It Seemed to Them:
Early QST Editorials

1917 September

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This is the last issue published until 1919. World War I had concluded in an armistice in Nov., 1918 and the Versailles treaty in June, 1919.

Amateur wireless operations had been shut down by US authorities, who largely seemed ignorant of the technology or the services that amateurs could provide.

Governments clamping down on new, poorly understood technologies is not unknown in this day also: Internet issues come to mind, including intellectual property, peer-to-peer sharing, etc.


Our dear old grouchy pal, "The Old Man" touches a very timely topic in this issue. That is, enemy wireless in this country. We who know something about wireless only too well appreciate what is possible when it comes to making a business of secret operating. The number of different ways in which the secret operator has the advantage over the one attempting to locate him is legion. In an extremely interesting article in a recent issue of the New York World, our old friend, 2RE, Mr. L. G. Pacent, points out the use that the enemy spy can easily make of steel frame buildings, lightning rods, and very short and very long wave lengths. He makes an eloquent plea for the amateur showing in arguments which must be pretty hard to refute, how the great body of amateurs would probably be of immense value rather than the reverse if they were set to work in some systematic listening organization. Our "OLD MAN," oddly enough, emphasizes the same point.

The peculiar conditions surrounding ourselves, Germany and Mexico in the present war, make wireless specially important. We are four thousand miles away, all cables are cut and Mexico is neutral, or supposed to be, and our next door neighbor. What would be more natural than short wave or some entirely new form of wave, for short distance communication between spies right here in our midst, and possibly for relay to Mexico. From Mexico to Spain or even Germany direct is easy. How are we going to stop it? That is what is especially interesting to the amaeurs who are kept at home. Most of us are true blue when it comes to loyalty and patriotism, and if we take Mr. Pacent's estimate, which we are certainly entitled to do, since he is identified with no less a house than our old friends, The Manhattan Electrical Supply Company, we have some $10,000,000 worth of apparatus with which to work. Is it not more than likely that we could do something with this? The argument is sometimes heard that we would hear the Navy wireless if we were permitted to listen. Suppose we did. It is in code if it is important, and does not the German spy listen to it anyway? If the latter has it what harm would it do for us loyal Americans to have it also? We would like to make a little bet that if we amateurs were permitted to listen, we would between all of us, dig some astonishing things and make it extremely interesting for those who are putting over the "rotten" stuff evidently now going on.

Will they let us back on the air? We can expect many changes when our ops come back from war.


If an all wise Providence ever signs the papers letting us amateur wireless enthusiasts loose again, and if the same benevolent authority sends back to us in sound body and mind the army of trained radio operators now in the Naval service, there will truly be something doing in radio in these good old United States of America after the war. We have many times thought of this during the past months as we contemptuously regarded the two flat feet we call our own. A few of us were pretty snappy when it came to operating and handling traffic, last winter before we were closed up. What will it be like when a thousand or more trained naval operators take the place of these few? With their military experience and training and their familiarity with the finest kind of wireless apparatus, it looks to us as though amateur wireless might come pretty near being a new kind of a game when we get loose again. And it is not going to be boy's junk in the way of apparatus, either, nor boy's methods of handling traffic. These will go into the discard accompanied by a blush of shame that they ever existed. The A. R. R. L. and the traffic it will handle, when the happy 'days arrive, will be something that even the craziest of us has no idea of today. Think it over, you good fellow-in-the-service now. It is a sweet morsel to roll over in the mind. You will be big guns when you come home after the war. You will be the ones who will run things.

The new rules are very strict -- no work with "phantoms" even. It's outrageous and undemocratic! Grrr.


The lid is on tighter than we supposed. Not only is it no antenna and no radiation, but it is no ground connection, no capacity and no inductance. Think this over a minute. We happened upon all this accidentally the other day. We had supposed that one could build a rotary gap and run it and even hook it to a condenser and phantom antennae through a hot wire meter. Our attention was officially directed to the fact that this is not the ease, however, and that any work of this kind would be contrary to the terms of the President's proclamation and therefore unlawful. We believe this will be as much of a surprise to the majority of the amateurs of the country as it was to us. The facts are that we must not touch any radio apparatus. All we can do is to read radio books and think radio thoughts. Until we become Germanized, we at least have these liberties. This does not proscribe a key or.a head phone, because both may be used for other purposes. But it does proscribe a condenser, or a rotary gap, or an oscillation transformer, or a loose coupler or detector, because these have no other use than for radio purposes. It prohibits all experimental and research work in which radio frequency oscillations are involved for communicating anything.

It does not prohibit the doctor's X-ray machine or his electrical massage gear, but it does prohibit all research work on submarine detectors employing radio. Of course, all radio inventing and development work must stop if anything more than a lead pencil and a piece of paper are involved.

How long this undemocratic condition is to continue, no one knows. Probably we amateurs better strictly observe the law for a while longer and give our authorities all the head they ask to enable them to conduct the war to a successful conclusion. We hope they will not hold us in our present uncomfortable position any longer than is actually necessary.

Wartime espionage? The public was prepared to believe anything about the miracle of wireless. Anyone with a wireless set was suspect, especially a German professor.

The Zenneck mentioned here is presumably Jonathan Zenneck. The Wikipedia article does not mention his internment. Apgar would be Charles Apgar (Univ of San Diego) (wikipedia), who made the first recordings of amateur transmissions on wax cylinders.

Something Rotten Somewhere

By The Old Man

Well, say! Zenneck arrested and interned! What do you know about that!!! The gent who wrote that big book on Wireless which "Final Authority" always quotes from at Radio Club meetings and which "Radical" always flatly contradicts.

The papers say our authorities not only pinched the old boy, but interned him for the duration of the war. Well, now you know that means only one thing. There is something awful rotten going on somewhere, and it is Wireless, by heck, too, because our Department of Justice would never have selected Dr. Zenneck to occupy a front seat in the cooler for the rest of the war if the old gent had not been monkeying with the oscillatory business somewhere,

It sure does make an old wireless bug sit up and take notice. Zenneck is a wireless authority of the first class, and a German one at that. That means something more than being a Brazilian or a Patagonian wireless authority. Our erstwhile Teuton friends know a pure wave when they see one, and also which end of a wireless set you bite off and which end you light. Zenneck has been one of the world's authorities on radio. He was the big boss at WSL, Sayville, it seems to me. Sayville had a lot of trouble in the early days of the war, before we thought of taking a hand.

On several occasions they put it all over our Naval authorities when it came to monkey business. First of all they sent plain war dope to their German war ships in the Atlantic No conscientious scruples or by-your-leave at all. They just sent it. We amateurs all noticed it. As it is not strictly according to the usages of polite war for a neutral country to permit use of its territory by one of the belligerents for conducting its attacks upon the other belligerent, our Naval authorities decided to put Naval operators in at Sayville. These operators would send out only perfectly neutral, gentlemanly messages.

Well, did this bother old Zenneck? Not so as you would notice it. He doped out one to beat this in fifteen minutes, probably. Pretty soon our naval operators were sending out the same dope themselves, only on its face it looked different. Then it was that one of us amateurs over in Jersey got into the game and gave the biggest lift an amateur ever gave the Government. Apgar, the old sleuth, smelled something rotten just about the time some of the rest of us did. But he got busy while the rest of us only sniffed. He rigged up a phonograph and for nights and nights he sat up and recorded everything that Sayville sent out. During the days he found time from his job to repeat and study the stuff. He found very peculiar words used peculiarly often and phoney repeats and what looked like phoney messages.

He and the Secret Service got together finally and a case was brought up in court, and good old Apgar had the honor of helping the Government win it. Everybody at Sayville was bounced, including Zenneck, and the Naval authorities thereafter worded the messages themselves. That was the only way to circumvent Zenneck. Give him a piece of wire and some power and he isn't a safe person to have around these days. What he doesn't know about monkeying with oscillatory circuits, probably isn't worth bothering about until next century. No wonder, now that we ourselves are at war with his country that the Navy locked him up.
And speaking of this, have you noticed that Zenneck's arrest followed closely upon the disclosures that the Germans knew all about the sailing of our first batch of troop ships in time to have a gang of submarines out in mid-Atlantic to attack them and send several thousand of our boys to the bottom? Only our Navy convoy saved them. Now how did this dope get to Germany?
Say! Do you suppose old Zenneck, the fellow who wrote the book we used to see advertised in. QST, could answer that question? Was it another one he put over on us? Is it possible that old duck worked out a hook-up that enabled a message to be sent which finally got to Germany without being heard in this country? When we took away from him the wording of his messages did he work out a way to send them from some secret station by oscillations which cannot be heard unless you are in on the know? Like the undamped stuff, for example, only one more on top of it, just as the undamped is one on top of the ordinary spark?

The papers had just a few lines that they probably did not understand themselves, but which came down through with enough left in it to start the amateur thinking. It was something about "superimposed oscillatory circuits." Now, what's that, for the love of Pete? It's something new on your uncle. Never heard them mentioned at any Radio Club meeting I ever attended. My, my, but it is a pity this all happened during mid-summer when our Radio Club is out of business. "Final Authority" would tell us all about it, whether he knew or not, and "Radical" would have to work up a whole new line of contradictions. No time is being wasted, however, because I took the trouble to cut the article out of the paper and send it to each. They will mull it over, each separately, and unto his own methods and liking, and I have a well defined hunch they will be about as near alike as a positive and negative charge. Come Fall I shall have something to tell you about this "superimposed dope," most likely.

My own guess may as well be set down now as anytime. It is that our one time German friend has worked out a plurality of circuits something like multiplex land line telegraphy and he "superimposes" these in some manner so that you cannot hear his signals unless you have some combination which only he can furnish you. If he can do this, and I don't put it past him, then he could have put up an aerial somewhere and actually, sent out signals which we would not have been able to hear. Again, no wonder they took his tools away and locked him up. But, on the quiet, son, how about getting just one swift glance at such a hook-up? Wouldn't it come in handy when we get going again after the war? No more QRM agony. After we make up again with old Z, let's ask him into the A. R. R. L. He's probably O. K. His trouble is with his Kaiser.

Just think of this Desperate Diamond Detective wireless business going on right under our noses, and we not knowing a thing about it. Don't it make you ache? It makes you wonder how Apgar feels. Maybe he and the Secret Service are at it again copying German superimposed stuff on some kind of a three story phonograph. Only the other day the papers came out with another one you can put in your pipe and smoke. They reported that the British Government had ordered the Marconi Company to suspend all transatlantic wireless until further notice. Now what does that mean? It reminds me of the yarn I heard the other night about digging out an enemy signal system in London. It seems it looked to the English as though something was rotten. in London when the German zeppelins and flying machines found it so easy to locate the city at night. One night an order was issued to put out every one of the official sixteen aerial search lights between 1.05 and 1.10 a. m. Only five minutes notice was given. All sixteen lights were out between the times noted but there was still left one light which did not go out. There was a seventeenth, in other words.

The latest, up to this writing, is an article in the papers about a German radio station being found in an out of the way place between the hills in Campechi, Mexico. Down Yucatan way, as I remember it. It was reported as being in fine working order and doing business.

It seems kind of unneighborly of our Mexican cousins to stand for a thing like that, but they did. At least they did not stop it. And what's to prevent a station being set up at some isolated place in Mexico and collecting its information from agents in the States who could wire it to El Paso or Brownsville, carry it over the
border and rewire it to the station? Looks easy to yours truly sitting here on the bleechers.

And if it is possible to get one station in Mexico is it not possible to get two? And if two, why can't Germany count on having at least one on the job? Mexico might remonstrate of course to this un-neutral behavior, after we had told them to, but could Mexico put enough pep into her remonstrance to Germany to stop un-neutral use of wireless within her borders? Probably not. Then Uncle Sam, after yawning and stretching, would wake up and allow as how if Mexico couldn't stop enemy wireless in Mexico, he would have to go in and stop it himself. Then there would start another row and some of us would have to change our clothes to light weights and go into Mexico.

We would then have one more war, and the business of killing men would go merrily on. Leastways, that is how it looms up to a wireless bug on the bleechers. It seems to me that wireless is the big trouble for us here in America. The enemy wants to know what we are doing to lick him. He wants to know this awful bad. He will gladly sacrifice half a dozen Zennecks to find out. And he is no "ham" when it comes to wireless. He knows the game probably better than we know it. And it is a safe guess that he Will go to any length to operate wireless here in America or in Mexico. Therefore, fellow amateurs, why isn't there a place for us stay-at-homes with the flat heads and square feet? All we can do as things stand is to keep our eyes skinned and our radio ears open. If enough of us do this, it is a cinch that some day somebody will see or hear something which has a rotten radio smell to it. Once we locate this smell the job is done, because we have a clew to work on. If we are in the W. U. T. Co. or the Postal Co., all the better. Even if we are in the Post Office service, we have lots of opportunities. Remember old Apgar over in Jersey. He didn't find any actual hostile messages. All he found was suspiciously frequent use of certain words. Only a little thing by itself, but it had a rotten smell to Apgar and time showed that Apgar's smeller was all to the good.

We should always be on the watch for little things. The German is not naturally a good liar. He thinks he is and that is where he sets his foot on the banana peel. He gives himself away easier than most people when it comes to hiding a bang up good technical job. Therefore, his secret wireless will probably always be comparatively easy to find. It would not be going too far to expect him to show it to you in some cases if he believed you were capable of appreciating it. So, don't keep it a secret if you know wireless. Blab about it on general principles. Talk about loose couplers, detectors, regenerative receivers and "superimposed oscillatory circuits" until your tongue gets writers cramp. Holler your head off in the street cars— and maybe some day a Dutchman will approach you and say—"You know wireless, hey? Vell, vhen all is doing, maybe I show you someting inderesting," which is your cue to call up the local United States District Attorney and let him do the rest.

Did it ever occur to any of you bugs that may be we could be a big help in locating enemy wireless if we could satisfy the Government that we could be trusted? It has occurred to several of us out here in the country. Take our receiving sets and our skill in operating them. I wonder if there is a Navy station any more sensitive than any one of a hundred amateur stations we could almost call off from memory. Take those of us who were located near Chicago and have heard stations both on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. And remember that these latter stations were using only one kw. or less. Look at the list of call letters heard and still being reported in QST. The junk used would make a Government official sick to his stomach, but it works in our hands. We know how to use a match on an audion bulb or where to locate a magnet and how to monkey a motley array of home made tuners and variables until wonders and miracles are performed. If we were allowed to listen to undamped long wave stuff it wouldn't take long with our hungry ears before we would be getting stuff that no professional station could hope to get. Remember Professor Taylor out at the University of North Dakota rigging up a wire from his window to a tree and reading the German damped and undamped stations. And his aerial was actually below the level of the surrounding prairie, due to his house being down on the banks of the Red River of the North. He told us about it in QST last winter.

And think of the number of us there could be to listen even counting out those who have enrolled and are now in the service. It seems from the aforesaid seat on the back row of the bleechers that a lot of help might be given, and some dope might develop which otherwise would be missed altogether. We heard of one amateur who copied German stations before the war and got stuff which neither Tuckerton nor Sayville could get and actually phoned it to Tuckerton when the latter gave it up. Strange things happen in wireless and especially in amatuer wireless where the operator is hungry to do something and will work night after night getting things to their very utmost efficiency. Not ow ordinary paid operator in a hundred will scratch as hard as most amateurs to read faint signals.

And another thing: With listening going on all over the country, isn't it likely that some impure or stray stuff would leak into the phones of some nearby listeiler, which would never reach the log of the big Navy station 1 If there is a way to send signals by superimposing tricks so that normally nothing would be heard a hundred miles away without knowing the trick, wouldn't a nearby amateur station be likely to get hold of some of the forced oscillations from guy wires, etc.? Again I say, from the bleechers, it seems it would.
Maybe the trouble is that the Government don't see any way to trust us. If that's the obstacle, isn't there some way we could be sworn in, or give bonds or oaths or some darned thing which would register us?

Think it over, you stay-at-homes, old and young. We want to do something even if our feet are flat.

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