January 1945 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Established: In the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),
by FCC order, July 28, 1942.
Predecessor Agencies: Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service, FCC
Transfers: To the Military Intelligence Division, War Department
General Staff, by order of the Secretary of War, December 30, 1945,
pursuant to agreement between FCC and War Department; to the Central
Intelligence Group (CIG), National Intelligence Authority, August
Functions: Recorded, translated, and analyzed foreign broadcast
Abolished: November 1, 1946.
Successor Agencies: Foreign Broadcast Information Service, CIG,
November-December, 1946. Foreign Broadcast Information Branch, CIG,
January-September 1947. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Central
Intelligence Agency, 1947- .
Finding Aids: Walter W. Weinstein, comp., Preliminary Inventory
of the Records of the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service, PI
Security-Classified Records: This record group may include material
that is security-classified.
Related Records: Records of the Foreign Broadcast Information
Branch, 1947-48, in RG 263, Records of the Central Intelligence
HAMS in the FBIS
The Work of FCC's Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service
By OLIVER READ.* W9ETI
The Foreign Broadcast Intelligence
Service of the Federal Communications Commission is responsible
for a great portion of the news that finds its way to our daily
newspapers and is heard over our vast radio networks. You have often
heard the following: "As recorded by United States monitors," or,
"As heard by United States Government monitors."
Who are these monitors and what do they do? As a matter of fact,
they operate one of the world's most elaborate systems of radio
receivers. Their purpose is to listen to, record, translate, summarize
and report the broadcasts originating in foreign countries. The
FBIS is the sole governmental agency doing this job in the United
States. They do not transmit propaganda; that is done by the Office
of War Information.
This maze of wire is but a small part of the elaborate system
required to receive faint radio signals emanating from all parts
of the world. The wires connect to twenty-nine communications-type
receivers within the listening station located near Silver Hill,
All programs received at Silver Hill are "piped" through this
monitoring console. The operator on duty adjusts the volume
of each station to a predetermined level suitable for recording
purposes before it is sent on its way to the interpreter who
is situated many miles from the receiving station.
David Cooper, FBIS supervisor, records a broadcast on a Memovox
machine at the recording station. Over an hour's intelligence
may be recorded on each side of a flexible disc. Continuous
recording is possible by using duplicate machines. The console
at the left is used for the recording of vital material where
the utmost in quality is required.
The monitoring officer in the foreground adjusts the receiver
of a station to be monitored a few minutes later. The officer
in the background scans the ether for new or unknown stations.
Instantaneous frequency checks may be made at any time by connecting
this special switch.
It is interesting to note that the very
development of the FBIS was born from the realization that short-wave
transmission was one of the most
*540 N. Michigan Ave.,
potent weapons of war. Our enemies have bombarded
us with all sorts of propaganda throughout this war. From it the
FBIS is able to gather vital information which is then used for
In the early stages of the war, the French
followed a not very successful policy of attempting to jam German
broadcasts reaching the vicinity of Paris. However, the French Foreign
Office deemed it so essential to keep informed of the contents of
those German outpourings that it established a listening post in
Switzerland to intercept the very broadcasts which its own jamming
prevented it from hearing inside France.
Today, every major
nation in this global war and most of the neutral countries operate
a monitoring service as part of their essential government functions.
The maze of equipment required to handle the vast number of
words recorded and translated each day is tremendous. In fact, over
10,000 items (an average of 2,500,000 words) are received daily
at FBIS listening posts at Silver Hill, Md.; Hayward, Calif., and
Portland, Ore. Manned largely by amateur personnel, these stations
are tuned in twenty-four hours a day to programs being transmitted
from all the countries of the world.
We visited the elaborate installation
at Silver Hill, Md., recently in order to witness firsthand the
important functions of the FBIS.
There we found the chief
monitoring officer to be Frank X. Green, who has long been associated
in the radio, public address and recording business. He entered
the service of the Commission at the outbreak of the war. There
are four monitoring officers: Conan W. Barger, formerly radio broadcast
engineer of KFXJ, KFEL, KOA, KMA and KIUL; Francis N. King, who
was radio broadcast engineer at WKBW, WHBU and WJTN, and formerly
a short-wave radio operator on the Great Lakes; S. Vernon Ray, former
radio operator in the merchant marine, and Bernard P. Sloan, W2KT,
former chief radioman in the Navy and the Coast Guard and an operator
in the merchant marine.
Assistant monitoring officers include:
William A. Sodaro, former chief engineer of a West Virginia network
and radio operator from the Gulf of Mexico; Raymond B. O'Neill,
former telegraph operator with the New York Police Department; Hyman
Wallin, formerly a merchant marine radio operator; James G. Wedewer,
an official of several shortwave listening clubs and an outstanding
authority on short-wave broadcast stations of the world; George
E. Hathaway, former radio operator in the merchant marine, the Army,
and for Western Union, and Russell G. Eversole, W3AXY, former radio
operator in the merchant marine.
This fellow James Wedewer
mentioned above can give you the location of any listed short-wave
station or broadcast station throughout the world. We had quite
a talk with this lad and picked call letters out of "blue sky" to
test his ability to recognize the station. His quick identification
was amazing. The receiving station at Silver Hill is concerned only
with broadcasts originating from European and African short-wave
stations. The other FBIS receiving stations are very similar to
that situated at Silver Hill, Md. The one at Portland, Ore., takes
care of Japanese-language broadcasts and the one at Hayward, Calif.,
records signals from the Far East and from the U.S.S.R.
Functions of the FBIS
There are nine successive
steps in the operations of the FBIS: (1) scheduling; (2) intercepting,
(3) and (4) monitoring and recording (which go on simultaneously),
(5) translating, (6) wire service which includes editing and teletyping,
(7) reports which include editing and mimeographing, (8) analyses
including periodic and special reports, and (9) individual services
of many kinds.
First comes the scheduling of all programs
which are to be intercepted at each listening post during each listening
period. An accurate index which includes frequencies, hours, languages,
and program types is prepared. This comprehensive index lists over
6000 programs and is kept currently accurate.
two is performed by the engineers, each of whom is in charge of
a large number of Hallicrafters SX-28 communications-type receivers
which are in continuous service. The performance and calibration
of each receiver is known at all times. A gadget has been installed
by the FBIS personnel so that a 100-kc. or a 1000-kc. signal may
be injected to any receiver for a frequency check by connecting
a special switch. The source of this signal is a crystal-controlled
secondary frequency standard.
Fig. 1. - Diagram of the automatic timing
device included in the console control
and used to cut programs
in and out.
Having received his schedule, the operator tunes in in advance
the requisite number of receivers to the stations, making sure that.
the signals are being received at best audibility. At precisely
the right moment, he throws a switch, or an automatic control developed
by the FBIS, cutting in the proper programs for recording and monitoring.
He then retunes unused receivers to be held in readiness for following
engineers patrol the ether continuously in search of new, changed,
and discontinued programs so that an accurate "log" is always available.
All programs are listed on a daily chart which gives a report on
the audibility, signal strength, etc., of each program.
The antenna system consists of five highly directional Rhombic antennas
orientated to cover a maximum of 20 degrees each. All of the Rhombics
terminate to selector switches so that any or all of the twenty-nine
receivers may be instantaneously connected into the feeder system.
All inputs connect in parallel and series isolating resistors to
each receiver input permit an even distribution of received signals.
Like the RID, the personnel of the FBIS have installed their
equipment in such manner that greatest flexibility is realized.
The receivers are installed in bays as shown in the photographs.
They are easily accessible from the rear to facilitate servicing.
There is a small selector panel on each receiver bay which
includes a voltmeter to check the output of the receiver, a selector
switch for the speaker and another to select the proper Rhombic.
Each receiver has its own calibration book placed in a clip adjacent
to the set. The hand-calibrated information is prepared for each
set in the installation. Operators can then determine by quick reference
the exact settings for a given frequency. Periodic checks are made,
especially when sudden changes in weather are encountered, to see
that the calibration is accurate.
A control console which includes patch circuits and db. meters is
an important part of the installation. The output from each receiver
terminates at the jacks on the control console. From there signals
are routed by wire to the recording and monitoring office which
is located many miles from the receiving station. The operator on
duty at the console "rides gain" on each channel in order that the
signals arrive at the downtown office at proper audio level for
recording purposes. This allows the translators to concentrate on
the intelligence without being disturbed by having to adjust individual
volume controls to suit their particular needs.
Each program received at the FBIS receiving station is recorded
on a special log which shows the exact time of reception and
other pertinent information. The operator selects various programs
by rotating the switch.
Mrs. Kay Kimmers, FBIS expert in Italian, French, Spanish and
German languages, transcribes a program from Europe. The same
program is being recorded simultaneously on wax cylinders for
reference purposes and for checking copy.
Victor Volmar, FBIS monitor, specializes in the German and Spanish
languages. Wax cylinders are kept for a period of forty-eight
hours and contain the original intelligence that has been received
via the elaborate receiver installation at Silver Hill, Md.
Incoming and, outgoing traffic passes through the teletype machines
which supply information to many government agencies both military
and non-military. These include the War. Navy and State Departments,
OWI, Office of Censorship. and a number of branches in Allied
Left to right: Mrs. Elizabeth Holt, Mrs.
Chris Kimbrough, and Mrs. Helen Goss.
Recording of Programs
Certain types of programs
are recorded on paper-based discs on Memovox recorders or, when
high fidelity is required, on Presto acetate recorders. The latter
equipment is located at the receiving station.
as monitors sit before typewriters wearing headphones. This highly
trained personnel consists of experts familiar with many languages.
Each monitor specializes in one or more. He is thoroughly familiar
with the phraseology and other characteristics of the language he
is monitoring. As he listens he translates the material and makes
a typewritten summary in the English language of the broadcast.
At the same time, dual wax-cylinder machines record the entire program
so that the monitor has a means of checking his copy and so that
information can be held verbatim for a period of forty-eight hours
in case some governmental agency needs the complete program for
further observation and study. After the program's conclusion, the
monitor goes on to the next one shown on his schedule. Generally,
he types only highlights of the program, but if the item contains
information of real importance in the judgment of the supervising
editor-monitor, the monitor turns from listening in to a succeeding
music period and translates the full text.
The next step
in the operation is interposed between monitoring and editing for
a portion of recorded broadcasts. It is known as the translation
of texts. One of those in constant demand is the weekly Goebbels
Das Reich article. This is sent with the summary to the translation
room as soon as recorded to be rendered into English text. At present
there are seventy-five expert translators in the FBIS having ability
to undertake thirty-four languages and thirty additional dialects.
Distribution of Material
seventh and eighth steps in FBIS operations deal with the distribution
of material to various government agencies which use it. From the
various listening posts come summaries, texts and daily round-ups
that flow into Washington headquarters minute by minute, day and
night. They come by typed transcript, by teletype, by cable, and
by air mail and are then distributed to the element users.
The information goes out over six wires. The " A" wire terminates
at the State Department, War Department, Navy Department, OWI, Office
of Censorship, British Information Service, Canadian Wartime Information
Board, the Philippine Mission and Chinese Embassy. The "B" wire
goes to OWI in New York and Washington. The "C" wire, with Latin
American material, goes to the office of the Coordinator of InterAmerican
Affairs. The "D" wire is a cable to the British Ministry of Information
in England and carries Japanese material monitored on the Pacific
Coast. The "PW" wire goes to the War Department, Office of the Provost
Marshall General, and contains the full text of all enemybroadcast
prisoners-of-war messages. The remaining "X" wire connects to OWI
in San Francisco and carries items relative to the Far East broadcasts
The seventh step in FBIS operations is the
preparation and issuance of two mimeographed daily reports.
The eighth step is the analysis of the volume of the recorded
broadcast output, the preparation of periodic reviews of broadcasts
from and to particular areas and the answer to the steady volume
of queries regarding a particular subject, trend, or transmitter.
The ninth and
final step deals with individual special services. Principal speeches
by German and Japanese leaders are recorded on the permanent high
fidelity discs previously mentioned and are furnished to the OWI
and the British Overseas Broadcast Agency for the Library of Direct
Quotation. These recordings have been used to good advantage in
our own counter-propaganda. For example, six months after Tojo had
broadcast a boast about the impregnability of the Marshall Islands,
there came bouncing back to Japan his actual voice with its six-month-old
boast accompanied by the damning facts of the actual Marshall Island
invasion. The Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service is one of the
Government's most important nonmilitary branches. We hams may take
pride in the fact that the FBIS has selected much of its personnel
from our ranks to operate this vital wartime agency.
Fig. 2 - Wiring diagram of the acetate
recorder in use at the FBIS installation at Silver Hill. Md.
Note: The Wikipedia entry for the FBIS
was apparently written by some puke with an agenda of diminishing
the important role it played in national security during WWII and
focusing instead on some activities
proclaimed to be fomenting unease in the American populace.