Ramifications: Regional Fine Tuning and Phone

In addition to the many issues raised during the arduous process that led to the new radio law, amateurs worried about concentrating too much power with the secretary of commerce. Even though Secretary Hoover had been a strong advocate of amateur radio, he would eventually leave the job, and what would the next secretary do?

No one anticipated that Hoover’s next job would be to replace his boss. Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as the thirty-first President of the United States in early 1929 just in time to participate in the latest ARRL Governors-President Relay. Similar to the ones that took place in 1921 and 1925, ARRL Section Communication Managers from all forty-eight states would identify an amateur to obtain a congratulatory message from their respective state governors to be sent in the relay on 3 March 1929.1 A number of Washington, DC stations and the ARRL headquarters station, W1MK, would be on the air continuously, calling CQ GPR and tuning the 80-, 40-, and 20-meter bands for incoming messages for the President. Hoover, of course, needed no introduction to amateur radio, but ARRL Communications Manager F. E. Handy nevertheless wanted “to once again put over the usual good performance and bring to his attention the fact that amateur radio is still 100% there!” He intended to document the entire operation and asked all participants to send in copies of the messages they handled.

Although only 41 messages were handled that day, and some of those didn’t count since they did not originate from a state governor, the operation bested the previous GPS events.2 The following day, Inauguration Day, 4 March 1929, President Hoover received the messages personally from a group of D.C. amateurs led by William M. Smith, W3GP, president of the Washington Radio Club, who wrote:

The President afforded us an exceedingly cordial reception and inquired very closely whether or not all of the messages presented had been received by amateur radio. He was, of course, assured that such was the case and he complimented us profusely on the work that had been done.

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The landmark Washington Convention of 1927 spawned several regional follow-on conferences in 1929. The one for North America took place in Ottawa and a European one was held in Prague.3 W. D. Terrell, Chief of the Radio Division, Department of Commerce, led an American delegation to the Prague conference, which dealt mostly with commercial radio and concerned only European regional matters. Therefore it deferred discussion of amateur radio until the full international meeting at The Hague planned for September.

This would be the first meeting of the International Technical Consultative Committee on Radio Communications, chartered by the Washington Convention of 1927 and intended to meet every two years. Advisory in nature, the Committee meeting would be much smaller and more informal than the full convention and would only produce recommendations. (Warner called it yet another “confab” on radio.) Roughly 180 delegates representing “about 48 nations and colonies” attended.

The American delegation was headed by Charles McK. Saltzman, one of the leaders at the Washington Convention, who had retired as head of the US Army Signal Corps in 1928 after a distinguished 30-year career. The other two official delegates were the current Army Chief Signal Officer, Major General George Gibbs, and Captain S. C. Hooper, USN, Director of Naval Communications, another star of the Washington Convention.

ARRL Secretary Kenneth Warner was appointed by the State Department as a technical advisor to the US delegation, with his travel paid for by ARRL.4 He was joined by four technical assistants from the government, including Gerald C. Gross, W3GG, of the FRC5, Commander Craven, USN, who had been “chief teacupper” at the Washington Convention, C. B. Jolliffe of the Bureau of Standards, and J. H. Dellinger, chief of the Radio Laboratory at the Bureau.

Warner’s appointment was personally approved by President Hoover. This was a special arrangement since Warner was the only member of the delegation not employed by the US government. This he took to indicate the “very real interest of this government in the welfare of its radio amateurs.” Supporting the three official delegates and five technical assistants were fifteen other representatives of various agencies, including the well-known inventor, businessman, and amateur, Ralph M. Heintz, W6XBB.

Preparatory work began in May with regular meetings of the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee in Washington, in which Warner and ARRL Vice President Charles Stewart participated and for which Warner served as vice-chairman on amateur matters. The committee’s top priority was channelization of the HF allocations, taking into account the limitations of the state of the radio art.

The host country, the Netherlands, was proposing to establish uniform international guidelines for amateur licensing and practice. In agreement with the Dutch proposal, the other European delegations came to the Committee intending to press for uniformity of amateur regulations worldwide. But they also intended for the European regulations, which were highly restrictive compared with what was already in place in North America, to be the model of that uniformity. Naturally, this was unacceptable to the American delegation and they came prepared with proposals that included allowing individual nations to establish regulations independently, as long as they adhered to the Convention’s specifications (which the Committee had no authority to change anyway).

Warner argued before the conference began that, since there were no such uniform regulations for other services, “why should there be for amateurs?” The League further urged that amateurs should not agree to any further restrictions beyond those established at the Washington Convention.

The US proposal was supported by Canada, Britain, the USSR, and Spain—quite different from the situation at the Washington Convention, at which they had fought it. Nevertheless, the group did not object if a group of European countries wanted to form an agreement among themselves, as long as it did not appear in the CCIR recommendations.

Four days later the European proposal was reviewed in committee. It contained restrictions such as 100-kHz band segments and 50-watt power limits. The US group, represented by General Gibbs, voiced opposition and was joined by Bolivia, the Irish Free State, Mexico, Costa Rica, China, and Colombia, followed later by five others. The European proposal would obviously be defeated and so never came to a vote, but was retained as a proposal submitted but not accepted. Instead, a group of twenty-three nations, more than half in Europe, formed a separate uniform set of proposed, non-binding regulations. This was the origin of the narrower European band allocations, some of which persisted for the remainder of the twentieth century.

One committee took up the matter of ensuring that amateurs stayed within their band limits. The European delegation proposed that amateurs should be required to use frequency meters, something the US delegation considered unnecessary, there being several other means of ensuring accuracy. Much less prescriptive language was adopted, specifying only that governments should “take effective measures” to insure that amateurs stayed within their bands.

Warner left The Hague optimistic about the next full Convention to be held in Madrid in 1932, mostly because of the heightened awareness of amateur radio worldwide and the firm backing from his own government.

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At home, QRM complaints continued from both ends of the bands. Phone operators seemed to expect the phone bands to be exclusively for radiotelephone signals, when CW was actually allowed, too.6 And therefore they considered the whole 1,750-kHz band to be exclusive. At this point, most phone operators were also CW operators—for them, phone was a special other pursuit. While CW was mostly for traffic and DX, phone, they argued, was great for “good old fashioned chats” and also involved more complex and interesting technical challenges. Many believed that every station should use both phone and CW—they were for different purposes.

Phone operators were not without support from the uninvolved. One QST correspondent asked why not give phone ops a break and voluntarily not operate CW in the 85-meter segment below 3,550?7 This later became the common practice with band plans.

Another correspondent, a listener from Iowa, wrote that he’d been interested in phone but most of the stations he heard on 180 meters sounded “wretched,” and he found their conversations inane. However, he observed that there were a small number of stations with good sounding signals who also seemed to be carrying on intelligent conversations.8 “Perhaps the modulation and the brains are inter-related,” he speculated, and then asked whether it really was too difficult to adjust a phone transmitter so as to make its output sound like its input.

In a later issue, W5AAG replied with some consternation, having been an early proponent for more recognition of phone operation and coverage in QST.9 Now that had happened, he wrote, and QST contained much for those “who find the very thrill of the amateur game in handling the intricate audio frequencies which are mingled with radio frequencies for transmission.” Allowing that it did indeed take patience, effort and knowledge to achieve good phone results, he and others like him now strove to replace those awful signals with “’phones which will radiate the very personality of their operators and [with] apparatus which can command and maintain the respect of the modern broadcasting stations.” For example, that past winter he had made more than 200 high quality QSOs on phone using a receiver specifically designed for it. Before judging phone signals too harshly, he advised, amateurs should be sure they were using a properly designed receiver. Many amateurs were even using broadcast equipment they “either worked or owned,” adjusted to operate in the amateur bands.

The debate continued. “Fred” of W9JL facetiously suggested that one phone man and one CW man meet in Hartford to “fight it out with gloves, pistols, or swords.10 Wouff-hongs will not be permitted in this aristocratic fight,” he warned.

Noting the debate and the growth in phone use, the ARRL board called for more space.11 No expansion at 80 meters was recommended, but they concluded that new allocations in the upper bands were due, within practical limits. “Manifestly it is suicide to attempt telephony in the vastly congested 7000 band,” observed Warner—40 meters had for some time been the most popular band by far. Due to the still-present frequency uncertainty as equipment was used on ever shorter wavelengths, it was argued that phone on the “so-called” 20-meter band12 ought to be restricted to crystal controlled transmitters only. But the board thought it better to specify signal characteristics rather than specific details of equipment construction. After all, who knew what new developments lay ahead? So they decided to recommend opening the 20-meter band for telephony to Extra First Class licensees only. It was not the first attempt at incentive licensing—there had been special licenses that carried additional operating privileges ever since the 1912 law. But it was the first suggested plan that would add a new privilege to an existing, generally available license class obtainable simply by taking another test.


Responding to an ARRL petition, the FRC on 12 November 1929 opened 14,100 to 14,300 kHz to phone operation.13 Since phone was considered more technically challenging than CW, especially at the higher frequencies, to be granted permission to use the new allocation an amateur had to “show special technical qualifications and ability to operate within the limits prescribed,” according to FRC General Order 76.

Holding an Extra First Class operator license was one way to show such qualifying ability, but the privilege was not granted automatically. Amateurs had to write to their Radio Supervisor requesting it and enclose their station license for endorsement.

If you did not have an Extra ticket you could still be granted an endorsement to operate 20-meter phone if you could show sufficient ability in other ways. In fact, this was tacit recognition that code-copying ability was less important. As Warner put it, while the Extra Eirst Class license required passing a 20-WPM code test, “there is no justification for requiring more than the normal amateur code speed of 10 words per minute from the operators of ‘phone stations.”

Keeping frequency accuracy and stability in mind, staying within the band would be a challenge. If the FRC rules of channel separation for phone signals were the guide, only six amateur phone stations could fit at the same time inside the new 200-kHz allocation. Cooperation would again be required.

With wabbulation still an issue, especially on the higher bands, crystal-controlled transmitters seemed to be the only way to operate. Receivers would have to be more sensitive to extract intelligible audio from weak long distance signals. This would probably favor superheterodyne designs. All of this would increase the cost of building a station for 20-meter phone. Warner estimated that the average phone station might cost about three times that of a comparable CW station.14

International contacts had become commonplace on 20-meter CW. Who would be first to make international phone QSOs? Without the common abbreviations and Q-signals in use on CW, might language differences now present a barrier to communication? Even with other English speaking countries there may be problems with accents, mused Warner. “Even when we talk to our cousins in the far-flung lands of the British Empire we cannot be too sure that our harsh American accent will convey much intelligence to the carefully attuned British tympanum. We may need a new international abbreviation to mean, ‘I hear you perfectly, but I haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about’,” he wrote.

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  1. F. E. Handy, “Coming!,” Editorial, QST, February 1929, 28.
  2. W. M. Smith, “The Governors-President Relay,” QST, May 1929, 27.
  3. K. B. Warner, Editorial, QST, July 1929, 9.
  4. “Warner Goes to The Hague,” QST, October 1929, 19.
  5. One wonders if his position on the FRC helped him obtain this call sign. At the time there were no vanity calls as exist today.
  6. L. B. Coe, “Phone Versus C. W.,” The Communications Department, QST, May 1929, 47.
  7. L. F. Lee, “Phone,” Correspondence, QST, May 1929, 68.
  8. G. A. Heald, “More About Phone, Heald,” Correspondence, QST, May 1929, 68.
  9. W. E. Archer, W5AAG, “A new Slant on ‘Phone Reception,” Correspondence, QST, September 1929, 62.
  10. Fred of W9JL, “One Way Out of the Difficulty,” Correspondence, QST, October 1929, 56.
  11. K. B. Warner, “The ARRL Board Meets,” QST, July 1929, 24.
  12. He used this phrase because after trimming back from its original definition of 14 to 16 MHz, the 20 meter wavelength was now outside the band at 15 MHz.
  13. K. B. Warner, “Twenty Meter ‘Phone Authorized,” QST, January 1930, 26.
  14. K. B. Warner, Editorials, QST, January 1930, 7.

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