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The History of Amateur Radio Organizations in the Czech Republic

Amateur radio activities are a form of enjoyment that are typically individualistic - if we ignore the collaboration of top teams during competitions and expeditions, only one operator can be involved with one station at any one time and two or more would hardly be able to manage without getting in each others' way. Even the amateur association itself is not an essential requirement. The one facility that is essential for a radioamateur is the QSL bureau, which operates continuously thanks to predetermined international conventions, thus apart from the matter of raising adequate funds, this does not represent a special problem requiring a solution from the combined efforts of users. Radioamateurs can get by perfectly well without coming together at all and maybe it is because of this that they do in fact come together with especial zeal, or to be more precise, while some of them remain outside any kind of association, the others enjoy associating with all the more intensity.

Amateur radio activity came about due to experiments with radio waves as a general physical phenomenon. Thanks to the simplicity and easy availability of the required equipment, these experiments were numerous and they can be followed in the press of the period and popular educational literature from the turn of the century. Radio did not really become the object of mass interest, however, until the arrival of radio transmissions. Regular radio broadcasts in the Czech Republic started in 1923 and the beginnings of amateur radio activity and the first association of radioamateurs in the Czech lands can be traced to this period.

This was the Czechoslovak Radio Club which was founded on 2nd April 1924 by people who were interested for the most varied reasons in the development of radio broadcasting in this country. Everybody who expected to get something out of this enormously promising field came together in this club: those who correctly guessed its huge political and cultural significance, those who correctly foresaw the new business opportunities and finally, most of all, those who were fascinated by this technical innovation, who looked forward to enjoyable experiences as listeners and to the world opening up wide for them thanks to radio waves. Among them were the first people interested in amateur transmissions.

The first Czechoslovak Republic which came into being in 1918 upon the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire was a worthy heir of the bureaucratic traditions of the hidebound imperial Austro-Hungarian administration. The opinion of state officials of the time was that attempting to receive radio signals privately was a threat to the state monopoly on telecommunications services, and so of course private transmission attempts increased accordingly. The first struggle with the officials had to be waged for the licensing of radio receivers. This aim was the only interest of the majority of members of the Czechoslovak Radio Club while those interested in amateur transmissions were outside the mainstream and even appeared to some to be an obstacle to the accomplishment of the majority interest with their 'excessive' demands. Thus they eventually split from the Czechoslovak Radio Club.

As is customary in the Czech lands, the steps towards an independent association of those interested in amateur radio transmissions were taken in an atmosphere of schism: two associations sprung up at the same time: Association of Czechoslovak Short-wave Experimenters, SKEC, founded in 1928, and Czechoslovak Short-wave Amateurs, KVAC, founded in 1929, and they waged a life and death struggle, especially to achieve predominant influence and thus to represent amateurs from Czechoslovakia in the International Amateur Radio Union. Both 'honourable candidates' sent letters to the IARU denouncing 'the others' for so long that reasonable people in the Union decided that amateurs in Czechoslovakia would have to sort it out amongst themselves and that nobody would do their work for them.

The main upshot of all this was that our forebears eventually saw reason and managed to agree on the creation of a joint organization called Czechoslovak Amateur Broadcasters – CAV – founded 23rd March 1932. While they had been wearing themselves out in this fruitless struggle, which as always was caused by unsatisfied personal ambitions and an inability to distinguish between the essential and the inessential, the main fight needed to be waged against the authorities, namely the legalization of amateur transmissions.

All amateur radio experimentation at this time was illegal and 'on the side'. These pioneering experimenters were not actually vying with each other to attract the authorities' attention with such needless publicity. The first Czech radio amateur is considered to be Pravoslav Motycka, OK1AB.

Pravoslav Motycka, OK1AB

Pravoslav Motycka, 1923

He was very well-known at this time in interested circles. He was secretary of the Czechoslovak Radio Club, came out and was active in public and published in magazines. He discarded his incognito and any attempts at concealment on his part would have been useless anyway. His first radio contact on 8th November 1924 is the first publicized Czech contact.


LUCERNA Palace on the period photo
of practically invisible Motycka's aerial

Motycka did not even avoid publicity for the first contact abroad (30th November 1924 with 0CA from Rotterdam) and overseas (11th June 1925 with U1CMX in Massachusetts). It is most probable that Motycka really was the first Czechoslovak radio amateur. It is impossible to dismiss the possibility with any absolute certainty that other experiments took place before this and we will probably never know for sure.

Motycka & Simandl

Motycka (standing) and Simandl,
his then collaborator in pioneer experiments

Motycka & Simandl

Motycka (with headphones) and Simandl

Motycka's credit is undeniable and irrefutable when it comes to his struggle with the bureaucracy and his tireless involvement in promoting legal OK amateur radio operations, an involvement which was dogged by the attentions of the police with their interrogations and house searches. It is these meticulous, thankless, barely visible efforts on the part of Motycka and his colleagues, which were sometimes perceived by the public in a controversial light, which eventually bore fruit. On 19th May 1930 the first examinations took place in Czechoslovakia for amateur radio licence applicants and this date may be objectively considered to mark the start of the legal existence of amateur radio operations in Czechoslovakia. Let us name the first six of the valiant: Mirko Schäferling, OK1AA, Pravoslav Motycka, OK1AB, Zdenek Neumann, OK2AC, Josef Stetina, OK1AF, Ladislav Vydra, OK2AG, and Alois Weirauch, OK1AH. Jarmila Hermanova, OK2YL from Telc, subsequently became the first Czech female amateur radio operator.

Jarmila Hermanova, OK2YL

We would add without comment that the first amateur radio licence was granted in Great Britain in 1905, the Alexander Radio Act legalized amateur radio stations in the USA in 1912, and legalization was achieved in France in 1921...

To keep to the subject of this page, in addition to the central amateur radio association, CAV, there were a number of other amateur radio associations at the time of the first Czechoslovak Republic with their own particular area of concern: professional, regional etc. The CAV itself had divisions - 'branches', which were regional centres for amateur activities, invaluable 'entrance points' for beginners - those who were there remember meetings of Prague amateurs at that time in the Municipal Library, where they also learned telegraphy: we are not up to that any more these days. The Brno and Plzen branches and many others besides are also remembered with great affection.

The Second World War put a temporary stop to amateur radio activites but we cannot ignore the numerous radioamateurs who succeeded in bringing the ham spirit into their practical everyday lives during the war and who used the experience gained from their hobby for the benefit of national interests in the resistance (OK1RO and OK1CB can be mentioned as the most famous). No few of them paid with their lives and many others with incarceration in prison or a concentration camp.

The fifth edition of Bohemian-Moravian Amateur Broadcasters journal Krátké vlny (Short Waves) in 1946 brought the following report:


To honour the memory of the outstanding Bohemian-Moravian Amateur Broadcasters members who during the occupation were tortured to death by the Nazis for their illegal shortwave activity, the Ministry of Postal Communications has decided, upon the suggestion of the Bohemian-Moravian Amateur Broadcasters Central Committee, that in their eternal memory their callsigns are never to be taken again. These are the callsigns of the martyrs:

OK2AH Jan Habrda from Prague, OK2BA Alois Barta from Zlin, OK1BT Bohumil Trasak from Vysoke Myto, OK1CB Otakar Bartlicka from Prague, OK2CP Karel Simak from Zlin, OK1GU Gustav Kosulic from Prague, OK2HL Lad. Hajny from Troubelice, OK1JV Jaroslav Vitek from Kolin, OK2KE Svatomir Kadlcak from Moravska Ostrava, OK2LS Ing. Vladimir Lhotsky from Brno, OK1PZ Zdenek Spalensky from Prague, OK2PP Vaclav Kopp from Moravska Ostrava, OK1RO Pavel Homola from Turnov, OK1RX Josef Hoke from Prague, OK2SL Ing. Ant. Slavik from Brno, OK1YB Otto Löwenbach from Dvur Kralove and OK1VK, Vaclav Sevcik from Plzen.

In 2003 the Military History Institute organized an excellently arranged exhibition on the assassination of Heydrich with many exhibits displayed for the first time, including the equipment contributed by radio amateurs to the second resistance. The care taken by the exhibition organizers is borne out by the authentically reconstructed period interior in which the Defence of the Nation news reporting station is appropriately set out.



To keep in contact with London the Domestic Resistance primarily made use of radio sets provided by radio amateurs. These included the transmitter provided by Zdenek Spalensky (1), which the military resistance organization Defence of the Nation used to communicate with radio headquarters in Woldingham. One of its users was staff captain Vaclav Moravek. A Pento SW (2) receiver was used to receive dispatches.

Radioamateurs could only take advantage of the illusory post-war freedom for a mere three years. After 1948, the new regime forced all conceivable human activities into what were called 'mass' organizations - even in the case of interest groups - so that they could easily control them from a political and security viewpoint. After a brief interlude in the union organization, radioamateurs were shunted into the Union for Collaboration with the Army, Svazarm, which had been set up on the model of the soviet DOSAAF organization. They were gradually joined in Svazarm by amateur pilots and parachutists, gun enthusiasts, modellers, motorists and many others. The individual units of Svazarm were full of officers, non-commissioned officers and army and police informers so the members were monitored and controlled in an ongoing fashion by regime trustees within the organization.

There is no point in denying that the involvement of radioamateurs in Svazarm was a form of self-preservation in the conditions of the time. If such a convenient 'compartment' within the existing regime had not been found, they would simply have been liquidated. Josef Visarionovic Stalin managed to achieve the liquidation of entire nations, so what was to stop his local henchmen from liquidating such marginal minority interest activities?

Mr Stalin's signature was also on the biggest pogrom of radioamateurs which those who lived through it remember as the 'Night of St. Bartholomew'. The Georgian genius devised a theory about intensifying the class struggle after the victory of the working class in the proletarian revolution - and this theory facilitated more of his much-favoured purges, which sent millions of people to the scaffold and the gulags. The class struggle also had to be intensified in Czechoslovakia, of course, after 'victorious February', but it was not being intensified quite as much as Mr Stalin would have hoped so he called the local communist bosses onto the carpet and these were sent back home with the order to consolidate the 'struggle with the bourgeoisie' on all fronts. One of the first to fall victim were the radioamateurs, whom the bolsheviks considered to be spies. In one night State Security withdrew the majority of radioamateur licences and confiscated their equipment, often not just transmitters but also receivers, microphones, power sources and so forth.

Radio clubs were meant to be set up in general as partial compensation for the withdrawn licences and so the former CAV branches became regional and district 'radio sections' led by 'commanders' and all radioamateur activity was forcibly collectivized and took on a military mien. The original associations which made up Svazarm were dissolved and closed and their specialist panels were demoted to the status of mere advisory bodies for the central political leadership of Svazarm.

Moreover, this leadership had lost contact with reality to such an extent that it no longer took into account the simple fact that people came into Svazarm simply because some wanted to get involved in transmitting and others wanted to race in cars and others to engage in flying as a sport. The idea was borne in the generals' heads, steeped in political indoctrination and vodka, of the 'Svazarm man with versatile defensive skills', a kind of socialist Rambo, a bizarre lunatic who would at one and the same time be able to drive a car, shoot, throw grenades, transmit, walk a dog and jump with a parachute.

This could only be the ideal way of utilizing spare time for a narrow circle of very special individuals who in civilized societies most frequently are to be found in madhouses...

Under normal circumstances, decent people would not go anywhere near such militant idiocy but the population was bound to Svazarm by means of legislation: the amateur radio licence (as in the case of a pilot's or gun licence for example) was reserved solely for Svazarm members and for every application in which a citizen was requesting the state for a licence, the Svazarm stamp of approval had to be there. People could get round this, however: numerous interest groups sprung up as 'self-help official-stamp associations'.

One particular source of numerous excesses was the practice of Army Chief Command of using Svazarm as a dumping ground for officers who were too incompetent to perform any other service, but who could not actually be thrown out of the Army because of their total political subservience. This tradition was established by the very first Svazarm commander, General Èenìk Hruška, and the reassigned first Deputy Chief of General Staff General Brychta ended the tradition in a similarly dignified manner "in the spirit of the martial traditions" during "perestroika". Of course, officers whose reassignment to Svazarm was in its own way an expression of no confidence, tried all the more, and all the more idiotically, to convince the high command of their devotion.

Radek, OK2ON, writes a very brief story, very typical of the times, on how the Svazarm officers really understood "collaboration" with civilians:

At a regional Svazarm meeting during the 1960s I was boasting about the results achieved by the radio amateurs in the region in the top OK DX operational ranking competition. After the meeting ended, a certain colonel called me to his office and had me explain in detail all about this OK DX operational ranking competition. I was gratified by this unprecedented interest on the part of Comrade Colonel and I endeavoured to explain everything to him honestly. His conclusion was: "they obviously have enough time for this DXing, but when they have to train recruits they all plead lack of time." And he recommended that I should "motivate" the participants to train the "radist" recruits, by making this a condition for the publication of their names in these rankings.

Of course the regime was terribly afraid of weapons and transmitters in the hands of its citizens and it knew very well why: the Hungarian temperament, which made itself felt in Budapest in 1956, acted as a warning for a long time. If the regime were to support sporting and special-interest activities, as it said it would, and at the same time not increase its own feeling of entrapment, it had to adapt them to its own standards, i.e. to distort them. Amateur radio activities were a perfect example. Instead of amateur radio transmissions in themselves, the regime supported various supplementary activities which were not directly associated with real transmissions, e.g. so-called radio orienteering, which in the rest of the world is primarily an ancilliary entertainment for radioamateurs at HAM festivals or picnics.

At one time, which fortunately did not last too long, the name of our hobby itself did not please the regime as it was not considered militant enough, so we became 'radists'. This was jolly military and in conformity with the soviet model to boot (radio operateur is 'radist' in Russian). What more could you want? Organizational terminology was derived from this, e.g. 'the regional radist council'. People found this amusing and began to call the 'radist councils' 'sadist councils'. Fortunately, our comrade generals were not too pleased at having sadists in Svazarm and so we got our old name back.

Over the course of time the most positive Svazarm 'radist' model figure was the latest participant in the district radio orienteering competition, while the active radioamateur, contester and DX-man, was deemed to be a frivolous and suspect individualist, even if the rest of the world recognized him. Even though by the eighties it was not particularly difficult to acquire a licence, the screening of applicants often took the Ministry of the Interior an entire year and the licence was very often withdrawn on the grounds that the 'circumstances in which the licence was granted had changed' - but nobody ever found out how and for whom they had changed.

The popular Czech actor and folk philosopher Jan Werich once said: 'I get all swanky about any Czech who has achieved something'. These days, as some dozens of radio amateurs from OK head off year after year on various expeditions all over the world, we, too, can feel 'all swanky' (though more about some than about others). When in the past somebody went out to demonstrate the quality of OK operators abroad, only the repressive state apparatus could 'get all swanky' about it: another fine example for it to demonstrate its indispensability to fine effect without any effort on its part. Jirka, OK1RI (ex OK1DWA, JT0WA etc.), writes about this from his own experience:

'Everything that I write here, I am able and indeed willing to support by written evidence from an extract from the documentation kept on me at the former secret police archives, though I do not think it would do any good for me to write the actual names of those in either of the radio amateur groups mentioned below.

As those who remember might well be aware, in 1981 my work took me away for just a shade under six months on a geological expedition to Mongolia, where I doggedly transmitted away for about 3 months and made a good few thousand contacts. As those who remember might well be aware, no OK radio ham 'survived' any real expedition activity without proper punishment - except for HORSKY, of which more later.

Nor did I escape this fate. I am a criminal and a delinquent, and I was rebuked for the following:

  1. Several thousand direct QSL's came home to me - this was fine, 13 direct QSL'ss went to a certain radio amateur (not just an agent but an actual secret police officer), as was later shown he had described himself in a US bulletin as QSL MGR. This was a great crime - mine, to be precise. There were endless questions during interrogations: 'tell us, how is it possible?'
  2. Somebody - I don't know who but I do know that he was an OK - asked me on the air what we were doing out there. I was always very careful in such exchanges but about two weeks earlier we received the newspapers and in Mlada Fronta there was a two-page pull-out on Czechoslovak geological activity in Mongolia. I had said about 10% of what was in the article, nothing more and probably less. Uh-oh, I had 'revealed company secrets'.
  3. Somebody - I don't know who but I do know that he was an OK - asked me on the air what the Mongolian countryside was like and like a fool I told him that the countryside, i.e. the steppes were preserved virgin land and that they surely looked exactly the same as they did in the days of Genghis Khan. This sentence can only and exclusively be interpreted as an insult to the Mongolian People's Democratic Republic since I was in effect saying that there had been no progress there!
  4. Somebody - I don't know who but I do know that he was an OK - asked me on the air why I had retired from a contest (IARU) after about 10 hours on the air. I explained that in mid-July it was 50 degrees Centigrade in the shade out in the steppes, or to be more accurate, in the desert where we were, and that the phasing line on my HB9CV for 20 m was made of copper wire in PVC insulation (as was normally the case) and that in the heat the wire had come out of the melted insulation and connected very nicely with the boom. The antenna and the pole were 20 m tall and made from driller's steel tubing, and about 10 people plus an automobile were needed to erect them. It was a truly idiotic construction but the aluminium pole which I had prepared had not 'survived' the journey on the Trans-Siberian railway in a container together with a jeep and other items. The container arrived in good order with its 'original seal', but also, alas, quite empty. The comments were: 'good heavens, you must be out of your mind; why send yourself an empty container half way around the world? It just could not conceivably happen here in the USSR that somebody would actually steal anything!' Now because the camp crew took off on extended weekends to 'civilization' in Ulan Bator, leaving me behind to transmit along with a Mongol, who did not want to spend a whole day rattling over the steppes in the car to get there and another whole day to get back just two days later. And criminal that I am, I said that I could not repair the antenna because I was alone in the camp with just one Mongol so I couldn't take down the antenna, repair it and raise it again. I was told that I was a racist...

Now I'll tell you what else happened. I am writing what I found out later from the secret police file. Several radio amateurs, secret police agents and collaborators testified in my case including those who invented, lied and deliberately told untruths just to cause some harm. Then there were radio amateurs who were secret police collaborators and who only testified and spoke up to explain the whole affair 'more or less reasonably', and they actually assisted me. According to the documentation, the whole case was put together to 'close me down' - as I found out just two years ago. At that time, I thought the worst that could happen to me was that I would lose my licence and at the interrogations they said 'just sign this for us and it will be as if nothing happened.' I told them that if they took away my licence, I would find another hobby and life would go on.

Then there was a meeting with the 'top' contest stations at that time, i.e. OK1KSO, OK1KRG (where I was the leading operator) and the Slovak group from Šamorín, which as is generally known was close to the Ministry of the Interior. I spoke about my trouble with them and suddenly there was a DEUS EX MACHINA. During my last interrogation (the first after this meeting and perhaps the eighth in all) they told me that they were closing the entire case but that they had to punish me and so were halting my activity for a year. 'Are you stopping my OK1KRG activity too?' I asked, 'is that what you want?' and they said: 'Oh no, you're still a class A operator, you can transmit normally under your club call-sign. You only have your activity suspended, so no problems, you're still a leading operator of OK1KRG!' So nothing actually happened. I found out from the documentation that it was at the intercession of the highest Bratislava secret police Command. 'My' staff member was highly dissatisfied at this and wanted me to be properly punished as did the first named group of radio amateur collaborators.

Of course a deus ex machina did not always use to intercede and not everybody got away with his 'crimes' with just scars on his soul... There's one thing that OK citizens can feel 'swanky' about to this day: that they were able to provide a living for so many useless loafers for so long and pay them so much for flogging dead horses. Whenever they feel that things should be a little better for them these days, they ought to remember: those absurdly wasted hundreds of billions of crowns have to be missing somewhere...

1989 saw some radical changes for radioamateurs. As if a magic wand had been waved, the granting of a licence was no longer subject to membership of some club, rubber-stamping and screening. Open borders and the rapidly achieved convertability of the Czechoslovak crown allowed the majority of us to acquire professional equipment even if this was often second-hand and so two great problems that radioamateurs had suffered from in the past were resolved - the total unavailability of amateur radio equipment and the poor quality signals from the various improvised devices made by Czech amateurs, which definitely did not contribute to the good name of the OK call-sign. The state telecommunications authority acceded to the recommendations of CEPT and Czech licences were suddenly valid in the majority of European countries.

Under these new conditions the number of radioamateurs quickly doubled and their opportunities multiplied even more. Bohemia was covered by a packet radio network, the number of terrestrial repeaters increased and the spontaneous and buoyant activity of amateurs, no longer ordered about by anybody, is of joint benefit to everybody in that there are now dozens of sporting and social events, meetings, competitions and awards. OK radioamateurs have also started to penetrate into exotic countries and enrich world DX activity with expeditions, and they have a dignified role to play in international projects such as the P3D satellite. Not even in their wildest dreams could anyone have imagined anything like that happening ten years ago.

Of course, there has been a renaissance in club life too. On 19th January 1990, there was a nationwide conference of radioamateurs, who set up a new association, Czechoslovak Radio Club, which was de facto a union of the two national associations, Czech Radioclub and Slovak Amateur Radio Club. The Czech Radio Club had its inaugural meeting on 26th June 1990. After the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation it became the representative of OK radio amateurs at the International Amateur Radio Union. In addition to these clubs, a number of other HAM Radio associations were formed with a nationwide, regional and local focus. Some of them were short-term projects, whose main aim was to satisfy the unsatisfiable desire of certain individuals to be called 'Mr President' while others have enriched OK radioamateurs life to this day.

Numerous antagonisms have come down to the present from the past. Some amateurs do not like radio clubs at all because they were forced into them in the past. Others identify them with their many pleasant experiences with a bunch of friends at dozens of competitions both indoors and outdoors. Some radioamateurs do not like radio orienteering or indoor telegraphy at all because these obtained a disproportionate amount of support and attention in the past. Others remember the honourable sports matches at hundreds of competitions in these disciplines, again with a bunch of good friends and mates.

It is extremely difficult to judge past injustices, but the ten years that have passed since November 1989 have been a perfect test of the viability of and requirement for such pastimes - amongst other things. All kinds of coercion and forced membership have been done away with, as has everything that was created artificially in the past without taking into account people's real interests, while state and municipal subsidies have fallen to a fraction of their previous level. Those things that engaged the interest of citizens so much that they were willing to sacrifice something for them are still justified and viable to this day. Negativity is not a programme with prospects and we shall find no salvation in merely seeking out that which divides us.

© OK1XU, 2000