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“Ham radio" is a popular term for amateur radio. The term "ham operator" was commonly applied by 19th century telegraphers to an operator with poor ("ham fisted") skills. Many former telegraph operators became involved in early radio (“wireless telegraphy”) and called unskilled amateur enthusiasts “hams." In 1909, Robert A. Morton reported overhearing an amateur radio transmission which included the comment: "Say, do you know the fellow who is putting up a new station out your way? I think he is a ham." That year, “Modern Electronics” published a Wireless Registry that claimed Earl C. Hawkins of Minneapolis, Minnesota, used the call sign "H.A.M." In 1910 Oscar Hammarlund founded a radio equipment firm in New York; early radio enthusiasts called its items "Ham" products and called themselves "Ham" operators. In 1911 or so (according to a story that started to circulate in 1948), the US Congress was considering a bill that would assign the entire radio spectrum to the military, which would have entirely ended amateur radio activity, but was dissuaded by an impassioned speech by Harvard University student Albert Hyman, who (with Bob Almy and Peggie Murray) operated an amateur station using the self-assigned call sign HAM. “QST,” a magazine for amateur radio operators, was launched by the American Radio Relay League founder Hiram Percy Maxim and the organization’s secretary Clarence D. Tuska in 1915; in time, its circulation was higher than all other American amateur-radio-related publications combined (its name was derived from the radio Q signal that means "calling all stations"). In 1916, one of the amateur contributors to the magazine advised on passing on long-distance messages by sending them “on Thursday nights, when the children and spark coil 'hams' are tucked up in bed/" [A spark coil was a radio transmitter made from an automobile ignition coil that produced noisy interference’], but a few months later another “QST” writer praised a 16-year-old amateur as "the equal of a ham gaining five years of experience by hard luck." A letter from a Western Union Telegraph Company employee in 1919 expressed concern that many "unknowing land wire telegraphers, hearing the word 'amateur' applied to men connected with wireless, regard him as a 'ham' or 'lid.'" But many amateurs adopted the word for themselves; it gained widespread usage in the US around 1920, and the term spread to other English-speaking countries, though it continued to have both positive and negative connotations; in 1940 the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) “Bulletin” claimed that “a sudden decrease in 'hamming' on the police frequencies” had resulted from rumors that the Federal Communications Commission was going to issue citations to violators of the rules.
In 1920 Thomas F. Hunter wrote the following: I am the wandering Ham. I know no home, I know no roost. To me each knock is one more boost. I'm optimistic, not a grouch. In all crepe-hanging I'm a slouch. I, the Wandering Ham. Since our Fathers raised the ban I oscillate where'er I can. I tried each mineral years ago In the days of AX and GO And Galilee and Manhattan Beach. I jammed the "cans" on, hearing each And every station in my zone, And untuned ships upon the foam. I, the Wandering Ham. Then came the war, the blood, the strife. The ban was on, it seemed for life. My "civvy" clothes I laid away And to the transport, sans delay, I made my exit from this shore To ask Fate what She had in store For one, a pounder of the "brass" (In Continental I could pass) Along the lines, where papers told Our boys were lying, many cold In Death. Determined this should be A world safe for Democracy I took my post in a little hut With smelly oil-stove full of soot, To intercept, with bated breath, The Signals through the lines of Death From stations of the Enemy. (What rotten Hams them Germans be.) Deciphered, these would give the dope On Enemy movements and, we hope, Forestall an unforseen advance And give our men a fighting chance. One night, (November, t'was the tenth) A message sent throughout the length Of France and Germany to say An Armistice, the following day Would be declared, did find it's way To my antenna from Eiffel Tower; "Lay, down your arms at the eleventh hour." I shouted not, nor did I sing. I did a very awkward thing. I could not spit upon the cat, So I used the spittoon for a hat. I, the Wandering Ham. You've read this stuff. You want to know Just what I'm after, so let's go. Kindly send me, here's my thanks, A flock of Contest Subscription blanks, I have already near a score, And hope to raise a hundred more Subscriptions to your pamphlet bright, Q S T--The Hams delight. I know no Ham with bean so dense, He cannot see his fifteen cents Is wisely a spent. Success, I sang, Be yours, in spite of everything. I, the Wandering Ham.
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