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Andrew Pemberton
Deby Dagher
UWRT 1102-002
21 June 2015
The Impact of Amateur Radio Operators
Amateur Radio is silent now-its keys stilled, its microphones lifeless. Dust gathers in
scores of thousands of radio shacks, their operators off to war (The Radio Amateurs Handbook
9). These are the first words in a book I picked up off of a shelf in an antique store on a whim
one day, The American Radio Relay Leagues Radio Amateurs Handbook, 1944 edition. The
imagery of this brought me right back to that time, put me into the place of one of those
operators. I was sad, the world was quiet around me, and the hobby that I had invested so much
time an energy into was lost to me. Amateur Radio is silent now-but it is not dead (The Radio
Amateurs Handbook 9).
This book was published in 1944, in the heart of World War II, and the war meant that
amateurs were to be off of the airwaves. However, it also meant that the military was in need of
knowledgeable radio operators. Suddenly, these hobbyists were off helping their country, and
innovating new technologies throughout. From my own perspective though, this was still an
early period in the technological era. The integrated circuit wasnt even a thought yet. There was
a whole chapter in the book I was reading devoted to the vacuum tube. All of the symbols and
schematics in that book were hand-drawn. I knew radio had a long way to go still, and I knew
that there were still plenty of active radio operators, so I knew that amateur radio would survive.
But to what end? What impact would these operators have on radio as a whole?

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Radio is not dead. Radio is everywhere. Everything out there that is wireless, is simply
radio. Wi-Fi communication is two pieces of technology communicating with each other over
radio waves. Cellular phones use radio technology to function. Bluetooth is a form of radio.
Radio impacts nearly everybody. When there are emergencies or disasters that bring down power
or the internet, radio still functions. And where radio functions, there are usually amateur radio
operators around to facilitate communication through this technology. By looking back to see
how, in just over 100 years, this technology has grown from unimaginable to nearly globally
taken for granted, I believe we can see ways to continue to innovate and cultivate new
technologies.
Amateur radio is as old as radio itself. The term radio is synonymous with
electromagnetic radiation. It was widely used as a prefix for all things wireless, until it just
became the norm to call these things radio (White 1). Guglielmo Marconi was the first person
to demonstrate the practical use of electromagnetic waves for communication and, while he was
never licensed as an amateur, he always considered himself an amateur at heart (Maxwell 1).
This was a time of chaos in the amateur radio world. Radio was a new frontier, where many
amateurs had to build their own components, and no measuring instruments existed (Laport,
Tilton, and Rowe 16). I almost wish the world was still like this. It was certainly an exciting time
for amateur hobbyists who were attracted to radio.
Through the years leading up to World War I, transmission distances increased and the
hobby grew. Eventually, as it became more popular, the heavy-handed spark transmissions
created a large amount of interference. This problem was brought to the governments attention,
and Congress eventually approved the Radio Act of 1912, which created licensure requirement
and restrictions for amateurs. Amateurs were to be restricted to the 200 meter wavelength. This

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was initially thought to be a deathblow to amateur radio, but instead just bred innovation, as
amateurs found that because of the shorter range of this wavelength, relaying messages was an
effective way to increase range. Hiram Percy Maxim saw this happening, and decided to
organize the relay stations, and formed the American Radio Relay League, or ARRL (Maxwell
2). In 1917, when the war came, it brought with it a total ban on amateur radio transmitting,
another potential deathblow (Laport, Tilton, and Rowe 16). But even complete banishment from
the airwaves wouldnt kill amateur radio, seeing as radios were rather tricky, unpredictable
devices, and there was an inadequate supply of equipment and personnel with skills to operate it
(Haring 95). So even though the amateurs couldnt operate at home, there was a need for them,
and around 4000 amateurs ended up in the military operating radios (Maxwell 2).
At this point, it can be seen that this hobby was more than just passing entertainment.
Amateur radio operators were proud of what they could do, and how they could serve. The
ARRL printed an Amateurs Code in The Radio Amateurs Handbook, painting the amateur as
gentlemanly (later updated to considerate), loyal, progressive, friendly, balanced, and patriotic
(8). This language alone shows the sense of pride that the amateurs felt. It also dictates the
necessity for service, and for innovation. After the war, amateurs came back to find that the
Navy would refuse to lift the ban on amateur radio transmission. Amateurs and their
organizations banded together to get politically involved and, after about a year, got Congress to
direct the Navy to allow amateurs back on the air (Maxwell 2). Again and again, these hobbyists
will make things happen that are thought to be impossible, and keeping amateur radio alive.
For the years following the war, new technologies were introduced, records were broken,
and seemingly impossible transmission distances became commonplace. In 1923, the first twoway radio communication between America and Europe was made by amateurs Schnell,

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Reinhartz, and Deloy (Laport, Tilton, and Rowe 18). This was done on a shortwave band that
was thought to be useless when the government had restricted amateur usage. Once again,
amateurs were experimenting, and accomplishing the impossible. When war came around again,
radio was everywhere. Amateurs were once again banished from the airwaves, and called upon to
serve. Haring says that Liberty magazine credited the licensed ham with being the guy who has
won the radio war (95). It would take the military significantly less time to train an amateur for
military radio operation than somebody with now working knowledge of that technology (Haring
96). This time around amateur radio operators, or hams, were being hailed as heroes.

So much

so that amateur activities in other countries increased noticeably as a credit to American amateur
radio knowledge (Laport, Tilton, and Rowe 21). This was the last time that amateur radio was
shut down. It was allowed, and even encouraged, to continue operating through the Cold War and
Korean and Vietnam wars (Haring 95). After World War II, amateurs continued to plow forward.
In 1960, they even pioneered methods of bouncing signals off of the moon for communication
(Maxwell 5).
Amateurs have always been in the thick of the experimentation and innovation that has
moved radio forward. I have seen this theme over and over in my research. They have been
excited about their craft, and have wanted to share it with the world. There have been so many
challenges and seemingly impossible situations that amateur radio operators have faced and
overcome. They have created something out of nothing, and bounced back from losing situations
time and time again. Amateur radio is amateur radios biggest advocate, and the community of
amateurs is quite often a powerful force.
I set out to learn more about how amateur radio came to be. There is so much information
out there that I think one could spend a lifetime sifting through it. While I think that this has

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given me a lens through which I can view amateur radio, and I may yet pick it up as a hobby, it
has really just brought one question to my mind that I would like to explore further: What, if any,
hobby does my generation have that can have the same lasting, global impact that amateur radio
operators have had? Technology is advancing at an incredible pace, but it is advancing inside
laboratories and research facilities, and not in peoples backyards and attics. I feel that my
generation is missing out on a sense of growth and accomplishment that was present in earlier
days.

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Works Cited
Haring, Kristen. Ham Radio's Technical Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2007. Print.
Laport, E., E. Tilton, and R. Rowe. "Amateur Radio." IEEE Communications Magazine 19.4
(n.d.): 16-24. Print.
Maxwell, Jim. Amateur Radio: 100 Years of Discovery. QST 2010. PDF file.
The Radio Amateur's Handbook. W. Hartford, CT: American Radio League, 1944. Print.
White, Thomas. "Word Origins." United States Early Radio History. n.p. n.d. Web. 09 June 2015.