January 1956 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Except under special
circumstances, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not conduct much
frequency monitoring activity. I know first-hand that even when a report of radio
frequency interference (RFI) is made to them, you will be told to figure out the
source on your own and then get back to them*. There have been a lot of news items
lately where the FCC has levied heavy fines on Ham operators found to be in violation
of the regulations, and usually not because of independent complaints. This article from
a 1956 edition of Popular Electronics magazine relates some of the cases experienced
by guys in the FCC Field Engineering and Monitoring Bureau's according to "Negotiated Rulemaking
Committee" (NRMC - now defunct) records.
* Sometime around 2005 I began noticing severe interference on my car's AM radio
receiver in a relatively small area. It was noticeably worse on rainy or humid days.
I finally traced the problem to a faulty 3-Ø transformer that serviced some
guy's home garage (unusual in itself since typically personal residences cannot
get 3-Ø service). I was able to see one of the phases arcing at the ceramic
insulator. A call to the power company got the problem fixed, and the lineman actually
called me back a said it was so bad that he was surprised a nearby tree had not
caught on fire because of it. The FCC never got involved.
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Radio has become so widely used, and so essential for communication, that any
illegal operation or harmful interference must be detected speedily and the violators
dealt with. More than 700,000 transmitters are operated in this country, with nearly
975,000 operator permits outstanding. Ninety-eight percent of the nation's homes
contain broadcast receivers. Policing this busy radio activity is a 24-hour-a-day
job for FCC monitors. These typical cases were reported by the FCC Field Engineering
and Monitoring Bureau in connection with its monitoring and investigative work.
An obliging dentist recently demonstrated an electronic device to induce local
anesthesia for tooth extractions. However, the spark-gap oscillator he used could
be heard in a mobile unit under power lines about a mile and a half away. Moreover,
a neon bulb glowed brilliantly when held within 18 inches of any part of the patient,
indicating radiation from the body. Closer physical contact caused actual sparks.
All this convinced the dentist that his equipment should be used in a shielded room
- whenever he can get patients to try it.
... a neon bulb glowed brilliantly when held close to the patient
... sound calculated to annoy the bugs ...
In Kansas City, a 17-year-old radio enthusiast played phonograph records over
a home-built transmitter under the mistaken notion that they could be heard only
on his friend's receiver next door. He was surprised to learn that the signals were
going much farther. After being told that his transmissions might obliterate radio
messages used for safety purposes, he agreed to abandon his "short-range broadcasting"
and direct his efforts toward obtaining an amateur license which would enable him
to talk with "hams" the world over.
A young "Marconi" in Ohio requested permission to use an old-fashioned spark
coil. He explained that he knew it was unlawful to transmit by radio without a license
and for that reason proposed a "wireless" instead of a "radio" station. He was told
that "wireless" is just another name for "radio" and that spark coils, which cause
great interference, have not been authorized for years.
While moored at a lumber pier at Long Beach, Calif., a cargo vessel caught fire.
The night watchman aboard ran to the nearest shore telephone some distance away
only to find it out of order. However, the driver of a passing radio-equipped taxicab
saw the blaze and reported it by radio to his supervisor, who in turn summoned the
fire department. This action saved the fire from spreading to the lumber, and the
ship is now back in service after relatively minor repairs.
... the driver of a passing radio-equipped taxicab saw
the blaze and reported it ...
Despite the mushrooming of Television Interference Committees under FCC auspices
to tackle broadcast reception problems at the local level, TV viewers in a certain
California community were not convinced by the local TVI committee that their interference
was due to receiver deficiency. They blamed their interference on a local amateur
station. They even threw rocks at the home of the ham. But peace was restored when
an FCC engineer explained at a subsequent neighborhood meeting that filters connected
to poorly shielded TV receivers would overcome the difficulty.
Investigated by FCC field men recently was an alleged "electronic bug killer."
A small box was supposed to emit a ray which so affected the antennae of the insects
that it would drive them away. The demonstration indicated that there was no release
of energy, only of sound which was calculated to annoy the bugs.
While monitoring for interference in Portland, Oregon, an FCC mobile unit observed
a strange signal which was traced to an apartment house. It was found to be due
to a home-made short-wave receiver which had been discarded for two years. Unknown
to the owner, however, the power cord was still plugged in with the switch "on."
This combined fire and interference hazard was promptly remedied, but the owner
is still trying to determine how much it cost him on his electric bill.
As a practical joke, a licensed amateur sent a "questionnaire" to a prospective
ham, asking such questions as: "Are you familiar with the penalty for violation
of FCC rules?" The startled recipient promptly filled it out and, assuming it was
from the FCC, mailed it to Washington, D.C. The face of the jokester turned red
when the prank turned on him. Investigation revealed that he had sold a transmitter
to his friend and the latter had gone on the air without a license. Both were warned,
and the offender has now obtained a Novice license.
Posted December 13, 2021
(updated from original post on 11/4/2014)