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Continued from Trapped by Radio!


Typical installation on Coast Guard radio room..

What they found, when they finally reached the radio room, so quietly that even the operator on watch was undisturbed, was a typical station of the amateur type.

Months of patient listening-in on the station turned out to be an illicit one, enabled the expert to pick up the thread of the code-message, and continue the radio conversation with the ship at sea. It was nearly decoyed into the net of waiting Coast Guard ships specially detailed to watch the landing spot, to which the rum runner was directed by the Government's radio expert!

It was a short-wave set that was doing the damage--probably costing not more than a thousand dollars to build. The transmitter, of the conventional design, was panel-mounted and of fairly neat construction. Together with this working transmitter, the raiders seized another set in the course of being assembled. Receiving apparatus, together with a wave-meter and code books, were taken also. Even a copy of the Coast Guard's secret code book was found on the operators desk.

It is not exactly certain at this time what the frequencies were on which the signals were sent, over the rum runner's radio network. Frequency changes, however, were often made, and the code they employed frequently altered besides.
    Undoubtly the bootleggers' own cleverness defeated them. Radio is not commonly used by smugglers, and any signals of suspicious character are usually reported by amateurs who are listening in on practically every wave length below the broadcast bands. It is not surprising, then, that amateurs in the Second and Third Radio Districts should have promptly noticed and reported to the government radio inspector strange signals transmitted within their wave bands.

Though it was impossible for these amateurs to locate them definitely, the strange tactics of the station which they believed to be of an amateur ownership suggested to them questionable use of a devise that they respected greatly. Complaints were lodged, and a search was then made by the government department which had charge of policing the air--the Radio Division of the Chamber of Commerce.

For months, a young radio engineer member of the staff of the Second District listened to the signals. The call letters used corresponded to no known amateur's station that was lawfully operating at the time. The fact that the station would send for hours at a stretch, at one time being "on" for a full eighteen hours, aroused further suspicion.


Loop receiver used by government agents.

It was possible to train compass direction finders on the menations, but due to the frequency variations and the short waves that this station used, instruments designed for lower frequencies did not operate accurately.

After weeks of work, instruments were brought to within a mile or so of the suspected station. It wasn't realized even then that the station was engaged in assisting the unlawful traffic of liquor, but the department was convinced that the operator was a violator of the law witch requires stations and operators to be licensed. It was therefore its business to locate the station and silence it.

Radio Inspector Redfern was "loaned" to the Treasury Department to superintend further investigation, once it was clearly established that there was some definite relation between the station's signals and the shipments of liquor. It seemed strange, for instance, that the set was constantly working when trans-Atlantic traffic was busiest. Redfern intercepted many messages, and though they were difficult to copy, the first transcripts were sent down to Washington for decoding by Army Experts.

It was an amazingly clever code, the main secret of which was the use of long words instead of short ones, and vice versa. Three of the code books were found during the raid, together with the copy of the Coast Guard smuggled in from from a "spy" planted in the Government service. Thus, it was an easy matter for the operator at Highlands to intercept messages send by unsuspecting Treasury official to the Coast Guard ships and bases and to turn them over to the bootlegger chiefs. Thus informed, arrangements for the shipment and distribution of liquors could be made without interference.

The indictment, faced by the rum runners' wireless operator, Malcolm MacMasters, charges that the station was established by the bootleggers on March 30, 1919, at 33 Shrewsbury Avenue, Highlands, N.J. MacMasters is held on $30,000 bail, not only for violation of the Volstead Act, but also for transmission without either a station or operator's license. It is said that this is the first time the Radio Act penalties will be applied to such an offender.

With the discovery of the main transmitter of the radio rum ring, the prohibition forces have crippled the communication system built up at great cost by the bootleggers. It is said that the message warning the sea-going boats filled with liquor to turn back because of the raid was flashed by another secret installation which has not as yet been found.

In their fleet of six ships clearing from St. Pierre to Bermuda, but allegedly making side trips to within the harbor lights of New York, and a swarm of ten speed boats to do the unloading and fast ferry-work between the "mother ships" and shore, the bootleggers had a very comprehensive radio network, the extent of which probably will never be learned by the authorities. It is thought that all the ships, including the speed boats, were equipped with radio, and were directed in their moves by the main station located in the house captured on the Highland hill top ...

This apprehension of rum-runners in the unusual manner just related is only one of the jobs for which the Radio Division of the Department of Commerce is equipped. Its great duty is the policing of the air. Its personnel and instruments to do this apparently hopeless job are relatively small. Yet it keeps a watch on the 650-odd broadcasting stations, the 16,000 licensed amateur transmitters, and the thousands of commercial stations.

Its main function is to keep the transmitters on the frequency or wavelength assigned them by the Federal Radio Commission. In hunting down frequency changes and variations, it often discovers lawbreakers and unlicensed stations. Then enters the engineer with his direction-finding equipment ... And a lawbreaker is caught!

 

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