Once a fixture in many of Alaska’s communities, the White Alice Communications System once played an important role in national defense.
It had a range of up to 200 miles. Because line of sight transmissions could be interrupted or jammed, the U.S. Military turned to bouncing high frequency radio signals off of a layer of the earth’s atmosphere called the troposphere.
The technology was advanced in its day and opened up many communities in Alaska to real-time information and improved communication. They were ultimately made obsolete with the advent of satellites.
Archeologist Karleen Leeper with the 611th Air Support Group has studied the system.
“I think that the better communication system did help open up Alaska it helped bring people to the state it helped connect people within the state of Alaska and also connected people to the other 48 states,” Leeper said.
Just a short drive up Anvil Mountain near Nome Alaska sits the last four WACS parabolic dish towers in the state. Former Mayor of Nome John Handeland says there has been a 25 year effort to save the towers. “They were used as our link to the outside world. All of our telephone calls went through here, all of our news came through these. This was literally our connection to the outside world,” said Handeland.
He says the towers are living history and would like to see that they remain standing.
The future of the towers is unknown. The federal government would like to relinquish its ownership, so it may end up in the hands of the city of Nome which has expressed interested in keeping the towers. The Sitnasuak Native Corporation is interested in land but not the towers.
For now they remain a reminder of in Alaska’s roll during the Cold War.