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History of IARU

To exist, ama­teur radio must have access to the radio fre­quen­cy spec­trum. With­out it, our radio equip­ment is like an auto­mo­bile with­out a road or a boat with­out water — inter­est­ing to look at, per­haps, but utter­ly useless. 

Ama­teur radio exists for the pur­pose of self-train­ing, inter­com­mu­ni­ca­tion and tech­ni­cal inves­ti­ga­tions. To accom­plish these broad objec­tives, ama­teurs must be afford­ed rea­son­able access to the radio spec­trum from the low­est fre­quen­cies to the high­est. Yet, spec­trum access is an increas­ing­ly valu­able com­mod­i­ty. Com­mer­cial inter­ests will­ing­ly pay bil­lions of dol­lars for access to the fre­quen­cies they require in order to be able to sell telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vices. The radio spec­trum is so valu­able that even gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary users are under great pres­sure to relin­quish fre­quen­cies for com­mer­cial exploitation. 

In such an envi­ron­ment, how can we radio ama­teurs defend and expand our spec­trum access? By def­i­n­i­tion, our inter­est in radio is not finan­cial. We can hard­ly afford to com­pete, dol­lar for dol­lar, with com­mer­cial inter­ests. Nor can we com­pete with them for atten­tion; our indi­vid­ual voic­es are too weak to be heard over their extrav­a­gant claims and fren­zied bidding. 

The future may look bleak, but let us remem­ber this: It has hap­pened before, and Ama­teur Radio sur­vived and prospered. 

In the ear­ly 1920s it was gen­er­al­ly assumed that radio­com­mu­ni­ca­tion could only take place over long dis­tances using very long waves — the low­er the fre­quen­cy, the bet­ter. Very large anten­nas and very high pow­er were the rule at com­mer­cial and gov­ern­ment sta­tions. Then, radio ama­teurs found that short-wave sig­nals could be heard all over the world. The rush soon began to exploit this new­ly dis­cov­ered phe­nom­e­non. Radio ama­teurs, the very peo­ple whose exper­i­ments had revealed the val­ue of the short waves in the first place, were in grave dan­ger of being pushed aside. 

At the time there were very few coun­tries in which radio ama­teurs had been able to orga­nize them­selves into nation­al asso­ci­a­tions. In many coun­tries ama­teur radio oper­a­tion was active­ly dis­cour­aged or even ille­gal. For­tu­nate­ly, there were far-sight­ed indi­vid­u­als who under­stood the prob­lem and were able to find a solu­tion. In 1925 they met in Paris and for­mal­ly cre­at­ed the Inter­na­tion­al Ama­teur Radio Union, or IARU. 

Ini­tial­ly the IARU had indi­vid­ual mem­bers. Once there were enough mem­bers in a giv­en coun­try to do so, a sec­tion of the IARU would be formed. Soon there were enough sec­tions of the IARU that it became a fed­er­a­tion of nation­al associations. 

The first major chal­lenge for the IARU occurred in 1927 at the Wash­ing­ton Inter­na­tion­al Radiotele­graph Con­fer­ence. Radio ama­teurs eas­i­ly could have been forced into bands that would have been too nar­row to sup­port future growth. Instead, allo­ca­tions were won that we still know today as 160, 80, 40, 20, and 10 meters, with a 5‑meter band that was moved to 6 meters after World War II. The oth­er ama­teur bands we now enjoy were the result of decades of patient effort through the IARU. From less than 30,000 radio ama­teurs who were licensed as of 1927, the ama­teur radio move­ment has grown to three mil­lion. From the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 25 coun­tries who formed the IARU in 1925, the IARU has grown to include 160 nation­al asso­ci­a­tions rep­re­sent­ing vir­tu­al­ly every coun­try with enough ama­teurs to form an organization. 

Indi­vid­ual radio ama­teurs sup­port the work of the IARU through their mem­ber­ship in their own nation­al IARU mem­ber-soci­ety. That sup­port is vital to the future of ama­teur radio. The IARU is rec­og­nized by the Inter­na­tion­al Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union (ITU) as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the inter­ests of radio ama­teurs through­out the world. It is our voice in the offices and meet­ing rooms of the ITU and region­al telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions orga­ni­za­tions, where the deci­sions affect­ing our future access to the radio spec­trum are made. 

The rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the IARU at these meet­ings are vol­un­teers. The com­bined bud­gets of the IARU and its region­al orga­ni­za­tions amount to just pen­nies per month per licensed radio ama­teur. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, not all radio ama­teurs are mem­bers of IARU mem­ber-soci­eties so the bur­den falls onto those who are. 

All licensed radio ama­teurs ben­e­fit from the work of the IARU, whether or not they are mem­bers of their nation­al IARU mem­ber-soci­ety. But every licensed radio ama­teur should be a mem­ber. Only by com­bin­ing our efforts in this way can we ensure the future health of ama­teur radio, for our­selves and for future generations.

Here are some of the accom­plish­ments of the IARU:

  • 21 MHz band glob­al­ly (WARC 1947) 
  • Ama­teur Satel­lite Ser­vice cre­at­ed (WRC-Space 1971) 
  • 10, 18, 24 MHz bands glob­al­ly, improved 1.8 MHz band (WARC 1979) 
  • More ama­teur-satel­lite bands, microwave allo­ca­tions (WARC 1979) 
  • 7 MHz exten­sion (WRC 2003) 
  • Eas­ing of some restric­tions to facil­i­tate dis­as­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions (WRC 2003) 
  • 136 kHz band glob­al­ly (WRC 2007) 
  • 472 kHz band glob­al­ly (WRC 2012) 
  • Small glob­al 5 MHz band (WRC 2015)
  • 50 MHz allo­ca­tion in Region 1 (WRC 2019) 
  • Improve­ments in inter­na­tion­al roam­ing for radio amateurs
  • Recog­ni­tion of ama­teur emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tions, impor­tance of EMC stan­dards to pro­tect radio ser­vices from interference

An infor­ma­tive more detailed per­spec­tive on the devel­op­ment of IARU from its ini­tial foun­da­tion until 1993 can be found in a paper by Dick Bald­win, W1RU, Pres­i­dent of IARU from 1982–1999 and pri­or to that as Sec­re­tary for six years. The orig­i­nal man­u­script is avail­able here — note this is being tran­scribed to a more mod­ern and leg­i­ble type­face and will be replaced in due course.

Print This Page Updated on January 27, 2020

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