The other week when I was at my parent’s house dropping off the vehicles I had borrowed, I was bemoaning my lack of technical knowledge of all things to do with broadcast transmissions and radio frequencies. It makes it harder to wrangle the FCC issues at work when I frankly don’t understand them. Dad chuckled and said “I got a cease and desist from the FCC once.”
My dad was in the navy for (and I quote) “three years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days.” But who’s counting? This would have been in the early ‘60s, because he was in the navy when the Bay of Pigs imbroglio happened, and during the naval blockade of Cuba. If I understand correctly what he told me (and someone correct me if I’m wrong and they know it) the ship kept some time set aside for people to be able to “phone home” on the ship’s radio, so to speak – I think this was utilizing the ham radio system/frequencies. The part that I *did* understand is that there were/are very specific power restrictions on those frequencies, and how far/well you can get with them is largely dependent on atmospherics. Some nights you can catch another hemisphere on the bounce, some nights you can’t get nothin’.
One evening (dad says) he was in the radio room chatting with a guy he talked to regularly in Minnesota (dad *worked* in the radio room, so I suspect he got more radio time than most of the guys.) I guess the atmospherics weren’t good that evening. He was having to fiddle with the frequencies, and kept losing the connection. Unlike the guy in Minnesota who was using fairly normal amateur radio gear, my father was sitting on top of (well, probably next to) the transmitter for the National Emergency Command Post Afloat. Go ahead and Google it. I’ll wait.
See what I’m getting at? Loooottttsssss of power available. And when you work in the radio room and know what all the knobs and switches do, it’s really easy for that irritated 20-something sailor to reach out and just… turn the power knob up… until the guy in Minnesota says “Bruce… what did you do?... You’re a lot clearer all of a sudden.” “Nothing – the interference must have cleared.”
Apparently the FCC notices when you pump that much power into those frequencies – and they don’t much like it. They sent a cease and desist – and a fine – to the Captain of the USS Northampton, and told him to basically “get off our airwaves.” Which instruction was summarily ignored because – well, seriously? You’re going to tell the communications ship for the fleet to get off the air? Not included in dad’s story was what I imagine was probably said to *him* when that letter tracked down the ship. He was something of a golden boy, but things that come to the Captain’s attention have a way of trickling downhill. I know that it must have, because he said that he kept the C&D for years - which means it got into his hands somehow. Sadly, it disappeared at some point – he doesn’t remember when. That’s a shame, as I would have loved to have shown it to our RF guy here at work.
I really hope that most of what my dad did during those years declassifies while he can still tell me the stories. Although they're probably not as interesting as I've made them in my head.