Centennial of Amateur Radio Blackout for World War I occurs April 6

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03/31/2017

World War I began in Europe in August 1914, and the United States, under President Woodrow Wilson, was determined to remain neutral. As fighting and enemy resolve intensified, however, and Germany began to sink ships attempting to escape a naval blockade by England as well as non-military ships, including the Lusitania with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, it became inevitable that the United States would enter the fray, and the leaders of the new American Radio Relay League urged its 3,000 members to prepare.

The United States officially declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on April 6, 1917, and the United States government ordered most private radio stations in the United States to be closed or taken over by the government. During World War I, it was illegal for individuals to even own an operational radio transmitter or receiver, so aamateur transmitting and receiving stations had to be dismantled. The operating privileges of radio amateurs were not reinstated until November 1919 (QST resumed publication a few months earlier).

Once the United States has declared war, QST editorials urged skilled amateurs to donate their desperately needed skills to the military. The conscripts were particularly directed towards the Navy, the main user of wireless services in the country. A specific program was developed to induct volunteer amateurs into the Naval Reserve for the duration – the Class 4 Naval Reserve. Requirements included citizenship, the ability to take a physical exam, and the ability to send and receive code. Morse at 10 WPM. Most of the volunteer radio amateurs have chosen to join this reserve, including ARRL’s first communications officer, Fred H. Schnell, 1MO. He went to sea as a radio chief.

ARRL co-founder Clarence D. Tuska received a commission as a lieutenant in the US Army Signal Corps, and established a radio training school at Ellington Airfield near Houston, Texas.

QST himself suspended publication throughout the war. – Thanks to Mike Marinaro, WN1M, and History of radio in the United States by Thomas H. White.


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