[AMRadio] The zeal to eliminate AM mode on the amateur bands.

Donald Chester k4kyv at hotmail.com
Mon Sep 19 17:27:08 EDT 2005

>Having only been active on AM mode for just two short years, I consider
>myself to still be a newbie, still not understanding the zeal and
>fervor by some in the amateur community to eliminate or totally outlaw
>the use of AM mode transmissions in the MF/HF amateur bands in the USA.
>Could someone more familiar with the issue please give me a better
>understanding of why these people are so intent to get rid of this

Coincidentally, I posted a message on the AM Forum about an hour ago, on 
this very subject.  Since there are participants on this  reflector who do 
not monitor the AM Forum, I have copied it here.


The great AM vs SSB wars took place in the mid 60's.  At that time there 
indeed was a concerted effort by the League, other ham radio publications, 
equipment manufacturers, the FCC and a segment of the amateur community to 
make every amateur feel compelled to abandon his older equipment and go SSB. 
  Almost every page of the ham magazines of that era had a pro-SSB spin.  
Members of ham clubs were made to feel inferior if they still ran AM. At 
hamfests hams were derided for purchasing AM equipment and building parts at 
the fleamarket. Rumours abounded that the FCC was about to outlaw AM and 
force everyone to switch over whether they wanted to or not.  Although FCC 
officials never came out and specifically stated that this was their intent, 
they never missed an opportunity to praise SSB, based on its alleged virtue 
of "spectrum conservation."

Probably the main reason that I stayed on AM was because I very much 
resented all the arm-twisting, and declared to myself that come hell or high 
water I did NOT intend to be forced to change over.  I recall the AM/SSB 
wars heating up in about 1963-65.  It was largely between the holdouts who 
refused to change and the arrogant, self-righteous newly converted.  That's 
when malicious interference exploded and became mainstream over-the-air 
conduct, which continues to this day to a certain degree.

Then came incentive licensing.  That seemed to be the final nail in the 
coffin of AM and largely, homebrewing in general.  As the bands became 
divided into licence-class subbands, many of the old regulars simply 
disappeared.  I was out of the country right at that time, but I recall 
coming home for a visit in 1969, and still hearing a lot of AM on the air, 
as the new subband restrictions were just going into effect.  About a year 
and a half later I returned home, and by then 99% of the AM activity was 

In the early 70's you could go to a hamest and find AM rigs, high power 
transmitting tubes and parts for homebrew projects, for near giveaway 
prices.  I recall large triode transmitting tubes such as 450TL's, 250TH's, 
833A's, etc going for about $5 NIB; nobody wanted them because weren't very 
good for use in a "linear."  While most hams were dumping this sort of stuff 
at hamfests and landfills, I was grabbing up as much as I could haul home.  
I used to come back from hamfests with the car nearly dragging the ground.  
I was often subject of derisive remarks at fleamarkets "Look, somebody's 
found himself a boat anchor, haw, haw!"  To this day, I have a repulsion to 
the term "boatanchor."

In about 1973 AM began to come back.  First, in the northeast, especially in 
New England, AM signals began to spring up.  Most unexpectedly of all, a 
large portion of these new AM'ers were young, many still in university or 
even high school.  I remember, as I had moved to the Boston area at that 
time, the AM vs SSB conflict had taken on somewhat of a generation-gap 
aspect.  Many of the most anti-AM people were older hams who had converted 
to SSB years earlier, and had little good to say about the "hippie types" 
who were "trashing up the bands" with all that old "AM junk."

During that era, the League stayed silent on the AM issue.  Another 
otherwise good technical publication, "Ham Radio" was openly hostile towards 
AM.  I went to a New England ARRL convention at the Statler Hilton in 
downtown Boston, and recall a very attractive young lady (don't remember her 
name or callsign) speaking for the League at one of the forums, and the 
subject of Docket 20777 came up (which proposed to "deregulate" AM out of 
existence with a bandwidth proposal not too different from the present one 
being promoted by the League).  She responded that the League was not in 
favour of outlawing AM, but instead, "letting it die a natural death."  She 
described ARRL policy towards AM as one of "benign neglect."

Despite the fact that the hotbed of AM activity took place on 75, there were 
a few operators who hung out on 160.  Many of these hams were old timers, 
who had formed into groups such as the Grey-Haired Net.  I recall reading a 
news item in Ham Radio on the subject of Docket 20777 describing the fact 
that "many 160 m AM operators are just now becoming aware of their peril," 
with the implication that AM operation was limited to a few obscure groups 
on 160.

Johnny Johnston introduced Docket 20777 to the public at the FCC forum in 
Dayton in about 1974, and the AM community organised an effective campaign 
in opposition to outlawing AM, as this ushered in the era of the "dockets".  
Docket 20777 was eventually defeated, and I recall someone relating the 
speech that Johnston gave at an FCC forum, something to the effect that 
"Here, we had a good proposal.  And it was rejected because a bunch of guys 
want to keep on using the same rigs they have been running for 25 years."  
For almost a  decade to follow, the FCC regularly released a series of 
rulemaking proposals to radically change ham radio, many of which "just 
happened" to contain changes that would have adversely affected AM in some 
way.  The 1990 power reduction, first passed in 1983, had been in the making 
for years, and had already been proposed nearly in its entirety in previous 
rulemaking dockets, which for one reason or another, had been eventually 
rejected, so they finally settled on a rulemaking specifically addressing 
the power issue.  I don't recall which issue, but I remember writing an 
article in The AM Press/Exchange predicting that the FCC would soon propose 
to reduce AM power by redefining the power limit in terms of p.e.p., and 
this was a year or two before the actual proposal was released.

AM has now been "coming back" for over 30 years, many more years than it was 
ever in decline, even approaching the total number of years it was used by 
amateurs before the advent of SSB.  One of the legacies of years of AM 
bashing by mainstream ham radio and the FCC, is that AM'ers are very 
defensive about the mode.  Although AM seems to enjoy permanent status as a 
minority mode within mainstream ham radio today, many of the AM'ers who have 
been around for a number of years get very nervous whenever talk of 
"restructuring" and major realignments of amateur privileges is heard.  Some 
call it "paranoia", but I feel that it is justified concern.

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