At the time this article was written, United Wireless was the dominant radio company in the United States, a distinction it would hold until its collapse and takeover by Marconi in 1912. In 1909 the U.S. had not passed any laws or ratified any international treaties regulating radio, which sometimes led to bitter disputes between competing radio operators, especially along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard. But, based on the information in this article, the Pacific Northwest appears to have been much more peaceful, with a voluntary time-sharing agreement dividing the airtime between government stations in the U.S. and Canada and the commercial stations, consisting of numerous United Wireless shore and ship stations, four Massie-equiped Pacific Coast Steamship ships, plus the occasional Japanese steamer.
Technical World Magazine, August, 1909, pages 606-611:
STRUGGLING FOR THE AIR
By FRANK DOIG
WHO owns the air?
Or, rather who owns the great unknown way of the universe, on which puny man has launched his latest system of communication?
These seem to be absurd questions, but already international complications threaten to arise over them. The strange situation all comes about through the latest developments of wireless telegraphy.
As might be expected, it has remained for the far corner of the Northwest, the Pacific frontier, to be the battle ground for control of the ether way. Already there are sullen rumblings of the coming conflict. The Canadian government wireless telegraph operators are wondering when a more satisfactory agreement will be made with the Americans than now exists for sending aerograms.
It is a curious fact that when two wireless stations are working, another station in the vicinity can break into the ether way and stop the working stations. In the operators' terms this is known as "interference." To some extent science has overcome this difficulty by the use of a device known as a tuner. With this instrument the operator can "tune out," that is, shut off stations which he does not want to hear. This operation, however, restricts the use of the atmosphere again, so that in the end the struggle for air is little further advanced than if the tuner was not in use.
The tuner has this advantage: it allows an operator to work in peace, even though others do want to interfere and get their messages through. And again looking at it from this viewpoint, it is might that rules. And the struggle for air goes on just the same.
In the air over Puget Sound and around the Island of Vancouver, four separate interests may clash by wireless. This condition undoubtedly is unparalleled anywhere else above this earth. In the first place there are the Canadian government stations, with six or seven active instruments. The American government has stations at Bremerton and Tatoosh which are in the struggle for right of way. The vessels of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, four in number, are equipped with a system of wireless. This system, although of little importance in the fight for air, sometimes might play an unyielding part. And then comes a great commercial company with its powerful land stations and its great fleet of Pacific Coast, Puget Sound and Oriental liners all demanding their share of the ether way, without interference, and getting it.
Another element that sometimes must be considered is the fleet of Japanese boats plying between the Orient and Puget Sound. These are now equipped with wireless apparatus. The Japanese government owns all these instruments and the operators are members of the Japanese navy. If these operators choose to work their instruments, who is there to say they shall not?
Although the possibilities for the future control of the air are uncertain, at the present time the operators of the land stations in the Puget Sound and Pacific Coast districts have schedules on which they work. It is agreed for instance, that the Dominion stations work a certain part of the hour and other operators will remain quiet. Then the commercial men have their turn, or the American government stations work. As a matter of fact, however, in actual practice, the government stations on this side of the line take little of the time, so the field is practically left clear for the commercial men.
But this agreement is only a verbal, or rather a wireless contract, and is not binding. At any time the agreement may be overstepped. Then it will be a struggle for control, with the most powerful stations winning.
Perhaps it was this contingency that was foreseen by the American navy department and which brought about the decision to have American warships equipped with the most powerful instruments obtainable for practical use aboard ship. Bids have been asked for instruments capable of receiving messages from a distance of 3,000 miles and sending them 1,000 miles. It is planned to establish a number of land stations able to dispatch wireless messages 3,000 miles. One high power station is to be erected at some point near Washington, D. C. It is specifically stated in the call for bids that this station must be able to transmit a message 3,000 miles, free from atmospheric, international or uninternational interference in any navigable direction, night or day.
It is this plain clause that has caused the wireless experts to do some deep thinking. They are wondering if the government is planning to control the ether way by might.
In Canada, it is believed the government is already at work on the problem of solving the right to the Hertzian waves. There is nothing to prevent the northern neighbor building powerful wireless stations that might interfere with the United States navy communication. Or the commercial companies, which have some of the best expert wireless inventors and engineers in the world on their staffs, are at liberty to tamper with the wavelets at will.
Supposing Congress should see fit to attempt the passage of a bill regulating the use of the atmosphere, it cannot hope to control the entire ether envelope. A station, powerful enough, situated on a desert isle would be able to fight for its share of the waves, without interference.
True, wireless is still in its infancy and many improved tuners may be invented to overcome interference. In fact two Italians, Pellini and Tosi, announced recently that they have solved the problem of absolutely independent wireless operation. For the last eighteen months they have been working with the sanction of the French government, with the wireless stations on the coast of Normandy. They declare this result has been obtained by means of two rectangular aerials fixed at right angles and so attached to the apparatus for reception and transmission as to permit the transmission of unequal currents. By a simple law of mechanics these two electric magnetic forces unite and produce an electric magnetic field and the Hertzian waves are projected in a single vertical plane, which can be altered instantly by means of the Bobine device.
The inventors say they have picked up messages at will from every English station and from ships at sea and that they have transmitted messages between various points without the waves being perceptible at the other stations, lying just off the line of transmission.
If these claims are true, the device will go a long way toward settling this problem. But even this attachment will not prevent other stations interfering with those that are working.
Similar results have been obtained with the tuner used by the commercial engineers in this country. For instance, the Victoria station can "tune out" all Canadian stations and work with Seattle, without interference.
But another element has been thrust into the strife. It was only last fall when the operator at the commercial station on Russian Hill, San Francisco, began hearing mysterious messages coming over the great unknown way from far off in the ether envelope. Away out there in the night someone was calling. He strained his ears to catch the faint dots and dashes. Finally they stopped. He had been unable to grasp their meaning.
The following night, long after the usual night business had been transacted, Operator Lawrence Malarin, with his head receivers tightly clasped to his ears, sat beside his operating table in the little house overlooking the Pacific. It was an ideal "wireless night." His silicon for receiving was in fine order. Not a speck of dust on his delicate instruments anywhere.
Suddenly, the faint mysterious signals came to his ear. In a few seconds they grew more distinct. Now he was able to distinguish the letters of the alphabet. Then his hopes were shattered, for the clicks ran off into a sputter of dots and dashes he didn't understand. Again came the letters and he, wrote them down as they came. The sender seemed to be using a mixture of Continental and Morse codes. Malarin, familiar with both could make no sense out of the combination he heard. Nevertheless he took down in writing what came.
The next day he consulted with James O. Watkins, his fellow operator. It was then the truth flashed upon them. They hunted up a code book, giving the systems in use by the Oriental countries. Malarin had heard a wireless message direct from Japan. Over 5,761 miles of ocean the vibrations carried. This established the long distance record of the world.
This feat opens another avenue for a possible struggle for air. It may be the powers of the world will be called upon to establish the right of way over the air above the Pacific. At present Japan is not a dangerous competitor for the ether way. Japan has solved the secret of powerful sending instruments, but has not yet learned the trick of perfecting a receiving apparatus. But already the Japanese government has agents in this country attempting to master the secret of the patented receiving devices and if they are worthy of their name, "the Yankees of the Far East", they unquestionably will sooner or later discover the secret.