For the next year, follow us on Twitter and travel around the world with the University of Maryland Amateur Radio Association! We’ve recently received a collection of materials from the group, and will be posting some of the highlights periodically over the next 12 months.
The Amateur Radio Association was founded at Maryland in 1933, 13 years after the first commercial radio broadcasts in the United States. Listening to the radio and using it to communicate over long distances were incredibly popular, and more than half of American homes owned radios in the early 1930s. “We were surprised that there was no radio club or station,” one founding member recalled, “so we decided to start one.” In the early years of radio, Americans often bought and modified their own sets instead of just using store-bought equipment. Using radio equipment borrowed from the Physics Department, students strung an antenna from Morrill Hall to the water tower next to it and soon after were receiving radio signals from around the area. The Amateur Radio Association adopted the call sign W3EAX, which is still in operation today. W3EAX’s first official radio contact was with a radio operator in Washington, D.C., on January 5, 1934. To read one alumnus’ account of the early days of the club, click here.
Since then, the club has made contact with other “ham operators” around the world and received recognition for broadcasting to every state in the U.S. and every continent on the globe. They have even broadcast radio signals to astronauts in space! The club was also often involved in local events in the area. When floods or other disasters occurred, the student radio operators at Maryland could quickly jump into action to help relay news and coordinate with emergency services. On two occasions, the club received commendations for quick and accurate broadcasting and assistance to local news stations during the Three Mile Island crisis in 1979 and the U.S. Invasion of Granada in 1983.
Today, you can see the Amateur Radio Association’s radio antenna on top of the South Campus Dining Hall, where the club still meets.
Each time the Amateur Radio Association made contact with another operator, it was customary to exchange “QSL” cards. These were small postcards with radio location and broadcast information that would let each operator know how far and how strong their signal carried it. Besides this technical information, operators could customize their QSL cards and often times included original artwork or symbols and drawings that highlighted local cultures. In the decades since the UMD Amateur Radio Association was founded, the group has accumulated a collection of hundreds of cards from around the world. We have chosen 50 of the oldest and most interesting of these cards and will be posting them on Twitter until next August! Check our Twitter @umdarchives to see QSL cards from long ago, far away, the far out!