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Callbook Archive

The year 1925 saw the formation of the South African Radio Relay League, but in considering our history we must remember some of the radio societies that existed before that date, as many of their members became the nucleus of our League.

Shortly after the first world war the Transvaal Radio Society was formed with Raymond Coombs as secretary and Joseph White as chairman. Among other members was Mr. W. Hilarius. who was later to become chief engineer to the African Broadcasting Company. The Transvaal Radio Society became the Wireless Section of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers, which flourished until about 1924: but was then disbanded, principally because of the establishment of broadcasting in the Union.

During this same period of time another society had been formed in Cape Town, the Radio Society of South Africa, founded in 1920, and holding its first meeting in July of that year. Though its members have always given their full support to the League this society still exists, and the few remaining members meet at regular intervals. Among the foundation members were' OM Gilmour, ZS1K, OM Grey, ZS1O, and several others of whom I have no record. OM Grey is still active and can be heard most mornings on "40" metre phone ; remembering his call-sign must be quite a feat. When first licensed some time prior calls in the order mentioned, CGG, A10, 0-A3J, FO-A3J, ZT1A, ZS1CU, and finally ZS1O.

That there must have been other radio societies within the Union at the same time would seem to be obvious, but I have no record of them. That they did their share in helping with the formation of the League goes without saying.

For some time prior to 1925 there was a conviction among those engaged in transmitting that a society should be formed in South Africa on some what similar lines to the American Radio Relay League, as the radio societies then existing did not quite embrace the ideals required. In a country such as South Africa, where the principal centres were
separated by such great distances, it was no easy matter to make the necessary start. Only those who have had actual experience of such an undertaking will realise the difficulties that had to be surmounted, but in the capable hands of Raymond Coombs and L. E. Green at Johannesburg, the spade work of the organisation was enthusiastically and successfully performed.

Thus 1925 saw the birth of the South African Radio Relay League, with Raymond Coombs as honorary organising secretary. In this initial work valuable assistance was rendered by such stalwarts as OM Pleass (A4M), OM Fisher (A3K), and others in
Johannesburg, while OM Streeter, at that time A4Z, at the Cape, OM Dixon-Bennett (A3V), at Bloemfontein, OM Davidson (1SR), in Rhodesia, OMs Heywood (A3E) and Douglas Mail (A5B), at Durban, did yeoman service in the cause.

At the outset membership was strictly restricted to experimenters in possession of a licence and capable of conducting two-way telegraphic communication. The question of subscriptions was left to be settled by mutual agreement among the several Divisional committees, temporary headquarters being established at Johannesburg.

Rapid and encouraging progress was made from the start, and from a technical point of view one of the great achievements in the early days was the establishment of two-way communication between South Africa and Brazil, when OM Streeter (A4Z), worked Brazilian station CB8. The attention of the public was focused on radio amateurs when a message of greeting to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, originated in Rhodesia and was relayed through Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to Cape Town, and they. the public, began to realise the value of amateur radio.

Many of the foundation members of the League are still with us, and most of them are still active amateurs. In May, 1925, the foundation members of the various Divisions were recognised as follows:


CAPE, WESTERN : J. S. Streeter, A4Z, A. S. Faull, and P. Gilmour, A4G.

NATAL : H. W. Heywood, A3E. J. Douglas Mail, A5B, W. Zietsman, A3U, H. D. Coyt, AST, and A. Davidson.

ORANGE FREE STATE : W. E. Dixon-Bennett, A3V. RHODESIA : J. M. Davidson, 1SR.

TRANSVAAL : R. N. Coombs. L. E. Green, A4V, S. C. Pleass, A4M, A. Fisher, ASK, W. L. Roy, A4F, A. S. Innes A4E, J. P Barendse, A4W, G. A. Mauch, A4B, F. C. Elliot-Wilson, A5M, and W. F. Warren, A4A.

These numbers increased rapidly, and by Easter, 1926, when the first conference took place in Johannesburg, there was a membership of 90, all experimenters actively engaged in transmission work. The first president to be elected was OM Joseph White,
who had earlier been the chairman of the Transvaal Radio Society.

Detailed progress of our League is difficult to trace for the first two years because there was no regular publication of any sort. The first effort in this direction was made some time during 1927, when a fortnightly roneoed news sheet appeared under the name
of "F.O. News." This publication continued for about a year, but no copies appear to be available among the League records.

"QTC" was the first printed magazine issued by the League. No. 1. Vol. 1 was issued in May, 1928. Our editor was OM R. S. Perry, A9Z. and the magazine was printed in Durban. The following is an extract from the first page:


"It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the S.A.R.R.L. on the enterprise they have shown in publishing "QTC." This marks a further step forward in the progress of the League and will do much to cement the feelings of comradeship among our members. The Durban conference was outstanding for the large amount of good work accomplished, and I feel that the launching of the good ship "QTC" will have far-reaching effects to experimental radio in South Africa.

I wish "QTC" every success and I trust all our members will rally round and give the venture every support.

It is sad to have to relate that the first issue had to carry a "Silent Key" reporting the death of OM R. S. Fisher, ASK. OM Fisher was one of the pioneers of telephony in this country, and using the early callsign of 2BR, he put over some excellent programmes.

Before considering other events in the League's history, it is interesting to follow the life of our magazine. From May to December, 1928, it was published in Durban, and in January of 1929 it was transferred to Johannesburg under the editorship of OM
R. C. H. Taylor, ZT6T. "QTC" continued to come out every month and maintained a very high standard.

It was during 1927 and 1928 that the famous Washington Radio Telegraph Convention was held, and on the 23rd of January, 1929, the Postmaster General's Department sent a circular to all licensed amateurs. Clause 1 of the circular was particularly interesting, and read as follows:

"In accordance with the findings of the Washington Telegraph Convention, 1927, the following Frequencies ( wavelengths in metres.) are allocated for experimental transmissions:

1715 to 2000 k/cs or 175 to 150 metres; 3500 to 4000 k/cs or 85 to 75 metres; 7000 to 7300 k/cs or 42.8 to 41 metres; 14000 to 14400 k/cs or 21.4 to 20.8 metres; 28000 to 30000 k/cs or 10.7 to 10 metres; 56000 to 60000 k/cs or 5.35 to 5 metres.

Thus came into being the bands we are all so familiar with today. The next international conference held in Cairo in 1935 made practically no alterations to amateur frequency allotments, except to declare that a portion of the "40" metre band was to be shared with shortwave broadcast stations in some countries. For the retention of these bands we have to thank the various national amateur associations among which the S.A.R.R.L. was by no means least for the strong representations made on behalf of the amateurs of the world. The American Radio Relay League in particular played an important part in fighting for our existing allocations. If it were not for the existence of the many national organizations similar to our own League, there is not the slightest doubt whatsoever that we would long since have lost the privileges we now have. The future will see greater and greater demands being made by the numerous other users of communication channels, and, unless each and every country has a strong amateur organisation to represent their amateurs, then amateur radio will have to face a difficult and perhaps even hopeless future.

The first post-war international conference was held in Atlantic City, and its findings have not yet been implemented. Our major consideration is that we will lose a section of the present 14 mc. band. but in return, will be receiving a new band in the vicinity of 21 mc. The chances of these changes being applied this year seem to be very slight.

During the past 25 years there have been changes in the mode of the administration of the League's affairs, and so far as our constitution is concerned there have been many amendments. As has been said before, there will continue to be changes as it is only  in this manner that we can progress. From 1925 to the end of 1949 Headquarters were in Johannesburg, and from 1925 to February, 1932, administration was by means of what was known as the "Proxy" system. Under this system an executive committee filled the position that our Council occupies. The executive committee consisted of members who lived within a workable distance of Headquarters, each member was a proxy representative of one of the Divisions at executive meetings. Theoretically this was an excellent scheme as it gave the various Divisions direct representation at Headquarters. Unfortunately it was a difficult system to apply in practice; as a proxy member was directly responsible to his Division, he could do little without consulting them. Frequently during the course of an executive meeting important work would have to be delayed because a proxy member did not know whether his Division would approve of a particular course of action. The only way out was for the member to write details to his Division and to await then reply. In this particular respect the proxy system fell down as it proved to be impracticable. Nevertheless, by dint of much hard work on the part of all concerned, League administration was carried out in this manner for seven years, or rather for nearly seven years because for the first year or two a system was being sought.

efforts, and South Africa took its place among the foremost in the amateur world. DX contacts were found numerous and reliable and 40 metres was considered to be the DX band. It was not until about 1928 that the DX possibilities of wavelengths in the order of 20 metres were fully realised and generally made use of. This, of course, made the coveted WAC a much easier accomplishment.

Though, when the League was founded, membership entailed the possession of a transmitting licence, this state of affairs only lasted for a year; it then opened its ranks to genuine short-wave enthusiasts as Associate Members. These members were, however, restricted to those capable of sending and receiving Morse code at 12 words per minute. At the third annual conference held in Durban during 1928 another step was taken, and a Technical Associate Class was agreed upon. The 1930 conference made yet further revisions to the grades of membership and made allowance for four classes of membership: Honorary Members, Foreign Members, Associate Members and Full Members. To become a Full Member the applicant had to hold a transmitting licence; on the other hand, the only qualification then required for Associate Membership was a genuine Interest in the science of radio.

Subsequent changes prior to and immediately after the last war have resulted in the present classes of League Membership being as follows :

Honorary Life Member:
Qualification for this class of membership being that the member concerned be elected to Honorary Life Membership by an annual general meeting, or a special general meeting, as a mark of esteem for work he has carried out on behalf of the League, or for contributions to the advancement of the science of radio.

Ordinary Member:
The only qualification for this grade being a genuine interest in the science of radio or its allied branches.

Junior Member:
Qualifications are as for ordinary member, but the applicant must be under the age of 19 years.

Associate Member:
Again the qualifications are as for full membership, but Associate Members must be residents outside of the borders of the Union.

To the foregoing we must not forget to add a special class of membership that has been created in the post-war days, and that is membership for wives and children of full members, the former are encouraged to join our League at reduced subscription rates. It is certain that we have not yet seen the last changes to be made to grades of membership, or qualifications thereof. With circumstances that are always changing, and a membership that is constantly expanding, we must expect to have to make changes from time to time. If this were not done. then the League would become static and thereafter immediately begin to decline.

By 1929 an excellent relationship had already been established between the League and the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and between the League and the African Broadcasting Company, the latter body being then a private enterprise, and not the South
African Broadcasting Corporation as we know it today. Here is an extract from the Headquarters Notes published in "QTC" of January, 1929 :

"In reply to a request from Headquarters, the Postmaster-General. Mr. J. Lenton, has promised to meet a deputation from the Executive Committee to discuss the question of wave bands, and other important matters. A report on the interview will appear in the next issue. .... A deputation to headquarters of the African Broadcasting Company to discuss technical matters met with a very cordial reception and there is every reason to believe that as an outcome relationship between the A.B.C. and the S.A.R.R.L. will be considerably strengthened."

December of 1928 saw the introduction, by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, of the ZS, ZT and ZU prefixes for all transmitting amateurs within the Union. These prefixes remained in force until 1938 when, after the period of ten years, all ZT and ZU prefixes were withdrawn and ZS became the only amateur prefix for South Africa.

During 1935 it was found that printing costs were representing a severe drain on Headquarters’ funds. Action had to be taken, but rather than let our magazine fall by the wayside, it was decided to roneo it and staple the roneoed sheets between printed covers. Publication continued until April, 1940, during which month No. 4 of Vol. 12 came out. It was the last issue to come out until after the second world war, and covered details for suspension of activities during the war.

During the latter part of 1945 League activities once more started, and one of the early requirements was a monthly magazine. As the membership was far from up to strength, it was not possible for Headquarters to spare the necessary money. At that time the S.A. Corps of Signals Association were acting as secretaries for the League, and they gave us space every month in their magazine “vic Eddy”: thus filling the gap for the time being.

By 1948 the League was once more in full swing, with an excellent membership that was steadily rising, and the time had arrived once more for us to start the publication of our own magazine. It was felt by the Council in office at the time that the name "QTC" was no longer suitable, and as a result our magazine was renamed RADIO. ZS, and a better name would be difficult to find. A RADIO ZS committee was formed under the combined editorship of OMs W. H. Browning and W. Todd; pressure of business eventually compelled them to withdraw, and OM Fred Shaw took over. Unfortunately, it was not long before OM Shaw found himself to be in much the same position as the .editors he had taken over from. and he in turn handed over to OM Karl Bauman, who continued to edit our magazine until the end of 1949.

During that year they were faced with great financial difficulties. Import control had become the order of the day and advertising revenue dropped off badly. This, of course, was not difficult to understand: dealers simply did not have the goods to advertise.

As a result the magazine began to run at a considerable loss. At the same time the cost of administering the League's affairs in Johannesburg was proving to be a lot more than was anticipated. Arising out of the difficult financial position a special general meeting of the League was called in December of 1949. and that meeting decided that—because of lower rents and labour costs, etc.—it would be more economical to run Headquarters from Cape Town, and authority for the change over was given.

Early in 1950 a new RADIO ZS committee was formed in Cape Town, and they started casting around to find the possibilities of producing our magazine at a considerably lower figure. This was not a simple matter and because of the time involved, continuity could not be maintained, and there was a break of three months during which no RADIO ZS was published. The first new issue to be published in Cape Town came out in April of 1950, and to date the May, June. and July issues have been published, together with the "Jubilee Number" in which this article appears. Thus we leave the life story of the League's magazines; in spite of difficulties arising at different times throughout the 25 years under review 23 years as far as magazines are concerned the overall results achieved are something to be proud of. League members are indeed indebted to those stalwarts who worked so hard to produce FO-NEWS, "QTC." and RADIO ZS throughout the past 23 years.

In order to tell a coherent story about the magazine side of our history it has been necessary to wend our way from 1925 to 1950: we must now retrace our steps to the early days of the League's history to find out what other achievements and happenings have occurred.

During the League's early days "short wave" operations were being conducted on 100 and 80 metres, with a few of the more daring OMs exploring the possibilities of 40 metres. Success crowned these.

In March, 1932, a new Constitution was adopted, and with it came the first Council; at the same time the old proxy executive system was abandoned.

Members of the Council were:

Chairman : Joseph White.

Hon. Secretary: H. R. Owen (ZT6C).

Hon. Treasurer: J. T. McCash (ZT6N).

Other Members: R. C. H. Taylor (ZT6T) A.Ussher (ZS6Z), A. T. Boshier (ZT6J), L. E.
Green (ZT6G), G. Ross Kent, N H. Auret (ZU6W).

It will be noted that Council consisted of nine members, and that strength has been maintained to the present day. Needless to say, amendments to the new constitution started to appear almost immediately, and by the time the League was revived after the last war, another new constitution was deemed necessary. The annual general meeting of 1946 authorised OMs Leon Verheyen and Aubrey Wynne to proceed with the drafting of a constitution which was eventually put into action approximately a year later.

By 1937 the League membership had grown considerably and as a result the work to be carried out at Headquarters was constantly increasing. Up to then the main burden of the secretarial work had been carried out first by H.O.S. and thereafter by OM Bob Taylor, OM McCash having acted as hon. treasurer for many years. In April, 1937, the League appointed its first part-time professional H.Q. secretary at a salary of £8 8s. a month.

In the same year the Rand Daily Mail sponsored and donated a prize for an International Jubilee DX Contest. This was won by Clark C. Rodimon, of Hartford, U.S.A. For the first time in history a trophy was presented over the air from the Johannesburg Station of the S.A.B.C. The broadcast occupied fifteen minutes, and the time was shared between the editor of the Rand Daily Mail, the late Mr. Lewis Rose McLeod, Major Collins, who represented the P.M.G., and OM Arland Ussher as president of the S.A.R.R.L. A recording of the broadcast was made, and the records were later played over to the winner from ZS6DW.

On September the 6th, 1939, South Africa declared war on Germany, but it was not until nearly two months later that the P.M.G. ordered the suspension of all amateur transmissions. Sunday the 29th of October will long be remembered as a grand farewell session; there was more activity on the bands than if there had been a contest in operation! OM Arland Ussher, obtaining special permission, was permitted to continue with the transmission of Sunday Bulletins until the 4th of February, 1940.

Nineteen-thirty-nine also saw the formation of the Civilian Wireless Reserve, which came about through co-operation between the League and Col. Collins. The leading part in this organisation was taken by OM G. Ross Kent, ZS6L. With the outbreak of war events moved rapidly, and within a comparatively short period of time the Civilian Wireless Reserve became the S.A.A.P. Radio Signal Company, with Major G. Ross Kent, ZS6L, as Officer Commanding, Captain W. H. Browning. ZS6A, being second in command, and Captain R. C. H. Taylor, ZS6CO, Adjutant. The Radio Signal Coy., later to become the Signals Training School, proved invaluable In providing' trained radio personnel for the armed forces; that, however, is a separate, though long and interesting story. Suffice to say at this stage that members of the South African Radio Relay League played an important part in South Africa's war effort.

During the war a number of clubs and societies sprang up in the various centres of the Union. These were largely sponsored by League members unable to join the forces because of key positions they were holding. The meetings were also attended by a fair sprinkling of League members in uniform, who were either on leave or stationed temporarily in the centre concerned. The largest of these societies was the Radio Amateur Society of Johannesburg, which did a tremendous amount of excellent work on behalf of the amateurs serving in the forces. They published a monthly bulletin under the name of "Ham Chatter," and the cover of the victory commemoration number carried the following:


F. E S. Carter .... .... .... ZS1A

H. Sperber .... .... .... .... ZS1BH

K. M. Dwyer .... .... .... .... ZS6DB

B. S. D. Heatie …. …. …. …. ZS6AZ

P W Keen .... .... .... .... ZS6EP

C. F. Jones .... .... .... .... VQ2FJ

D. G. Alison .... .... .... .... RAS7I

Early in 1945 an attempt was made to get the League Divisions resuscitated, and some difficulty was encountered as all of the war-time clubs and societies were not prepared to disband themselves voluntarily and join up with the League. The difficulties were eventually overcome, and in August, 1945, all pre-war Divisions were once more in operation.

In November, 1945, a deputation from Council, led by the president, interviewed the Under-Secretary for Tele-Communications. The immediate result of that interview was the removal of war-time seals from transmitters.

January of 1946 saw the reissue of transmitting licences, but operation was limited to between 28 and 29 mcs. and between 58.5 and 60 mcs. The 7 and 14 me. bands were restored on Sunday, the 30th of June, and ZS6Z once again transmitted the Headquarters Bulletin, after a break of nearly six and a half years. From that Sunday onwards the Bulletin has never been missed.

On Remembrance Day, 1946, the first memorial service, conducted by the Rev. C. Rought Jenkins, ZS1DS, was broadcast simultaneously by the S.A.B.C. and the League.

Nineteen-forty-seven saw the word Relay dropped from the name of our association, thus we became the South African Radio League.

A special general meeting was held in December of 1949, and in an endeavour to reduce the administrative costs of the League. Headquarters was transferred to Cape Town. A new Council was elected in April of 1950, and this election finalised the changeover.

Many old League members who have read these pages will be able to recount scores of happenings of which no mention has been made. It is, of course, quite impossible to do justice to the League's history with a few thousand words; I have done my best with
the records available. ZS1A

Source: Extract out of a Radio ZS from 1950

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Last modified: 10 January 2016