Chapter V

The First Greek Radio Amateurs

As no licences were issued for many years there are no official records to be consulted. Early activity was mainly in and around Athens but there may have been one or two stations in other parts of the country which we never heard in the capital. At the time of writing (1987) four of the original pioneers in the Athens area are alive and three of them are currently active on the H.F. bands.

Athanassis 'Takis' Coumbias has QSL cards addressed to him dated 1929 when he was a short wave listener in Odessa, Russia with the SWL callsign RK-1136. In 1931 his family, like many other Greek families in Russia, moved to Athens where Takis built a 4-valve transmitter with which he was very active on 40 and 20 metre CW using the callsign SV1AAA.

I frequently operated his station myself and when I asked him why he had chosen that particular callsign he gave me what proved to be a truly prophetic answer. "It will be ages", he said, "before the Greek State officially recognizes the very existence of radio amateurs and begins to issue transmitting licences to them. After that it might take another 50 years for them to get to the three-letter series beginning with SV1AAA."

In actual fact this is what happened: legislation was enacted 40 years later and the callsign SV1AAA was officially allocated to Nikita Venizelos after 54 years had elapsed!

Although at the time there was no official recognition of amateur radio in Greece, the existence and identity of the handful of 'under cover' operators was known to the Head of the W/T section at the Ministry of Posts & Telegraphs (Greek initials T.T.T.) Stefanos Eleftheriou who did more than anyone else to encourage and promote the development of our hobby. In fact, following a minor brush with the police in 1937 (described by N2DOE later in this book) Eleftheriou issued three licences 'for experimental research in connection with the propagation of short waves' on the basis of earlier legislation governing the use of wireless telegraphy which really had nothing to do with amateur radio. The recipients of these three licences were Costas 'Bill' Tavaniotis SV1KE, Aghis Cazazis SV1CA and Nikos Katselis SV1NK. As there were no relevant regulations the choice of callsign was left to the individual operators. For instance, Tavaniotis ran his own electrical and electronic business called Konstav Electric so he decided to use "KE" as his callsign.

As far as I know the following ten amateurs were active in the Athens area in 1937:

1.Takis Coumbias.....................SV1AAA

2.'Bill' Tavaniotis..................SV1KE (silent key)

3.Polycarpos Psomiadis..............SV1AZ (now N2DOE)

4.Aghis Cazazis......................SV1CA (silent key)

5.Nikos Katselis.....................SV1NK (silent key)

6.George Zarifis...............SV1SP/SV6SP (now SV1AA)

7.Nasos Coucoulis....................SV1SM (silent key)

8.George Yiapapas....................SV1GY (now QRT)

9.Menelaos Paidousis.................SV1MP

10.Norman Joly........................SV1RX (now G3FNJ)

In 1952 Costas Karayiannis who ran a big business called Radio Karayianni published an amazingly comprehensive book entitled Elliniki Radiofonia which means 'Greek Broadcasting'. It contained a vast treasure of information on many subjects allied to broadcasting, and there was a page entitled Dawn (1930-1940) which dealt with amateur radio activity in Greece before World War II. It confirmed most of the names listed above as can be seen in the photo-copy of the original Greek text, and it mentioned three others: George Gerardos SV1AG, (silent key), S.Stefanou and Mikes Psalidas who was allocated the callsign SV1AF 20 years later, though he, like many others had come on the air after the end of the war with an unofficial callsign.

Were all these operators who functioned strictly in accordance with international regulations pirates? In my view they were certainly not pirates. If the State was officially unaware of the existence of amateur radio how could they apply for licences and be issued with official callsigns?

Later in this book N2DOE describes how a handful of amateurs had prepared draft legislation in 1937 at the request of Stefanos Eleftheriou of the Ministry but the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 had prevented him from taking any action in this connection.

The island of Crete in southern Greece was first heard on the air in 1938 when George Zarifis came on 40 metre CW using the callsign SV6SP. His transmitter consisted of a single metal 6L6 crystal oscillator with an input of about 7 watts. For reception he used an American Case broadcast receiver in which he had fitted a BFO. In a very short period he had about 500 QSOs.

Forty four years later some of the younger generation of operators who had not heard of this early activity from Crete allocated the prefix SV9 to the island. Rather illogically they allocated SV8 to all the other islands irrespective of their geographical position and with yet another exception--SV5 for the twelve Dodecanese islands.

General George Zarifis (retired) SV1AA as he is now, had started playing with 'wireless' a long long time before he went to Crete. In 1921 when he was in the 4th form at school he had bought two kits of parts from France and put them together with the help of his fellow-student George Grabinger. The kit consisted of a bright emitter triode in an oscillating circuit. The heater supply was a 4 volt accumulator, and a dozen or so dry cells, with an earphone in series, supplied the anode voltage. The tuned circuit consisted of a coil with a small pressure operated capacitor across it. A carbon microphone with a dry cell in series was connected to two or three turns of wire wound over the coil. The assembled kits were tested close to each other and they worked. Later, when they had connected random length wire antennas to the circuits the two schoolboys were able to talk to each other across the 400 metres which separated their homes. These contacts quite definitely heralded the dawn of amateur radio in Greece at about the same time as the 1921 Transatlantic tests were taking place.

On the 1st of September 1939 Hitler's armies invaded Poland. Great Britain which had a treaty with Poland was compelled to declare war on Germany two days later on the 3rd, followed by France. Canada and Australia declared war on Germany the next day. All the radio amateurs in Athens immediately dismantled their transmitters and dispersed the components.

So ended the first phase of amateur radio activity in Greece.