There are some great ham history blogs out there, and many have found this gem already. It’s a short, one of many, by Pete Smith, publicity man for MGM and father of the film’s technical advisor, Douglas Smith. He takes up the cause of young people’s technical sophistication and enthusiasm for public service. He’s justified in doing so, for homebrew stations like this one did impressive work in disaster-relief and rescue missions. They wouldn’t have said ‘broadcasting’; they’d have said ‘transmitting’. And hams didn’t say ‘Mayday’, as a rule; it was more likely the in-house standard, ‘QRRR’. Communications for 5,000 miles was routine by 1939; 15,000? well, that’s still a stretch for a lot of us. Morse Code operators were all using a more efficient ‘continuous wave’ technique than they’d had 20 years before (which you can hear here when young sir tunes across the band); likewise the ‘phone operators, who had largely abandoned the old AM way of modulating carrier waves for a sleeker ‘single-sideband’ way. What does the code say in this soundtrack? ‘NO LUCK STAND BY NO LUCK STAND BY AR K’. (AR, sent together, as one letter, means that’s all the message; K means ‘over’.) Then, ‘STILL SEARCHING WX BAD AR K’. (WX is weather.) Then, ‘WX WORSE NO SIGN OF PLANE AR K’. Then, ‘OUT OF STORM PLANE FOUND’. And finally, ‘PLANE LOCATION LONG 73 WIII LAT 41 NIII OUT OF GASFALA’. That’s how I copy it, anyway. By the way, radio operators in airplanes, and tanks in WWII, used keys strapped to their knees. Know who else used them? Truck drivers, in the 1970’s. There’s some trivia for you.
more public-service boy-geniuses in 1939
Filed under the 1930's