The History Of Amateur Radio

This portion of my website was prepared with the help of Bill Continelli, W2XOY. Bill has prepared several articles in a series he calls "The Wayback Machine", in the hope to expand the knowledge of fellow hams, about Amateur Radio's unique and unchallenged history.

THE WAYBACK MACHINE #10    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

In our last installment, we learned that the "UHF" spectrum above 25 Mc., which during the 1930s was populated only by amateurs, was now in the center of a battle being fought on many fronts. Amateurs wanted their 10, 5, 2-1/2, and 1-1/4 meter bands back. Major Edwin Armstrong wanted to increase the 42-50 Mc. allocation in the new FM broadcast service. General David Sarnoff of RCA wanted huge chunks of VHF space set aside for television, as well as limited spectrum for FM, a potential rival. And William Paley of CBS wanted UHF -- not VHF allocations for CBS' "color wheel" TV system, which they wanted the FCC to adopt as the television standard, in lieu of RCA's competing system. In addition to these major players, other minor characters were also clamoring for VHF frequencies -- the growing aircraft industry, police departments who were tired of the interference-prone 1700 kc. police band and wanted to use FM on vhf -- and even businesses to whom the idea of personal two- way communication was now possible. Thanks to the war and the introduction of new VHF and UHF tubes, the frequencies above 25 Mc. were now the most sought after slice of the RF spectrum.

During late 1944, the FCC held hearings on post-war VHF allocations, in which there were 231 witnesses and 4200 pages of testimony. In November 1944, the first proposal on VHF/UHF allocations was released. See if you could have lived with it...

23.5-27 Mc. -- Industrial Applications
27-29 Mc. -- Amateur 11 Meter Band (yes, that's right!)
29-43 Mc. -- Police, Fire, Emergency, and Local Government
43-58 Mc. -- FM broadcasting
58-60 Mc. -- Amateur 5 Meter Band (note only 2 Mc.)
60-102 Mc. -- TV channels 1-7 (the RCA system)
102-108 Mc. -- Non-government Emergency
108-132 Mc. -- Aircraft
132-144 Mc. -- Government
144-148 Mc. -- Amateur 2 Meter Band
148-152 Mc. -- Government
152-218 Mc. -- TV Channels 8-18 (yes, up to channel 18 and again, the RCA system)
218-225 Mc. -- Amateur 1-1/4 Meter Band
225-420 Mc. -- Government
420-450 Mc. -- Amateur 70 cm Band
450-460 Mc. -- Facsimile Broadcasting
460-956 Mc. -- UHF Television using the CBS color wheel system

So, under this proposal, our 10 meter band was moved down 1 Mc., we would lose 1/2 of our 5 meter band, we lose 112-116 Mc. but gain 144-148 Mc., our 1-1/4 meter band stays the same, and we gain a large chunk at 420 Mc. The FM broadcast allocation is increased by 85%, police agencies leave the crowded medium wave area for VHF-FM, aircraft has their piece of the pie, and both CBS and RCA have home turfs to battle out the TV standards war. Note also the 450-460 Mc. range allocated to "Facsimile Broadcasting." For those of you who think FAX machines are a recent invention, it may interest you to learn that 60 years ago, a reliable mechanical-electrical FAX system was in use. By the mid-1940s, it was widely believed that every home soon would have a FAX machine. During the night, as you slept, the machine would be tuned to various stations in the 450-460 Mc. range and would print out the next day's newspapers, magazines and catalogues, for you to read in the morning. Another proposal was for a "Veteran's Band", which would be a 2000 Mc.-wide slice of the spectrum above 10,000 Mc. This proposed band would be available for war veterans (and ONLY war veterans) in any way they desired.

The ARRL was quick to object to the proposed allocations. It was not acceptable to amateurs to move our 10-meter band down 1 Mc., to eliminate 50% of 5 meters, and to upset the harmonic relationship of our bands by moving us from 112 up to 144 Mc. The FCC capitulated on 10 and 5 meters, as we will see in a moment. As for the 144-148 Mc. band -- the FCC was firm. 112- 116 Mc. was going to aircraft. Furthermore, the FCC wanted our amateur bands above 100 Mc. to be next to government allocations, so that in time of war or national emergency, they could be used for the expansion of essential governmental radio services. The needs of the government, per the FCC, outweighed the need for a strict harmonic relationship between the amateur bands.

Meanwhile, while the ARRL was arguing over our allocations, General Sarnoff was conducting his campaign behind the scenes. He couldn't eliminate the CBS color wheel UHF system because, at that time, CBS was producing beautiful, lifelike color pictures that impressed the FCC. But he could attack FM. A big deal was made out of the claim that FM broadcasting needed to be moved higher in the VHF range to eliminate interference caused by Sporadic-E skip. Sarnoff, of course, wanted these frequencies for TV. He never explained, and no one seemed to ask, how TV would not be affected. In fact, TV, with it's amplitude modulated video signal, would be more susceptible to "E" skip than FM with its capture effect. RCA however had power, money, and influence, and Major Armstrong found he was no match for the corporate giant.

On January 15, 1945, the FCC issued a revised allocation proposal:

25-28 Mc. -- Fixed, Mobile, Industrial, Scientific and Medical
28-30 Mc. -- Amateur 10 Meter Band
30-44 Mc. -- Police, Fire, and Various Governmental Allocations
44-50 Mc. -- TV Channel 1 (now you know where it was!)
50-54 Mc. -- Amateur 6 Meter Band
54-84 Mc. -- TV Channels 2-6
84-102 Mc. -- FM Broadcasting
102-108 Mc. -- Possible Facsimile Broadcasting
108-132 Mc. -- Aircraft
132-144 Mc. -- Government
144-148 Mc. -- Amateur 2 Meters
148-152 Mc. -- Government (note 2 meters sandwiched between two government bands)
152-162 Mc. -- Police, Fire, and Other Local Government
162-170 Mc. -- Government
170-180 Mc. -- Navigational Aids
180-216 Mc. -- TV Channels 7-12 (note that TV only gets 12 channels here)
216-220 Mc. -- Government
220-225 Mc. -- Amateur 1-1/4 Meter Band
225-420 Mc. -- Government, Including Military Aircraft
420-450 Mc. -- Amateur 70 cm Band
450-460 Mc. -- Air Navigation
460-470 Mc. -- A New "Citizens' Band" (which would eventually evolve into Class A and Class B CB, then into GMRS and the new FRS)
470-480 Mc. -- Facsimile Broadcasting
480-940 Mc. -- Experimental TV (for the CBS system)

Yes, this proposal sounds a lot like what we have today, but the battle was only beginning. Major Armstrong was not giving up on an FM band in the 43-58 Mc. area. He didn't want the thousands of FM receivers and dozens of stations now on the air to suddenly become obsolete. CBS was still convinced that UHF was the place for TV, and their system was the best. During the first half of 1945, the battle would rage with many more proposals to come forth.

Join us next time as "The Wayback Machine" continues to watch this epic battle.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

These columns were originally written for the Schenectady Museum Amateur Radio Club.