In this selection from his debut column for Popular Science Magazine, Jack Binns suggests one possible method for financing radio broadcasting might be to send the programs over scrambled signals, which could only be decoded by special coin-operated receivers. (In the United States, a "nickel" refers to a five-cent coin). However, consumer pay-radio using special receivers would not be attempted in the U.S. until the beginning of the 21st century, with the introduction of subscription satellite services, including SiriusXM. However, beginning in the 1960s a small number of Subscription TV stations in the United States tested (unsuccessfully) signal scrambling in order to charge for special programs, and the same general idea has been successfully adopted for premium cable TV channels.
Popular Science Monthly, June, 1922, page 24:
On the Crest of the Radio Wave
By Jack Binns
America's First Wireless Hero and Most Famous Writer on Radio
"IS radio just a passing craze?"
"Will the manufacturers abandon their broadcasting programs as soon as the market has become so flooded with their apparatus that future sales are impossible?"
These are the two questions I have been asked most frequently since the radio-telephone swept over the country like a cyclone, carrying popular enthusiasm in its wake. When we take into consideration the following facts: first, that it takes $4000 a month to operate a typical broadcasting station; and, second, that the artists are not being paid for the radio entertainment they give, it will readily be seen that the answers are vital to us all.
In fact, the problem appears so grave to all who, like myself, believe radio must have a marvelous future, that I am taking my first opportunity of talking with POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY readers to point out what I think the solution may be.
A Utility, Not a Craze
First, however, I want to impress upon you a realization of the fact that radio is neither a craze nor a toy. It is a very serious and important public utility which will gain in magnitude and value every day. But don't let your enthusiasm for it lift you out of the realm of facts. NOW is the time for everybody to come back to earth, to become familiar with the actual conditions of radio, and to plan sanely for the future.
At present, profits from the sale of radio receiving apparatus cover the cost of broadcasting. But that cost, in the case of one corporation, reaches $288,000 a year. Free broadcasting services obviously cannot go on forever, at that scale, and surely some payment to the artists will have to be made ultimately.
Now, in my opinion, there is only one solution to this problem. It lies in the probable attachment of a slot machine to every radio receiver--a machine so designed that a family will drop a nickel in the box for an evening's entertainment. The receipts collected monthly would assuredly be enough to enable the operating companies to provide even more elaborate and costly entertainments than at present, and to pay the artists adequately.
Will We Have Nickel-in-the-Slot Radio Receiving Sets?
"But how could this be done?" you ask. "What is to stop anybody with a radio set from listening in?"
Two ways are already recognized by experts as possible, but a combination of both of them would be best. In the first place, it is possible to so distort the voice transmitted by wireless telephony that it becomes absolutely unintelligible to every receiver that is not equipped with a translating modulator pitched to the right degree of resonance. Then, in the second place, it is possible to rapidly change the wave length carrying the voice so that some phrases will be carried on one wave length and succeeding phrases on another. Thus only an automatically controlled receiver could follow the rapid changes. A combination of these two systems would make it impossible for any one to be a "deadhead" at the radio-phone concerts.
I am quite sure that the public will welcome this innovation, when it comes. It will leave our receiving sets free to hear the ever increasing quantity of news and information that many agencies will be eager to broadcast gratis, and it will put at our disposal, in addition, for a remarkably low price, musical entertainments far surpassing any program yet attempted.