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 #34   by Bill Continelli, W2XOY

NEW BANDS AT GENEVA!!! Those were the good words at the beginning of 1980. WARC-79 was over and amateur radio came out ahead. We kept all of our major HF, VHF and UHF bands and received three new HF allocations: a 50 kHz shared band at 10 MHz, and two new exclusive 100 kHz segments at 18 and 24 MHz. These were the first new HF bands since 1947, when we received the 15 meter band. The only down side was the time element: it would take about two years to actually receive 10 MHz, and up to nine years for 18 and 24 MHz. Amateurs, however, had waited until 1952 to get 15 meters, we would gladly wait again--especially for 200 kHz of worldwide HF spectrum.

Other legal and regulatory news dominated the Amateur world at the beginning of 1980. The FCC proposed a new SSB only CB Band from 27.410 MHz (just above CB channel 40) to 27.54 MHz. For this new CB allocation, the FCC proposed removing the 155 mile contact limit (thus allowing DX contacts), as well as permitting VFO’s. A non-technical test would be required for access to the CB-SSB band. Reaction, as you might guess, was strong and divided. HF “outbanders” (who worked the “10 1/2” meter band) were in favor--unlike the 220 MHz “Class E CB” proposal a few years back, they could work skip on this new band. Or, should we say it would legitimize their present operations? The ARRL and the Amateur community were strongly opposed. Many letters in QST pointed out the intrusion of the illegal operators on the “10 1/2” meter band into the bottom part of our 10 meter band. In the end, the proposal was abandoned. The “Freebanders” and “Outbanders” continue to operate the 27.41 to 28 MHz segment to this day.

In January, 1980, the FCC approved ASCII, which, at the time, was described as “an encoding system for digital transmissions that is compatible with most personal computers”. Packet Radio had received the Official Government Blessing. Wayne Green, W2NSD/1, in a 73 magazine editorial, called the FCC action “asinine”, because it only allowed 300 BAUD. Wayne pointed out that 1200 BAUD was the norm in telephone operations, and speeds as fast as 9600 BAUD would soon be possible.

Novices and Technicians got good news in 1980--they could now operate in Canada. In the past, they were not allowed to operate north of the border, because Canada had no equivalent license. Since Canada now had a VHF license, they opened the RF door to all Novices and Technicians--no reciprocal permit required.

Congress is considering a Bill to allow 10 year licenses, and the authorization of Volunteer Examiners. The ARRL is watching this Bill closely, and will keep the Amateur community informed.

Hams had been looking forward to the launch of AMSAT-OSCAR Phase 3. Unfortunately, on May 23, 1980, the launch vehicle failed and dumped it into the ocean.

In 1980, the start of the “Wayback” articles was 16 years in the future. What was a history starved ham to do? Don’t worry--just pick up 73 magazine. Eric Shalkhauser, W9CI, was writing the “History of Ham Radio” as a series in 73 magazine. Also, in 73 magazine, the “CB to 10 meter” series was still going strong, showing how to convert those obsolete 23 channel CB rigs to 10 meters and, in some cases, 10 meter FM.

In 1980, what rigs were on the market? In the field of 2 meter handhelds, the Tempo S-1 (the first synthesized HT) was facing some stiff competition. Kenwood introduced the TR-2400, and Yaesu brought out the FT-207R. Both were priced at “just” $395. ICOM unveiled the IC-2A and the IC-2AT. Prices started at just $200 (no nicads or TTP) to $270 fully equipped. In response, Tempo dropped the price of the S-1 to $260. If you can’t afford a synthesized HT, buy a discontinued crystal controlled rig. The HY-GAIN 1 watt, 6 channel HT is just $88. The Yaesu FT-202R, a 1 watt 6 channel unit (which looks just like the FT-207R) is only $125. PACE is leaving the ham market and has its remaining 2 meter handhelds on closeout for less than $120. Inflation has increased prices 250% since 1980, figure out the prices of these radios in today’s dollars.

Finally, in 1980, did you get “Bashed”? Did you buy “The Final Exam”?  Would you EVER admit to it? What’s the controversy?

In 1980, Dick Bash, KL7IHP, published a series of books entitled “The Final Exam” and nicknamed the “Bash books”. The actual test questions and multiple-choice answers were reproduced verbatim as they appeared on the FCC Technician/General, Advanced, and Amateur Extra exams. Remember, in 1980, the FCC exam question pool was not published. The FCC had a general “syllabus” of rules, regulations, and technical data covered on each exam.  The ARRL License Manual discussed these topics in detail. But no one had published the actual questions and answers until Dick Bash came along. How did he get the questions? Simple--he would go down to the FCC examination site, stand outside the door, and question the applicants as they came out. Cooperative hams (or would be hams) gave him the questions and multiple choice answers that appeared on their exams. Later, as the books began to sell in numbers, applicants would mail him the questions and answers that were on the tests. The books were popular--selling at the rate of 1,000 per month in 1980.

Dick Bash claimed his operation was 100% legal. He said that since the questions were available via a FOIA request, they weren’t classified and could be published. He further stated that he was justified in publishing “The Final Exam” because the syllabus and License Manuals out there did not adequately prepare applicants for the exams. Indeed, FCC records showed that the failure rate at some exam sessions was 69%--less than 1 out of 3 passed. This was before the Volunteer Exam program. FCC exams were given at the 20 field offices nationwide, and at quarterly, semi-annual, and annual examination sites. If you failed, it might be 3 months or more before you could retake the test.

The ARRL and the FCC fought back. QST refused to run ads for “The Final Exam”. The FCC began rewording and changing the questions on the exams to thwart those who had memorized the earlier questions. Dick Bash claimed that the FCC used coercion to pressure magazines and distributors not to advertise or sell “The Final Exam”. This battle went on until 1984, when the Volunteer Examiner program was instituted, and the FCC released the question pool to the public. Dick Bash ceased his operation. Did he win in principle? You decide.

In our next installment, we are going to stay in 1980, and look at four unique public service activities in which Amateur Radio played an important role. Sadly, in one event, two hams lost their lives.

So, until then, turn on your TRS-80 and copy all those new packet signals.  

Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 by William Continelli, W2XOY

All rights reserved.

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