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1984

Early Canadian Amateur Radio Call Signs

(c) The Canadian Amateur magazine

Radio Amateurs of Canada Inc.

CARF Publications

Reprinted with permission

 

The call sign is an intensely individualistic part of Amateur radio. As an identifier, it is used more frequently than in any other branch of the radio service.

 

The article by Art Stark VE3ZS in the March 1984 TCA gave an overall view of the current system of issuing Canadian Amateur call signs, but there was a time when a totally different method of station identification was used.

 

Let's go back to the very beginning of radio regulation in Canada.

 

In 1905 parliament passed the 'Wireless Telegraphy Act', an act "to provide for the regulation of wireless telegraphy in Canada." Section 6 authorized the Minister of Marine and Fisheries to grant licences to applicants" who wished to experiment in wireless telegraphy", i.e.. Amateurs. 1906 saw the formation of the Radiotelegraph Branch, a division of the Department of Marine and Fisheries.

 

On May 4, 1910, the Department of Naval Service (D.N.S.) took over the administration of radio, from the Department of Marine and Fisheries. According to the Annual Report of the department for the year ending March 31, 1911, the first Amateur to be licensed in Canada was Frank Vaughan of Saint John, N.B. He was not, however, issued a call sign.

 

Canada had been assigned several blocks of call signs, including the block XAA-XGZ, by the Berne Bureau, the forerunner of the International Telecommunications Union. The XAA-XGZ calls were reserved for Amateurs, with one or two exceptions, by the department. In the year ending March 31, 1912, the allocation of call signs began. Ten in all were issued to Amateurs located across Canada, in the Maritimes, along the St. Lawrence, in the lower Great Lakes region and on the Pacific coast. The calls ran from XAB to XAO with a few letters missing.

 

Next year, 27 Amateurs were licensed with call from XAB to XBG. Just prior to the shut down of Amateur activity when World War I broke out, a total of 79 Amateur licences were in good standing in Canada, the last call issued was XEB. Included in the final list of calls were Frank A. Anderson, the first Amateur to be licensed in the three Prairie Provinces, and Miss M.S. Colville XDD, of Bowmanville. Ontario, Canada's first YL.

 

The pre-World War I period was a virtual paradise for the Amateur. There was, of course, no BCI or TVI. The D.N.S. adopted a laissez faire attitude toward the Amateur provided he did not interfere with marine traffic. Spark was the only mode of transmission. The D.N.S. report for the year ending March 31, 1912, said, "Any interference (by Amateurs with ships and coastal stations) which might arise, has been overcome by strict enforcement of the licence clause in the Wireless Telegraphy Act and a judicious selection of the wavelength and power used.

 

"It is readily understood that a drastic suppression of such (Amateur) stations would be a great detriment to the art of wireless telegraphy in this country." (Italics are the authors).

 

The D.N.S. licence limited Amateurs living near shipping lanes to a power input of ? kW and restricted operations to below 50 metres. Remotely located Amateurs could use a maximum of ? kW and any wavelength below 200 metres.

 

Naval Service had neither the staff nor the budget to supervise Amateurs in all parts of Canada. The only radio inspector between Toronto and the Pacific coast was an official who functioned on a part-time basis at the Lakehead during the shipping season.

 

Amateurs in isolated districts could apply direct to D.N.S. HQ in Ottawa for a conditional or C licence which would give them a call sign. They must agree to take the operator's exam whenever they could appear before an R.I. As an alternative they could operate unofficially using a call sign issued by a local radio club or they could choose their own call sign.

 

Winnipeg was a good example of this type of situation. The only commercial stations in Manitoba at that time were two 10 kW Marconi sparks on 1.800 metres. They were in Northern Manitoba at The Pas and Port Nelson, far removed from any possible interference from Winnipeg hams. The first Amateurs in the city were a group of students at the Central Collegiate Insitute who, in the fall of 1909, started using home-made or Model T Ford spark coils for transmitters. The hobby got a great stimulus when Dr. Lee de Forest, the inventor of the three-element radio tube, visited Winnipeg. De Forest had come to the city to deliver a series of lectures and to demonstrate his system of radiotelephony. His radio­telephone broadcast on April 19, 1910, was the first by that medium in Canada.

 

He spent considerable time with the hams explaining technical details of his apparatus. De Forest was president of the New York-based Radio Club of America. He encouraged them to get together and form a club so they began holding informal meetings to discuss the project. By February, 1911, their plans were complete and the Canadian Central Wireless Club was organized. Available records indicate that this was the first Amateur wireless club in Canada. The club issued call signs to its members having a letter and a number. Unfortunately, like so many of the club records, the list of C.C.W.C. calls has long since disappeared. A rather murky picture of the equipment owned by the club president, Alex V. Poison, shows a card on the wall labelled A7, possibly his call sign. When WWI broke out, the club had 43 members.

 

The state of affairs in the Toronto Amateur fraternity, pre­WWI was so unusual that it merits close examination. The Wireless Association of Toronto had been formed in 1912 and immediately began issuing call signs to those enrolled. The original W.A. Toronto calls circa 1912 consisted of two letters, usually the initials of the holder, e.g. G.W. Shepard, GS, but they sometimes had two unrelated letters, e.g. A. Miles, DK.

 

The W.A. Toronto calls circa 1913 had three letters. The first was X, the second was the surname initial and the third represented the sequence of issuance to that surname group. An example was the above G.W. Shepard, now XSC, his call being the third call (C) in the S surnames.

 

The 1913-1914 list of the W.A. Toronto had 107 names. It is probable that there were other Amateurs on the air who, for one reason or other, did not join the club. All the 107 members were on spark. One had 1 kW power, 17 %kW, 36 1/2 kW with the rest using spark coils.

 

Although there was a radio inspector on duty in Toronto, the final (1914) D.N.S. file showed that there only six legally licensed Amateurs in the Toronto area. A few Toronto hams had two calls, e.g. F.L. Elliott of 27 Gough Avenue was XEA courtesy of the W.A. Toronto and XDM as licensed by the Naval Service. In his report to the D.N.S. for the year ending March 31, 1914, the General Superintendent of Radio said that there were a large number of unlicensed Amateurs in Toronto and that they were causing severe interference with marine traffic. He recommended prompt action against these illegal Amateurs but there is nothing in the record to indicate that there were any prosecutions.

 

In June, 1913, the Radiotelegraph Act became law superseding the Wireless Telegraphy Act. The regulations under the new act did not significantly alter the status of Amateurs. But the R.T. Act had a section which did not appear in the old act. Section 10 read, "The Governor in Council may make regulations for... the control... of radiotelegraph signals in case of actual or apprehended war... or civil disorder."

 

On August 2, 1914, Canada declared war on Germany and an order in council was immediately published decreeing the cessation of all Amateur activity for the duration.

 

Let us see what happened on the Canadian Amateur call sigh scene in the post-WWI period. Order in council No. 888 brought the news the Amateurs had been eagerly awaiting: "His Excellency the Governor General in Council is pleased to order that the order in council of the 2nd of August, 1914, be cancelled as from April 15, 1919, and that on and after that date the pre-war regulations with regard to; the licensing of Amateur experimental stations be resumed."

 

The D.N.S. reiterated its policy towards Amateurs saying that, "The government is anxious to accord all possible privileges to Amateurs compatible with non­interference with commercial services." It should be emphasized that the reference was to ship and coastal services - radio broadcasting was still some three years in the future.

 

Naval Service began issuing calls in the former XAA-XGZ series as of May 1, 1919. Incidentally, U.S. hams were not allowed back on the air until October 1, 1919. By January 10, 1920, it had become apparent that they supply of calls in the XAA-XGZ block was rapidly being used up. The decision was therefore made to completely revise the Amateur call sign procedure. Canada was divided into five districts, the new type of call was to consist of a single figure (representing the district) followed by two letters, the precursor of today's system.

 

X calls did not totally disappear with the introduction of the figure plus two letter calls. As late as 1922, some technical and training schools had XE calls. One of these was XEY, Kelvin Technical High School in Winnipeg; another was XEM, Central High School in Cha­tham, Ontario. Later, when the numeral 6 was allotted to this class of station, Kelvin became 6AB.

 

As of June 14, 1922, the radio service was transferred back to the Department of Marine and Fisheries from the Department of Naval Service (D.N.S.).

 

Prefixes and interval signs of intermediates are another interesting development of this era. The new Canadian calls were similar to those in the U.S.A. When transborder contacts became common, it was obvious that further identification was necessary. By early 1923 an unofficial scheme was agreed upon by the hams in the two countries:

 

Canadian calling Canadian would use the interval sign v instead of de.

Canadian calling American would use the interval sign fm instead of de.

American calling American would continue to use de.

American calling Canadian would use the interval sign as instead of de.

 

Things really got complicated when transoceanic contacts became everyday occurrences. In January, 1924, a different system was introduced. The Amateurs of the various countries came up with a homemade set of prefixes without the blessing of the authorities. Some examples: Australia a, Argentina r (phonetic), Spain S, Canada c, France f, Great Britain g, U.S.A. u, New Zealand z and so on. The prefixes were used as in interval signor intermediate instead of de.

 

Thus a Canadian calling a New Zealander would transmit:     2KA 2KA 2KA zc 4NI4NI4NI k.

 

Just as everybody was getting used to the new system, Great Britain threw a monkey wrench into the works by insisting that under U.K. regulations, all British stations must use the interval sign de when calling or working any domestic or foreign station.

 

Within two years, so many new countries had come on the air that the single letter prefixes were all in use. The International Amateur Union therefore devised a system of two letter prefixes referred to as 'IARU intermediates'. The first letter represented a continent, for example, n for North America, s for South America, o for Oceania and e for Europe. The second letter represented a country, as before. Thus Canada became nc, Australia became oa.

 

Canadian calling an Australian would transmit:     7LX 7LX 7LX oanc 5KP 5KP 5KP k.

 

In effect, a four letter intermediate.

 

All this changed when the Washington Radiotelegraphic Convention became law on January 1, 1929. Under the Convention, all subscribing countries, including Canada, would designate distinctive Amateur prefixes to indicate or interval sign de and abandon the four letter IARU intermediates.

 

Amateur calls were to consist of "4 or 5 letters with a figure inserted." The Convention granted Canada the exclusive right to all calls beginning with the letters VA,VB, VC, VD, VE, VF, and VG. Canada allotted the prefix VE to Amateur experimental stations. Why the specific prefix VE was chosen for the Amateur service in preference to the other possible V's is a mystery - no clue can be found in the Annual Report of Marine and Fisheries.

 

The prefix VE became official for Canadian Amateurs with issuance of licences processed after April 1, 1928, in anticipation of the coming into force of the Washington Convention.

 

Information in this article on Amateur call signs and licences is from the Annual Reports of the General Superintendent and/or Director of Radio for the Department of Naval Service and/or Marine and Fisheries for the appropriate year. Data on laws, rules and regulations are from the Canada Gazette. Information on the Canadian Central Wireless Club and on De Forest is from the files of the Manitoba Free Press and on the Wireless Association of Toronto from bulletins in possession of W.F. (Bill) Choat VE3CO.

 

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