NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1925 __ Diagnosis of the Radio Amateur
Comment : “What is a radio amateur ? Great confusion surrounds the answer, if there is one. To' owners of single-circuit receivers in his immediate vicinity, the amateur is a vicious ogre who emits strange buzzing noises which interfere with their broadcast reception. To commercial operators, he is a talented young man who might even aspire to become a commercial operator. To some of the amateurs themselves, who have taken their degrees as feature writers disseminating the gospel every Saturday afternoon in the radio supplements, the amateur is the inventor of radio, from the antenna insulators to the ground, in the past; its generous and disinterested supporter in the present; and its only hope in the future. To several score of other witnesses he is several score of other things. The dictionary, with its definition of an amateur as "one who is attached to or cultivates a particular pursuit, study, or science from taste, without pursuing it professionally," helps us but little. I venture to assert that from one third to one half of all the "amateur" radio men in the United States are making, or trying to make, money in the radio field, although not directly out of their activities as amateurs. That is, they make no money out of their radio telegraph activities, but they keep radio shops or service receiving sets or run broadcasting stations for pay. Yet they remain amateurs in excellent standing. Now we are beginning to see light. An amateur, in radio, is a person who experiments gratuitously with transmitting sets generally radio telegraph transmitters and with receivers adapted for communication with transmitting sets so tended; but who is free, without prejudice to his amateur standing, to make all the money he can out of radio otherwise. If he telegraphs around the country with just one set, and receives ditto, purely for the love of it, then his standing as a radio amateur is secure, and he can collect all the cash he is able to get in any other radio activities whatsoever. It is a unique conception, and as far as I know, peculiar to radio. The jealous differentiation between amateur and professional which prevails in athletics, for example, is entirely absent in radio. The boys out in the wheat belt, nursing along their five-watters because they can't afford replacements until they save up some more pocket money, and Mr. E. H. Armstrong, who has realized an amount said to run into six figures in royalties from his radio inventions, both claim the title of amateur, and are equally proud of it. The fact is that one must look on amateur radio as a species of freemasonry. The spirit of fellowship and brotherly sympathy is certainly there. If you don't believe it, attack the amateurs singly, or en masse, and see what happens to you. They are a scrappy lot, and if they ever fall, they will fall together. They have other lodgecharacteristics. They delight in titles, such as "Traffic Manager, Delta Division." These titles, while undoubtedly they mean something, and frequently involve a lot of work in the way of staying up until 4 A. M. relaying messages and preparing reports, do not carry quite as much weight or responsibility as the corresponding position in a quarter billion-dollar corporation. These dignitaries are somewhat on the order of the Grand Omnipotent Ruler of a lodge; he may be grand and all, but he isn't really omnipotent. And they write numbers and letters after their names, such as "Marcus Gavotte, 12 GHQ," which astound and flabbergast the laity, who imagine that these mystic designations are so many Ph. D.'s and Orders of the Bath, if not Congressional Medals of Honor. [...] The telegraph code itself, while invented purely for the purpose of communication by symbols, and so used commercially, becomes, in the hands of the amateurs, a medium with something ritualistic about it, fulfilling a function not unlike that of ceremonies and liturgies in secret orders. Is the comparison far-fetched? If so, why do the amateurs use their lingo orally and in writing, at every opportunity? It is impossible for one saturated amateur to write to another in English; they get to a point where they must express everything in pigeon-Phillips (code) and Continental abbreviations. I should not be surprised to hear of one office of another and asking him for a job in these words: "Sa OM QRW? I am QRXing for a job. QRU? Nil? Sorri tks j^s c u agn gb gb dit dit dit dah dit dahhh". This lingo is not used merely for brevity and convenience; it is also a philological toy, possession of which sets one off from the common herd. [...] But, aside from these factors, undeniably there is a certain magic in dots and dashes. There is a rhythm and lilt to the sending of a good operator which is capable of producing a definite esthetic response in a trained listener. It is even possible to put across rudimentary emotional states by variations and shading in the style of transmission. Even a novice can tell when the man at the other end of the circuit is impatient or angry or confused. Styles of sending are as numerous as the shapes of men's ears, and as varied as their ways of walking and talking. Many amateurs, as well as professionals, are connoisseurs of the subtleties of code work. Many others probably the majority are and will always remain rotten operators, just as the majority of people who learn to play the piano simply learn to murder the instrument and the music. There are always more dubs than artists. That there are artists among amateur radio telegraphers, no one who has any feeling for these matters will attempt to deny. [...] A great deal has been written about the ingenuity of amateurs and experimenters in building their own sets, transmitting and receiving. It is true that some of them show immense skill, but things should be called by their proper names, and it is a fact that no amateur, experimenter, or other isolated individual is in a position to build even a simple radio set. He can only assemble one out of factory-built parts. What amateur or radio fan makes his own audio transformers, vacuum tubes, telephone receivers, plugs and jacks, bakelite panels? It is purely an assembly and wiring proposition. The creativeness of the amateur, therefore, is at best a secondary one. Liberally mixed with hokum, also, are the vast and all-embracing claims made for the inventive genius of the amateur. To read some of these narratives, one would think that radio had sprung full grown out of the foreheads of a lot of sixteen-year-old geniuses. What first-rate radio invention has been made by an amateur? The work of Armstrong will immediately be cited. But at the time that Armstrong was doing his early work on regenerative circuits he was a student at Columbia University and had the run of the unexcelled Marcellus Hartley electrical laboratory on Morningside Heights. He did not yet have the degree, but he was already a distinguished electrical engineer in every other respect. However, instead of laboring the point, let us classify Major Armstrong's early work as an amateur achievement. What then? One swallow does not make a summer. What other first-rate radio inventions have come out of amateur circles? How many second and third-rate innovations, even? I know of few, very few. The unromantic fact is that most of the inventions that have brought the art to its present level have come out of well-equipped physical laboratories, after developing from the ideas of trained investigators and engineers. A great number have originated in the research departments of great industrial corporations, thence percolating down to the amateurs. The business of invention and research has become highly intricate, and is no longer carried on to the best advantage in a garret. So much for the negative. Now let us give credit where credit is due. Given the inceptive ideas, the amateurs have again and again, with immense industry and ingenuity, developed fields of radio scarcely touched by other interests. The present short-wave fever is an instance. The value and specific utility of the very high frequencies is still only partly determined, but at any rate research in this field will yield interesting and important data. Men like Reinartz and Schnell are among the leaders in this experimenting. If they do not initiate the great theoretical and practical advances, the amateurs do undoubtedly mop up brilliantly in the immediate wake of the pioneers. Let an idea be published, and immediately a few thousand of them are at work squeezing the juice out of it, trying out all the variations, and showing that it can be made out of tin cans and empty tooth paste tubes. Secondly, amateur experience is an excellent preparation for commercial activity in the radio field. Look up copies of the radio magazines of 1910 to 1914, and you will discover the names of many prominent engineers, commercial men, and operators of to-day signed to amateur articles. In another decade many of the younger amateurs of to-day will be running the works. [...] Thirdly, the amateurs are amusing themselves, instead of paying someone to amuse them. They are playing ball, instead of watching someone else do it for $20,000 a year. Even if their activities were purely recreational, they could be amply justified. It is a good thing to get one's fun through one's exertions, rather than to have it served up, cooked and predigested, on a platter. Let us dust the earth with our hats in salutation to these young men who reach out six thousand miles, across seas and continents, for their amusement. (Carl Dreher, “Diagnosis of the Radio Amateur”, in Radio Broadcast, Vol.7, no. 4, August 1925, pp. 500-503)
Urls : http://www.archive.org/stream/radiobroadcast07gardrich%23page/500/mode/2up (last visited ) http://www.archive.org/stream/radiobroadcast07gardrich/radiobroadcast07gardrich_djvu.txt (last visited )

No comment for this page

Leave a comment