Contacter l'auteur / Contact the author

Recherche dans ce site / Search in this site



The History of Amateur Radio

Radio technology at war.

The 1940s : All at war, single on sideband (IX)

In Septembre 1939, Europe entered once again into war. In the United Kingdom and all European countries, all amateur activity was suspended until 1946. Most British Commonwealth followed this decision as well, including Canada. A few German stations remained active throughout the war, some of them being spy stations in Nazi's pay. 

The US amateurs continued operating although their DX activity was rather reduced. The West coast Radio News magazine even announced the first annual international DX contest in 1939 as if nothing wrong happened a few thousands km away.

It is only in June 1940 that FCC forbid US amateurs to contact stations in the war zone. After the airraid on Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941) all ham radio operations were suspended, and the U.S.A. was also involved in war, in both front, in Europe and in South-East Asia. 

The sole amateurs allowed to emit were US hams members of the War Emergency Radio Service, but of course it was not really for the fun.

At the start of hostilities, the U.S.A. had released more than 60,000 licenses to radio amateurs. Among them approximatively 25,000 served in the armed forces, 25,000 others helped war industries or where enrolled as instructors in military schools.

News of 1941: Airraid on Pearl Harbor

A left, extract from CBS news of December 7, 1941 interrupting its programs to announce the airraid on Pearl Harbor (86 KB .WAV). At right, the speech of President Roosevelt qualifying this "day of infamy" (528 KB .WAV). Here is the radiogram sent on December 7, 1941 by the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) just after the attack. Documents NARA.

This time ARRL stayed open and continued to publish QST, although it included much less pages due to the paper rationing. Some of its pages were replaced with advertisements dealing with the war effort. ARRL publications being very appreciated for years, they were used for military and civilian training. A special Defense edition of his Handbook appeared in 1942.

Power rationing and "Système D"

During the war, it was hard in the Western Europe to listen to the radio, and still worse to emit because many equipments were requisitioned, but also because there was no more mains (220V) either. After sunset the occupying forces cut the mains power to be sure of the occultation. In this way allied forces could not seen any light that would help them to identify their targets. This method was mainly used in strategic places like coastal areas.

But thanks to resourcefulnesses of skilled handymen, the famous "Système D", it didn't prevent amateurs to use their radio to listen at the vital news transmitted by BBC, emitters located in "France libre" and other clandestine radio stations. Members of the Resistance in particular were waiting the famous message "Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne bercent mon coeur d'une langueur monotone", "the long sobs..." poem from Paul Verlaine used as a code message from London to the French Resistance to tell them that D-Day landings would commence the following day. How these amateurs make their radio working ?

Ici Londres... Veuillez écouter maintenant 

quelques messages personnels

BBC call


Les sanglots


The problem was to find a system that was not too power hungry. A typical receiver needed over 80 VA. The first solution was to build a galena receiver. Due to the jam generated by Germans, this system had to be selective at the risk to don't pick up the least emission. An LC circuit followed with a detection could work but was not very efficient. The other solution was to use a vacuum tube receiver. The building is more technical and it required a low power tube and something to power it ! At that time we found the "transcontinentale" serie of tubes made by Phillips, EF 6, EF 9, ECH 3, and compatible EF 80, 85, etc. Their only drawback is that they got quickly warm under 6.3 V and 0.2 A. These famous "transco" tubes were painted red with pins on the side of the socket. Their power requirements was about 2.5 VA. These receivers were of course equipped with a single tube. To power it, amateurs used a bicycle dynamo. Most provided 3 VA. With 6.3 V in input you could produce 220 V ! Of course you needed to listen emissions with a high impedance headset. It was primitive but that worked ! You took a bicycle with a dynamo attached on the rear wheel. You turned it over, saddle and handlebars on the ground, and pedalling by hand, you could listen to the radio !

No more transmissions in Japan

Before the outbreak of World War II, there were about 300 amateur stations in Japan, so about 1 Japanese ham for 200 Americans. Their skills had rapidly reached international standards. As soon as the Commonwealth entered into war, in 1941, just before Pearl Harbor, the Japan Government totally ban all private radio communications and it was ordered to amateurs to halt operations, and needless to say, JARL's activities were likewise suspended. 

Then, in the morning of a partly cloudy day, on August 6, 1945, inhabitants of Hiroshima, and three days later the ones of Nagasaki were the witnesses and the victims of the most horrible weapon that the humankind had ever built, the atomic bomb.

In September 1945, the National Government lifted his ban on the reception of short waves but not for radio transmissions. This state of amateur radio persisted for about a decade until the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951.

The Atomic bomb

In 1907, Einstein published a short formula in the Annalen der Physics that looked insignificant but it was in retrospect the most important of his life, E = mc2. It means that the energy of a body is equal to its inertial mass. At that time and during some decades, nobody unerstood what it really meant. In 1939, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, Fritz Strassmann and coworkers developed the concept of nuclear energy in controlling the chain reaction of a small quantity of heavy and fissil atoms, like plutonium (Pu-239) or uranium (U-235). They asked to Einstein and Szilard to solve some technical problems.

Their idea was to create a free and powerful energy capable of power the world for centuries. It was a good idea, and probably even the best than man has ever had, but as usually military didn't consider the same applications. In their disturbed mind power associated to energy meant bomb, specially atomic bomb. We know the remain of the story. 

The explosion of Hiroshima pictured from a B-29.

Surrounding President F.D.Roosevelt, at left the nightmare of Hiroshima that did over 210,000 deaths and as many in the 50 following years. A right, the capitulation of Japan on 2 September 1945 on the bridge of carrier USS Missouri. Documents Lib. of Congres and anonym.

If you speak French (or use the Translator at left) I wrote some pages about this subject in which you will find more information about atomic bombs, their various effects, the Manhattan Project as well as a gallery of a hundred pictures of some famous tests.

Unfortunately, this discovery appeared during WW II, and after the many japanese attacks in the Pacific, it seemed an excellent opportunity for the U.S.A. to test their bomb on the scene of operations. On August 6, 1945, in a fraction of second, "Little Boy", a 4-ton A-bomb killed 70,000 people and destroyed 62,000 buildings, the 2/3d of Hiroshima city. Three days later, Nagasaki was also stroke and did 35,000 innocent victims. Without condition Japan capitulated. But the effects of this dirty war were not ended. End 1945, four months after the end of war, Japan recorded 140,000 more victims, most burned in their flesh, irradiated and contaminated by the radioactivity released by the bomb. Some have suffered from the bomb up today...

After these sad days, we learnt that the fallout generated by the explosion, not only released radioactivity and heat but it was also associated to intense but temporary perturbations of the electromagnetic spectrum. In the 1980s Sagan and Turok, learnt us that after a global nuclear war, it is more than probable that all wireless communications will be interrupted over a large area, and all unshielded computer devices will be affected and out of use until repair. A complete electronic and radio blackout will be observed for months due to the extreme ionization of the air and most electrons moving freely in the air due to Compton effect. Bad time for hams, and for all of us. Hopefully that always stayed at state of a simulation.

Buy now your Superhet receiver with R.F. stage ! 

This could be the kind of advertising that we can read in magazines in the late '30s. Armstrong's superheterodyne receiver invented in 1918 was soon equipped with an RF stage. It was a major improvement. The goal of the first stage is to provide a front-end amplification in the signal path to the audio. The RF stage tunes the signal picked up by the antenna, amplifies it, and passes it on to the converter stage (mixer).


The RF stage provided, and continue, a high sensitivity and selectivity when amateurs listened to the AM bands, and today SSB. The first modules used an untuned, aperiodic broadband RF stage but quite rapidly a band pass filter was inserted in front of the preamplifier and aperiodic coupling to mixer. 1945 is a turning-point year. Till then there were more receivers equipped with an RF stage because the tubes used amplified less and additional RF amplification was necessary to work in good conditions. After 1945 RF stages installed in receivers were completed with an additional IF stage, a solution that realized easier the required amplification.

End of WWII and birth of military surplus

January 1945, the first issue of CQ magazine.

In January 1945, it was clear that Germany lost the war and that the return of peace and freedom was a question of months. A small American editor took the risk to publish a new ham magazine called CQ. In the beginning, the first purpose of CQ, subtitled "The Radio Amateur's Journal", was to promote mobile ham operating. Time running his interest extended to semiconductors, packet radio and satellites. This is today the main "competitor" of QST, followed immediately behind by 73 and other publications.

The World War II ended on August 17, 1945. No more than 4 days later, the US hams were back on the air on VHF ! Europe restarted more slowly. The format of English licence changed, allowing more flexibility, and the first stations were heard on the air in 1946. By Summer 1946, the US hams saw all their amateur bands restored from 3.5 to 30 Mc. 

New modes were introduced, and more frequency spectrum was allocated for amateur operation world wide, reflecting the importance that is attached to it by the international community. The old 5 and 2.5m bands were replaced with the new 6 and 2m bands, always active nowadays. DXing stations were back on the air on HF and the DXCC program was restarted for the greatest pleasure of hams. 

Thanks to military surplus (called "American Stock" abroad), selling at low cost hundreds of transmitters, receivers, power tubes, rotators and all kind of components, many hams had a chance to operate on the V/UHF bands, setup sturdy HF antennas, and experimenting new modes of traffic like radioteletype, RTTY. 

But in the same time a new problem arose from the background noise hash : TVI. Under the interest of the public, the TV revolution was under way and many US families began to buy the first TV sets. But home devices being poorly protected against interferences and harmonics, radio amateurs were soon pointed at as some of them generate interferences in the first TV as well as in various other electric devices. At that time very few cables, connectors and power lines were totally isolated from external interference and most picked up RF signal emitted by amateurs emissions. The problem concerned few amateurs but in the next year it became urgent to solve it.

To read online : CQ Magazine January 1945, CQ Archives

From left to right an adverstisment published in the February 1947 issue of "Radio News" for the Sylvana tubes often used at that time in the first FM receivers; various tube boxes sold before and after WW II and an amazing advertisment published in 1943 dealing with a projet of "Notebook", an audio and video recorder from Bell & Howell using 4 tubes.

Birth of CQ magazine

Remind that it is in 1945 that CQ magazine was issued for the first time, quickly followed by the CQ WAZ award. Inheriting readers of Radio News among other magazines, its WAZ award, and WW DX contest, CQ became a very active editor and the second amateur magazine after QST.

Frequency shifts not without pain

In November 1945, the FCC began to reorganize the ham bands, and since that time that looks to be one of their favorite activity... They moved first the 56 Mc to 50 Mc, giving birth to the 6-meter band. This allowed TV to use channel 2 without interfering with other services. Without interfering, excepting that using a frequencies range adjacent to broadcast always generates disputes.

In March 1946, the 112 Mc was shifted to 144 Mc, starting the 2-meter band. This change displeased to the tens of thousands radio amateurs who had to adapt (and most replaced) all their equipement and antennas to the new frequencies. It was a good time for ham shops and editors !

Came back from the war, in 1946 radio amateurs began to use the new bands of 6 and 2 meters, and experimented the first Meteor Scatter communications (MS).

In the fall of 1947, the propagation on 6m was wide open from the east coast of the USA to Europe and over the Pacific. Amateur CE1AH broke a record in working J9AA0, in Okinawa, with a distance over 16,800 km (10,500 miles) on 6 meters ! On 2 meters the DX record was over 1045 km (650 miles), on 235 MHz its was 338 km (210 miles), and on 432 MHz it was 299 km (186 miles). Meanwhile, crystal control was designed into 220 MHz gear in some advanced stations.

To download: QST magazines from 1916 to 1941

At left, this cover of "Radio News", March 1947 issue, shows an operator of the Gatti Hallicrafters DX-pedition in South Africa. The receiver is an Hallicraft SX-42. At center, CQ staff photographer did a reconstitution of the typical accessories of an hamshack just after the restoration of amateur activities in 1945. At right, Bill Shaw, W9UIG's hamshack published in the April 1946 issued of "Radio News". Bill used a 500 W transmitter, an Hammarlund HQ-120X receiver and a 3-element antenna. Documents published with the courtesy of CQ magazine and Phil's Old Radios.

New HF and VHF licenses in France and Belgium

Until 1939 there were, in France, two types of licenses : one for the telegraphy and another one for the telephony. This is with the restoration of ham emission in 1946 that the Morse code became mandatory to work on the air, whatever the band. We have to wait 15 years to see the release of a code-free license limited to frequencies over 30 MHz. On August 1939, French licenses are not more released with ban of transmitting due to war. On May 10, 1940, all radio amateurs have to put on their gears back to the authorities. 

After war, the restoration of amateur privileges took some times. For Belgium the first good news arrived in May 1946, when the amateurs licensed before the war received a temporary license valid until January 1, 1947. In fact in most European countries, the government was always in state of pre-alert or almost, and until 1950 all nations wonder if the war was really ended. The military for example kept the clothes their wore at war and continue to train the reflexes they learnt, and this is only with time that things changed.

On July 22, 1947, the belgian Régie des Télégraphes et Téléphones (RTT, future IBPT) imposed to all radio amateurs and applicants, including those licensed before the war, and who desired to restore their activities to take an examination on radioelectricity and Morse code in RTT offices.

To watch: U.S. Marine Radio Transmitting Station MRHS

At left, W5FGQ's shack just before war. At center, ON4YL, the first belgian YL just after war, a document from UBA. At right, the French amateur radio Ivan Pastre, FQ3AT/F3AT working in CW from Equatorial Africa in 1946. Document F5NQL.

SSB, at last !

In September 1947, Oswald G. "Mike" Villard, W6QYT, and a group of student hams at Stanford University started new experiments with SSB, the famous challenging technology that was a big flop in 1933-34. Their pioneer experiments where published from January 1948 in QST in a three-part article dealing with the "Single Sideband, Suppressing Carrier", SSSC. In addition, some pages advertised EIMAC tubes as well as the new Eldico transceiver supporting this new mode. 

Although there was still a small number of AM aficionados, what will become the future SSB received immediately a favorable echo not only from the Technical editor of QST, George Grammer, W1DF, but also from the entire ham community. 

Oswald G. "Mike" Villard, W6QYT, the inventor of SSB.

Oswald G. "Mike" Villard, W6QYT. Mr.SSB passed away on January 7, 2004 at 87.

In a clear-sighted prognostic, Grammer wrote about SSB : "It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that our present-day phone methods will be just as obsolete, a few years from now, as spark was a few years after c.w. got its start. "Old-fashioned'phone" will eventually be something that can be tolerated only where there is plenty of room for it".

In July 1948, Assistant technical editor Byron Goodman, W1DX, titled in QST "On the Air with Single Sideband". His article was here also associated to advertisments for tetrodes from Eitel-McCullough specifically aimed at sideband enthusiats. Reading their article, it was not any doubt that amateurs were warmly encouraged to use the new mode instead of AM, a mode free of interference they said and using less bandwidth

This time the SSB succeeded because it was brought by a market providing already the appropriate hardware, including SSB exciters for 144 MHz. I will not learn you that SSB, LSB or USB, is today the native mode of all transceivers.


But do you know why low bands are in LSB and upper bands in USB ? To explain this, we need to read the block schematic of a superheterodyne receiver. The image frequency works in inverted heterodyne; it has always its sidebands inverted. The first SSB transmitter had its IF on 9 MHz and the sideband was not switchable. This 9 MHz IF added to a 5 MHz VFO gives the USB of 14 MHz and upper frequencies, while subtracting these values gives the LSB on 80 meters. That is the reason why amateurs use LSB on 160, 80 and 40 metres and USB on 20, 15 and 10 meters, including on WARC bands. It became a de facto standard.

ITU at the United Nations

In 1947, at the Atlantic City Plenipotentiary Conference, the International Frequency Registration Board (IFRB) was created. ITU became a specialized agency of the United Nations. They took advantage of this recognition to create a new logo.

In 1948, ITU transferred his headquarters from Bern to Geneva. Since 1865, ITU grow rapidely. After WW II it was no more constitued of 20 countries but already 150 (and included 189 countries in 2005).

How works ITU ? The countries members of the Union meet approximatively each 5 years at the occasion of a Plenipotentiary Conference, what represents the supreme board of the Union, whose responsibilities are to define the general polities principles that review the Convention. These countries participate at World Radiocommunications Conference (WARC then WRC) as well as to Regional Administrative Conferences. This is also to the Plenipotentiary Conference to name the members of the IFRB and to elect the general Secretary and the vice-general Secretary.

His structure included, and has always, four permanent boards : the general Secretary (directing board) who takes financial and administrative provisions for the three international consultative committees; IFRB, dealing with the frequency registration; CCIR, dealing with radiocommunication; and CCITT dedicated to telegraphy and telephony. These three boards were renamed in 1992 after a structural reform.

The supreme direction is entrusted to the Plenipotentiary Conference. In the meantime, the administration Council meets one a year. It is constituted of 36 major countries like the U.S.A, U.K., Russia, France, Germany, Japan, etc. Their mission is to audit the administrative functions and to coordinate the activities of the four permanent boards sitting at Geneva.

Next chapter

The 1950s : The King Transistor

Page 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 -

Back to:


Copyright & FAQ