Amateur Radio


History of Amateur Radio

A brief history of the inventors of Radio Communication

In 1873, James Clerk Maxwell presented his theory of the electromagnetic field. In 1901 Guglielmo Marconi communicated across the Atlantic with a radio device using high power and giant antennas.

Marconi died in 1937. Tesla died in 1943 and six months after his death some people today purportedly maintain the US Supreme Court ruled that all of Marconi’s radio patents were invalid and awarded the patents for radio to Tesla. So, for the past several decades we may mistakenly believe that Marconi invented radio! Few actually know of Tesla’s radio inventions.(more info here: Nikola Tesla)

Another radio pioneer who is very rarely mentioned was the Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden.

Indeed, the achievement of Guglielmo Marconi is well documented when he transmitted the letter “S” in Morse code from Cornwall, England to a receiving station on Signal Hill overlooking St. John’s Harbour in Newfoundland on December 12, 1901.

But an equally historic event was the achievement of a brilliant Canadian inventor, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden, who is generally ignored and largely unknown. On December 24, 1906, at 9 P.M. eastern standard time, Reginald Fessenden transmitted human voices from Brant Rock near Boston, Massachusetts to several ships at sea owned by the United Fruit Company.

Technically, Fessenden had invented radio telephony or what radio listeners would call “real” radio as opposed to Marconi’s Morse code broadcasting. Fessenden could truly lay claim to be the inventor of radio and he fully expected the world to beat a path to his door. Instead, he never received his due recognition, lost control of his patents and the ensuing revenue which made other inventors and companies immensely wealthy. ( More info here: Reginald Fessenden )

Amateur or Ham radio has been in existence for over a hundred years. In fact ever since radio technology itself has been existence, amateur experimenters have wanted to use and investigate radio technology.

The history of amateur radio is a fascinating story of individuals and groups of radio hams experimenting and sometimes succeeding against all the odds.

Although in many instances professionals lead the way, there are a few notable exceptions where radio amateurs discovered new aspects of radio technology and in others they opened up the way as professional thinking was quite different.

All of these aspects make the history of amateur radio a fascinating story and one which shows how radio hams paved the way for radio technology in many areas.

The history of amateur radio can be split into a number of different stages, each of which tells the story of a different aspect of ham radio history.

  • Early beginnings:   The history of amateur radio has its roots in the first experiments that were undertaken. Although famous names like James Clerk Maxwell whose equations defined electromagnetic waves in terms of mathematics, and Heinrich Hertz who is credited with being the first person to recognise light and also the lower frequency signals in the radio spectrum were all the same electromagnetic waves defined by Maxwell. However it was people like Marconi who pushed these early ideas forwards. Although Marconi did not invent radio as many believe, he actually saw the benefits of it and as an amateur experimenter he pushed forwards the boundaries of what could be done turning his amateur experiments into professional endeavours. 
  • First radio amateurs:   In any history it is often difficult to identify the first person to achieve something as many are knocking on the door of a discovery at the same time. The same is probably true of the first radio amateur, especially as the term radio amateur would not have been defined then as it is now.  
  • Early ham radio equipment:   Early ham radio transmitters were very crude as were the receivers. The earliest transmitters consisted of spark transmitters and these continued to be used for many years. It was only in the 1920s with the cost of valves / tubes coming down that spark transmitters stopped being used. In the early days, distances of just a few miles could be achieved, but eventually the distances rose. Also the receivers were very simple by today’s standards – even crystal sets were deemed to be state of the art.
  • Licenses:   In the early days in the history of ham radio it was not envisaged quite how radio would develop. Anyone was allowed to transmit and there was no regulation. However as radio started to be used for commercial uses it was agreed that licensing would be required. In the UK licenses started to be issued in 1904, and this occurred around the same time in many other countries. Callsigns also started to be issued, but this occurred a little later.
  • Callsigns:   Initially when amateur radio stations went on the air, no callsigns existed. It soon became clear that some form of identification was needed. In some countries radio amateurs started inventing their own, but soon callsigns were issued by the authorities.  
  • National societies formed:   With the interest in amateur radio growing, another major milestone in the history of amateur radio occurred as people naturally met together to discuss their common interest. As a result local and then national societies formed. The first national society appeared to be the Wireless Institute of Australia which was formed in when 50 people came together, in March 1910, to form an organisation to promote the use of wireless. Another society, the Radio Society of Great Britain can trace its origins back to the formation of the London Wireless Club which was inaugurated in West Hampstead on 5 July 1913. Then the USA, the ARRL was founded on 6 April 1914 by Hiram Percy Maxim of Hartford, Connecticut. Other societies around the globe were also formed, enabling members to exchange information and encourage each other to build equipment and contact each other.
  • After the First World War :   For the duration of the First World War amateur radio activities were suspended in most countries. This occurred in 1914 in most of Europe including the UK, and then when the USA joined the battle activities were stopped there. Nevertheless those interested in radio found their skills used for the war efforts.
  • Spanning the Atlantic:   During the 1920s the distances over which contacts could be made increased and as a result the possibility of making trans-Atlantic and even trans-globe contacts became a real possibility. Tests were organised to see whether transmissions could be made across the Atlantic on Short Waves and soon contacts were being made. Contacts were even made around the globe.
  • International callsigns:   With the distances over which contacts started to be made in the 1920s, contacts were being made between stations in different countries. As a result it became necessary to provide a means of identifying the countries from which stations were operating, and also preventing the duplication of callsigns that could occur.
  • Second World War:   As with the First World War, amateur radio operations were ceased in most countries involved in the conflict for its duration. However some operations did take place from Germany and its associated countries, although this was on a very limited basis.

As the years passed, the history of amateur radio showed that technology developed and new techniques were used. However the same pioneering spirit of some of the early radio amateurs was retained, with many radio hams contributing to the development of technology in many ways.

Radio frequencies cover a very wide spectrum.

These bands are radio frequencies allocated by OFCOM for use by ham radio operators.

  • 136 kHz band:   There are a few bands in the LF portion of the radio spectrum. The 136 kHz band is one off the most established. 
  • HF amateur radio bands:   The HF amateur radio bands carry most of the long distance traffic. Dependent upon the band, contacts can easily be made all over the globe as a result of the ionospheric propagation that is used. The propagation conditions will vary according to a variety of factors, but it is normally possible to make contacts over distances of a thousand miles or more at most times, and often contacts can be made over much greater distances, even to the other side of the globe.
  • VHF amateur radio bands:   Ionospheric propagation does not generally affect these amateur radio bands to the same extent. Although contacts in bands at the lower end of the VHF portion of the spectrum are affected by ionospheric propagation, especially during periods of the solar maximum, in general tropospheric propagation is more prevalent. As a result, distances achievable on these ham radio bands are much reduced to those experienced on the HF bands.
  • UHF amateur radio bands:   The UHF amateur radio bands provide a unique opportunity for many contacts to be made. In general contacts tend to be over distances of 30 miles or more, but on occasions signals may travel over much greater distances.

Communication Modes used in Amateur Radio

The original mode of radio communication over 100 years ago was made by Morse code (CW). This was quickly followed by voice transmissions and other modes of transmission. The most popular Modes today include AM, SSB, FM, CW, RTTY,  and various other data modes as illustrated below.

Data mode

By simply utilising your PC or laptop computer, any category of licensed amateur using data mode through their Amateur Radio Transceiver can easily make contact around the world on just 10 watts or less by using a very basic antenna (this is NOT communication via the internet!!)

Data mode is available on all HF bands using communication protocols or “modes” such as FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, QRA64, ISCAT, MSK144, PSK31. The latest and without doubt the fastest and the most popular is FT8 data mode.

We highly recommend this data mode hardware, MiniProSC from ZLP Electronics that will get you on all modes including FT8. In addition, we also recommend WSJT-X Latest Version 1.8.0-rc2 free software. You’ll also need the following free software from HamApps plus Dimension 4 that synchronises your computer clock, which is crucial! Do have fun with the new FT8 mode!!

Release notes, September 2, 2017:
WSJT-X Version 1.8.0-rc2


How FT8 appears on your PC or laptop screen

International Mills on the Air
May 2020

Eshaness Lighthouse Radio Weekend
Scheduled in August 2020