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Amateur Broadcasting - A Menace
June 1944 QST Article

June 1944 QST

June 1944 QST  Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

J.K. Bach (not Johann S.) was amazingly prescient in 1944 with the specific types of RF-based devices that would come to be common place in our modern world. Dig this: "Radar can even be applied to the home, as a burglar-alarm, for example, or to detect obstructions on the cellar steps. Electronic devices will find many other uses as high-frequency paint-dryers, veneer-gluers, and even cordless permanent-waving machines for the ladies. Garage-door openers and other remote-control devices are not only possible but practical. Then there are certain to be other applications such as personal pedestrian telephones, two-way wrist-radios and nursery baby-cry announcing systems." Nostradamus' divination record might not even be that good. His tongue-in-cheek thesis of ubiquitous RF interference due to the presence of Ham radio operators is not far off either, although the accused "menace" would have to be extended to include all the many varied emissive devices being used by tech-ladened pedestrians.

Amateur Broadcasting - A Menace

Judging from past experience, publication of this essay may result in a storm of protest which will lift the roof at 38 LaSalle Road. Some will denounce OM Bach as anti-amateur, failing to perceive the gentle irony in his words. Others will cudgel editorial skulls for exposing our weaknesses to public view. A few, even, will read into its publication a veiled forewarning and conclude that ARRL is planning to sell short the amateur bands.

Yes, we've learned that there are always those who are unable to comprehend a jest or who prefer to read dire omens between the lines. In this instance there should be no need for either; The article is plainly labeled as satire, and we state categorically that there is no hidden motive behind its publication - except, possibly, to show how superficially plausible such specious arguments could be if they were presented by someone with an axe to grind.

Does Private Communication Imperil the Bright New World?

By J. K. Bach,  W4CCE/3, EX-W9WGM

The electronic age into which we are now entering promises many wonders to make our lives easier and more pleasant. Developments in manufacturing, housing, transportation and communications - all promise a bright new world. But it is about communications that I wish particularly to speak.

When new automobiles again run on our highways they will undoubtedly be equipped with radar, as will every other vehicle. No longer will airplane, train or even the sputtering motorcycle crash into hidden obstructions, thanks to the wonders of science. Radar can even be applied to the home, as a burglar-alarm, for example, or to detect obstructions on the cellar steps. Electronic devices will find many other uses as high-frequency paint-dryers, veneer-gluers, and even cordless permanent-waving machines for the ladies. Garage-door openers and other remote-control devices are not only possible but practical. Then there are certain to be other applications such as personal pedestrian telephones, two-way wrist-radios and nursery baby-cry announcing systems.

Before all these wonders can be fully realized, however, something must be done about the chief obstructionist - the amateur broadcaster. For many years his antennas have depreciated property values and created lightning hazards. He has been absorbing broadcast waves and creating various disturbances such as static, fading and fluttering in the broadcast band. He has created intolerable interference to innocent listeners with his meaningless code and chatter.

Amateur radio comic - RF CafeDefenders of the amateur broadcaster have made much of his discovery of the utility of short waves. That he stumbled upon this discovery is by no means remarkable; as Mark Twain said: "It was wonderful of Columbus to have discovered America but it would have been even more wonderful to have missed it." It is a matter of record that his confinement to 200 meters was not voluntary, but instead was brought about because of his interference with other services and general worthlessness even in days gone by.

Silly Claims

And what, indeed, has the amateur broadcaster done with his discovery? He has filled up the wave-bands with inane conversation of no discoverable meaning or value. His claims to usefulness during national disaster are transparently silly, not to say fraudulent. There is no mention of these services outside of his own radio magazines; and even if they do exist, there is nothing he has done or can do that would not be better done by public service, telephone and railroad companies, with expert operators and commercial equipment designed by engineers of training and experience. In this connection, it is significant that the amateur broadcaster has no official place in the War Emergency Radio Service (though a few have managed to enter the organization, possibly by concealing their amateur broadcasting background).

The amateurs are also vociferous about being a reserve of trained operators for military service in time of war. This is, of course, absurd; the Signal Corps has its own training schools, and so could have little use for hobbyists whose chief occupation before the war was annoying legitimate radio users such as broadcast listeners. Besides, it must be apparent by this time that, in an intelligently planned' world, war cannot exist. Granting, for the sake of argument, that the amateur broadcaster was useful in this war, there could be no use for him in the future. Gratitude, even if it seemed to be indicated, has no place here, if only because the amateur broadcaster will never again be called upon for war communication service, because there will be no more wars. The Anglo-Saxon powers will see to it that no aggressor nation ever again can take the civilized world by the throat.

As for the technical advances sometimes attributed to amateur broadcasters, it must be obvious that no hobbyist could compete with the great commercial laboratories. It is well known that they must buy most of their equipment, and such equipment as they themselves build almost invariably is only a slavish copy of successful commercial equipment, since obviously they themselves cannot design other than rudimentary instruments.

Civilization Imperiled

It is becoming increasingly obvious that amateur broadcasting can no longer be permitted if civilization is to progress. Who can tell how many airplanes, trains and other vehicles will crash into hidden obstructions and cause serious loss of life only because some boy, playing with amateur broadcasting, has interfered with the proper operation of their radars?

And in any case, how could there be room for amateur broadcasting in a spectrum already overcrowded, even without the new assignments which must be made for wood-gluing, paint-drying, soldering and other similar processes not yet discovered?

Electronics radar comic - RF CafeIt might be asked why the amateur broadcaster has been permitted to clutter up our frequencies for so many years. The answer is simple: he has organized himself into an association which has a lobby of sorts, as well as press representation; the latter, fortunately, not very effective. While not so efficient as some others, these agencies have been instrumental in preserving the amateur broadcaster's privileges to the annoyance of industry and the public at large.

Is there a remedy? Indeed, yes. Fortunately, those in authority have practically unlimited powers in wartime, and the said authority may be - indeed, must be - continued after peace once more spreads her comforting wings over a war-torn world. Nothing could be simpler than to extend, so as to cover the entire country, the present military zones within which private (as distinguished from commercial) communication systems are forbidden - as indeed they should be in this day of air power. To do so would require no legislation; a directive would be sufficient authority.

But this might not be permanently effective; what of the voting strength of the amateur broadcaster? Fortunately, he does not use it to the best advantage, and since, save as an unmitigated nuisance, he is unknown to the general public, of which he forms a very minor fraction, he can be safely and easily suppressed.

A long-term policy to rid the country of the amateur broadcaster might well begin by restricting his operations to the region above 1000 Mc., with a maximum radiated power of three watts, an assigned beam direction of not over 15 degrees spread in any dimension, and, of course, a time schedule.

Heavy taxation would also be effective. First, it would discourage a practice which at present cannot expediently be legislated against, all the possession of firearms has been. (Heavy taxation has been valuable in the past; as an outstanding example, the use of white phosphorus in the manufacture of the common kitchen match has been discouraged solely by this means.) Second, the funds thus obtained could be added to the billions needed to finance the agencies that will be needed to regulate and administer the many affairs of our brave new world.



Posted October 24, 2019
(updated from original post on 10/22/2012)

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