A code for amateurs

The American Radio Relay League or ARRL is one of the oldest amateur associations on Earth. 1926 saw the birth of "the Radio Amateur's Handbook", the first edition of what we now know as "The ARRL Handbook For Radio Communications" featured chapters on what it means to be an amateur, how to build and operate a station, how propagation works and how to experiment. The very first handbook had 5000 copies printed and thanks to the website WorldRadioHistory.com we have access to a signed copy by the author himself, the Communications Manager of the ARRL, Francis Edward Handy (W1BDI). He starts the 228 page book with the following words:

This Handbook is written as a guide for member-operators of the League. It is also useful as a source of information to the man who wants to take part in amateur radio activity but who has no idea of how to get started. Written first of all for the beginner, such an amount of useful and up-to-date information has been added that the Handbook in its present form is equally valuable as a compendium of information for the experienced brass-pounder and the beginner alike.

The first edition doesn't show a cover price, but the third edition, published a year later shows a charge of $1. The 2022, or 99th edition has nearly six times as many pages, 1280 of them, it costs ten times as much per page and sells for nearly 50 times as much at $49.95. The current handbook features topics such as Radio electronics theory and principles, Circuit design and equipment as well as articles and projects that include 3D printing, portable battery selection, safe antenna and tower work practices and comes in a variety of formats including electronic and box sets.

I'm giving this background to give you a sense of how things have evolved in the past century. For example, one thing that the very first edition didn't have was a page called the Amateur's Code. The oldest copy I've found appears in the 1927 or third edition.

If you're familiar with the words, you're in for a treat. If not, sit back and imagine it's 1927, or 1923, more on that in a moment.

The Amateur's Code

I - The Amateur is Gentlemanly. He never knowingly uses the air for his own amusement in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others. He abides by the pledges given by the A.R.R.L. in his behalf to the public and the Government.

II - The Amateur is Loyal. He owes his amateur radio to the American Radio Relay League, and he offers it his unswerving loyalty.

III - The Amateur is Progressive. He keeps his station abreast of science. It is built well and efficiently. His operating practice is clean and regular.

IV - The Amateur is Friendly. Slow and patient sending when requested, friendly advice and counsel to the beginner, kindly assistance and cooperation for the broadcast listener: these are marks of the amateur spirit.

V - The Amateur is Balanced. Radio is his hobby. He never allows it to interfere with any of the duties he owes to his home, his job, his school or his community.

VI - The Amateur is Patriotic. His knowledge and his station are always ready for the service of his country and his community.

This version is credited to Paul M. Segal 9EEA, Director, Rocky Mountain Division ARRL.

The code appears on page 9 of the 1927 edition of the handbook. It uses Roman numerals to identify each point, the title is beautifully rendered with the Old English Typeface and it's shown inside a rectangle on a page on its own.

Over the next 45 years the text stays the same. There are changes like colons to semi-colons, an additional comma and the evolution from Roman numerals to modern numbers, and then written numbers and finally the removal of the numbers entirely. At one point the title is changed from "Amateur's Code" to "Our Code", but that only lasts for one edition. Speaking of editions, the 1936 edition, the thirteenth in the series, is referred throughout as the 1936 edition, superstition is alive and well.

The credit changes over time as well. In 1929 Paul's callsign is changed from 9EEA to W9EEA.

In 1943 we see a once-off credit appear. It states that the code was written in 1923 by Lieut.-Commander Paul. M. Segal, General Counsel of ARRL. It's the only credit that shows a different year from any of the other references which all point at 1928 as the original year, which is what the ARRL uses today. Interestingly, we have a copy of the handbook from 1927 that features the code, so it's entirely possible that 1923 is actually correct and it's not hard to imagine that a poorly printed 3 looks like the remains of the number 8.

To add to this, there's a 1944 FCC report to the President of the United States of America that contains a reference to "Lieutenant Commander Paul. M. Segal, the radio industry attorney". In addition there's an announcement in the New York Times, dated 25 May 1968 with the headline: "Paul M. Segal Is Dead at 68; Expert in Communications Law" 

I don't have access to any version of the Second Edition of the handbook which had two print runs in 1927. It's entirely possible that the code appeared there, but I have no evidence either way. I do believe that Paul M. Segal, 9EEA Director of the Rocky Mountain Division of the ARRL is the same person as Lieutenant Commander Paul. M. Segal, General Counsel of ARRL and radio industry attorney who became a silent key in 1968.

Credits, layout and font changes aside, 1973 sees the first time when the words of the Amateur's Code actually change.

Let me illustrate.

The original first clause reads:

I - The Amateur is Gentlemanly. He never knowingly uses the air for his own amusement in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others. He abides by the pledges given by the A.R.R.L. in his behalf to the public and the Government.

In 1973 that's changed to:


The Amateur is considerate . . .He never knowingly uses the air in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.

The first four clauses are modified to greater and lesser degree, clause five and six stay the same.

Today the ARRL website shows the first clause as:

The Radio Amateur is CONSIDERATE...He/[She] never knowingly operates in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.

And the credit reads: "adapted from the original Amateur's Code, written by Paul M. Segal, W9EEA, in 1928"

It's noteworthy that going back to the original text the very first clause encourages the amateur to be gentlemanly, something which we can relate to in terms of being respectful, polite and civil.

It's also clear that the Amateur's Code is a living document and has been moving with the times. I think that we as a community have the opportunity to participate in another review and I will investigate and share with you some of my thoughts on the matter.

I think that it is important that we have a code of conduct that reflects our values and at present the best starting point we have is the Amateur's Code.