Templeton Case

March 27, 2006

At the recent club meeting, I acquired a copy of QST for January 1963, where this story first appeared. Reading it again, I felt that it would be of general interest to the club membership, especially to those of us who remember the days before widespread cable TV when TVI could be a real problem–particularly if there was a Channel 2 TV station in your area. So I typed it up from the article and posted it here for all to read.

Also, for those of us who remember the movie and TV producer Alfred Hitchcock, this story has a “Hitchcock ending”. Read it from the beginning to get the full effect but it is not until the very last sentence that you understand what was really happening.



Reprinted with the permission of the ARRL. Copyright ARRL


By Jack Najork K9ODE

From QST magazine January 1963

Authors note: The Templeton case is now history. It was reported in piecemeal fashion at the time because of the security measures involved. Copies of letters, telegrams and newspaper clippings tell the story far better than I can, and my primary purpose here is to present them all in the correct sequence. Those portions of the case not documented have been reviewed and approved by the principals involved with the exception of the late Godfrey Smith. Those portions of the history not included in clippings and letters have been reconstructed from the notes I took during the time I lived in Templeton.

News item, Templeton Daily Star, April 15, 1958

Frank P. Stevens, Executive Vive President of Templeton Broadcasters Inc, announced today that the FCC had approved the sale of WKOO-TV to Godfrey Smith associates of San Francisco. The new management will take over the station on May 1, 1958.

Godfrey Smith is well known in engineering, business and political circles. He graduated with high honors from Stanford University in 1928 and holds a PhD in physics from Princeton. From 1933 to 1940 he was associated with Anderson Research Corporation. During the war years, he served as Assistant Secretary of War for Advanced Projects, supervising the research and development work of the various universities. After the war, he entered politics, with two terms in the California Assembly and one in the California State Senate. In 1952 he refused another term, preferring to take over active management of his broadcast interests. He has however, remained a powerful voice in party counsels. Mr. Smith has announced that he will serve as General Manager of WKOO-TV and will retain the present staff for the time being.

Ted Collins, engineer on duty at WKOO-TV received the first telephone report four minutes after WKOO-TV began 7 A.M. programming. A viewer at Bonfire Hills reported the picture full of black lines. Seconds later, a second call came in, this time from the Bruno subdivision some twenty-four miles south….”big black lines in the picture…no, they don’t flash on and off… they just stay there all the time…my little girl can’t watch Droppet’s Moppets…

After that the telephone switchboard started to light up like a haywire pinball machine. By 8 o’clock as TV receivers clicked on in the 200,000-set market area of WKOO-TV, over a hundred reports of interference had been phoned in and the switchboard was jammed. A thorough check at the transmitter and studio showed the interference was positively external and, moreover, it was saturating practically the entire primary and secondary coverage area of WKOO-TV.

At 9 o’clock Ted Collins together with Chief Engineer Jerry Barnes and two other technicians, set out to take some triangulation reading with a Yagi antenna and field strength meter. They returned several hours later muttering to themselves and visibly shaken. Their efforts to take bearings on the interference had failed for a very simple reason. The interference showed absolutely no directivity!

This then was how it started. The date was May 1, 1958. Strangely enough, it was just four years earlier on the same day that WKOO-TV began operations. Until then, Templeton had been a ham’s haven, the nearest TV transmitter some 220 miles away. With WKOO-TV on the air however, the situation changed overnight. Most hams in Templeton were aware that they would now have TVI problems but they were totally unprepared for the events which followed.

Godfrey Smith, owner and general manager of WKOO-TV had powerful political connections at both local and national levels. Within a week, he had bulled legislation through the Templeton City Council which required all amateur radio stations in greater Templeton to pass inspection by the city’s electrical department. Pending such inspection and approval, all amateur operation was restricted to the hours between midnight and

7 A. M. When Templeton hams openly refused to obey this ruling (now known as “Smith’s midnight order”) Smith ruthlessly attacked the hams at the state level and only quick action by the League stopped pending legislation at this point. Despite Godfrey Smith’s powerful Washington affiliations, his next attempts to restrict amateur operations through direct orders from the FCC ended in failure. At this point he returned to Templeton and started an attack through full-page newspaper spreads which placed all responsibility for any poor reception of WKOO-TV on local amateur operators.

Templeton became the city where it was best not to hint that you had an interest in ham radio. “Invisible” antennas became the vogue, along with shielding, filtering, low-pass filters and all the myriad accessories required to prevent TVI.

News Item, Templeton Daily Star May 2, 1958

WKOO-TV engineers reported today that the strange interference which is blotting out TV sets in a forty-mile radius of Templeton has not yet been located. Godfrey Smith, general manger of WKOO-TV, reported that FCC engineers have been asked to assist in the search for the mysterious signal which was first noticed yesterday morning. WKOO-TV’s switchboard was swamped with calls from viewers shortly after the station went on the air yesterday and station officials have asked viewers to refrain from calling the station. Smith was confident that FCC engineers would locate and eliminate the interference within twenty-four hours. He further stated he believed that trouble was caused by an amateur radio sending set somewhere in the city.

Telegram from FCC Field Office to WKOO-TV. May 3, 1958.


John T. Harris

Telegram from Godfrey Smith to Honorable Rockford Smithers, Senate Building, Washington D. C. May 4, 1958.



News Item, Templeton Daily Star May 5, 1958.

Efforts by the engineering staff of WKOO-TV and the FCC to locate the mysterious interference now plaguing viewer’s screens for the fifth day have been without success. Godfrey Smith, general manager of WKOO-TV, reported that he has asked the FBI to investigate inasmuch as local FCC engineers have not made any apparent progress in finding the strange signal. The FCC stated that more elaborate tracking equipment is being flown in from Washington and expressed confidence that this would enable them to find and eliminate the trouble.

WKOO-TV has offered a $500.00 reward to the person or persons locating the interference which was first noted on the morning of May 1. Since that time reception of WKOO-TV has been almost been blotted out in the majority of homes in the greater Templeton area.


Letter from Hadley Consulting Engineers to Godfrey Smith. May 10.

Dear Mr. Smith:

We are enclosing detailed results of our survey of Channel 2 co-channel interference in the Templeton area in accordance with our contract terms. We regret to advise you this accumulated data does not enable us to reach a definite conclusion concerning the source and location of the interference. Our engineers have summarized their findings as follows:

1. The interference shows no directivity or polarization at 12 survey sites.

2. Field strength of the interference is generally uniform over a forty-mile radius centering on the metropolitan area of Templeton. Beyond this the radius, the interference drops off in a normal logarithmic manner.

3. Oscillographic observations of the demodulated interference signal indicate the power source is not synchronous to 60-cycle power generated by the Templeton Electric and Gas Company. This has been further verified by the May 8 power interruptions made by this utility in cooperation with our tests.

4. Frequency measurements of the interference show it to be relatively constant at 55 megacycles with short and long term frequency variations not exceeding several hundred kilocycles.

5. Spectrographic analysis of the entire usable spectrum indicate no other known signals are present to produce intermodulation products at the interference frequency.

6. In our opinion the interference is being generated and propagated in a manner entirely foreign to the current start of the art

We are, of course, extremely sorry to advise you we have exhausted all possible means of locating and/or identifying this interfering signal. Please extend our sincere appreciation to members of your engineering staff who cooperated during our tests.

Very truly yours,
Thomas F. Hadley, President
Hadley Consulting Engineers

News Item, Templeton Daily Star May 11, 1958.

Washington FCC engineers together with officials of an independent consulting engineering firm admitted today that no solution is in sight to the mysterious interference which has distorted ninety percent of the TV screens in greater Templeton for the past ten days.

The consulting firm was brought in by WKOO-TV on May 7 after local and Washington FCC officials were unable to find the strange signal. Mr. Thomas Hadley, head of the firm, today expressed the belief the unusual distortion is being and sent out by some method not known to radio engineers and for this reason his engineers were unable to offer a solution to the problem.

Godfrey Smith, general manager of WKOO-TV said he expected the FCC as well as the FBI to continue full-scale investigations until the interference was found and eliminated. He reiterated his original belief that the cause of the trouble is very likely an amateur radio sending set. Experts have discounted this theory however, pointing out that such a signal could easily be tracked down by conventional means. Reports that the strange signal is emanating from outer space were also discounted by the experts, although it was later admitted that no evidence is at hand to discount this theory.

A survey by the Star indicates approximately 150,000 of the 200,000 TV sets in the area are unable to receive a clear picture from WKOO-TV because of the interference. Just prior to press time WKOO-TV increased to $1000, 00 the reward offered for information leading to the source of the interference,

Author’s note: During the period from May 11, 1958 and late June 1958, no progress was made in tracking down the interference. Newspaper items on the topic continued together with many reader comments but most of this material was repetitious and is not included here, in the interest of brevity. It has been verified in early June 1958, the Central Intelligence Agency issued a top secret report which was later sent in modified form to Godfrey Smith. The essence of the report was direct and chilling: The top electronic minds in the nation were baffled by the Templeton interference and no immediate solution was expected.

The complete CIA report has never been released and it now appears doubtful that it ever will be when one considers the final outcome of the Templeton case.

Letter From Godfrey Smith, General Manager WKOO-TV July 1, 1958.

Federal Communications Commission
Washington D. C.


At a WKOO-TV stockholders meeting held this morning it was unanimously voted that WKOO-TV request permission from your office to discontinue operations effective August 1, 1958. This request is contingent on the continuance of the interference condition of which the Commission is aware. As a matter of record we herewith citing the facts in support of this request:

    1. Strong and uninterrupted co-channel interference on Channel 2 has reduced primary and secondary coverage of WKOO-TV from 35 to 50 miles to approximately four miles. This interference began on May 1, 1958 and all attempts to locate and eliminate the source have failed. The Commission’s engineering staff as well as independent engineering firms have participated in this search without success.
    2. WKOO-TV’s receiver penetration has been reduced from approximately 212,000 to less than 30,000. A detailed audit of this survey as well as interference contour maps are attached as exhibits.
    3. WKOO-TV has lost 90% of normal advertising revenue as a result of this decreased coverage. Inasmuch as we enjoy no network affiliation, this loss in income cannot be subsidized.

Our attorney, Mr. Benjamin Farley has requested an early hearing with the Commission and we respectfully request the Commission grant this hearing as soon as possible.

Very truly yours,
Godfrey L. Smith
General Manager

News Item. Intercontinental News Service. Washington D. C. July 29, 1958.

Washington. In unprecedented action, the FCC today authorized television station WKOO-TV in Templeton to discontinue operations effective August 1, 1958. This action was requested by WKOO-TV as a result of mysterious co-channel interference on Channel 2 which began on May 1. All efforts to locate the interference have failed. FCC engineering staff as well as the FBI and the CIA are continuing full-scale investigations into the interference but WKOO-TV officials declared loss of revenue due to greatly reduced coverage made curtailment of operations necessary. The FCC action was contingent upon continuance of the interference and approval has been granted WKOO-TV to resume operation upon elimination of the mysterious signal.

The FCC had earlier suggested that WKOO-TV shift from Channel 2 to Channel 5. Mr. Benjamin Farley, counsel for WKOO-TV rejected this suggestion on the grounds that the financial burden for such a change could not be borne by WKOO-TV at this time. Farley also stated that until the exact source of the interference could be determined, WKOO-TV had no assurance a shift in channels would not also result in a shift in the interfering signal. This inference by Farley that the interference was of a deliberate man-made nature was not challenged by the FCC.

Officials of the FBI and CIA declined to comment on the progress being made on the search for the interference. A reliable government spokesman again discounted the widespread belief that the signal is originating in outer space. The same official admitted however, that no evidence is at hand to refute this theory.

WKOO-TV has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to detection and elimination of the interference.

Author’s Note: August 1, 1958 was a day of joy for the ham population of Templeton. However the lure of $10,000 was strong and almost every ham and technician within several hundred miles became a searcher. With WKOO-TV off the air the interference could be chased with less confusion by even the most inexperienced…..Channel 2 Yagi antennas sprouting out of cars became a common sight on the streets and countryside of Templeton. The local ham club printed up copies of a simple Channel 2 converter that could be fed into a car radio. Sales of meters for signal strength indicators boomed at the local parts houses. Aside from the search aspect, other interesting developments were recorded. An application was filed for a new FM station. The city’s three movie houses enjoyed a substantial rise in attendance while the Templeton Electric and Gas Company noted a seven percent decrease in kilowatt-hour consumption. TV technicians turned to hi-fi and appliance servicing and grouped together to offer an additional $1000 reward. Several Sunday sermons hinted at intervention by divine providence. Statistics released by the city’s industries cited a four percent decrease in morning tardiness. And, of course, ham activity blasted the bands unmolested night and day as unshielded and unfiltered rigs were dragged out of cellars and attics and fired up.

News Item, Templeton Daily Star August 15, 1958

BULLETIN: TV INTERFERENCE STOPS! WKOO-TV TO RESUME OPERATIONS IMMEDIATELY! Godfrey Smith, General Manager of WKOO-TV confirmed today that his station would resume telecasting within 48 hours as a result of the cessation of the interference which forced the station off the air on August 1. No details could be obtained from Smith concerning the location and elimination of the weird problem but Smith assured reporters that the problem had been taken care of. Local FCC and FBI officials were not immediately available for comment but indications are that full details will not be made public for some time.

Author’s Note: A careful search of all published material relevant to the Templeton case indicates no official statement was ever issued explaining why or how the interference was located and stopped. It is known that the FBI tapped Godfrey Smith’s home telephone, however, and an undisclosed source disclosed that the following message was taped on the night of August 2, 1958:

“The interference will stop for five minutes at 9 o’clock tonight. I can eliminate it permanently but the reward must be increased to $25,000. Send it to Drawer 34, Berne International Bank, Switzerland. When the money is deposited, the interference will disappear permanently.”

It is a matter of record that that Smith did turn on his field strength meter at 8:57 P.M. At 9 o’clock the meter reading dropped from 6700 microvolts to zero and remained there for five minutes, after which the signal again came on.

It is also known that Jerome Lindsay Barnes, ex-chief engineer of WKOO-TV, checked into the Grand Bahama Hotel, Nassau, B. W. I. On August 10, 1958. Barnes (BSEE University of Chicago 1939.), former mainstay of the local v.h.f. ham club, spent two months at the Grand Bahama Hotel and then dropped out of sight. No trace of him has since been found.The hotel maid who cleaned his suite after his disappearance came across the cover of what appeared to be a folder of some type. It was bright red and had black, bold lettering which read:


A Study of Gaussian Abstractions Leading to a Non-Detectable v.h.f. Radiation System. By J. L. Barnes, MIT Radiation Labs, June 1942.

Single Copy – Do Not Remove From Files

Beneath the title was a short hand-written note in faded blue ink,

“Impractical —- Godfrey Smith, Assistant Secretary of War for Advanced Projects.”