archive_title.jpg (10193 bytes)

home > archive > the history of 6m > 6m history

The August 1994 issue of Six News
Thanks to all of our authors since 1982!


- with a few personal reminiscences
by Brian Bower, G3COJ


Early Days
Six metre history begins towards the end of World War Two when the Federal Communications Commission announced the frequencies to be used for FM and television in USA (ref.):

42-50 FM 42-44 Exp. Police
50-56 TV 44-50 TV
56-60 Amateur 50-54 Amateur
60-66 TV 54-60 TV
66-72 TV 60-66 TV

G3COJ's original 1948 permit (click to enlarge)

In the 1930s, transatlantic signals had been received in both directions on the five metre band (56-60MHz) but no two-way contact took place. The late 1940s were a period of high sunspot activity and prospects for the six metre band, 6MHz lower, were good. The FM band was moved to 92-106MHz (later 88-108) and stations began testing on the new band on 1st December 1945. However, the old band continued in use until sufficient receivers for the new band were in the hands of the public. In fact, 44-50 MHz was never used for television but given over to PMR, police and suchlike services.

The 1948 general 50-54Mc/s permit (click to enlarge)

The transatlantic MUF was often above 40MHz and I well remember managing to identify WGTR, Boston, 44MHz, on my two-valve super-regenerative receiver. It would be only a matter of time before six metre American amateurs would be heard in UK. The breakthrough came on 24 November 1946 when G5BY and G6DH heard W1HDQ, West Hartford, Conn., on 50.003MHz. Both stations made cross-band contacts from 28MHz.

W1HDQ's 1957 QSL card
WIHDQ, Ed Tilton, then QST VHF Editor, whom became a silent key earlier this year at the age of (I think) 88. Note his kind words on the back of the card (see below).

Interest in Europe for 50MHz transmission permits was considerable. One of the first was PAĜUN, who was heard in South Africa on 26 March 1947. In the UK, the GPO agreed to the issue of six metre permits to a limited number of G stations from 5 November 1947. Some ill feeling was caused by the omission of several active VHF stations from the list, but this was soon rectified. In fact the first, unofficial, two-way transatlantic contact had already been made by a station signing "G6X". One may speculate on the identity of "G6X" but G6NA recalls being on the receiving end of GPO enquiries about the matter. (For those not familiar with Morse, the letter "N" and "A" run together form "X").

The first legitimate contacts from UK were as follows :-

Canada G5BD/VE1QZ 1620 5.11.47
Canal Zone G6DH/MD5KW 0855 10.11.47
Egypt G5BM/SU1HF 0900 16.11.47
France G6DH/F8ZF 2035 10.12.47
Netherlands G6DH/PAĜUN 0750 10.3.48
South Africa G5BY/ZS1P 1239 6.11.47
U.S.A. G6DH/W1HDQ 1302 5.11.47


Ed's comments on the back of G3COJ's QSL.

MD5KW was operated by Ken Ellis, G5KW, well known to present-day 50MHz operators. In early 1948, the GPO agreed to the issue of six metre permits to any amateur on payment of ten shillings. These permits were only valid until 30th April 1948, but were later extended to 31st December 1948.

After this, Band 1 405-line television spread rapidly, with the first transmitter outside London, at Sutton Coldfield, opening in 1949, followed by many others in due course.

WIHOY, Helen Harris, wife of Sam Harris, WIFZJ She was always on and was the VEIYX of the time. Sam was appointed to be in charge of the Arecibo, Puerto Rico, radio telescope but died soon after taking up office. Helen continued as W1HOY/KP4, but died many years ago.

During the high sunspot activity in the late nineteen-fifties contacts were limited to cross-band operation from ten metres. However, during the International Geophysical Year (1957/8) the GPO agreed that, for a period of six months, amateurs in certain areas (Northumberland, Monmouthshire, Glamorgan and parts of the Western Islands and Highlands of Scotland) could apply for permission to operate on 52.5MHz with a power input not exceeding 500 watts. In other parts of the country, operation would be permitted between 0100 and 0930 GMT. Little or nothing happened between 0100 and 0930 but G4LX (Newcastle-upon-Tyne), having no time restriction, made many contacts, his main difficulty being to get stations to listen as high as 52.5 MHz. He worked HB, OH, VE, W and ZE but, unfortunately, his permit expired on 31st October before the transatlantic path was fully open.

Hopes raised
In autumn 1980 the RSGB was asked at short notice to provide a list of twenty-five amateurs who would be interested in permits to transmit on six metres and the VHF Manager Tom Douglas, G3BA (who is now a silent key) did so. It was conjectured that an announcement would be made at the IARU Region 1 conference in Brighton the following spring. The licensing authority, the Home Office, was agreeable but the BBC, when they found out, objected and the proposal came to nothing. One might wonder why the BBC should be concerned, but, at that time, a reserve vision feed to a station could be obtained off-air in case of failure of the normal link. For example, the station at Llanddona in Anglesey could receive the channel 2 signal from Holme Moss and 50MHz transmissions might cause a problem.

In 1980 a proposal was also made for a 50MHz beacon, GB3SIX, to be established in Anglesey beaming west to give an indication if the transatlantic path was open. An immaculate case, based on that for the French beacon FX3THF at Lannion, was prepared, showing that it would cause no interference to television reception. However, the Home Office only licensed it for operation outside television hours, which completely negated its usefulness.

By 1982 the situation was very different. The UK Six Metre Group had been founded by Steve, G4JCC, to promote interest in the band. 405-line television was in decline and would cease at the end of 1984. Responsibility in the BBC for liaison with the licensing authority lay with the Engineering Information Department, in particular, the assistant head of that department. The previous holder of that post had retired and been succeeded by one Phil Laven, who was more sympathetic to amateurs.

Enter at this point, spring 1982, Jim Sleight, G3OJI. Although not a six metre man - his forte was Raynet - as a senior BBC engineer he knew all the interested parties and it was largely thanks to him that six metre permits were issued. As a result, a meeting took place at the BBC Engineering Information Department in June 1982 at which Phil Laven, Jim Sleight (G3OJI), David Evans (G3OUF, General Manager of the RSGB), and G3COJ, were present. The BBC agreed to 50MHz operation on a no-interference-to-television basis and the Home Office was informed accordingly.

Permits at last
In the autumn of 1982, the Home Office invited applications for forty six metre permits. Those who applied received a fearsome questionnaire based on a draft by G3COJ and G5KW and intended to deter the faint-hearted. Nevertheless some three hundred applications were received. The RSGB VHF Manager, by then Keith Fisher, G3WSN, sent a list to the Home Office of those amateurs who would be likely to make effective use of permits but it was stressed that this was only advisory and the choice lay with the Home Office. So it proved and one successful applicant is thought never to have shown any practical interest in the band before or since - a source of some ill feeling. In December 1982 they allowed 24-hour operation of GB3SIX and it went on to become an effective propagation indicator.

After that, events moved rapidly. The lucky applicants, of whom I was one, received their permits in late January 1983, allowing operation outside television hours from 1st February onwards with the same power limit as on 70MHz . In the hope of being successful I had put together a transverter and modified an old two-metre linear to work on six.

Just after midnight, as the last notes of ‘God Save The Queen’ on BBC1 died away, I put out a CQ, followed by another and another. After about twenty minutes, I realised I still had the dummy load connected. I transferred to the yagi and was immediately answered by G4JLH, Harold Rose, Chairman of the UK Six Metre Group, for my first ever six metre contact. Sadly, four years later, Harold became a silent key at the early age of 35.

Matters progressed steadily. ‘Outside television hours’ was defined as between 2330 and 0830 clock time and this was fairly rigidly adhered to. In the summer of 1983 late night multi-hop Es transatlantic contacts were made. Ken Ellis, G5KW, camped out in the Scilly Isles for several months and was rewarded with many interesting QSOs, including the first UK to Gibraltar.

In October 1983, after background work by G3OJI and G3COJ, the BBC agreed to 24-hour operation of all the permit holders, except one. The off-air receiver at Llanddona was no longer needed as the incoming 625-line signal could be converted to 405 lines if necessary. On 26 October the BBC wrote accordingly to the licensing authority, now the Department of Trade and Industry. However, this was the first the DTI had heard of the proposal and they turned it down.

In February 1984 it was stated that a further 60 permits would be issued, bringing the total to 100. The callsigns of the successful applicants were announced in January 1985.

All operation was on AM (or CW) with no SSB, with the sole exception of W1QCC/VE1 His SSB was difficult to copy with mv RF26 Unit with its tunable oscillator. He is listed as WlQCC in the 1992 Call Book.

General release
In June 1985, the Minister of State for Industry and Technology stated in Parliament that the band 50 to 50.5MHz was to be allocated to the UK amateur service. After a long period of negotiation between the RSGB and the DTI, it was announced that Class A licensees would be permitted to use 50 to 50.5MHz starting at 0001 on 1st February 1986. The experimental permits were withdrawn and the time restrictions removed. However, a power limit of 100 watts erp on SSB (25W on CW) was imposed and aerial height was restricted to 20 metres above ground with only horizontal polarisation. Full details are given in Radio Communication for January 1986.

Class B licensees thought they were being discriminated against, but, in reality, the DTI was being cautious. These frequencies were still used by European television stations and there was a possibility of interference to them, in particular the station in Belgium at Ostend. However, the fears were unfounded and 50MHz and also 70MHz were released to Class B licensees on 1st June 1987. The band was extended to 50.000 to 52.000MHz. At the same time the four metre allocation was increased to 70.000 to 70.500MHz. In my case the 4CX250B amplifier I had used in the permit days was stored in the loft and the 25 watt amplifier I had started with in 1983 reactivated. With this arrangement I made WAC and DXCC.

Restrictions were gradually relaxed. Vertical polarization and mobile operation were permitted from 5th April 1991 onwards. Finally, on 18th July 1994, the ERP limit and aerial height restriction were removed and a power of 400 watts permitted between 50 and 51MHz with primary status for the Amateur Service on the basis of non-interference to other services outside the United Kingdom. 51 to 52MHz had secondary status and a power of 100 watts. I recovered my 4CX250B amplifier from the loft and eventually got it going again.

The UKSMG played a role in all this. UKSMG stalwart Ken Ellis, G5KW, was a member of the RSGB VHF Committee and kept up the pressure on it and the RSGB for results, which were eventually achieved, as described here.

What of the future? 50 to 51MHz has the same power limit as the HF bands so there is no relaxation to be made there. Repeaters have now been licensed. We can look forward to an interesting time in sunspot cycle 23, which is just beginning.

Reference: Radio Craft (Gernsback Publications), December 1945, page 163.


UKSMG Six News issue 54, August 1997


the early history of 6m
six in fifty-seven
down memory lane

historical 6m rigs
6m history by G6DH
50yrs of 50megs pt1
50yrs of 50megs pt2
50yrs of 50megs pt3
50yrs of 50megs pt4