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 #33   by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

For the FCC, 1978 started off, not with a bang, but rather a ban. On January 1, 1978, the FCC banned the sale of older 23 channel CB sets which did not meet the tougher Type-Acceptance specifications of the new 40 channel units. Anticipating this deadline, manufacturers had been dumping the older radios at fire sale prices. In particular, the crystal controlled 3 and 6 channel CB rigs were being sold--new--for as little as $10. This was a bonanza for hams looking for an inexpensive alternative to 2 meter FM. With 10 meter crystals installed, a CB radio could be realigned for 28 MHz operation in less than 20 minutes. Hundreds of amateurs, myself included, snapped up these unwanted CB sets and converted them to 10 meters. Throughout 1978, 73 magazine ran a series on various 11 meter radios, and how to get them tuned up on 10. Unfortunately, hams never set up a standardized 10 meter band plan. As a result, each area had their own local calling channels, and the concept fizzled out after a few years.

Speaking of bans, the FCC, in 1978, adopted rules which prohibited the marketing of amplifiers capable of operation between 24 and 35 MHz. They also imposed a Type Acceptance program on amplifiers operating below 144 MHz. The ARRL had vigorously opposed these actions, to no avail. Catalogues, like the one from Lafayette Radio, were full of ads for amplifiers designed for operation between 15 and 6 meters. Although these were ostensibly amateur units, they were designed for a 5 watt AM input, and were styled to match the company's 11 meter radios. The FCC saw through the charade, and imposed their rather draconian measures in order to cut down on illegal high powered CB operations, particularly in the "10 1/2" meter band, between 27.4 and 28 MHz.

On March 24, 1978, the FCC announced that "All prior call sign policies and procedures, written or unwritten, are canceled and hereby replaced". No longer would there be any specific call signs, or secondary station licenses. Instead, the FCC implemented the "4 group" call sign system, which continues to this day.

For years, Technicians had been denied access to the full 2 meter band. They obtained 145--147 MHz in 1959, 147--148 MHz in 1972, and 144.5--145 MHz in 1977. At the beginning of 1978, Technicians were still banned from the 144.0--144.5 MHz segment. Ever since 1969, the ARRL had asked the FCC to give them the full 2 meter band. Finally, on May 15, 1978, the FCC said yes. In addition, they allowed Technicians (and Generals) back into the 6 meter segment from 50.0--50.1 MHz, which had been taken away from them in 1968 as part of Incentive Licensing. At last, Technicians and Generals had full privileges above 50 MHz. However, General Class hams still had one more fight. They were banned from using Slow Scan TV on 75 through 15 meters. That was a fight that would be won another day.

For those Technicians itching to utilize their full 2 meter privileges, manufacturers were introducing new, synthesized transceivers. Radios such as Clegg's FM-DX and FM-28, the Midland 13-510, the Pace Communicator II, the Genave GTX-800, the Heathkit HW 2036A, and the KDK FM-2015R liberated hams from the confining world of 12 channels, and opened up the entire 2 meter band to exploration, in 800 5 KHz steps. Late in the year, Henry Radio introduced the Tempo S-1, a synthesized 2 meter, 1.5 watt HT. The average price of these units was about $350, or $1000 in today's inflation adjusted dollars. There was some good news for those amateurs who couldn't afford, or didn't need an expensive synthesized rig. The prices on discontinued crystal controlled 2 meter radios fell by 60% or more, as dealers made room for the new units.

Unfortunately, crystal controlled rigs were the only items with falling prices. The U.S. was locked into double digit inflation, and the ARRL warned that the $12 membership dues would probably have to be increased. Otherwise, the League was doing fine. Membership was 165,000--which was about half the number of the 330,000 hams. Incidentally, the ARRL's membership today is also 165,000, but there are 700,000 hams. League membership has dropped from 50% to 25%.

The big news towards the end of 1978 was NBVM--which stood for Narrow Band Voice Modulation. A description of this mode is quite technical, but in summary, on FM a frequency compandor compressed the signal bandwidth on transmit, and expanded the signal bandwidth on receive. For AM, an amplitude compandor compressed the signal amplitude on transmit, and expanded the signal amplitude on receive. The result was a significant reduction in transmitted bandwidth, less co-channel interference, and an improved signal to noise ratio. FCC tests showed that a signal 40 db stronger and only 2 KHz away would not cause harmful interference to the received signal. Henry Radio came out with a NBVM system--the VBC Model 3000. It featured a 1300 Hz bandwidth, which was 1/2 that of sideband, 1/4 of AM, and 1/10 of FM. Despite the apparent advantages of NBVM, it never took off in the amateur community.

Perhaps NBVM failed because, at the end of 1978, hams were preoccupied with WARC-79. No, that's not an FM Translator call sign. It stood for the World Administrative Radio Conference which would take place in 1979. Amateurs were optimistic, yet concerned. In our next installment, we will look at WARC-79. So, until then, tune up your amplitude and frequency compandors, and explore that 2 meter band.

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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