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As the number of amateur radio experimenters started to increase, so people started to meet to discuss their common interest.
First local clubs and societies were formed, but after a while national clubs were formed that were able to provide more support and represent the interests of members better.
Often the first amateur radio societies started as local clubs with then amalgamated to become larger ones, or they met in the capital of the country.
Clubs and societies were formed in many countries, although the first one national amateur radio society seems to have been formed in Australia.
First national amateur radio society: WIA
What is now called the Wireless Institute of Australia was the first national amateur radio society to be formed.
Like many of the first amateur radio clubs and societies, the Wireless Institute of Australia had humble beginnings. It started when a group of wireless enthusiasts met together in March 1910 in Sydney. The group was a complete mixture of people from school boy amateur electrician experimenters through to academics and members of the defence forces.
There were 50 people at this first meeting of the society, although between 1905 and 1910 only ten wireless stations had been licensed by the government in Australia. However this had not dampened the enthusiasm of the attendees.
There were two leading lights at this first meeting of the society: George Taylor who had called the meeting and was already a member of the newly formed Aerial (Aviation) League of Australia. He saw wireless as an important part of aviation. The other person was Walter Hannan. He was an experienced electrician, and he had already demonstrated his home made wireless equipment, but had been unable to obtain a license that would enable him to legally make contact with others. He later became the first secretary of the Wireless Institute of Australia.
A similar group was also formed in Melbourne in 1911. It initially took the name of Amateur Wireless Society of Victoria. In addition to this, other groups were formed around Australia, but with the onset of World War 1, all wireless activities ceased and radio societies, clubs and associations generally became moribund.
Following the war, it took a number of years before activities fully returned to normal. Wireless societies (now all generally known as Wireless Institutes) in the various Australian states reformed and then in May1924 a meeting took place in the Melbourne Town Hall to formalise a national association for Australia. The meeting aimed to establish a federation of the Wireless Institutes organisations that existed in the various states within Australia. Accordingly the Federated Wireless Institute of Australia came into being, know as the WIA, the name it has today. In this way the WIA can trace its heritage back to the meeting in March 1910.
Radio Society of Great Britain formed
Within the UK a similar path was adopted for the formation of the early national radio society within the UK.
With interest in wireless experimentation growing, many enthusiasts met together to discuss their common interests as in Australia.
The Radio Society of Great Britain, RSGB traces its roots back to the formation of London Wireless Club, that held its first meeting in West Hampstead, London, on 5 July 1913.
Later in the same year, the club decided that its name should be changed from London Wireless Club to the Wireless Society of London.
The inauguration of the club came only shortly before the start of the First World War, and with the suspension of amateur wireless licenses in 1914, the activities of the club were placed into suspended animation for the duration.
As activities started to recommence, so too did activities of the society. Then in November 1922, the society changed its name to the Radio Society of Great Britain to reflect the national nature of the work of the society.
The RSGB was not necessarily the first amateur radio society in the UK. The Manchester Wireless Society was founded in 1911 and possibly the first national amateur radio society in Britain was the British Wireless Relay League. This organization held the callsign 2ZZ which was granted in August 1920. Later this society was amalgamated with the Transmitting and Receiving (T & R) section of the RSGB.
American Radio Relay League started
In many respects the name of the American national radio society seems to have an interesting name. Whilst the name of this national amateur radio organisation may seem unusual, the name reflects the way in which it started and the way that amateur experimenters were able to send messages over the vast distances within the USA.
The ARRL, American Radio Relay League was founded was founded in 6th April 1914 by Hiram Percy Maxim of Hartford, Connecticut. Maxim was a prominent businessman, but also a keen radio amateur or radio experimenter of the time and a member of the member of the Radio Club of Hartford in Connecticut, USA.
The ARRL came about because of the distances people wanted to send messages and the limited range of amateur radio stations of the time. Maxim had wanted to send a message to another station but was unable to do so, and asked an intermediate station to forward on a message, i.e. relay it to another station. In view of the distances across the USA, this could be a very valuable capability.
Maxim had the idea of forming a league of stations that could relay radio amateur’s messages. In April 1914, he proposed a plan for the organization of a roster or league of stations that would be able to relay messages over large distances. The plan was agreed by the Hartford club and application forms were sent out to as many stations as could be reached. The league grew and many stations were included within it.
Then in February 1915, the American Radio Relay League as it was known, split off from the Hartford club after some disagreements. It incorporated under Connecticut law and although initially finances were very tight, it survived and grew.
The membership grew, and the League set up six trunk lines to relay messages in both north-south and east-west directions. As proof of its effectiveness a message was sent from New York to Los Angeles in 1916, and a reply was received within 1 hour and twenty minutes.
Then in 1917, the League reorganized and opened its membership up to anyone interested in radio. This effectively made it the national amateur radio society within the USA. However this success did not last for long as amateur radio activities were stopped as the USA entered the First World War.
After the war, the ARRL petitioned the USA government to allow the re-commencement of activities. Although finances were poor as a result of the suspension of activities for the war, it refinanced, restarted, and membership grew rapidly.
Other national wireless societies formed
There are very many national amateur radio societies in existence today.
Many started around the same time as the WIA, RSGB and ARRL. These three examples have been given for a variety of reasons, but others like the French REF, German DARC, and very many others have their origins in the beginnings of amateur radio.
Today these societies represent the amateur radio community, striving to maintain and improve the facilities available and providing valuable facilities and resources: everything from magazines to QSL bureaux, advice, information and much more.