The amateur radio hobby in Malta was initiated in January 1914, by our late friend Robert Frederick Galea of Birkirkara. Who at the tender age of fourteen years, he was able to transmit the messages with a call sign 2RG – meaning two Robert Galea from his national village, on a home brew spark transmitter in the Morse Code.
His first contacts were with his friend Esprit Tonna Barthet, who was also in possession of a similar transmitter at his home in Valletta. In the same year Bob, short for Robert improved his spark transmitter by making a rotary spark.
This gentleman is considered the be the father of the Maltese Radio Amateurs for he continued to help and encourage them throughout his life until his death in 1979.
He was also the first QSL Malta manager until the QSL Bureau was handed over to the Malta Amateur Radio League of Attard in the Year 1973.
Restriction on the use of wireless transmission actually started in August 1914, but it was not until August 1916, that the first Malta Defence Regulations were issued. Thus amateur radio, officially come to a stop. These Regulations section 28 stated that:
“No person shall without the permission of the Governor, make, buy or sell, or have in his possession, or under his control, any apparatus intended to be used, as a component part of such apparatus, and no person shall sell or give any such apparatus to any person who has not obtained such permission of the Governor, shall on demand, deliver the apparatus to the Governor, or as may he be directed, and if any person contravenes the provision of this regulation, he shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations.
These constitute part of the first Government Regulations affecting the radio amateur hobby in the Maltese Islands.
As the 1914-18 Great War came to an end Robbie Galea and his radio amateur friends were constantly asking the authorities permission to be able to build radio receivers.
This request was granted and valve receivers were assembled. With these radios, transmission from Eiffel Tower was well received in Malta by Robbie Galea and reports of such transmissions forwarded to Eiffel Tower were much appreciated, not only in the French Capital, but also by the Telebusterhausen station in Berlin, Germany.
These reports helped the transmitting station to check and improve upon their reception quality in the Mediterranean.
Robbie Galea was also one of the team of radio amateurs who became so proficient in the Morse code, that he was used to receive and relay from England, News Bulletins to the near east so that these were further relayed to the far east. This was a great achievement for the young Maltese lad, and a feather in his cap, considering that he had only home made equipment at his disposal.
The prohibition of amateur radio transmission was extended up to the year 1921, and the radio amateurs were constantly petitioning to the Lieutenant Governor for the issue of amateur radio licences, quoting that the local hams were anxious that Malta should not be tanned with being behind times, especially when under the British flag, and being further desirous that radio hams, British Subjects in Malta, be granted equal liberties as are granted to those in Great Britain.
When Lord Plumer was Governor of Malta, ordnance was enacted which states:
“ As Governor of Malta, in the exercise of the powers conferred upon him by his Majesty’s Letters patent dated 14th April, 1921, constituting the office of Governor and Commander in chief of Malta, an ordnance No.11 on the 6th June, 1921 with a short title “The Wireless Telegraphy Apparatus Ordnance, 1922, whereby paragraph 2, refers to the Prohibition or Against Possession of Wireless Telegraphy apparatus ect, without licence and paragraph 4, explains, for the purpose of this law, that apparatus ordinarily used as a distinctive component part of apparatus for the sending of receiving of messages by Wireless telegraphy or telephony, shall be deemed to be intended to be used, unless contrary is proved. The Penalties for a person committing an offence against this law, shall on conviction, be able to a fine not exceeding 50 pounds; and on a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding 100 pounds or to an imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months or the both such imprisonment and fine, and on conviction for a first or subsequent offence against this part of this ordnance the court may; and on the recommendation of the Prime Minister shall declare the licence given to the person convicted, to be cancelled and order the apparatus to be delivered up to the Commissioner of Police.
The definition of Wireless Telegraphy meant, any system of communication by means of electric signals or telephony, with or without the aid of any wire connecting the points from, and at which the message or communication are sent or received.
In the year 1922 the Malta Radio Society was established for the advancement and popularization of the science of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony. This society is the forerunner of the present Malta Amateur Radio League (MARL) of Attard. Members of this society where already in touch with the London Society of Wireless, which is at present known as the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB).
An amateur radio in the United Kingdom by the name of Norman F. Joly and his call sign G3FNJ, wrote in his book – The Dawn of Amateur Radio in the U.K and Greece, “That it was in Malta that my interest in Wireless Telegraphy was first aroused. We were housed in some Military married quarters. Close by there was a wireless station which produced greenish blue sparks and crackling noises. Its antennas were supported on three very tall wooden masts, painted bright yellow. I soon discovered it was GYZ, belonging to the admiralty. Malta was then in 1922, a very big base of the British Navy, in the good old days, when England had an Empire.”
The admiralty transmitting station referred to was the Rinella W/T station, which was used to broadcast BBC news to the Island of Malta. Among some broadcasters, were well known personalities as announcers.
Early in 1922, the first radio amateur licences were issued, but only to receive wireless messages. Individual radio amateurs joined the United Kingdom Society in order to enable them to make use of the QSL Bureau as soon as it was established in England. The availability of this service of this bureau is at present enjoyed by the Malta Amateur Radio League, the Gozo Radio Society and the Amateur Radio and Electronics Club of Balzan. In 1927, the Malta Amateur Radio Society issued a booklet, containing the regulations and bye laws which were approved at a general meeting of its members. These regulations were written in the English and Italian languages, under the signature of its Honorary Secretary Mr.Carm Cauchi.
Five years later, saw the new invention on the market of the transmission of pictures by radio. This apparatus named “Fultograph” which was priced 22 pounds sterling was used by the Vienna station and Radio Toulouse. At this junction it must be recalled that pictures of the Rizzo endurance record breaking, was transmitted from the Vienna station and was well received in Malta at Barthet’s Laboratories in Floriana in the presence of Mr. Arthur Rizzo and some members of the Committee of the Malta Radio Society. The principle of this transmission is called telephotographic.
In 1933, the Malta Radio Society changed its name to the Malta Amateur Radio Society; while a year later the first full radio licences were issued, stipulating that the height of the antennas should not exceed 150feet.
Amongst the licences issued at the time were:
VP3A Howard Cunningham
VP3B Charles March
VP3C Leonard Grech
VP3D Edgar Montanaro Gucci
VP3E Robert Galea
VP3F Paolo Bonnici
In August, 1937 the prefix to the Malta radio call sign was changed from V.P.3 to ZB1 and in October of the same year, licences for the use of Radio Phone Modulation were issued under the following conditions:
(a) Modulation should not exceed 100%
(b) No gramophone record should be used twice in any one day
(c) The permission may be withdrawn any time by order of the Government
The activities of Sunday morning’s broadcasting of gramophone records aroused great interest amongst bona fide amateur experimental workers in Malta, and there was also a considerable resentment that the already narrow frequency bands should only be used for the purpose of broadcasting. Some had a false idea of the limitations of amateur stations with regard to the material allowed to be transmitted by the owner of a station, and his requests should not be discouraged.
There was no doubt that the material broadcast was entertaining especially considering that this was emanating from an amateur station, and at the same time it was a novelty. Regretfully, at that time there was no official local station to cater for the needs of the short-wave listeners in Malta.
Between the period 1939 and 1945 all licences of radio amateurs were again withdrawn on account of the Second World War Government Notice No, 309 of June 21, 1940, prohibited also the use of wireless receivers where news from enemy nations could be heard in public.
The Government notice states: “No person shall use any wireless receiving apparatus in any public place or to which the public has access, whether on payment or an access fee or otherwise, for the reception of any matter which is broadcast from any country with which His Majesty is at war, or which is in the occupation of His Majesty’s enemies.
For the purpose of this order the words ‘public place’ include any licensed premises, places of public entertainment and any private premises from which a broadcast can be heard or from any place the public has access.
Any person committing a breach of this order, shall be guilty of an offence against the Malta Defence Regulations and any licence to keep a wireless set held by the offender or by any person residing in the premises in which the offence is committed shall be withdrawn.”
In August 1946, the local Government proclaimed Notice No.387 re. The application for Wireless Telegraphy for Radio Amateurs.
Applications were forwarded on official forms which were obtainable either from the office of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office or the Passport Office, while conditions with regard to these licences were obtained from the Lieutenant Governor’s office.
Robbie Galea, call sign ZB1E sent a message in May 1953 of congratulations to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of Her Coronation and this message was acknowledged by the Home Office, Whitehall, London.
The National Radio Club of Balzan was formed in July, 1962, and three years later the Malta call sign prefix ZB1 for radio amateurs was changed to 9H1.
The Malta Amateur Radio Society was nominated for membership to the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) in 1967. This local society was later known as the Malta Amateur Radio League (MARL) and represents amateurs on the Island of Malta, Gozo and Comino. 43 of the 44 licensed 9H1 amateurs were members of the Malta Amateur Radio Society and 25 of them had transmitting station, operating frequencies allowed were: 1.8 – 2.0 MHz
3.5 – 3.8 MHz
7.0 – 7.15 MHz
14.0 – 14.35 MHz
Bands with the maximum power of DC input of 150 watts. Only one class of licence was issued.
The Malta Amateur Radio Society was the only society representing radio amateurs from the Island of Malta internationally. And in 1967 the official QSL Bureau for the Maltese radio amateurs was established in conjunction with the International Amateur Radio Union on the recommendation of the Radio Society of Great Britain.
Another group of radio hams formed the central Amateur Radio Society in 1970, with their Headquarters at the Government School in Attard, by the kind permission if the Education Authorities.
A year later, Gaston Tonna Barther M.B.E.K.C.G, Bailiff of Malta of the Order of St.John of the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem accepted the offer, to become the Patron of the Malta Amateur Radio Society. At a dinner held at the Corinthia Hotel by the Malta Amateur Radio Society, Gaston Tonna Barthet presented the first financial help with the compliments of the Order of the Knights Hospitallers, with a promise to think and help when the financial situation of the knights warrants it.
October, 1971 saw the establishment of the Gozo Amateur Radio Society (GARS).
In June 1972, the Malta Amateur Radio Society and the Central Amateur Radio Society amalgamated to form a federation to be known as the Malta Amateur Radio League (MARL). This year the Federation had to move their headquarters from the Government School of Attard to alternative and more suitable premises at the Attard Parish Hall. These premises where kindly offered, free of charge, by the Parish Priest, Father Dalmas. Professor Gaston Tonna Barthet, together with Mr.Robbie Galea inaugurated the premises and the professor presented a range of wireless equipment to Mr.J.G Vella, as the President of the Radio League. A new call sign was issued by the Wireless Telegraphy Office as 9H1MRL. Amongst the guest present for the ceremony of this occasion were: Roger Dumn, of the British Forces Broadcasting Services and members of the Government W/T Office.
The first female member of the M.A.R.L to obtain an amateur radio licence was Miss Loraine Fenech; at present know as Mrs. Loraine Heinrich. She is still a very active radio amateur on the microphone or at the Morse key, operating in different parts of the World, accomplished by her radio amateur husband. The couple have operated in Montreal, Germany, South Africa and other places.
Aid to people in distress was given by members of the Malta Amateur Club in 1974 by relaying messages for help during the invasion of Cyprus.
In January 1979, the National Radio Club of Balzan changed the club’s name to the Amateur radio and Electronics Club (AREC).
For the first time in Malta, a member of the Malta Amateur Radio League, Mr.Charles Borg of St.Julians, was the first blind person in Malta to qualify for an amateur radio licence in 1981. At present there are 3 blind members of the Malta Amateur Radio League who are in possession of the radio licence. These people are called “white stick operators”. This hobby makes them able to contact their friends all over the World, and certainly make their life safer and easier in going places. Instructional Lectures, in order to obtain their licences was mostly given by their club in Attard and by the Technical Institute in Paola under the direction of Rom Meacham who is also a radio amateur.
In September 1981, M.A.R.L applied for the requisite licence to enable the Maltese radio amateurs to operate VHF mobile, and make use of handheld transmitters. One can recall the fact that in 1970, the first temporary licence to operate mobile transmission was issued to Norman Polan, whose normal call sign was 9H1BX, and was prominent and active member of M.A.R.L, was allocated a special call sign 9H1ITU to operate mobile. Various amateur stations in Malta and abroad were surprised by this fact and indeed aroused World-wide interest.
A federation of local Amateur Radio Societies was officially launched in September 1982, and in the following month a 9H-VHF-UHF and SHF Group was formed.
The Malta Amateur Radio League transferred its premises from the Parochial Centre of Attard a new Headquarters at the Industrial Centre on the Notabile Road, Attard.
Permission for the use of Mobile and Handheld transmission was granted by the authorities, together with permission to experiment on SSTV in June 1985.
Government Notice No.50, re. Authorizing the use of the word “MALTA” to the Malta Amateur Radio League was issued in January 1985 and in November of the same year M.A.R.L installed a VHF repeater in Mdina on frequency 14.5775 MHz – repeater No.7 (R7). This repeater helps radio amateurs to retransmit their low power signal and receive signals from most of the areas in Malta, Gozo and also the southern part of Sicily. Later on, the Amateur Radio and Electronics Club, and the Gozo Amateur Radio Society installed other repeaters in Malta and Gozo.
Permission for the use of new frequencies, such as the 18 MHz, 25 MHz and the 50 MHz bands was given to the radio hams by the local authorities; together with experimental transmission on 10 GHz.
A serious traffic accident occurred in 1986, and radio amateurs were able to send messages to enable an ambulance to arrive on the spot at Ta’ Qali without delay.
In September, 1987, a 50 MHz (9H1SIX) beacon donated by the United Kingdom Six Meter Group (UKSMG) became operational at the Malta Amateur Radio League Headquarters in Attard.
In the winter of the Year 1988, two big storms hit Malta is the space of a month, luckily there was no low of life. But both storms caused a great deal of material damage. However, things might have turned out differently had it not been for the courage and help given by a group of radio amateurs, using their battery operated portable equipment to help the authorities, most especially the police and fire brigade in transmitting urgent and important messages from localities where the normal telephone system was not functioning satisfactorily.
Very often in such circumstances, there is no way to pass messages in a normal way except by battery operated transmitters with the aid of the use of VHF repeaters installed by the radio amateurs. In Birkirkara, alone, some people would have drowned had it not been for some amateurs’ help in keeping in contact with fire brigades to help some families who were trapped in the basement of their houses and others who were in their car moving along in the fierce full rain current.
Two memorials to the Italian Societies and one of the first radio amateur, Gugliemo Marconi, were placed at the upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta. One was unveiled by His Excellency Paul Xuereb, as Acting President of the Republic of Malta on the 15th July 1988, and the other one was inaugurated by the Albert Einstein International Academy Foundation, and the Marquis Giuseppe Scicluna, to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of his receiving the Noble Prize for Physics. The latter marble and bronze memorial was unveiled by His Excellency the President of Malta, Dr.Vincent Tabone on the 5th July 1989.
It will be remembered that Gugliemo Marconi, born in 1874 in Bologna to an Italian father and Irish mother was a pioneer of Wireless Telegraphy and radio amateur, who ate the age of 21, he achieved clear radio transmissions from distances of 2,400 meters leading to regular trans-Atlantic radio telegraphic services in 1902. Maltese personnel were also involved in some of Marconi’s experiments as crew members of the “Electra”.
The Maltese radio amateurs hope that in the near future the responsible authorities will take advantage to work more closely with the local radio amateur clubs by fixing a special radio frequency within the amateur bands to enable radio amateurs to make easy contact with the police, health authorities and fire brigade, in abnormal and urgent times.
Recently, during the Albania crises which also to some extent effected Malta, we have seen how radio amateurs from the Malta Amateur Radio League and the Amateur Radio and Electronics Club, have given a 24hours service from Bugibba to St.Luke’s Hospital, a quick and effective response, and the provision of excellent communication network determined the overall success of the whole operation during the day and night, freely and with good spirit.
This type of amateur radio communication was also prevalent during His Holiness the Pope’s visit to, when radio amateurs in Malta and Gozo were seen al over the Pope’s routs in Malta and Gozo, assisting the authorities, being the police, ambulances and church in case some accident occurred or to transmit the exact position where His Holiness is at some particular moment. In fact each radio amateur received a kind certificate in recognition of his active part of such a function.
On other occasions radio hams took part in Marathons, Malta – Sicily Wind Surf races, in the Iraq – Kuwait War when some amateurs were in contact with the Maltese Bishop in Kuwait, Monsignor Adeodato Micallef.
Amateur Radio proved also its worth during the recent Russian Coup when other means of communication were unavailable.
The above short history of radio amateurism in the Maltese Islands show that many amateurs have sufficient technical knowledge and capabilities, even at the early part of the century.
The Malta Amateur Radio League congratulated the Radio Society of Great Britain on the attainment if the 75th Anniversary, Year 1988. It will be recalled that the Malta Amateur radio League has been in touch with the Wireless Society of London since 1922. And it has followed the wonderful progress of this society since 1922, and has gladly accepted the help given to our members on Malta, for which we are grateful.
The general public should also know that amateur radio services are for self training interconnection, technical investigation and experimentation with personal aim without pecuniary interest.
The local radio hams have advances so much in their experimentation, that at present, some of these have been able to use the moon, meteoroids and other satellites for their communications with the various continents. This can be proved by the great number of radio amateurs who are found in the civil service, factories and other places where the knowledge of electronics is greatly desired and required.
It is now more then ever said that telecommunications is the nerve centre of modern society, and without it, the present modern complex of life we lead to day, would break down completely. Telecommunications as indispensable as the nerve system is to our bodies.
Walter A. Gatt