use. I suppose they were taken out of service sometime thereafter as communications moved over to satellite and other evolving technologies. I hope this information is useful as you compile the history of TMC and let me know if you have any questions. 
Best wishes, Jerry

A friend pointed me to an interesting photographic archive on the web for the Kennedy presidency.  Here are some selected photos showing the communications equipment aboard the Presidential train:

JFKWHP-ST-54-27-61.jpg (236718 bytes) JFKWHP-ST-54-29-61.jpg (232145 bytes) JFKWHP-ST-54-34-61.jpg (301655 bytes) JFKWHP-ST-54-21-61.jpg (215172 bytes)
Equipment room in the Presidential Communications Car.  It's not easy to see the racked equipment from edge-on, but it's pretty clear that much of it is TMC equipment, from the knobs and handles that are visible.  White House Army Signal Agency Staff in Presidential Communications Car. Top of Presidential Communications Car showing antennas and feed lines Listed as "WHASA Staff", this appears to be a photo of Col George McNally in the Presidential Comm's car.  In "A Million Miles..." McNally discusses some of the unique problems with the PA and radios systems aboard the train.
JFKWHP-ST-54-49-61.jpg (246037 bytes) JFKWHP-ST-54-43-61.jpg (269659 bytes) JFKWHP-ST-54-20-61.jpg (241302 bytes) JFKWHP-ST-54-25-61.jpg (237530 bytes)
Comm's Console Comm's Console "WHASA(sic) Staff"  "WTE" was the official military callsign for the White House. "WHASA(sic) Staff"  If you can ID this person, please let me know!
JFKWHP-ST-54-19-61.jpg (279553 bytes)      
Another photo of Col. McNally aboard the Comm's car.