Shut Down and Called Up

With ham radio shut down completely by the war, The Old Man was back the following month with an article titled simply “Rotten !!” which is what he thought of the closing of amateur stations, finding that he no longer had anything to do in the evenings.1 What was the harm, he asked, in allowing us to at least listen? One compensation for him had been an increase in the activity (meetings) of the local radio club.

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Navy training class at Mare Island, California

Despite the good humor at the League, the membership was not just off the air but leaving home for military service. QST was the only remaining medium keeping amateurs in touch and League officials were beginning to realize that it would not last without an influx of new members and subscribers. Being of prime age for service, Tuska noted that he, too, would soon have to either join the Naval Reserve, the Radio service, or be drafted. So, along with an appeal for subscriptions and renewals, the editorial page called for someone “with a more or less defective anatomy” to please help continue to put out QST.2 Endorsing this appeal, a letter from none other than Thomas Edison was printed on the inside front cover complementing the ARRL on the magazine, having judged the issue sent to him by Tuska to be “very interesting.”

In July the ARRL announced a drive to sign up 2,000 operators for military service.3 Hams could serve their country while receiving an education in their favorite pursuit. Harvard University turned Pierce Hall over to the Navy for training and housing Radio Electricians. Courses, including 30 words-per-minute code, theory and apparatus, and secret code work, were taught. Training would require “a small amount of drill work,” too, since “a Radio operator is a Petty Officer and must know how to handle men.” A second, somewhat smaller school at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a third at Mare Island, San Francisco, were also established. A month later the three-page lead article, “What the Naval Reserve Offers Men of the ARRL” (subtitled as “Written specially for QST by the Navy Publicity Bureau”), announced another training facility at Columbia University.4

The Navy offered a long list of interesting subjects to be covered in its training, such as transmitting and receiving sets, condensers and oscillating circuits, and electromagnetism. All of that, and they’d pay you too! At the top end of the five-grade scale, Chief Electricians would receive $72 per month, and at the bottom, Electricians Radio, Landsman, $32.50 per month. You would also get “subsistence and retainer fees.” Interested amateurs were to clip the enrollment form printed in QST, take it to the recruiting office, get a physical, and then send it to the ARRL for handling. (If you didn’t like the idea of cutting up your QST, the League would send you a separate blank on request.)  One hundred enlisted men per year could also take tests to be selected for admission to the Naval Academy. You just had to have passed your seventeenth birthday.

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Members began to report in with stories about their military service, being careful to include only as much detail as necessary and allowed. Many ARRL trunk line operators had by then joined up5 and were listed in QST, some along with their assignment locations. Even Mrs. Candler, 8NH, had enlisted in the reserve.

An anonymous contributor identified only as “P” wrote of his experience as a Navy receiver operator. Everything from procedures to Q-signals had changed from what was familiar to him. “Practically everything is in code,” he reported. “I have sometimes listened for three hours without hearing anything to disturb the absolute silence of the ‘ether’. Just think what a blessing this would have been in normal times.”

Stories of station-closing activities around the country also filled the news. The Baltimore Radio Association reported how amateur stations had been closed and “sealed” across the area—with the help of the club, in part to show a public face of cooperation by organized amateurs. So-called sealing parties had closed more than 235 stations thus far, some even in the absence of their owners.6 All were accomplished without opposition and some reporting “humorous incidents” at the club meetings. Either to report on the unevenness of government closings in other cities, or to boast about their own accomplishments, the club claimed that no such operation had occurred in neighboring cities; for example, Washington, where no closings had yet happened, and Philadelphia, where some stations were still reportedly operating.

Except for the relay committee, the club planned to continue to function during the shutdown and regular meetings would continue. They suggested that QST begin an “experimental department” where new technical ideas could be published and discussed. Some members had always been more interested in the technology than in relaying anyway, they claimed.

In Buffalo, New York, the county sheriff and deputies along with local police were assigned by the governor to detect and dismantle amateur stations. Over three hundred had been closed by mid-April. The city also set up a station in the federal building7 to detect and help locate any stations still in operation. After being taken over by the Navy, the local commercial station reopened for commercial use under their censorship.

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M. B. West, 8AEZ

A central figure in the city was M. B. West, 8AEZ, one of the ARRL trunk line organizers. Referred to as “Radio Gunner West,” and the “radio censor for the United States Government for this district,” West had also been actively recruiting for the Navy in the local area. Professionally involved in radio from its early beginning, he had then lost interest altogether because of the crude equipment available at the time, but was reintroduced to it in 1914 by a group of boys who came to him for advice on setting up an amateur station. Building a station and hearing the air filled with signals, he found himself hooked this time.

As mid-summer set in, QST, having hit a peak of 100 pages in April, was now down to 44 in the August issue. Yet its optimistic tone remained and the full page opposite the table of contents claimed that following the initial wave of discouragement at the closing, the tide had now turned.8

Amateurs continued to report their wartime experiences. Bill Woods, 9HS operated from Manistique, Michigan, at WMX, another commercial station taken over by the Navy. In his letter, which included a redacted word or two, he described his midnight to 6:00 a.m. shift listening to the goings on with no QRM at all. When he and other amateurs reported to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, NAJ, they initially were discouraged to find that few there seemed to even know what radio was. But over time they discovered a few others with similar backgrounds and “prepared to have a regular ‘ham fest’ with fellow amateurs.”9

Regular NAJ “confabs” took place among old amateur radio friends—the radio bugs—including well known trunk line relay operators such as 9ABD, wrote James Crowdus, 9HN. They would often gather after work and talk well into the evening until the bugler blew taps. “Some of the most-enjoyed moments” of his life were spent at this training camp.10 A group of them answering a call for volunteers for Class 2, sea duty, headed for Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Naval Radio Reserve School. There they met many more operators who had come in from all districts of the country.

“Our Pacific Coast Friends are Doing Their Bit,” Walter Maynes reported from the Naval Radio Station, San Francisco. They nightly copied KHK, a 5-kW, 600-meter spark station in Waihawa, Territory of Hawaii (designated TH then) nearly 2,100 miles away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the sea of summer static. About twice weekly they also copied JOC on 600-meter spark from Japan, 5,475 miles distant, along with ships off the Japanese coast. Daytime receptions were limited to 500 to 750 miles. Their station, yet another private one taken over by the government for receiving work only, was equipped with two oscillating Audion receivers (used in non-oscillating mode), one built by the chief operator, E. M. Sargent, and one built by the author originally for use at his own amateur station before the war. One receiver covered 600 to 10,000 meters, the other 200 to 1,500, but both worked equally well at 600 meters, long the busiest place on the radio landscape. Their antenna was 400 feet long, suspended 45 feet high over poor, sandy ground near the ocean in west San Francisco, with the station on the second floor of their building.

Not to be outdone by the Navy and its active and visible appeal to amateurs, the Army called for aviators and balloon pilots for the Signal Officers Reserve Corps of the Army, offering a commission as a Second Lieutenant, a salary of $2,000 per year ($35,000 in 2013 dollars) and a bonus when called to active service.

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Returning to print in July, The Old Man wrote “Rotten Resonance.” The scene was another club meeting, with the regular antagonists, “Final” and “Radical.” Final, short for Final Authority, was a blowhard know-it-all, and Radical was a smallish, level-headed, normally reserved voice of reason whose raison d’être was to ask probing but leading questions, all to get a rise out of Final. As usual, Radical had worked Final into a frenzy, this time leading him to believe that one of the other members had been testing his transmitter in violation of the close-down order. Radical led Final through the usual series of questions ending with the fact that the experimenter was using a “phantom antenna,” the early term for a dummy load. This was evidently T.O.M.’s way of postulating that amateurs could continue to experiment with transmitters even though we were off the air.

The matching, more serious editorial that month also called for experimenting with phantom aerials to improve transmitting efficiency. All of this appeared to be a trial balloon of sorts as hams probed the boundaries of the shut-down order.

Perhaps having seen The Old Man’s article, or having read the July editorial,11 Lieutenant Commander Reed Fawell, USN, wrote a letter to Tuska making it quite clear that the operating ban encompassed all “radio telegraphic experiments” and strongly implied, although he did not explicitly state, that that included the use of the equipment with a phantom antenna.12 In his mid-July letter, which appeared in September QST as the lead article, he attempted to define the boundaries more precisely, saying that there was no ban on the use of components—inductors, capacitors, and other parts—for non-radio uses such as in medical equipment. Nor was there a ban on radio frequency oscillations, per se. But there could be “no radiotelegraphic experiments at all,” and “all the experiments usually performed by amateurs must cease.” He suggested that this would be a good time for amateurs to learn American Morse since “all good operators should know both codes.” At the bottom of the page, under a separator bar, is the note: “This explains why Dr. Radio’s article on Phantom Antennas (alluded to in a previous issue) has been withheld. —Editor.”

That month’s editorial reacted with a noticeably irritated tone. “The facts are that we must not touch any radio apparatus. All we can do is to read radio books and think radio thoughts. Until we become Germanized, we at least have these liberties.”13

The closings and restrictions, while disheartening to amateurs, were just one indication of the strategic and tactical importance of radio to the government and the military. Jonathan Zenneck, a well known German professor of electronics and widely recognized radio authority had written a bestselling text book on radio theory14 that was regularly advertised in QST.15 In July, he was arrested and interned at Ellis Island on suspicion of helping German spies in the United States receive communications via high-powered stations in Germany, such as the well known one in Nauen. His arrest seemed to have been ordered, in part, because he was German and a well known radio expert; there were as yet no reports of actual spying by him.16 However, Zenneck was also a Captain of Marines in the German Army, and was assigned to a coastal station in Sayville, on Long Island, New York, owned and operated by Atlantic Communication Company, itself owned by Telefunken of Germany. The US Navy had taken over the station in 1915 to enforce what was then United States neutrality in the conflict.17 As the country entered the war, Zenneck and his station were both put under the control of the Navy and the Secret Service.

In response, The Old Man wrote “Something Rotten Somewhere,” meaning out in Sayville, speculating that Zenneck’s arrest must have been based on something concrete. A New Jersey amateur had recorded transmissions from Sayville and worked with the Secret Service to build a case against the station before the Navy took over. TOM wondered, could it have been Zenneck who sent information to Germany about our first troop shipments?

He also wondered about something appearing in the press about “super imposed oscillatory circuits,” some sort of encoding that made transmissions undetectable without the proper information to extract them. Could this be a new solution to the QRM problem?

And then, magnanimously, he suggested that, “After we make up again with old Z, let’s ask him into the ARRL. He’s probably O.K. His trouble is with his Kaiser.” T.O.M. argued that if only the Navy would let the “stay at home” amateurs use their receivers, they could help locate such enemy transmissions.18 Not surprisingly, a September editorial agreed, saying that secret operating by the enemy was possible using any number of clandestine antennas, and that amateurs with receiving capability could be of great use in discovering them, if only they were not prohibited from doing so.19

Aside from the government itself, the general public worried about the possibility of wireless technology posing a security threat, and read about closings and seizures of equipment in the press. This led to unfortunate, unwarranted actions being taken against some amateurs. In one instance, James A. Nassau, 3CT of Philadelphia, was investigated by special officers of the local police and the US Secret Service, because someone in the neighborhood, knowing he had been an amateur, reported suspicious noises coming from his house.20  Late one evening, investigators who were not at all familiar with wireless—one, in fact, admitting he had never before seen a wireless—asked whether he “could … receive on his setup” and about how far it could send; “his setup” being a simple hand key and buzzer that he had been using for code practice sessions with some friends. The rest of his equipment had long since been packed away in boxes.

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Other September editorials lamented the coming of fall and its yearly promise of lower static—prime season for radio in normal times. But for the closings, amateurs would have been gearing up right about then. The QST editorial, “Another Season Opens, but—,” talked about all the marvelous things hams would be doing now that September had arrived, and each one ended with “but—“21

And yet, this optimistic passage appeared, most likely written by Maxim:

It probably will be many months, and we expect to see at least another September come and go which will be not much different. ‘Tis a sad, sad tale. But, like most sad tales, it is not without a big ray of hope. This hope is that the present conditions cannot go on forever, and that the spirit of amateur wireless is just as much alive in these dead days as it ever was. Whether the law closes up our stations or even takes away our apparatus, whether we ourselves are scattered to the four winds of heaven, whether we are in the army in France, or in the Navy on the tossing sea, we are still Amateur Wireless Bugs, and nothing will ever change us. Dead Septembers may come and go and the years may change us from springy youth to sober age, but the call of the “spark” will still be in our hearts and the desire to have and use the little old set up in the attic or down in the cellar will still be the one great yearning. We will always be Amateur Wireless Bugs, come what may. That’s right, isn’t it, fellows?

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Equally upbeat, the editors predicted “a new kind of game” once amateurs were again permitted to operate and a thousand or more new operators trained by the Navy would return and become active. “You will be big guns22 when you come home after the war. You will be the ones who will run things.”


September QST’s cover drawing depicted a submarine at sea, flying an improbable multi-wire aerial—unintentional as metaphor, but apropos as hams left their silenced, submerged stations behind to cross the ocean and serve as signalmen.

Nowhere in this issue is there any indication that it would be the last QST for the next nineteen long months.

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  1. The Old Man, Rotten, QST, June 1917, p7.
  2. “Help Keep QST Going,” Editorial, QST, June 1917, p20.
  3. Wanted: by Uncle Sam: 2,000 Amateur Wireless Operators, QST, July 1917, p3.
  4. What the Naval Reserve Offers Men of the A.R.R.L., QST, August 1917, p3.
  5. “Personal Mention of Members in Service,” QST, July 1917, p5.
  6. Baltimore Radio Association – What it has Done since Closing Orders, QST, July 1917, p24.
  7. Evidently there was a procedure for municipal authorities to obtain permission to do so since it was ordered set up by the city’s Radio Engineer.
  8. Looking Forward (no link to this page in the archive), QST, August 1917, p2.
  9. This may be the first use of the term in QST.
  10. Crowdus, James, “West Joins East—A.R.R.L. Members Volunteer,” Radio Communications by the Amateurs, QST, August 1917, p23.
  11. Maybe Maxim, probably the author of both, had sent him a copy.
  12. Fawell, Reed, “Concerning Phantom Antennas,” QST, September 1917, p2.
  13. More Stringent than Supposed, Editorial, QST, September 1917, p15.
  14. Zenneck, Jonathan, Wireless Telegraphy, German, 1908, English translation McGraw Hill, New York, 1915.
  15. See, e.g., QST, February 1916, inside cover advertisement.
  16. The Activities of Alien Enemies, The Wireless Age, Vol 4, No. 12, September 1917, p790.
  17. Navy Takes Over Sayville Radio, The New York Times, July 9, 1915, p1.
  18. The Old Man, Something Rotten Somewhere, QST, September 1917, p7.
  19. Rotten All Right, Editorial, QST, September 1917, p17.
  20. “Enemy Wireless ?,” Radio Communications by the Amateurs, QST, September 1917, p18.
  21. Another Season Opens But —, Editorial, QST, September 1917, p16.
  22. This may be the first use in QST of this term for a prominent station and operator.

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