Monthly Archives: November 2015

Amateur Station 9CXX, 1925


Ninety years ago this month, in an article entitled “Riding the Shortwaves,” Radio Age (November 1925) carried this photo of the efficient, but surprisingly simple, amateur station of 16 year old 9CXX, located at 514 Fairview Drive, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  The article was an introduction to amateur radio, and pointed out that stations such as the one shown here could pull in stations from around the world with a three-tube receiver, “while broadcast listeners are using receivers with five to nine tubes.”

The article focused on the station of young 9CXX because in the summer of 1925, the then-15-year-old amateur had come to prominence by being the only station who managed to keep in touch with WNP, the station of the MacMillan Arctic expedition aboard the Bowdoin.

9cxxRxA schematic of the 9CXX receiver is shown here.  It was also followed by two stages of audio amplification, which are not shown.  As can be seen, the circuit is very simple.  While the receiver is regenerative, it has no regeneration control.  Instead, the regeneration was adjusted by reaching in and carefully moving the two coils.  And in order to avoid capacity effects, the tuning condenser (which had to be of the highest quality, according to the article) had no type of vernier dial.  Instead, the shaft had an eraser mounted at the end which was used to carefully tune the set.  With the two stages of audio, it was reported that the Arctic expedition had come in loud and clear to the point that the operator could remove the headphones and hear the voices of the crew throughout the room.


9CXX had two transmitters, shown here.  The one on the right put out 50 watts, and the one on the left 1000 watts.  The high power transmitter used 4000 volts on the plate.  When the power supply caused the house lights to dim, the 15 year old installed a new 20 amp circuit, running a heavy cable up from the house’s service box.  The contacts with the Arctic were made on 15, 16, and 21 meters.  He routinely made contact with Australia, usually on 40 meters.

When the young ham made his contacts with the Arctic, it was with antennas installed in a tree.  “Having built a dream house, on Colonial lines, his parents were thinking more of architectural beauty than of scientific achievement, and poles are likely to be unsightly.  But since their son established his remarkable record there have been erected on the roof two thirty-foot masts.”

If the call sign looks vaguely familiar, that’s because it was held by someone who went on to continued prominence in radio, Arthur A. “Art” Collins, who later held the calls W9CXX and W0CXX.  Collins built is first radio, a crystal set using a Quaker Oats box, at age 9.  By 1923, after attending a two-day radio course at Iowa State University in Ames, he had his amateur license.  In 1931, then married, he decided to turn his hobby into a business and started Collins Radio in his basement at 1620 Sixth Ave. S.E., Cedar Rapids.

He formally incorporated the company in 1933, and by 1954, the company, now Rockwell-Collins, had sales of $80 million. The company remained a leading producer of broadcast transmitters until the 1970’s, and also produced amateur equipment most of that time.  Along with fellow  amateur General Curtis LeMay, Collins played a large role in the adoption of SSB voice by the U.S. military.

A good biography of Art Collins can be found at WA3KEY’s site.

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1980 Version of 1920’s One Tube Regenerative Receiver


Nostalgia is nothing new, and today, we take a nostalgic look 35 years back at the November-December 1980 issue of Elementary Electronics.  That magazine was itself taking a nostalgic look back at the early days of radio with a construction article for this one-tube regenerative receiver, similar to the circuits in use in the 1920’s. The author, James Rozen, notes that “even if you are somewhat of an advanced hobbyist, you can still delight in an antique technology as you listen to the radio by the glow of your venerable vacuum tube.”  Our readers will certainly agree with that sentiment.

Even in 1980, some of the required parts were becoming unobtanium, and the author gives some pointers on tracking them down, many of which are still valid today. He starts by pointing out that while the plans call for a type 30 tube, many other suitable replacements will work just fine, and he lists a number. The only modifications that would need to be made are the tube sockets and filament voltages. He notes that the coil forms “are becoming rare items,” but could be found “if you scrounge enough.” Today, even the most dedicated of scrounger might face difficulty. But the good news is that you can make them yourself quite easily with a burnt out tube (of which millions still exist) and a piece of PVC pipe, along with some patience and glue. AA8V’s site has a good set of instructions for doing so.  And for pointers on finding other parts that might be hard to come by, check out my crystal set parts page and my how to stock your junk box page.

1980RegenSchematicThe circuit itself is a very straightforward regenerative receiver covering the broadcast band.  In addition to the tube and plug-in coils, it includes a tuning capacitor, a variable resistor for the regeneration control, two fixed capacitors, one fixed resistor, and one RF choke.  The set is mounted on a 7×8 inch wood base.  The example shown here uses a plastic front panel, but it is pointed out that almost anything will serve the purpose.

In the 1920’s, someone would make a set like the one shown here because it would be an inexpensive way to get a receiver as good as any commercial set.  Half a century later, it was an exercise in nostalgia.  But there’s nothing wrong with nostalgia.

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British “Pocket One-Valver” from 1945


Seventy years ago this month, the British magazine Practical Wireless (November 1945) carried the plans for this miniature one-tube receiver only slightly larger than a matchbox.

The tube called for by this set is a type XL triode, manufactured by Hivac Ltd. of Harrow-on-the-Hill, starting in 1935. It measures 62 x 16 mm, with a 1.5 volt filament, and the article called for a B+ voltage of 24-30 volts, although it noted that a higher voltage resulted in better performance. (This means, of course, that the batteries would be much larger than the radio itself.)

The exact replacement tube is probably unobtanium, but a suitable substitute could probably be found. You can find some discussion of the tube at this link.

1955OneValveSchematicThe author notes that the set could tune both long and medium wave (with band switching accomplished by shorting two connections on the front panel). He noted that three or four stations could be picked up during the day, with numerous stations from the Continent coming in at night.

The cabinet shown here was made of 1/16 inch plywood. To save space, the coil was wound on a form that slipped over the tube. The variable capacitors were a dual trimmer capacitor, with the adjusting screw replaced by a metal rod with an insulated end to serve as the knob. To further save space, the set had no on-off switch. Instead, to turn the set off, the filament battery was merely disconnected. An external antenna was necessary, and the author reported good results with a 15 foot wire. A ground connection was not absolutely required, but the author did report better results when using a skewer for a ground connection when using the receiver outside.

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Battle of Fort Rivière, 1915

Battle of Fort Rivière. USMC image.

Battle of Fort Rivière. USMC image.

A hundred years ago today, November 17, 1915, the United States fought the Battle of Fort Rivière.  Chances are, most Americans have never heard of this battle, even though it resulted in three Medals of Honor being awarded to U.S. marines or sailors.

Among the Medal of Honor recipients was then-Major, later General Smedley Darlington Butler, who led the U.S. forces in the battle, which was part of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, which had begun on July 28, 1915.  The occupation had been motivated by two factors.  Those factors overlap a great deal, and historians have debated the relative importance of each.  First of all, there was a need to protect U.S. commercial interests in Haiti.  The country had potential with agriculture, minerals, and ports.  American interests were hampered by, among other things, the fact that foreigners were not allowed to own property.

The other concern was German influence in the Western Hemisphere, and the United States viewed Germany as having too much influence in Haiti.  While the German population was quite small, it did have a very great commercial influence, since a very large portion of the commercial activity was controlled by German families with strong ties to the old country.  Also, the Germans were more willing to marry in to prominent Mulatto families, thus skirting the property ownership laws.

President Wilson sent in the marines in July, and the largest battle took place on November 17 as U.S. sailors and marines stormed an old French fort where the peasant rebels were holed up.  The battle against the poorly equipped rebels was over quickly.  Over 50 rebels were killed.  The only U.S. casualty was a marine who had two teeth knocked out by a rock thrown at him by one of the rebels.  While a few later skirmishes took place, this was the decisive battle.

Under the occupation, Haiti adopted a new constitution written by then-Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It gave U.S. officials more or less absolute veto power over acts of the Haitian government, and also guaranteed foreigners the right to own property.

The occupation did have the result of modernizing Haiti.  For example, Port-au-Prince became the first location in the Caribbean to have an automated dial telephone system.  Also, Haiti had radio broadcasting as early as 1926, as reported in the February 26, 1927, issue of Radio World.

General Smedley Butler

An adult male looking to the right in a military uniform; military ribbons are visible.

General Smedley Butler. Wikipedia photo.

As a result of the battle, Butler received the first of his two Medals of Honor, and he went on to become, at the time, the nation’s most decorated military hero, and made a name for himself two other times off the battlefield.

The first was in in 1934 when he testified before the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities, revealing what came to be known as the “Business Plot.”

He testified that he had been called upon by business leaders to lead a march of veterans on Washington, at which point he would stage a coup against President Roosevelt. Roosevelt would be kept on as a puppet figure, with Butler wielding most of the power. Butler had been a key figure in earlier marches by veterans, was respected as a military leader, and the conspirators, most of whose names were never publicly revealed, planned to use Butler as their puppet, so he testified.

The Committee, and the American press, generally dismissed Butler’s testimony as an implausible conspiracy theory.  The phrase “tinfoil hat” hadn’t yet been coined, but if it had, it probably would have been applied to Butler.  Compounding the problem was that Butler seemingly hadn’t named any names, although this wasn’t entirely true.  He had named names, but since most of his allegations amounted to hearsay, the Committee had refused to make them public.

The most plausible explanation, it seems to me, is that there was indeed a conspiracy to overthrow the government, and that Butler was approached to lead it. It doesn’t appear that he had any motive to fabricate the story. However, it also seems likely to me that the conspiracy wasn’t as large as he was led to believe by those who approached him.

In 1935, based upon his experiences as a career military officer, Butler published “War is a Racket,” a widely-distributed pamphlet in which he argues that war is, indeed, a racket, which he summarized as follows:

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

Butler’s recommendation was to make war unprofitable by conscripting soldiers only after conscripting capital.  Of course, the naysayers would say that this runs roughshod over private property which, of course, it does.  But conscription of soldiers also runs roughshod over their own personal liberties, so the idea doesn’t strike me as too farfetched.  Butler also recommended that the declaration of war be done not by congress, but by a referendum of those subject to service, and also a restriction of the military to self-defense only.

The book is available online at numerous places, including


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Sealing of Warsaw Ghetto, 1940

Seventy-five years ago today, November 16, 1940, the Nazis sealed the Warsaw Ghetto, after moving about 400,000 people into the 1.3 square mile area. The total death toll is estimated to be at least 300,000. At least 254,000 of this number were sent to the Treblinka extermination camp. Average food rations for the residents were 184 calories, as compared to 2613 calories for Germans.

Immediately before the war, Warsaw had a Jewish population of 300,000.  It’s estimated that fewer than ten percent survived the war.

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1890’s Edison Phonograph


Sixty years ago this month, Radio News, November 1955, carried this photo recreating an American living room sixty years before that, in the 1890’s.  The photograph was staged by NBC, and the photo taken by Jack Zwillinger.  It features an Edison Talking machine.

We’re at a distinct advantage over those in 1955, since we have the capability of listening to many of those early recordings.  In 1955, the fragile cylinders would have been too precious to play on the original equipment.  Fortunately, many of these recordings, some well over a century old, have been digitized and made available on the internet by the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive and others.  The Library of Congress also has thousands of recordings online, although most of their collection are discs recorded after the turn of the Twentieth Century.  To get an idea of what the woman in the photo might have been listening to, this link will allow you to play The Last Rose of Summer, an 1894 Edison recording.

While the ornate horn is obviously an upscale version of the instrument, a phonograph was already becoming affordable to Americans in the 1890’s, and the scene depicted here would not have been extraordinary.  By 1900, a basic Edison machine could be had for about $10, with the cylinders going for about $5 per dozen.

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Coventry Blitz, 1940

One of the most devastating air attacks of World War II occurred 75 years ago tonight, with the bombing of Coventry, November 14, 1940.

The city, with a population of about 238,000, was an industrial center, with residential areas interspersed amongst the factories. That night, in an operation code named Operation Mondscheinsonate (Moonlight Sonata), 515 German bombers took off to destroy the city’s industrial capacity. The 36 anti-aircraft guns protecting the city managed to shoot down only one bomber. One of the first waves of incindiary bombing started over 200 fires, and also destroyed much of the telephone network, making command of the fire brigades nearly impossible. Damage to water mains also made it impossible to fight many of the fires.

4300 homes were destroyed, with about two thirds of the city’s buildings suffering damage. Much of the city’s center was destroyed, and over a third of the city’s factories were put totally out of commission.

Over five hundred were killed in the raid, with over a thousand injured.

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For Younger Readers

Also on this day in history:  One hundred years ago today, November 14, 1915, Booker T. Washington died.  Born into slavery in Virginia in 1856, Washington rose to prominence, serving as head of the Tuskegee Institute.  Among those he led was George Washington Carver, whom he hired in 1896.  Washington was the first African-American to be invited to the White House, by President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1901.

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1970 One Tube Superhet

1970OneTubeThe plans for this one-tube receiver appeared in the Fall-Winter 1970 issue of Electronic Hobbyist, a special issue put out by the publishers of Elementary Electronics.  Even though it’s a one-tube set, it’s really the functional equivalent of the “All American Five” five-tube receiver, whose reign was just ending about that time.  The one tube employed was a 6M11, a triple tube consisting of two triodes and a pentode.  The three sections of the tube acted as local oscillator, IF amp, and AF amp.  The detector was a 1N34 diode, and the rectifier was a solid-state bridge rectifier.  So as one-tube broadcast radios go, this is about as sophisticated as they get.

As revealed by the picture, the author concedes, “we didn’t attempt to make the front panel an artistic masterpiece. You may want to make yours more attractive by restyling the dial plate and /or the speaker grille.”

“New old stock” examples of the tube are available at a reasonable price.  The parts that might prove to be unobtanium are the loopstick antenna, oscillator coil, and IF transformer.  If you have an old AA5 that’s beyond repair, the best course of action might be to scavenge them from it.



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1945 Stromberg Carlson Radio


Seventy years ago, the War was over, and American radio manufacturers were getting ready to deliver on the pent-up demand for radios, which had been out of production since early 1942. Stromberg-Carlson was no exception, as shown by this ad in Life Magazine, November 12, 1945, promising that the sets shown here would soon be available.

Interestingly, the FM sets covered two bands.  Since some prewar stations were still on the air on the old band, the sets covered 42-49 MHz.  But since that band would soon be depopulated and the stations moved to the new band, they also covered the modern 88-108 MHz FM band.

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Armistice Day Blizzard 75th Anniversary

Armistice Day Blizzard, Excelsior Blvd., West of Minneapolis. Minn. Historical Society photo, NOAA.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Armistice Day Blizzard, a deadly storm that hit Minnesota and surrounding states on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1940.  The strom came up suddenly and without warning, and resulted in 145 deaths, including 49 in Minnnesota.  The death toll was so high because the day started out unseasonably warm, but quickly and unexpectely turned into a severe blizzard to which many were totally unprepared.

I wrote about it previously, and focused on how amateur radio operators became involved.  A couple of names that later became familiar were involved.  Stan Burghardt, W9BJV, later W0IT, kept Watertown, South Dakota, in touch with the outside world, and Sherm Booen, W9HRT, who later became known for the World of Aviation program on WCCO-TV, was a key link from Albert Lea.

Broadcast radio also played an important role that day.  Booen was also employed by KATE radio in Albert Lea.  Even though personal messages were not normally allowed on broadcast stations, an emergency exception was made and some personal messages were broadcast.  Also, to establish contact with Mankato, the station broadcast a message and requested that KYSM in Mankato reply on its frequency.  A two-way link was established on the broadcast band, and some emergency messages were broadcast.  Local phone service was working in Albert Lea, and long-distance service was available in Mankato.  Therefore, the on-air link established a lifeline to the outside world.

In Willmar, Minnesota, station KWLM had gone on the air only a month earlier.  The station’s application had initially been rejected by the FCC on the grounds that Willmar was too small a community to warrant a station.  The blizzard proved this argument wrong, since the station provided an important link for that community as well.

The storm covered much of the Midwest, and in Chicago, it was notable as a severe wind storm. The area was hit with 65 MPH winds, the strongest since 1898. Among the victims was this 357 foot tower of a station then located in Gary, Indiana. The call letters of the station, and the cause of the tower collapse, are revealed on the transmitter building: WIND.

And now, as another Chicago broadcaster would say, you know the rest of the story.1940WIND

This image is from the November 15, 1940 issue of Broadcasting.

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