Make your own free website on


First of all we must ask the question, what is Amateur Radio(Ham Radio)? Amateur Radio is a hobby pursued by those wishing to use a personal radio station to communicate, purely for noncommercial purposes, with other radio hobbyists. Amateur radio is a non-commercial radio service, operated by private persons for their own instruction and training, with worldwide intercommunication between individuals and opportunities for technical studies. A license is required which is obtainable in various categories by way of taking a test successfully, in the course of which specialized knowledge as well as practical skills in the field of amateur radio have to be demonstrated. The tests consist of multiple choice question tests and timed Morse code tests. Twenty-seven small frequency bands throughout the spectrum are allocated to this service internationally.

Practical "wireless" had its start in 1896 when Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian experimenter, first sent a signal over a distance of two miles. By 1899, he succeeded in sending a wireless message across the English Channel, a distance of 32 miles. In December, 1901, Marconi was able to bridge the Atlantic, this caught the world's attention and sparked the imagination of thousands of potential amateurs, who took their first steps into wireless.

In the early days, everything was "spark". Spark wireless was merely a form of "controlled static". A high voltage inside a spark coil would jump across a gap, which was coupled to an antenna. The spark was keyed on and off to transmit the code. The signal generated was extremely broad. The early wireless stations were inefficient. Transmitting ranges varied from as little as 600 feet with a 1/2 inch coil to just 100 miles from a kilowatt station and a 15 inch spark coil.

In the first decade of wireless, there was little or no interest in personal communications with other stations; rather, the concentration was on technical development, either in the interest of pure science, or economic interests. In 1908, however, wireless began to change. Technical developments had been doing well, and a number of major competitors had formed the first "wireless trust" United Wireless. With a temporary truce in effect, equipment was now more available to the general public. There were about 600 stations that were capable of transmitting over ten miles and 3000 or more that were capable of transmitting within one or two miles.

In the summer of 1912 a new Radio Act was put in to place. There was fear that commercial interests would try to monopolize the radio spectrum, so the government stepped in and set up a licensing structure administered by the Secretary of Commerce. In the new law, "private stations" were limited to a wavelength of 200 meters and a maximum power of 1 kW. Since the known usable spectrum at that time was from about 300 to 3000 meters (1000 kHz to 100 kHz), it was believed that amateur radio would disappear, without expensive government enforcement.

At first, it appeared that they were correct. Before the Radio Act, there were an estimated 10,000 stations. After the act there were only 1200 licenses issued. Amateurs found it difficult to get their spark stations going on 200 meters, and, when they did, they discovered their maximum range was 25-50 miles, instead of the 250-500 mile range they had on the longer wavelengths.

Edwin H. Armstrong was an avid experimenter. While working on a new type of radio he discovered what he called a regenerative design in both transmitting and receiving. This design would allow the amateurs more distance when transmitting and receiving and would lead to the end of spark. Experimenters who used this design discovered that distances of up to 350 miles were now possible on 200 meters.

Realizing that long distances on 200 meters were not possible at that time, even with a regenerative receiver Hiram Maxim, founder of the ARRL, got the Department of Commerce to authorize special operations on 425 meters (706 kHz) for relay stations in remote areas. By September, 1914, there were 237 relay stations appointed, and traffic routes were established from Maine to Minneapolis and Seattle to Idaho. With the publicity, the number of amateur stations, as well as the relay stations in the ARRL, continued to grow. By 1916, there were 6000 amateur licenses, (of which 1000 were ARRL relay stations) and 150,000 receivers in use.

Other amateur activities in this period brought publicity to the hobby. In March 1913, a severe windstorm knocked out power, telegraph and telephone lines in the Midwest. Battery powered amateur stations handled routine and emergency traffic until regular service was restored. This was the first documented emergency communications in amateur radio history.

Now because of interference it was the time to make a decision between spark and regenerative(CW or Morse Code). A spark station on 200 meters actually generated a signal from 150 to 250 meters. With the sensitive regenerative receivers now in use, the practical range was several hundred miles. Transcontinental relays now took less than five minutes. The number of licensed amateur operators stood at 5719 in 1920, 10,809 in 1921, and 14,179 in 1922. And all were operating on 200 meters! Various transatlantic tests were conducted from 1921 to 1923. The results overwhelmingly showed CW was far superior to spark. A single tube CW transmitter, could outperform a 500 watt spark station. Since CW took only a fraction of the bandwidth that spark did, over 50 CW stations in the same area could occupy the 150 to 250 meter range, vs. one spark station.

The transatlantic tests also revealed some other interesting facts. Due to the interference on 200 meters, some stations had dropped down to 100 meters where they found conditions much better. Throughout the 1922-24 period, hundreds of tests and casual contacts were made on the 100 meter wavelength which showed not only CW's superiority over spark, but increased range on the shorter wavelengths. During 1924, several CW contacts were made at distances exceeding 6000 miles.

The phenomenal success of CW convinced the majority of amateurs to buy vacuum tubes. A few still used spark sets, but by 1924, spark was almost extinct. The 150 to 250 meter region was now orderly. On July 24, 1924, the Department of Commerce authorized new amateur frequency bands. They were 150 to 200 meters (1500 to 2000 kc), 75 to 80 meters (3500 to 4000 kc), 40 to 43 meters (7000 to 7500kc), 20 to 22 meters (13,600 to 15,000 kc), and 4 to 5 meters (60,000 to 75,000 kc). Except for a portion of the 150 to 200 meter band, spark was prohibited. In 1927 spark was finally banned for good. By January, 1925, the 80, 40, and 20 meter bands were filling up with amateurs, drawn by the promise of transcontinental, daylight DX.

Due to troubles with amateurs broadcasting the Federal Government quickly moved to end the chaotic mess on the broadcast band. The Radio Act of 1927 was approved on February 23. This law defined "amateur radio" for the first time in a Federal statute, and created the Federal Radio Commission, which was given the power to classify and regulate all aspects of all radio stations for "the public interest, convenience or necessity". Criminal penalties were written into the 1927 Act for violations of the Act, or any regulation thereunder. In regards to amateur radio, the Commission, in effect, kept things the way they were for the 15,000 hams. All agreements and regulations enacted by the Department of Commerce were maintained and incorporated into current regulations.






{Index / ARRL}

Questions? Comments? E-mail me at