History of Naval Radio: Wireless Amateurs and the Navy


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Reel #100: Wireless Amateur History of Naval Radio Rear Admiral S.C. Hooper July 11, 1952 (Continued)

Transcript #100


Before I go ahead with this reel I want to relate today is the day that General Eisenhower was nominated as Republican candidate for President. In just a minute I’ll have you listen to the final vote, after a very exciting contest between General Eisenhower and Senator Taft, which was almost equal up to the very end.

Senator Robert Taft: “I want to congratulate General Eisenhower on his nomination and say that I will do everything possible to assist him in the campaign to secure his election and in his administration when he is elected President. Thank you.” [Cheers]

General Eisenhower: “I came over here to pay a call of friendship on a very great American.” [Cheers] His readiness to cooperate, both during the campaign and afterward, is absolutely essential to the success of the Republican Party, both in the election and in the theme of his program.”

That was General Eisenhower thanking Senator Taft for his congratulations, and Senator Taft assuring General Eisenhower that the Republicans will win and General Eisenhower becomes President of the United States. That’s a very interesting thing historically for radio when you think that only a day or two ago, in about Reel 98, I was describing the first President’s address in 1923; President Harding, which was the first broadcast on the radio and was heard a few miles around the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland. And only 32 or 3 years ago, in 1919, the first real successful broadcasting experiment acknowledged by the public was from the Naval Air Station Anacostia, which was testing out vacuum tubes for transmitters which had been developed as a result of the Navy’s efforts between industry and government. And only about 40 years ago Dr. de Forest first invented the third element in the vacuum tube which made speech broadcasting, music broadcasting and so on, possible.[1] And today here you here and see all the proceedings of the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1952, July 11th, in all the homes in America and theaters and so on and so forth. That’s a very great historic event for radio.

Now this recording will be on the subject of the wireless amateur; his connection with the Navy in the up-building of our radio and of our national defense which he played a great part in, in different wars especially. Of course the amateurs - there are hundreds of thousands of today - have their own magazines, their own apparatus, and they carry on more or less independently, but I’ll confine this reel to the actual cooperation between the amateurs and the Navy and the government.

The early amateur was usually somewhat of an experimenter in wireless, often a person who was in a wire telegraph company, had a little radio set at home, or interested in studying wireless, one who had been engaged by some company that had something to do with wireless, or some laboratory or in the publications connected with wireless, or was in the service or who had been in the service or the Merchant Marine. If he was in the service sometimes he’d carry on his wireless duties such as in the Navy Department or in a Navy yard in the daytime and at home at night he’d do his own experimenting with wireless. And in order to find out how his experiments worked out he would call some other amateur within range and they would compare notes. It got to be quite a fad about 1908 or 9. Originally they were unnoticed by the law and operated on any wavelength they wanted to, and there was no question about anything they said. But in 1910 or 11 the Navy recommended that they be regulated, and the government departments, especially the Navy, drafted a statute which was passed in 1912, which required all amateurs to have licenses from the Department of Commerce and they must all register and define their frequencies such that they wouldn’t interfere with the Government’s or licensed commercial operation; the radio stations. And eventually they were all required to operate down below 200 meters; from zero to 200 meters. Of course that was a great blow to them because they all had to change their sets and they complained very loudly that there wasn’t any possibility of them continuing on such frequencies because the wavelengths at that point were so short that they couldn’t get out hardly any radiation and they’d be stifled. As it actually was, it turned out just the other way. Because they were driven down below 200 meters they began to try and try to find some way to work in that range and eventually they were responsible for discovering what we now call the shortwave. And they proved to the world it was very valuable until the Navy adopted it to supplement long distance communication especially.

Also the amateurs became very useful in disasters such as floods and hurricanes, earthquakes, where wire lines were destroyed, communications completely cut off by the disaster. Some amateur near the scene of the disaster would get in touch with another amateur who was far way from it, and after long efforts they finally established communication. The efforts were long, as I say, because they didn’t work on any specified land links, and to contact one another required trial and error. But after plugging away for two or three hours they finally make contact and opened communications to the outside world from the disaster area and become very useful in carrying dispatches about help and other dispatches between the outside and the area affected.

When I was first sent to Washington for duty in 1912 one of the first things I did was to give orders to the Navy yards - we call them Naval Districts now - to get in touch with the local amateurs, make a list of them, become helpful and friendly to them, and keep in touch so that in case of war they could be called upon and asked to either join the Navy as operators to go aboard ship or shore stations or else to volunteer to work in a civilian capacity because we needed such vast increases of radio personnel in event of war. This was done, and when we prepared the first Board of Organization of Radio in 1914, the Board, which Captain Bullard was head of and I was a member and Secretary, we included in the Board’s recommendations, which were approved of subject, “The Organization of Reserve Radio Corps”. That was built on the amateurs mainly. And under that we state as follows. “At the outbreak of war or just previous to that time a large number of additional operators would be required by the Navy to fill the complements of reserve ships which would be placed in full commission to man merchant ships taken over by the Navy as auxiliaries and to increase the complements of ships in commission and of those shore stations which would need increase. These additional operators would not be required to be familiar with the duties of operators in active service except that they should be good at sending and receiving. They would not be required to have the knowledge of apparatus which naval operators have but should have a working knowledge of the radio art and be able to tune receiving apparatus. They would be sent to duty on ships or stations having a nucleus of radio operators. The Superintendent of Radio Communications - was called later Naval Communications - should have available a list of these men with information as to the capabilities and experience of each so they could immediately be placed on ships or stations where their services could be best utilized. The list should be kept up to date and the men graded by classes as to their ability in the same manner as operators in the service are now graded. It is estimated that about 1,000 additional operators would be needed.” And I might interject there, in about 1912, when the law was passed regulating the amateur, there were just about 1,000 amateurs who responded and requested licenses. By the time the First World War broke out there were four or five thousand amateurs. To go on with the report: “There would probably be four sources of supply. Ex-enlisted men in the Navy who had been radio operators when in the service who would enlist in the Naval Reserve if organized. These would be at once available. The names and qualifications of operators in the Naval Reserve would be kept and revised as necessary by the officer in command of the Reserve; Radio Operators of the Naval Militia. Radio Operators should be allowed to join Naval Militia divisions in excess of the complement of those divisions and irrespective of whether the division they join was in the seaman, engineer or artificer branch. The names and qualifications of such operators would be kept and revised as necessary by the officer in command of the Naval Militia; Commercial operators employed by commercial companies at their shore stations and on ships operated by them. The names and qualifications of these men would be kept by the Bureau of Navigation, Director Naval Communications Office, on their signing of an agreement to serve in the Navy in case of war. The men should be kept tracked of and the list revised every year; Qualified operators in addition to those in the former paragraph licensed by the Department of Commerce. These names to be obtained from the Department of Commerce by the Navy Bureau of Navigation under the same conditions as designated for commercial operators above. In this class similarly would be kept the names of ex-naval operators who did not enlist in the Naval Reserve.” Now that paragraph covered the amateurs particularly. “There is a probability that in many cases these sources would overlap but duplication would be avoided by assigning men in the order in which the classes are given. District superintendents should endeavor to keep in touch with men in their districts who belong to the classes mentioned, and when occasion offers, exam such men as to their qualifications and proficiency and forward reports of same to the Director of Naval Communications. Radio officers afloat should also furnish the Director with available information in regard to operators discharged from vessels on which they had been serving. By the plan outlined from information received from the Naval Reserve, Naval Militia, Bureau of Navigation, Department of Commerce, district superintendents and radio officers, the Director of Naval Communications would have, in case of war, a list of additional operators immediately available. In event of war, to expedite transfer of men, district superintendents should assign radiomen directly to ships in their respective districts according to previous general instructions from the Bureau of Navigation. All organization and arrangements for this to be completed in peacetime.

I believe the first organization of wireless operators; amateurs, was called the Wireless Association of America. Dr. de Forest was President of it and Mr. Mavers was Secretary, and Mr. Hugo Gernsback; G-E-R-N-S-B-A-C-K, was the Chairman and Business Manager.[2] He was very prominent and had a magazine of some sort, and was a leading amateur at the time. And they took great interest in bringing about cooperation between the amateur and the military services.

And then came an organization which followed that; the Radio League of America. That followed that in 1914 or 15. And Captain Bullard, I know, was one of the members in this league and took a great interest in it.[3] The membership was free and the members were required in applying for membership to sign a blank, which among other things, which stated that they particularly pledge their station to the United States Government in event of war if such occasion should arise. And the blank also stated that the document would be sent to the government officials so they could keep track of things; a list of amateurs.

After our Radio Organization Board was approved in 1914 and then again revised in ‘15, to include the part I wrote about the neighbors as operators, the League issued a special official button to be worn by the Navy and by the operators. And Captain Bullard dispatched a letter to the head of the Radio League to point out the value of this organization to the government and to point out that it would be very valuable in wartime if we had a potential reserve of operators which were members of the Radio League and which the Navy could cooperate with in preparation for duties of the members in case of war. That letter was prepared jointly between our two offices and sent to the Radio League in the latter part of 1915, and then recruiting officers were instructed to get in touch with the members of the Radio League locally and bring about cooperation. That was a very important step and it led to very valuable cooperation between the Army and the Navy and the amateurs. And when the first war broke out - we entered it in 1917 - immediately nearly every amateur who was qualified by age, and physically, volunteered for service, particularly for the naval service, and was enrolled in one form or another, either aboard ship as an enlisted man, petty officer, assigned to duties assisting in the radio operating staff, or else he was given some civilian job in the technical part of the naval establishment on shore.

Captain K.B. Warner was the assistant to the President in the American Radio Relay League which is now a very great organization, probably will continue forever.[4] The original president was Mr. Hiram Percy Maxim who invented the Maxim Silencer. He was the organizer, with Captain Warner of the AARL, and we all knew him and admired him very, very, very much, especially for his interest in radio. I attended several international conferences on radio and communications, almost all of them in the early days, until I retired and Captain Warner was often present as part of the delegation to look out for the cooperation of the amateurs.

Now it worked both ways. They did great service for us and in return the Navy did great service for them in helping them to continue to exist against the inroads of both government and commercial demands for their frequencies. And in nearly every conference I went to where radio operation was involved, all the Navy fellows played a leading part in protecting the rights of the amateurs. I remember particularly in 1927 at the Washington Conference; the first international radio conference, and it was one of my particular jobs was to look out for the amateurs. A great many nations wanted to abolish the amateurs. The military was afraid of them. A good many of them didn’t allow amateurs. And they didn’t want some countries, like the United States, to have amateurs because they didn’t want the amateurs to use valuable wavelengths. But we were able to stand our ground by giving a little at each conference and they still are going strong, and not only in the first war but in the Second World War they were a tremendous asset to us when war broke out. After the First World War the Naval Communications Office was anxious to keep in close touch with the leading amateurs who had done such good work in the Fleet and in the Navy generally. And under the under the administration of Captain Ridley McLean; M-C-L-E-A-N, who was the Director of Naval Communications, the naval districts were ordered to establish a service between Washington and the naval districts and to keep in touch with the amateurs and to enroll them into a communication reserve. I’ll tell about this a little later. That was back in about 1920 or so.

Another very important thing was the amateurs began to establish very remarkable distances in their wavelengths down below 200 meters, even across the continent, across the ocean, and this came to my attention when I was at a radio station about 1922 or 3. And although most of the people in commercial radio and Navy radio really boohooed the idea that such frequencies could ever be useful or reliable in communications, although they [inaudible] made wonderful records sometimes in the evenings and so on. I didn’t think much of it for reliable communications, but I never one to miss a bet. So I had a study made of the subject and issued a letter to specific communications officers San Francisco; the district officer there, and in Hawaii, to get in touch with the amateurs who had planned to be working direct between Hawaii and San Francisco. And my report showed the [inaudible] was very great promise. In fact, in order to sum it up, I wrote an article which was published in Popular Radio, August 1923, page 114, entitled “The New Voice Being Heard Around the World.” That article was published as a result of the reports that I received from these observations from our officers in the West Coast of the United States and Hawaii. [Inaudible] stimulating realization by those that weren’t amateurs might have something there that would be of great value. I’ll discuss this article further in the next reel.

Also it will be important to include the list of very prominent amateurs who have done such great service in the Navy and in cooperation with the Navy, and to relate some of the instances wherein disasters, the amateurs and the Navy cooperated. You see, there wasn’t anybody but the Navy for them to work with in those days. You either had to work with a Navy shore station or Navy ship or another amateur. Now that disaster relief is all organized more or less under the Red Cross and regulated under the Federal Communications Commission. I want to give these names and then I want to tell about the first regular cruise of an amateur; Fred Schnell, who made a trip on the Seattle with me when I Chief Radio Officer, from San Francisco to Honolulu, to test shortwave compared with long wave during that cruise, which led to supplementing all our long wave radio to short wave radio immediately after.


  1. Lee de Forest.
  2. William Maver, Jr.
  3. W.H.G. Bullard, USN.
  4. Kenneth Bryant Warner, secretary and general manager of the American Radio Relay League from 1919-1948.