Ham Radio History & Boat Anchor Gallery
December 13, 1912.. A red letter day for Amateur Radio:
On that day, 100 years ago the Radio Act of 1912 took effect. It solidified the position of Amateur Radio making the licensing and operation of amateur radios legal. US President William Howard Taft signed the bill into law. The US Navy saw amateur radio as a threat to national security and tried for many years to outlaw its use. Hugo Gernsback the publisher of Modern Electrics lobbied for the law in his February 1912 editorial. His suggestions were almost entirely written into the new law. Strangely enough the new law did not require a code test, but the tests were administered by the US. Navy, the one body against the new act. Canada followed suit when Parliament passed the Radiotelegraph Act in 1913. In 1914 the first Radiotelegraph Regulations were issued. Various departments have administered the issueing of licenses and proficiency examinations.
April 18... Hams can all celebrate the "World Wide Amateur Radio Day", commemorates the 88th anniversary of the founding of the International Amateur Radio Union, a federation of national amateur radio associations.
Roots of our hobby: Amateur radio has really deep roots. The first recorded use for recreation seems to have been all the way back to the late 19th century. Communication was by "Spark Gap" transmission. Basically a spark was generated and caused to radiate by the use of an antenna. Marconi in his first transmission across the Atlantic was by this method. One of the first recorded uses of this method of communications was the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. It was only by the radio that help was summoned. The method was what we refer to has "Broadband LF Transmission". Tuning was very difficult and only Morse Code could be sent. Today we refer to our radio room as the Shack. But early radio rooms took a whole room just for the radio. On the Titanic the generator for the spark gap was in a room all by itself and was huge. That event alone led to a whole set of rules and regulations regarding frequency and language. SOS was not a common form of summoning help. Rules and regulations were suggested as early as 1903, but nothing happened with any haste till the Titanic sinking.
There are a number of stories about how we came to be called "Hams" . The accepted one seems to have been coined by the Telegraphers of the day. They thought very little of those tinkering with radio transmission and sort of coined the use of the word ham, meaning incompetent in the phrase "Ham Actor". We were also referred to as "Ham Fisted" or "Lids". Another story is attributed to the 3 pioneers in radio communication. Heinrich Hertz, Edwin Armstrong and Guiglielmo Marconi. Hammarlund Radio Company even was cited as the start. They were the first commercial manufacturers of note, but in effect were no where near the hobby front when it was started. A mere two years before the Titanic New York Port Authority enacted a rule that all ships visiting that port must carry radio equipment. That year "Mayday" was adopted for the new voice radio emergency calls. All marine operators were to be licensed. Radios operated at a frequency of 500 kilocycles for distress calls. Kilohertz was not adopted until 1960 so there are a lot of Hams out there that can still remember Cycles Per Second as the standard.
There is the rumoured tale of an impassioned speech by a Harvard University student petitioning the U.S. Congress to protect the radio spectrum for the use of amateurs. It was rumoured that radio communication would be restricted to military use. This story surfaced sometime in 1948. But in 1909 the Wireless Registry list in Modern Electronics supposedly listed a station listed as H.A.M. attributed possibly to 3 folks who formed a radio station and self registered. They were Bob Almy and Peggie Murray, which was said to be using the self-assigned call letters HAM (short for Hyman-Almy-Murray). Either way we are generally known as Hams. The use of "CQ" comes from the French word "securite" and loosely translated means "Pay Attention".
Generally Hams were at the cusp of the developing technology we all now use. In some instances our experimentation was an application of newly developed devices. Most notably the vacuum tube and the transistor. Early communications was by CW (continuous wave) transmission by Morse Code. Eventually communication graduated to voice by way of AM (amplitude modulated) communications. This gave way to the more efficient SSB (single sideband) mode we now use. And of course the availability of computers and integrated circuits led us to all sorts of Digital Communications.
During World Wars all forms of radio communication were banned. Those folk that could send and receive morse code joined the military. Those that did not had to pull the plug and wait till the end of the war. In a lot of ways the war was a blessing to Ham radio. All sorts of surplus equipment hit the market. The War Surplus stores became our supermarket of equipment. This equipment was available into the 60's and still has an avid following, As an aside, the invention of the "Walkie Talkie" is credited to Donald Hings. The name was credit to a reporter who observed that one could walk and talk at the same time. We all owe a debt to him and his invention pressed into service during WW2. His Ham call sign VE7BH lives on and is carried by a CVARS member. He was employed by Cominco in the Interior and is also credit with being the first person to install a radio in an airplane. So we can truly say that hams were on the cutting edge of radio and electronics. We figured out how to connect computers to telephones by our use of RTTY equipment. Look up any noteable invention it was probably pioneered or conceived by a Ham.
Early equipment was "Homebrew" (made by the amateur). Publications such as The Radio Amateur's Handbook were the bible of the Ham community being loaded with designs and resources. It was first published in 1923 and is still published to this day. Early hams, and even a few of us old timers became very good at making antennas. What good was a 10 watt transmitter without a good antenna. Beams and rotators were just dreams.
Tubes Gallery: The vacuum tube, what made radio communications as we know it reliable goes back to the 17th century. The principle was known but they were unable to create a good vacuum, what the tube relies on. In the 1800's glass blowing and the ability to create a vacuum made the tube a reality. But it was not until 1907 when John Ambrose Flemming made the first controlled vacuum tube. The name Flemming Valve was adopted to describe the invention. It was basically a diode and could be used to rectify AC voltages. Lee de Forest added a control element and the Triode (for 3 elements) became a reality. Ten pioneers were credit to be the early Inventors. They are Edison who first noted the transfer of electrons in a light bulb. Flemming for putting this effect into use and de Forest for harnessing its effect and controlling it. Coolidge developed the X-Ray tube leading to the development of medical X-Rays. Shotkey recognized the generation of noise by electron activity (The Shotkey Effect) and by the addition of more elements tamed that noise. Languir further developed what became the modern tubes of today. Fessenden a Canadian/American designed circuits which became the basis of radio reception and transmission. Armstrong designed the superhetrodyne receiver and FM radio broadcast. Hazeltine developed a way of neutralizing the heterodyne method of reception that got rid of squeaks and squawks the plagued radios. Black was the father of High Fidelity Amplifiers. Baird from Scotland invented a method of transmitting television pictures, but as it was mechanical there is some discussion about Farnsworth's claim. Farnsworth's television was electronic so he gets a lot of credit for the invention. Zworykin educated in France and Russia patented the Iconoscope, what became the modern television camera. He also developed night vision technology. There are more. For a full list go to www.eemd.edu for more.
Anyway, the evolution of the vacuum tube evolved from something resembling a light bulb to a little metal miniature tube called a Nuvistor. The base of the tube went from a pattern of thick and thin pins (or just wires) to Loctal (8 locking pins), Octal (8 pins with a key), to the miniature tube world most of us remember. The domestic tube industry was rather boring compared to the industrial tubes used for radar, microwave and broadcast. Think the tube is dead. Forget the thought, your microwave oven of today still relies on a vacuum tube called a klystron. Here are some photos of various tubes. Click on the picture for a closeup and description of the tube.
Coming soon, Boat Anchors (old gear). Check back soon...