The Importance of 1929 – Part 1

When it comes to the Bruce Kelley QSO Party and the rules involving the use of circuitry and tubes popular in 1929 or earlier, some have enquired..."Why 1929...what was special about that year in particular?"

Over the past few nights I've spent some enjoyable hours reading QSTs from the late '20's. It seems that 1929 was really the beginning of much that we have come to recognize, for all of our lives, as 'Amateur Radio'....but to answer the question, we really need to go back a few more years.

Prior to that time, and especially in the very early years, amateur radio seemed to have much in common with the 'wild-west'. Rules, if any, were difficult to enforce, as was licensing. May hams operated without a licence, choosing their own call letters. There was a lot of crazy stuff happening...bootleggers, broadcasting music and a general 'every man for himself' approach.

Headquarters - Courtesy:
The establishment of the ARRL in 1914, by Hiram Maxim, was the beginning of what was to be a tough fight to educate and organize amateur radio activity in North America.

With the appearance of QST, in 1915, membership grew quickly and it soon became a sign of notability to be a League member. By the late 20's radio was thriving and growing at unprecedented rates. The U.S. amateur population grew from 16,000 in 1926, to 30,000 in 1932 alone. By 1938 there were 50,000 licenced hams in the U.S.

However, a federal judgement, in 1926, ruled the Radio Act of 1912, to be largely unenforceable, creating even more chaos amongst broadcasters. Things were getting somewhat chaotic in the amateur radio world as well as in the commercial field. The time was ripe for some serious changes.

In order to gain some control over this new technology and the chaos surrounding its usage, more so in the commercial field (ships, aircraft, broadcasting, telegraph), the U.S. Congress passed the Radio Act of 1927 thus giving more tools to the recently-established Federal Radio Commission, the forerunner of today's FCC.

Although the Radio Act of 1927 gave the FRC the power to enforce regulations, it came down to the international agreements hammered out in the winter of 1937 to make things happen. The  International Radiotelegraph Conference, attended by representatives from 72 countries, met in Washington, DC to grind out some international 'rules' since the growing popularity and surprising success of the 'shortwaves' was now of worldwide concern.

Much as we see today, the fight for radio spectrum had begun. The 172-page Washington document makes fascinating reading and in it we see the basis for many of amateur radio's beloved fundamentals.

It was here, that the new '1929 rules' were established and ham radio would never be quite the same...a very good thing.

The amateur's of 1927 didn't know it yet, but they would soon be deep in rebuilding their stations to meet the 'new requirements' of 1929!

Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “The Importance of 1929 – Part 1”

  • Steve VE7SL:

    Please note typo…corrected info should read:

    “Although the Radio Act of 1927 gave the FRC the power to enforce regulations, it came down to the international agreements hammered out in the winter of 1927 to make things happen.”


  • Peter kg5wy:

    Good history. Thanks Steve.

  • KU4GW Cliff:

    Great read Steve! Very enjoyable and going to check out a couple of the links now. I can hardly wait for part 2! Thanks very much and I hope that you and your family have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy & Prosperous 2015!

  • Jason ke7tdy:

    i love history, and radio history is so interesting, thanks for posting!
    73 all

Leave a Comment

Subscribe FREE to's
Amateur Radio Newsletter
News, Opinion, Giveaways & More!

Join over 7,000 subscribers!
We never share your e-mail address.

Also available via RSS feed, Twitter, and Facebook.

Subscribe FREE to's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

We never share your e-mail address.

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!

  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor

Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: