of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the
ARRL's QST magazine. Here is a list of the
QST articles I have already posted. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
Established: In the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), by FCC
order, July 28, 1942.
Predecessor Agencies: Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service, FCC (1941-42)
Transfers: To the Military Intelligence Division, War Department
General Staff, by order of the Secretary of War, December 30, 1945,
pursuant to agreement between FCC and War Department; to the Central
Intelligence Group (CIG), National Intelligence Authority, August 5,
Functions: Recorded, translated, and analyzed foreign broadcast programs.
Abolished: November 1, 1946.
Successor Agencies: Foreign Broadcast Information Service, CIG, November-December,
1946. Foreign Broadcast Information Branch, CIG, January-September 1947.
Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Central Intelligence Agency,
Finding Aids: Walter W. Weinstein, comp., Preliminary Inventory of
the Records of the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service, PI 115 (1959).
Security-Classified Records: This record group may include material
that is security-classified.
Related Records: Records of the Foreign Broadcast Information Branch,
1947-48, in RG 263, Records of the Central Intelligence Agency.
See all available
vintage QST articles.
HAMS in the FBIS
The Work of FCC's Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service
By OLIVER READ.* W9ETI
The Foreign Broadcast Intelligence
Service of the Federal Communications Commission is responsible for
a great portion of the news that finds its way to our daily newspapers
and is heard over our vast radio networks. You have often heard the
following: "As recorded by United States monitors," or, "As heard by
United States Government monitors."
This maze of wire is but a small part of the elaborate system required
to receive faint radio signals emanating from all parts of the world.
The wires connect to twenty-nine communications-type receivers within
the listening station located near Silver Hill, Md.
All programs received at Silver Hill are "piped" through this monitoring
console. The operator on duty adjusts the volume of each station
to a predetermined level suitable for recording purposes before
it is sent on its way to the interpreter who is situated many miles
from the receiving station.
David Cooper, FBIS supervisor, records a broadcast on a Memovox
machine at the recording station. Over an hour's intelligence may
be recorded on each side of a flexible disc. Continuous recording
is possible by using duplicate machines. The console at the left
is used for the recording of vital material where the utmost in
quality is required.
The monitoring officer in the foreground adjusts the receiver of
a station to be monitored a few minutes later. The officer in the
background scans the ether for new or unknown stations.
Instantaneous frequency checks may be made at any time by connecting
this special switch.
Who are these monitors and what do they do? As a matter of fact, they
operate one of the world's most elaborate systems of radio receivers.
Their purpose is to listen to, record, translate, summarize and report
the broadcasts originating in foreign countries. The FBIS is the sole
governmental agency doing this job in the United States. They do not
transmit propaganda; that is done by the Office of War Information.
It is interesting to note that the very development of the FBIS
was born from the realization that short-wave transmission was one of
*540 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill.
weapons of war. Our enemies have bombarded us with all sorts of propaganda
throughout this war. From it the FBIS is able to gather vital information
which is then used for counter propaganda.
In the early stages
of the war, the French followed a not very successful policy of attempting
to jam German broadcasts reaching the vicinity of Paris. However, the
French Foreign Office deemed it so essential to keep informed of the
contents of those German outpourings that it established a listening
post in Switzerland to intercept the very broadcasts which its own jamming
prevented it from hearing inside France.
Today, every major nation
in this global war and most of the neutral countries operate a monitoring
service as part of their essential government functions.
maze of equipment required to handle the vast number of words recorded
and translated each day is tremendous. In fact, over 10,000 items (an
average of 2,500,000 words) are received daily at FBIS listening posts
at Silver Hill, Md.; Hayward, Calif., and Portland, Ore. Manned largely
by amateur personnel, these stations are tuned in twenty-four hours
a day to programs being transmitted from all the countries of the world.
Silver Hill Installation
the elaborate installation at Silver Hill, Md., recently in order to
witness firsthand the important functions of the FBIS.
we found the chief monitoring officer to be Frank X. Green, who has
long been associated in the radio, public address and recording business.
He entered the service of the Commission at the outbreak of the war.
There are four monitoring officers: Conan W. Barger, formerly radio
broadcast engineer of KFXJ, KFEL, KOA, KMA and KIUL; Francis N. King,
who was radio broadcast engineer at WKBW, WHBU and WJTN, and formerly
a short-wave radio operator on the Great Lakes; S. Vernon Ray, former
radio operator in the merchant marine, and Bernard P. Sloan, W2KT, former
chief radioman in the Navy and the Coast Guard and an operator in the
Assistant monitoring officers include: William
A. Sodaro, former chief engineer of a West Virginia network and radio
operator from the Gulf of Mexico; Raymond B. O'Neill, former telegraph
operator with the New York Police Department; Hyman Wallin, formerly
a merchant marine radio operator; James G. Wedewer, an official of several
shortwave listening clubs and an outstanding authority on short-wave
broadcast stations of the world; George E. Hathaway, former radio operator
in the merchant marine, the Army, and for Western Union, and Russell
G. Eversole, W3AXY, former radio operator in the merchant marine.
This fellow James Wedewer mentioned above can give you the location
of any listed short-wave station or broadcast station throughout the
world. We had quite a talk with this lad and picked call letters out
of "blue sky" to test his ability to recognize the station. His quick
identification was amazing. The receiving station at Silver Hill is
concerned only with broadcasts originating from European and African
short-wave stations. The other FBIS receiving stations are very similar
to that situated at Silver Hill, Md. The one at Portland, Ore., takes
care of Japanese-language broadcasts and the one at Hayward, Calif.,
records signals from the Far East and from the U.S.S.R.
Functions of the FBIS
There are nine successive
steps in the operations of the FBIS: (1) scheduling; (2) intercepting,
(3) and (4) monitoring and recording (which go on simultaneously), (5)
translating, (6) wire service which includes editing and teletyping,
(7) reports which include editing and mimeographing, (8) analyses including
periodic and special reports, and (9) individual services of many kinds.
First comes the scheduling of all programs which are to be intercepted
at each listening post during each listening period. An accurate index
which includes frequencies, hours, languages, and program types is prepared.
This comprehensive index lists over 6000 programs and is kept currently
Step number two is performed by the engineers, each
of whom is in charge of a large number of Hallicrafters SX-28 communications-type
receivers which are in continuous service. The performance and calibration
of each receiver is known at all times. A gadget has been installed
by the FBIS personnel so that a 100-kc. or a 1000-kc. signal may be
injected to any receiver for a frequency check by connecting a special
switch. The source of this signal is a crystal-controlled secondary
Fig. 1. - Diagram of the automatic timing
device included in the console control
and used to cut programs in
Having received his schedule, the operator tunes in in advance the
requisite number of receivers to the stations, making sure that. the
signals are being received at best audibility. At precisely the right
moment, he throws a switch, or an automatic control developed by the
FBIS, cutting in the proper programs for recording and monitoring. He
then retunes unused receivers to be held in readiness for following
Other engineers patrol the ether continuously
in search of new, changed, and discontinued programs so that an accurate
"log" is always available. All programs are listed on a daily chart
which gives a report on the audibility, signal strength, etc., of each
The antenna system consists of five highly directional
Rhombic antennas orientated to cover a maximum of 20 degrees each. All
of the Rhombics terminate to selector switches so that any or all of
the twenty-nine receivers may be instantaneously connected into the
feeder system. All inputs connect in parallel and series isolating resistors
to each receiver input permit an even distribution of received signals.
Like the RID, the personnel of the FBIS have installed their
equipment in such manner that greatest flexibility is realized. The
receivers are installed in bays as shown in the photographs. They are
easily accessible from the rear to facilitate servicing.
is a small selector panel on each receiver bay which includes a voltmeter
to check the output of the receiver, a selector switch for the speaker
and another to select the proper Rhombic. Each receiver has its own
calibration book placed in a clip adjacent to the set. The hand-calibrated
information is prepared for each set in the installation. Operators
can then determine by quick reference the exact settings for a given
frequency. Periodic checks are made, especially when sudden changes
in weather are encountered, to see that the calibration is accurate.
Each program received at the FBIS receiving station is recorded
on a special log which shows the exact time of reception and other
pertinent information. The operator selects various programs by
rotating the switch.
Mrs. Kay Kimmers, FBIS expert in Italian, French, Spanish and German
languages, transcribes a program from Europe. The same program is
being recorded simultaneously on wax cylinders for reference purposes
and for checking copy.
Victor Volmar, FBIS monitor, specializes in the German and Spanish
languages. Wax cylinders are kept for a period of forty-eight hours
and contain the original intelligence that has been received via
the elaborate receiver installation at Silver Hill, Md.
Incoming and, outgoing traffic passes through the teletype machines
which supply information to many government agencies both military
and non-military. These include the War. Navy and State Departments,
OWI, Office of Censorship. and a number of branches in Allied governments.
Left to right: Mrs. Elizabeth Holt, Mrs. Chris Kimbrough, and
Mrs. Helen Goss.
A control console which includes patch circuits and db. meters is an
important part of the installation. The output from each receiver terminates
at the jacks on the control console. From there signals are routed by
wire to the recording and monitoring office which is located many miles
from the receiving station. The operator on duty at the console "rides
gain" on each channel in order that the signals arrive at the downtown
office at proper audio level for recording purposes. This allows the
translators to concentrate on the intelligence without being disturbed
by having to adjust individual volume controls to suit their particular
needs. Recording of Programs
types of programs are recorded on paper-based discs on Memovox recorders
or, when high fidelity is required, on Presto acetate recorders. The
latter equipment is located at the receiving station.
known as monitors sit before typewriters wearing headphones. This highly
trained personnel consists of experts familiar with many languages.
Each monitor specializes in one or more. He is thoroughly familiar with
the phraseology and other characteristics of the language he is monitoring.
As he listens he translates the material and makes a typewritten summary
in the English language of the broadcast. At the same time, dual wax-cylinder
machines record the entire program so that the monitor has a means of
checking his copy and so that information can be held verbatim for a
period of forty-eight hours in case some governmental agency needs the
complete program for further observation and study. After the program's
conclusion, the monitor goes on to the next one shown on his schedule.
Generally, he types only highlights of the program, but if the item
contains information of real importance in the judgment of the supervising
editor-monitor, the monitor turns from listening in to a succeeding
music period and translates the full text.
The next step in the
operation is interposed between monitoring and editing for a portion
of recorded broadcasts. It is known as the translation of texts. One
of those in constant demand is the weekly Goebbels Das Reich article.
This is sent with the summary to the translation room as soon as recorded
to be rendered into English text. At present there are seventy-five
expert translators in the FBIS having ability to undertake thirty-four
languages and thirty additional dialects. Distribution
The sixth, seventh and eighth steps in
FBIS operations deal with the distribution of material to various government
agencies which use it. From the various listening posts come summaries,
texts and daily round-ups that flow into Washington headquarters minute
by minute, day and night. They come by typed transcript, by teletype,
by cable, and by air mail and are then distributed to the element users.
The information goes out over six wires. The " A" wire terminates
at the State Department, War Department, Navy Department, OWI, Office
of Censorship, British Information Service, Canadian Wartime Information
Board, the Philippine Mission and Chinese Embassy. The "B" wire goes
to OWI in New York and Washington. The "C" wire, with Latin American
material, goes to the office of the Coordinator of InterAmerican Affairs.
The "D" wire is a cable to the British Ministry of Information in England
and carries Japanese material monitored on the Pacific Coast. The "PW"
wire goes to the War Department, Office of the Provost Marshall General,
and contains the full text of all enemybroadcast prisoners-of-war messages.
The remaining "X" wire connects to OWI in San Francisco and carries
items relative to the Far East broadcasts from Europe.
step in FBIS operations is the preparation and issuance of two mimeographed
The eighth step is the analysis of the volume
of the recorded broadcast output, the preparation of periodic reviews
of broadcasts from and to particular areas and the answer to the steady
volume of queries regarding a particular subject, trend, or transmitter.
The ninth and final
step deals with individual special services. Principal speeches by German
and Japanese leaders are recorded on the permanent high fidelity discs
previously mentioned and are furnished to the OWI and the British Overseas
Broadcast Agency for the Library of Direct Quotation. These recordings
have been used to good advantage in our own counter-propaganda. For
example, six months after Tojo had broadcast a boast about the impregnability
of the Marshall Islands, there came bouncing back to Japan his actual
voice with its six-month-old boast accompanied by the damning facts
of the actual Marshall Island invasion. The Foreign Broadcast Intelligence
Service is one of the Government's most important nonmilitary branches.
We hams may take pride in the fact that the FBIS has selected much of
its personnel from our ranks to operate this vital wartime agency.
Fig. 2 - Wiring diagram of the acetate recorder
in use at the FBIS installation at Silver Hill. Md.
Note: The Wikipedia entry for the FBIS was
apparently written by some puke with an agenda of diminishing
the important role it played in national security during WWII and focusing
instead on some activities
proclaimed to be fomenting unease in the American populace.