Rotten Radio in 1917

This is the letter that started the entire “Rotten” series in QST, written by “The Old Man” himself, not other than Hiram Percy Maxim.

Rotten QRM

By “The Old Man”

“The Old Man” or “T.O.M.”

This QRM business is getting my Nanny. Here it is midnight, and this msg. from a fellow whose girl has not had a letter from him for a full twenty-four hours, is still stalled. I have smoked myself into a state of funk, the floor is covered with burnt matches, I am losing a perfectly good temper, and there is no sign that this will not continue all night long. How long do these radio bugs sit up at night any way? Right now, as I write, there is that old gink 2AGJ up in New York State fluttering along with that bird –in-the-cage spark of his, 8YO is yelling his darned head off for somebody over on the Pacific Coast, apparently, 8NH is still trying her best to be ladylike in spite of a full hour of trouble, old 8AEZ is booming out QSA but QRM bad CUL, 9PC is trying to do something to 5BV, I distinctly heard 4DI say a bad word, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, no one has got anywhere.

What are we going to do about this business? It used to be that we were perfectly satisfied to listen to SLI and once in a while on Saturday night when we could stay up late, we would listen to Arlington send time. When heard some commercial say QRM, we had to look it up on the chart to see what it meant. Later, we began talking to the fellow over on the other side of town and then was born amateur QRM. Sometimes, the “little boy with the spark coil,” (the latter is all right, but dog gone the hide of the former) would try to call us at the same time, and we used to think we were in trouble. Still later we used to think we were bothered when we were in the middle of a “conversation” with a fellow in the next town, and some whop would butt in. It about this era that we began to organize Radio Clubs, with high faluting ambitions about “promoting radio communications and controlling interference.”

But when we have a fellow who has not written to his girl for a full twenty-four hours, and who positively must get the msg. to her over in Illinois, it becomes a serious matter to have some one else getting gay with the ether, especially when the later had no conception of the existence of the word “brevity.” One thing I will say, and that is that good old 8AEZ is brief. His spark may drown out every-body in the western hemisphere when he sends, but he is brief. He says what he has to say in a few words in a few signals and he stops. He also does not go in for the long technical discussions about gap speed and condenser construction while forty or fifty others of us are waiting with five or six messages each, many of which have been stuck on the pin a week. Far be it from even me, a real blown-in-the-bottle radio grouch, to find any fault or mention any names, but some of the young gentleman who burn up my valuable time every night and thereby multiply this QRM business, ought to look up in the dictionary the definition of that particular combination of letter indicated by B-R-I-E-F. I could call off a dozen of them right now, and I would if I thought that Editor down east would print them.

The trouble is, the young squirts don’t stop to think. They start out and call somebody somewhere every three minutes. Everybody they hear, they immediately call. If they don’t hear anybody, they send a QST something like this: — QST QST QST QST QST QST QST de 1NUT 1NUT 1NUT 1NUT 1NUT 1NUT 1NUT 1NUT 1NUT. Any station more than fifty miles distant hearing these sigs. please send postal to Willie le Nut, Nutville. Willie repeats each of this msg. three times. Each letter is sent so slowly it puts you to sleep. He uses up just exactly twelve valuable minutes sending out this hogwash, and drives an old timer to the point where he radiates brush discharge from every hair on his head. These fellows ought to be limited to hours between supper time and 8:30, and any one of them slopping over ought to get a letter from every respectable amateur within his range threatening to spank him if he ever transgresses again. I know a certain some one who will put in his bid for election to the office of Chairman of the Committee on Chastisement.

Here is a sample coming in right now. Listen to this slop:– Columbus co 2pp 18co all sigs charles 9vy u no hf a motor little heavier than the racine sorry sorry om qrm qrm pse qta k fish smell rotten yes yes wyd boston how do you get me gap bum bum rubber band qta pwf about motors. (Bad squeaks here. Sick spark coil near at hand. Wheezes terribly.) Want to hear tone like commercial? ark r r r yes ark r r r listen nw.

Here begins ten minutes of the darndest scratching, screeching, groaning, blowing off steam, blubbering that ever mortal ear heard. At its worst it goes on into — — fine fine how do u do it? ark r r r rubber band on  vibrator—BANG. My friend with the one k.w. over on the other side of town explodes. He calls an 8 station. When finishes, the scratching reduces. Then we get the long distance QRM again. Cul om sk spfscity bunk allemo bish mela hash breakfast wunkey wunkey lala lala 2asj arm bad qsl 3zw must go to bed now hw hw hw abt abt abt msg msg msg pse pse pse k k k. This is the way my log book this evening looks. It’s enough to raise a blister on a wooden leg.

Here is another sample of qrm slush:–v v v v v v v v v v—————- (Somebody sitting on his key.) v v v v v v v v v linneg se with the wlce sore feet commercial wirlih. Now what in Heaven’s name would you make out this? Is it to the effect that somebody has a line a commercial who is on the warpath for some amateur with sore feet? One cannot be sure of these matters. It might be that it is the commercial who has the sore feet, chasing down some poor amateur around town probably.

Listen to this:– Yes yes jst wyd glucky wait a mt muddy wouff hong bliftsfy monkey motor. We assume from this msg that Glucky is being asked to wait a minute while Blifsky seeks a wouff hong with which to wallop a monkey the next time the latter faces toward the motor. I do not think I know just exactly what a wouff hong is. Probably some piece of apparatus used in the southern states to beat monkeys with.

It is this form of uninteresting “conversation” which clutters up the air with QRM. Of what moment is it to the rest of the world that this fellow Blifsky is going to smear somebody’s monkey with a wouff hong? When anybody relapses into such mental slop as to want to operate with a thing named a “wouff hong”, he ought to keep his trouble to himself and not compel all of us respectable amateurs to listen to his drool.  To slaves and slobber a lot of foolish twaddle like this when that poor girl out in Illinois has not had a letter since yesterday, is plain wicked.

Sorry om qrm qrm 9vy few words schlipsh nuzzle his mucket faded undershirt cfrish reptg pain in neck sus gup om cul ark. This is a real relay, evidently. 9VY over in Fort Wayne is mixed up in it in some way. Whose undershirt they are talking about and what schlipshing one over is, I do not know exactly, although I have a rough idea. Whether the signals faded or the undershirt faded, or what was the matter with the sus gup of the neck of the undershirt, I be darned if I know.

Just cast a lingering look at this:– Biirgrmp bru rotary ge ge ugerumf om with my set rettysnitch spitty tone hit in potimus? Now what do you suppose the poor gink was trying to say when unreeled that? You have to guess a lot in wireless, and how would you guess this? Something is wrong with this fellow’s biirgrmph, his rotary also has a bad case of ugerumf and somebody around the place must have spit on his rettysnitch, because his tone was so rotten it hit him on his potimus. Sound bad to me. Why will some people send such personal matter by wireless when the whole country can overhear it. It isn’t decent, and it makes the QRM more rotten than ever, and just think of the way it makes a perfectly good log book appear.

I spent the better part of an hour trying to make out what ailed the poor fellow’s biirgrmpg, but had to give it up while I listened to a child with a spark coil scratch out this at a rate of around three words a minute:– how do s……..e…….? how be …..? how do I cowp ……. cw ….v v v v v v ——————— come in ? ? ?ark After a long wait another trouble maker with a bad cold in his head stumbled back with:– r r r r r r r r r r r r ok ok please ? ? ? ark Another pause followed by the first little demon with:– r r r r r r r r r r qta qta qta pse rat . . . . . . . ve . . . . . . . .? pse ttt . . . . . . . . . . .qta pse repeat ark. These brats kept this up for twenty minutes and they ended up just where they began.

What we ought to do is organize an Anti QRM Association. Then let us elect for Chairman the worst plug-ugly we can find in these U.S.A. Then let us chip in for a little money and hire a clerk with a bad disposition who will write letters threatening the life of everybody whom the members report as causing needless QRM. If anybody gets balky, we will all join together and swear the gink is sending with a decrement greater than two-tenths, and so report to the local Radio Inspector. If the latter does not within twenty-four hours have the boy arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, we will all band together and find another job for said Radio Inspector. Let us rise, fellow bugs. Rise and crush this octopus which is engulfing and overwhelming us. Eight hours a day and triple time for overtime is death and starvation to our families. Hash for breakfast, rotten smelling fish, and QRM — — — We will have naught of it. Down with the fellow with the scratchy spark coil, down with the fellow who calls three times three, down with the fellow who calls everybody he hears and down down down with that unspeakable skunk who calls somebody and sends a long relay message repeating each word three times when the station to which he is sending is sending something himself.

There by heck, I have that off my chest. Now you there in Illinois, get this call. Let everybody else stand back from now on. I’m tired and sleepy and cross, and I don’t care who I QRM until I get that pin cleared off.

-The Old Man

The Reply – The “Young Squirt to The Old Man”

I’m not quite certain of the author of this work, but here is the reply to The Old Man’s (T.O.M.) “Rotten Radio” letter. Purportedly written to one of those he had taken to task, I suspect that the author may have been T.O.M. himself. The style is most clever, with numerous cultural and technical references, the nuances of which many are lost to us today. So sit back and enjoy the wit of the “The Young Squirt”.
– Bruce W1UJR

The First Epistle From The Young Squirt To The Old Man


By the shades of Mike Faraday and Julius-Caesar, Friend Ham, lend me your shell-like ear and let me gently inquire who in tarnashun and thunderashun is the wild galoot from the west who is always hollering “Rotten”? By heck, this bewhiskered old son-of-a-gun has got my horned animal, or to be brief, explicit, and to the point, my goat. For the last five hectic and sufferin’ years all I’ve heard him yell is “Rotten”. Tell him to go take a walk, take a bath or a shave. Perhaps he can take a drink, (if he can get it). Go and see that pretty little show called “Open Your Eyes”; that might help some.

I want to remark with all due sang froid (which is no relation to aperiodic oscillations) that everything about us hams ain’t rotten. Just to prove my brave and bold assertion, I’ll hereby request in a gentle, subdued—that is, in not a too stentorian tone of voice with a chortle of discontent—that this bewhiskered gazebo take an optical slant at the antenna depicted on the July QST’s cover and then peep inside at the works and the jeweled bearings of the station. Does that look rotten to you, you howling old Bullbum? Go hide your aged cranium, old Pessimistic Humbug Arratus.

Listen in on your own part of the world, Skeezicks; hear Mrs. 8NH (as we’ll always know her). Is her spark rotten, is her fist rotten, is the intensity of her signal rotten when we get her down here in New England like the seventeen regiments of Scotch Highlanders full of Gordon Rye? Answer up, you old geezer, before we dance on your old oaken coffin.

And tell me this, Methusalum, what’s rotten about stations like 1HAA and 1AK? You oughter take a trip to 1AK, seat yourself in his leather upholstered operating chair, lean back in bliss and comfort and be lulled to rest by the helluvanote of YN, the whistle of POZ, or the falsetto of LCM. Then throw his Paragon and hear the dope from Willie Smith out in Missouri who is vainly trying to date up his girl using as a means of dating his little half-inch spark coil. Who said “Rotten”? Everything in the game ain’t “rotten”, as I remarked to a fellow fan when Babe Ruth knocked his twenty-seventh homer. Of course you and I are rotten; that’s why our fellerhams fall for this bunk. It’s so darned rotten that they laugh out of sympathy for the authors. No matter about that, I’m all right and the world’s askew and you (OM) are a loud shouting airdale, mud-slinging hashound. Release the man, he is badly lacerated!

I suspect that you have a dark, dismal and damp cellar at your domicile where you are want to congregate down by your waterpipe and where your ground begins. On a broad and massive shelf overhead, I can now, in my mind’s eye, see you reaching up and detaching a large brown bottle with a bulging belly from said shelf. This bottle, as I see it, is inscribed, “Wood Alcohol, for Adults Only”. You put this horrid exhibit to your lips and take a long drag therefrom. Then you gasp for breath. Back with your shoulders, out with your chest. You feel 75 years younger. You feel fine; you’re drunk y’ darnphule. This is the time, I suspect, that you write those rotten, tainted and corrupted stories. I believe, you old scarecrow, you’re too darned mean to speak a good, cheerful word to us young ham; afraid that we’ll ask you to lend us your darned old squeaking Betsy or your poor abused cat. Personally I don’t believe that you’ve got a Betsy; I think it’s a tin Lizzie.
Did you read that stuff in our July issue written by Miss Grammerhausen—femule ham? What was rotten about that? Guess she is a regular guy. Admit it, you crab-walking, slant eyed son of Macaroni.

I sure had to laugh when I read of an old has-been like you trying out impulse excitation. Guess you know more about output indigestion!
Let’s not drop the subject—while we’re at it let’s flay this knocking old mugwump alive. Now, I myself can sit in on my superdreadnaught set and get stuff that ain’t corrupt. By suitably adjusting the deterioration of my filament due to electrionic emission, (hoping that the Ham (F) gets that phrase OK and considers my think-tank is not out of phase) and as the tiny atomic and infinitesimal electrons seek the path of Prohibition, that is to say the straight and narrow, I proceed to adjust my circuits to resonance, not neglecting the tertiary. Here am I up in New England and twitter—twitter comes NSD. I use NSD as I was wont to use a test buzzer in the Palmy Days. I hear NAM say to him, “O, NSD, O NSD why don’t you set old Ireland free?” Then I know that my antenna is still up and that there’s considerable push to my main spring. So I bend my well moulded head to my work and my youthful countenance (whatever that is) light up with a beatific and a 100KW smile. Hope that all hands will excuse my poetic language. I gotta compete with old Jingle-Jazz. Now my gear is adjusted, so stand from under. I cut her down to 200 meters. In through the window comes 1AW—also that bird Runyon—a guy out in Oak Park, Illinois, whispers in my ear, and Mrs. 8NH flirts with me—a married man. I glow with pride because this ain’t so bad for home made stuff. I try to spit on my female pussy in my zeal, for you see I’m not about to be outdone by old Tom Longwhiskers. I miss pussy and spit in the baby’s ear. Do you call that rotten, Old Drybones? I’ll say it’s gud work—it denotes perfect resonance and unerring aim.

Get some Omega Oil and douse your withered shinbones, Old Timer; then maybe you can get down on your creaking knees and thank the Lord that you’re alive and that you can still hear the lusty roar of the Ham around the corner.

On the level, I’ll bet that you were one of those gazaboes who, in the year 1910 or thereabouts, made the ether squirm to the tune of your decrement. I can see you now, smoking your old black pipe, a green shade pulled over your watery eyes—gazing into vacancy and pounding the devil out of one of Turnsback’s keys. On the tail end of the key you have a tick tacking spark coil operated through an App’s hammer. You still have the hammer, I’m sure. Down goes the key and up goes some poor old commercial station—another good electrolytic gone wrong. You pound on in blissful ignorance and the London Constabulary arrests a man for stealing a loaf of bread.

I sure hope, through, that I can see you down in New York some time. We’ll go Hellpoppin’ together. We must take in a good show, guzzle a little moonshine together, accompanied by the Edison Military Band and the office force of QST.

Come out of your hop, Old Beezlebub, or I’ll put Sheer-luck Holmes on your tail, and he’ll have Watson with him.