Monthly Archives: March 2016

Hugo Gernsback’s 1905 TELIMCO Wireless Set


Shown here is apparently the first ever advertisement for a home radio set. It appeared in Scientific American, January 13, 1906.  The manufacturer, the Electro Importing Company, was the venture of none other than Hugo Gernsback, the prolific radio and science fiction writer and the namesake of the science fiction Hugo awards.

Gernsback wrote about this set a half century later in the March 1956 issue of Radio-Electronics magazine, which he edited.  In the article, he recounts having started the company in 1905, at which time there were few wireless stations. Therefore, it was necessary to sell both a transmitter and receiver. The set was named the TELIMCO, a contraction of the company’s name. Only a handful of the sets were sold in 1905, but he began quantity production in 1906 and took out the ad in Scientific American.

In addition to selling the sets by mail order, it “was sold through many large outlets, including such famous ones as Macy’s, Gimbel’s and F.A.O. Schwartz.” He recounted the “incredulous looks of many of the store owners when there were first approached to buy ‘wireless sets.’ It was necessary to make a demonstration in each case before anyone would stock them.”

The set was originally priced at $7.50, but the price was later raised to $10, and most were sold for that price. The transmitter, powered by three dry cells, consisted of a spark coil and spark gap consisting of two balls 1/8 inch apart.

The receiver consisted of a coherer, which was wired to a very sensitive relay which ran a bell. The bell was set in such a way as to dislodge the iron and silver filings in the coherer.

According to Gernsback, the set had a range of about 300-500 feet without an external ground connection. With an elevated antenna 50-100 feet long and a good ground, many users were able to get reception over the promised one mile, with some reporting even greater distances.

The aerial wires on the transmitter itself, fashioned as a dipole, were about 1-1/2 feet long. Gernsback notes that the set had no tuning, but the antenna length indicates that the set was actually transmitting on frequencies above 30 MHz, long before those frequencies came into common usage.

In 1956, Gernsback built a recreation of the early transmitter, which is currently in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  It is pictured in the book Henry’s Attic: Some Fascinating Gifts to Henry Ford and His Museum.  You can also read more about the set at The Gernsback Story by Ed Raser W2ZI.




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March 29 1941: Broadcasting’s Moving Day


1941MarRadioRetailing2As we previously reported, today marks the 75th anniversary of a major change in the standard AM broadcast band in North America.  At 3:00 AM on March 29, 1941, most stations in the United States and Canada moved up the dial slightly.  The broadcast band was expanded to accommodate Mexican clear channel stations, and the result was that most American and Canadian stations had to make changes to their transmitter frequency.

At the time, millions of American radio receivers had pushbutton tuning, and all of those buttons had to be reset for the new frequencies, resulting in a small boom for servicemen.  Shown above is the cover of the March 1941 issue of Radio Retailing, showing a serviceman making the change on a small table set.

The magazine stressed the fact that the change was an opportunity for dealers to make contact with customers, “an absolutely unique invitation to more more major merchandise, with the promotional expense at least partially covered by service and accessory sales.”

It noted that most dealers were charging about $1 for the service call, with higher charges in some areas. For example, the Philadelphia Radio Service Men’s Association recommended a $2 charge. Some dealers were charging $1 if the set was brought in, or $1.50 if the work was done in the customer’s home.

The magazine suggested that the service call could offer an opportunity to perform other service, such as cleaning or alignment, especially if the set had to be removed from its cabinet.

Being in the customer’s home also represented an opportunity to sell a new set or even another appliance.

The magazine’s April issue reported that the overall effects of the shift were good, with interference being eliminated in many cases. While dealers reported reports for service calls, there were not as many as expected, and there was no “service jam.” It also encouraged dealers to keep up their promotional efforst:

And a big job it is. The radio dealer’s opporunity to profit by using reallocation resetting as a stepping-stone to additional business is just beginning. 10,000,000 people with pushbutton-tuned radios can’t be contacted overnight. It will be weeks before the public becomes fully aware of what is missing through failure to have adjustments made. And it will take months of selling to induce them to do it.


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9KT, St. Anthony, Iowa, 1916

1916Mar28A century ago today, the novelty of having received a wireless message from an amateur radio operator prompted an Iowa newspaper editor to investigate. The following item appeared in the Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican, March 28, 1916.

“Via Wireless” Talks With Distant Places

At a wireless station In St. Anthony, the only one In the county, are being received dally aero messages from distant places In the United States from ships on the great lakes and Gulf of Mexico. G. L. LaPlant, an amateur but a licensed radio operator, spends his odd moments day and night catching and sending radio messages. When not operating his “set” LaPlant is a member of the firm of LaPlant Bros., garage owners and druggists.

The receiving of messages from as far away points as Key West, LaPlant says, is an every day occurrence. He also receives from gulf and fruit boats at sea. from shlps on the great lakes, the national station at Arlington, Va., and Washington, D. C., the Lake Bluff station, and others as for distant as Lewlston, Mont., Dallas, Tex., and Shreveport, La. LaPlant is a member of the Radio League of America, whose members promise to give thetr services as radio operators or their station to the government whenever the government wants either.

A good roads wireless telegram, sent out to all commercial clubs In Iowa by Charles Van Vlecli, of the Waterloo Commercial Club, was received here this morning, having been relayed by mail from the St. Anthony wireless station.

The message was sent out Saturday night and reads:

“There Is a general demand for good roads in Iowa now, so pull her out of the mud this year.”

The message Was started at Waterloo at 11 o’clock Saturday night, and reached St. Anthony at ll:ll. St. Anthony station Is 9KT and Waterloo is 9QF in the Amateur Wireless Association. The messages were sent under the auspices of the Hawkeye Radio Association.

Mr. LaPlant has offered to send a message from here to any part of the state, if arrangements can be made. He suggests that the Y. M. C. A. of this city should install a set for the entertainment as well as instruction of young men who would be Interested.

9kt1916As the article notes, LaPlant’s call sign was 9KT.  According to the 1915 Call Book, his station put out a respectable 990 watt signal from St. Anthony.  The photo of the station shown here appeared in the April 1916 issue of QST.  This illustration shows the receiving station, and the caption notes that since the picture was taken, and RJ8 audion and an ultraudion hook-up had been added.  The transmitting station, not shown, is described as “well-equipped.”

The station was shown again in QST the next year, in the April 1917 issue, with the photo shown below.  The caption notes that “we have been able to follow the improvement of his set and now it has reached a very high state of development.”

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Happy Easter!


Happy Easter from!

The portrait of the Easter Bunny shown here comes from the cover of Manitoba Calling, April 1946, the magazine and program schedule published by CKY in Winnipeg.

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1956 Solar Radio


Sixty years ago this month, the March 1956 issue of Radio-Electronics published the plans for this solar powered radio, probably the first instance of a project using a photovoltaic cell for power.

The actual radio receiver was a simple crystal set, using a germanium diode, with a single CK-721 transistor serving as the audio amplifier.  The basic circuit was about the same as the Boys’ Life CONELRAD receiver shown here previously, which appeared the same year.

The power came from a type B-15 self-generating selenium photocell, manufactured by International Rectifier. The cell didn’t put out the required 1.5 volts, so it was necessary to cut it into four pieces with a hacksaw, and then wire the resulting four smaller cells in series.

For times when the sun wasn’t shining, the plans also called for a mercury cell, which could be switched in in place of the solar cell.

A much smaller version of the selenium solar cell can be seen in this Popular Mechanics advertisement for $1.

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25 March 1941 Maine Snowstorm

Images from another winter storm. NOAA photo.

Images from another winter storm. NOAA photo.

Seventy-five years ago today, March 25-26, 1941, central and northern Maine were hit with a severe storm that did considerable damage to telephone and telegraph lines. Strong winds and heavy wet snow took down many lines, and most of the northern part of the state was cut off from any wire communications.

The telegraph companies contacted W1BAV who established communications with Presque Isle and relayed instructions to the service men there. By night, lines were reestablished to many parts of the state.

Between 7:30 and 9:30 PM on the night of the 26th, hams had most of the state hooked up and standing by. By 9:30, the telegraph companies had established enough service so that they were able to advise the hams that they could stand down.

These details were recounted by Maine Section Communication Manager H.W. Castner, W1IIE, in the July 1941 issue of QST.

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AM Broadcast Band as of 1925


This graph provides an interesting glimpse of the state of American broadcasting 90 years ago. It appeared in the March 1926 issue of Radio Broadcast, and shows the number of stations, and their powers and frequencies, as of November 1, 1925. It shows a total of 536 stations then on the air.

The vertical axis shows the number of stations, and the horizontal axis is the frequency. The top of the broadcast band (1500 kHz) is at the left, and the bottom (550 kHz) is at the right. The most occupied channel was 1090 kHz, with 26 stations. Fourteen channels had one station of 5000 watts or more, those frequencies being 570, 580, 610, 620, 710, 720, 780, 790, 870, 920, 930, 970, 1090, and 1380 kHz.

Interestingly, the top of the dial, 1180-1480 kHz had considerably more stations. I assume that this was because the bottom of the dial was largely populated with legacy stations. 910 kHz was vacant. This frequency is the second harmonic of the most common intermediate frequency employed in most modern receivers, 455 kHz. Since there were few superhets in use at that time, I assume that 455 was later picked because 910 was vacant, rather than 910 being left vacant because of the IF’s.

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Polaroid Swinger Camera, 1965

PolaroidSwingerShown here in the Winter 1966 issue of Elementary Electronics is the Polaroid Swinger camera, which came out in 1965.

Priced at just under $20, the camera was enormously popular. The black and white images developed automatically outside the camera. After snapping the image, the film was removed, and the user had to wait about a minute while it developed. After it did, the film was pulled apart, revealing the image, which then had to be fixed by coating it with a varnish-like compound that came with the film.

The red shutter button could be squeezed, and the camera would indicate “yes” or “no” as to whether the exposure was set correctly.  It accomplished this feat by means of the ingenious mechanism shown below.  Turning the knob adjust the aperture, and by squeezing the knob, it compared the amount of light entering the camera to the light produced by an internal bulb.  When the setting was correct, the internal light caused the word “yes” to appear through the viewfinder.


Not surprisingly, the film is unobtanium today.  However, according to some reports, if you find a roll of the old film tucked away, it will probably still produce a surprisingly good image.


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Tips for NPOTA Chasers and Activators

National Parks on the Air

After two and a half months, the ARRL’s National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event has been a great success. As I’ve reported in earlier posts, the object is for amateur radio operators to operate from units of the National Park Service (NPS), and for hams at home to contact as many of those stations as possible. As of February 28, there have been a total of 136,539 confirmed contacts from 243 NPS units, with a total of 606 separate “activations.” As the spring and summer months approach, this number is sure to increase considerably. Many notable parks have not yet been activated. For example, Glacier National Park in Montana and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota have not yet been on the air, but surely will with warmer weather.

Some sites, such as Isle Royale National Park, are currently inaccessible, and I know that activations are planned later in the year.

So far, even though I have yet to set foot inside an actual national park, I have made sixteen activations. This is because I live very close to two NPS units, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Because the NPOTA rules permit operation from within 100 feet of these rivers, I have been able to go to one of them with a portable transmitter and antenna on my car and activate them on short notice, such as over a lunch break. Others have made more contacts than I have, but I’ve made approximately 300. These included contacts as far away as Morocco and Cape Verde Island, and have been on the 40, 30, 20, 6, and 2 meter ham bands.

In addition, I’ve made contact with 125 different parks. These stats place me in 30th place nationwide out of 484 “activators,” and 208th place worldwide out of 6035 “chasers.”

In short, I’m not at the very top tier, and there are other experts more qualified than I am, but I do have enough experience to give some advice to both chasers and activators.

Tips For Chasers

Many of the activations result in huge pileups, and they can be somewhat daunting to a ham unaccustomed to them. However, even a very modest station is capable of working most of the parks on the air. You do not need to have a superstation! Most of the chasers have stations similar to mine, running about 100 watts to a wire antenna. Even stations with amps and large antennas don’t need them, and I’m guessing that the amp rarely gets turned on, even by those near the top of the leader board. If you have a kilowatt and a beam, great. But whether or not you do, it’s more important to rely on your skill.

The easiest way to beat a pileup is to avoid it entirely. If you get there before the pileup starts, you’ll get through with no problem at all. You’ll probably even have time to chat with the operator and learn about the park, rather than simply giving your signal report and state because others are waiting in line. And the way to avoid the pileup is to use your VFO knob and tune around the band listening for weak stations. Tune slowly, listen for weak signals, and see if they are saying “CQ National Parks On The Air.” Another sure fire way to spot a park is to listen for slightly stronger stations saying something like, “thanks for activating.” When you hear that, you know that there’s an activator on that frequency. And if they haven’t yet been spotted on the DX cluster, they will hear you. Remember, you don’t have a superstation, but your station is probably better than theirs. They are probably operating with low power, with a hastily set up antenna, and probably from a less than optimal radio location. If you can hear them, it’s almost guaranteed that they will be able to hear you very well, as long as you get there before the hundreds of other stations who will want to call them.

You can put yourself in this position by turning off the computer and tuning the radio dial. You’re more likely to find national park stations during the daylight hours. (I predict this will change in the summer, as NPS campgrounds fill up with hams working the lower bands throughout the night.)  There are somewhat more on weekends, but there are many on the air weekdays. If you simply tune the bands (20 and 40 are the most commonly used), you will make many contacts without having to worry about pileups.

If you are near your computer, when you work the station, ask the station whether they would like you to “spot” them on a site such as or on the NPOTA Facebook group. The operator will probably say yes, since that will almost guarantee that he or she will then get the required ten contacts.

I can’t stress the importance of tuning the bands. On numerous activations, I have been calling CQ NPOTA with absolutely no takers. It can seem as if the band is totally dead or that my radio is broken. Then, I’ll finally work one station. After about two minutes, my radio invariably explodes with dozens of stations calling me. I’m not any louder than I was before. But I later discover that the first station spotted me about a minute before the pileup started.

There will be times when you can’t avoid the pileup. Once an activator has been spotted, there will be a pileup, and if you want to work them, you’ll need to jump into the fray. If you keep calling and calling, and they keep coming back to other stations, it can seem like those other stations must have more power or a better antenna. But that’s rarely the case. The best way to break a pileup is not with power or big antennas, but with operator skill.

The first step is to listen. First of all, please follow any instructions given by the operator. If the operator is going “by the numbers,” and asking for 4’s to call, then please don’t call unless you have a 4 in your callsign. They won’t work you, and when it really is your turn, you might be ignored.

You also want to listen to figure out the best way to call. In particular, see how long it typically takes between the operator saying “QRZ” and when he or she takes the first call. If it’s a modest pileup, it might be just a second. If it’s a huge pileup, it might be several seconds. This is because everyone starts calling right at first. It’s usually totally indecipherable at that point, and the operator on the other end can’t make out any calls until things settle down a bit. The secret of getting through is giving your call right at the moment when things die down. So listen to a few exchanges, and see how long it takes. If the activator usually takes about 10 seconds to come back to someone, then wait about 9 seconds, and slowly give your call, one time, phonetically. Your call is the one that will get heard.

If the operator is coming back immediately, this means that the pileup has subsided, and you’re probably best giving your call quickly, one time, phonetically. It’s almost always best to give your full call, rather than just part of it.

Either way, after you have sent your call, listen carefully. If the activator comes back to you, then come right back with your report and state, and maybe a quick pleasantry.

I don’t have a kilowatt, and I don’t have a beam. With 100 watts and a dipole, I’m almost able to get through any pileup by using these tips. In fact, I’ve had a number of “park-to-park” contacts where I was running only 5 watts to a mobile antenna. I almost always had to get through a pileup to make these contacts. But with careful timing, it’s usually possible.

If you are looking for a particular chaser who you think will be using CW or PSK31, then it’s a good idea to check their call sign on the Reverse Beacon Network or PSK Reporter websites. As soon as they start calling CQ, the skimmers will pick them up, and you’ll be directed to their exact frequency. Chances are, you’ll get there long before the pileup.

And speaking of CW and digital modes, you will add to your totals by using one of these modes in addition to SSB.  Many of my activations have been CW only.  Most are phone only, but by using CW or digital, you have an edge over the other chasers who are using phone only.

Tips For Activators

Setting up my superstation at WR09.

Setting up my superstation at WR09.

So far, all of my activations have been with 5 watts, running my  Yaesu FT-817 to a Hamstick antenna mounted on the back of my car. When the weather gets nicer, I’ll get out of the car and put up a bigger antenna. But you can be quite successful as an activator with a very modest station.

Your first step is to find a suitable location. Since the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers span many miles, this hasn’t been difficult for me, and I’ve been able to scout out some good radio locations on bluffs overlooking the rivers. On the other hand, I’ve done some operating down near the water level, so even a site that is not optimal for radio will get out.

Whether or not to ask permission is something that you will need to consider on a case-by-case basis. If you’re operating from your car with no external antennas, then it’s probably not necessary if you’re in a legal parking spot. If you’re at a picnic table with a battery and free-standing antenna, then it’s still probably not necessary. If you’re going to install a crank-up tower right next to Old Faithful, then it probably is necessary.  It’s best to use your common sense in deciding whether you need to ask.

For most of my activations so far, I’ve not asked for any kind of permission. These were mobile operations from parking lots of city parks and a state rest area. Since I’m using the location (a parking lot) for its customary purpose (parking), I don’t believe there’s any need to ask permission. More importantly, there’s nobody to ask permission. I’m simply parking in a legal parking spot and sitting in my car. Occasionally, the police have driven through, but paid no attention to me.

My assistants scouting out s location at AA11.

My assistants scouting out a location at AA11.

For an operation in a State Park, I did speak to the rangers beforehand, but that was mostly to let them know that I would be operating later in the year with portable antennas. While I was talking to them, I let them know that I would be operating from the parking lot that day, and they had no objections. The key is to be polite and professional.

To make it a successful activation, you need to make ten contacts. These contacts need to be entered on LOTW, but they do not need to be confirmed by the other station. This part of the event is based on the honor system. And there is also no need for the stations you work to be active “chasers.” You simply need to make ten contacts on any band or mode with ten other hams. The easiest way to accomplish this is to get yourself spotted. If you have internet access at your operating location, you can self-spot yourself on a site such as In the comments, just put “NPOTA” and the unit number.

If you don’t have internet access, but do have cell phone access, another alternative is to call a friend and have them spot you. Or if you’re in an area with active repeaters, work another ham on the repeater and ask them to spot you. The repeater contact won’t count for NPOTA purposes, but it will get you spotted and get those additional contacts.

If you’re unable to use a cell phone or internet, or simply don’t want to rely on the spotting networks, then you’ll be on your own making your ten required contacts. But remember, there is no requirement that those ten contacts be with active chasers. And there’s certainly no requirement that those contacts be in response to your CQ. So in my most recent activations, I’ve discovered that the best strategy is to not worry about the spotting networks, and just tune the dial and make ten contacts with anyone, as soon as I get set up.

On a weekday, this can be challenging, becuase you might not find ten stations calling CQ. (However, keep in mind that there are almost always other NPOTA activators in the field, and they are calling CQ. On most of my excursions, I’ve worked one or two other NPOTA stations, and these count toward my ten.)  And I haven’t done it myself yet, but other hams have suggested the County Hunters Net. Whatever county you’re in (and you need to know what county you’re in), chances are, someone will be looking for it, and you will get some or all of your ten contacts that way.

On weekends, it’s almost always possible to get your ten contacts in short order, because there is almost always some kind of contest going on. In fact, there are occasional contests during the week. Before you head out, check the contest schedule to learn which contests to look for, and what exchange you need to give. Today, for example, the Virginia and Louisiana QSO parties were taking place, and there were many stations on the air in Louisiana and Virginia looking for contacts with anyone. I wound up making eleven contacts in the Russian DX contest. I checked the rules of that contest, and QSO’s with U.S. and Canadian stations counted for contest credit, so there were plenty of big gun stations eager to work me. During the ARRL International DX Contest, I even made a number of DX contacts, although they were tougher than domestic contacts.

You should try to find out the contest exchange before the constest. However, if you’re not sure, just give a signal report and your state. If the other operator needs something else, they’ll ask for it, and they’ll be happy you took the time to give them one more contact.

After you have your ten required contacts, you’ll probably want to call CQ and see if you can generate a pileup. At first, it might be a lonely proposition with few if any stations coming back to you. You can ask the first few stations to spot you, and usually they will. Once they do, you are almost guaranteed a pileup.

Being on the receiving end of a pileup can be daunting at first, but you’ll get through it. At first, you might not be able to make out anyone’s call. But eventually, you’ll hear either a full callsign or part of one, and you can come back to that station. Eventually, you’ll chip away at it, and you’ll get them all in the log.

I’m generally not a fan of going by “numbers.” For one thing, you probably have a modest station, and are subject to fading in and out. You might have great propagation to 7-Land when you’re busy working 1’s. But by the time you get to the 7’s, the propagation is gone. For this reason, it’s probably not a good idea to work by numbers on a routine basis. But if things are totally out of hand, it might be one strategy you need to employ.

Similarly, I’ve seen very few NPOTA operations where operating split would add much benefit. “Split” means that you transmit on one frequency, and the stations calling you transmit on another frequency a few kHz away. This might make things slightly easier for the chasers, since it lessens the chance of someone transmitting on top of you. But it doesn’t really make your life any easier or increase your number of contacts by an appreciable amount. If you’re activating P5 (North Korea), then running split might be a very good idea. But if you’re activating Yellowstone National Park, it’s probably not necessary.

I’m definitely not an expert, but my five watts to a hamstick and 16 successful activations (and a couple of failed ones where I didn’t make ten contacts) show that it’s possible to be an activator without a major investment in equipment or time. Later this year, I’ll do some activations that are a bit more extravagant.

Soon after your activation, you will need to upload your log to LOTW. I haven’t bothered with any kind of software for logging. I just use pen and paper, and enter it into the computer when I get home. LOTW can appear confusing at first, but once you are set up, it’s quite simple type in your QSO’s and upload the log.

Even though you might not realize it, wherever you live in the United States, there’s probably a National Park Service unit located within an hour of your home. If you get a chance, you should get out there and see what it’s like to be on the receving end of a pileup.

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