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 #27    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

If there was a buzzword to describe amateur radio in the first three months of 1958, it was "satellite". The Russians had launched Sputnik in November 1957. Thousands of hams tuned in the weak beacon from the satellite on 20 and 40 MC. Amateur Radio received a lot of publicity, as across the nation, many local papers ran articles on the hometown hams and the "signals from space". Many amateur operators were also busy building converters for 108 MC, as the U.S. Army Signal Engineering Labs in Fort Monmouth, N.J. had a 50kw transmitter on that frequency to bounce signals off the moon. The antenna was a 60 foot dish. Those lucky enough to hear it received a special QSL. Also on 108 MC was the first U.S. satellite, Explorer, launched in February 1958. Hundreds of reports were received by the ARRL from those who heard it.

Amateur Radio was growing in 1958. The total number of hams was over 160,000, with predictions that we would go over 200,000 by 1960. ARRL membership was also at its highest ever, 60,000. In fact, there were so many hams, the FCC was running out of call signs. The traditional 1x3 calls beginning with "W" or "K" were almost completely used up, especially in the 2nd and 6th call areas. To alleviate the problem, the FCC began the 2x3 format. Henceforth, new Technician, General and Extra Class call signs would begin with "WA", while Novices would get "WV". The large growth in the number of licenses was partly due to the popularity of the Novice and Technician Class. Novices had 50 KC on both 80 and 40 meters, a full 150 KC on 15, and voice privileges on the 145-147 MC portion of 2 meters. The Technician Class license, which had started out with only 220 MC and above, had been given 6 meters in 1955. With the sunspots at their peak in 1958, thousands of Novices and Technicians were on 15 and 6, working worldwide DX, and getting WAC, WAS, and even DXCC awards. This upset some higher class licensees, some of whom demanded a reduction in the number of frequencies available to the Novice and Technician. No frequencies were taken away, however, the ARRL went on record as being against giving Technicians any 2 meter privileges. It wasn't until the 1970's that Technicians would finally get the full 2 meter band.

Early in the year, the ARRL filed a strong opposition to a proposal to remove Amateurs from the 11 meter band and establish a "Citizens Radio Service" there. Granted, the band was lightly used by hams; it wasn't a worldwide allocation, and there was interference from Industrial, Scientific and Medical devices on 27.12 MC, still it was OUR BAND, and the ARRL made a good argument for keeping it. The FCC was expected to make a decision by the summer.

In technical developments, slow scan TV was first described in the August, 1958 issue of QST. Transistors were coming out of the purely experimental stage, and were starting to show up in practical circuits. There were several all transistor power supply and modulator projects, and even a transistorized10 meter "walkie-talkie".

Mandatory in any 1958 amateur base station was a broadcast band receiver. Why? In a word, CONELRAD. CONELRAD was the predecessor to the Emergency Broadcast System. It used key stations which would broadcast emergency messages on 640 or 1240 KC. Every amateur station had to monitor 640 or 1240 KC while on the air. Mobile operators in contact with a base station did not have to monitor CONELRAD.

Speaking of mobile, do you want to try it? Just remember these simple 1958 FCC rules: "Notices are required to the FCC Engineer-in-Charge of the Districts wherein the mobile or portable operation is contemplated, when such operation shall be in excess of 48 hours without return to the home address. Also, please remember to include the portable location or mobile itinerary, the dates of the beginning and end of each period of operation away from home, and the registry or license number of the vessel, vehicle, or aircraft from which mobile operation is to occur." Got that?

If you still want to try mobile, then consider the new Collins KWM-1 mobile transceiver. Its a 175 watt input SSB/CW rig which covers the 20, 15, 11, and 10 meter bands. You can get it for $695. Let's take a look at the other 1958 rigs out there. Hallicrafters had several receivers, the SX-99 at $150, SX-100 for $295, and the SX-101 at $395. On the transmitter side, there was the HT-32, a 144 watt input AM/SSB/CW unit which covered the 80, 40, 20, 15, 11, and 10 meter bands for $675. Johnson "Viking" transmitters ranged in price from $55 for a basic CW kit to $950 for a 600 watt SSB/AM/CW assembled unit. You can choose a good companion receiver from Hammarlund, from the HQ-100 ($170) to the HQ150 ($294) to the all new HQ160 ($379). For VHF operators, the Gonset "Communicator III", an AM rig for 6 or 2 meters was introduced at $270. It was CD approved, of course. Clegg had the Model 62T10, a 2-6-10 meter transmitter. On the budget side, perfect for the Novice, was the new National NC-60 general coverage receiver for $60. Heathkit, of course, had some excellent bargains, from the DX-20 CW rig ($35), to the DX-40, a 75 watt AM/CW rig for 80-10 meters (including 11 meters) at $65, to a general coverage receiver for only $30. All of the above were kits, of course.

How many Radio Shack stores were there in 1958? Two!! (Boston, Mass and New Haven, Conn.). Radio Shack had a 6 transistor portable radio for only $29.95, which was "perfect for monitoring CONELRAD"

But the BIG NEWS in 1958 came from Collins. Late in the year, they introduced the S/Line of equipment. Collins took out glorious, exquisite, multi page, full color ads in QST to show off the 32 S-1 transmitter, the 75 S-1 receiver, and the 30 S-1 linear amplifier. A new standard had been set in amateur radio, and sideband was here to stay.

On September 11, 1958, the FCC came to a decision: "our"11 meter band would be removed from us and turned over to the new Class C and Class D Citizens Band. A new concept was developing; that access to the airwaves should be made available to individuals for non-technical, non-hobby personal communications. It was the dawn of a new era.

In our next installment, we'll look at amateur radio in the early 60's. 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.