The independent blog on spectrum policy issues
that welcomes your input on the key policy issues of the day.

Our focus is the relationship between spectrum policy
and technical innnovation.

A net neutrality free zone: We pledge no mention of any net neutrality issues before 2018.

When they deserve it, we don't hesitate to criticize either NAB, CTIA or FCC.

FCC Media Bureau's Low Key Web Archive of Historic FCC Reports

Many readers may not be aware that the Audio division of the FCC Media Bureau maintains a very useful archive of FCC annual reports and other historic documents at this link. It covers FCC annual reports from 1935 to 1998 and reports of the predecessor Federal Radio Commission from 1927 to 1933. Under Congressional mandate, the format of the annual reports changed in 1999 and the new format has much less archival value although with the Internet more recent data is easier to find than it is for data from the 1950s. The new "annual performance reports" can be found here along with recent budgets.

The old FCC annual reports at the site are in .PDF format while the FRC reports use .JPG or .GIF images. This archive is not a key priority so little effort is spend on maintaining it.

There is another archive here that deals mostly with broadcasting issues but also includes historic tidbits like "FCC Order No. 1" describing the organization of FCC in 1934 and the original text of the Communications Act. This second archive is poorly indexed, but fascinating for academics and other researchers.

The archive is missing copies of FCC annual reports from 1966 - 1994.

While paper copies exist somewhere in FCC and they could conceptually be scanned into .pdf format, the current and pending low resource level at FCC make this a very low priority. However, contacts in the Commission indicate that they would be glad to add .pdf's of the missing annual reports to the archive for access by all if someone can provide them. Even a few would be nice.

So are there readers out there who can provide some of these missing FCC annual reports in .pdf or some other convenient format? Feel free to contact your blogger here.

FCC@80: Bob Weller's Farewell Talk to FCC on WWII-era Radio Intelligence Division

In 2007 we reported here that my former FCC/FOB colleague Bob Weller was rejoining FCC to head the RF Safety Program. For reasons that are unclear that was only partially true. By August 2008, it was clear that Bob had become Chief, Technical Analysis Branch, OET - the descendent of a position your blogger once held.

The ever mobile Bob is now
joining NAB, effective today, as Vice President of Spectrum Policy reporting to Rick Kaplan, Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning - another FCC alum. It is rumored that he will be replacing Vic Tawil, another FCC alum, who is about to retire.

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As a farewell gift to FCC (and probably because he had to recuse himself from most substantive work while he negotiated with NAB on the job change) Bob gave a presentation at FCC last Wednesday that was not announced to the public although open if you knew about it. Perhaps this is because FCC leadership had some misgivings about this aspect of FCC history - even though the basic details are well documented. Indeed, Bob’s talk ended with a showing of the 1944 MGM short film Patrolling the Ether which is described on both IMDb and Wikipedia. While Bob was forbidden to research the talk at the National Archives “on company time”, he did “group source” information from the FOB alumni group.

The FCC’s Radio Intelligence Division (RID) and the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence service (FBIS - later “Foreign Broadcast Information Service”) were formed on the eve of WWII to harness the then formidable and unique technical capabilities of FCC in support of the war effort.

As a result of the group sourcing, the following publicly available histories were found:

The video of Weller’s talk has is not on the FCC website, but has been uploaded to
Dropbox. (Download by hitting the “download” button after using this link.)

(During Bob’s talk he worked in some mild criticism of FCC’s current engineering staffing system: FCC used to have central hiring of entry level engineers with recruiting tied to the academic year and a common training program in the former Norfolk VA field office and briefly at the Columbia MD field office. This program allowed competitive recruiting when other employers were recruiting as well as a common core of technical training for FCC engineers. [Realistically many electrical engineering degree programs today do not include much material on communications technology.] Such recruiting and training has been erratic for over a decade now due to budget uncertainties and may well be a problem in a few years as current senior engineers retire.)

One aspect of RID that was not mentioned is of great interest to your blogger and was not publicly known until the 1980s: FCC (along with FBI) disagreed with the Army on the disloyalty of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, particularly with the Army allegations that Japanese-Americans were transmitting information to Japan from covert transmitters. Peter Iron’s book
Justice at War documents how both FCC Chairman James Fly and RID Chief George Sterling responded to requests from the Attorney General about the pending appeal of the Korematsu case to the Supreme Court.

In particular, Irons describes an April 1, 1944 memo to Attorney General Biddle from Chmn. Fly that left the AG “in a virtual state of shock”:

The FCC chairman provided documentation that (Army General) DeWitt had been personally informed by the FCC staff, both before his evacuation recommendation and afterward,that not one of the reports of illicit radio transmissions had been verified. .. (Fly wrote) “The fact is that military personnel was entirely incapable of determining whether or not the many reports of illicit signals were well founded. The basic trouble observed (by RID) was the lack of training and experience of military personnel carrying on the monitoring and direction-finding work.”…(Fly added that the Army) ”repeatedly made wholly inaccurate reports of illicit stations along the West Coast”. (p 282 - paperback edition)

Chmn. Fly also sent the AG summaries of George Sterling’s confrontational 1942 meetings with Gen. DeWitt, the main advocate of “internment/relocation” in which he heard DeWitt’s concerns about how “the woods were full of Japs with transmitters” and how Sterling wrote “I had never seen an organization so hopeless to cope with radio intelligence requirements”.

Since a major justification for the “internment/relocation” was “the interception of illicit radio transmissions” this unpleasant news from FCC to DOJ put DOJ in an awkward position as it prepared for the Korematsu case. So being bureaucrats, they solved the problem by “deep sixing” the FCC memos and fuzzifying their brief to the Supreme Court. The memos were rediscovered in the 1980’s by Korematsu’s legal team in a
coram nobis petition and in September 1987 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the petition for Korematsu and the related Hirabayashi case, reversing their wartime convictions because it found if “suppressed (FCC) material been submitted to the Supreme Court its decision probably would have been materially affected ”.

While this seems like ancient history, recall what happened after 9/11 when speaking about civil rights became secondary to fear and constitutional concerns lost their primacy. For Fly and Sterling to speak out during WWII on the erroneous justification for the treatment of Japanese-Americans required supreme courage to go against the flow of the times. I believe that FCC should recognize and acknowledge the heroism of these two as one of FCC’s proudest contributions to our country.