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Oral-History:Gunnar Pedersen

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About Gunnar Pedersen

Gunnar Pedersen
Gunnar Pedersen

Gunnar Pedersen was born on February 23, 1905 in Demark. Influenced by his father, a professor of weak current engineering, Pedersen studied weak current technology at the Polytechnic Lienstadt from 1923. After finishing his study, Pedersen stayed in England and then in Paris until he returned to Denmark in 1933. In Denmark, he worked for the Telegraph Administration and built short wave radio transmitter which would connect Denmark and the United States. Pederson became Bureau Chief in the General Directory in 1942. After World War II, he became involved in many international activities, including his participation in the 1947 conference in Atlantic City and the ’48-’49 Mexico City conference. In 1954, Pedersen became the Technical Director for the Post and Telegraph Service of Denmark, which was involved in all the public radio stations. As a radio expert, he ran the technical side for Denmark Radio and took charge of the studio engineering for radio broadcasting. From 1960 to 1975, he served as General Director of the Post and Telegraph Service.

Gunnar Pedersen was associated with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). He participated in numerous international conferences and was able to reach agreement between countries, despite the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The interview begins with Pedersen’s recollection of his father’s laboratory at home and a special club created by the eldest brother and his colleagues. Pedersen shares his experiences of studying with his father as a professor at the Polytechnic Lienstadt. Gunnar Pedersen discusses his career paths and describes his experiences as a radio expert before and during World War II, when the Germans took control of Danish radio station and broadcasting. He also talks about Lenguist Radio, whose beginning of broadcasting was commemorated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering. The interview concludes with the discussion of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and Pedersen’s activities in association with the organization.

About the Interview

GUNNAR PEDERSEN: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 11 July 1996

Interview # 298 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Gunnar Pedersen, an oral history conducted in 1996 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Gunnar Pedersen #298

INTERVIEWER: Frederik Nebeker

PLACE: Pedersen's Home in Hellerup, Denmark

DATE: 11 July 1996

NOTE: Gunnar Pedersen's daughter, Ann Crumlin Woelders was present during the oral history interview.

Father's laboratories

Pedersen:

I was very interested in the things I saw in the laboratory, which had been installed at our home, and at [unintelligible], it’s the Olympic Villa.

Nebeker:

Yes. There’s a picture of it in your autobiography.

Pedersen:

There my father had got arranged some very fine laboratories, considering the time, etc. And it was rather a large villa at the corner of Bureaus vej and Amalievej. And there was plenty of space. There was a big laboratory room where the fine instruments could be placed on the table in the center of the room. And the instruments were placed on a special table, which was not standing on the floor, but was suspended from above in order to avoid vibrations from foot steps. We had to have the finest measuring instruments. And therefore, the table was not standing on the floor, but was suspended on the roof.

Nebeker:

Right, the ceiling.

Pedersen:

Yes. And on the, the floor above was not used normally, but there was a very large wooden block. It was dimensions something like that.

Nebeker:

A foot by a foot.

Pedersen:

All the way through the room on the floor above.

Nebeker:

Right.

Pedersen:

Yes. And the table in the laboratory was hanging on…

Nebeker:

One these beams in the ceiling.

Pedersen:

Yes. On this beam.

Nebeker:

On the one beam.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

And that was because at that time you had no amplification possibilities, and therefore, to make measurements of weak currents you had to have very sensitive instruments, and therefore, it couldn’t be standing on the floor where people will walk.

Nebeker:

Yes, any motion would…

Pedersen:

Instead it was hanging on the floor above where no one came.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

I think that’s quite interesting.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

It’s a part of which you today do not consider at all necessary, because you can make things sensitive in many other ways.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

We had no amplification of any type. That was before the bounds were [unintelligible].

Nebeker:

Right.

Pedersen:

Weak currents were weak.

Nebeker:

Right, and you had to have extremely sensitive galvanometers.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Childhood and family; scientific club

Nebeker:

Just for the, for the tape, if we could get on the record that you were born the 23rd of February in 1905. Is that right?

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And so this was somewhere in the nineteen-teens that you had this laboratory?

Pedersen:

Yes. And my most active part in that. I don’t know what I can say about that. When can that have been? A special club was created. And I was the youngest member. But it was created by my eldest brother and his colleagues.

Nebeker:

I remember reading about that club in your, in your book.

Pedersen:

What have I said about that?

Nebeker:

Well you said that you prepared some talks for that club.

Pedersen:

Yes. I was a youngest member of it.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

But that was my brother Kai, then it was Ben Sunes , of Great Northern Company later. And Gunnar Larsen [spelling?], known for a special project during the War, and Gunnar Olsen was an architect. I think that was the rest of them. Have I written the names anywhere?

Nebeker:

Yes, I think it’s in the book. I’ve forgotten.

Pedersen:

Yes. But it was called then the Naturvidenskabelig Klub.

Nebeker:

The scientific club.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Did your father take an interest in the club?

Pedersen:

He may have taken an interest, but he certainly didn’t interfere with it in any way.

Nebeker:

Yes. And I know you wrote that he was very busy most of the time.

Pedersen:

Oh, yes, because it had meetings in two different places. One was Amagria. I’m not sure the address is correct. But that was Gunnar Larsen’s home.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

Efferschmit , you know. He had somewhat a sad end of his life because he got involved in political problems. I don’t know what. I don’t think I’ve written anything about that.

Nebeker:

I don’t know.

Pedersen:

No. But I will not really be quoted for that. But he was too kind to the Germans.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

Because a company, Efferschmit, which is a worldwide company nowadays.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

And the clock that was created at that time, I don’t give any details in the book?

Nebeker:

Well, you do talk a little bit about it, and you talk about two presentations you made.

Pedersen:

Because I was, of course, by far the youngest member. The rest were my brother Kai and his school comrades.

Nebeker:

I was wondering if you had a crystal radio when you were a boy. A crystal radio. You know, one of these radios you build yourself? Did you, did you have an interest in radio as youngster?

Pedersen:

At that time I was more interested in chemistry than in radio. I don’t remember exactly how the change from chemistry to radio came.

Nebeker:

It’s understandable, given what you father was doing.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Education, weak current engineering

Nebeker:

By the time you entered the polytechnic school, had you decided on radio weak current engineering?

Pedersen:

Yes. It must have been a clear understanding, since I chose the specialty for weak current technology.

Nebeker:

Right.

Pedersen:

Weak current technology we called it at that time.

Nebeker:

Yes. And I’m looking here. When did you enter the Polytechnic School? I don’t think it’s listed here.

Pedersen:

Oh, that, can we see into the notebook? [Exchange in Danish with Woelders]

Nebeker:

Because I know, as you write in your book, that Denmark was one of the first countries where weak current engineering was taught as a specialty.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes. I believe my father the first professor in that direction.

Nebeker:

Right. And I was, I was curious if you can remember what particular courses you took.

Pedersen:

[Exchange in Danish with Woelders] Weak current.

Nebeker:

Do you remember if, for example, you studied Maxwell’s equations? Where there courses on electrodynamic theory that were a large part of that?

Pedersen:

[Response in Dutch]

Nebeker:

Well, that’s okay. It’s a long time ago, I know.

Pedersen:

[Exchange in Danish with Woelders] Yes.

Woelders:

In 1923. And then I guess it was directly afterwards.

Nebeker:

So right after that. So you entered in 1923, probably in the fall of ’23.

Woelders:

Yes. And finished in ’29.

Pedersen:

As a matter of fact, now I am trying to remember my old days. I was originally more interested in chemical roles . And that may have been quite reasonable, considering that at our home we had very fine laboratory installed. And he had a lot of chemicals, and a special room was arranged for… [Exchange in Danish with Woelders]. No, no.

Nebeker:

So you, you went to the Polytechnic, The Technical University. The English term is difficult. The Polytechnic Laereranstalt .

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

It became the Technical University later.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And you got a degree in weak current engineering.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And that was 1929 you said there.

Pedersen:

That was the only place in Europe there was such a specialty, at the universities.

Nebeker:

Yes, I know it was, it was very early.

Pedersen:

And that is actually a factor which has, in my opinion, made, created a possibility for the other important Danish weak current industry. Radio, et cetera. Because it was the first place in Europe there was such a high level education for civil engineers.

Nebeker:

Do you recall if you used German textbooks when you were studying at the Polytechnic? It seemed like-- did you use German-- where, where some of the textbooks in German? I know that, it seems to me that Germany had a strong influence on Danish scientific and technical activity, at least up to World War II.

Pedersen:

Your impression is more definite than I remember, what I remember. I didn’t use any German books.

Nebeker:

Oh, is that right?

Pedersen:

But, well I have, of course, some of the books in here.

Nebeker:

Maybe we can take a look later.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Yes. I was, I was just curious about, about the exact education you got.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

Were there any teachers, any teachers, professors, you had in those years that you particularly remember? Ones, any of the professors who had a very strong influence on you?

Pedersen:

Well, of course, my father has been the main background for my interest in that field.

Nebeker:

So you took some classes from your father when you were there?

Pedersen:

Oh, yes. He was my teacher…

Nebeker:

The principal?

Pedersen:

Yes, in that field. Oh, yes, quite definitely. And I know there was a certain period when I was more interested in chemistry than in electrical engineering.

Early employment; telegraph service, short wave transmission

Nebeker:

You describe very nicely in your book your first jobs, the year roughly in England, and then moving to Paris. But something that you don’t describe in the book is when you return to Denmark in 1933, or maybe it was '32. You know, you returned to Denmark from Paris in 1933, I think it was.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And you don’t say anything about the work that you did in Denmark in the ‘30s up, up through…

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

I wondered if you could talk about that.

Pedersen:

Yes, that is quite simple, really, to explain. I was very quickly put on some jobs in the telegraph branch.

Nebeker:

Right, the telegraph branch.

Pedersen:

The head of technical services there, Kai Christiansen , accepted me with pleasure because it made it possible for him to build radio stations for establishing a direct service between Denmark and the United States.

Nebeker:

This is a telegraph service by radio, is that right?

Pedersen:

Yes. At that time.

Nebeker:

Was this short-wave radio?

Pedersen:

Short-wave, yes. I was put to building short-wave radio transmitters. And thereby the Danish Telegraph Service got a rather inexpensive radio station at Scanderpeg .

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

Yes, on Zeeland. They really, as far as I could guess, you know, they got a full benefit from having me doing that, because at that time the few commercial firms that could produce short-wave transmitters of large energy were [passage in Danish].

Woelders:

The few…

Nebeker:

The few companies that could produce these powerful short-wave transmitters, this was in the telegraph service?

Pedersen:

The Danish Telegraph Administration had good people, but they had no experience with the building of radio transmitters of high power for transmission to overseas.

Nebeker:

Right.

Pedersen:

And therefore, I was very welcome in the Danish Post Office. Yes, at that time it was telegraph, only telegraph.

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

Because I could build a transmitter and receiver for the communications between Denmark and United States. And that was my first job. And that was just what I happened to have experience with. And I had been building transmitters for transmissions between Spain and United States and other places, and I had all the data as to how to do it.

Nebeker:

And did that come about?

Pedersen:

Not because I was very clever, but because I had really been engaged with that project.

Nebeker:

I see. And so the Denmark, the Danish Telegraph Administration established a connection to the United States by this means?

Pedersen:

Yes, yes, and we built our own transmitters here.

Nebeker:

So before that, telegrams from Denmark had to go maybe by way of England and through the cable?

Pedersen:

Yes, or cables. And the cable companies were well organized and sharp financially. So it was a great saving to get the transmitters.

Nebeker:

Was that very soon after you started in 1933 that you built that transmitter?

Pedersen:

Yes, yes. And that was exactly what I liked and so that was it happened to be where I was a specialist.

Nebeker:

Were any other links established between Denmark and other countries by short-wave transmission, besides this one to the United States?

Pedersen:

It was, by far, the most important anyhow.

Nebeker:

It may have been there were cables to most of the other…

Pedersen:

Of course, in Europe we always had the cable connections. But with United States, it was a very lucrative service.

Nebeker:

Could I ask you about the telegraph service in general, because I know you’ve dealt with it for many years. In the United States, the telegraph business continued to grow through the 1920s and 1930s, and was still important in the 1940s.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

But then dropped off very fast…

Pedersen:

Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

...and has essentially disappeared. Western Union hardly exists.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

What was the pattern in Denmark? Was it still growing through the 30s and 40s, do you recall?

Pedersen:

I’m not quite sure.

Nebeker:

I suppose people would use telegraph for the long distance messages…

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

...because telephone wasn’t feasible to the United States, or for very long distances. But within Denmark, the telegraph business must have declined once the telephone was common.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

What other work did you do for the Telegraph Vaesen after you finished this short-wave transmitter? Do you recall some of the other things you did in the 1930s?

Pedersen:

[Unintelligible passage]

Nebeker:

So you worked for the Telegraph Administration throughout the 1930s.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Well from 1933 until 1942, when you became Bureau Chief in the General Directory.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Radio Technic Service, Danish Post and Telegraph

Nebeker:

Kontorchef General Directør, in 1942. But I’m just wondering about your work between 1933 and 1942, if you recall other things.

Pedersen:

[Exchange in Danish with Woelders] Oh. I was for many years I was in the Radio Technic Service of the Danish Post and Telegraph.

Nebeker:

What work did you do there? Do you recall?

Pedersen:

[Exchange in Danish with Woelders] Yes. At that time I was building radio transmitters for Scandobeck [spelling?] Radio.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

And that was exactly what I really had good knowledge of.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

That was my specialty, and the Danish Telegraph Service made full use of my knowledge.

Nebeker:

So that was…

Pedersen:

So instead of buying the radio transmitter at high prices, they asked me to build them. And I did, to put it very short. And I enjoyed it. It was wonderful.

Radio transmission during World War II

Nebeker:

What happened when the War came in 1939? I imagine there was German control of radio broadcasting after the German takeover. How did that influence your work?

Pedersen:

Oh, yes, it certainly did. In a very disagreeable way. They, of course, wanted to control everything, and I had designed and built the transmitters at Scandobeck, the main transmission station. And that was occupied by the Germans. Occupied, in that way they had officers out there controlling the traffic and saying what we were allowed to establish and what we were not.

Nebeker:

But it was still a Danish station, is that right?

Pedersen:

Yes, it was still a Danish station, Danish personnel, but there was…

Nebeker:

Control over what…

Pedersen:

Control, yes. And they lived out there, so they could follow everything that happened.

Nebeker:

How did it influence what you worked on in those war years?

Pedersen:

It reduced the technical work in connection with the Scandobeck Transmission Station.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

And that’s quite a complicated story.

Nebeker:

Uh huh. So you were still working on the short-wave transmission, short-wave transmitters.

Pedersen:

We did not build any new transmitters during that period.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

And the transmission station was occupied by German specialists. They wanted to make sure that all that was transmitted were under their control.

Nebeker:

Right, right.

Pedersen:

And we did not establish anything new in that period.

Nebeker:

Did you listen to BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, did you listen to BBC broadcasts during the War?

Pedersen:

Yes, we did, very much. And there were always good possibilities of getting it.

Nebeker:

Did the Germans try to interfere with that in any way? Did they try to jam those transmissions?

Pedersen:

Oh, yes, there was some, but we still had good possibilities. [Exchange in Danish with Woelders]

Nebeker:

Okay. So there were jamming stations, but you could still…

Pedersen:

There were interfering stations, of course.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

That was their problem.

Bureau Chief appointment, 1942; WWII effects

Nebeker:

How did the war affect the Telegraph Vaesen? How did it influence your work there? You were at that time-- it says in this biographical sketch that in 1942, you became Kontorchef General Directør.

Pedersen:

Yes. And that was more paperwork. That was issuing transmission permission sets and things like that.

Nebeker:

Were the Germans watching everything that went on?

Pedersen:

Oh, yes, they certainly did.

Nebeker:

What about telephone or telegraph connections to England or elsewhere? Were those watched by the Germans?

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Private?

Pedersen:

Oh, yes, definitely. But we didn’t always know how effective it was. But I’m sure that they had several people placed there for listening.

Nebeker:

I see. Now you wrote very nicely in your book about the problem with these transmitting tubes, these electron tubes that were in short supply, because you had gotten them from England before the war, and then they were not available, of course, during the war.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And your efforts to get them immediately after the War.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

You went to England. And that’s a very interesting story.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

What else do you recall of your work after the War? What happened as far as your work was concerned? Do you recall?

Pedersen:

Well I got rather involved in the international coordination of radio frequencies. That was very important because all the different countries had developed up their own policy for using radio waves. And that started in ’47 with the large conference in Atlantic City, where everything which had happened during the war had to be taken up and coordinated in an orderly way. And there I was rather involved.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

I was chairman of one of the most important working groups.

Technical Directorship, Post and Telegraph Service, 1954-1960

Nebeker:

You were Technical Director for the Post and Telegraph Service before you became General Director. You were Technical Director, what was it, 1954 to 1960? Let’s see if that’s right.

Pedersen:

Oh, yes. [statement in Danish]

Nebeker:

Yes, that looks right. In 1954 you became the Technical Director.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Now was that Technical Director also for the Post Service? Were you also looking at the new technologies?

Pedersen:

May I see what is written there?

Nebeker:

Yes. Let’s see, it says, “[Danish phrase], 1954.”

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

I wondered if you also had responsibility for the new technologies in postal service.

Pedersen:

Oh, yes, I did.

Nebeker:

Because there was a period when they were starting to mechanize sorting of letters and…

Pedersen:

Yes, more mechanical things.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

But the Postal Service is not so technically based as the data communication part.

General Directorship, Post and Telegraph Servic, 1960-1975

Nebeker:

Right. Yes, you say in your book that it was unusual for the General Director, not usual that the Director, the General Director of the Post and Telegraph came from the radio side.

Pedersen:

Oh, yes.

Nebeker:

It usually was someone from the Postal Services.

Pedersen:

Yes, that had never happened before.

Nebeker:

Did that cause any problems? I mean, did you gain enough understanding of the postal side?

Pedersen:

There were some problems, but they all disappeared. I did all I could to present myself to the two hundred or two hundred and fifty, postmasters in the country. I made a personal visit to all of them. I could take three or four a day and, yes, possibly more. So they all knew me personally. I think that was quite important.

Radio broadcasting

Nebeker:

For the sake of people not familiar with Denmark, could you explain why the Post and Telegraph Service dealt with radio? I mean, radio was used for this Telegraph Service.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

But there were other reasons that the Post and Telegraph Administration was involved in radio. Isn’t that right?

Pedersen:

I don’t-- did you get that? [several exchanges in Danish with Woelders]

Nebeker:

So the Danish Post and Telegraph Service was involved in all the public radio stations, is that right?

Pedersen:

Yes. The transmission of news and music and all of that …

Nebeker:

All the broadcasting.

Pedersen:

That was all our responsibility.

Nebeker:

I see, so Denmark Radio, you were sort of the technical side.

Pedersen:

We ran the technical side for Denmark Radio.

Nebeker:

I see. Therefore, all of the developments in radio engineering in all that period, that was part of your job.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes. It has been changed during the years and Denmark Radio, the other side of the broadcasting, has taken over more and more of the purely technical problems.

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

And that is a natural development.

Nebeker:

So today, is the Post and Telegraph Service involved in radio broadcasting?

Pedersen:

Yes. The broadcasting stations are run by P and T.

Nebeker:

Oh, I see. They still are.

Pedersen:

The purely technical side of it.

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

But the microphone and all that, that belongs to Denmark Radio.

Nebeker:

So the transmission side, but not the studio side.

Pedersen:

That has changed, but in the beginning and in most of my time, we established the studios.

Nebeker:

Oh, also.

Pedersen:

But now I think we have nothing to do with that.

Television transmission and standards

Nebeker:

And when television came to Denmark, it was Denmark Radio that brought television.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes. We established the transmission stations, as we did-- whether it was sound or sight.

Nebeker:

It was still P & T that did the broadcasting stations there.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

You say something in your book about the discussions in Europe to arrive at a single television standard.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

There was hope that there would be a single standard for all of Europe.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Do you recall Denmark’s position?

Woelders:

Was that PAL  and Seacam?

Woelders:

There were different systems on the television side and different systems also in Denmark.

Pedersen:

No. At the beginning, we had the responsibility for the television from the cameras, et cetera. But nowadays, the P & T is only interested in the transmission over the stations.

Woelders:

[Danish passages exchanged with Pedersen]

Nebeker:

Yes, go ahead, please.

History of Danish sound broadcasting and broadcasting studios, 1930s

Pedersen:

In the beginning of the history of broadcasting, it was rather important that the P & T was responsible also for the acoustical side of the broadcasting, sound broadcasting.

Nebeker:

Right.

Pedersen:

And that meant that I had to measure the reverberation time for sound waves in studios.

Nebeker:

I see. That was part of your job in the 1930s?

Pedersen:

Yes, yes I was quite interesting. That’s a rather special technical problem.

Nebeker:

Right, I know there are studio engineers…

Pedersen:

Yes, and at a certain time, there was a lot of discussion going on here in Copenhagen just because opinions about good studio technique were quite divided. And the public took great interest in that question.

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

And there were some people who thought they were the real specialists, and others who were the real specialists, and they didn’t agree. And that was very important at that time. But now, I think it’s technically clear that much of the argument is of no value anymore.

Nebeker:

So you would go to a studio and measure the reverberation in that…

Pedersen:

Yes, yes. That is a question of reverberation time for studios, and how to arrange the radio studio. What type of walls…

Nebeker:

Hangings, yes.

Pedersen:

… and all that sort of thing.

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

The public took a great interest in that, but it has died out because now it’s quite clear how it should be done.

Nebeker:

Were there many broadcasting studios in Denmark in the 1930s?

Pedersen:

Well, no, not really many, because they were all run by the Stats Radio Company.

Nebeker:

Right.

Pedersen:

But there were, oh, I can’t remember, perhaps ten or fifteen studios.

Nebeker:

It must have been in different cities as well.

Pedersen:

In different cities, in the province.

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

So you would look at these different studios.

Pedersen:

And I was rather involved in this at a certain time, yes.

Nebeker:

Yes, that was a very important area of engineering, I know, in the United States, the studio engineering, for radio broadcasting.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Were you also involved in selection of microphones?

Pedersen:

No, not so much. No, I don’t think that was so involved. But the way to make the studios, what the walls should be made of, how they should be constructed and placed, that was important.

Nebeker:

Yes. Thank you.

Woelders:

[Comments in Danish.]

Lyngby Radio

Nebeker:

I wanted to ask about Lyngby Radio.

Pedersen:

Lyngby Radio, yes.

Nebeker:

That has a special interest for the organization I’m with, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, because a couple of years ago we placed a plaque commemorating the beginning of broadcasting at Lyngby Radio.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And you said that you had connections with that radio station.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

What do you recall?

Pedersen:

Well, of course, Lyngby Radio was erected for Valdemar Poulsen and my father, and it was operated for a very long time. It was an experimental station for Valdemar Poulsen and operated for several years. I can’t remember the number of years, but it was when the Poulsen System was trying to place itself in the world market. And a lot of people came to Lyngby. It was actually one of the more effective radio stations at that time. There’s no doubt about that. But then came the World War, and then it was occupied by the authorities. Since then, it has been a state property and operated for the Telegraph Service. But it has a very important background. It was one of the early stations for the Poulsen System.

Nebeker:

Did you ever go to that station with your father, do you recall?

Pedersen:

Yes, I quite often went there. And I remember we took the train to Lyngby and walked the fairly long way. It took three-quarters of an hour from Lyngby Railway Station to the radio station. But I liked to come there when I had an opportunity for it because it has such a fine background as one of the first effective radio stations for telephony.

Nebeker:

Right, Yes.

Pedersen:

Poulsen’s System was able to use speech and not only just telegraphs.

Nebeker:

Right. And it was used around the world for quite a few years.

Pedersen:

Yes.

International conferences during Cold War era

Nebeker:

Well, if we could jump to a much later period, to after the war when you were working on these international conferences, such as the Atlantic City or the Geneva Space Radio Conference.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

I had one general question. You mentioned in your book that a number of times a sort of a triumvirate was formed in which you were the president or leader of this leading conference, and an American would be vice-president, and a Soviet representative would also be vice-president.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes. And that was a very effective—I think I even say so in the book—it was a very effective combination.

Nebeker:

And it must have been because you had the trust of both the American side and the Soviet side.

Pedersen:

And that has been very interesting. And I rather enjoyed it.

Nebeker:

You were doing this in a very difficult time when the tensions were very high between the United States and Russia.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes. I have been used at some occasions in that capacity, but not very much. And I can’t speak about it.

Nebeker:

But you found it almost enjoyable, you said, to be in that position of trying to reach agreement between…

Pedersen:

Well, it’s not a handicap. It’s an advantage to be a member from a small country. Members, chairman and vice-chairman from the big countries, they can’t do as much as someone from the smaller country.

Nebeker:

I liked the principle that you laid down, that it’s best to state the technical grounds for the different possibilities and try to separate that from the political and other reasons for taking decisions.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

So that one tries to separate what the experts can actually say about the technical possibilities, and then on a basis of that, you make political decisions.

Pedersen:

And I enjoyed that work.

Nebeker:

And in these conferences, were most all of the people technical experts? Were most of them radio engineers?

Pedersen:

No, not most of them. That’s a little difficult to answer, that question. Do I say anything about it there?

Nebeker:

Well, you mention that it seemed to work better, the discussions worked better when there were technical experts.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

But you also mention that sometimes some of these delegates did not understand the technology.

Pedersen:

No.

Nebeker:

And I’m just wondering if very often it was the case that somebody would be the delegate from a country and not understand the technology.

Pedersen:

Well, it has been very interesting, but no, I don’t… [Exchange in Danish with Woelders] Yes.

Nebeker:

So it often was the case that these people.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

And I know that you tried to have decision made in smaller groups and then just voted on by the larger groups.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And that was presumably to get the experts together in smaller groups.

Pedersen:

Yes. I must admit, I like that type of work.

Mexico City Conference on Shortwave Radio, 1948-1949

Nebeker:

I liked your description of the conference in 1948. Yes, the ’48-’49 Mexico City Conference on Shortwave Radio.

Pedersen:

Yes. Yes. But that didn’t end so well.

Nebeker:

Right, in that the United States and the Soviet Block did not sign the agreement.

Pedersen:

And it was really unreasonable that they didn’t, but it was the outside political situation that made it impossible.

Nebeker:

Right. But many countries did sign the final agreement. I’ve forgotten now how many, but many, many countries, fifty or something like that, signed the final agreement.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Do you know if those countries, did they still try to follow the agreements even though these large countries had not signed the agreement? Did it still serve as a basis for practical…

Pedersen:

Yes. I think it has given a certain background for what really happened.

Nebeker:

But did those other countries, those countries that did sign the final agreement, did they feel that they didn’t have to abide by the agreement because these large countries didn’t sign it?

Pedersen:

Oh, I can’t say that in a general way.

Nebeker:

You do say that there never was a good worldwide agreement on short-wave broadcasting, but that there were many bilateral agreements.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

This country would negotiate with another.

Pedersen:

Oh, it certainly has given a certain background to what happened factually.

Nebeker:

Right. What you worked out in Mexico City.

Pedersen:

And that’s a difference between acknowledging that you have lost and just losing without speaking about it.

Nebeker:

Yes, but it’s interesting to me that at that time, after the war, it seemed that shortwave radio would be extremely important.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And, of course, it turned out to be less important than people thought at that time. There are not many people who listen to shortwave radio. There are still some. Is it because shortwave radio declined in importance that there never was good international agreement on it? Did it become just less important to reach agreement on short-wave?

Pedersen:

No, I can’t say that.

Nebeker:

I’m sure it must have been a disappointment after those months of very hard work.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Apparently you were close to getting the agreement of all parties.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

You met Mervin Kelly, the Director of Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1948. You describe in your book that you met the Director of Bell Telephone Laboratories. He was Mervin Kelly at the time. And he brought to you one of the first transistors.

Pedersen:

Oh, yes.

Nebeker:

And showed you that.

Pedersen:

Yes, I remember that.

Nebeker:

That was about the same time that they made the public announcement. It may have been before they made the public announcement of the discovery, or the development of the transistor.

Pirate radio stations; Radio Luxembourg and popular music

Nebeker:

Also very interesting was your description of the pirate radio stations later.

Pedersen:

Yes. It was a lot of trouble.

Nebeker:

And your recognition that they were meeting some kind of need, that people liked to hear that kind of radio. You talk here about a time when your wife would answer the telephone, because, I take it, people were unhappy with the efforts to stop the pirate radio station.

Pedersen:

Yes, I was certainly not liked in certain circles. [Exchange in Danish with Woelders] Yes, Yes.

Nebeker:

And then you worked to have Denmark Radio provide that kind of music, right?

Pedersen:

Yes. I was a member of the board responsible for Denmark Radio, so I could influence a little what happened.

Nebeker:

And what finally happened with these pirate stations? Were they stopped completely?

Pedersen:

Yes, they stopped it.

Nebeker:

I know in some parts of Europe, Radio Luxembourg was very much listened to for some of the same reasons.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

It was commercially supported popular music.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Can you pick up Radio Luxembourg in Denmark?

Pedersen:

Oh, I don’t know, really. Do we ever listen to that? I do not.

Nebeker:

Maybe it doesn’t reach Denmark.

Woelders:

No, I don’t think so.

Nebeker:

So these stations were very popular because they were close.

Woelders:

Yes.

Pedersen:

Yes. Yes, they probably are. And Luxembourg is the center of several smaller countries, so it has quite a good background there.

Denmark Radio Board of Directors

Nebeker:

You were part of the Board of Directors for Denmark Radio? Is that right?

Pedersen:

Yes, that’s right.I went to a meeting in the Council every week. I was rather closely allied with them.

Woelders:

How many years?

Pedersen:

Ten years, at least. I think it was.

Nebeker:

I know that the British Broadcasting Corporation had a clear policy, that they would raise the tastes of the people for entertainment. They would give them good music—not the music they wanted to hear, but they would give them good, mainly classical music. They resisted broadcasting popular music, jazz, or later pop.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Was it similar in Denmark? Did Denmark’s Radio have this idea that the music people listened to should be good music, and not just what people enjoyed?

Pedersen:

Well, I don’t think I’m qualified to reply to that.

Nebeker:

Do you remember such discussions when you part of the Board of Directors?

Pedersen:

No, I wouldn’t commit myself. Sorry.

Nebeker:

Okay. But it’s interesting in countries where the government, at least in some sense, controls broadcasting. There is this possibility of controlling what people listen to and what they see on television.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And I’m just wondering what your experience was in being on the Board for Denmark’s Radio. You were mainly concerned with the technical side.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes. My background for being a member of the Board is really my technical knowledge and not my knowledge of political or musical aspects of the question.

Nebeker:

Were they many technically trained people on the Board? Were there many like you who had the technical background?

Pedersen:

No, no, I believe I was the only one.

Nebeker:

I can imagine that there were often questions where it was important to know the technology.

Pedersen:

Oh, yes, of course. The different localities and different conditions there.

Woelders:

The technical possibilities for a new program.

Pedersen:

You are questioning me whether there’s a possibility for a new program? Is that what he means?

Woelders:

Yes.

Pedersen:

Yes. But I’m no longer a member of the Board.

Assessing technological progress

Nebeker:

I thought it was interesting. You write in your book that there’s a tendency to underestimate technical progress in certain areas, and there’s a tendency to overestimate technical progress in other areas. You say that in professional technical areas, and you give examples of navigation, mobile telephone, space research, meteorology, people tend to underestimate how rapidly technology would advance. But in the technology that reaches everybody in the home, there’s a tendency to overestimate, that people think, “Oh, things will be so much better in five or ten years,” and that it really takes a long time.

Pedersen:

Well, I have had an interesting time over the years dealing with problems of that type.

Challenges as General Director; postal service strike

Nebeker:

In the, what was it, fifteen years or so that you were General Director, from 1960 to 1975, of the Post and Telegraph Service.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

What were the biggest problems? What were the biggest challenges in that job?

Woelders:

The pirate stations?

Nebeker:

The pirates.

Woelders:

And, and the sorting of the mail.

Pedersen:

Of what?

Woelders:

The sorting of the mail. That sorting system. [Danish phrase]

Pedersen:

Yes. I had, I believe, the first strike in the Postal Service.

Nebeker:

So the postal workers went on strike?

Pedersen:

Yes. And that meant that nobody had experience. And when a problem came up, normally you would ask someone to go back and see when that happened last.

Nebeker:

Right.

Pedersen:

When was the last time and what did we do?

Nebeker:

How was that handled last time, yes.

Pedersen:

But we didn’t know what to do when they went on strike.

Nebeker:

I see.

Pedersen:

That’s true. And that was a real problem.

Nebeker:

What was the grievance? What was it that people were upset about that caused them to strike? Was it simply salary, or was it new technology?

Pedersen:

No one knew what to do in such a situation, because it had never happened before.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

And in the government normally when a problem came up, we looked back—when did that happen last time, and what did we do? But we couldn’t do it that way.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

And that was, for me, a very disagreeable situation.

Nebeker:

I see. And that was soon after you had taken over as Director?

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Do you look back on those fifteen years as General Director as good years, as satisfying years? Were you happy with those years as General Director?

Pedersen:

Yes, I think honestly I felt that it was very interesting. And I felt that I did it fairly well.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

That’s my own evaluation of the situation.

Nebeker:

One could imagine, though, that a technical person would find it very difficult and unsatisfying to deal with political and economic matters so much.

Woelders:

You had a very good minister.

Pedersen:

Yes, since I have been in the hand of God. [Passage in Danish] It didn’t keep me awake at night.

Father's influence on career

Nebeker:

Yes, I can imagine it could, it could easily do that. Well, let me end by asking some questions a little bit about growing up with your father and the influence your father had on the early part of your career, when he was still living. Your daughter told the interesting story: that when you were studying at the Polytechnic with your father as professor you could neither do extremely well nor poorly because either one would look bad. It would look bad if you got the highest scores, or, of course, if you had gotten the lowest scores. How did you feel yourself there? Did you feel in any way that you had to live up to your father’s high expectations?

Pedersen:

It’s a difficulty in certain situations.

Nebeker:

Yes, that’s right. It can be very difficult. But it didn't bother you?

Pedersen:

No, not really, no.

Nebeker:

Did your father take a close interest in your work? Once you started as an engineering, did you have an opportunity to share it with him? I know some of the time you were in England and some of the time in Paris.

Pedersen:

No, my father didn’t interfere very much with the problems I had at that time. No, not really.

Nebeker:

But when you came back to Denmark, would you talk with him about your daily work?

Pedersen:

Yes, I did, of course. But I did not bring up specific questions. My career was quite different, after all, from my father’s.

Nebeker:

Yes. And I’m sure he was very busy in those years as Rector.

Pedersen:

Yes. My father was a very kind man and he certainly would never say anything that caused me to change point of view or anything like that.

Nebeker:

I like very much the final chapter in your book.

Pedersen:

What is that?

International telecommunications

Nebeker:

You say that you would sometimes walk with your father into the Polytechnisk Laereanstalt.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And that he talked about the advantage in the United States when one company, AT&T, had control of the telephone system in the entire country, the advantage of that sort of central direction of technology.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

How difficult it was in Europe, with all these countries, to have a single and technical standard. I like that description. And then it’s interesting that so much of your work had to do with reaching agreement between countries.

Pedersen:

Yes. I felt that was my responsibility for international work. And that was very interesting.

Nebeker:

I think it’s remarkable in the telecommunications area that international agreement has been as good as it has.

Pedersen:

Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

In almost every instance, they’ve been able to reach agreement.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

What is your feeling about the ITU, the International Telecommunications Union, over the years that you were associated with it? Did it work as well as it could have?

Pedersen:

Yes. I think I must say it worked quite well.

Nebeker:

Did you feel it didn’t get the support from the United States, for example, that it might have? Or that the Soviet Union didn’t cooperate as much as they might have? Do you have any general feelings of that sort?

Pedersen:

Oh, that’s a difficult question because it was very different in the various situations. In the different conferences where I had responsibility, the situation was always specific, and not general.

Nebeker:

Yes. I have heard the critique that very often the United States just went its own way, and didn’t really pay attention to the way the European countries were adopting technology.

Pedersen:

Yes. Now that you say this, I would find it possible to say that I found sometimes that it was a little more difficult with United States than with most other countries. Because your system is so different. I don’t know why. In the United Kingdom, you know who is responsible. But in the United States, you do not know who is responsible.

Nebeker:

Right.

Pedersen:

Isn’t that right?

Nebeker:

Yes, that’s right. Another factor is that because of geographic realities, it’s more important for European countries to reach agreement and not nearly as important for the United States Government or companies to reach agreement outside the country.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Is there anything you’d like to comment on that maybe I haven’t asked about?

Pedersen:

Well, I can only say that I have been happy to help. I had the opportunity to really feel that I was doing a job in connection with international telecommunication. I find I have been possibly a little useful after all, and for a small country, that’s a very pleasant feeling.

Nebeker:

Yes.

Pedersen:

So I’m quite satisfied with that. And I have never met a situation where I afterwards said, “Oh, there you made a serious error, and therefore you should be very ashamed.” But I haven’t been able to find that.

Nebeker:

Uh huh.

Pedersen:

That is a nice way of saying I’m satisfied with myself.

Nebeker:

You certainly did wonderful service in those years with these international conferences, and I’m sure it’s appreciated.

Pedersen:

Well, they asked me to come show off, and I felt they were fairly satisfied with me.

Nebeker:

That’s right. That’s an important sign in itself.

Pedersen:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Well thank you very much for the interview.

[End of interview]