s e c t i o n       

Amateur Radio After World War One (1919-1925)
  • Next SectionBroadcasting After World War One (1918-1921)
  • Previous SectionExpanded Audion and Vacuum-tube Development (1917-1930)
  • Home PageTable of Contents / Site Search

Although there was concern that amateur radio stations would not be allowed to return to the airwaves after the war, in 1919 the wartime restrictions were ended. And the next few years would see tremendous strides, as amateurs adopted vacuum-tube technology and began to explore transmitting on shortwave frequencies, which resulted in significant increases in range and reliability. However, although they had laid much of the groundwork that led to the development of broadcasting, in early 1922 amateur radio stations were explicitly banned from making entertainment broadcasts.
Post-War Re-establishment -- Ban on Broadcasting by Amateur Stations -- Adoption of Vacuum-Tube Continuous-Wave Transmitters


Although the transmitting ban on amateur stations wasn't lifted until October 1, 1919, restrictions on private and amateur listening ended on April 15th of that year. Probably no one was happier than Hugo Gernsback, editor of Electrical Experimenter, who celebrated the end of wartime restrictions in his magazine's June, 1919 issue, telling readers in Amateur Radio Restored to expect exciting advances, because "the war has changed everything, for now the radio telephone has come into its own". (The next month would see the debut of a new Gernsback magazine, Radio Amateur News). A feature article by F. A. Collins, which appeared in a number of newspapers, including the August 31, 1919 Sunday Oregonian, declared that Now the Boy Wireless Can Get Busy Again . With the restoration of their hobby, amateur radio operators worked to reestablish themselves. Meeting of the N. E. Wireless Association, from the July, 1919 Radio Amateur News, told how a government District Radio Inspector spelled out the standards to be followed in order to get back on the airwaves. In order to return to the airwaves, amateurs needed to renew both their operator and station licences which had expired during the war. Getting Your Licenses, from the November, 1919 QST, reviewed the process, while noting that in some cases amateurs would be allowed to temporarily operate before being fully relicenced. However, some were guilty of bending these rules. In the April, 1920 Radio Amateur News, Pierre H. Boucheron warned in Two Hundred Meters and What it Means about the need for amateurs to adhere to government requirements, and in particular to "Keep your transmitter on the lawful side of 200 meters". A later article by Boucheron, from the May, 1922 Radio Broadcast magazine, told how an Ohio amateur's sister was Found by Radio after her brother transmitted requests for information about her whereabouts.

Immediately following World War One, the Navy Department attempted to gain a complete government monopoly over all radio communication. That effort failed, so the Navy began to develop ideas for promoting interest in radio, since amateurs were a ready reserve of operators. To that end, on October 5, 1919, a Navy station in New York City inaugurated a nightly broadcast of "various items of interest to the amateur", in order to "maintain the interest of radio amateurs and to train them in receiving code", as reported in Navy to Broadcast News for Benefit of Amateurs, from the December, 1919 Popular Science Monthly. In 1922, Radio News began to print monthly summaries of these transmissions as filler -- the Daily Amateur Radio Broadcast messages for April appeared in the July, 1922 issue. The Wireless Don'ts section of the 1922 edition of A. Frederick Collins' The Radio Amateur's Handbook contained 95 cautions and words of advice, such as "Don't throw your receiving set out of the window if it howls", and, reflecting the superiority of the new vacuum-tube transmitters, "Don't think you have an up-to-date transmitting station unless you are using C.W.", before closing with, "Don't think you are the only one who doesn't know all about wireless. Wireless is a very complex art and there are many things that those experienced have still to learn."

Before broadcasting became popular in the early 1920s, the term "amateurs" referred to all non-professionals interested in radio, including those who merely listened to radio transmissions, which were still mostly in Morse code. It was only after broadcasting to the general public became common that "amateur" would generally come to have a narrower meaning, of persons who held amateur radio transmitting licences. In 1920 the DeForest Radio Telephone and Telegraph Company issued a promotional pamphlet titled "How To Set Up an Amateur Radio Receiving Station". Company president Lee DeForest authored a section, The Fascination of Radio Telegraphy, which noted that because "the Government has removed all war restrictions on the use of wireless by Amateurs, there are thousands more who are already 'listening in' on Radio news, or preparing their apparatus and getting ready for the biggest wave of popularity that Radio Telegraphy has ever experienced". Persons learning about "the coming science" could set up a radio receiver to overhear "Messages that can be picked up by anyone long before they reach the general public through the newspapers." DeForest also extolled "If you haven't a hobby--get one. Ride it. Wireless is of all hobbies the most interesting. It offers the widest limits, the keenest fascination, either for intense competition with others, near and far, or for quiet study and pure enjoyment in the still night hours as you welcome friendly visitors from the whole wide world." (However, some might have warned that DeForest's advice to "ride" the amateur radio hobby could lead to obsessiveness. In his 1911 The Library of Work and Play: Electricity, John F. Woodhull cautioned "How to have compelling interests without riding hobbies is the great problem for both boys and men. As both prevention and cure of the wireless telegraph mania, my method was to encourage my boy to have several hobbies which he might ride with enthusiasm, but to make it a rigorous rule to exchange his 'mount' occasionally.")

The National Amateur Wireless Association was reformed after the war, now under the supervision of the Radio Corporation of America. This organization achieved its greatest prominence when its members were called upon by acting president J. Andrew White to prepare and staff listening sites for a special broadcast, transmitted by RCA over temporary station WJY in Hoboken, New Jersey, which was reviewed by White's Radiophone Broadcast of Dempsey-Carpentier Fight on July 2, 1921. White referred to this effort as the "biggest thing ever done since amateur radio wore short pants", and as something which "gave the amateur an opportunity to participate in something man's-sized". He further suggested that, through NAWA, "the Radio Corporation interests can dominate the amateur field," but the company instead would concentrate on home entertainment possibilities, and allow NAWA to disband within a few years.


As entertainment broadcasting began to gain popularity, a number of amateur radio operators decided they wanted to use their transmitters to join in the fun. In the Editorials section of December, 1921 issue of QST, The Radiophone supported the innovation, although it also expressed concern about the poor quality of the broadcasts that some amateurs felt compelled to provide. Moreover, broadcast transmissions by amateurs soon met with federal disapproval. Effective December 1, 1921, the Department of Commerce formally established regulations setting aside 360 and 485 meters (833 and 619 kilohertz) as the standard wavelengths for a new classification of broadcasting station, operating under the Limited Commercial licence category. Then, in January, 1922, the department further announced it was "temporarily" banning entertainment broadcasts by amateur stations. The February 1, 1922 Radio Service Bulletin reviewed the Broadcasting regulations, and stated that the department was investigating rules for re-establishing amateur broadcasts, but these revised rules never appeared, and ever since amateur radio operators have been restricted to experimental work and point-to-point communication with other amateur stations. In Scrambled Jazz is Banished by New Air Rules, the February 2, 1922 Oakland Tribune celebrated the end of amateur broadcasts, which it claimed had "cluttered up" the atmosphere, and in the February, 1922 With the U. S. Radio Inspector column in Radio magazine, Major J. F. Dillon reviewed the new broadcasting service restrictions, warning amateurs that "The broadcasting of music on 200 meters will jeopardize the continuation of the licenses of the offender." Meanwhile, due to their technical skills, many amateurs became employed as engineers at the rapidly burgeoning ranks of commercial broadcast stations.


The development of vacuum-tube equipment helped to greatly advance amateur radio -- a March, 1921 QST article, Progress, reviewed how over the previous nine years the transmitting range covered by amateur Ralph H. G. Mathews in Chicago, Illinois had increased from only 4 to nearly 3,000 miles (from 6.4 to 4,800 kilometers). Crystal detectors were supplanted by far more sensitive regenerative and superheterodyne vacuum-tube receivers, meanwhile, vacuum-tube continuous-wave transmitters began to replace "King Spark". The better equipment led to successful transatlantic transmissions in 1921, and continued exploration of shorter wavelengths would soon lead to a huge increase in reliabilty and nighttime range. The August, 1921 issue of QST commented on the transforming effects of The Transition. In the November, 1921 issue of the same magazine, R. W. Goddard reviewed how First Aid by Radio was delivered to flooded towns in New Mexico through the use of compact, portable transmitters. In 1922, J. O. Smith, operator of Special Amateur station 2ZL, reviewed the ongoing progress in Modern Radio Operation, beginning with the Continuous Wave Transmission by Amateurs section -- this review included Paul F. Godley's prediction that "the day is almost here when spark stations will be of interest as having to do with history only". That same year, Charles William Taussig's The Book of Radio included a chapter, What the Amateur Has Done in Radio, which reviewed the post-war activities plus future goals for amateur radio, and showcased the expanding activities of the American Radio Relay League. Remarkable advances soon followed. In the November, 1925 Radio Age, Armstrong Perry reported that 15 year-old amateur Arthur A. Collins was Riding the Short Waves, using a homemade shortwave set to communicate throughout much of the world.

In 1914, Hugo Gernsback predicted, in "A Sermon to Parents", that "Electricity and Wireless are the coming, undreamed of, world-moving forces". Ten years later, with the expanding radio industry now "34th on the list of all the industries in this country", the prospects were even brighter, so Gernsback updated his remarks in the December, 1924 Radio News, and in Your Boy and Radio declared that "Radio to the youth is the best possible foundation of the future self made man."

"There was a time when the activities of the amateur were a source of irritation to the government. Steps were taken to eliminate him, but they were unsuccessful. At the outbreak of the war, the government found thousands of amateurs ready for radio service. Among the many groups of people who claim credit for having won the war, the author wishes to include the amateur radio operator. There are many pursuits which men and women follow, outside of their regular business or profession. No hobby is more suitable for people in general than radio."--Charles William Tassig, The Book of Radio, 1922.