The original scan for this article is located at: https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83045782/1919-08-31/ed-1/seq-86/.
The Sunday (Portland) Oregonian, August 31, 1919, Magazine Section, page 6:
Now the Boy Wireless Can Get Busy Again
Surprising Record of Amateurs Called Into Real Service by the War, and Why New Inventions Make It Possible for Clever Youngsters to 'Listen In' on the Great Currents of 'Air Talk'
By F. A. COLLINS
ANYONE can "listen-in" on the wireless telegraph messages sent out by the great European stations. An ingenious American boy with the aid of a home-made apparatus is now able to overhear the Eiffel Tower at Paris or Nauen, Germany, as well as thousands of other land and sea stations.
No other country in the world may boast so large an army of amateur wireless men as America. It was estimated before the war that there were at least 175,000 amateur stations scattered far and wide throughout the United States. Now that peace is assured the number will probably be even greater. During the war the science of wireless electricity, like other fighting weapons, was advanced in many ways, and the amateur can now take advantage of the new discoveries and listen-in across seas and continents.
A large proportion of the amateur stations are home-made affairs which enable the operators only to listen-in, not to send out messages. Everyone is familiar with the antennas draped against the skylines of cities large and small and often in remote country districts. The wires might be strung from the roofs of high buildings or from the eaves of some barn to a convenient haymow, but the ingenuity of the American boy was always equal to the occasion. Many of the amateur operators are school boys who chat among themselves in their leisure hours. The educational value of such training is, of course, very great. With the increased facilities for long-distance work the American boy becomes in a sense a citizen of the world. From his home station, probably constructed in his study room, he enjoys a power which a generation ago would have seemed magical. If he chances to be studying French or German, for instance, he can improve the opportunity by listening to the stations of these countries sending in their native tongues.
The American amateur wireless operator has well earned the right to operate his own station and benefit by any advantages which follow. His record in the war was brilliant. Now that the fighting is over, it is permitted to tell the wonderful record of these amateurs in serving their country. At the beginning of the conflict there were upward of 200,000 amateur wireless men in the United States. These men or boys were, for the most part, self-taught, but they soon proved themselves to be highly efficient and held their own in competition with professional operators.
When the call was issued for wireless men the response throughout America was instantaneous. Thousands of these men were needed at once to take charge of the wireless stations on the merchant ships, the convoys and in hundreds of land and sea stations. To train green hands to do the work would have required months of valuable time. The government was able to recruit almost over night a vast force of experienced men. With a little subsequent training to fit them for special work these operators were able to fill the most important posts. More than 20,000 wireless operators were recruited in this way. It was estimated that the government saved $7,000,000 at this time which would otherwise have been expended in preliminary training. When the classes of wireless operators were opened at Columbia University it was found that more than 50 per cent. of the enlisted students were amateur wireless men who had already perfected themselves in the science.
From the first the amateur wireless operator played a conspicuous part. It is not generally known that it was an amateur who overheard the Germans in charge of the high-powered wireless station at Sayville, sending out unneutral messages, and reported the fact to the government. The Sayville station not only sent messages oversea to Germany, but was in direct communication with German ships at sea, including the raiders. The Germans, by abusing the courtesy extended to them, were thus sending out messages notifying their ships of the presence of merchant craft and other information of the upmost importance to them. This fact had escaped the vigilance of the government until an alert amateur detected the deception.
In competition with the expert professionals amateurs were often selected to fill the highest posts. It was an amateur who was chosen as assistant to the director of naval communication during the war, and the chief operator at Washington was a civilian commercial operator. The amateur wireless men became officers in all the different radio services and served as inspectors and carried on all details of the work.
The Record of the Amateur
It is a matter of special pride among the amateur wireless men that the radio operator aboard the NC-4 and the NC-1 in their historic flight across the Atlantic were amateurs. The post was one of the most difficult to fill in the service of the army or navy. It was necessary to find expert operators and mechanicians as well, who could be depended upon to employ all their skill and resourcefulness in the face of the greatest danger. It is a great achievement for the American boy that self-taught youths hold the distinction of being the first radio men in history to fly across the Atlantic.
The wireless operator entrusted with the difficult task of transmitting and receiving messages on the SS. George Washington in carrying President Wilson back and forth to France was an amateur. He succeeded in handling, under very exacting conditions, an immense volume of business to the satisfaction of all. The list of amateur wireless men who have distinguished themselves might be continued indefinitely.
Throughout the war the amateur stations were silenced by the government. With tens of thousands of wireless stations all over the country and especially along the coast, it would have been impossible to exercise a sufficiently strict censorship. In the hands of an unscrupulous operator the wireless apparatus might have done immeasurable harm. It would have been possible, for instance, to transmit messages to Mexico or ships at sea, and thus communicate more or less directly with Germany. The problem of the neutrality of wireless messages arose early in the war. It was decided that the invisible waves were contraband and must be controlled. A sharp lookout was held for any wireless spy. It was discovered, for example, that a high-powered wireless apparatus, which was removed in the day time, was strung from the rigging of an interned German steamer. Under cover of darkness messages were sent to enemy stations in distant lands and to ships far out at sea.
Regulating the Amateur
Even before the war it was found in some sections that the activities of a number of amateur wireless stations often interfered with the sending of government and commercial messages. To prevent this the amateur operators were obliged to pass examinations and be regularly licensed. It is now proposed to remove as many of the restrictions as possible. By requiring amateur wireless men to employ a certain wave length the danger of interference will be done away with. It is not generally appreciated that many of the amateur stations contain elaborate apparatus, costing thousands of dollars, and the experimental work they carry on often leads to valuable discoveries and the advancement of the science.
As a result of the new wireless apparatus now available for amateurs long-distance work may be carried on with less experience than before the war. The vacuum tube invented by the eminent British scientist, Dr. Ambrose Flemming, enables the amateur to send messages thousands of miles, as well as to listen-in on European stations.