In 1910, radio was still unregulated in the United States, so the U.S. Navy sometimes found itself at odds with unruly civilians.
The original scan for this article is located at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1910-03-11/ed-1/seq-1/
San Francisco Call, March 11, 1910, pages 1-2:
WITH WIRELESS TWISTS TAIL OF POWERS THAT BE
Inventor McCarthy Hurls Ragtime Through Air at the Navy That Scorned Him
Forces Combine to Work His Extinction, but He Only Grins His Defiance
THE strains of raucous ragtime carried on the crest of Hertzian waves through the medium of a wireless telephone have arrayed together the United States navy, the revenue cutter service, the congressional committee on naval affairs and Congressman Roberts of Massachusetts against one Jack McCarthy, inventor and Irish, manager of the Universal wireless telephone company, who, from his lonely perch of an office in the Metropolis bank building, daily twists the tail of the powers that be and laughs them to scorn. Naval officers of every rank and degree have sent up a rabid yell for the extinction of one McCarthy, inventor.
They have reported him to Washington. They stand behind Congressman Roberts to have him legislated off the map. They complain that with his fiendish invention he makes as naught the wireless service of the fleet, and that he and his tunes played into a wireless telephone from a phonograph have put the everlasting blinkers on governmental messages.
And McCarthy grins.
Who Owns the Air?
The trouble arises over the question of the ownership of the air. The federal officials believe that they should have some exclusive right to it, while McCarthy believes that it belongs to the fellow who can put the others out of commission--drown them out.
McCarthy, after several years of hard work, several more close shaves from electrocution, and in the face of continued reverses, perfected a wireless telephone. Others had tried the same thing, but with humorous results. McCarthy injected himself on the wireless horizon some months ago, when wireless operators, taking the routine messages from the surrounding points, were interrupted by a strong voice saying:
"Hello, there. Pleased to greet you."
Receivers dropped in vague alarm and a concerted inquiry arise as to the inventor. They found a young man, entangled in wires up in the Metropolis bank building, smiling a very satisfied smile.
McCarthy offered the phone to the government, particularly to the navy, but the government scoffed, and particularly the navy.
Contempt for Telephones
A short time previously wireless phones had been installed on board the vessels of the fleet only to be discarded a few weeks later, choked to the nozzle with profanity--profanity which had been deposited within the mechanism of the instruments and which they found had failed to emit in the approved manner. In fact they were looked upon as deposit vaults for the safe keeping of harsh language. It mattered not how much an irate post captain bellowed into it or what the chief electrician said into the receiver--nary a word escaped. It was the most moral phone in existence and therefore when McCarthy proposed his kind he was waved away.
The navy went its mighty way and McCarthy his. One fine night, a few weeks later, operators on board the fleet sending brutal messages from irritable commanders, heard a peculiar buzzing and on their surprised ears broke a ghostly tune none other than "Ma-a-andy La-a-ane." Coming as it did from nowhere it was fascinating but the operators discovered they could not penetrate the music. The service ceased. And McCarthy, sitting by his wireless 'phone, into the mouth of which was screwed a phonograph horn--well, McCarthy grinned. Though the navy knew not, the tail twisting had begun.
Music Again in the Air
The next day the music started again--and kept up. The revenue cutters were forced to cease their wireless messages until one McCarthy had become satiated with the gleeful refrain of "Pickle Lily Polka." From that time on it has been continuous. According to the reports of the commander of the cutter McCulloch which lay at Sausalito, nine miles from the persistent McCarthy, the latter took particular delight in interfering with his weather reports. Then, to add insult to injury, it caught and laughed at the private messages of the officers.
"Coming ashore to take you to the dance tonight," wired the operator, sending the message to a girl in Van Ness avenue. McCarthy forthwith gave three loud "ha's" over his telephone and turned on "Waltz Me Around Again, Willie." During the playing the revenue wireless service, heavy with its messages of dinner appointments, was put on the blink. In the midst of a message from shore to the effect that three enlisted men had landed in the calaboose, McCarthy broke in with the dulcet strains of "Has Anybody Seen Kelly?" Half an hour later he turned on the selections from "The Love Tales of Hoffmann," being desirous to show that his was not a rude ear for music. The reports of the revenue state also that all this time McCarthy had the field.
WIRELESS OUT OF BUSINESS
Here is a sample entry in the January log of the McCulloch:
"McCarthy's wireless telephone gave its usual concert during the day and evening, playing gramophone selections and singing ragtime songs, which made the local commercial stations give up trying to do any distant work."
McCarthy became a thorn in the side of wireless in the navy--except among the enlisted electricians, who, when ashore, swarm into his office and help him poke around. In time the officers began, to take an interest, but governmental action was not forthcoming. Recently McCarthy with his phone became such an important factor in the wireless world that Congressman Roberts was chosen to introduce a bill regulating him.
"You can not legislate advancement and progress off the map," said McCarthy yesterday. "I am here and I intend to stay here, government or no government. I don't want to interfere with the navy, but I, also don't want the navy to interfere with me. I represent a corporation composed of San Francisco businessmen and we have rights which can not be set aside to give way for a message being sent by a navy man to some girl or anything else. There are two courses open to the navy; one is to get better equipment and drown me out, or----"
THE ONE ALTERNATIVE
And McCarthy grinned broadly as he continued:
"Or buy my phone. I am not the kind of man who goes lobbying around Washington trying to sell my goods. I have tried to prove that my phone was serviceable. I have played fair in this business," he added in a new vein. "I have stopped demonstrating whenever I caught an important or government message and done everything possible to meet others in the wireless field. Recently, however, I discovered that my wires had been cut. This was downright dirty. And now if they want a fight they can have one. So far I have been using a small instrument, but within three weeks I will have installed stations containing some very much stronger." With this in force the wireless apparatus on the navy as it stands today will be worth just so much junk. If there is going to be any more wire cutting or dirty work I will kick open the whole shooting match and keep it open all the time, except when I catch signals of distress.
"They may legislate me out of business, but they can not legislate an important fact out of the minds of the American people--the fact that one man has an instrument which can oust the entire naval or revenue wireless service from commission in a second.