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A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down

(W8WZ) on November 12, 2017
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200 Meters & Down the story of Amateur Radio
written by Clinton B. DeSoto ISBN: 978-0- 87259-001-4
Published by the American Radio Relay League.
Reviewed by: Carl Davis, W8WZ

I was recently looking around on Amazon.com to find a book to read during an upcoming flight. Because I read many history books and many books about Amateur Radio (if it can be said that there are many books about our hobby to read) Amazon suggested that I read 200 Meters and Down the Story of Amateur Radio. That sounded good so I ordered the book. When it arrived I tucked it into the pocket of my briefcase where it sat until I was jammed into the center seat of a 737 bound for Newark where I would face a 6 hour layover then board a different flight to Detroit. As I took the book out of the briefcase I wished it was thicker than its 184 pages given my travel itinerary.

The first thing I noticed was that the grammar was very formal and the writing style seemed rather archaic. I looked at the publishing date and learned that the book was written in 1936. So this was a history of ham radio from the perspective of a ham operator in 1936 when ham radio was less than 40 years old! No wonder the author only needed 184 pages to tell all. The author starts the book by giving an overview of ham radio in 1936 which I found very interesting. He said the average ham was a 25 year old unmarried man. He held a class B operator license and a station license and that were both valid for a term of 3 years. He used radio telegraphy exclusively but hoped to someday get a phone station on the air. He had built his transmitter and receiver himself from commercially produced parts. His transmitter was crystal controlled using a pair of type 10 tubes with 100 watts of input power. He used a three tube regenerative receiver with one RF stage and one AF stage. His antenna system was a 130- foot wire with a two-wire transmission line of about 60 feet. He was a high school graduate and worked for a living in a technical trade. He had spent a total of $300 on his hobby and his current station was valued at $100. According to savings.org $100 in 1936 would be the equivalent of $1,749.51 in 2017. I am not sure what the average ham radio station is valued at today, but my guess is it is pretty close to that value.

As far as operating activity in 1936 goes, the author says; “the great preponderance of amateur work is the handling of traffic.” 75% of activity is CW except on the 56Mc band which is used for local communication and is the only band where phone dominates over CW. Some experimenters are starting to work on 110Mc and their experimentation is promising but the average ham is not operating that high yet. There is also only experimental activity on 28Mc in 1936 with operators describing the band as “erratic.” The most commonly used long distance bands are 7Mc in the evening and 14Mc in the daytime. 3.5Mc is also popular but does not offer as much DX as the higher bands. It sort of sounds like the solar cycle in 1936 was the same as it is now.

While message handling was the most popular amateur activity, rag chewing came in second place followed by technical experimenting. Between 1923 and 1936 more than 100 expeditions had used Amateur Radio for their means of communication. Donald MacMillan was the first explorer to make use of this option in his exploration of the Arctic when he took ham operator Don Mix with him. That expedition used the call sign WNP for "Wireless North Pole."

The cutting-edge state of the art operators in 1936 were experimenting with television. While they predicted that TV will “be here any day now” the author was more skeptical and saw TV as a waste of bandwidth. He also viewed phone operation as a waste of bandwidth and said that it served no practical purpose other than use as “propaganda” to impress the public with the sound of voices from loudspeakers.

The hobby began to appear in an organized form in the early 1900’s with magazines publishing 150 articles on wireless telegraphy and 18 articles on wireless telephony during the years from 1904 to 1909. The invention of the Fleming valve (a diode) in 1904 began this excitement. The author spends several chapters detailing the development of detector technology and describes the various lawsuits that ensued as inventors and innovators fought each other in court for the ability to profit from their designs. The author opines that the greatest technological advancement at this time was the innovation of the crystal detector. Not necessarily because of the quality of a crystal detector as compared to other detectors of the era but because it introduced the concept of crystal usage in radio circuits thereby opening the door to the use of crystal control in transmitter circuits where crystal use was truly revolutionary because for the first time an average operator could have precise control of his operating frequency. This greatly reduced QRM and improved the efficiency of traffic nets by enabling operators to know, for the first time, exactly what frequency they were using.

The author believes the greatest age of amateur radio was during the period from January 1912 to December 1913. This was, according to him, the time of the greatest innovation and technological advancement in the history of radio. In 1912 there were 1,185 licensed hams in the United States and in 1913 there were 2,000. However, the author says that there were many more hams on the air at that time as only a few of the hams felt the need to get a federal license to practice their hobby. The majority of them were still “free spirited and part of the careless heritage of the freebooting days.” By 1914 the number of hams with licenses had grown to 4,000 not due to an influx of new operators, but due to the licensing of previously unlicensed amateurs. In 1913 the Toronto Canada Amateur Radio club boasted 150 members. The author believes that this year was the greatest time in radio history because it was during this time that radio operators first discovered that vacuum tubes could oscillate, which was of course, a world changing, revolutionizing discovery. Although it would be several years before the average ham was actually taking advantage of that principle in his station. The ARRL was formed in January of 1914 at the climax of this great year of radio.

Unfortunately, 1914 was the year that the Great War began in Europe, seriously interrupting the advancement of radio technology. Hiram Piercy Maxim wrote to the Secretary of War in 1915 offering him the service of the League’s membership in relaying communications across the United States. To show that amateurs could efficiently offer the War Department reliable transcontinental communications the ARRL conducted a test relay on George Washington’s Birthday in 1915. The message was originated by Colonel Nicholson of Rock Island, Illinois. The message read “A democracy requires that a people who govern and educate themselves should be so armed and disciplined that they can protect themselves – Colonel Nicholson.” That radiogram was delivered via ham radio from Illinois to 36 states and the District of Columbia. The Pacific coast got the message 55 minutes after it had been first sent. The Atlantic coast got the message in 60 minutes and it arrived in New Orleans and Canada in only 20 minutes. The call sign of the Illinois station that originated the message was 9XE. This activity caused the Federal Bureau of Navigation to take seriously for the first time the ability of radio amateurs to contribute to the national welfare and they began issuing special licenses allowing amateurs to operate on 475 meters to help pass the traffic that the for-profit and government stations did not have the ability to handle. By March 1916 the ARRL had developed a trunk line system that ensured ARRL members could relay messages via radio anywhere in the United States. In 1917 the network could relay a message from the Atlantic to Pacific coast and return a reply back to the Atlantic coast in one hour and twenty minutes. This network was, however, shut down when the US entered into World War One and all amateur radio operations were ordered to cease for the duration. Many radio amateurs served as radio operators during the First World War.

Chapter 8 lists the names and accomplishments of many of those amateurs who served in the War to End All Wars.

Chapter 9 describes the post-war efforts of the ARRL to allow amateur radio to resume after the armistice and chapter 10 describes the shift from spark operation to CW. As soon as the ban on amateur radio ended the ARRL began to rebuild its trunk network and completed its first post-war transcontinental relay in January of 1921 in only six minutes and thirty seconds. The use of CW instead of spark is the main reason the 1921 message was relayed so much faster than the 1917 message. 1AW was the sender of that first post-war transcendental radiogram. His message was to 6JD in California. It read “How does California regard prohibition?” The answer “To Mr. Maxim: California is supposed to be dry but it is very wet here now. It has been raining all day.”

Chapter 11 describes the innovation of radio broadcasting and its relationship with the Amateur service. Chapters 12 through 19 describe the evolution of radio regulations in the United States as well as listing the call signs of many active stations during the 1920’s. Chapter 19 details the many expeditions that used amateur radio to provide them with communications to the rest of the world during their remote travels. It describes in detail a 1923 adventure had by Captain Donald MacMillan. Chapter 20 describes the role of amateur radio in emergencies especially highlighting times when snow in the mid-west destroyed traditional land line telegraph service and amateurs stepped in by using wireless to fill the gap until the lines could be repaired.

The final chapter of the book is entitled “Whither Amateur Radio?” and the author uses these pages to offer his advice and opinion about the future of ham radio. Sadly, he laments, the great days of unbridled enthusiasm, invention and innovation are in the past. By 1936 ham radio was no longer cutting edge and state of the art as it had been in the great year of 1913. Many of the original hams are so turned off by the new regulations and licensing requirements that they are no longer active. Others have become bored with the hobby as it is no longer new and have moved on to other more high-tech pursuits. While the author misses their pioneering spirit, the biggest problem facing ham radio in 1936 is that it is becoming too popular with newcomers into the hobby and the limited bands are getting too crowded. While crystal control helps, ops who want to run phone and soon maybe even TV are eating up all the space. The author proposes making it harder to get a ham radio license. He suggests raising the code speed requirement and also making the technical testing standards more stringent. The author sees this as a natural evolution of the amateur service where quality standards should continue to rise. He says that in 1936 “it is already many times more difficult to secure an amateur operator’s license than it was ten years ago.” He predicts that as commercial and government owned radio operations improve there will be less demand for radio amateurs to transmit messages on behalf of non-hams and governments leading to a decline in traffic handling. For instance, in 1936 police departments in several cities made it a practice to find a ham radio operator whenever a car was reported stolen. The ham would then transmit a description of the stolen car to all other hams in the area. Those hams would then go out and find the car and report its location to the police via ham radio. The police would then go and recover the stolen car and arrest the car thief. This was a very common use of ham radio that the author thought would go away as police departments developed their own two-way radiotelephone systems. The author predicted that amateur radio would become more of a social institution comprised of hobbyists who operate for pleasure rather than experimenters exploring new technologies or civic minded citizens assisting their communities by passing messages that would have otherwise went unsent. The author concludes his book by imploring its readers to abandon the wasteful vanity of telephone and the fool’s errand of television and return to a simple “good clean-cut code signal.”

The book concludes with these words “May it fall to amateur radio to march many steps toward the goal of complete knowledge ere its footprints are lost in the sands of time.”

It seems that even in 1936 many hams believed our best days were behind us and that the end of our hobby was near. It is too bad that the fellows today who think our best days were in the 1950’s or 1960’s never got to know how good it really was back in 1913!

I remember this when I hear people predict the end of amateur radio now or say that all of our best days are behind us. I am more optimistic about the future of ham radio today than Mr. DeSoto was in 1936. That said, 200 Meters and Down made my flight much more enjoyable and I can honestly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of our great hobby.

Member Comments:
Add A Comment
 
A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by OE5AKM on November 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
The author proposes making it harder to get a ham radio license. He suggests raising the code speed requirement and also making the technical testing standards more stringent.
------------------------------

In my opinion the wrong way.

73, Alfred, OE5AKM
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by G3RZP on November 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Amateur radio development in the US was very different to that in Europe. A classic history of the UK development, published in 1967 by RSGB, is 'World at their Fingertips' by John Clarricoats, G6CL.

Sadly, it has been out of print for many years, while nobody has picked up the general story from 1967 to the present day.

To my mind, the biggest advance was the formation, following the ideas of H. P. Maxim and the ARRL Board, of the IARU in 1925. That has led to the recognition effectively in international law (since the Radio Regulations are an international treaty)of amateur radio as a service.
 
A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by SM0AOM on November 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
"The author proposes making it harder to get a ham radio license. He suggests raising the code speed requirement and also making the technical testing standards more stringent.
------------------------------

In my opinion the wrong way."

In my opinion the right way.

We have had licence "giveaways" for quite a long time which have contributed nothing.

When the authorities world-wide start to find out our real qualifications we are in trouble.

 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by N8FVJ on November 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Interesting review. Ham radio developed from a 'high-tech' at the time endeavor for the few into a hobby for many IMO. I do not see any less thrill today.
 
A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by K6CRC on November 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
As a young person, the doom and gloom was hanging over the hobby in the early 70s. Still read that attitude here regularly, one hundred years after the beginnings of the hobby.
Maybe a lot of people are just depressed, since so many are depressing.
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by K9MHZ on November 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
+1 ^^^^^

Don't get "the demise" talk. 750K licensees in the U.S. but we're supposedly in our last days.

It's different, but not dying.
 
A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by K1DA on November 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Try "Empire of the Air" the print version of the Ken Burns (of Civil War fame) TV series.
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by NN2X on November 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
The author proposes making it harder to get a ham radio license. He suggests raising the code speed requirement and also making the technical testing standards more stringent.
------------------------------

I agree...I like this author...!!!!!

Like I said on many posts, due to the high standards of the exams (When I took them), gave me career in Satellite communications for 40 years...! I had to understand the material!

I breezed through the BSEE degree, and passed all 9 Commercial FCC licenses...Again all due to the high standards of Ham radio!

I thank the FCC for their stringent exams....! (Years ago)
 
A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by SM0AOM on November 13, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
"Amateur radio development in the US was very different to that in Europe. A classic history of the UK development, published in 1967 by RSGB, is 'World at their Fingertips' by John Clarricoats, G6CL."

Exactly. Amateur radio outside the USA had to fight an upphill battle for many years, because of the dim view that most Governments took to radio transmitters in private hands.

The formation of the IARU was one step forward, but the main reason in my opinion was the "template regulations" that the Hoover Conferences put forward in 1924-26. They formed the starting point for the Washington negotiations.

The current regulations are mostly derived from the post-war and cold-war sentiments that were influential at the Atlantic City conference.

We were among the "good guys" in WW2 and got a pat on the back for this. Without the Allied victory in WW2, international amateur radio would have been non-existant today.



 
A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by SM0AOM on November 13, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
"Amateur radio development in the US was very different to that in Europe. A classic history of the UK development, published in 1967 by RSGB, is 'World at their Fingertips' by John Clarricoats, G6CL."

Exactly. Amateur radio outside the USA had to fight an uphill battle for many years, because of the dim view that most Governments took to radio transmitters in private hands.

The formation of the IARU was one step forward, but the main reason in my opinion was the "template regulations" that the Hoover Conferences put forward in 1924-26. They formed the starting point for the Washington negotiations.

The current regulations are mostly derived from the post-war and cold-war sentiments that were influential at the Atlantic City conference.

We were among the "good guys" in WW2 and got a pat on the back for this. Without the Allied victory in WW2, international amateur radio would have been non-existant today.



 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by N2EY on November 13, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
It must be remembered that the code speed requirement back then was 10 wpm for all classes of US amateur license (A, B, C). The written test was rather basic, to, and was years behind the advancements in radio of the time.

In 1936, the code speed was raised to 13 wpm and the written tests revised.

People think rapid technological advance is a new thing, but in fact things were changing very quickly back then - even faster than today.

Think back to 1999 - doesn't seem that far back, does it? Try to think of a piece of ham gear made in 1999 that you can't use today.

Think about how many hams are using hamgear from 1999 - 1989 - 1979 - 1969 - and even earlier, today, with no problems.

Now consider the ham of 1937. What could s/he use from 1919 - the year US hams got back on the air after WW2 - in 1937? The hams of 1919 were all on 200 meters; by 1929 they had all moved to the "short waves". King Spark ruled almost unchanged in 1919 but was deposed in less than 10 years. Progress in tubes, power supplies, receivers, transmitters, and everything else made almost all 1919 stuff museum pieces in 1937. That's rapid change!

Also, in the USA, amateurs did not have to be licensed until near the end of 1912. Licensing existed, but it was not mandatory until then.

Note too how few hams there were back then, both in overall numbers and as a percentage of the population.

 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by W8WZ on November 13, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
N2EY - Yes - you are exactly right! Thank you for sharing these points. Carl W8WZ
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by VE6MRV on November 13, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
The book "World at their Fingertips" is available on Amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/World-their-fingertips-amateur-Britain/dp/0900612096
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by KJ4DGE on November 14, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
No doubt working hard at anything has its merits and has always been so. That being said. I entered the world of electronics in the mid 70's being "self-taught". Coming from another field of work entirely but very much buring with a fire of sorts to get involved in what really interested me. When I saw the "Hiring sign" at The Heathkit store in 1982 I knew I had no other experience other than what I had read and done on my own. No code test, no IEEE degree, nothing other than a driven want to do and get paid for what I wanted to do in a new career move. It was not until I was given the chance that I spent the next 10 years living my "dream". I still did not have my HAM ticket but knew the day would come. I was too busy learning many things like fixing TV's stereos, etc. to learn code. I spent many nights chasing NDB's on a DX-160 listening to the 3-letter code repeat itself and jotting down calls down and looking up the locations. Yes I dreamed about the day of "talking" on the radio legally. Then the computer revolution came and I had to really learn my keep to stay employed and it served me well. We can all say how hard we worked to get to what we wanted or that other did not work as hard as us and overlook the reality that each life is different and not based on the way we necessarily learned things. Its part of maturing and growing as human beings. We can all learn from the experiences of each other.
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by VE7IG on November 14, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Right now things are changing fast in ham radio! It is an extremely exciting time. Much of this change is due to the mating of computers and radios. Look at the rise of the FT8 mode in one year and the remote ham radio revolution of the last few years. How exciting and technically challenging to operate your home station at work or on vacation from an I-Pad as many do or to assemble, program and operate your personal remote clear across the country as I do. And GPS! Single VHF/UHF radios in your vehicle that leave tracks of your whereabouts on maps, incredible. This is a great time in the world's greatest hobby. I'll be 80 next year and it keeps me hopping. What's not to love about it all.
 
The Dumbing Down of Society... Reply
by VE3CUI on November 14, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I purchased a copy of this book directly from the ARRL way back when I first got licensed in 1971. When I received it, I thought that it was probably some sort of a reprint from the original because of the 1930-something publishing date listed in the beginning --- but in hindsight, I believe that what I received really WAS an original, & simply shipped to me from the League's stockpile of the volumes that it had on hand…

No matter: I found it to be simply a GREAT read, & I have re-visited it, cover to cover, several times from that when I first received it. Masterful English is refreshingly used by the author throughout its pages --- I have no doubt that many readers of the "…I-want-it-right-now-because-I'm-in-a-hirry!" tweeters & texters would have trouble in deciphering its contents.

Their loss.

The only other piece that I ever read that was just as oh-so-wonderful to peruse was the obituary in QST on the eve of Ross Hull's death in the 30's, penned (I believe) by the very same author of the book in question. Absolutely flawless & precise use of English grammar, words, & composition. --- a true joy to behold…and a sad reminder of how society to-day has so very effectively succeeded in "dumbing itself down" to yet ANOTHER lower level...

~73!~ de Eddy VE3CUI - VE3XZ
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by N8FVJ on November 14, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
If you think about technical progress, ham communications in 1936 over the air waves was about as effective as today using AM or CW modes.

A 1936 Hammarlund Super Pro receiver performs well enough today and any home brew transmitter of 50 watts CW to 100+ watts AM would perform marvelously. Plus, consider that man made noise was way less back then.
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by SM0AOM on November 14, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Exactly.

The 1936 Super-Pro or the SX-11 in my "30's station" hear the same stations that the Collins HF-2050 or SDR gear do. Especially with the local noise increase and the decrease in amateur band occupancy.

Top-notch receiver performance is not needed so much longer, and the QSO:s you want can be worked with an ECO-PA 807 rig if you (and your QSO partners) have the necessary patience.
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by K1FPV on November 14, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I must agree with NN2X! I got my Novice and General in the early 1960's while in high school, but the exams had questions that you couldn't just memorize like today. You had to use and know how to calculate component values. I wound up getting my 1st. Class Radiotelephone License while in college and worked in broadcasting (to help me pay my way through school) as well as eventually working as a design engineer for which I have Ham Radio to thank!

Bill
K1FPV
ex. KN1FPV (REMEMBER THOSE DAYS?)
 
RE: A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by KB6QXM on November 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I agree with the author. Instead of giving something away for free, it needs to be earned. These days of VECs, codeless licenses and questions pools is just a smoke screen to an amateur radio license.

In this world of instant gratification and politically correct inclusion, HOAs, CC&Rs, Contest after contest,lack of FCC enforcement the hobby has been diluted beyond recognition.

The book is a great snapshot in time what it meant to earn your amateur radio license through serious knowledge and work. Back then until I would say 35 years ago, when you mentioned you were an amateur radio operator, there was a level of respect for your technical knowledge and ability.

I guess that that is why they call it the "good old days"

73
 
A Book Review of 200 Meters and Down Reply
by AA7LX on November 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
When I first got my License, I read a copy of 200 Meters and down in the Library. I had a personal copy back in 2013...and, later gave it away; However, after reading this Review and the attached Reader's comments-- I'm going to order another Copy, this time to keep ! '73. George, AA7LX
 
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