Radio Broadcast, December, 1924, pages 289-294:
Shake   Hands   With   the   "R. I."
The Problems, Pleasures, Tribulations, and Experiences of the Department of Commerce Radio Inspector--What Happened During the Years of Radio Growing Pains
    I still can obtain no satisfaction from your office in clearing up the radio situation in Podunk. The amateur nuisance is unbearable, and we demand some relief. We urge you to send a man immediately to investigate. You say it is 'ships.' This is preposterous, as reference to your map will show our city to be located twenty miles from the ocean--there are no ships in Podunk.
    Yours truly,
A PLEASANT start for a rather doubtful day, is it not? Yet this is what the heavy-eyed Radio Supervisor of your district is confronted with as he wearily takes his place at his desk to commence the daily grind. He comes to his office, not refreshed by a restful night's sleep, but dog-tired from a four or five hour vigil the night before, checking the frequencies of the various stations within range of his sensitive receiver. Not once in a while but every night, does he do this; not occasionally does he receive an irritating communication such as opens this article, but he gets numbers of them daily. And you, in the comfort of your fireside, complain bitterly at a few annoying splashes of static or an occasional ship transmittal which interferes with your pleasure. Maybe you write your district supervisor, demanding some immediate action, and then grumble at the inefficiency of Governmental services if an inspector does not appear at your home the following evening ready to devote his entire evening to your interests. Suppose you pick a comfortable chair, get a fresh cigar and read on--meet your District Supervisor and his radio inspectors. An insight into the workings of the Radio Inspection Service of the United States Department of Commerce will give you a new respect for the men who are laboring many hours a day that your evening's pleasure may be uninterrupted.
inspector at work

Emery H. Lee, one of the radio inspectors attached to the New York office is checking up the wavelength of an amateur operator's station, using a standard Department of Commerce wavemeter. The station license is on the wall and the operator's license in the frame to the left, both issued by the Department of Commerce, is next to it. The revealing sign and crêpe on the burned-out transmitting tube tell their own story of the price the amateur pays for his hobby

    In 1912, radio communication was limited to communication to and from vessels on the Great Lakes and on the high seas, and between a few points on land. A number of companies controlled this service. When the rapid increase in radio stations came, petty controversies often came up between operators, and in numerous cases these original small arguments grew into serious affairs. A ship of one company, for example, refused to handle business with a ship or shore station of a rival organization. Worse, efforts were often made so to interfere with a competitor's operations to prevent his handling legitimate traffic.
    Foreign vessels as well as those of United States registry were then fast adopting radio telegraphy. No provision for intercommunication with vessels of different nationality existed. Briefly, radio communication up to 1912 was entirely unorganized. The problems presented by the increase in stations and the attitude of competing interests grew so menacing, that the Government found it imperative to interfere in order to protect its military signalling, and to gain some control over commercial traffic. Accordingly, an "Act to Regulate Radio Communication" was introduced and in due course of time became a law, in 1912. Among the various important provisions in this act was an article requiring all stations to intercommunicate regardless of the radio system employed. It was further provided that every radio transmitting station must be licensed by the Secretary of Commerce, and be operated only by operators examined and licensed by him. Certain technical limitations were placed on such stations, and in order that the law might be enforced, it was necessary to create a force of inspectors who would personally inspect each such station. It was found desirable to have these inspectors conduct examinations to determine the qualifications of an applicant for a radio operator license. Nine radio districts were established, with headquarters in the important industrial center nearest the central part of the district.


THESE nine districts, with some slight changes of headquarters as demanded by varying conditions, are the same to-day. The present headquarters offices are located in New York City, Boston, Baltimore, Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Detroit. A radio inspector, who was required to be a highly skilled technician, was assigned to each office, and in a few instances, assistants were also provided where the duties were extremely heavy, such as at New York. A Chief Radio Inspector, with offices in Washington, presided over the nine districts, and still does. He acts under the direction of the Secretary of Commerce, through the Commissioner of Navigation.
inspecting SS Maracaibo


Has regularly to be inspected by the radio service of the Department of Commerce. The inspector checks the wavelength adjustment of the transmitter, and tests the storage batteries which furnish auxiliary power in case of accident to the ship's generators. He also tests the telephone from the radio room to the bridge. At practically all ports of entry in this country, the Department of Commerce inspects each ship each trip it makes into that port. This service alone would keep a large inspecting staff busy, but in addition to ship inspection, the inspectors have to inspect amateur stations of a certain grade, commercial shore stations, broadcasting stations, conduct license examinations for amateur and commercial operators, and investigate violations of the radio laws. The ship being inspected is SS Maracaibo

    At the time of the formation of this branch of the Government service, a radio inspector's duties were to inspect each radio transmitting station in his district periodically; hold frequent radio operator license examinations and conduct periodic examinations in the larger cities throughout district. In 1913 but comparatively few shore stations existed, and not many vessels carried radio apparatus. Since he had a consequently small number of embryo operators to examine, a radio inspectors' duties were not arduous.
    Radio has grown steadily since the formation of this service. Just prior to the war, practically every vessel of any size at all carried apparatus. There were numerous shore stations in each district. Thousands of amateur stations existed throughout the country. Many private concerns owned radio stations for communicating only between their various plants and offices. All these stations were required by law to be inspected and licensed, and these tasks fell to the radio inspectors. An increase in the personnel was sadly needed but not forthcoming from Congress. The Department of Commerce Radio Service was forced to struggle along as best it might with the limited funds and personnel at its disposal, while radio was growing in importance and popularity daily. All this was before the inception of radio broadcasting.


SHORTLY following the new start of commercial radio telegraphy in the United States at the close of the war, the results of experiments made with radio telephone systems for military signalling became public property. It was not long before a few radio broadcast stations appeared. The public were inclined to be a bit dubious at first, but almost overnight, the flame of popularity swept the country and the demand for radio apparatus and broadcasting service was phenomenal. Stations for transmitting entertainment, education, news, etc., sprang up all over the country, and for each such transmitting station, thousands of receiving sets were installed. Under the law of 1912, all transmitting stations must be inspected and licensed. Each must be operated by properly licensed operators. These additional duties were added to the radio inspectors' already heavy burden. No provision was made in the 1912 law to cover radio telephone stations. The Radio Inspection Service had to draft suitable regulations to cover the new situation. A few additional inspectors were obtained through an emergency measure.
    No sooner were the enormous problems, which the broadcast situation had presented untangled to some degree, than a new menace made itself known in the flood of letters that began to pour into the district inspection offices. The public was becoming educated in the new science, and had discovered with some surprise and much indignation that there were other signals in the air than those emanating from broadcast stations.


When "Something Ought
to be Done About Something"

    Radio folk have gotten into the habit of writing to the Radio Supervisor in their district. The broadcast listener may have trouble with an interfering power line near by, or perhaps it is a neighboring code amateur whom they suspect of high radio crimes and misdemeanors. Forthwith, he writes to the Radio Supervisor. If ships pound in over the loud speaker, or if static is excessive, the inspector hears of it. Many there are who have dealings with the inspector, and this article may help to make that person a bit more of an entity. Mr. Pyle has been an inspector himself. He was attached to the Eighth District Headquarters at Detroit for some time. The entire radio staff of the Department of Commerce is rendering yeoman service to the country, and the magnitude of the task they are trying to accomplish with a pitifully small staff is not generally appreciated. The Department needs adequate running and administration appropriations, sufficient to care for the enormous expansion of its tasks. These, Congress has steadily refused.--THE EDITOR.
THE new listeners frequently had to contend with the code signals from near-by amateur stations, from ships and shore stations, and from high power transoceanic stations. An amateur radio station owner was a personality--someone who could be readily visualized, whereas to a large number, the vessels, high power stations and the like were but a dim mental picture. The tide of public opinion turned against the amateur, for it was assumed that all interference from code transmissions must come from him. There were about twenty thousand transmitting amateurs in the country, nearly three thousand radio equipped vessels, and about fifteen hundred commercial shore stations scattered between the coasts. Those with broadcast receivers got a lot of interference. Broadcasting had been assigned wavelengths of 360 and 400 meters. With amateurs on 200 meters, and ships on 300, 450, and 600 meters, and taking into consideration the huge number of nonselective radio receivers (those subject to maximum interference) which were unloaded on an unsuspecting public, it naturally followed that the reception of the radio programs was not all that could be desired. The public was indignant. They did not propose to have their outlay rendered useless if it could be prevented. Accordingly, letters of protest were the first step. The problem of where to direct them was soon solved. Then, such a bulk of mail entered the radio inspectors' offices that it appeared next to impossible even to begin to handle it. But the radio inspectors rolled up their sleeves and "dug into it." It was soon found that by far the majority of letters dealt with interference, real or fancied, from amateur transmitters. This called for individual investigations which entailed an unbelievable amount of work. Due to the insufficient travel appropriation provided, it was necessary to permit such complaints to pile up until those from some certain territory became exceedingly insistent and numerous, and then the radio inspector would proceed to that community, and by working all day and far into the night for several days, would get the tangle somewhat straightened out. Meanwhile, complaints from some other section would pile up and on his return there would be a goodly number of investigations to conduct in other sections. Between trips, and while actually traveling, it was also necessary that he inspect ship and land stations and hold radio operator examinations.


THE amateur problem finally became so acute, that the amateurs themselves felt they were in danger of extinction, so strong was the flood of public opinion against them. In spite of their "splendid war" services and other contributions to the art, such powerful influences were brought to bear as to make their position extremely precarious. They accordingly, voluntarily established a "silent period" from seven to ten-thirty P.M. daily, when they would shut down their transmitters to enable the new listeners to receive the broadcast entertainment without interference. This in a way, was successful, but the interference from the few who would not fall in line with their more far-sighted brothers, and from other sources, made it necessary for the Department of Commerce through regulation, to impose compulsory silent hours of from eight to ten-thirty P.M., local standard time, and during local church services on Sunday mornings, on all amateur stations.


IN NO time at all, a new flood of letters poured in. The amateurs were accused of violating the silent period provision of their station licenses, particularly in points remote from radio inspectors where they thought they would not be apprehended. Nothing for it but the radio inspector must extend his day four or five hours more, and arrange to listen in nightly in an endeavor to locate the offenders. Congress would not appropriate funds for the necessary equipment, so, out of his own meager salary, the inspector purchased elaborate receiving equipment--often costing several hundred dollars--in order that he might efficiently serve his public. After a few weeks of such monitoring service it was found that much of the interference came from a number of broadcast stations transmitting on the same wave. Accordingly, Mr. Radio Inspector was called into consultation with his Chief at Washington. New regulations were drafted, providing a re-allocation of wavelength bands for broadcast purposes. These covered the wavelengths from 222 meters to 545 meters, and a zoning system was worked out to provide the minimum interference between stations.
    Returning to his office, the radio inspector with his insufficient clerical force, was faced with the task of explaining by letter to each broadcast station in his district the proposed changes, and calling in the numerous licenses for amendment. Relief from inter-station interference was immediate, but still the letters poured in, accusing amateurs of violations of quiet periods. Back to his receiver for Mr. R. I. And this time the problem had taken a new and more serious form. American and foreign ships were causing a tremendous amount of interference, practically blanketing the entire country, with their transmittals on 300, 450 and 600 meters.
inspecting WEBJ


WEBJ, the Third Avenue Railway station in New York, being tested by a radio inspector from the New York, or Second Radio District. The wavelengths of all broadcasters are very carefully watched by the government inspectors


THE problem this time was very real. A quiet period could not be imposed upon commercial radio services to accommodate those who wished to be entertained. Furthermore, radio was the only means of communication from shore to a vessel at sea. Recourse to the laws showed that the transmittals were within the requirements in every way. It was then decided to request the radio operating companies to have their vessels keep away from 300 and 450 meters, at least between seven and eleven P.M. daily. An additional wavelength of 706 meters was provided for them, away from the broadcast band. Theoretically, this was ideal, the companies expressed their desire to coöperate and the individual operators going to sea used what they saw fit in regard to wavelengths available. Accordingly, practically no relief was noted. This was communicated to the complaining parties as fast as letters of complaint arrived. It was inconceivable, even to the most intelligent people, that a little vessel, tossing on the waves hundreds--even thousands of miles from their firesides could raise such havoc. It was so much more readily understandable how an amateur in the same town could cause the interference. Accordingly, the radio service was often accused of being in league with the amateurs against the broadcast listeners, or "BCL's" as they grew to be known.


THE radio inspectors then adopted new tactics. When a complaint against an amateur station was filed, the complainant was requested to furnish the name and address or official radio call letters of the offending station. Where they could do either, the amateur was directed by the inspector to get in touch with the complaining party and endeavor to come to some amicable agreement. Where call letters or names were lacking, the complainant was respectfully requested to get this information before it would be possible to assist him.
    Contrary to being a practical solution, letters from the amateur side began to increase. It was claimed that no understanding could be reached with the BCL's; they were for total elimination of the amateur. After such conferences, the amateur naturally went away in a "huff" leaving bad feeling on both sides. This often took more active form and many were the tales of amateur antennae cut down in the dead of night. It was a feud second only to some of the old Kentucky gunfights between the mountaineers. And between them both, fired at from both sides with no support, stood the radio inspector, sleepless and irritated beyond description, but still struggling to bring peace into this big new family that had been suddenly placed under his wing.
    The flood of mail continued. Level headed, clear thinking business men made threats over their signature that they would be ashamed of in any other connection than radio. Fair-minded, ordinarily pleasant people became most selfish and bitter.
    When all other methods had been exhausted and still the public clamored for relief, official Washington decided that a general conference of all representative radio interests might solve the problem. Accordingly the Supervisor of Radio at New York was directed to call such a conference. Representative men from the radio operating companies and all those who were so connected were invited. The outcome of such an extended discussion was an agreement by the radio operating companies, to eliminate the 450 meter wave on-their vessels, accept the 706 meter adjustment in its stead, and to use 300 meters only as required by International regulation.
    The rest given the inspectors was not for long though, for it was soon seen that in order for the broadcast stations to function properly and with little interference between one another, they must be maintained on their exact wavelength. It again became necessary for the radio inspector to return to his monitoring of the air, this time to check the wavelengths of the broadcast stations and to notify those which had slipped from their assigned frequencies. This service proved so valuable, both to the broadcast stations and the listening public, that it is being maintained voluntarily by the various district Supervisors who are devoting their entire evenings to such work in order that you may have better broadcasting. There is no additional remuneration for this work, it is entirely voluntary. And remember too, that except in rare cases, where sufficient money could be "borrowed" from other office appropriations, the radio inspector has bought and paid for, from his own pocket, the receiving equipment which he uses for these measurements, and it is far more selective, far more costly than what you term a "good" broadcast receiver. It has to be. The devotion to duty of the men in the service is remarkable. The writer will always be grateful for the year which he was privileged to serve among them. The salary is insignificant. Much more has been tendered the inspectors by outside firms, but the majority prefer to stay and conquer your problems and to take such satisfaction as they may find in the fact that they are beyond a doubt doing more to give you better radio than any other individual or group in the art. Think of them as human, and think twice before you write a hastily worded and sarcastic letter.


Chief Supervisor of Radio. Mr. Terrell is in direct charge of the inspection activities of the Radio Service, Bureau of Navigation, Department of Commerce. The country is divided into nine radio districts, each with its supervisor and inspectors. The task of administering the radio law has grown to tremendous proportions since the beginning of broadcasting in 1920

Supervisor of Radio, Seventh District. With headquarters at Seattle, Mr. Redfern has charge of radio affairs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the Territory of Alaska
R.   Y.   CADMUS

Supervisor of Radio for the Third Radio District. His office is in Baltimore and with some exceptions he has control of the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia

Supervisor of Radio of the First Radio District at Boston, which comprises Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut