This is the War Stories Section of
The Broadcast Archive
Barry Mishkind - The Eclectic Engineer
The Day Crud Radio Died
by Donald E. Kimberlin
August 5, 1991
After several decades of virtual dormancy, AT&T's High
Seas shore radiotelephone operation known to the maritime public as Radio
Station WOM at Fort Lauderdale, Florida had again become active. Ships of many
flags discovered WOM's operators were prompt and helpful, and they could get a
casual connection established from reaches as far as the Red Sea to the east,
offshore from Chile to the south and as far west as the Society Islands in the
Pacific. I really enjoyed working the "High Seas assignment," as it
was called. It was a great deal like being paid to operate a fantastic ham radio
shack with a whole crew of "regulars" out there sailing around the
oceans. WOM's clientele ranged from huge ocean-going tuna trawlers through
merchant ships of many nations, fabulous private yachts and cruise ships taking
vacationers around the Caribbean. We even provided landside telephone
connections for the crew members of an occasional U.S. Navy vessel and the
government "hurricane hunter" aircraft in season.
It was a happy, successful time in the history of WOM, a
station once secondary to the Bell System's Atlantic and Pacific flagship
stations, WOO and KMI respectively. (Morse Code operators will sense the nice
"swing" in each of the call signs Ma Bell had selected for her
stations. MCW was authorized and used fairly frequently during the calling and
set-up phase of contacts.) But, the methods for calling on the 4, 8 and 12/13
frequencies WOM had for use required leaving a monitoring receiver and speaker
open on each channel, relying on the sharp ear of a human technical operator to
snag a call.
Beyond the actual calls for service, there was a constant
hubbub of noise and static on each channel, interspersed with many sorts of
"Pirates of the Caribbean" who found these channels handy for other
uses. Not the least of these were people who thought they were a clear spot for
antenna tuning, so bursts of silent carrier were frequent, both between calls
and causing heterodynes during actual transmissions. These were rarely on long
enough to get any directional "fix" on them, and they were mobile
enough to never come from the same place twice, or so it seemed.
That is, all except a local teenager who had decided to
broadcast to his neighbors in Fort Lauderdale. He actually was a fairly
creditable disk jockey, repeatedly identifying himself clearly as,
"K-R-U-D, Crud Radio, broadcasting at 825 on your dial," with a line
of patter that probably did entertain and impress his teen friends. He'd
broadcast each afternoon till Mom said it was dinnertime. That always brought a
Crud Radio wouldn't have worried us but for one not so minor
technical problem. He was not only broadcasting on 825, but also on its fifth
harmonic. That made his program blast out of our monitoring receiver on 4123.6
kilohertz, strong enough to wipe out the ships we were supposed to hear and
handle calls with. We really weren't equipped to locate him and contact him. He
never really told us exactly where he was, although it had to be some place
fairly close to us. It was, in fact, close enough that our direction finder
couldn't get a bearing on his rather strong signal. We couldn't hear his 825
kilohertz intended output, which showed something of the strength of his
unintended harmonic on our channel.
We called the Fort Lauderdale FCC Monitoring Station for an
assist, but they claimed they couldn't receive anything from him, on any
frequency he might be on. The FCC wasn't very convincing.
We were never really sure they wanted to hear him and have to
take the draconian action they'd follow with. So, we endured for a while.
Finally, in desperation, I put a call in to Art Gilbert, the Field Engineer at
Art was a rather well known FCC employee in that time and part
of the country. In his unique way, Art was an icon of the culture of radio. He
was the one who traveled most of Florida inspecting radio and TV stations for
technical rules compliance at every three-year license renewal. In between, his
duties included inspecting ship and aircraft radios when in port, administering
amateur and commercial radio operator examinations and sundry other related
activities. Almost everyone in Florida who had an FCC license knew Art Gilbert,
talking to him (always respectfully) on a first-name basis.
Art was what you'd expect him to be A tall, lean, straw-hatted,
sun-reddened Down-South Good Ole Boy with a Georgia accent that just fit his
physical image. But, he was also known for being a fair, tough cop on his beat.
Break the rules in a minor, unknowing way and Art would give you a break. Have
trouble meeting the FCC rules and he'd come by to talk to you about it, make
some comment on what he saw, and perhaps even put you in touch with someone else
who had fixed a similar problem.
I'd even had Art come to me one day, trying to help get a
really sick AM station back on the air, bringing some of his test equipment to
help. But, break a rule badly, repeatedly or intentionally, and you had yourself
one tough cookie to deal with. Art had been on his beat for years, and he knew
every occupant of it, both the legal ones and the lawbreakers he'd canned over
the years. And, he had some stories of the cannings that made his image very
He liked to tell the story of the AM station that moved, tower
and all, 12 miles from where it was licensed. He told how he couldn't find it at
its former address, so he toured around the town till he found the several
hundred foot tower, whereupon he proceeded to the local hardware store, bought a
padlock and hasp, broke the feeble door lock, shut down the transmitter, and
locked the place with his own lock. Then, he just sat in his car waiting for
someone to show up. He showed the engineer who drove up his Federal marshal's
badge and told him he'd remove the lock as soon as they filed the proper
application and got approval from Washington to operate from that address. That
was the "cop" side of Art.
Needless to say when we called Miami for Art, he wasn't in the
office. He responded by phone from another corner of the state and told us he'd
be around our way in a few days.
Meanwhile, Crud Radio was a daily occurrence in our High Seas
Radio monitoring receiver. The day Art came in, Crud hadn't yet signed on. We
told Art to just wait a while, and sure enough, there was K-R-U-D, shortly after
school let out. When Art heard it and its typical announcement, a tide of
crimson rose right up his already reddened neck through his Good Ole Boy face.
The image was just like the maddened bulldog in a Tom and Jerry animated
Art jammed his straw hat onto his head, ran out the door and
took off in his government-issue black Ford station wagon. We could see he was
driving with one hand while twiddling dials on the Collins 51J receiver he'd
crammed onto the tunnel of the car and twirling the roof-mounted loop antenna
with the other. WOM and AT&T's Fort Lauderdale HF station had a hundred
acres or so of land and a long roadway out to the highway, so we could watch him
for several minutes until he reached U.S. Highway 441 and sped off toward the
We listened intently, but Crud Radio operated unperturbed. It
was still on when Art came back. He came inside to tell us that he'd found the
exact place, and could see the teenager had strung as much antenna as he could
around the eaves of the typical Florida subdivision house he'd built K-R-U-D in.
The operator had bragged he was running 50 Watts, and Art had measured Crud's
signal strength on 825, 2475, 4125, 5775 and 7425 kilohertz, calculating the
effective power on each. (Remember, this was a man who administered and
corrected commercial radio license exams for a living, so things we all head for
the book to do, Art had in working memory.) He determined that the amount of
antenna the teen was using was particularly resonant at about 4 or 5 megahertz,
so it favored radiating Crud's fifth harmonic, which was considerable. It was
really only a mile or two from our large receiving antennas, so it didn't need
to be powerful to give us real fits.
Then, Art told us that despite his being a Federal marshal as
part of his office, the FCC back in Washington had some pretty strict concerns
about FCC inspectors barging in on private residential property. He'd first have
to send a message to Washington asking for approval to do so. He also warned us
that such approval was often denied. The FCC at the time didn't want its
employees risking bad public relations. He told us further action might take
several weeks. It did. Crud Radio continued to annoy us daily.
Art returned unannounced one afternoon while Crud Radio was
holding forth, to tell us that his approval for a frontal assault had been
denied. But, he also told us he had "other methods." He was going to
use Plan B. He told us to just listen to Crud closely while he acted. We watched
him drive out to the highway again, this time looking confident and leisurely in
his handling of the car.
Sure enough, in about a half hour, the teen proprietor of
K-R-U-D broke into the middle of a record and announced, "This is the last
you'll ever hear from Crud Radio." Carrier off. The usual noises we
listened to resumed.
In about half an hour, Art Gilbert, Chief Field Engineer for
the Seventh Radio District's Field Engineering and Monitoring Bureau drove back
to our door. He was beaming, affable, Good Ole Boy Art again. We could tell he
wanted to tell us how he'd pulled it off when Washington wouldn't let him use a
frontal attack. Obviously, we wanted to know, and asked.
Art said, "I kind of expected they'd deny me, so I
researched the kid and family a bit, and found out the kid was a candidate for
the Air Force Academy. I just rang the doorbell and told him that if he didn't
want his sponsoring Congressman to hear about what a lawbreaker he was, he'd
better dismantle his home-brew transmitter right on the spot. I watched it go
into the trashcan in pieces."
And that was The End of Crud Radio.
E. Kimberlin is today President of
Telecommunications Network Architects, based in Landis, North Carolina, where he
continues to design and implement technologies the world has come to casually