Why Radio Amateurs Are Called “Hams”

The Most Probable Reasons by W2ILP


Last month as an April Fool’s article, I repeated a bogus story about why Radio Amateurs are called “hams”.  This month I will (as promised) explain three theories that seem to have some logical probability of being the real reason.  Since all three seem possible, there seems to be no way to totally eliminate any possibility.  I originally researched this subject, years ago, before there was an Internet.  Now when I research this subject using web search engines, I find that the three theories are still being considered to be the best guesses available.  Maybe one of you readers can decide which of the three is correct.  I can’t.     Your Editor. 



Before radio was invented there were land line telegraphers, who used a version of Morse code that clicked.   This required a skill.  The skill involved both the sending and the receiving of the tapped out messages.  More often than not the final message contained errors or even missing words. Often the final recipients of the messages would complain to the receiving telegrapher.  The telegrapher might say, “It’s not may fault. It’s the fault of the guy who sent the message. He must have sent it with his feet.” Good telegraphers were said to send with their wrists or fists but legendary bad ones sent with their heels.  Note that a poor brass pounder could not be called an amateur, because there was no such a thing yet.  People, who connected wires to commercial telegraph lines, in order to privately communicate without paying, were also not known as amateurs.  They were tolerated by commercial telegraphers who enjoyed reading their mail. (A story was written in those days about lonely women in small towns who became pirate telegraphers in the hope of meeting lonely male telegraphers at the time before phone calls could be made.)   It was the telegraphers who were sending with their feet that were eventually called hams, not the pirate non-commercial telegraphers.  Some say it was because they were using the ham string muscles in their legs in order to tap with their feet.  I don’t know if this concept is too abstract.  Theory One does seem to be a likely first origin of the “Ham” word being applied to telegraphers and since it came before there were even any radio hams it could be the most valid….but no…



If you saw the play “My Fair Lady”, you might remember that there was a man called Professor Higgins in it, who was an expert on British dialects.  He claimed to be able to tell which neighborhood of London anyone came from just by hearing them speak.  One of the most common distortions of the English language was the dropping of Hs everywhere by most of the working classes.  People who were of the landed aristocracy spoke English properly…but as always happen there are pretenders who want to be recognized as so affluent that they try to over do what the truly refined people are doing.  In the case of these wannabees; they add extra Hs which the poorer folks didn’t ever drop, in front many words.   Some eventually even got accepted in the dictionary. An example is the word “Herb” which is pronounced “erb’.  I don’t know why, but I think that some cooking experts like to make herbs sound foreign and purposely create new pronunciations for them.  An example is how the late Julia Childs pronounced oregano as: or-ee-GAN-oh.  Oregano is not pronounced that way in French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Polish or English, so it sounded foreign in all of those countries too.  After recognizing such quirks in linguistics it can easily be understood that the term “amateur” could be abbreviated as ‘am’.  AM could thus be used on CW to mean Radio Amateur.  Unfortunately AM could be confusing if an amateur sent a message saying “I AM AN AM”.   This is like Popeye the Sailor Man, who said “I am wot I am”.  This goes very deeply into the philosophy of the meaning of life itself, which may not be intended by radio amateurs of a less introspective nature.  So what did they do? They added an H in front of the AM, making it HAM.  This became technically even more necessary when AM became the abbreviation for Amplitude Modulation.   The ‘added H’ theory was considered the true origin by many writers in books about amateur radio for novices, but theories one and three superceded it.   Proper British gentlefolk, as well as Cockneys, knock the h out of it.  



This theory is based on a parallel concept, which could be illustrated by using a logical Venn diagram. It puts radio amateurs into a circular set classification to share the term “Ham” with actors and entertainers who over emote.   A comedian like Milton Berle, who got himself into every act of a variety show, was jeered as a ham who was hamming up the show.  Now we have to find out why the word ham is applied to show stealing actors as well as amateur radio operators.   The early professional actors couldn’t buy professional cosmetics so they made their own.  It is believed that they made “grease paint” from the fat that was on left over ham bones.  The term “Ham bone” was used for the MC in early minstrel shows, who was also known as “Mr. Interlocketer”.  He was like a net controller for talented performers who painted their faces black with ham bone grease mixed with chimney soot.  This not only permitted white performers to work, and to mimic Blacks in southern segregated theaters, but it gave some very talented African performers a chance to perform in the segregated theaters when the audience thought they were really white folks painted black like the other mistrals.  Al Jolson painted his face black when he sang “Mammy”.  In my opinion he had enough trouble being Jewish without trying to be Black. Years later, Sammy Davis Jr. got even by converting

to Judaism..  Ham performers are always trying to confound the public by displaying unusual actions and appearances.  Michael Jackson is a recent example.  A case is now pending where a jury must decide not only what role Jackson plays but what he is or is not.  Whatever may be decided, he can be recognized as a ham actor.  Strangely, if one believes Theory Three, it concludes a logical decision that he can permit amateur operators to overlap into the same Venn diagram circle which is characteristic of all hams in general…That’s show biz!


 A lot of research and detective work can be derived by studying the lyrics to songs that are popular during formative contemporary time periods.  Theory One reminds me of the song “Why can’t the English Teach Their Children How to Speak?” from “My Fair Lady”.  Theory Two reminds me of “Mammy” sung by Al Jolson in the first talking movie called the “Jazz Singer”. Theory Three reminds me of the song “There’s No Business Like Show Business”.  “Grease Paint” is mentioned in that song as well as “A turkey that you know will fold”, which I referred to last month.  I am always trying to relate songs and everything else to ham radio.  In 19 51 (when I was first licensed) a Cole Porter song called “Nobody’s Chasing Me” was very popular.  One line of that song was:

                     The HAMS are chasing TV

To this day I am not sure if the reference to “hams” in that song meant ham actors who were trying to get a job in the new media or hams who were blanking out channel two with TVI.


W2ILP (Illustrating Lingo Possibilities)


There is some room here so I’ll retell a story about inconsistent pronunciations that I told at a GARC meeting.   It has nothing to do with the word “Ham”. 

When I was sent by Grumman to work on the J-Stars program in Melbourne, Florida, I thought that the word Melbourne should be pronounced like it would rhyme with the word Airborne.

When I pronounced it that way a southern gal cringed. She said “If you say it that way everyone here will know yer a Yankee fer sure.  It is pronounced Melburn, which rhymes with sun burn.”

Years later I visited Melbourne, Australia and pronounced it Melburn.  A ham there said “We don’t pronounce it ‘ere like that Yank.  We call it Melbin, which rhymes with dust bin.”

This is also the way that most people from the UK say it

OK so what is a dust bin?  After more research, I found that a British dust bin is the equivalent of a Beverly Hills trash receptacle, a Bostonian refuse pail or a Brooklyn garbage can.


W2ILP (Investigating Language Peculiarities)


Congratulations: Larry, AB2NT, recently achieved DXCC.

Please send reports of your ham related accomplishments to the editor, so that they may be included in future issues.                                                                                             Page 3








Every year we submit a budget to Recreation in hopes of getting them to help us with our annual expenses. They called a meeting last week (free pizza lunch) for all the Club Commissioners, and one of the topics was funding. They have been cutback in the amounts they are getting from the Company, and have thusly reduced the amounts that are being made available to the Clubs. Ed provided me with a list of our expenses from last year, and I used that as a request number. But, they subtract your income from you request, and that reduced our request to a little over $700. And when the final numbers were given out, we were approved for $500. That’s not too bad, and I am not unhappy with it. It’s time to start submitting requests to them, and pulling some money out of that account. We have big postage bills every year, plus Field Day expenses. The $500 will help us a lot. Now all I have to do is send in some receipts and see what happens.

Things are still busy here, not too much Radio going on. Maybe when I retire I’ll be able to do some things I’ve been putting off. Of course I keep thinking about what kind of tower to erect at my retirement home in Sun City Center. I also need to build a garage there, so I’ll try to get all the permits ready, and have the garage floor and tower mount all poured at the same time. But that means all the engineering for both projects has to be completed at the same time. Once I get the garage built, I can start shipping my Long Island stuff (basement junk, furniture, etc.) to Florida, and store it in the garage till I get there to move in. So I still have to decide which tower to buy, and which antennae to put on it. I am looking real hard at the Steppir 3 element HF beam. It has 4 active elements on all bands 10 through 20, including the WARC bands. The Steppir has elements that automatically extend/retract as you change bands, and it always presents a good match on any frequency. The only issue is that the 4 element version has a boom that’s much longer than the 3 element version. But, if you want that additional gain, you have to pay the price. As for towers, it’s going to have to be a crankup (hurricane alley) and those are more expensive. They also require periodic replacement of the cables, something I’d rather not be having to do as I reach the Golden Years. Hopefully, I can pay somebody to o that for me when necessary.

Our next GARC meeting is 5/18th at UL. Bob (W2ILP) will be speaking on the use of crystals in electronics. It sounds interesting, and I hope you all make it. 

–Pat KE2LJ                                            

                                                                                                                                      Page 4


                                                                                                                                                                                                                   GRUMMAN AMATEUR RADIO CLUB


 Pete, N2PYV, secretary.


                                          The meeting was called to order by Pat at 5:40 PM.



 Finances continue to be in good shape.                Both repeaters are working. No activity.


VE REPORT – Bob, W2ILP                               NET REPORT- Zack, WB2PUE

There were no applicants at the April VE              Average activity on all nets.  

Session..  There were 5 VEs present.                     


W2ILP                                                                     No activity.          .


Gordon KB2UB gave a presentation about recent improvements in marine radio communication that are becoming popular with small boat owners.  Selective calling, emergency channels, and radio connection to Global Positioning System units were discussed. This topic included the necessary compatibility with the Coast Guard, as well as large commercial ships, which utilize the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).  For anyone who may be interested, the GARC VE team is certified to proctor exams for FCC GMDSS operator and maintainer licenses.                               



40 Meters: 7.289 MHz at 7:30 AM EST Sundays.

20 Meters: 14.275 MHz at 12 Noon EST Wednesdays.

2 Meters (via repeaters): 146.745 MHz  (-.600)at 8:30 PM EST Thursdays.

                                           145.330 MHz (- .600) at 9:00 PM EST Thursdays.

[Tone for both repeaters is 136.5 Hz]         (ARES/RACES) Mondays



General Meetings of the GARC are held on the third Wednesday of each month, starting at 5:30 PM.   The meetings are usually held at the Underwriters Lab, 1285 Walt Whitman Road,  Melville, NY.  Driving directions and maps can be obtained from http://www.mapquest.com   It is suggested that the GARC Web Site be checked to be certain of meeting location, which may change after this newsletter is distributed. Board meetings are held eight days before the General Meeting and GARC members are invited. to attend, but please call Pat Masterson, KE2LJ, at 516-346-7125 to confirm place and time of meeting.                   


                                               GARC WEB SITE

The web site of the GARC can be found at http://www.qsl.net/wa2lqo/     Webmaster is Pat Masterson KE2LJ.  Pictures of GARC activities, archives of newsletters, roster of members, and other information about the GARC may be found there.

                                                 FOR SALE

Heathkit SB-102 (needs work), with matching Power Supply (works OK)   $100.00

Call ZAK, WB2PUE @ (631)667-4628

                                                                                                                                                                 Page 5                                                                                                                                             

Internet Links of the Month for Internerds


The information pertaining to the time synchronizing correction site may require a new link address to access

If you have not been able to get to it, I suggest that you do a web search for Dimension 4 which will lead you to the latest address link..


Whitehat  who has provided software for QSL cards, envelopes and logging, has updated his

software since I last reported.  He seems to update it at least once every month.  Thus if you have not downloaded it yet or want to keep it current, I suggest that you send an e-mail to his e-mail address:  [email protected]   and get on his list.  He will then keep you updated with the latest links himself.


I am sure that most of you who have Internet access have gone to http://www.qrz.com many times to check on ham’s names and addresses from their call letters and vice versa.  This saves us from having to buy call books and keep them updated. In addition to their basic information, as provided by the FCC, hams are encouraged to add short bios about themselves and even pictures.  There are other sites that can provide call book type information but I like the QRZ site best. Most hams that use the QRZ web site pay little attention to the talk, chat, and joke threads that get posted there. There are lots of regular posters, who are also avid hams on there.  There are lots of funny jokes, not so funny comments about recent news events…yep and even stuff about sex, politics and religion that we won’t write about in this newsletter.   The chat threads are closely monitored by monitors.  The monitors post in them themselves.  They only ban hams that become extremely obnoxious, threaten others, or go to the level of writing XX rated stuff.  R rated jokes seem to usually get by. 

       I had stopped posting on chat groups myself for some time.  After 9/11/01 I felt that I might offend others if I seemed too opinionated.  Time has passed and I again am often posting in the QRZ group threads. 

I admit that I would not write about many of the topics that come up on QRZ here.  Surprisingly I have met up with some interesting hams who have read and responded to me, including a former editor of a now defunct Ham magazine, and a ham who worked for Collins at the time I worked there.   If you have an open mind to the kind of rag chewing that is prevalent there you are certainly welcome to join us.  If this sort of stuff is not your bag, maybe it is best that you stay away.  I need the laughter and lamenting and the social interaction that the posters there provide me with and it is also a source of new ideas technical, traditional and political.   We can also see that most opinions of hams from other US states and even foreign hams are not so different from our own.   After all they are hams and PC users as we are.  Any differences of opinions can usually be respected and tolerated because of the common interests.  Stuff is said in chat groups there that shouldn’t be said over the air, and posts are sometimes a lot longer than would be possible where band conditions shift.  Yep…We can find more talk than the usual “RST, QSL info and good luck and 73” messages that we get on the air.   In spite of this many of the posters are very active on the air as well as in the QRZ chat rooms.  Who knows? You might find some of your best buddies there and get a chance to get to know a lot more about them and what they think than you could on the air.   Just my humble suggestion.



Here is another cryptogram:






Solution to last month’s cryptogram: COPY FROM ONE IT’S PLAGERISM.

                                                           COPY FROM TWO IT’S RESEARCH.



We are continuing to proctor exams for all classes of ham licenses on the second Tuesday of each month, starting at 5:00 PM.


The present exams are: Element 1: 5 WPM CW, Element 2: Technician,

Element 3: General and Element 4: Amateur Extra Class. The fee for 2005 is $14 for all exams taken in one sitting.


Applicants for upgrading should bring a photocopy of their present license and their FRN number.


New, first time, applicants should be aware that their Social Security

number will be required on their application form. All applicants should bring drivers license or other picture ID. The exams are given at the Underwriters Lab in Melville,

unless otherwise noted.   This is the same building where GARC meetings are presently held.


For any further information e-mail: -

[email protected] or phone: - (631) 499-2214


Study material information is available at the http://www.arrl.org or the http://www.w5yi.org web site.


All VECs use the same Q & A pools.


Since the beginning of the VE program the GARC has provided opportunities to take ham exams monthly, during all twelve months of every year.


Bob Wexelbaum, W2ILP

and the Grumman VE team.



                                   Page 7



May 2005

 VOL.  78,  NO.  3



Bob Wexelbaum  W2ILP

(631) 499-2214

[email protected]





And all the members of GARC (we hope!)


CQ de WA2LQO is published monthly by the Grumman Amateur Radio Club for its members and friends. Send articles and amateur equipment advertisements to:




If you want to submit articles or amateur equipment ads via e-mail do the following:

1. For submission direct to editor call him at above number to set up a transfer.

2. For e-mail transfer:

Internet Address

[email protected]



I have not received any original articles from you guys or from other hams. Therefore let me give you fair notice that if I do not, I will again write the cover article next month. I know that some of you get bored by articles that are too technical.  If I don’t get any articles I will write an article about a famous mystical tool, known as the Woff Hong and how H.P. Maxim used it(using the pen name of the O.M.) to threaten all lids who sent bad CW or generated unstable overly broad signals.  If you don’t already know it, there is a Woff Hong ceremony that still remains as a tradition. Without divulging any secrets to those who have not been officially initiated, I intend to explain some facts about this ritual.


w2ilp (Initiating Lids Properly)




President               Pat Masterson              KE2LJ              V01-01    516-346-7125

Vice President       Gordon Sammis             KB2UB            Retiree     631-666-7463*

Secretary               Peter Rapelje                  N2PYV          Retiree     516-676-0694
Treasurer               Ed Gellender                   WB2EAV         X02-14   516-575-0013

2Yr Board Member    Zack Zilavy               WB2PUE        Retiree     631-667-4628
2YrBoard Member     Dave Ledo               AB2EF

2Yr Board Member   Bob Christen         W2FPF               

1Yr Board Member   Bob Wexelbaum    W2ILP                 Retiree     631-499-2214

1Yr Board Member    Jack Cotterell        WA2PYK            Retiree     516-249-0979

Trustee WA2LQO       Ray Schubnel        W2DKM           Retiree




Meeting Programs       Contact a Board Member

FCC Exam Coord.         Bob Wexelbaum       W2ILP                           631-499-2214

* Gordon’s phone Number was incorrect in other CQ issues.




































Sixty Years 1944 -2004

P.O. Box 0644

Bethpage, NY 11714-0644




                                                                                                        FIRST CLASS

                                                                           DO  NOTpeaking of herbsDELAY



                                 TECHNICAL BITS                


Continuing to write about the early development of radios, we now can consider early radio receivers.  The simplest receiver is the crystal set.  All that it contains is a tuned circuit to tune to the desired radio frequency and a detector. After trying various mechanical methods, it was found that the presence of an RF carrier and later the detection of the audio envelopes on RF carriers could be achieved by rectifying the carrier with a device that would permit current to travel in only one direction.






A device to do this needed     only to handle small currents. It had to have a very low forward resistance.  Early experimenters found that there were many semiconductors that could accomplish this detector requirement, long before transistor amplification was deemed to be possible.  A crystal diode that can do the job of converting RF to audio frequency signals, which can be heard on headphones, was not the diode package that is cataloged today.  Early detectors consisted of an exposed blob of some






mineral and a wire which was used to probe the mineral surface in the hope of finding a spot where radio signals could be detected.  The wire was called a “cat’s whisker” and the mineral blob was the crystal. Together they were a detector. Galena and iron pirates were found to work well.  Some experimenters even found that rusty razor blades (iron oxide) would work.  Today most crystal sets use germanium diodes, not silicon diodes. This is because the forward voltage drop of silicon is about twice that of germanium.