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Amateur Radio (ham) History...and why it's still active in the age of cellphones.
Beginning in the late 1890's with Marconi sending wireless signals at greater and greater distances, other experimenters began laying the foundation for amateur radio in the early 1900's. More and more people began experimenting with spark gap transmitters, sending morse code wirelessly over long distances. Radio experimenters (paired with the sinking of the RMS Titanic) ultimately resulted in the Radio Act of 1912 to limit these experimenters to certain frequencies. And amateur radio - the original maker culture - was born.

Fast forward 100 years to present day, and you will find amateur radio has grown past spark gap transmitters and morse code and receivers into software-defined radio, which uses digital signal processing instead of hardware audio filters. Morse code, or CW, is no longer the only mode of communicating. Voice and various digital modes (HDTV, WiFi, FT8) now fill the airwaves.

Amateur radio is the ideal hobby for experimenters, whether you want to build your own equipment, experiment with different modes, or just chat to someone. The good news is, it isn't hard to get started.

Guglielmo Marconi
Born: April 25, 1874, Bologna, Italy
Died: July 20, 1937, Rome, Italy

Nikolai Tesla
Born: July 10, 1856, Smiljan, Croatia
Died: January 7, 1943, NY

Robert S. S. Baden Powell
Founder of Scouting
Born: February 22, 1857, London, United Kingdom
Died: January 7, 1941, Nyeri, Kenya

Radio Club of America
Founded: 1909

American Radio Relay League
Founder: Hiram Percy Maxim
Founded: April 6, 1914

WIRELESS WONDER AGED 14 AMAZES SENATE COMMITTEE: Young W. E. D. Stokes, Jr., Glibly Discussed Radio-Activity and Modern Electricity in a Way That Made Staid Solons Wonder (PDF) --- Jesse Rifkin, SundayMagazine.org

This is a great story. This 14 year old kid, W. E. D. Stokes, Jr., was the first President of the Radio Club of America, the world's oldest radio communications society (then called the Junior Wireless Club). At his age, he already held patents relating to wireless communication. Back in 1910, there were no commercial radio stations - the first wouldn't broadcast for another 10 years - and there was no FCC to regulate the airwaves (it was formed in 1934), but there were an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 amateur wireless operators in the United States. New York Senator Chancey Depew (R) had introduced a bill that would restrict the use of airwaves, posing a threat to the radio club's hobby. So the club sent their president down to Washington to testify before Congress. At the time, he was the youngest person to do so.

Here is some of what he told the Times about why he testified:

"I don't think it will be a very long time," he said, "before men will be able to carry around with them in their automobiles or aeroplanes wireless telephone outfits. With these they should be able to talk to people having like instruments within a radius of forty or fifty miles... If the communication trust is allowed to go as far as it likes, all the wireless instruments will be gobbled up so you can't buy one by the time science has made it possible for people to talk to one another that way. There are certain kinds of talking instruments now that can't be bought; they can only be rented..."

"We amateurs are blamed for much that we do not do. The cases where amateurs actually interfere are few and exaggerated. In many cases antiquated apparatus and incompetent professional operators are responsible for the trouble. A good operator with an up-to-date machine can cut out interference and continue his work."
Of course, we know that the airwaves finally became regulated, but that doesn't diminish this kid's passion and accomplishment. Amateur radio operators are still around today, and they have people like W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. to thank.

One of my favorite things about these old articles is that, with the benefit of 100 years of history, we can find out what ever became of W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. I did some research and found that he served in the Navy during World War II, and he had a family, including a son named Houston who today is an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a family of his own. As far as I can tell, W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. died in 1992.

W2MTL, amateur radio station of Explorer Troop 1035/Boy Scout Troop 635, NYC YMHA, 1941

Amateur Radio has been a part of scouting since it's formation in 1908 with the first troops. Amateurs started experimenting with radio well before the First World War in these early years. A number of Scout troops, for example the 1st Arundel and the 3rd Altrincham, held transmitting licences in the early 20s. Baden Powell was of the opinion that wireless was an excellent interest for boys and encouraged them to take it up. He saw that it would be an essential form of communication for use in emergencies. Some troops even had mobile stations using their trek carts, in addition to the equipment in their Scout hut.

WHY? Florida experiences about one devastating hurricane each year. In 2018 over 70% of the panhandle didn't have cell service for nearly a week during hurricane Micheal, same for much of Central Florida in 2004. Many towers are destroyed from high winds and more importantly the panhandle fiber network was run on telephone poles that didn't fair well in the high winds. So even towers that survived didn't have any data. Hams and emergency services were relaying info during that week using mobile tower trucks between the EOC's and Tallahassee, which also lost 40% of its cellphones. Many consumers don't realize that a cellphone is useless without a tower or the infrastructure that makes it work, where-as a ham just needs a car battery and a transmitter and can reach thousands of miles, even in bad weather. Even satelite services are unusable during the events as high wind move dishes and thick cloud cover can block signals.

    Getting a License
    There are 3 stages of licensing in the US: Technician, General and Extra.
  • The technician license is a 35 question-multiple choice written exam and allows for usage of all VHF and UHF amateur bands with limited operations of HF. This is ideal for local communication on FM repeaters. Many repeaters inter-connect across the country.
  • The general license builds upon the technicians license and is also a 35-question multiple choice written exam. It allows for all VHF and UHF amateur bands and opens up the HF frequencies for use. It is a large step up in privileges and allows for cross-country and world-wide communications.
  • The extra license builds upon the general license and requires a passing grade on a 50-question multiple choice written examination. This opens up all the amateur bands for use and allows you to branch out into the edges of the amateur bands, which are less crowded. Your extra license is also recipicial in many countries granting you their band privileges when traveling.

Tim Allen, KK6OTD poses in Last Man Standing Ham Shack as KA0XTT Ham radio operators come from a multitude of backgrounds, professions, nationalities, and income levels. They are men and women, young and old. Astronauts. Royalty. Even celebrities. Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh recently delivered a series of PSAs on behalf of the American Radio Relay League, and Tim Allen was so inspired by his ham radio experiences on 'Last Man Standing' that he tested for his own license in 2014.

Article Sources: (All gave permission for our use, Thank You!)
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