This is the War Stories Section of
The Broadcast Archive

Maintained by:
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 sign-off.

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 Miami.

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 credible.

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 cartoon.

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 south.

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.


-- (Donald 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 call "WANs.")