By: Mark Abrams
It was another day in 1984 when the FCC announced the window to apply for exclusive 800MHz radio spectrum (channels) to be able to operate our radio systems to be able to serve clients who needed to use dispatch radios. All advanced radio systems require the use of exclusive spectrum, so having this spectrum is worth its weight in gold. In order to be able to provide the quality radio communications that our customers demand, we needed to apply for the spectrum during the filing window that was about to open.
In the past, there were many opportunities to obtain exclusive radio channels, just as there were many opportunities to obtain exclusive oil wells inexpensively. Over 140 years ago, it was possible to walk down the prairie in Texas and find oil bubbling out of the ground. All of those locations were taken over 100 years ago. There were many locations where one could strike oil with only a small amount of drilling. All of those locations were found a long time ago. Now if you want to find oil, you need to spend huge amounts of money to locate potential oil reserves underground, then spend even more money to drill for the oil. Sometimes you end up with a dry hole and sometimes you strike oil. The same is true with radio spectrum.
Most of the easy ways to get exclusive channels had been used in previous years and in major cities, it was impossible to obtain exclusive channels. Although largely true, whenever the FCC would release new channels to the public, all you had to do was to stand there with your hand out (which was done by preparing and filing license applications) to have a chance of getting some of the exclusive channels that were being issued to the lucky ones who would get the license. This time, the licenses were all being handed out by a lottery. All the license applications that were received on the first day would be considered for the lottery which was conducted by the FCC. The greater the number of license applications that we were able to submit, the greater the chance that we would be able to obtain a license. The FCC would allow each applicant to submit only one application per market area which was defined as being more than 40 miles from any other application submitted by the same applicant. Since there are only certain specific radio sites that would provide the coverage we needed to provide, it was necessary to analyze the landscape to determine how to maximize our chance of obtaining a new license.
It is said that there are no exclusive channels available to obtain on Los Angeles as well as other major cities around the US. This statement is largely true unless you understand the mechanism of obtaining and maintaining exclusive channels. When a filing window opens where the FCC allows the filing of licenses for exclusive channels, there is no guarantee that a license will be obtained. What is a guarantee is that if you do not apply for the license, you will not get a license. However, when you do apply, sometimes you get one and sometimes you do not. It is like purchasing a lotto ticket except for the fact that the odds of winning are far better because there are far fewer people participating in the filing window. If one does their homework properly, keeps their ear to the ground and submits the proper paperwork on time and pays the filing fees, the chances that one would get a license are pretty good. The license you get may not be your first choice of locations that provide radio coverage into certain areas, but it is better than not getting a license at all.
Today was the day to fly to Washington DC to facilitate filing the license applications. It was springtime on a Thursday around 11:30AM when I needed to leave the office to catch my plane which was departing LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) at 12:30PM. So I finished loading all of the items into my car and sped off to the airport to catch my flight. The airport has just completed its expansion to accommodate the traffic from the 1984 Olympics that was anticipated to occur in just 2-3 months. I was busy with many last-minute items that needed to be handled prior to my departure which brought me to the point where I did not have any spare time to reach the airport and board my flight.
During the previous 2 months, I had consulted with various Johnson radio dealers in the Southern California area and had come to an agreement with them to have me take their license applications to Washington DC with me so that I could file them at the same time that I filed my license applications. Everyone agreed to share the costs of the trip which had other items that needed to be resolved prior to submitting the license applications. For one thing, none of us were certain how to fill out the application because there had been some changes in the rules. It was imperative to spend some time investigating the proper way to fill out the forms before they could be completed.
I was finally on my way to the airport. I had packed a suitcase the night before and had loaded into the car before leaving the house and heading to the office. I had our license applications for the new licenses filled out as completely as I knew how to do them. I also had the license applications from the other Johnson radio dealers that were partially filled out for the same reason. The FCC was using the old form #400 which was a 8.5” x 11” form which had the top half of the form with the original and 6 copies using carbon paper fully assembled into a neat package. The form needed to be filled out using a typewriter, so I brought one with me to be able to complete the forms. I also had a file box with our forms and the forms from the other radio dealers. Lastly, I had my attaché case with certain office supplies including paper to take notes, both White Out and Correct Type to make corrections on the forms, additional blank forms and anything else I could think of to bring with me to be able to handle whatever was thrown at me. So I drove to the airport by taking the 91 Freeway west from our office to the Interstate 405 north and exited at Century Blvd, the main entrance to the airport. I proceeded west on Century Blvd and about the time I reached the Marriott Hotel on Century Blvd, traffic came to a complete halt.
I was 5 minutes from the airport under normal circumstances. My flight time was 30 minutes from now which meant that I was in serious trouble. I had to come up with a plan to get around the traffic and get into the airport and I needed to do it immediately. Every second that passed by brought me closer to the disaster of missing my flight. If I missed the flight, I had no way of knowing if I would be able to get another flight that day or the next day. My plans would be in ruins and this could jeopardize not only my license applications, but all the license applications that I was taking with me to Washington from the other radio dealers. Failing to get on the plane could mean that none of us would get any licenses which would prevent us from being able to install the radio systems that would allow us to conduct business and sell radios to our potential customers. With all of the incidental and consequential losses, this could cost us and the other radio dealers tens of millions of dollars. I felt like I was living a nightmare and that I could not wake up from it. I had to come up with a solution and it needed to be now, not 30 seconds from now.
I considered everything that I knew about the airport and decided that I needed to head towards the 96th street entrance to the airport. This was the only alternative to the Century Blvd entrance to the airport. I did not know what was wrong with traffic and I did not have the time to find out what caused the problem. What I had to do was to immediately get off of Century Blvd by turning north on Airport Blvd at the end of the Marriott hotel and proceed north 2 blocks to 96th Street. I turned left on 96th Street and proceeded west until I reached Sepulveda Blvd. I needed to cross Sepulveda which was the main north-south street in the area and it was 3 busy lanes wide in each direction. The traffic on Sepulveda was mostly stopped just like the traffic on Century Blvd, so whatever was the problem was affecting both streets. The northbound lanes were sparsely occupied while the southbound lanes were jammed. This indicated that the problem was somewhere around the place where Century Blvd crossed Sepulveda Blvd. So I pulled out into the street crossing the northbound lanes while dodging the small amount of northbound traffic and proceeded to wedge my way through the bumper to bumper cars that were stopped in the southbound lanes. One lane at a time I managed to cut my way through the line of cars heading south and eventually managed to get through the traffic to the other side of the street. 96th Street was fairly jammed with vehicles on the west side of the street attempting to get into the airport just like I was trying to do. I inched my way into the airport and finally managed to join the main traffic loop that goes around the airport passing all of the terminals. I was flying out of Terminal 4 and I was at Terminal 1 which is diagonally across the airport from my destination. I looked at my watch and saw that I had about 17 minutes to flight time. In my estimation, if I stayed in my car, I would not get to Terminal 4 before it was too late so I decided to pull into the first parking lot which was for Terminal 1 and take the first parking spot I could locate. Parking in the airport is expensive and I would be leaving my car for several days, but this was of no consideration at this point. I got out of the car, grabbed my suitcase, attaché case, file box and typewriter and proceeded to run across the airport towards terminal 4. Carrying the four items was difficult. My suitcase did not have rollers as this was not something that was common in 1984. I carried my attaché case in one hand with the file box under my left arm. I carried my suitcase in my right arm with the typewriter under my right arm. Getting everything into position and being able to run was difficult and exhausting. I would run for as long as I could and then slow down to a fast walk to rest. Occasionally I would reach a traffic light and I would have to find ways to avoid standing and waiting to cross the intersection by ignoring the walk signals. I kept plugging along until I reached Terminal #4 where my airline was located.
Now I ran into the terminal to get to the check-in counter and I spotted the entrance line for my airline. It was backed up with at least 50 people in line. I looked at my watch and noted that I was 5 minutes from flight time so I flagged down the first person I could find from the airline and told him of my predicament. He instructed me to give him my suitcase and RUN to the terminal where I could check in at the gate with the gate agent. This was 17 years before 9-11 when there was no airport security to get through between the airport entrance and the gates. I simply had to run as fast as I could down the underground tunnel, head up the escalator into the satellite terminal building and continue over to the gate which was the furthest gate from the escalator. I arrived at the gate completely exhausted and out of breath to find the gate agent was still there, the door to the gangway closed and all the passengers for the flight already on the plane. She quickly processed my ticket and gave me a seat assignment, opened up the door to the gangway and told me to run down to the plane. It was a long gangway with two different turns and when I finally was able to see the plane, the door was in the middle of being closed by the airplane crew. I yelled at the crew, “STOPPPP!” as the door was within inches of being completely closed. They reversed direction and opened the door while I flew into the cabin with my attaché case, typewriter and file folder file box. The plane was completely full and so were the overhead bins, so I had to figure out how to cram all 3 items under the center seat while I sat next to two large men who were overflowing the aisle and window seats leaving me in a squeeze in the coach section towards the back of the plane. I felt like a sardine crammed into a small can where I sat for the next 5 hours of the flight. I was immensely uncomfortable, but I did not care. I was on the plane heading to Washington and I had saved the project and avoided the inevitable consequences of failure, or at least so I thought at the time.
The plane arrived in Washington National Airport where I proceeded to disembark and head to baggage claim. The question in my mind was whether or not I was going to have my suitcase or if I was going to have to wear the same clothes tomorrow. As I arrived at baggage claim, I found the correct carousel and waited for the bags to start arriving on the carousel. Bag after bag arrived and when I was totally convinced that my bad did not make it onto the plane, my bag showed up! Hallelujah! So now it was time to head over to the car rental agency and pick up my car so that I could drive to my hotel. I had never been to Washington DC before so I was completely unfamiliar with the local driving conditions and the roads. So I got a map of Washington DC from the rental agency and they assisted me in finding my hotel on the map. I was trying to keep the trip as economical as possible, so I booked a inexpensive hotel that was close to the part of town where I had business appointments the next day. What I did not know was that although this part of town was very busy with commerce during the day, it was a very questionable part of town at nighttime. (The room was booked for Thursday and Friday nights at which time I was supposed to leave Washington and head for Gettysburg.) I pulled into the underground parking lot for the hotel where the parking attendant took my car. The lot was very crowded and the valet had to jockey vehicles to get all of the cars parked. So I gave him the car keys, took my items and proceeded to head to the lobby where I was to check into the hotel. The hotel was a bit on the dumpy side, but I was not in a position to find another place to stay. So I checked into the hotel and brought my stuff up to the room. It was now about 10PM, so I was ready to go to bed after I got something to eat. There was no restaurant in the hotel and this was not a good neighborhood in which to walk around at night, so I had a snack from the convenience counter and that was my dinner. I then got myself organized for the next day and before I went to sleep, I called the wife to tell her that I arrived OK and discuss what had happened on the way to the airport. I explained to her where she could find my car and that she needed to go to the airport and retrieve the vehicle to avoid the high parking fees. So the next day, she retrieved the car from the airport..
The next morning was a new day. I had a Friday morning appointment at 8AM with Lew Goldman, my FCC attorney who had his office about 10 blocks away. I left the room in the morning to get some breakfast at the local restaurant and was ready to head out for my first appointment by 7:40AM which I thought was plenty of time. When I went downstairs to the parking lot, I found that the car was buried in the lot and it would take the valet at least one hour to get my car out of the garage. I could not wait for him to free my vehicle, so I proceeded to walk to my appointment which was about a 10 minute walk. So I proceeded to hoof it to my meeting to discuss the various aspects of the license filings and get his professional opinion as to what needed to be done. My meeting lasted about one hour at which point I was heading for my next meeting at NABER (National Association of Business and Educational Radio) to get their input as to how to complete the forms. After meeting with them for about 2 hours, it was time for me to find a place to have lunch. After having a decent lunch, I headed for the subway to make my way over to SIRSA (Special Industrial Radio Service Association which eventually changed their name to Industrial Telecommunications Association and then merged with another firm to become the Enterprise Wireless Association which is its current name) to consult with them to get their ideas as to the correct way to fill out the license applications. It was a 10 minute ride on the on the Washington Metro to my stop and another 15 minute walk over to the SIRSA offices. I met with SIRSA personnel to discuss the license filing and got their input on the correct way to fill out the forms. After a 90 minute meeting with them, I headed back to the Metro and took the train back to the area where my hotel was located. I had time to see one more coordinator, so I went over to AAA (the automotive emergency frequency coordinator) and spent about one hour talking with their personnel. I left there and headed back to the hotel to drop off all of my attaché case and then found a place to have dinner. After dinner, I retired to my room to start working on the license applications. I had approximately 35 applications and it would take me 30-45 minutes per application to finish each application. I worked on the applications until 11PM at which time I needed to go to sleep. I called the valet to inform him that I would need my car at 8AM the next morning so that he would have sufficient time to get the car out of the maze of cars in the underground lot. Hopefully I would be able to leave at 8AM as planned.
I was up at 6AM Saturday morning and got dressed and ready to leave by packing up the suitcase, attaché case, typewriter and file box. I called the valet to verify that I would be able to get my car by 8AM. I went downstairs and out of the hotel to find a place for a quick breakfast. Afterwards, I went back to the room to gather my belongings, head to the front desk to check out of the hotel and head down to the car. The valet took about 5 minutes before he was able to finish extricating my vehicle from the quagmire that existed in the garage. Now I was on the road to Gettysburg, Pa where the FCC licenses had to be filed. The office was closed for the weekend and would open at 8AM on Monday morning, so I had plenty of time to complete the license applications and be there Monday morning to file the applications or so I thought. Time would prove me to be wrong.
I left the valet and drove up the driveway to the street. I turned onto the street and proceeded to head towards the Arlington Bridge that crosses over the Potomac River. As I headed towards the bridge, traffic appeared to be having some problems. The closer I got to the bridge, the worse traffic appeared to be moving. It got so bad that I decided it was time to find another route. So I consulted the map and decided to take the George Mason Memorial Bridge. It took about 45 minutes of maneuvering to get over towards the bridge at which time it became apparent that this bridge was equally tied up. So I meandered around Washington DC trying to find a way out of the city. Eventually, I found another bridge to get me over the Potomac River so that I could head to Gettysburg. Thus far I have spent almost 2 hours being caught up in traffic before I was able to get out of the city. The net result is that the 1:45 minute ride to Gettysburg was now going to be almost 4 hours. So I proceeded to work my way to Gettysburg and eventually arrived in town. I checked into the Holiday Inn where I had a reservation for the next two days. I took my suitcase, typewriter, file box and attaché case into the room where I proceeded to work on the license applications.
I had plenty of work to do, but I thought that it would be a good idea to get the lay of the land while it was still daylight so that I was not confused when it was time to file the applications at the FCC. So I got into the car and proceeded to find the FCC office in Gettysburg. I noticed that Motorola had their FCC license liaison office in the same building as the FCC. This was unexpected. I knew that they had an office in Gettysburg, but not in the same building. I then drove around town and found Gettysburg College. Since I was going to need to make copies of all the license applications once they were finished, I thought that I should investigate the library at the college to see if they have copiers available to make the copies that I needed. I found the machines and they were coin operated which meant that I needed to get a supply of dimes to make the copies that I needed to make. I also noted the operating hours for the library and then left to get some dinner. After dinner, it was back to the hotel to work on the license applications.
I arrived at the hotel and went directly to my room. There was still plenty of work to do on each of the license applications. Since the forms had an original and 6 copies, making mistakes was not a good idea and would cause considerable delays correcting the mistake, so I had to take it slow while working on the upper portion of the license application form that had the multiple copies. The lower portion of the form was only one copy, so a mistake was considerably easier to fix. I continued to work on the applications until midnight when it was time to crawl into bed and go to sleep. I was up by 7AM on Sunday morning and proceeded to get ready for the day. After showering, I got dressed and had something for breakfast, then proceeded to work on the license applications. I continued working on them while snacking on a sandwich for lunch and into dinner time. Since the college library closed at 8PM, I needed to leave the hotel room with the applications that had been completed around 6PM so that I would have time to copy everything that I had finished. I spent almost 2 hours in the library at the copy machine and finished copying everything that I had finished. However, there still were many applications that had yet to be completed and now the library was closed. This presented a problem of getting the balance of the applications copied before they were filed. I returned to the hotel and talked to the front desk about using their copy machine. They had a small copier that would not handle the copy job that I needed. I asked them if they knew about any other hotel that would have a larger machine. The manager said that we would check with the other hotels and find out what was available and then call me in my room. So I went upstairs and proceeded to go back to work on the license applications. The hotel manager called to tell me he had located a copier that would handle my job and gave me the information as to how to get there and who to see when I arrived there. So I continued to work on the license applications until about 2AM when I finished the last of the applications. Now I had to head over to the other hotel to make the copies of the license applications for our records.
There were three important reasons for having the copies of the license applications. The FCC would stamp our copies of the license applications so that we had a “certified” receipt that they received the application in case something went wrong and the application was lost. This way, we could prove that the license application had been properly filed and there would be a way to recover from any mistake on the part of the FCC. It also served as proof to the other radio dealers that I did my job as promised and we had a copy of the application to reference in case we received a call from the FCC with questions about the application.
Now I was at the other hotel making copies of the applications. I was there until about 3:45AM Monday morning when I finished. I then had to pay the hotel for the use of the copy machine and head back to my hotel to get about 2 hours of sleep before I had to get up to head over to the FCC to file the applications. Oversleeping was not an option, so I set the alarm clock in the room and I also had the front desk give me a wake-up call at 6AM. This would give me about 20 minutes to wake up and get dressed and 10 minutes to get over to the FCC for the filing of the license applications.
I went to sleep within minutes. When the alarm clock went off, I was in a deep sleep and was having a difficult time waking up. The wake-up call from the front desk helped considerably at which time I got out of bed and got into the shower. The shower helped wake me up and become coherent. I got dressed and headed out to the car where the license applications and copies were located. I drove over to the FCC office and arrived around 6:30AM at which point I brought the applications into the waiting room with me and began the wait for the FCC to open and start accepting the applications. Around 7AM, a man entered the waiting room with an entire cart full of license applications. He was with the Motorola license liaison office and he brought all the license applications that their office had prepared on behalf of Motorola and their customers. It was an impressive batch of license applications. When he spotted me in the waiting room, he asked me, “Who are you?” I replied that I was number 1 and that he was number 2. That said it all.
We both waited until 8AM at which time Rich Fesser from the FCC came out to announce that they were now accepting applications for the 800MHz reserve pool of frequencies. I stepped forward and one by one, I submitted my applications while having them stamp each application copy after logging in each application. My job was done and it was time to go back to the hotel and get some more sleep. Two hours of sleep was a bit insufficient, so I was happy to return to the hotel, go to my room and crawl into bed. I quickly closed my eyes and started inspecting the inside of my eye lids when the world ceased to exist for the next 3 hours. After the additional sleep, I was a bit more coherent and now felt capable of driving from Gettysburg back to Washington National airport as it was time to pack up and head back to Washington DC to catch my flight to Los Angeles. I gathered my clothes and packed the suitcase. I closed up the typewriter, grabbed my attaché case and the file box and proceeded to load everything into the car. I then went to the front desk and checked out of the hotel.
The drive back to Washington DC was somewhat uneventful if you ignore the traffic. Los Angeles has the worst traffic in the country, so the traffic here was potentially irritating, but it was less than the traffic that I was accustomed to handling in Los Angeles. So, I continued my trek back to the airport. My flight was scheduled for 5PM, so I had plenty of time to get to the airport even if there were roads that were completely tied up in traffic.
I arrived at the airport, turned in the rental car and checked in with the airline. I leisurely strolled over to the gate, stopping at the bar to relax and have one drink to relax me for the airline flight. Since I had checked in early, I got a decent aisle seat with plenty of room for the return flight. The plane took off on time and arrived on time at LAX. My wife greeted me at the gate and we headed towards baggage claim. We continued to wait for my baggage to arrive, but to no avail. So now I had to file a claim with the airline for a missing bag. We went home which took us about 45 minutes and when we arrived, there was a message on our answering machine telling us that the bag had been found and that it would be delivered to us in the morning. I got ready for bed and retired early.
The next morning, I went to the office and reported to my partner that the mission was a success. I called the other radio dealers and notified them of the accomplishments and promised to have the file copies of the license applications sent off to them by the same day. So now I prepared the envelopes and proceeded to send each one of the dealers their respective envelope of license copies.
Now, all we could do was to wait for the FCC to take action . . . . . . . .