Ham Radio in the 1930s – Heroes, Heroines, and History (The mission of the Ham Radio operator has, indeed, been expanded since the tragedy of 9/11 when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) named them official first responders.)

Does it seem to you that sometimes, television has no shame? That the medium, which actually had its introduction nearly 100 years ago (the first photos were sent over the air from amateur transmitter to amateur receiver in about 1921) made its professional debut with the election of 1928 when the victor’s speech was broadcast.

Early broadcast pioneers, such as Gen. David Sarnoff, who heard he sad plight of the HRMS Titanic as she sank in 1912 because he didn’t have a license that allowed him to transmit (he soon remedied that), later founded the National Broadcasting Co.

Lee deForest invented the “valve” (triode tube) the allowed the miniaturization of radio, was an electrical engineer who wanted to see what would happened when he added a plate grid to a standard diode tube and the amplifier circuit was born. He allowed huge stations to put music and drama on the air. Almost immediately networks such as Sarnoff’s National Broadcasting Company (NBC) were bringing advertising revenues hand over fist as quatrodes and pentodes were developed.

Maj. Edwin Armstrong, the “Father of FM Radio,” figured out how to modulate the main frequency and put huge amounts of information on that frequency, adding lifelike sound. None of them were in it for the money, at first.

  1. They were in it for: The thrill they received to see if they could do something no one else ever had done before
  2. The ability to develop new technologies from the older technologies and then use the newer technology to develop still newer technology (the transistor never would have been developed without deForrest’s work and the work of RCA and Motorola and we would never have had the laptops or desktops that we take for granted every day
  3. To assist the federal government with public safety work.

Indeed, by the mid-1920s, people were calling for licensure for ham radio operators who would:

  • Provide a trained pool of operators in case of war
  • Provide a trained base of technology to advance technology
  • Further the radio arts
  • Watch out for their families
  • Assist the government in time of need

It’s not the most stirring of credos, is it? However, every Ham Radio operator from 1AW (Hiram Percy Maxim who founded the American Radio Relay League) in the early 1920s, to this day is poised to service and support town, city, county, state and federal authorities.

The mission of the Ham Radio operator has, indeed, been expanded since the tragedy of 9/11 when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) named them official first responders. This was only the highest recognition that the Amateur community could receive.

It’s not as if Hams were sitting by their radios waiting for new contests and contacts (there are some who do that, but when the time comes and lots of information has to be moved in a short amount of time, a skilled contester can move a lot of information in a relatively short amount of time and they use a microphone to do it.

There are those in the Amateur world who believe that using the keyboard of specialized software is the most efficient way to move traffic and there are those who believe that Morse Code is still the best way to go.

Each has its place in the world of response; however, Amateur Radio now works regularly with the:

  • Military Auxiliary Radio System, acting as the Army’s primary backup high-frequency network, if the Army’s system fails. The same is true of the Marines, Navy and Air Force new mission
  • Hams have working relationships with the National Hurricane Center and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to put “boots on the ground” observation through a trained cadre of Skywarn spotters, at each major weather service office. Indeed, a Ham, Rob Macedo, KD1CY, of Massachusetts, heads a major information retrieval and reporting system and makes sure it interfaces cleanly and works smoothly, reporting directly to the head of the Hurricane Center.
  • Hams have also had working relationships with the American Red Cross and worked tirelessly when two terrorists tried to weaken our resolve by blowing up a couple of buckets of nails at the Boston Marathon. They did end up ending three young lives and we will never know whether any of them could have found the cure for cancer or diabetes, but the culprit (more like the cowards they were) but only ended up in showing the world that our backs are made of steel when we are attacked as the Boston community joined together to help.
  • Hams were there during the race and directed runners to buses so they could be picked up and delivered to loved ones.

The list goes on and on and here’s the kicker in this piece, Hams use their own their own equipment to do this “work.” “Indeed, you want to know something we don’t consider this work, at all. We’re just helping out, returning to the community the ability we have been granted to enjoy a hobby and need like Ham Radio,” said one local Amateur.

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