Technical World Magazine, August, 1915, pages 806-807:


B y

H A N B Y   C A R V E R
WHEN the floods came in Ohio, and the inhabitants of Dayton and the surrounding country camped on the roofs of their houses for days, cut off from all communication with the outside world, the whole country turned frantically to the work of relieving the sufferers. In consequence, a situation developed that was at the same time tragic and ridiculous; for mountains of shoes, clothing, and odds and ends from everywhere were shipped to a population which had become frenzied from thirst because the water which had engulfed them was alive with typhoid and malaria, and it was courting certain death to drink it. station map
    But how was Oregon or Nebraska to know this? No word had been received regarding the needs of the flood victims; and it was not until the third day of the horror, when a young wireless operator rigged up a makeshift station and got into communication with the University of Michigan, that people outside the flood zone began to realize the needs of the situation. Then, and then only, did the public give proper relief.
    A disaster of this kind always brings about a reaction that makes for safety in the future. The United States began to consider the question of guarding against a repetition of the same terrible conditions, and saw immediately that an appalling need existed for some method of communication that would be independent of any local conditions which might arise.
    The committee in charge of the investigation suggested a new organization, a division of the United States into districts, and the creation of a new public safety wireless service, one operator to be assigned to a district. It was found, however, that to make such a service really efficient would require a large number of stations in each State. This meant a large initial cost for installation, and an immense upkeep expense, and the administration could not afford the outlay. There the matter rested for months. It seemed criminal to chance another disaster such as Dayton's, but the administration did not relent.
    Then someone thought of the "hams". This is the name that the commercial wireless service has given to amateur operators--to those men who, seated in loft or garret, listen for the crackle of the jumping spark as hunters strain their ears for the call of the moose. A few years back these "hams" had attracted the attention of the Government through the Bureau of Navigation by making nuisances of themselves to such an extent with their constant interruption of commercial and naval communications that they had practically to be "ruled out of the air"; and the notion that the United States might be able to depend in time of stress upon these boys was so novel that it took time to sink in. But finally it met with a favorable reception, and the idea was adopted and worked out.
    The perfected plan provides for honorary commissions to be given to those amateur operators who prove themselves worthy in technical knowledge and in character. Stations will be selected from fifty to one hundred miles apart where the country is open and comparatively free from the mischance of flood or tornado, and closer in the parts where disasters have happened or are likely to occur, and these stations will be made responsible for getting out information to the country in time of emergency.
    The commissioned operators act as captains or monitors in their respective districts, locating all the other amateurs near them, and enrolling them in the great new volunteer regiment. The amateur stations are catalogued at the monitor's office for use in case of emergency, their wave lengths are all listed, and a full report is sent to J. F. Dillon, United States Radio Inspector who is in charge of the work of organization. These new commissions, carrying with them the license to use wave lengths of sixteen hundred meters in length, are being eagerly sought after, and it is now a certainty that a month's time will see the new system for public protection fully installed.
    Thus has the "ham" come into his own. At first ignored, he kept plugging away at simple experiments with his crude apparatus. Then as his feeble signals became perceptible to the powerful commercial stations he was made the butt of ridicule. This tone changed quickly, however, for when he too secured powerful transmitters, and it became impossible to "tune" or drown him out, the indignant masters of shipping combined to crush the interloper. Now he is a necessity--an auxiliary to the forces of national public welfare--and the Government feels the need. The obscure amateur will be relied upon to furnish skilled radio operators and to supply information in every time of national crisis--his training obtained at no expense except to himself, and his services given gladly and without expectation of reward when the nation shall have need for them.