Third Parties

Since message traffic was a contentious issue at the 1927 international convention, the League’s General Counsel and Rocky Mountain Division Director, P. M. Segal, 9EEA, analyzed the new law 1 and international agreements, and offered his opinion about the nature of the amateur operations they permitted.2 The amateur designation had different meanings in sports and radio, he began. In sports, an amateur could lose that status by getting paid just once—amateur and professional were mutually exclusive. But in radio, an amateur may work in radio as a profession and yet engage in amateur radio too, as long as the two activities were separate. And professional is not the only opposite of amateur in radio—commercial, which is also non-exclusive, is another. In fact, an operator who had a commercial license was automatically eligible to operate an amateur radio station with no additional credentials. A station, however, could be commercial or amateur but not both, depending on the purpose for which it was built, licensed, maintained and operated.

Segal then analyzed all the senses in which a message could be considered commercial correspondence, eliminating those that led to logical inconsistencies or were at odds with well-accepted practice. The language in the 1927 law was intended “to recognize and deal with amateur stations and traffic as those stations existed and as that traffic was conducted at the time the Act was passed,” he reasoned.

The handling of messages for personal gain was at the center of the distinction. By 1927, “it was the well-established custom of amateur stations to handle messages of all kinds and importance provided only that the handling was without compensation of any kind to the amateur,” wrote Segal, citing similar language in a legal text.

The Commission’s revised regulations, written to adhere to the 1927 law, also contained language derived from sections of the new International Radiotelegraph Convention so as to be in compliance. So did the FRC’s General Order 24, which defined an amateur station. Although this indicated the FRC’s intent to adopt specific language from the convention, one paragraph was omitted because it would have conflicted with the way messages were handled according to customary practice in the US. In this paragraph the convention sought to eliminate any amateur message traffic that was perceived to be a competitive threat to commercial carriers. Since the paragraph did not appear in any of the regulations adopted by the Commission, Segal concluded that its omission was deliberate, meant to preserve the established flow of amateur message traffic in the US. Otherwise, amateurs would have been limited to handling only those messages that were private and “by reason of their unimportance, recourse to the public telegraph service might not be warranted,” as the treaty required internationally.

Unfortunately this reasoning also implied that under the 1927 law amateurs in the US would be allowed to handle messages on behalf of commercial interests—something Segal did not view as a flaw or loophole, but an affirmation of the “well-established custom” of allowing any content at all, as long as the operators did not derive a benefit from its handling.

His conclusion about the nature of message content, printed in QST using nearly all capital letters, read:

AN AMATEUR OPERATOR, AT AN AMATEUR RADIO STATION, MAY, UNDER THE LAW, ACCEPT FOR TRANSMISSION, TRANSIT, RELAY OR DELIVER A MESSAGE OF ANY KIND OF TEXT, IMPORTANCE OR SOURCE SO LONG AS NO MONEY OR OTHER VALUABLE CONSIDERATION IS DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY PAID OR PROMISED HIM OR CHARGED OR ACCEPTED BY HIM, subject of course to the general laws against obscene or profane language over the air.

Thus, an amateur could help a company do business as long as it was free of charge and not obscene.

To illustrate the principle, he explained how a company employee who also happened to be an amateur may transmit his company’s reports to another branch office via amateur stations as long as the amateurs involved do so on their own time, do not get paid for the service, were not hired because of their status as amateur operators, or gain any other kind of benefit from handling such messages.

Although Segal apparently considered the convention’s restriction on content to be severe, he was nonetheless willing to overlook this glaring inconsistency in the definition of non-commercial operation. It would have to be clarified later.

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Having long handled traffic between countries as if no border existed, the US and Canada prepared for the convention, which prohibited international message traffic except where two countries formalize an agreement to allow it.3 The two countries reached such an agreement in 1928 as the direct result of an initiative by the ARRL. Messages could be handled that are “of such nature as would not normally be sent by any existing means of electrical communication, except during emergencies or from isolated points not connected by any regular means of electrical communication.” The ARRL asked the State Department to establish such relationships with other countries.

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