You are here

Edwin Howard Armstrong Achievement Award 1999 - Al Gross

"Life time achievement for pioneering efforts and the development of personal wireless communications systems"

Al Gross is a true pioneer of the wireless personal communications revolution and played a major role in establishing miniaturized portable communications. His efforts led to one of the first walkie-talkies in the early 1940’s (just prior to WW II) and to development of the first pager system (in New York’s Jewish Hospital) in 1950. He also successfully lobbied the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create the Personal Radio license spectrum in 1948, which later became citizens band radio.

In 1934 (at age 16) Al obtained his amateur radio license, and it is still current today. At the time, portable wireless communications did not exist, and very little knowledge about radio communications, circuits, designs, and propagation existed above 100 megahertz. Frequencies above 100 MHz is where Al focused his development efforts. He developed circuits and components for miniaturized portable communications that were unheard of for that era. He also succeeded in the design and construction of several battery-operated, portable, hand-held transceivers with corresponding compact antennas.

In the late 1930’s, Al discovered a means to cause miniature vacuum tubes to operate in the unexplored portion of the radio frequency spectrum above 200 megahertz. Two of the models operated at 300 megahertz These two hand-held models were used many times to successfully communicate with other amateur operators over a distance of 30 miles. After the onset of World War II, an amateur radio operator within the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) knew of Al’s hand-held walkie-talkies; from this disclosure Al was asked to come to the OSS headquarters in Washington to demonstrate the radios. From this meeting, the "Joan Eleanor" two-way radio system was proposed allowing OSS agents in occupied countries and Germany to communicate with two-way radio equipment in high-flying aircraft. Al headed up this project and developed a sensitive receiver circuit that could be miniaturized. Al met with Major E.H. Armstrong late in 1943 at his office in Alpine, New Jersey. Armstrong suggested a super regenerative circuit that could be used, and Mr. Gross implemented this concept (with modification) in both the transmitter and receiver. The Joan/Eleanor project, Al Gross’s creation, was classified "Top Secret" by the OSS and was made public in 1976.

Late 1944 in a classified meeting with the Chief of the Radio Intelligence Branch (FCC), two of Gross’s hand-held transceivers were demonstrated before the FCC Chairman and with the Commissioners. Inspired by the demonstration, FCC Commissioner E. K. Jett published an article "Phone by Air" in the Saturday Evening Post (July 1945) describing personal two-way radio communications for the public use. Mr. Gross launched Citizens Radio Corporation to design, develop and manufacture personal wireless transceivers and also started Gross Electronics to design and build other communications products. (Gross Electronics was under contract to test and develop life saving equipment for emergency use for the U.S. Maritime Commission and the War Shipping Administration. In 1948 the company was contracted by the U.S. Coast Guard to design and build a hand-held transceiver operating at 401 megahertz TRC-156.)

On March 23, 1948 at the President’s Luncheon of the Institute of Radio Engineers (now IEEE), FCC Chairman announced FCC type approval of the first personal wireless transceiver for the public. It was at this affair that Major Armstrong offered his congratulations to Mr. Gross and his company.

In 1950 Al demonstrated before the FCC the possible use of a hand-held transceiver as a "cordless remote telephone", which became the first paging system of its kind. (Restrictions in place at the time prevented the application of this technology for the public.) In September 1958 Gross Electronics Co. received FCC type approval for mobile and hand-held transceivers for use on the Class D 27megahertz frequency allocation. In 1959 Gross Electronics Co. designed and manufactured a battery operated unattended weather station used by the U.S. Navy that was parachuted into the Antarctic.

It is clear that Mr. Gross was a true pioneer, and helped lead the way to today’s wireless personal communications revolution. Today, Mr. Gross remains an active engineer at age 81 never missing an opportunity to tell a group of engineers or students about the excitement of wireless and about the tenacity required to invent. He is an inspiration to those who meet him, and he carries with him a terrific legacy that is worthy of recognition by the IEEE.