Saturday, July 3, 2010


Fayette County has an Amateur Radio operators club ("hams") and they held a 24-hour "ham-fest" on June 26th at the Emergency Operations Center on State Route 62 North. The mission was to contact as many other ham operators across the country as possible, and receive points in many different catagories. For my birthday "bucket list," I was invited to take a tour of the event.

When I walked in, it was a room of "J's" - Jim's, John's, Jason's and more. Jason was the current operator in the radio room. His son was assisting by adding each contact into the computer. Some of the others were gathered in the conference room, documenting or researching things.

While I was there, Charles Duff of Mt. Sterling, brought in one of his old radios for the members to check out. It was an Atwater Kent 4700 Receiving Set that Duff has owned for more than 60 years, he said.

A ham can use a handheld radio, have a radio in a vehicle using a magnet mount antena, or use a base station. Ham Radio provides a near limitless opportunity to explore, to study, to serve the public, and to learn. As knowledge increases, one can pursue higher class licenses that provide access to additional radio frequencies. You can pursue new technologies like digital communications, fast scan television, satellite communications, wireless Internet access, low power communications, and even search the sky for extra-terrestrial intelligence (why not?). You can participate in public service or disaster communications. Hams volunteer to help out at events, like long-distance bicycle races, using amateur radio communications to aid in safety issues. There is a world of exploration and opportunities in amateur radio.

The history of Amateur Radio goes back more than 100 years. It has evolved from oscillatory spark transmitters of the late 1800's, the tube-type receivers of the early 1900's, to the FM repeaters of the 1970's. Who was the first Amateur Radio operator? It's not historically proven, but one participant in the race to develop radio was a young Italian Guglielmo Marconi. He had a strong interest in physics and electrical science as a boy. He studied the subject in school and became aware of the possibility of using electromagnetic waves for communicating. In 1894 he started to work on the project in earnest. Two years later he was in England with what he felt was a useful radio device. During a demonstration before British officials, Marconi managed to communicate over a distance of 2 miles without wires. It was an astonishing feat at the time, launching Marconi’s career. Amateur Radio continued to improve over the years, and the United States government began licensing Amateur Radio operators in 1912. This came after Congress decided they needed to regulate wireless communications and passed the Radio Act of 1912.

By 1914, there were thousands of Amateur Radio operators--hams--in the United States. Hiram Percy Maxim, a leading Connecticut inventor and industrialist, saw the need for an organization to band together this fledgling group of radio experimenters. In May 1914, he founded the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) to meet that need.

ARRL reflects the commitment and enthusiasm of American hams, and also provides leadership as the voice of Amateur Radio in the USA, in dealings with the Federal Communications Commission, the World Administrative Radio Conference, the International Amateur Radio Union, and with the general public. The ARRL is the primary source of information about what is going on in the ham radio world. It provides books, news, support and information for individuals and clubs, special operating events, all sorts of continuing education classes and other benefits for its members.

As Amateur Radio evolved, The Radio Act of 1912 was replaced by The Radio Act of 1927, only lasting seven years. In 1934 Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934 which established the FCC (Federal Communications Commission. It had no immediate effect on hams, except that their affairs were henceforth handled by the FCC.

A new amateur license structure was announced in 1951 by the FCC to include the Novice, Technician, and Amateur Extra licenses, along with name changes of the old class A, B, and C licenses to Advanced, General and Conditional, respectively. The Novice was a one-year, non-renewable license. The Technician license was created to accommodate those who wish to use the VHF and UHF bands above 220 MHz, without taking a 13-WPM code test. Both of these new licenses required 5-WPM Morse code tests. In late December 1952, the FCC changed the licensing structure once again. No new Advanced licenses would be issued, and Advanced and Amateur Extra licensees were withdrawn. Privileges for the Novice and Technician licensees remained unchanged. In 1991, the FCC again changed the requirements of the Morse code test by issuing "codeless" Technician licenses which recruited thousands of new licensees.

Amateur Radio's history over the past century has been one of adversity and change, inevitably followed by struggle, success and growth. Today a new era in communication technology is upon us. We have survived the technological challenges of the past by understanding new technologies that would lead Amateur Radio forward.

To learn more about the 100-year history, visit

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