|It was 1961. Evan and I
were developing a pocket
system for a small company in Los
Angeles. It was an early
predecessor to the ubiquitous
cell-phone. Four decades later, pocket
pagers are still used by couriers and business
executives, doctors and
nurses, real estate brokers and
Our concept exploited a
technical loop-hole in federal
regulations for broadcast radio. Evan
and I took notice of the fact
that the assigned carrier frequency of each
commercial station had a tolerance
of plus or minus fifty cycles per second
(the term 'hertz' was not yet
About that time extremely
controlled' oscillators became
available. Our system used two
crystals for digitally
dithering the frequency up and down within
the mandated band to broadcast
paging codes -- in effect superimposing FM
(frequency modulation) on AM
The project needed
to make sure that the paging
signals did not interfere with the radio
programing and vice versa.
Evan Drummond was a devoted ham
radio enthusiast, a master of the
necessary for developing the transmitter and
receiver electronics. He was
well-costumed for the part: white socks,
pocket protector, horn-rimmed
spectacles, taciturn -- a canonical
engineer, with soldering
iron in one
probe in the other.
My part of the
project was the digital coding
at the broadcast station and the decoding in
the pocket receiver.
If everything worked right, a
company operator would respond
to phone calls on an office line and enter
codes on a special key pad.
The codes would be relayed by leased line to
the radio transmitter.
"Transistorized" receivers the size of
staple-guns dangled from a tradesmen's
belt. Within the station's coverage area
pagers would recognize
their respective codes, much like your garage
door opener, and activate
a buzzer. The person being paged would
then go to a phone booth, insert a nickle, and
dial the company operator (no push-button
phones back then) to obtain the
particulars of the call.
For product development, we
made a secret -- surely illegal
-- arrangement with the owner/licensee of
KTYM, a hillbilly station in
Los Angeles, with its transmitter atop the
Evan set about conducting experiments in the
laboratory, keeping a radio
on his workbench tuned to KTYM all day long
with the volume turned up.
It was summertime, and the building had no
air conditioning. People
began complaining about the endless twanging
of guitars and banjos, the
moaning harmonicas and fiddles emanating
from the laboratory and wafting
through open windows into every
One day, I came up with a
prank. Evan's radio antenna
was strung up on the outside of the building
to a second-floor window in
the accounting department. I built a
primitive noise generator using
a spark coil operated by a telegraph
key. With the spark coil attached
to the antenna, I prepared to tap out a
solemn message in Morse code.
At such a moment, it seemed important to
choose exactly the right message.
What should that be?
The Next Voice
You Hear is a 1950 film
in which a voice claiming to be that of God
preempts radio programs for
days all over the world. It stars James
Whitmore and Nancy Davis as Joe
and Mary Smith, a typical American couple.
It was based on a short story
of the same name by George Sumner Albee. The
voice is never heard by the
audience, most likely due to restrictions of
the Hollywood Production Code,
which prohibited ridicule of any religious
Thus, horrible buzzing sounds
came blasting through the radio
speaker in dots and dashes, obliterating the
--- -. -..,
-. -.. .-.
..- -- --
-.., - ....
. -. . .--.
...- --- ..
-.-. . -.--
.... . .-
.-. .. ...
The building shook with
laughter. Evan confronted me
with a scowl.
THE NEXT VOICE YOU HEAR
"I was not fooled!" he
knows that the 'x' in 'next' is -..-."