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
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
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
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, EASTERN : B.
CAPE, WESTERN : J. S. Streeter, A4Z, A. S. Faull, and P. Gilmour,
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.
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
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
A WORD FROM OUR
"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." JOSEPH WHITE.
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
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.
The only qualification for this grade being a genuine interest in
the science of radio or its allied branches.
Qualifications are as for ordinary member, but the applicant must be
under the age of 19 years.
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
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
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
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
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:
ROLL OF HONOUR
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
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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