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 #24    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

World War II started on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. By May, 1940, Germany had conquered much of Europe, and had her sights on Britain. Although the United States was officially neutral, it was obvious that our sympathies were with the Allies. In addition, it was clear to a few perceptive Americans that we would be drawn into the conflict.

Amateur Radio Operators, like most Americans, began to gear up for War. On June 4, 1940, the FCC issued Order #72, which prohibited amateurs from engaging in foreign communications, or from establishing contact with any or all points outside the continental U.S. and its possessions. The FCC was quite serious about this--they revoked the licenses of several hams who had contact with foreign stations. The "How's DX" column was jokingly referred to as "Where's DX"--so many foreign hams, including our neighbors in Canada, had been off the air since September, 1939.

Throughout 1940 and 1941, the face of amateur radio changed with the darkening war cloud. The War Department sent out a questionnaire to all hams to obtain data on equipment, experience, physical fitness, and availability for service. Columns devoted to the military began to appear, such as "Army-Amateur Radio System Activities", which included the schedule of station WAR on 4025 and 6990 kc. Other columns were "Naval Communication Reserve Notes"; "In the Services", which listed amateurs now in military service; and "USA Calling", which published requests from the Navy, Marines, Army, Army Air Corps, Signal Corps, Merchant Marine, and even the FBI for amateurs proficient as radio operators, electronic specialists, electrical engineers and Communications Officers. In the summer of 1940, the British used the "USA Calling" column to issue an urgent appeal for radio servicemen and amateurs for their Civilian Technical Corps. Up to 25,000 Americans were requested by the British.

Foreign espionage invaded the ham bands in 1940. The FBI, in a successful bid to capture several foreign agents in the U.S., operated a counter-espionage station in the 20 meter band. Using a phony amateur call, the FBI passed over 500 messages to various spies before arresting them.

Amateurs were members of the Defense Communication Board, which met every week to prepare for a military emergency.

Amateurs also made their own preparations for a national emergency. QST ran several editorials urging hams to improve their CW skills. Many articles appeared on "emergency" equipment, such as vibrator power supplies (to supply the B+ voltage for tubes), battery operated radios, and mobile stations. The 2 1/2 meter band (112-116 mc) was chosen as the primary "Civil Defense" band, and every issue of QST had another 2 1/2 meter construction project, including a few "Walkie-Talkies". Civil Defense coordination and participation was urged.

On July 22, 1941 the FCC, in response to the National Emergency, announced that the 3650 to 3950 kc portion of 80 meters would be withdrawn from amateur use and reassigned to the military for use in an Aircraft Pilot Training program. Amateurs were given a few months to vacate the band, and preparations were made to move popular 80 meter nets to 160. But before the reassignment was completed in December 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked.

On December 8, 1941, the FCC issued Order Number 87, which read in part:

Whereas a state of War exists between the United States and the Imperial Japanese government, and the withdrawal from private use of all amateur frequencies is required for the purpose of National Defense; IT IS ORDERED, that except as may hereafter be specifically authorized by the Commission, no person shall engage in any amateur radio operation...and all frequencies heretofore allocated to amateur radio stations under Part 12 of the Rules and Regulations ARE HEREBY WITHDRAWN. All amateur licensees are hereby notified that the Commission has ordered the immediate suspension of all amateur radio operation in the continental U.S., its territories and possessions.

However, the FCC left a small loophole for amateur operation during the war. Amateurs would be allowed to operate for the purpose of National Defense, upon application of a Federal, State, or local official.

In our next installment, we will look at some amateur operations during WWII. Some will surprise you.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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