WHY AN
AMATEUR RADIO OPERATOR
IS CALLED A 'HAM'

 

 

Have you ever wondered why we radio amateurs are called "HAMS"?

Well, it goes like this- the word Ham was applied in 1908
and was the call letters of one of the first amateur wireless stations
operated by some members of the Harvard Radio Club.

They were Albert S. Hyman, Bob Almy and Peggie Murray.
At first, they called their station Hyman-Almy-Murray.
Tapping out such a long name in code soon called for revision
and they changed it to HY-AL-MU, using the first two letters of each name.

Early in 1909, some confusion resulted between signals from amateur wireless HYALMU
and a Mexican ship named HYALMO,
so they decided to use only the first letter of each name and the call became HAM.

In the early pioneer unregulated days of radio,
amateur operators picked their own frequency and call letters.
Then, as now, some amateurs had better signals than some commercial stations.
The resulting interference finally came to the attention of
congressional committees in Washington and they gave much time
to propose legislation designed to critically limit amateur activity.

In 1911, Albert Hyman chose the controversial Wireless Regulation Bill
as the topic for his thesis at Harvard.
His instructor insisted that a copy be sent to Senator David I. Walsh,
a member of one of the committees hearing the bill.
The Senator was so impressed, he sent for Hyman to appear before the committee

He was put on the stand and described how the little amateur station was built
and he almost cried when he told the crowded committee room that if the bill went through,
they would have to close down the station because they could not afford the license fees
and all the other requirements which were set up in the bill.

The debate started and the little station HAM became a symbol
of all the little amateur stations in the country crying out to be saved
from menace and greed of the big commercial stations who didn't want them around.
Finally, the bill got to the floor of the Congress
and every speaker talked about the poor little station "HAM".

That's how it all started. You will find the whole story in the Congressional Record.

Nationwide publicity associated station HAM with amateurs.
From that day to this and probably to the end of time, in radio, an amateur is a HAM.

 

 

 

 

"Ham"

"Ham: a poor operator. A 'plug.'"

That's the definition of the word given in G. M. Dodge's The Telegraph Instructor even before radio. The definition has never changed in wire telegraphy. The first wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession.

In those early days, spark was king and every station occupied the same wavelength--or, more accurately perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other's receivers. Many of the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working across town, could effectively jam all the other operators in the area. When this happened, frustrated commercial operators would call the ship whose weaker signals had been blotted out by the amateurs and say "SRI OM THOSE #&$!@ HAMS ARE JAMMING YOU."

Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it to themselves in true "Yankee Doodle" fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original meaning has completely disappeared.