Bombardment of Ellwood, 1942

sub attacks oilfield

Goleta Valley Historical Society image, via American Oil and Gas Historical Society.

On this night 75 years ago, the mainland United States saw its first attack of the war, in the Bombardment of Ellwood, near Santa Barbara, California, on February 23, 1942.

The event served to trigger a scare of a West Coast invasion, and was a major factor in the decision to intern Japanese-Americans.

The shelling was done by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-18, under the command of Kozo Nishino. Four days earlier, on the night of February 19, the ship covertly landed on Point Loma, San Diego, to determine its position. It then headed north along the California coast.

At about 7:00 PM on February 23, the sub came to a stop off the Ellwood oil field. At 7:15, iit fired its first shot at an oil storage tank. Very little damage was done, and some of the shells landed as far as a mile inland. There was some damage to the pier, and a derrick and pump house were destroyed. There were a total of about 20 shots, after which the sub headed south toward Los Angeles.

One witness reported that the sub had flashed signal lights toward the shore. While this probably did not happen, it was used to support the internment of Japanese-Americans.

The next night, February 24, was the “Battle of Los Angeles,” in which anti-aircraft guns were used against probably nonexistent enemy aircraft.

Commander Nishino had been to Ellwood previously.  Before the war, he had commanded a merchant ship, which had taken on fuel at Ellwood.  While walking to a formal welcoming ceremony, he tripped and fell onto a patch of prickly pear cactus.  Apparently, nearby oil workers laughed at the sight of the commander having cactus pulled from his buttocks.  Most of the shelling took place within a thousand yards of the spot where he had visited.

Heathkit Single-Banders, 1967

1967FebPE2Fifty years ago this month, Popular Electronics for February 1967 carried this product announcement for the Heathkit Single-Bander transceivers, the HW-12A, HW-22A, and HW-32A, transceivers for the ‘phone portions of the 80, 40, and 20 meter bands.

Priced in kit form at only $104.95, the radios were well received and proved popular for mobile use, along with the accompanying mobile power supply. An earlier version of the sets (without the “A” suffix) had come out three years earlier, and these 1967 models offered more features at a lower price.

A full review for the 20 meter version appeared in the May 1967 issue of 73 Magazine, which can be viewed at this link.

British Women in Wireless, 1942

1942FebWirelessWorldSeventy-five years ago, the War was new for Americans, but Britain had been at war for over two years. As America would also soon discover, labor shortages meant that women would play an increasing role in the workplace and even the military.

The cover of the British magazine Wireless World from February 1942 here shows British women in wireless.  This cover illustration shows women doing practical work on a field set.  The magazine notes that women continued to invade the hitherto predominantly masculine field of radio.  In the illustration below, a group of “girls” are shown practicing their Morse skills.




The ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event concluded on December 31, 2016. During this year-long event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), Amateur Radio operators set up their stations in NPS units to make contacts with other stations at home.

1494 hams participated as “activators” by setting up stations in the parks, and almost 17,000 participated by making contacts with them. A total of just over 1.1 million individual two-way contacts resulted. I closed out the year with a total of 59 activations, putting me in 64th place nationwide. I made contact with 329 different parks, giving me a ranking of 386th place out of those 17,000.

The March 2017 issue of QST contains an excellent article summarizing the year’s activity, and it is available for free PDF download at the ARRL website.

Even though NPOTA has now ended, there was a great deal of interest in continuing it in some fashion.  The activity isn’t as frenzied, but many hams are continuing to get out to the parks and do activations as part of World Wide Flora and Fauna in Amateur Radio (WWFF).  WWFF is a very similar concept to NPOTA, but as the name implies, it is worldwide.

The program got its start in about 2008 in Russia by the Russian Robinson Club, and has been very popular in Australia and Europe.  During my activations, there were a number of familiar European stations who kept working me, undoubtedly as part of the WWFF program.  With the tie-in to NPOTA, the North American chapter of WWFF has achieved similar popularity.

While NPOTA focused on National Parks and other NPS properties, WWFF includes many other parks, including most state parks in the United States. I haven’t been on the air yet from the parks, but in addition to the local NPS units I was able to activate in 2016, I can now do similar operations from other metro area locations, such as William O’Brien State Park, Fort Snelling State Park, and Afton State Park, as well as from most of the other state parks in Minnesota and surrounding states.

Most of my activations during 2016 focused on metro-area parks, but some of them, such as my activations of the Lewis & Clark Trail and the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, were done in conjunction with business travel.  Great minds obviously think alike, as shown by Vance, N3VEM‘s recent activation of a metropolitan park in Florida while traveling for business.


Photo courtesy of N3VEM.

As he details at his blog, he recently had a business trip to Florida from his home in Pennsylvania. He immediately began researching parks in the area, and discovered Oleta River State Park, which is actually located minutes from downtown Miami. Rather than book a stay in a more conventional hotel, he rented a rustic cabin at the park, which allowed him do his activation after work.  He packed his FT-857, which is almost identical to the FT-817 I used for most of my activations, the difference being that his radio puts out 100 watts as opposed to my 5 watts.  His complete station set up in the cabin is shown at the left.  His antenna consisted of dipoles for 40 and 20, shown below.


Photo courtesy of N3VEM.

One of the major successes of the NPOTA program was to encourage hams to learn new operating techniques.  In particular, many hams discovered that Morse code (CW) can be extremely effective if conditions are marginal or if the station is less than optimum.  Because NPOTA focused on portable operations, most of the activators were using stations that were less than optimal.  For that reason, more than one ham discovered or rediscovered how effective CW can be, even with extremely simple equipment.

n3vemQSOIt looks like that tradition is continuing with WWFF, since N3VEM became one of the hams to discover CW.  Vance has been licensed only since 2014, and by the time he got his license, the requirement to pass a code test to get a license had been gone for a number of years.  But even though it’s no longer required, it’s still permitted, and he used this activation to make his first ever CW contacts.  And his very first CW contact was with me!

To show how versatile CW can be, it should be pointed out that Vance didn’t even have a key with him.  But like my radio, his allows the microphone to be used as an emergency key, and he used the mike buttons to send the dots and dashes.  When I worked him, the band conditions between Florida and Minnesota were very poor, and I could barely hear his signal.  It would have been absolutely impossible to work him using voice.  But with CW, it was a fairly easy contact, despite his signal being almost completely buried in the noise.

Our first CW QSO was very slow, probably about 5 words per minute.  But I’m sure he’ll discover that speed will increase rapidly as he gets on the air, and I have no doubt that I’ll have future CW QSO’s with him.

WTCN-FM Minneapolis, 1947


Seventy years ago, the February 1947 issue of FM magazine carried this two-page ad from Federal, proudly showing off the transmitter and 80-foot-tall 8-element antenna of WTCN-FM, then on 96.1 MHz, (now KTCZ at 97.1) atop the Foshay Tower in Minnneapolis, then the city’s tallest building.

Thanks to the antenna gain, the 3 KW transmitter put out an effective radiated power of 25 KW, allowing excellent reception over the 30,000 square mile area shown on the map, extending from Duluth to Albert Lea.

Shown at the bottom is the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, whose broadcast over the station allowed listeners at home to tune in to the same brilliance and tonal quality as the studio audience.

One of the inset photos at the bottom shows Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl. At the bottom right, conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos is listening to his own orchestra over the air during a rehersal, which he proclaimed to sound “wonderful” and “magnificent.”

First Transatlantic Transistorized QSO, 1957


Sixty years ago this month, the February 1957 issue of Popular Electronics
reported a first in transistor communication, with the first transatlantic amateur contact by W1OGU over a distance of 3800 miles. His transmitter is shown here. It used two Raytheon 2N113/CK761 fusion-alloy transistors.


1957 Lamp-Crystal Set

1957RadioTVExpSixty years ago, the 1957 edition of Radio TV Experimenter showed how to make this combination lamp crystal set. It was billed as being useful not only as a lamp, but to provide Junior with a radio of his own. In an emergency, whether it was the big set being in the shop, or a power outage, it would be a source of information. And the headphones made it possible to listen late at night without disturbing others.

The crystal set circuit is unremarkable. The notable feature is the use of the electrical wiring for the antenna. The arrangment was safe, since the insulated lamp cord was simply wound a few turns around the main tuning coil, with no direct connection.



Homemade Wartime Radio Parts, 1942

1942FebRadioNewsSeventy-five years ago this month, the February 1942 issue of Radio News contained one in a series of articles on the subject of homemade parts for radio construction. While the article appears to have been written before Pearl Harbor, it acknowledged that the present emergency could sharpen its teeth still further, in which case radio men might need to make their own parts. This article focused on variable capacitors, and offered a number of ideas, as well as specific details and even formulas for computing capacity.

The first idea given is shown here, a variable capacitor consisting of two cans. The inner can would be about 1/8 to 1/2 inch smaller than the outer one. A vertical support made of wood would allow the inner can to move up and down, varying the capacitance. Since adjustment was not particularly convenient, this scheme was recommended for things such as neutralization, where the adjustment only needed to be made once.

For tuning, two ideas were offered. The sliding plate condenser shown below allowed tuning by pulling one set of plates in and out.


1942FebRadioNews3The “book” or “barn-door” capacitor is shown at left. It consists of two hinged plates. The article notes that this idea was used commercially until about 1927. In fact, it allowed adjustment with a rotary knob, by using the scheme with a cam shown below. According to the article, this system was used by Crosley in 1926.


In most cases, the insulated portions of these condensers were made of wood, and the author offers pointers on selecting wood. Other insulators are also discussed, for use in capacitors and other applications. Cardboard was offered as a good base for coils, and the article explains how to treat the cardboard with beeswax, parafin, or other substances. For coil bases, the article recommends burnt out tubes, which it notes are discarded by most shops by the bushel.

Free Tape to GI’s: 1967


Fifty years ago, sending an audio “letter” by tape was one way to keep in touch with servicemen overseas, but a home tape recorder was still a relatively rarity. So in this ad in the February 1967 issue of Popular Electronics, Radio Shack made an offer to send a tape to a GI anywhere in the world. The sender just had to come into the store, which would allow use of a recorder. They would even supply a free tape, mailer, and postage.