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 #18    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

In our last installment, we traced the development of FM and repeaters from 1932 up to 1970. Since the FCC rules at that time had no provision for repeater operation, stations in repeater service were operated under the Part 97 provisions covering remote control. The FCC, in February, 1970, came out with Docket #18803, which set forth the Commission's proposed repeater rules. These included small subbands set aside for repeater operation, a ban on linked, cross-band and multiband repeaters, a requirement for "whistle on" or other tone control, and a requirement that the licensee of a repeater station be in attendance at the transmitter or at an authorized fixed control point to monitor all transmissions of the station. In regards to the 2 meter band, the FCC set up the repeater subband in such a way that two thirds of it would not be accessible to Technicians.

Reaction was quick and negative. The ARRL and others felt that the proposed rules were so restrictive that they might be the end of amateur repeater operation as it existed at that time. Counter proposals, far less restrictive than the FCC's, were submitted to the Commission.

While amateurs waited for the revised FCC rules, another problem had to be solved. When two meter FM operation started in the 60's, 146.94 had been chosen as the national simplex frequency. This was the highest wide band FM frequency available to Technicians. After repeaters came along, amateurs discovered that the surplus commercial equipment in use had a maximum bandwidth of 600 kHz. Thus, 146.34 was chosen for the first repeater input. However, in areas where .94 was in heavy use by simplex stations , 146.76 was chosen as the output. This led to the problem of non-standard splits, and in some areas of the country, repeaters such as .34/76, .28/94, and .34/82 could be found. The frequency 146.94 was a battleground between the simplex vs. repeater groups.

Amateurs were also fighting a minor battle over 146.64 MHz, which, in some parts of the country, was a DX simplex frequency. To make matters worse, all transceivers back then were crystal controlled. With crystals at $10 per pair, it cost $120 (about $350 today) to fill all 12 channels in a 2 meter radio. It was possible to equip your radio with the repeaters and simplex frequencies used in one area, then find all of your channels were useless 200 miles away.

A National Plan was needed. The Texas VHF-FM Society proposed such a plan, which was described in the May, 1972 issue of QST. In it, the repeater offset was standardized at 600 kHz, 146.94 and 146.64 became repeater outputs, 146.40 through 146.58 became simplex, and 146.52 was chosen as the national simplex frequency. In the 146-147 range, accessible to Technicians and above, there were 13 repeater and 7 simplex channels. The 147-148 range, available only to Generals and above, had 14 repeater and 6 simplex channels. Note that in the Texas plan, all repeater inputs were 600 kHz below the output--even in the 147-148 range. Except for changing the inputs to the high side above 147 MHz, the Texas Plan was adopted.

The gradual acceptance of a 2 meter band plan still did not resolve the FCC issue. The Texas Plan, as good as it was, violated the FCC's 1970 proposal. The Commission still had not issued any repeater rules, nor had they acted on the ARRL's 1969 request to give Technicians the full 2 meter band. Finally, in September 1972, the FCC issued new rules covering repeaters, logging and portable/mobile operations. Liberal repeater subbands were authorized at 52-54, 146-148, 222-225, and 442-450 MHz. Logging requirements, especially for repeater and mobile stations, was simplified: repeater operators no longer needed a tape recorder hooked up to their stations. The requirement for a portable or mobile station to notify the FCC of operation in a particular Radio District was also reduced--no longer would amateurs contemplating a cross country trip with their radios have to write to each District on their journey in order to inform the Engineer of the trip.

Repeaters would have to be licensed: call signs beginning with the prefix "WR" would be issued. The repeater license application was complex--each applicant for a repeater license had to submit certain data to the FCC regarding the technical, operational, and effective radiated power of the proposed station. "Whistle on" or tone control was no longer required, two repeaters could be linked, but multi-linked or crossband repeaters were prohibited. Repeater monitoring and control requirements were made more flexible. And finally, the FCC acted in part on the ARRL's 1969 proposal. Although they did not give Technicians full 2 meter privileges, they did grant them the 147-148 segment. Technicians could now operate all 2 meter repeaters without violating FCC rules. The new FCC repeater rules, coupled with the Texas Plan, caused a surge in 2 meter FM activity. It also was the shot in the arm the hobby needed to fully recover from the decrease in growth caused by Incentive Licensing.

Manufacturers such as Drake, Standard, Regency, Tempo, Genave, Clegg and Midland poured rigs onto the amateur market. Heathkit had the very successful HW-202 followed by the even more popular HW-2036. The increase in the number of Technicians on 2 meter FM finally killed the "Technicians are experimenters, not communicators" theory. And finally, thanks to 2 meter FM, amateur radio grew by over 33% in the 1970's. In 1975, due to increased demand, the FCC authorized the use of 144.5-145.5 MHz for repeater operation. Technicians were given access to this subband. In 1978, the FCC relaxed the rules, eliminated the separate repeater licenses and the "WR" prefix, and gave Technicians the full 2 meter band.

From 1978--1981, the synthesized revolution took place, as affordable PLL and microprocessor rigs drove the last of the crystal controlled radios off the market. Today, a name brand, 2 meter HT costs about $175. With it, you can access over 4000 repeaters, or scan the VHF Hi band. Compare that to 1972, when a crystal controlled radio, equipped with 12 channels, cost $300--or about $800 in today's dollars. We truly have come a long way.

In our next installment, we will look at a couple of license proposals in the mid 70's and the controversy they caused. I hope you will join me.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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