MARC Special Stories Page
Welcome to the newest addition to the MARC website we
call the Special Stories Page. This new section will be used to highlight
Special Stories in Amateur Radio. Have an idea for a great story for this new
page ? Let us know !
Our first edition for this new page will
be a full series of articles by noted amateur author Bill
Continelli - W2XOY called THE WAYBACK MACHINE. In this series Bill
creates a superb timeline that covers the events and actions from
the beginning of radio to the present day. The entire series
covers 18 articles and for June we will begin with Issue 1 titled
"The Beginning Of Ham Radio - Circa 1896"
Grab a cup of coffee or soda, turn off the
phone and radio and journey back to 1896 as we begin this series
with the father of radio - Marconi.
MACHINE ISSUE 1
reprinted with permission
I start this column in an
attempt to research three major questions that have been asked:
"When did ham radio start?"; "Who was the first
ham?"; and "Where did the word 'ham' come from?".
To answer these questions, let's set "The Wayback
Machine" to Warp Factor 9, and head back 100 years.
Practical "wireless" had
its start in 1896, when Marconi first sent a signal over a
distance of two miles. By 1899, he succeeded in sending a
wireless message across the English Channel, a distance of 32
miles. The year 1899 also marks the first construction project,
which appeared in "American Electrician" magazine. In
December, 1901, Marconi was able to bridge the Atlantic, a feat
which caught the world's attention and fueled the imagination of
thousands of potential amateurs, who took their first steps into
In the early days, everything was
"spark". What exactly was spark? Well, sit down some
summer night, listen to your AM or SW radio, and count the
static crashes. Now turn on the vacuum cleaner, or an electric
shaver, and listen to your radio again. Hear that noise? In
short, spark wireless was merely a form of "controlled
static". A high voltage inside a spark coil would jump
across a gap, which was coupled to an antenna. The spark was
keyed on and off to transmit the code. The signal generated was
extremely broad. A "state of the art" 1906 spark
transmitter operating on 400 meters (750 kHz) would actually
generate a signal from about 250 meters (1200 kHz) to 550 meters
(545 kHz). Receivers were no better. Before 1912, all systems
were basically unamplified detectors. Tuners were primitive or
nonexistent. As might be expected, by today's standards, the
early wireless stations were terribly inefficient. Transmitting
ranges varied from as little as 600 feet with a 1/2 inch coil to
perhaps 100 miles from a kilowatt station and a 15 inch spark
coil. Ships at sea with 5 KW transmitters might get as much as
500 miles maximum range.
It was into this world that the
early amateurs ventured. Actually, if we were to concentrate on
the years prior to 1908, it would be more appropriate to say
"experimenters" rather than "amateurs". For
in the first decade of wireless, there was little or no interest
in personal communications with other stations; rather, the
concentration was on technical development, either in the
interest of pure science, or (more often than not) with an eye
towards cashing in on this new medium. Experimenters were
unorganized and, with the exception of those immediate stations
with whom they ran tests, had no knowledge or interest in other
pioneer stations. Any true "amateurs" prior to 1908
have been lost in pre-historic obscurity.
By 1908, however, the face of
wireless began to change. Technical developments had reached
their first plateau, and a number of major competitors had
formed the first "wireless trust"--United Wireless.
With a temporary truce in effect, equipment was now more readily
available to the public. Along with this, new magazines, such as
"Modern Electrics," were formed with wireless
communication as the primary thrust. The circulation of
"Modern Electrics" jumped from 2,000 to over 30,000 in
just two years. The year 1908 also saw the first
"handbook", "Wireless Telegraph Construction for
Amateurs." It is difficult to know exactly how many amateur
stations were on the air in this completely unregulated,
laissez-faire era, but reliable estimates put the number of
"major" stations (i.e. those capable of communicating
over 10 miles) at 600, while "minor" stations with a
one or two mile range probably numbered 3000 or more. Thus, if a
year had to be arbitrarily chosen as the start of amateur radio,
it would probably be 1908.
As for the "first"
amateur, that's a harder one. Without licensing, regulations, or
a written record, there will never be a definitive answer to
this question. However, "The Wayback Machine" has come
up with the name W.E.D. Stokes, Jr. He was a founding member and
the first President of the first amateur radio club--the Junior
Wireless Club, Limited, of New York City. This organization was
formed on January 2, 1909. Other founding members who might lay
claim to the title "first amateur" were George Eltz,
Frank King, and Fred Seymour. Later the same year, the Wireless
Association of America, and the Radio Club of Salt Lake City
By 1910, wireless clubs were
springing up all over the country, and the first callbook --
"The Wireless Blue Book" --was published. Since there
were no regulations in this period, the callsigns listed in the
"Blue Book" were self assigned--which brings us to our
third question--where did the word "ham" come from?
Legend has it there was a phenomenal station on the air with a 5
KW transmitter, which could be heard at all hours of the day and
night at distances of over 500 miles. The station operator used
his initials for his callsign - H.A.M. I don't know if this is
the real story, but I've always liked this explanation best.
Amateur radio continued to grow.
By 1911, "Modern Electrics" had a circulation of
52,000, and there were 10,000 amateurs in the country. With
thousands of stations on the air, both amateur and commercial,
interference was becoming a serious problem, especially in
marine communication. Ships, because of their restricted antenna
length, were limited to frequencies between 450 and 600 meters
(666 to 500 kHz). As we have seen, one spark station could take
up this entire spectrum. Thus, it was imperative that all
stations cooperate and stand by when the others were
transmitting. Sadly, this often was not the case. In addition to
interference between amateurs and commercial stations, there was
more interference and sometimes deliberate jamming between
commercial stations of different companies. Prodded by the Navy
(which was using inefficient and outdated equipment and thus
suffering from excessive interference), Congress was starting to
take a serious look at wireless regulation. However, before they
could take up proposed legislation, an incident happened that
would quickly and dramatically alter the structure of the
On April 15, 1912, the R.M.S.
Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank. Thanks
to wireless, and the first S.O.S. in history, 713 lives were
saved. However, it has been argued that the number of survivors
could have been doubled or even tripled, if there were stronger
wireless regulations in effect. We are going to leave "The
Wayback Machine" hovering over the year 1912, keeping a
sharp eye on the Titanic, and on a 22 year old experimenter in
Yonkers, NY, who would soon make some major contributions to
So, until then, keep that spark
gap adjusted and those raspy CQs coming. We'll catch you next
time on board "The Wayback Machine."
Have we captured your
attention yet ? I hope so, this is just the tip of the iceberg
(hint) in this great series.
In a few weeks we will
bring you Issue 2 that puts the Wayback Machine aboard the
ill-fated ocean liner Titanic for yet another page in the history
of radio !
This series first appeared
in the Scenectady Muesum Amateur Radio Association's Newsletter
"RF MUSINGS" and reposted by HamRadio Showcase.
PS.... If you can't
wait for the entire series to be posted, contact me and I will
give you the link to the entire series but be prepared for a lot
of reading !
MACHINE ISSUE 2
reprinted with permission
Monday, April 15, 1912, 12:30
AM. "The Wayback Machine" is over the North Atlantic,
at 41 degrees 46' North, and 50 degrees 14' West. Down below is
a majestic ship, the largest and most luxurious ship in the
world, on its maiden voyage. In the wireless room is a 5 kW
Marconi station, and before it sit two tired operators, who make
$20 per month, not as employees of the shipping line, but rather
as employees of the Marconi Company. The "in" basket
is still full of messages, everything from personal telegrams to
stock market quotations. They are so busy working Cape Race,
Newfoundland, that they didn't even notice the slight grinding
jar 30 minutes earlier. As the two wireless operators, Jack
Phillips and Harold Bride, passed the routine traffic, the
Captain came in, said the ship had struck an iceberg, and told
them to send a distress call at once. The blue spark jumped
across the gap as Phillips sent "CQD" (come quick
danger). "Send S.O.S." Bride said, "It's the new
call and it may be your last chance to send it".
Thus began the moment in history
that changed radio. Two hours later, Jack Phillips and over 1500
others were dead, the "Titanic" lay at the bottom of
the ocean, and 713 survivors huddled in half filled lifeboats
waiting to be rescued. The tragic errors in the story of the
"Titanic" pointed out the need for wireless
The first ship to answer the
distress call was the German Liner, the "Frankfurt".
While the "Frankfurt" wireless operator was informing
his captain, the "Carpathia" and Cape Race chimed in.
When the "Frankfurt" operator came back to get more
information, Phillips tapped back "SHUT UP, SHUT UP, YOU
FOOL. STAND BY AND KEEP OUT". While this would seem bizarre
by our standards, it made perfect sense to the operators of
1912. The "Titanic", "Carpathia", and Cape
Race were equipped with Marconi operators and stations, while
the "Frankfurt" utilized the services of Marconi's
German competitor, Telefunken. This commercial war was extended
down to the individual operators. No routine traffic would EVER
pass from a Marconi station to a rival, and, even in an
emergency, if Marconi stations were available, the others would
be shut out.
The wireless controversy would
continue after the "Carpathia" picked up the
survivors. A wireless message was received, allegedly from the
"Carpathia", which said "ALL PASSENGERS OF LINER
"TITANIC" SAFELY TRANSFERRED TO THIS SHIP AND
"S.S. PARISIAN". SEA CALM. "TITANIC" BEING
TOWED BY ALLEN LINER "VIRGINIAN" TO PORT". Other
wireless messages appeared, also stating that ALL passengers
were safe, and the ship was being towed in. There was just one
problem--these messages were not coming from the "Carpathia".
For one thing, her wireless had a maximum range of 150 miles.
For another, the "Carpathia" wireless operator had
made only a few transmissions to the "Olympic" (sister
ship of the "Titanic" and another Marconi operation),
in which he tapped out the list of survivors, some coded
messages from Bruce Ismay, President of White Star Lines, then
shut down his station. So complete was the radio silence from
the "Carpathia", that they refused to answer the calls
from Navy cruisers sent to the scene by President Taft.
The White Star Line, owners of the
"Titanic", were still insisting that everyone was safe
and the ship had not sunk. But even as they made these claims,
they had all the horrific details from the "Olympic".
And so would the rest of the world, thanks to a 21 year old
operator named David Sarnoff, who managed to detect the faint
signals of the "Olympic", and broke the story. Faced
with the truth, and hounded by thousands of reporters and
outraged relatives of passengers, the White Star Liner officials
finally broke down and revealed all.
Meanwhile, the "Carpathia"
steamed towards New York City. When she passed within range of
shore stations, there were "frenzied attempts by amateur
wireless operators which formed a hissing mixture from which
scarcely a complete sentence was intelligible". It didn't
matter, because the radio silence continued.
At the Port of New York, the
"Carpathia" was met by Senator William A. Smith of
Michigan, a no-nonsense Populist who was the Chairman of the
committee investigating the shipwreck. He immediately slapped
subpoenas on everyone possible, including Harold Bride and
Harold Cottam, wireless operator on the "Carpathia".
Marconi himself, who was in the U.S. at the time, (and had
planned on taking the "Titanic" back to England), was
also summoned to appear.
The hearings revealed the
information given above, plus the disturbing fact that the
"Californian" was just 10 miles from the
"Titanic". Not only did the "Californian"
not have a full time wireless operation, but the ship's captain
ignored the eight distress rockets sent up by the
"Titanic". As to the origin of the false messages
concerning the saving of the ship and passengers, no answer was
ever found. However, Senator Smith sarcastically noted that, in
the interim, the "Titanic" was quickly reinsured, and
stock in the Marconi Company jumped from $55 to $225 per share.
The Senator DID find out the cause of the "Carpathia"
radio silence--it was Marconi himself. He had sent wireless
messages to Bride and Cottam stating "MARCONI COMPANY
TAKING GOOD CARE OF YOU-KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT-HOLD YOUR STORY-YOU
WILL GET BIG MONEY-NOW CLEAR". It turned out that Marconi
had an agreement with the New York Times for an exclusive story.
Thus, essential information for desperate relatives and official
inquiries from the President took a back seat to Marconi's
When Marconi got on the stand,
Senator Smith pounced on him with astonishing vehemence. Marconi
had been lionized by the nation, and now the Senator was
treating him like any other entrepreneur who put profit above
the public. Senator Smith was warned that his attack on a man as
popular as Marconi was political suicide, but he didn't care. In
his obsession with his belief that the unregulated wireless
spectrum was partly to blame in the "Titanic"
disaster, he painted Marconi as a man willing to subordinate the
public good to his goal of a complete wireless equipment AND
spectrum monopoly. Senator Smith used the "Titanic"
hearings to condemn the laissez-faire status of the wireless,
and appeal for the international regulation of radio.
On May 18, 1912, Senator Smith
introduced a bill in the Senate. Among its provisions: 1) ships
carrying 50 passengers or more must have a wireless set with a
minimum range of 100 miles; 2) wireless sets must have an
auxiliary power supply which can operate until the wireless room
itself was under water or otherwise destroyed; and 3) two or
more operators provide continuous service day and night. In
response to the interference generated over the years, and
especially when the "Carpathia" was within range, a
provision was added that "private stations could not use
wavelengths in excess of 200 meters, except by special
permission". To avoid "ownership" of the spectrum
by the Marconi Company, licenses would be required, issued by
the Secretary of Commerce. Each Government, Marine, or
Commercial station would be authorized a specific wavelength,
power level, and hours of operation.
The initial legislation had
considered the elimination of all private, non-commercial (i.e.,
amateur) stations, but Congress realized that would be difficult
and expensive to enforce. Therefore, since it was a "well
known fact" that long wavelengths were the best, and
anything below 250 meters was useless, except for local
communication, it was decided to compromise and give the
amateurs 200 meters, where they could work 25 miles maximum and
would die out of their own accord in a few years.
How the amateurs coped with 200
meters will be our focus next time. Hope you'll join us then for
another trip on "The Wayback Machine."
MACHINE ISSUE 3
reprinted with permission
Amateurs entered the summer of
1912 with a new Radio Act in place. Thanks to the Titanic
disaster and the fear that commercial interests would try to
monopolize the radio spectrum, the government stepped in and set
up a licensing structure administered by the Secretary of
Commerce. In the new law, amateurs (actually "private
stations") were limited to a wavelength of 200 meters and a
maximum power of 1 kW. Since the known usable spectrum at that
time ran from about 300 to 3000 meters (1000 kHz to 100 kHz), it
was widely believed that amateur radio would fade away, without
expensive government enforcement.
At first, it appeared that the
bureaucrats were correct. Before the Radio Act, there were an
estimated 10,000 stations. Now, there were only 1200 licenses
issued by the end of 1912. Amateurs were finding it difficult to
get their spark stations going on 200 meters, and, when they
did, they discovered their maximum range was 25-50 miles,
instead of the 250-500 mile range they had on the longer
wavelengths. Amateur radio was slowly heading for oblivion.
The big stumbling block to
effective communications on 200 meters (or indeed any
wavelength) was the spark transmitter and unamplified detector,
both of which were extremely inefficient. On the transmitting
end, no method, other than spark, was known. As for the
receiver, there had been two developments in the vacuum tube
area. J.A. Fleming had developed the diode detector in 1904. It
cost a lot of money, provided no amplification, and used
expensive batteries. It was not practical at the time, but it
was covered by a patent. In 1906, Lee de Forest took Fleming's
valve, added a third element, called a grid, and named the
result the Audion. In the right circuit, the Audion could
amplify by a factor of 5x. Still, because of the cost, battery
requirement, and the ever popular patent fights of the time, it
went unnoticed and unused until 1912, when a 22 year old amateur
made an important discovery.
Edwin H. Armstrong was an
experimenter and almost militant individualist. He had obtained
an Audion for use in his station. Dissatisfied with the poor
amplification, he tried different circuits. At one point, he
"fed back" a portion of the output back to the input
to be re-amplified. Instead of just a 5x amplification, the
output was now 100x stronger than the input. He also discovered
that if too much feedback was used, the tube began to oscillate.
This regenerative circuit was the most important discovery in
radio in years. One tube could amplify more than 100x, two tubes
in series could give a gain of 2000+. In addition, an
alternative to spark was now available. Instead of a raspy,
broad, inefficient signal that took up hundreds of kHz, the
Audion could be made to oscillate a stable, pure signal on one
frequency. In fact, that's where the abbreviation "CW"
comes from, (a Continuous Wave on one frequency rather than a
broad, intermittent wave on many). Although it would take 10+
years to develop the stability in transmitters and receivers to
fully utilize CW, King Spark was doomed.
Realizing the importance of his
regenerative design in both transmitting and receiving, but
lacking the money to develop it, in January 1913 Armstrong had
the diagrams of his circuit notarized. This was only the first
of many spectacular inventions Armstrong would come up with.
Within 10 years, he would also develop the superheterodyne (now
used in ALL receivers), and the superregenerative (the basis of
all VHF and UHF receivers from the 20's to the 50's, and still
used today in children's walkie-talkies). Even his first design,
the regenerative circuit, is used by Ten-Tec and MFJ in their
receiver kits. The crowning achievement in Armstrong's career
came in the 30's, when he developed Frequency Modulation. With
all due respect for those who flock to Loomis, Tesla, or Marconi
as the father of radio, my vote goes to Armstrong, for without
him, wireless would be stuck at the 1912 level. Armstrong had a
tempestuous life, full of public and private battles,
advancements, setbacks, and lawsuits, before his tragic death in
1954. The final legal battles didn't end until 1967. ("The
Wayback Machine" will devote an entire column to Armstrong
in a future edition.)
Meanwhile, back in 1913, word of
the regenerative circuit spread quickly throughout the amateur
world. Experimenters who added the Audion to their receivers
discovered that distances of up to 350 miles were now possible
on 200 meters. The Audion, already scarce and expensive, became
even more so under the laws of supply and demand. The search for
an Audion to the amateur was like the Quest for the Holy Grail.
In fact, it was this search which led to the second pivotal
event in amateur radio history.
Hiram Percy Maxim was a 44 year
old engineer and inventor who had a 1 kW amateur station in
Hartford, Connecticut. He wanted an Audion for his receiver and
was unable to locate one. Finally, he heard of an amateur in
Springfield, MA, who had one for sale. Hartford was (and still
is) only 30 miles from Springfield, yet Maxim's station could
not cover the distance. He found a station midway between the
two cities that was willing to relay his purchase offer. Maxim
thought about this and eventually realized that a national
organization was needed to coordinate and standardize message
relay procedures, as well as act as a national lobby for amateur
radio interests. On April 6, 1914, Maxim proposed the formation
of the American Radio Relay League. With the backing of the
Radio Club of Hartford, who appropriated $50, and some
volunteers, Maxim developed an application form explaining the
purpose of the ARRL and inviting membership. These were sent out
to every known major station in the country.
Maxim, like Armstrong, was a
prolific inventor. Unlike Armstrong, however, Maxim was also an
expert in publicity and public relations. By July, national
magazines such as Popular Mechanics were writing favorable
reports about the ARRL. Maxim also traveled to Washington, DC,
to explain the ARRL to the Department of Commerce and the
Commissioner of Navigation.
The P.R. blitz paid off. By
September, 1914, there were 237 relay stations appointed, and
traffic routes were established from Maine to Minneapolis and
Seattle to Idaho. Realizing that long distances on 200 meters
were not possible at that time, even with a regenerative
receiver, Maxim got the Department of Commerce to authorize
special operations on 425 meters (706 kHz) for relay stations in
Boosted by the publicity, the
number of amateur stations, as well as the relay stations in the
ARRL, continued to grow. By 1916, there were 6000 amateur
licenses, (of which 1000 were ARRL relay stations) and 150,000
receivers in use. The emphasis in the ARRL was on the word
RELAY; ARRL stations were expected to handle traffic on the 6
Main Trunk Lines (3 North/South and 3 East/West) that served
more than 150 cities. And there was traffic. The general
population (to whom phones were a luxury, long distance an
exotic concept, and telegrams expensive) flocked to the idea of
coast to coast free messages. As a P.R. exercise to test the
system nationwide, on Washington's Birthday, 1916, a test
message was sent to the Governors of every State, and President
Woodrow Wilson in Washington, DC. The message was delivered to
34 States and the President within 60 minutes. By 1917, the
system was so refined that a message sent from New York to
California took only 45 minutes. To deal with the increasing
number of relay stations, the ARRL started a little magazine,
which they called QST.
Other amateur activities in this
period brought favorable publicity to the hobby. In March 1913,
a severe windstorm had knocked out power, telegraph and
telephone lines in the midwest. Battery powered amateur stations
handled routine and emergency traffic until regular service was
restored. This was the first documented emergency communications
in amateur radio history. In 1915, amateur station 2MN
determined that the powerful Telefunken station (see August 1996
issue of "Popular Communications" magazine) at
Sayville, Long Island, was sending information concerning Allied
and neutral shipping to submarines at sea. Thanks to the work of
this amateur, the government took over the station.
However, the war in Europe was
getting closer. In April, 1917, based on continued violations of
our neutrality and unrestricted submarine activity, Congress
declared war against Germany.
With the US now in World War I, a
message went out from the Secretary of Commerce to all private
stations. By order of the Chief Radio Inspector, all
transmitting AND RECEIVING stations were to be closed AND
DISASSEMBLED, and all antennas taken down. Complete radio
silence was to remain until the war ended and the order was
revoked. Amateurs by the thousands packed away their stations
and marched off to war. The 200 meter band was silent. In
September 1917, with no radio activity permitted and 80% of the
amateurs at war, QST ceased publication.
Would amateur radio survive the
war? Join us next time as "The Wayback Machine" waits
for Johnny ham to come marching home again.
THE WAYBACK MACHINE ISSUE 4
by Bill Continelli, W2XOY
reprinted with permission
By the time World War I ended
in November, 1918, almost 5000 amateurs had served in
uniform, with many giving their lives overseas. Amateurs had
proven themselves to be invaluable to the war effort. The Army
and Navy were faced with an absolute lack of trained radio
officers, instructors, operators, and even state of the art
equipment. Amateurs stepped in and provided the knowledge, men
and sometimes even the equipment necessary to help win the
war. An interesting example of this was the case of Alessandro
Fabbri, a wealthy yachtsman and radio amateur, who had top
notch stations on board his yacht and on Mount Desert Island,
Maine. The Navy commandeered the stations (and the yacht),
made Fabbri an ensign, and placed him in command. Largely with
his own money, he expanded his operation and improved his
equipment. Fabbri's station was used to pass most of the
official communications between the battlefronts in Europe and
Washington. The traffic often amounted to 20,000 words a day,
most of them in cipher. Captain (later Major) Edwin Armstrong,
whose regenerative receiver was being used worldwide, was in
charge of the Signal Corps' Radio Laboratory in Paris, where
he developed the superheterodyne receiver. Thousands of
amateurs served as Navy radiomen and Signal Corps operators.
It would seem from the
information above that amateurs had conclusively proven their
worth and that the Navy would return the amateurs' frequencies
back to them once the war had ended. Sadly, this was not the
case. A string of events conspired against the amateur and
almost eliminated all privately owned stations.
The villain in this play was the
Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, a puritanical
landlubber and teetotaler, whose opinions often got him into
trouble. He was the type of individual that H. L. Mencken and
Sinclair Lewis satirized as "one who is terrified that
somewhere, someone is having fun". For years, he had
demanded that the Navy have exclusive control of the radio
spectrum. Now, it appeared, he had his chance.
The effects of the first modern
global war, along with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, had
temporarily turned the country extremely conservative. It was
in this mindset that the Espionage Act of 1918 and Prohibition
were passed. Hundreds of suspected communists and anarchists
were deported in the "Red Scare". Even the great
Socialist Eugene V. Debs was imprisoned for disagreeing with
the government. Seizing the opportunity, Secretary Daniels
urged the passage of legislation giving the Navy a monopoly on
radio communications. As a result, the Poindexter Bill was
introduced in the Senate, and the Alexander Bill in the House.
Political observers gave both bills an excellent chance of
Back at the ARRL, things looked
bleak. All memberships had lapsed (along with all amateur
licenses), 80% of the amateurs were still overseas, "QST"
had ceased publication, the unpaid printing bill was $4700,
and there was $33 in the treasury. However, action was needed
immediately to defeat these bills. Hiram Percy Maxim and the
other board members dug into their own personal funds and sent
out a "blue card appeal" to all known amateurs or
their families asking them to write their Congressman and urge
defeat of these bills. It worked. Thousands of letters poured
into Washington from amateurs or (more often than not) their
family members asking that amateur radio be saved. Congressmen
who opposed a military monopoly of the airwaves also joined
in, lending their support to amateur radio. Overwhelmed by
this grassroots opposition to Naval control of the radio
spectrum, Congress killed the bills in committee. This 1919
letter writing campaign had a profound historical impact on
all of radio, for, had these bills passed, not only would
amateur radio have disappeared forever, but all private
communication activities (such as broadcasting, business
radio, CB, GMRS, Cellular, etc.) either never would have
evolved, or would have been delayed by years or even decades.
With the bills defeated, Maxim
and the ARRL Board of Directors issued $7500 worth of bonds to
League members to get "QST" going again. At the same
time, pressure was brought on Washington to lift the radio ban
and allow amateurs back on the air. Partial success was
achieved on April 12, 1919, when the Navy removed the ban on
receiving, but not transmitting. Thousands of amateurs and
other listeners removed the seals from their receivers (which
had been placed there by Government Radio Inspectors), strung
up their antennas and warmed their filaments with the sounds
of the government stations. But they wanted more. Their
fingers fondled their telegraph keys as they waited for the
lifting of the transmitting ban. Finally, in November 1919,
after a Joint Resolution had been introduced in Congress
demanding that the Secretary of the Navy remove the
restrictions on amateur radio, the transmitting ban was
lifted, licenses were reissued, and amateurs were back on the
Now began the "second
war", Spark vs. CW. Remember that amateurs were allowed,
in effect, just one frequency - 200 Meters. A spark station on
200 meters actually generated a signal from 150 to 250 meters.
With the sensitive regenerative receivers now in use, the
practical range was several hundred miles. Transcontinental
relays now took less than five minutes. The number of licensed
amateur operators stood at 5719 in 1920, 10,809 in 1921, and
14,179 in 1922. And all were operating on 200 meters! To quote
Arthur Lyle Budlong in "The Story of the American Radio
Relay League", it was "Interference, Lord, what
interference! Bedlam!". Something had to be done.
And it was. Various
transatlantic tests were conducted from 1921 to 1923. The
results overwhelmingly showed CW was far superior to spark.
Postwar vacuum tube production was at its peak. In 1921, an
RCA 5 watt tube cost $8, and, as a single tube CW transmitter,
could outperform a 500 watt spark station. A 50 watt tube cost
$30, and was five times more effective than the best 1 kW
spark station. Since CW took only a fraction of the bandwidth
that spark did, over 50 CW stations in the same area could
occupy the 150 to 250 meter range, vs. one spark station.
The transatlantic tests also
revealed some other interesting facts. Due to the excessive
interference on 200 meters, some stations had dropped down to
100 meters where, to their surprise, they found conditions
much better. Throughout the 1922-24 period, hundreds of tests
and casual contacts were made on the 100 meter wavelength
which conclusively showed not only CW's superiority over
spark, but increased range on the shorter wavelengths. Once
again, the scientists came forward and said that long
distances on 100 meters were mathematically impossible, and
once again, the amateurs proved them wrong. During 1924,
several CW contacts were made at distances exceeding 6000
miles. On October 19, 1924, a station in England worked New
Zealand, a distance of almost 12,000 miles. Amateur
communications had now reached halfway around the world.
Although it would take a few years to discover the role that
the ionosphere played in shortwave communications, there is no
doubt that amateurs pioneered the practical uses of shortwave.
The phenomenal success of CW
convinced the vast majority of amateurs to buy that vacuum
tube. A few still clung to their spark sets, screaming
"spark forever", but by 1924, spark was almost
extinct. The 150 to 250 meter region was now orderly, filled
with thousands of CW stations living in peaceful coexistence
with each other (and the occasional spark renegade). Legally,
however, amateurs could not go below 150 meters. True, many
were already on 100 meters without a problem, but amateurs
wanted a slice of the shortwave spectrum allocated to them.
After all, it was amateurs who discovered the short waves.
Now, with world wide interest being shown here, they wanted
protection. Negotiations were ongoing with the Department of
Commerce to give the amateurs specific frequencies.
On July 24, 1924, the Department
of Commerce authorized new amateur frequency bands. They were
150 to 200 meters (1500 to 2000 kc), 75 to 80 meters (3500 to
4000 kc), 40 to 43 meters (7000 to 7500 kc), 20 to 22 meters
(13,600 to 15,000 kc), and 4 to 5 meters (60,000 to 75,000 kc).
Except for a portion of the 150 to 200 meter band, spark was
prohibited. Spark would survive in the hands of a few rebels
until 1927 when it was banned altogether. CW was here to stay.
By January, 1925, the 80, 40, and 20 meter bands were filling
up with amateurs, drawn by the promise of transcontinental,
"The Wayback Machine"
is going to hover over the 1920's for one more edition,
checking out an amateur with the call 8XK, and his activities
on the night of November 2, 1920. In the meantime, take a sip
of that Prohibition bootleg gin, check out those new SW bands,
and join us next time on board "The Wayback
continue the exciting series from W2XOY, click on this link.
This page was
last updated on 12/31/09
Site best viewed in 800 x 600 Resolution
Using Microsoft Internet Explorer