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 #30    by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

The early 1950's were not a time of peace and security in the United States. The Korean War was in full force, with the constant threat of Communist Chinese intervention. The Iron Curtain cut Eastern Europe off from the Free World. The Soviet Union developed their own atomic weapons. Communists, real and imagined, roamed the United States, with Senator Joseph McCarthy in hot pursuit. Writers, actors, and directors suffered under the Hollywood Blacklist. In other words, the "Fabulous Fifties" were still a couple of years away.

Amateurs were on the air, but many feared that the FCC would eventually suspend operations, as they had during WWII. Amazingly, despite what QST called a "national emergency", there was no Civil Defense program in place to utilize amateur radio operators in case of enemy attack or natural disasters. The previous Civil Defense program--the War Emergency Radio Service- -W.E.R.S. for short--had been out of service since 1945. Even in its heyday, W.E.R.S. had many shortcomings. It wasn't established until June 1942--7 months after the war started. It was limited to the 2 1/2 & 1 1/4 meter amateur bands, with no HF frequencies. Finally, W.E.R.S. operations, other than on the air drills, were limited to actual enemy activity. There was no provision for W.E.R.S. to be used during natural disasters.

The ARRL, FCC, and Civil Defense leaders learned from the mistakes of W.E.R.S., and were determined to have a viable radio Civil Defense program in place before it was needed. Thus, on December 19, 1951, at the same time that CONELRAD was announced, the FCC released the proposed regulations for RACES- -The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. On August 15, 1952, the final RACES regulations were put into effect. Amateur Radio operators now had a Civil Defense program in place that would utilize their communications skills.

Before a RACES unit could be authorized, there were some requirements that had to be met. First, the local government needed a Civil Defense organization and a Communications Plan. The local Plan had to be approved at the State Civil Defense level. Next was the appointment of the RACES Radio Officer. The Radio Officer, or R.O. for short, had to hold a Conditional, General, Advanced, or Extra Class amateur license, or a first or second class commercial radiotelegraph or radiotelephone license. The potential Radio Officer submitted FCC Form 482 to receive certification--provided, of course, that they passed the loyalty investigation. Note that the Radio Officer did not need to be an amateur. The FCC and Civil Defense experts determined that about 25,000 amateurs might be available for RACES authorization. However, in a full scale national emergency, up to 200,000 radio operators would be needed. Thus, provisions were incorporated for qualified commercial licensees to become part of the RACES program.

After the Communications Plan was approved and the Radio Officer was certified, station authorizations could be issued. Amateurs submitted FCC Form 481 to have their station license made valid for RACES operation. Novices and Technicians were not eligible for RACES authorizations. The FCC and the ARRL emphasized that membership in RACES was NOT an invitation to continue casual amateur radio activity in a war. RACES was strictly dedicated to public service, under the direction and control of the local C.D. unit.

The frequencies initially allocated to RACES were:

1800-2000 kc (subject to LORAN restrictions)
3500-3510 kc
3990-4000 kc
28.55-28.75 mc
29.45-29.65 mc
50.35-50.75 mc
53.35-53.75 mc
145.17-145.71 mc
146.79-147.33 mc
220-225 mc

In addition, 1750-1800 kc (which was outside of our 160 meter band) was allowed under Disaster Communications Service.

Note that the initial frequencies did not include the 40, 20 and 15 meter bands. The 15 meter band was not yet available to amateurs when RACES was first proposed. Later, 40, 20 and 15 were added, and the 75 meter phone segment was expanded.

Reaction to the RACES frequencies was mixed. Some were upset that they were insufficient, and were not exclusive to RACES. Others thought of it as a diabolical plot on the part of government agencies and commercial interests to grab parts of the amateur bands for non amateur use by non amateur personnel.

RACES was never used during an enemy attack. Over the years, however, it proved its value in countless natural disasters. Frequencies were expanded, and Novices and Technicians were brought into the fold.

One interesting fact about RACES--it was designed to be a TEMPORARY service. The initial regulations indicated that it would be discontinued after the termination of the national emergency. CONELRAD has been gone for 37 years, and the "Fallout Shelter" signs are rusting away on the walls of abandoned buildings. Why does RACES--a temporary service--still live? The answer is found in every natural disaster that hits the U.S.--every tornado, hurricane, flood, earthquake, blizzard and fire. Every time dedicated amateurs, working with their local C.D. Officials, provide effective emergency communications, they keep a "temporary" service alive.

In our next installment we will explore "Long Delayed Echoes". Is there a natural explanation? Or, were they truly something "out of this world"?

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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