December 1942 Radio-Craft
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics.
Radio-Craft was published from 1929 through 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged. See all articles
Having spent a lot of my career working for defense electronics
companies in classified programs, I am somewhat torn between sympathizing
with Hugo Gernsback from his perspective as editor of Radio-Craft
and what I know is a valid reason for guarding certain technological
information for the sake of military advantage. It is often the
case that people who have had no exposure to the 'black' side of
industry cannot appreciate the need for it. Their argument postulates
that suppressing knowledge does more harm than good because an opportunity
for more people to gain from breakthroughs will result in more rapid
advancement in technology While that is true, the downside is that
the enemy rarely feels obliged to reciprocate in the same manner,
and will exploit your generosity. This article was a year after
Japan's merciless attack on
Pearl Harbor, where hundreds of American sailors were brutally
killed on a lazy Sunday morning prior to war having been declared.
If only the
Imperial Japanese Navy had felt compelled to share their unconventional
surprise attack tactic with us on December 6, 1941, maybe we would
have felt more inclined to reveal our secrets.
Censorship vs. Radio Progress
By the Editor - Hugo Gernsback
... "Let' s not have any more of this nonsense." ... Wendell
of the greatest anomalies during modern war is the fact that technical
progress is both advanced and retarded. Strange as the statement
may sound, it is perfectly true and logical, as the following consideration
During war time, any progress that has to do with the implements
of war and all that goes with it, advances sharply. Developments
which normally take decades to achieve, are often compressed into
a few months. In war - and particularly in modern, technical war
- speed is the paramount factor. At the same time, technical progress,
by which war does not benefit, is slowed up and frequently disappears
altogether. As our esteemed contemporary, the London Wireless
World, puts it "War as a tendency to drive radio progress underground."
No one can find any fault whatsoever that technical progress
for war purposes is paramount and that all efforts of all technicians
should be bent on concentrating on it. Once the war is won, peace
may well take care of itself; so what matters it if a little time
is lost in shifting back from the war to the peace effort?
We are, however, very much concerned with censorship which not
only drives future peace-time radio progress underground, but also
makes it almost impossible for students and others who are just
getting started in their technical profession to obtain necessary
and often vital information through the press, whether it is a newspaper,
weekly or technical magazine.
We have viewed with growing concern for some time the wholly
unintelligent and often downright stupid censorship in our own country
when it comes to dealing with technical problems. Normally, the
censor is not a technician, he knows little or nothing about technical
matters and cannot usually distinguish between what is antique,
and what is so new that it might be of benefit to the enemy. The
technical press is particularly irritated no end with the heavy
restraint put upon it; and it becomes most difficult to publish
worthwhile technical magazines at all in the United States today.
A magazine of standing cannot forever rehash old matter or print
only such irrelevant material that no reader with any intelligence
wishes to read. Every editor knows that really new inventions, for
the most part, are taboo. The large manufacturing organizations
and research laboratories have little worthwhile news to give out
today, because they themselves are under a strict censorship. In
consequence the technical magazines and the daily press get only
a pitifully small amount of worthwhile technical information.
The magazine editor when he is not sure about the status of certain
information, is required to submit such material to the censor who
often holds it for days and weeks before releasing it.
To be sure, the entire United States Press today is under voluntary
censorship; and as far as is known, the technical press to date
has not violated the self-imposed trust. Radio magazines, however.
appear to be in the most difficult position these days because there
is hardly anything published that does not draw the immediate. fire
of the censors. Radio, admittedly, is one of the major implements
of war, which is one reason that the censor views everything published
by the radio press with suspicion and often alarm.
I doubt if there is a single technical editor or publisher in
the United States who does not know the difference between military
radio and peace-time radio. Admittedly, a radio receiver can be
used for both peace and war, but this is begging the question because,
after all, we are concerned only with what a potential enemy can
use against us, if we made the invention first and, he finding out
about it, then turned it against us.
The important point is that technical editors know their business
and know exactly how far they can go. The reason is simple: no technical
editor worth his salt would long be an editor unless he was internationally
minded. Year in and year out, exchange magazine and technical papers
in every language flow over his desk. He therefore has a very accurate
idea what the enemy already knows and what he doesn't know. Technical
progress in such things anyway is usually pretty much an evolutionary
and well-ordered process. Radio principles are the same all over
the world. Admittedly, there are refinements; admittedly there are
also sharp radio advances during war time for war purposes only.
These, every editor knows through grapevine channels and he is careful
not to publish such information; certainly when it does come to
a supposedly revolutionary radio invention, he would be the last
one to print it.
But when different censors have different ideas of U. S. censorship
and often put publishers to great expense for no sensible reason,
this then becomes vicious censorship; and, using Wendell Willkie's
words on the subject - and we fully agree with him when he says
- "Let's not have any more of this nonsense." For, mind you, there
is not just one censor to whom a radio editor, for instance, can
go; there is an Army censor, a Navy censor and an Air Corps censor.
There is also a general censor and, on top of this, we have an "export"
If these various and assorted censors would concern themselves
with new military developments, we would be the last to take issue
with them; but when such a censor invokes his ban on ancient material,
then such censorship becomes ridiculous.
An example. The November issue of Radio-Craft was two weeks late
because a censor in one of the departments of our armed forces insisted
upon killing a certain story and a cover picture, after the complete
cover for the entire issue of Radio-Craft had been printed, thus
creating a great monetary loss to the publisher. And what was the
offensive picture and article? A radio device well known to every
country all over the world. A device several years old which had
been done to death, in the radio and technical press in practically
every radio and other technical magazine throughout the entire world.
An article on this subject numbering several pages ran in 1941 in
the Saturday Evening Post, which has a circulation of over three
million copies a week. The offending picture, incidentally, also
ran in the New York Times in August of this year. All of this, however,
did not deter the censor from insisting that the story must be killed,
even after it had been pointed out that the Nazis and Japanese have
used and are using the identical device. The censor made the weak
excuse that the American device could perhaps be used in "a different
manner" than similar devices, now used by the enemy. This certainly
again is underestimating the technical intelligence of our two major
enemies, who in the past have shown that when it came to radio devices,
they certainly could match anything that we have.
Other censors act in this pattern because, as a rule, they do not
have the technical training required to distinguish between what
is new and what is ancient. Magazines of the type of Radio-Craft,
as is well known, are read closely in all foreign countries. Most
first-class radio magazines have a good-sized foreign subscription
list. This brings us to the "export" censor, who knows all this
quite well; yet he has banned Radio-Craft back numbers, going back
as far as 1940, despite the fact that such copies have been sent
all over the world before Pearl Harbor. So what happens ? We have
a long list of items which we must tear out of copies of old magazines
before they are allowed to be shipped abroad! For some reason, the
same censor seems to have his face set dead against anything whatsoever
with the words "frequency modulation" in it. Yet, if there is one
radio subject on which there has peen published a veritable torrent;
not only here, but abroad, it is the subject of frequency modulation.
Once Professor Edwin H. Armstrong had explained the principles and
technical data of frequency modulation, there was little that anyone
could add to it, except routine developments; consequently, articles
which Radio-Craft has been publishing on the subject cannot in any
way be considered revolutionary news. They are merely routine observations
by various writers, servicing information, etc.
The same is the case of television on which no major recent developments
have been made and certainly not much practical information has
or can be published because, for the time being, television, for
all purposes, stands still. Nevertheless, the export censor does
not allow certain articles on television to leave the country either,
even if the information is well known in every country the world
Then there is the matter of U. S. patents which are under a particularly
powerful taboo by the censors. Now then, as every one knows, the
United States Patent Gazette publishes all new patents each and
every week so anyone interested in any patent whatsoever can see
and read for himself. Wisely, the patent office often refrains in
war times from publishing certain inventions known to have a war
aspect. That leaves the other routine inventions open for the inspection
of all. The export censor may tell you that the Patent Gazette can
probably not be sent abroad, but that is not the point. If an Axis
Intelligence operator sees an invention which he thinks has merit
to his country, he will find ways and means to send it out of the
U. S. - censorship or no censorship. The censor himself knows this
well but he will tell you that he must make it as tough as possible
for the enemy so that no information of this type shall leave the
All of this is indeed, beside the point, because we doubt that
there is anything printed in the Patent Gazette vital to the enemy;
and, for this reason, patent information printed by a magazine only
copies such material from the Patent Gazette; therefore it can do
little harm elsewhere.
We appreciate the fact that perhaps we have not been at war long
enough so that the various censors can distinguish between military
and non-military technical information. The simple remedy seems
to lie in a technical censorship board who intelligently can deal
quickly with a technical problem whenever it comes up; and that
is really all that the technical publishers of America desire.
Posted September 11, 2014