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 #26    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

What was the post-war world of amateur radio like? Let's take a look at our hobby as it existed in the late 1940's.

In November 1945, amateurs were allowed back on the air on the 10 meter, 5 meter, and the new 2 meter band. The 5 meter band from 56-60 mc was temporary--by March 1946 we were moved in the great post war frequency shuffle to our new 6 meter home from 50-54 mc. As for the new 2 meter band, it replaced our old 2 1/2 meter allocation which ran from 112-116 mc. Throughout 1946, the military gradually vacated the 80, 75, 40, and 20 meter bands, turning them back over to amateur operations. We lost a few frequencies--the 160 meter band was staying in the hands of the military for LORAN Radionavigation, and we lost the top 300 kc of 10 meters, from 29.7 to 30 mc. To compensate us for this loss, the FCC, in 1946, gave hams an allocation at 27 mc to be shared on a secondary basis with industrial, scientific and medical devices. Dubbed the "11 meter band", it was unique as the only HF allocation where A0 and A2 emissions were allowed.

The amateur population was pushing 60,000, and the FCC was running out of "W" call signs in the 9 call areas. So, the FCC created the 10th call district in 1946, and redrew the district boundaries. The license structure was the same as before the war. Class A hams had all amateur privileges, including exclusive use of the 75 and 20 meter phone bands. Class B had all CW privileges, and phone operation on 10 meters and above. Note that at the time, 40 meters was CW only, and 15 meters didn't exist yet. Class C had the same frequencies as Class B, but it was a mail order license for those in remote areas. The only change the FCC made to the license structure in the 1940's was to allow applicants to copy the code either by printing, or by longhand. Prior to the war, the code test had to be copied in longhand only.

Most hams used cw or AM phone, but there were 2 new modes on the horizon. Narrow band fm enjoyed a brief surge in popularity. QST had several articles on VHF and even HF fm operation. Phase modulation, a variation on fm, made its first appearance in 1947. But the big news was something called "SSSC", or Single Sideband Suppressed Carrier". SSB, as it would eventually be called, appeared on the ham bands late in 1947. Throughout 1948, QST was full of articles on this new mode. And, how do you get your fm or SSB signal to the antenna?? Try an item developed during the war--coaxial cable. And, with coax, came a new concern over reflected power. Thus, the first SWR meters were described in QST.

So, what rig do you want to use on the air? How about war surplus? Starting in late 1946, the pages of QST and CQ were filled with ads for military surplus equipment. Numerous articles showed how to modify these rigs for amateur use. The most popular war surplus receiver was the BC-342, which was built like a battleship, and tuned from 1.5 to 18 mc. I operated one in my Novice days.

Maybe you want a new rig. Try the Hallicrafters Model S-40, the Hammarlund HQ-129X (which was another receiver I owned), the National NC-46, or the Collins 75A. But, the "Packard" of the post war radios had to be the Hallicrafters SX-42 receiver. This "radio man's radio" had every possible feature, tuned from 540 kc to 110 mc, and cost $250 in 1946 dollars. That's about $1700 today.

Perhaps you would like to build your own rig. GE, Sylvania and RCA had pages of ads showing off their new miniature and sub-miniature tubes. The "sub-minis" were only 1 1/2 inches tall and 3/8 of an inch wide. For those who think the 2 meter HT was an invention of the 70's, it may surprise you to learn that they existed in 1947, using those tiny tubes.

But be careful when you get on the air. A new term is finding its way into the amateur world--TVI. In 1947, the FCC eliminated TV Channel 1 to reduce 6 meter interference, but amateurs had to learn to shield their equipment. With the help of good engineering practices, the TVI monster was kept at bay--sort of.

The Atlantic City Conference was held in 1947. Hams gained a 15 meter band, which was finally allocated to us in 1952.

Amateurs proved their worth as two disasters, one natural and one man made, struck Texas in April 1947. Tornados sliced through the State, killing 150. And, in Texas City, an explosion on board a freighter set off a chain reaction that killed 600, wounded 2000, and destroyed two square miles of the city. Dozens of portable and mobile stations rushed to the scene and provided necessary communications on 75 and 10 meters.

Also on a somber note, Kenneth B. Warner, W1EH, the Secretary and General Manager of the ARRL since 1919, died in 1948.

By the way, do you need a job? Are you bored with your life? Do you crave adventure? Then Hallicrafters has a job for you!! In the fall of 1947, they are sponsoring a 6 month expedition to the Dark Continent--Africa--the Belgian Congo to be exact. They need an experiences Class A amateur to operate the radio equipment. If you feel you are qualified, send them your application by July 1, 1947. Finally, what's an "amplifying crystal"? You don't know?? Well, maybe you know it better by its other name--the transistor. This new device was first described in the October 1948 issue of QST. No one at that time realized the full potential of this little component, or knew how it would revolutionize the world of communications.

In our next installment, we will take a look at the 1950's--1958 to be exact.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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