We have used gene competition to distinguish between possible mechanisms of transcriptional activation of the genes of the human beta-globin locus. The insertion of a second beta-globin gene at different points in the locus shows that the more proximal beta gene competes more effectively for activation by the locus control region (LCR). Reducing the relative distance between the genes and the LCR reduces the competitive advantage of the proximal gene, a result that supports activation by direct interaction between the LCR and the genes. Visualization of the primary transcripts shows that the level of transcription is proportional to the frequency of transcriptional periods and that such periods last approximately 8 min in vivo. We also find that the position of the beta-globin gene in the locus is important for correct developmental regulation.