On The Job at an FCC Monitoring Station
We know they're out there listening. Some of us even fantasize about what it must have been like to work at an FCC monitoring station during the golden age. Well, now we can wonder no more.
Now comes Mr. Dave Ross who was on the job with the FCC's Field Operations Bureau as Monitoring Observer and Watch Officer. Those are some job titles to conjure with! OM Ross sent as clipping of himself which were unfortunately unable to reproduce with enough clarity for inclusion in the Newsletter. But we have included other relevant photos from our archive.
OM Ross writes:
In 1971, I was hired by what was then called the FCC's Field Operations Bureau, Monitoring Systems Division, as a Monitoring Observer / Watch Officer. At that time, our monitoring network consisted of 13 stations, 10 in the continental U.S. and 1 each in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. We were all linked by a landline teletype network provided by the telephone company.
As such, even back then we had "online," real time connectivity, which allowed us to coordinate our observations simultaneously when needed. Our net control was, of course, located in Washington, DC, and much of our operation was directed and controlled by the Washington Watch Officer. My first assignment was to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida station, where I began my rather steep learning curve, both through on-the-job training and a year-long course of study.
Although I had a fairly good background in military electronics, broadcast engineering, and telephone company toll transmission, as well as some 16 years as a radio amateur, I was about to find out how little I actually knew about commercial communications.....
|Monitoring station at Allegan, MI|
Naturally, when most people think of the FCC, they think of rule violations, enforcement actions, and the dreaded "Inspector." However, although that is a very substantial part of what the FCC does, there are many other things involved in its day-to-day operations.
One of the most important functions of the monitoring network is long-range direction finding in the HF spectrum. Direction-finding fixes are used to locate the source of interfering signals, to identify/confirm unknown signals, to assist search and rescue operations (particularly on the high seas), and in some cases to assist other agencies.
As anyone who has been involved in H-F communications knows, there many times when a station is trying to communicate with another station on an assigned frequency and another station my appear on or close to that station's frequency, causing partial or total disruption of communications. Monitoring stations, both in this country and elsewhere are charged with determining where this interference is coming from. Most countries are signatory to international treaties, and when an interfering signal is located in another country that matter is reported to the country in question. And of course if the signal originates in this country, the matter is handled by the FCC.
|Central monitoring station, Grand Island, NE.|
Being new to monitoring operations, I had a lot to learn. Most of the stations back when I started had five watch officers who stood rotating shifts. This meant that things could and did get pretty hectic at times. As the only man on duty in the evenings, midnights, and weekends, everything usually happened at once.
The numerous phone calls were especially distracting, but they were part of the job. There was a whole lot of new equipment to learn and new problems to handle - all the time.
Although I was not a great CW operator, one of the new things I learned about was the heavy use of CW at that time, and I actually enjoyed keeping a receiver on 500 kHz - especially late at night on watch. It was amazing how much traffic there was and how far away many of the stations were.
On one of my first watches, there was an SOS from a freighter sinking off the coast of Argentina, and I was actually able to copy the position and pass it to Coast Guard SARLANT. All this from my location in South Florida.
Now, in 2012, the H-F direction finding is done from a central location. Whereas earlier direction-finding antennas involved rotating elements and/or drives, the newer interferometer DF's lend themselves to remote control operations and are at least as effective or more effective than manned operations. Many of the monitoring stations that were there when I started are still there, being operated remotely. During my career, I was also assigned to the Livermore, CA station and finally the Vero Beach, Florida monitoring station (after another stop at Fort Lauderdale).
There were a number of other duties at all of those locations which are now handled by agents working out of offices in major cities, such as monitoring and measurement of two-way systems (VHF, UHF, and higher frequencies) for compliance and enforcement.
The monitoring stations also had mobile vans which did much of this work, and all of us watch officers traveled frequently (in rotation) in areas within a day or so drive. Those trips were sometimes lengthy and difficult, but all of us enjoyed them.
Together with my U.S. Air Force service in the late Fifties and Early Sixties, I retired in 1993 with 27 years of Federal service, and I was very fortunate to have had a career which I really enjoyed. I met many people in various communications operations, and all of them were especially fine individuals.
Radio Archieology - Part 3 of a Series
Western Electric Point to Point Receiver - Discovered!
We thank you for enduring our constant whining about the fact that we have virtually nothing to restore and display from the HF point-to-point era - except for Rhombic 209 above, of course!
But when it comes to the magnificent diversity receivers such as the R-3 described by Mr. Bob Dildine in Newsletter No. 16 we have little more than scraps.
However RCA was certainly not the only company in the HF point-to-pint business in the glory days. There were many competitors - including AT&T at their station just to the west of the RCA receive site we have restored.
While best known for ship to shore station KMI, this site was also the receive location for the AT&T point-to-point circuits.
AT&T used the Western Electric "LD" receiver for its circuits. These can be seen in photos taken inside the Point Reyes receive building in the 1960s.
|The AT&T interference monitoring position was along the rear wall of the receive building with the LD receivers in a row to the right.|
People have come to know that we are searching for historically significant radio artifacts to acquire, restore and display as part of our mission. Every once in a while we'll get a message from someone who is absolutely certain that there's a point-to-point receiver in a barn somewhere. So of course we all mount up and go tearing over there only to discover that it's... something else.
But a couple of years ago word came that a Western Electric LD receiver not only survived but it was in storage within walking distance of your editor's home in Point Reyes Station! And this time it turned out to be true.
|LD receiver 410 in storage.|
The receiver seems to be in reasonable shape. But of course its condition can only get worse with time in the absence of a thorough restoration program. And you can just imagine how the MRHS receiver restoration team would like to get their hands on this baby!
|LD receiver front panel controls.|
We would love to make this receiver ours and treat it to the full restoration it deserves. But the owner has so far been reluctant to part with it. It's probably time for us to make another approach to see what can be worked out. But for now this gem sits in its storage container that your editor walks by every day!