Monthly Archives: January 2016

January 23-24, 1916: 100 Degree Temperature Drop at Browning, MT

Modern day Browning, Montana. Wikipedia photo.

Modern day Browning, Montana. Wikipedia photo.

A hundred years ago today, the town of Browning, Montana experienced a 100 degree drop in temperature within 24 hours.  On January 23, the temperature was 44°F, dropping to -56°F the next day as an Arctic cold front slammed through.

The event is recorded in the Guiness Book of World Records as the greatest temperature range in a day.  While this record for temperature drop still stands, the record for greatest change was actually broken in 1972, but not immediately recognized.

NWS Observer Jim Wood at the location of the 1972 record. NOAA photo.

NWS Observer Jim Wood at the location of the 1972 record. NOAA photo.

This record was actually broken on January 14-15, 1972, at Loma, Montana.  National Weather Service cooperative observer Jim Wood recorded a temperature of -54°F at 9:00 AM local time on the 14th, which rose to 49°F by 8:00 local time the next morning, a 103 degree difference.  The dramatic change in temperature was the result of a Chinook wind from a system centered over Wisconsin.  Neither the observer nor the local weather office were aware that a record had been broken, and it was unknown to the National Climate Extremes Committee of NOAA, which had been formed in 1997 to make definitive rulings on weather records.  It was not brought to the committee’s attention until 2002.

Wood, a former member of the Montana Legislature, died in 2013 at the age of 89.


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Boswell Sisters, 1931


This photograph of the Boswell Sisters appeared 85 years ago in the January 1931 issue of What’s On The Air magazine.  They were then appearing on NBC’s Camel Pleasure Hour originating in San Francisco.

The sisters Martha (1905-58), Connie (later spelled Connee, 1907-76) and Helvetia “Vet” (1911-88) grew up in New Orleans where they studied classical music, but their mother also made sure that they were exposed to the African-American music the city had to offer. They were well known performers in New Orleans in their young teens, and in 1925, they made their first recording. The landed in California in the late 1920’s. After their NBC appearances, they moved to New York, where they had a program on CBS from 1931-33. The sisters were also shortwave pioneers, appearing in 1932 in the first broadcast of “Hello, Europe,” a CBS program beamed to Europe.

They also appeared in a number of films. One of the earliest uses of the phrase “Rock and Roll” was their rendition of a song by that title in the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round in 1934, performed here:

Even though they are not well known today, the Boswell Sisters did have a lasting impact on American music. The Andrews Sisters started out as imitators of the Boswell Sisters, and a young Ella Fitzgerald was a great fan and patterned her own singing style after Connie Boswell.

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ARRL National Parks On The Air

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail at the St. Croix River, by MDuchek at English Wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), being established on August 25, 1916.  The national parks actually predate the establishment of the NPS.  For example, the first national park, Yellowstone, was established in 1872.  Prior to 1916, the National Parks and National Monuments were individually managed under the Department of the Interior.   Today, the NPS consists of 483 administrative units, including National Parks, National Monuments, and other historic, cultural, and recreational sites.

To celebrate the anniversary, the American Radio Relay League is sponsoring an operating event known as National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) in which individual hams or groups of hams will operate from one of these 483 locations, and other hams at home will attempt to make contact with them.  So far, the event has been a great success, with about 200 activations of individual parks, and more than 2300 hams making at least one contact with those parks.

For me, the most exciting part of this event is that it allows any ham to take part in a “Field Day” type event at any time during the year.  Field Day is an annual event where hams set up portable stations at remote locations.  These stations can be either simple or elaborate, and it is an extremely popular activity.  But it only takes place once a year.  NPOTA gives an opportunity for hams to engage in the same activity on very short notice.

Every state of the Union has at least one NPS site within its borders.  Minnesota, for example, has Grand Portage National Monument, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Areas, the North Country National Scenic Trail, Pipestone National Monument, the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, and Voyageurs National Park.  Two of these, along with one Wisconsin site, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, are located conveniently to the Twin Cities, allowing an activation with little advance planning.

The two metro-area rivers, the Mississippi and St. Croix, are easy to activate because the NPOTA rules specify that the activating ham must be within 100 feet of the river.  One particularly convenient spot to do this activation (although it leaves something to be desired for radio propagation) is Raspberry Island in St. Paul.  It’s located just across (and partially underneath) the Wabasha bridge from downtown St. Paul, and most of the parking lot is within 100 feet of the river.

Last week, I did a very minimalist activation of this location, and worked 12 stations, running just 5 watts with my Yaesu FT-817into a Hamstick mobile antenna mounted with a trunk mount to the car.  Despite the minimal station, I worked stations as far away as New Hampshire and Utah in less than a half hour, and then drove home in fifteen minutes.
LOTWscreenshotWinter weather precludes many outdoor operations, but even with cold temperatures, operating mobile from a warm car is a fun way to get out and get on the air.  My next such operation will probably be from the Saint Croix Boom Site near Stillwater, where it appears that most of the parking lot is within the required 100 foot distance from the river.

When the weather gets a bit warmer, I’ll probably also do some VHF activations of the Mississippi River from one of the bridges crossing the river between Highway 169 and Hastings, all of which appear to be in the NPS unit.

One NPS unit which I wasn’t even aware existed was the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin.  It starts at the St. Croix River in Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls, at the point shown above.  Since the trail begins at the river, this spot actually counts for both NPS units.  Under the NPOTA rules, activation of a scenic trail requires that the equipment be brought in by human power, so this one cannot be done mobile, and will probably wait until this summer.  But it requires little advance preparation, it’s less than an hour from home, and I can be on the air working the pileups within a half hour of arriving.

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American Shortwave Broadcasting, 1941


Seventy-five years ago, American shortwave broadcasters were clearly gearing up for war, as shown by an article in the January 1946 issue of Popular Science.

The article reports that in 1930, there were only three short-wave stations in Europe, but by 1941, there were at least 40, with more being built all of the time. In particular, the German radio, financed by the government, was pumping out Hitler’s speeches on as many as six transmitters at a time. They were targeting South America in particular, and the Americans wanted to keep up. Two million dollars was being spent on new transmitters, and according to the article, the investment was paying off. America had previously had only two transmitters running 50,000 watts or more, WLWO of Crosely Corporation in Mason, Ohio, and WGEO, owned by GE in Schenectady, N.Y.

New stations coming online included WNBI and WRCA, owned by NBC in Bound Brook, N.J., WCBX in Wayne, N.J., owned by CBS, WCAB and WCAU in Newtown Square, Pa., Westinghouse stations WBOS in Millis, Mass. and WPIT in Saxonburg, Pa., WRUL and WRUW in Scituate, Mass., and GE stations KGEI San Francisco and WGEA South Schenectady, NY.

There were 2.1 million shortwave receivers in South America, and they were a major target for the U.S. signals. NBC reported that in 1936, it reeceived fewer than fifty letters a month from South America, but was then receiving 2500 a month. Most of them were reportedly full of praise and reported their disgust with the propaganda fed by European stations.

For more information on the shortwave broadcast bands during World War II, see some of my previous posts:

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Virginia Hall: American Spy

CIA image via Wikipedia.

CIA image via Wikipedia.

Shown here at the key of a clandestine transmitter somewhere in German-occupied France is American spy Virginia Hall.

Born in Baltimore in 1908, she had her sights set on a career in the foreign service, and landed a job as a clerk at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw in 1931. Unfortunately, while hunting in Turkey in 1932, she accidentally shot herself in the left leg, which later had to be amputated. She found herself in Paris at the start of the war and joined a French ambulance corps. After the fall of France, she made her way to London where she volunteered for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).  Her cover story was as a correspondent for the New York Post, and she spent 15 months in both Vichy and occupied France, helping to coordinate the activities of the French Underground.

Forged identification certificate for “Marcelle Montagne.” Wikipedia image.

In 1942, Hall escaped to Spain and then back to London. In 1944, she joined the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and was returned to France. Since her artificial leg prevented her from parachuting in, she was landed at the Brittany coast by a British boat. Using a forged identification for Marcelle Montagne, she contacted the Resistance in central France and mapped drop zones for supplies and commandos.

She died in Maryland in 1982 at the age of 76.

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WTCN Minneapolis, 1936



Shown here is a photo of WTCN radio in Minneapolis as it appeared in 1935.  The image is from the January 1936 issue of Radex magazine.

The station originally came on the air as WRHM, licensed to Rosedale Hospital at 4429 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. In 1929, it became a CBS affiliate, switching to the NBC Blue Network in 1937.

In 1934, then on 1250 kHz, the station was sold to Twin Cities Newspapers, a partnership of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Tribune, at which time it took the WTCN call letters for “Twin Cities Newspapers”. The transmitter building shown here was near Snelling Avenue and Highway 36 in Roseville, where it remained until 1962. In March 1941, the station moved to 1280 kHz in accordance with NARBA. In 1964, the station took the WWTC call letters.

The WTCN call letters were used two other times in Minnesota broadcast history. The second television station in the area, channel 4, was originally co-owned with WTCN radio, and signed the WTCN-TV call letters. The call was later held by channel 11.  The call letters are now gone from the Minnesota airwaves, instead being used by a low power station in Florida.


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No-Sod-Er Radio Kits, 1926

HopeHamiltonI’m not sure why, but some people have the idea that soldering is more complicated than it really is. Soldering is the process of splicing together two electrical connectors by melting over them a thin layer of metal, usually a mixture of tin and lead. In the photo shown here, movie star Hope Hampton is shown soldering together a radio in 1922.

To solder, you need a soldering iron and some solder.  They’ll set you back only a few dollars. For example, this kit at Amazon comes complete with solder for a very reasonable price, and will prove invaluable for all kinds of little repair jobs around the house. I can’t imagine not owning a soldering iron. But for some reason, there seem to be a lot of solderphobics in the world, and they refuse to consider the possibility of doing a job right by melting a little bit of solder.

Fortunately for these people, there are alternatives. An Amazon search for the word “solderless” gives over two thousand results for “improved” versions of various parts that don’t require soldering.

As shown by the ad at the top of the page, this is not a new phenomenon. Despite Hope Hampton showing the public how easy it was, many would-be radio hobbyists of the 1920’s were afraid of solder. The ad is for “No-Sod-Er Radio Kits” put out by the Radio Specialty Company of New York.  It appeared in the January 1926 issue of Radio Review, and promised the following:

Book explains what you want to know about new revolutionary way of assembling your radio set from our many kits–no solder, no bus bar, no poor connections, no waste of time, no skill required, no dissatisfaction, no tools needed except common screwdriver and pliers.  Even a boy can quickly assemble a completed kit.

This might all be true, and “even a boy” could put together such a kit.  But as Hope Hampton proved, even a girl could do it right, fire up her soldering iron, and build herself a real radio.

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Joan Ruth, WEAF, 1926

Joan Ruth, WEAF

Ninety years ago today, the January 16, 1926, issue of Radio Digest carried this portrait of soprano Joan Ruth, who appeared regularly on WEAF in New York.  In addition to her broadcasts at WEAF, whe was a member of he Metropolitan Opera.  The magazine notes that the Boston native bore “soulful eyes, the oval face, the black wavy hair and the suggestion of a halo in the dainty bit of silken cord with which it is tied.”

WEAF was the first broadcast station in New York.  Originally owned by Western Electric, it signed on in 1922.  In 1926, it was sold to RCA and became the flagship station for the NBC Red Network.  Starting in 1946, it took the call sign WNBC, which it swapped for WRCA in 1954.  In 1960, it switched back to the WNBC call letters.

The station signed off for the last time in 1988.  As part of a reshuffling of the New York dial, the station’s license, but not the station itself, were sold, and the clear channel 660 frequency was taken over by WFAN, which is owned and operated by rival CBS.

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Eugène Aisberg, Radio Writer

Eugène Aisberg, 1946.

Eugène Aisberg, 1946.

After a wartime absence, the January 1946 issue of Radio Craft carried an article by writer Eugène Aisberg.  While that name might not be familiar to American readers, Aisberg was a prolific author in the early days of radio, and wrote some of the best treatises on radio for the popular audience.  He was fluent in French, Esperanto, German, Russian, and English.

Aisberg was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1905, and lived most of his life in France. He was the director of the French magazine Toute la Radio and a prolific author of a number of books. His most popular book, which is still in print, is La Radio? Mais c’est très simple (Radio? But It’s So Simple!)  The book, currently in its 29th edition, an extremely solid background covering all aspects of electronics, and is written in a popular, easy-to-read style. While the book was ultimately translated into several languages, it was apparently never published in English.

The book consists mostly of a dialog between Ignotus and his uncle Curiosus, along with explanations by Professor Radiol, in which the characters explain in an interesting fashion all aspects of electronic theory.

Aisberg’s first radio book was actually published in Esperanto. Jen… mi komprenas la radion (“Now I understand the radio”).

1942 edition of Amélioration et modernisation des recepteurs.

1942 edition of Amélioration et modernisation des recepteurs.

During the war, under the noses of the occupying Germans, Aisberg published a book explaining how to pull in Radio London and other foreign stations. The technical title of the book, Amélioration et modernisation des recepteurs (“Improvement and Modernization of Radio Receivers”) was undoubtedly helpful in getting the book past the German censors.

While his most famous book was never translated into English, his later TV – It’s a Cinch was published in English in 1957. While analog TV is now an obsolete technology, the book is still an extremely interesting read, and the reader walks away knowing how the technology works.

The 1946 article, which marked his return to an American audience after the war, described a radio with automatic selectivity control.  The article also contains the following sidebar, which is a fascinating reminder of conditions prevailing in France immediately after the war:


Because of the conditions prevailing in Paris, instead of a check, Aisberg preferred payment for the article to be in the form of “chocolate, cocoa, toilet soap, shaving cream, corned pork, coffee, needles and thread, canned ham, and high-speed razor blades.”

Aisberg died in Paris in 1980.

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Signs, Signals, and Codes Merit Badge


I’m a counselor in the Northern Star Council of the BSA for the relatively new Signs, Signals, and Codes merit badge.  My area of expertise, of course, is Morse Code, but this merit badge requires Scouts to learn a little bit about a lot of different methods of signalling.  In addition to Morse Code, these include the traditional Scouting activity of semaphore, as well as Braille and American Sign Language.  Signalling is an evolving art, and Scouts are even asked to teach their counselors about emoticons, since the Scouts probably know a lot more about them than their counselor.

In additional to semaphore, the merit badge covers a number of other traditional scouting skills, such as trail markings and silent Scout signals.  The January 1946 issue of Boys’ Life includes a good overview of many of the skills needed for this merit badge.  The image shown above is from that issue, and shows Scouts some of the silent signals they can use on the trail or at meetings.

In March, I’ll be counseling the merit badge as part of the Northwest District merit badge day.  This event is sometimes opened up to Scouts from other districts, so keep checking for updates.


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