History of Naval Radio: Development of Amateur Shortwave


About the Transcript

July 13, 1952
History of Naval Radio
Rear Admiral S.C. Hooper
The amateur develops and the Navy initially applies shortwave radio.
(Continued from Reel 100)
Reel 101

Transcript #101


In 1922 I began to make a serious study of the amateur shortwave radio experiments. There were about 17,000 amateurs in the United States at that time licensed by the Department of Commerce, mostly using the telegraph code, and they were making such remarkable records that although we in the Navy felt that their results were too freakish for reliability required in naval service, that because of the remarkable ranges at very low power and costs it was advisable that we go into the matter very thoroughly. An article was published in Popular Radio in 1923, August, which I prepared, which describes our study of this at that time. The article is entitled, “The New Voice That is Being Heard Around the World,” by Commander Stanford C. Hooper, USN. “By the amateur radio of our distant territory of Hawaii, the United States may be visualized as a vast honeycomb of amateur stations within a huge beehive of sound. As he listens in on the United States from his vantage point out near the center of the North Pacific he overhears conversations; the dot-dash language of radio, going on through space between brother amateurs whose 17,000 odd-licensed radio stations; transmitting stations, are centered all over the broad land ranging in locations as they do all the way from the state of Washington and our Pacific seaboard to Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, from the Canadian border on the north to the Mexican border on the south, from California to Maine. Not only is the dot and dash language of amateur radiotelegraphy of all sections of the United States thus brought to him with lightning-like speed on those distant islands situated more then 2,000 from the nearest point of our Pacific seaboard, but in some instances he also hears the voices of his brother amateurs conversing with one another through space on the medium of radiotelephony. Moreover, as a full-fledged radio amateur he is not restricted to listening in only. His station is equipped with a transmitting set as well as a receiving set and he can thus talk as well as listen. Although the amateur radio transmitting station, with its antenna suspended from the housetop, may appear diminutive in dimensions as compared with the great high power stations of the Navy and the commercial radio companies, although its juvenile transmitting wave is restricted by law to a length of 200 meters as against the waves ranging from 300 meters to the monster waves of 20,000 meters employed by the government and commercial stations. Although he is also limited by law to an input power of 1,000 watts; one kilowatt, of the consequent current value flowing in his antenna system, rarely in access of 10 amperes, whereas in the high power stations the input power has reached 500 kilowatts with a consequent antenna current of 15 amperes to 700 amperes or more. Yet in spite of all these handicaps he succeeds in covering remarkable distance through his base, actually equaling those of the high power stations. The amateurs have already succeeded in bridging 2,000 odd miles of distance intervening between the Hawaiian Islands and our Pacific seaboard during the seasons of the year most favorable for radio communications; the autumn and the wetter winter months. Communications are now exchanged back and forth during these months with little, if any, difficulty, especially during the hours of darkness. Under exceptionally favorable circumstances communications are actually exchanged with island stations situated as far eastward as Chicago and Detroit. This illustrates on the one hand the vagarities of radio communication, on the other hand the remarkable advances made in the development of the radio arc within their restricted field of operations as regards to wavelength and power input. Their ultimate goal, however, is world-wide communications by amateur radio, and it’s not inconceivable that they will eventually achieve this end.”

Mind you, this is written in 1922 as a result of the preliminary studies by the Radio Division of the Bureau of Steam Engineering, by observing the communications of amateurs generally, reading their literature, and by actually the reports of a project assigned by the Bureau to the Pacific Coast Communication Superintendent and the Hawaiian, Pearl Harbor Radio Officer, to listen in and report on these amateur results. Communications exchanged during the favorable autumn and winter months of the year between amateurs whose stations are located along the Pacific seaboard and the amateurs of the Hawaiian Islands is not of course comparable with the reliable day and night service rendered every day of the year by the high power stations of the Navy and the commercial companies. The high power radiotelegraph service between our California Coast and the Hawaiian Islands is absolutely reliable every day of the year regardless of static conditions, except for unaccountable brief sunrise and sunset fading periods which occur each day.” One might say that those fading periods didn’t seem to occur for amateur radio, although we discovered that for some wavelengths they faded out altogether at certain periods and we had to use other wavelengths on the amateur band. “Of course the amateurs cannot render service of this quality, but that they have succeeded in bridging the intervening distance between our Pacific seaboard and Honolulu with their low power shortwave sets indicated their keeping up not very far behind the high power services in the development of radio for long distance work.

During the autumn and winter months of the year 1921 an American amateur by the name of Dow, whose station is located in the town of Wailuku . . .” W-A-I-L-U-K-U, “. . . on the island of Maui in the Hawaiian Group, established communication by radio, not only with amateur stations situated along our Pacific Coast but also with others situated in our Middle Western states.[1] The juvenile 200 meter waves created by amateur stations, thus not only effectually expanded the broad expanse of waters of the North Pacific Ocean, but also the lofty peaks of the Sierra Nevadas and Rocky Mountain Ranges and the vast plains of our western states as the amateurs talk back and forth to one another. The performance was repeated during the year 1922 and among our ever-widening circle of western amateur stations. In addition, amateur stations located along our Atlantic seaboard were also picked up at Guadeloupe, although communications were not actually exchanged between the Atlantic seaboard stations and the Guadeloupe station as was the case of the West Coast stations. These results were regarded as being so remarkable that experiments were undertaken during the month of October 1922 by radio technicians attached to Navy’s Pearl Harbor Radio Laboratory on Oahu in order to ascertain whether receiving conditions on the island of Oahu were equally good as those on Maui, and to confirm the reports of previous amateur performances. Experiments of the Navy radiomen were made during the leisure time after laboratory working hours between 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. Honolulu local time. This enabled observations to be made during intervals when both daylight and darkness prevailed over the area under observation. The Hawaiian Islands constitute one of the few favorite areas of the world for radio reception, as static is rarely experienced in these islands.” There is less static in Hawaii than in most parts of the United States. A temporary receiving station was established on the shoreline of Oahu with an unobstructed field between the station and the mainland of the United States. This temporary installation was made in the buildings of the Makapuu Lighthouse. Three different types of receiving antennas were temporarily installed for comparison as to their effectiveness. The most effective antenna was a Beverage antenna consisting of single lengths of wires suspended about eight feet above the ground. The free ends of the Beverage antennas were connected directly to ground through resistances of about 540 ohms with the free ends pointing in the general direction of the United States. A simple regenerative circuit; Audion in two stages of audio-radio frequency amplification, were employed and good results obtained.” The Beverage antenna was so much more satisfactory then the others that no further mention will be made of them. “The length of the Beverage antenna was 1,312 feet. A Navy standard CW9332 gave the best results in the first stage of audio frequency application, while the Navy standard 931 five-watt power tubes gave best results in the second stage of amplification. Seven West Coast amateur stations listened in regularly on the tests with the Hawaiian station transmitting. They were Los Angeles, San Rafael, Woodlawn, Walnut Grove, Alameda - all in California - and Vancouver and Aberdeen in Washington. The signals were copied without difficulty during the daylight hours around 3 p.m. Honolulu local time. And during the hours of darkness and up until 3 o’clock in the morning, about 40 different stations situated in the United States, all listening in carefully for the Hawaiian transmitter within the comparatively nearby 6th Radio District, California-Nevada-Utah-Arizona and Territory of Hawaii were logged. Our analysis showed that every naval district in the United States had been able to copy this Hawaiian transmitting station during the hours it was testing. The airline distance between Hawaii and the United States in no case was less then 2,000 miles, in some cases 6,000 miles.

It was interesting to note that by far the greater number of amateur stations whose signals were picked up in the Hawaiian Islands from the United States were located in centers of large urban population rather than in rural districts. As the maximum range of the most efficient of the amateur stations did not exceed 500 miles ten years before; back in 1912 or 13, these results exemplify the rapid progress being made by the American amateur in the development of radio for long distance work. They also furnished food for thought for our sociologists, our statesman, our businessmen, as well as our radio engineers. In order to insure satisfactory service day and night, every day of the year with ships at sea, stations of not less then 5,000 watts power have been established by the Navy along our coasts at intervals of approximately every 200 miles, a distance which is considered as their reliable range. To maintain constant service over the 2,000 mile stretch between San Francisco and Hawaii, both the Navy and commercial companies maintain stations ranging from 100 to 500 kilowatts. A review of the stations heard in the Hawaiian Islands during the observations described shows that signals from a number of stations as low as ten-watts power transmitting were heard. After the test between the amateur land stations by the Navy we took a Navy ship; the Seagull, a tug out in Hawaii, to observe the incoming amateur signals from the States onboard ship and compare them with those received on land, and we found that after the ship got clear of the land that the signals came in just as well or better aboard the Seagull as they did at the land station. Following these observations it was decided by the Navy to make a temporary transmitting installation similar to that commonly employed by amateurs for the purpose of making brief experiments with their own equipment, with a view to ascertaining whether or not contact could be readily made with amateurs on our Pacific seaboard using the government-authorized 200-meter wave. A vacuum tube transmitter of only 250 watts power was hastily improvised, a circuit commonly employed by amateurs. This transmitter was installed on the Seagull and connected to that ship’s antenna, the ordinary antenna. After broadcasting a few CQ’s, which was the commonly used signal by an amateur when he wished to establish communication with contacts, several amateurs situated within the state of California were immediately heard calling the Seagull in turn. The contact was thus established without difficulty with amateurs in the United States and reports of previous amateur performances verified to the complete satisfaction of Navy’s radio experts.”

[BLANK SECTION] . . . band under the most favorable conditions for radio. And through his ingenuity and enthusiasm he has accomplished this noteworthy feat in spite of the limited power on which he must operate in his restricted wavelength. In view of the progress made by the amateurs since their advent in the world of radio about 15 years ago, it is entirely logical to assume that they will eventually achieve world-wide communication by radio.” The foregoing quotations from my article of August 1923 are positive evidence of the Navy’s interest in the shortwave experiments by amateurs from the very beginning and resulted in the same year in the invitation by the Director of Naval Communications to an amateur to take a cruise on the flagship of the Pacific Fleet from San Francisco to Hawaii and Australia, bringing along his 10-watt amateur transmitter for flagship tests in order that comparative service tests in handling actual traffic might be made between the high power 20 and 30 kw low frequency transmitters in the cruisers and battleships, and the small 10-watt set such as used by the amateurs.

Upon receipt of the report with the data from the Pacific communication officer on the amateur tests observations, it was decided to give the Naval Research Laboratory a job order to design and manufacture one amateur radio transmitter to be taken on the flagship on the Australian cruise in the fall of 1923, also one for its own use for communication between the Naval Research Laboratory, under Commander A.H. Taylor, and the Seattle, and other tests with amateurs direct.

[BLANK SECTION] . . . radio and amateur radio was during disasters where normal means of communication were very often paralyzed and the utmost ingenuity, coupled with a tireless and strong devotion to duty, were required to endeavor to reestablish and maintain communications under the stress of such disasters. In those days; back in the 1920s, the weather report predictions were not very widespread or efficient as compared with now, and disasters; floods and hurricanes, came with unexpected suddenness and there wasn’t too much time to prepare. The value of such a knowledge of how to go about reestablishing communications was demonstrated well during the hurricane of 1926 when Florida was strickened and the whole state, and some cities to the north, were upon the mercy of the country. The Navy, of course, made a special effort to help out both with relief and to keep communications established. The amateurs did very excellent work in this case because the Navy antennas were blown down in Florida, although everything was alright to the north of it. So we had to depend on amateur radio in Miami and Palm Beach and other cities in the vicinity through their ingenuity with gasoline driven transmitters, battery transmitters, to call the naval stations to the north of it, and commercial stations and other amateur stations, until it finally could get communications reestablished. And in each case it wasn’t very long from after the hurricane actually hit until at Arlington and Washington we were able to hear amateurs calling us by tuning around in their band and then to answer them on our own high power transmitters. Also the amateurs connected up with their own buddies in the vicinity of Washington and up in Hartford, Connecticut and other places and relayed the messages in by wire to the Red Cross Headquarters, or to the Navy.

Another thing; they would telegraph ahead and warn their buddies to stand by when a hurricane was rumored to be on the way or expected. It is very valuable to the Red Cross and to the Navy, and other relief organizations, to have this communication reestablished promptly so that information could be gotten through about how much relief was required in the way of supplies and medicines, and anything else that was needed as a result of the disaster.

In 1927 there was another disaster. In that case it was the Mississippi River flood south of St. Louis and it was one of the worst floods we ever had in history. I got word from the Director of Naval Communications about it one morning and he said he thought it would be a good idea to get as many field sets as we could and some operators out in that area and space them apart so that they could communicate with some other radio stations, either broadcast stations or Navy stations or amateur stations. So I moved heaven and earth and I remember I was able to get about 20 field sets from store and from the battleships up in New York, and I sent a dispatch to the Commandant of the Third Naval District in New York and the Commander-in-Chief to detail three or four operators with each one of these field sets, with their necessary bags and other supplies, and sent them down to Washington overnight. The next day we loaded the whole thing in freight cars and had them attached to passenger trains going to the area of the disaster. The Bureau of Aeronautics, at the same time, sent a number of airplanes to the Mississippi River and the planes were able to communicate with our radio stations on the ground and also with other radio stations in areas not affected to help out in communications. And the planes also were able to drop supplies and so on as needed. It took quite a bit of executive ability for the officer-in-charge of that expedition to keep all his stations in touch and to keep moving along ahead of the flood or just after it struck, but he did an excellent job.

Then there was another bad disaster in Santo Domingo in a year or two due to a hurricane and the Navy and the amateurs worked together on that.[2] And of course the main thing then was to keep order and get food and Red Cross assistance into there. The communications weren’t so difficult.

Out of all of this came gradually a national network under the Navy of amateurs to provide assistance and we organized regular drills for use in case of emergency. There were about 2,500 amateurs enrolled in the communication of the U.S. Naval Reserve at that time. They had regular organization and drills, and under the organization plans, in cooperation with radio stations or naval communications, messages were arranged to be flashed from amateurs, or Reservists, in the area concerned to a master control stations to Red Cross branch headquarters or to the nearest 3,500 Red Cross local chapters established in the United States. Well that worked so well that through the cooperation of the Red Cross and the Federal Communications Commission, especially Lieutenant E.K. Jett who had been Traffic Officer in the DNC Office, held a meeting of all the government departments which might help in emergencies and wielded their communications together with the amateurs for emergency use.[3] After that the Navy was only one part of the organization. That organization was designed to meet all predictable obstacles of communications so that emergency messages might reach their destination. The first SOS to be sent out by a station was to report the type and location of a disaster and as much additional information as immediately available. Second and third and subsequent messages reported casualties, relief messages, and other valuable information. The organization for clearing relief messages provided the further coordination of amateur and Naval Reserve communications activities in each of the 11 naval districts within the continental limits of the United States by the naval commandant of each district.

During the period of the disaster in Puerto Rico there were 18,000 words of Red Cross traffic handled between Washington and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and other points in the hurricane area. [4]


  1. Clifford J. Dow.
  2. He may be referring to the 1930 hurricane that hit the Dominican Republic. Believed to have killed several thousand, the hurricane is one of the deadliest on record.
  3. E.K. Jett, later FCC Commissioner.
  4. Puerto Rico suffered a major hurricane strike in 1928, and a smaller one in 1930.