The history of the USKA


The following text was published in HBradio 5/2014 on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the USKA.
Reproduction permitted only with the permission of the USKA.

The history of the USKA

Author: Dr. Philippe Schaetti HB9ECP

It is now 86 years since the USKA was founded on August 4, 1929 in the Du Pont Restaurant near Zurich Main Station. The majority of the forty founding members voted for the name Union Schweizerischer Kurzwellen-Amateure (USKA). Heinrich Degler H9XA (later HB9A) was the one who took the initiative to found the USKA and he became its first president. On September 27, the “Schweizerische Radiozeitung” published a report about the start of the USKA with an appeal to join. For the first time the column title “OLD MAN, the side of the shortwave amateur” was used.

In his book “Fascination of Short Waves”, Rudolf Stuber HB9T refers to the year 1911 as the beginning of amateur activity in Switzerland – after the Paris Observatory started time signal transmissions from the Eiffel Tower. “The easily inspired Welsch Swiss were the first to take up the suggestion from abroad,” reported Hans Zickendraht, a physics professor from Basel, in his book Radio in der Schweiz. Without the blessing of the authorities and without a legal basis, they broadcast – first broadcasting attempts with fire extinguishing radio transmitters – and assigned themselves the call signs, with corresponding dramatic consequences on the part of the authorities. It was not until January 1, 1924, that the legal basis for granting broadcasting licenses was enacted in Switzerland (Federal Law on Telegraph and Telephone Traffic of October 14, 1922), and it took until April 30, 1926, for Heinrich Degler to receive the first official amateur broadcasting license, H9XA. However, the Obertelegrafendirektion in Bern had made the granting of amateur licenses dependent on the foundation of an amateur radio association. This was realized after unsuccessful preliminary attempts in 1929 by means of the USKA, which was able to rally all parts of the country around itself.

The number of amateurs increased only slowly. In 1929, the founding year of the USKA, there were only ten licensed amateur stations, but numerous receiving licensees. On January 1, 1929, the provisions of the International Radiotelegraph Convention of Washington of November 15, 1927, came into force. The country codes, some of which are still valid today, were introduced: Switzerland was assigned the group HBA – HBZ (HB for “Helvetic Confederation”). The number 9 was assigned by the authorities to the amateurs: H9 became HB9. At the same time, the frequency ranges which the amateurs were allowed to use were greatly reduced. The bands 10 to 10.7 m, 20.8 to 21.4 m, 41 to 42.8 m and 82 to 85 m were now available to Swiss amateurs.

A decisive event after the First World War was the introduction of the electron tube, which replaced the radio transmitter and the coherer. The interwar period also saw the transition from audion to superhet technology, which significantly optimized reception capabilities.

Since the reporting in the “Schweizerische Radiozeitung” and in “Le Radio” in French had become increasingly unsatisfactory, one launched in 1932 daringly one’s own club magazine, the OLD MAN. The name chosen by Heinrich Degler in 1929 was to last for 78 years, until the launch of HBradio in early 2008.

On August 18, 1932, the USKA, under the direction of H. Degler HB9A and H. Büchler HB9AA, successfully established radio communications on 38.5 m with Prof. Auguste Piccard’s stratospheric balloon B9 up to 16,000 m altitude. Fieldday was introduced in Central Europe in 1934 by the USKA. The “Rundspruch” was also a USKA invention.

In 1938, after hard disputes, the USKA gave itself new statutes, which established a more decentralized organization by increasing the importance of the Sections and the Assembly of Delegates. Hans Büchler HB9AA became the new president. With the mobilization in 1939 the amateur transmitters were confiscated by the authorities and any activity was forbidden. In turn, however, radio amateurs were very welcome by the Army for their knowledge of telegraphy and wireless communications and their 95% were drafted. In November 1945, broadcasting was finally reopened. The great merit of the USKA members was reflected in the award of the golden medal of honor “ARMA MENTIS DUCTU” of the transmission troops by Colonel Division Ernst Honegger on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the USKA in 1979.

After the Second World War, electronics and radio technology developed rapidly in the civilian sector. The most striking events for radio amateurs were the invention of the transistor in 1947, the introduction of SSB technology, the popularization of VHF/UHF technology as well as digital modes of operation, starting in 1961 for the first time using RTTY, and finally using PSK31. Also worth mentioning are the connections via amateur radio satellites (OSCAR) and the integration of the World Wide Web by means of D-Star and Echolink. SDR (Software-defined Radio) technology is one of the latest successful technical achievements for amateur radio.

During the Swiss National Exhibition in Lausanne in 1964 (EXPO64), the station HB9RAS (Radio Amateurs Suisses) of the USKA was active in sector 2a (Art de vivre) for six months.

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the USKA in 2004, the following topics were dealt with in the OLD MAN in German, French and Italian: “The technical commissions of the USKA, Power Line Communication (PLC) threatens basic rights, A DXpedition – dream of every DXer?, The sky over 75 years of USKA, Some history of the USKA, Amateur radio, a living hobby? These still reflect current focal points of Swiss radio amateurism. At the 2009 Hamfest and Marconi Memorial Days in Salvan/VS, Dr. Hamadoun Touré HB9EHT, Secretary General of the ITU, honored us with his presence on the occasion of the USKA’s 80th birthday.

The last years also saw the introduction of the amateur radio license HB3 (Novice License, 2000), the abolition of the CW hurdle to obtain the HF license (2003), the introduction of the NIS regulation (2000), the extension of the 40-meter band for the amateur radio service up to 7200 kHz (2005), the complete renewal of our most important general advertising platform, namely the amateur radio station HB9O, which has existed since 1965 in Switzerland’s most visited museum, the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne (2010), and the rather smooth transition from OLD MAN to HB Radio (2008). The USKA website (, nowadays the most important portal to the outside world, is regularly maintained and made reader-friendly.

The promotion of young talent was also intensified by means of contacts with the Boy Scouts (Jamboree on the Air) and USKA appearances at general public trade fairs, for example in 2013/14 at MUBA, BEA, OLMA and ZÜSPA (as part of TUN, “Technology and Natural Sciences”), where young visitors could also solder together simple kits. The voice radio contact with an astronaut on the ISS space station in 2008 thrilled a school class in Richterswil and was a challenging logistical undertaking. The courses offered by the sections to obtain the HB9 and HB3 licenses were also intensified and, on the occasion of meetings of the teachers, a certain harmonization of the teaching material was strived for.

From 2008 to 2016 Daniel Kägi HB9IQY leads our association as president with great commitment and prudence, by not wanting to “turn the USKA upside down”. Political lobbying was considered more and more important for the USKA in today’s time and cultivated by the board. This also includes emergency radio as an extremely important activity of the radio amateurs. In two cantons, there is already an agreement with the authorities regarding emergency situations in which amateur radio is involved; in other cantons, talks on this are underway. In 2013, the GAREC (Global Amateur Radio Emergency Communication) conference was held in Zurich. Constructive discussions between the USKA and the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), which is responsible for the amateur radio service, take place regularly. For example, in the case of CE conformity, a solution acceptable to both sides was found.

Fortunately, there is a renewed interest among members in homebuilding and telegraphy, especially in the QRP area thanks to innovative kits and courses for Morse telegraphy. Logically associated with this are the activities of the Helvetia Telegraphy Club (HTC), the Mountain Day Commission of USKA and the SOTA Group Switzerland. In 2012, the 10th IARU High Speed Telegraphy World Championship, held under the patronage of the USKA, was held in Beatenberg with more than 150 participants from 20 countries, with participants from Belarus in particular shining with top performances (up to 240 characters per minute).

Literature references

Hans Zickendraht: Radio in Switzerland, Basel 1925
August Piccard: At 16,000 meters, Schweizer Aero-Revue AG, Zurich 1933
Editorial: The USKA on its birthday, QRV May 1979
Rudolf Stuber, HB9T: Fascination of short waves, 2nd edition, Zurich 1980
Renato Ryter HB9NW: Some history of the USKA, OLD MAN 7-8/2004
Peter Frey, HB9MQM: How black stations became radio amateurs, HB Radio 4/2009
Various issues of OLD MAN and HBradio
Archive of the Swiss Confederation
Archive of the ITU

Source: HBradio 5/2014 on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the USKA.

Historical presentation on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the USKA: Presentation USKA History 1929-2019 (Powerpoint)


“No sport but science”

This definition comes from Heinrich Degler H9XA and was published in the booklet “Radio-Programm” No. 36/1926

“The amateur works in an independent, but also disinterested way on the research and therefore improvement of wireless transmission and reception technology in the field of short waves. He is therefore above all an experimenter, whose experiences often have great scientific value. His activity is not to be understood as a sport, but as work in a fascinating branch of the most modern science, the most beautiful reward being the successes achieved.”