RADIO BYGONES- A HISTORY OF THE CALLBOOK
By Jerry Proc VE3FAB
This article  is intended to provide a summary about the Radio Amateur Callbook “Flying Horse” series.

The “Flying Horse” Radio Amateur Callbook, in hard copy telephone book  format, had been providing listings of amateur radio callsigns since the early 1920s. However, modern technology  led to its demise in 1997 then its resurrection in a CD-ROM format until 2002 when the plug was pulled on the CD-ROM.  The first edition of the callbook appeared some time around 1920 or 1922 until it was discontinued in 1997 by the publisher Watson-Guptil of New York.   Watson-Guptil, founded in 1937, eventually became a division  of  BPI Communications, New York. BPI’s Editorial and  Customer Service offices were located in Lakewood, NJ.  The  hardcopy format of the callbook was the one that would serve the amateur radio community for most of its life. It is not known when Watson-Guptil took over publication after its founding in 1937,  but it probably would have been some time afterwards.

It  was a bit challenging to find out the actual first year of  publication for the Flying Horse callbook. The web site (ITFM) selling the 2019 version of the CD-ROM indicates that 2020 will be the 100th anniversary of the callbook thus making the first year of publication in 1920. However, a   cover from the 1997 edition indicates  that it’s a 75th anniversary issue thus placing its first year of publication in 1922.  The 55th anniversary issue in 1977 also places the first edition date in 1922 so that must be the correct year. Perhaps the Flying Horse callbook published under a different name from 1920 to 1922.  That seems to be the most logical explanation. ARRL HQ was not able to confirm the 1922 date.
 

/1920_Amateur_Callbook.jpg /citizens_callbook_sample.jpg
US Department of Commerce Amateur radio listings circa 1920. Citzens Call book. The year was not  printed on the cover.

The Flying Horse callbook was not without competition. The US Department of Commerce published its own callbook from 1920 to 1931. Another source of listings  was “The Citizens Radio Call Book” which published from  1921 to 1932.  It listed both  amateur (including Canada) and commercial US stations.  This call book was published twice per year from 1920 to 1925.   Then it ramped up to four issues a year until the publication  was absorbed by Radio News. Another player in the game was the “Radio Directory and Publishing Company” of New York. Eventually, most of these callbooks fell by the wayside thus leaving  the market open  for domination by the Flying Horse callbook. Initially, the callbook was just one publication, however as the number of operators grew , it became necessary to split the callbook into a North American edition and  a Foreign edition.  The combined callbook likely continued well into the 1950s.

These hardcopy callbooks would persevere for many decades to come , however in 1997, Watson-Guptill phased out its long-familiar  North American and International Callbooks on their 75th edition, citing "rising costs and increasing demand for electronic publishing”. One of the services offered to callbook subscribers  was a free  on-line update service. In order to use this service, the subscriber needed  a computer attached to a 28.8 kbps modem and software which could emulate a DEC VT100A dumb terminal.

From 1997 to 2002, the callbook was offered in a CD-ROM format until rising costs and demand for on-line lookups put it out of business in the summer of 2002. That event was reported in an ARRL news release dated February 4, 2003. The callbook however, was not  yet ready for burial. It was going to be resurrected but in a different form.

A German firm, ITFM--Informations-Technologie für Menschen  (translated:  Information Technology for People) purchased the rights to the Radio Amateur Callbook from Watson-Guptil , who had  grounded the Flying Horse.  The sale included rights to the Flying Horse logo and the Callbook archive. ITFM inked the deal on January 15, 2003.  Two German radio amateurs, namely, Heinz  Kamper DK4EI and Thomas Gudehus DB3 ZX were the principals  who were key in arranging the deal. It took a while to clinch the sale due to some other competition, however the  new CD-ROM  by ITFM was made ready for the 2003  Dayton Hamvention.

Kamper and Gudehus said their Radio Amateur Callbook CD-ROM for summer 2003,  would be a new and improved product,  with an offering  of twice-yearly revisions. They  promised "the most complete and most accurate  amateur radio callsign database.  Besides data on more than 1.6 million amateurs, there would be information about DXCC entities, DX station QSL managers and even details on recent DXpeditions. The new product would  work just as the previous one.   Kamper and Gudehus had also left some 280 hard-copy editions (11 boxes  in total) of the Radio Amateur Callbook, at ARRL Headquarters to replace worn and damaged copies in the ARRL's Callbook archive and also to fill some gaps..

By the time ITFM took over the Flying Horse callbook, they were well experienced with such a product as they  produced CD-ROM listings for the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) and for the Deutscher Amateur Radio Club (DARC) in Germany. They've also made available ,  a German logging program called ARMap that includes detailed map information.

Kamper, a ham since 1969, was general manager for 22 years of DARC Verlag, the DARC's publishing arm. Gudehus is an electrical engineer and programmer. He was licensed in 1986 at age 16. ITFM has contracted with InfoTech Internet Services (WC4H) in Miami, Florida, to be their distributor in the Americas The CD-ROM  callbook is currently available from the ARRL web site as well as from ITFM .

callbook_1932.jpg /callbook_1997.jpg
The  Winter 1932 edition of the Callbook. It cost $1 at the time.  (Image courtesy ARRL)  According to the ARRL news release of  Feb 4, 2003, this was the last edition of the callbook in hardcopy format. Download image to enlarge.
(Image courtesy http://archive.org) 
As for the Flying Horse logo, it doesn't look quite the same on the new products as it did in the 1920s and 1930s but it remains readily recognizable. As a minor point in spelling, how should the name of the publication be spelled – “call book” or “callbook” ?  Both forms are correct. It depends on the vintage of the callbook which is being referred to. “Call book” is the old term. “Callbook” is the new term, the one which has been used throughout  this story.

John Gilbert , a historical radio researcher, donated a number of  old  callbooks to the Canada Science and Technology Museum  in Ottawa. The
“Amateur Radio Call Book”, published by Radio Directory and Publishing Company of New York, Vol 1, Number 3, December 1922, is perhaps, a predecessor of the Flying Horse series. It contains Canadian listings and some Canadian advertising along with a list of Canadian broadcast stations. Sample publications in the “Flying Horse” series comprise of  the following:

Spring, 1932          US and Foreign Listings
Fall, 1946                 US and Foreign Listings
Summer, 1948        US and Foreign Listings
Spring, 1949            US and Foreign Listings; Watson-Guptil
Winter, 1949-50    US and Foreign Listings;
Winter 1950-51    US and Foreign Listings;
Fall, 1951               US and Foreign Listings;
Spring, 1954          US and Foreign Listings;
1977                        Foreign Listings (including Canada). 55th Anniversary Edition.

In 2019, the callbook is being offered in both a CD-ROM version and a USB stick from the ITFM web site at: http://www.callbook.biz/ . Besides English, it supports listings in  Spanish, German and French languages. In 2019, there are 1.6 million listings worldwide.

Hardcopy callbooks from various years can be found at this web site:
 https://archive.org/search.php?query=amateur+radio+callbook&sort=titleSorter&page=2
Bibliography:

To contact the author with feedback: jerry.proc@sympatico.ca

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1) ARRL news release on the CD-ROM callbook. http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2003/02/04/2/?nc=1
(no longer on-line)
2) John Gilbert  jgilbert@ca.inter.net
3) https://archive.org/search.php?query=amateur+radio+callbook&sort=titleSorter
4) Citizens cover page sample     https://www.americanradiohistory.com/Citizens-Radio-Call-Book-Master-Page.htm
5) 1997 callbook cover https://archive.org/stream/1997_Radio_Amateur_Callbook/
1997_Radio_Amateur_Callbook_Front#mode/2up

Return to Radio Reading Room