History of Amateur Radio in the US


Mike Graham, K7CTW


This appeared in the August 1999 (electronic) edition of "The Monitor", the newsletter of the Twin States ARC Mike Maynard, WB1GRR Editor. Reprinted from the ARNS Bulletin, Steve Auyer, N2TKX.

Part I - 1895 to 1912 - Most of us are already familiar with the landmark work of Guglielmo Marconi. In the early 1890's he was taught by Professor Vincenzo Rosa at the University of Balogna, who was highly knowledgeable in the mathematics of Maxwell and the electromagnetic experiments of Heinrich Hertz and other contemporary scientists of the day. By 1895, young Marconi was putting this knowledge to practical use, and began improving upon the inventions of Faraday (induction coil), Hertz (wave emitter), Rhigi (spark gap), Branly (coherer) and Morse (telegraph key) to make a device with which he could communicate over a short distance without the use of wires. Eventually he relocated his equipment outdoors in order to work over greater distances. He soon learned that by connecting the output of his device to an "antenna" and that, by grounding both transmitter and receiver, he could dramatically increase the distance over which he communicated. By the close of 1895 he was communicating with his brother Alphonso over a distance greater than one mile. Practical wireless communications had been born.

What may be less obvious is the fact that there was a major body of scientific work, dating back nearly 300 years, from which Marconi was able to extract his ideas. In 1600 William Gilbert suggested that there may be a link between the phenomena of static electricity and magnetism. In 1831 Michael Faraday first demonstrated the principle of electromagnetic induction; in 1942 Joseph Henry discovers and publishes papers on oscillatory discharges from a Leyden Jar condenser; Samuel Morse sends his now-famous "What hath God wrought!" message over the first long-distance land telegraph system in1844; in 1864 James Clerk Maxwell formulates his "Maxwell's Equations", which account for actions of electromagnetic waves, and Mahlon Loomis makes a sketch of a keyed vertical capacitively-loaded aerial device and an inductor, all in series.

He later applies for, and receives (1872), a patent for a form of wireless communications. In 1875 Wemer Siemens shows that electricity travels along a wire at nearly the velocity of light; Heinrich Hertz, in 1887, proves Maxwell's theory that electricity can travel through space, and that these, waves share the same physical properties as light. Finally, in 1894, Marconi reads about Heinrich Hertz's discovery of electromagnetic waves, and begins his own experiments. Which leads us up to where we left off. Guglielmo Marconi, is unable to obtain funding from the Italian government to continue work. In 1896 Marconi traveled to England and formed the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company.

Throughout the remainder of the 1890s, Marconi continued to improve upon his equipment, installed the first commercial wireless station on an island off the coast of Ireland, installed his equipment in British warships, and reported on the America's Cup races using wireless to get information to shore. But being a realist, he knew that, in order to gain true acceptance, he would have to demonstrate the long-haul capability of wireless to the skeptical scientific community, who said that communications over anything greater than line-of-site was impossible, and to the military, who would have the greatest need.

 In his now-famous experiments between Cornwall, England and 'Newfoundland, Marconi stunned the world on December 16, 1901, when he announced that he had succeeded in bridging the Atlantic with his radio signals. Given this incredible news, one would think that wireless would "take off' and be available everywhere. Sadly, such was not the case. Marconi's company continued to languish in some obscurity and by 1912, there were only about 400 commercial vessels utilizing wireless. However, both here in the United States and abroad in the UK. individual experimenters were starting to dabble in radio, and by 1909 the first radio clubs began forming.

Most radio historians place the beginnings of "amateur" radio at around 1908-1909. In that year a new magazine called "Modern Electrics" began publication and over the next two years its circulation increased from 2,000 to more than 30,000. It was also at this time that the first how-to book for "amateurs" appeared, "Wireless Telegraph Construction for Amateurs".

In the first of a 30-part weekly series of articles on the history of amateur radio (appearing in "The Hudson Loop", the weekly newsletter of the ARRL Hudson Division), Bill Continelli, W2XOY, states that "It is difficult to know exactly how many amateur stations were on the air in this completely unregulated, laissez-fair era, but reliable estimates put the number of major stations (capable of communication over 10 miles) at 600, while minor stations with a one or two mile range probably numbered 3000 or more. Thus, if a year had to be arbitrarily chosen as the start of amateur radio, it would probably be 1908."

Mr. Continelli goes on to assert "As for the first amateur, that's a harder one. Without licensing, regulations, or a written record, there will never be a definitive answer to this question. However, The Wayback Machine has come up with the name W.E.D. Stokes, Jr. He was a founding member and the first President of the first amateur radio club "the Junior Wireless Club, Limited", of New York City. This organization was formed on January 2, 1909. The "Junior Wireless Club" was the precursor to the Radio Club of America. Other founding members who might lay claim to the title first amateur were George Eltz, Frank King, and Fred Seymour." Not everyone agrees with this particular series of assessments.

While researching various websites for historical reference material, I stumbled onto a fascinating, but rather lengthy, paper by Berj N. Ensanian, KI3U. The paper attempts to prove the assertion that a Mr. Leslie Miller, A.I.E.E., is perhaps the first true "radio amateur", due primarily to the fact that in January, 1898 he published an article in the British hobby magazine "The Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician" titled "The New Wireless Telegraphy. Some Interesting Experiments for Amateurs.'' Little, if anything, is known about this Mr. Miller, and his title of "A.I.E.E." is assumed to mean "American Institute of Electrical Engineers'', the precursor to the IEEE. Neither is it asserted or known if Mr. Miller was, indeed, an American, as his credentials might have us believe, or possibly British, in that the article appeared in the premier issue of subject magazine. In all likelihood, these and similar questions may remain unanswered. But does it really matter? It is rather like trying to prove who was the first stamp collector, or who was the first model airplane builder. The simple fact is that, as early as 1898, construction articles began appearing in various magazines. During the period from near the turn of the century until about 1908 or 1909, more and more experimentally inclined individuals began to take an interest in wireless communications, either for scientific and profit-motive reasons, or for purely personal reasons.

It was also during the decade from 1901 - 1910, that J. A. Fleming, who was incidentally working for Marconi at the time, invented the 2 element vacuum tube (the diode, 1904). Dr. Lee De Forest developed the 3 element vacuum tube (the triode, 1906, patented 18 February, 1908 under U.S. Patent No. 879,532).

These two events, in and of themselves, were seminal in the development of modern radio, and would ultimately pave the way for its rapid growth. The diode "valve", as vacuum tubes were then called (and are often still called by the British), provided the means of rectifying alternating current into pulsating direct current, which could then be filtered to provide a ready source of power. However, it was very inefficient in controlling current flow through the tube when a signal was applied to the cathode. By inserting a "control grid" between the valve's cathode and anode, and by applying a proper value of "biasing" voltage, De Forest discovered that a small audio signal (First Audion Valve - circa 1907) applied to this control grid would produce a large current flow change through the valve from cathode to anode, thereby amplifying the original signal. The first triode valves, dubbed "Audions", had an amplification factor of about 10. It wasn't until later that Edwin Armstrong discovered these same "Audions" would, under the proper conditions, oscillate at a reasonably constant frequency, heralding the inception of continuous wave, or CW, transmissions.

By 1911 it has been estimated that there were as many as 10,000 amateurs in this country alone. Given that all radio transmitters were spark-gap and occupied virtually all of the radio spectrum, and that communications, be it commercial or amateur, was totally unregulated, it is easy to understand the horrible interference and confusion which was prevalent on the air. Cooperation between transmitting stations was required, yet sadly such cooperation did not occur and, indeed, often-times deliberate jamming was carried out, particularly Dr. Lee De Forest -1907 between rival commercial wireless stations. Obviously something needed to be done about this sorry state of affairs. Prodded by the U.S. Navy, whose equipment was among the oldest and most outdated, the United States Congress began taking a serious look at the situation in the Spring of 1912. As is often the case, it was too little and too late. If not for a disaster of monumental proportions, legislation to control radio emanations might have dragged on in the halls of Congress for years.

On the night of April 14, 1912 the HMS Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York. Documentation of that now famous incident would most likely fill a library. Condensed down, the historical importance of that terrible night for us present day amateur radio operators is that the first true SOS signals were sent, 713 lives were saved, and the world, for the first time in history, knew about a disaster far at sea long before the rescue ships reached port in New York a day later. Speculation abounds that more lives, perhaps nearly all, could have been saved, had it not been for the interference, the fake messages being sent by unknowns, and the total lack of radio discipline. But of this we are certain; the world had been given a wakeup call to the importance of radio, and to the urgent need for "on air" discipline and control of the spectrum. The impact of that solitary event was to profoundly change radio and its development, both for commercial and amateur interests, forever. ln Part II, we'll take a look at the aftermath of the

Titanic disaster and the resultant Radio Act of 1912, continuous wave (CW), the formation of the ARRL, and events leading up to World War 1.


Bell Rotor History

From the Web pages of Craig Henderson, N8DJB, C.E.O. of Rotor Doctor. This appeared in the August-September 1999 edition of the 'LOG', the newsletter of the West Park Radiops, Glenn Williams, A F8C Editor.

The general line of bell rotors was developed at CornelI-Dubilier Electronics about 1950, starting with the TR-2 and TR-4 series of rotators designed for the newly popular directional TV antennas. As Ham Radio antennas became larger and larger during the 50's, the need for larger rotators became evident. So sometime about 1956, work started on a heavier design with a separate brake feature to keep the antennas from wind-milling.

The Ham-M was the result of beefing up considerably the TV rotator design with stronger, heavier gears, the wedge brake, and an improved south-centered meter marked in degrees from 0 to 360. The first Ham-M's, series 1 and 2, debuted in November, 1957 and used a wiring format that was different and not compatible with later units.

Ham-M series 3 showed up late in 1959 alter numerous complaints about the wiring, meter flutter and the backward scale. Series 3 revised wiring DOES MATCH the current models. There is an improved grounding system for the meter feedback circuit, and a north-centered scale. Ham-M's continued until 1974 through Series 4 and 5 with minor improvements in reliability.

HAM-2 or HAM-II debuted around 1974 -1975. Aside from rumors, the most logical explanation for the change was a reworked design for the separate brake control because as antennas continued to grow' in size, the instant stopping feature of the older style was causing more and more breakdowns. The rotator units were the same. The new control was larger, therefore lending itself nicely to later options. Early Ham-Il control covers were two shades of brown; later model covers were black and white. Both controls had a gold faceplate and three plastic levers for direction control, along with front-mounted calibration and on/off switches.

HAM-3 or HAM-Ill came out in the spring of 1977 to fulfill the needs of contesters and other big-guns whose antennas continued to get yet larger. The wedge brake style which had served so well for almost 20 years was being overloaded more and more often by monoband yagis with boom lengths larger than the average tri-bander. The pointed steel brake wedge evolved into being squared off on the end. A new brake housing design was built to match. This was an incredible improvement, and is still being used. Also at that time, the control was modernized internally with a printed circuit board to replace the old point-to-point wiring style. A disc pre-brake was also added to the motor to stop coasting.

HAM-4 or HAM-IV came soon after the Ham-3, about January 1979, because all these new larger antennas tended to break the die-cast ring gear used until then. The improvement consisted of making the ring gear out of low-grade stainless steel machined to match other gears and the main casting. The other most noticeable change was the switch to black plastic covers on the control unit, with a black faceplate.

Other changes within the next few years included changing the old rotary on/off switch to a toggle switch and redesigning the indication potentiometer to improve the grounding for more reliable meter indication.

In 1981, TELEX-HYGAIN bought the rotator portion of CDE and continued to build the world's most popular rotators, the Ham-4, T2X, and several smaller models. However, as the years progressed, the material in the brake wedge somehow changed, and problems started to develop (such as broken wedges) in 1985. Late in 1987, C.A.T.S. produced some hardened steel wedges and Hygain followed suit in November of 1988. This was the last major change to date on this series and its popularity continues.

Starting in September 1977, CDE produced a restyled unit commonly called the T2X or TailTwister. It used much heavier castings, was painted a flat black color, and contained an extra row of ball bearings located at the bottom of the thicker brake casting. Therefore, the T2X rotator will support heavier antennas, and is much more tolerant of side thrust when pipe mounted with a lower adapter. Originally, the T2X had a specially made wedge that was much different than the smaller models, but this proved to be a problem. After several different designs the whole brake assembly was changed in 1984 to a similar, but not identical system like the Ham-4. One point worth mentioning is that all internal components such as the motor and all gears are the same as the HAM4. This is not widely known. The only other change from the HAM-4 is the use of LED indicators in the control for showing activation of the brake and direction levers.




BY Pete, N2PYV

The meeting was called to order by Pat at 5:02PM.

All present introduced themselves.


Ted, KD2UB

Ted read the financial statement. Finances continue to be in good shape.


Gordon, KB2UB

Nothing new.


Bob, W2FPF

No activity


Bob, W2ILP

No applicants again this month. Bob believes people are waiting for the FCC ruling on license classes.



Marty reported he has found a new printer for the Special Event QSL card.

Gordon reported that the Ten-Tec radio is back and working. It was refurbished and realigned. The cost was $123.70 plus $43.00 shipping and insurance.

The Sunday Morning WAG Net had thirteen contacts and the Wednesday 20 Meter net had eight.


Mike, KJ6XE has moved south. Perhaps we will hear him on the nets when he gets set up.




Jerry Kestler and Tom Gwynne from the Friends for Long Island Heritage, gave an interesting preview of the new Cradle of Aviation Museum that will be opened about a year from now at Mitchel field. They explained the Friends efforts to raise funds for, acquire, design and set up the exhibits.

Many of the aircraft have been refurbished by Grumman retirees. They described an Aerospace Honor Roll that is being established with names recorded on plaques and a description of the person's aerospace accomplishments recorded on a computer located in a kiosk. Spaces on the Honor Roll may be obtained with a $125 contribution to the Friends for LI Heritage. For more info the Cradle of Aviation Website is www.cradleofaviation.org .





Kathy Davis, our Election Chairperson, presented a slate of nominees that were voted on. The results were as follows:

President - Pat Masterson, KE2LJ

Vice President - Gordon Sammis, KB2UB

Secretary - Pete Rapelje, N2PYV

Treasurer - Ted Placek, KD2UB

2Yr Board Member - Bill Schiebel, N2NFI

2Yr Board Member - Dan Manfre, WA2NDP



Forty Meters: 7.289 at 7:30 AM EST Sundays.

Twenty meters: 14.275 12 PM EST Wednesdays.

Two Meters: 146.745 at 8:30 PM EST Thursdays.

145.33 at 8:45 PM Thursdays

145.33 at 9:00 PM EST Mondays (ARES/RACES)


VE exams for all classes of amateur licenses are held on the second Tuesday of each month at 5 :00 PM in the Plant 5 Cafeteria. (See page 7 for directions to exam site.) The exam fee for 1998 is $6.35.Thanks to Bob Wexelbaum, W2ILP for this information.


General Meetings of the GARC are held on the third Wednesday of each month, at 5:00 PM in the Plant 5 cafeteria. All who are interested in Amateur Radio are invited to attend. Board meetings are held eight days before the General Meeting and GARC members are invited to attend, but please call Pat Masterson, KE2LJ, at 346-6316 to confirm place and time of meeting



How 'Dues' Your Club Compare?

Sorry for the title of this article, but ARNS recently conducted a survey of member clubs to see what their dues structure was. The following information was gathered from 32 clubs scattered across the US and Canada ($C convened to $US). Data was not available from all clubs in all categories so the percentages vary from category to category for a given number. And finally, we make no "value" judgments. That is, a club with a very high dues structure might be delivering excellent value, while a club with a lower dues structure might in fact be no bargain at all.


Dues were taken from the published values in each club's newsletter. In some cases where the values weren't published (some clubs publish their dues structure only once or twice a year) an e-mail to the newsletter editor generally resulted in a response.

Regular Dues

These ran from a low of $6/year to a high of $25/year. The average was $17/year. A few clubs would pro-rate dues for members joining during the year - some on a monthly basis, some on a quarterly basis.

Senior Dues

Only 25% of the clubs offered a reduced rate for Seniors. These ran from a low of $0 (free) to a high of $15. The average was $10/year. The usual criteria was that the member had to be 65 years of age or older.

Junior Dues

30% &the clubs offered a reduced rate for seniors, with the range running from $5/year to $15/year. The average was $9/year. The criteria for Junior members varied - some had to be in school, some had to be 16 or under.

Family Dues

71% of the clubs offered a reduced rate for this category. But the definition varied greatly from club to club. Some clubs covered everyone in a family for this amount, some clubs allowed additional members of a family to join for this amount. We've tried to adjust the amounts to reflect what an additional member in a family would have to pay over and above what the first member paid. This ran from $1/year to $18/year with an average of $6/year. Some clubs send newsletters to all members of a family, some to only one.

Autopatch Fees

87% of the clubs in this survey operate at least one repeater. Generally use of the repeater is free but 14% of the clubs charge a fee to use the autopatch feature. One club charges a one-time fee of $35. The other clubs charge an average of $7/year. At least one club provides its members with a special "speed dialing" code for this additional charge.


As you would expect, 100% of the clubs in this survey provided their members with a newsletter. Generally the newsletters are monthly with a very few skipping several months in the summer. One or two clubs charged extra for members wanting to receive a newsletter. Generally the charge was about $5 a year in addition to the regular club dues. And a few clubs would offer a discount if the member didn't want a newsletter.


50% of the clubs in this survey held at least one hamfest a year.

Web Site

84% of the clubs in this survey had a site on the Internet for their club. This percentage has grown significantly in the past few years. Some of the sites are simple pages with not much more than a listing of the club's meetings, but many now offer on-line newsletters, photo galleries, and other features.





As we all know this will be the last CQ de WA2LQO newsletter for this century. I have already started to work on the January, 2000 issue. Many good things happened to our newsletter in the 1900s and many more good things will happen in the 2000s.

I have turned the program I wrote that allows to user to read all of the articles and other information published in the 12, 1998 CQ de WA2LQO newsletters over to the Club and copies should be available shortly. Ask about them.

The program for the 1999 newsletters will be available in January of 2000. If enough interest exists a program will be made available that contains both years.

Happy Holidays to all!! The Editor, KA2FEA