Monthly Archives: September 2016

1946 NPOTA Activation


During the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is conducting its National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event.  Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular, with over 11,000 activations from 450 different different units of the NPS (with only 39 not yet activated), with over 640,000 individual two-way contacts.  As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with 251 different parks, operated multiple times from six parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and plan to activate additional parks in the Midwest before the end of the year.

Even though this event is recent, operating portable from the National Parks is nothing new, as shown from the photograph above, which appeared seventy years ago this month in the September 1946 issue of Radio News.

Shown here are members of the Washington Radio Club operating Field Day 1946 from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Shown here are Dick Houston, W4QPW (apparently at the mike), along with Major Eric Ilott, G2JK, of the British Army (later VE3XE), and club secretary Barbara Houston. They are operating a 25 watt phone rig on 10 meters, with a Hallicrafters Sky Champion serving as the receiver. Power was supplied by a 300 watt gasoline generator.

Ilott, apparently at the left in the photo, served in the British and Canadian military until his retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1974. He immigrated to Canada in 1947. During the war, he served as a listener for the British War Office, sending reports to Bletchley Park. Among his accomplishments after the war was bringing the first ever television signal to Kingston, Ontario, from an antenna atop a water tower. He died in 2015 at the age of 95.  (For another look at the early days of bringing distant TV signals to town, please see my earlier post on the first TV in Marathon, Ontario.)

1946 was the tenth running of the ARRL Field Day, an event in which hams set up stations at portable locations to make as many contacts as possible.

I previously wrote about the 1941 Field Day, in which the high scoring station had made 1112 contacts. That would be the last Field Day before the war, and the one shown here was the first postwar Field Day. According to the results in the February 1947 issue of QST, the top 1946 scorer made 809 contacts.

But the results article noted that it would be pointless to compare the 1946 results with those of prewar Field Days, since operating conditions as of June 1946 were quite different. In particular, hams had not yet regained access to the 160, 40, and 20 meter bands, which had been the workhorses for the prewar events. The 1946 Field Day was limited to 80 and 10 meters on HF, along with the 50, 144, and 420 MHz bands.

Shenandoah was not the only national park being activated in 1946. In addition, according to the results article, there were operations from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and a battlefield national park in Virginia, as well as numerous other venues.


Photo courtesy of N3KN.

While the Washington Radio Club took the honors of activating Shenandoah National Park in 1946, my own 2016 contact took place on February 8 on 20 meter phone.  Fortunately, the 20 meter band was returned to hams shortly after the war, as the contact on 10 or 80 meters in 1946 would have been considerably more challenging.  My contact was with Kay Craigie, N3KN, shown here.  In addition to being an avid NPOTA chaser, activator, and member of the NPOTA Facebook group, Kay is the immediate past president of the ARRL (a select group which included Herbert Hoover, Jr.).  She was at the helm of the ARRL when the NPOTA event was proposed and adopted.

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Du Mont Tubes, 1956


Sixty years ago, the hapless TV repairman shown here was living the serviceman’s worst nightmare.  He had installed a cheap picture tube, and this consumer wasn’t happy about it.  The child shown here is now getting close to drawing Social Security, but probably still remembers the traumatic incident.

The moral of the story, according to this ad in the September 1956 issue of Radio Electronics, was that he should have used Du Mont tubes.

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1956: First Transistor Shortwave Converter


Sixty years ago, the first transistorized shortwave converter showed up on the market, and it is shown here on the cover of Popular Electronics, September 1956.

The converter, Regency model ATC-1, used an SB-100 surface barrier transistor. It also included a 2N172 which did double duty, serving as a BFO for tuning SSB and CW signals. When the converter was switched to AM phone reception, that transistor served as a Q-multiplier.  It tuned the 80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meter ham bands, and could be used with any AM radio.

While the converter was styled for mobile use, and included a mounting bracket for use in a vehicle, its small size and weight allowed it to be used with any AM radio tuned between 1200 and 1300 kHz.

The article noted that the power requirements were “almost unbelievably small,” and were provided for by three penlight batteries mounted on the back. According to the article, these would provide enough power to run the set for at least six months. They were mounted on the back, and could be replaced without opening the case.

In this cover photo, the converter is being held by Diane Pattou, a photographer and secretary with Popular Photography, a Ziff-Davis sister publication.

Some good pictures of the converter can be found at W8ZR’s site,  You can see the converter in operation at the video below.  The complete receiver shown here was assembled by a Regency employee, and used the converter along with a Regency transistor radio, and had an additional antenna tuner in the lower right corner.

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1976 Car FM/8-Track


Forty years ago, the September-October 1976 issue of Elementary Electronics reviewed a product that, at first blush, seems to be an unusual combination.  Shown here is the Pioneer model TP-900, a combination 8-track player FM stereo receiver.

The magazine posted a very good review.  The FM receiver was very good quality, and the tape player contained a number of features such as fast forward and automatic repeat that made it quite convenient for that medium.

The combination is actually quite logical.  Virtually every car of the era came equipped with an AM radio.  FM was just beginning to outpace AM in popularity, and there were undoubtedly a lot of audiophile motorists who wanted to add both and FM radio and tape player to their vehicle.  Since the car was already equipped with a perfectly good AM radio, simply adding one unit with the two capabilities seemed like a logical choice.


In fact, I was the owner of the Realistic FM radio/8-track player shown here, from the 1979 Radio Shack catalog.  It was an inexpensive way to augment the car’s audio with little installation.  I simply put this under the dash, with two small home speakers in the back.  The car AM radio continued to work as usual, but I also had the option of FM or 8-track tapes.


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Two 1946 Crystal Sets from Popular Mechanics


1946SeptPMpictorialThe happy couple shown here are pulling in signals up to 25 miles away with one of two crystal sets described 70 years ago this month in the September, 1946, issue of Popular Mechanics.

The set they’re listening to is described as having eye appeal as modern as tomorrow. To achieve this effect, the base, coil form, and base for the detector are all made of plexiglass, dressed up with red plastic drawer pulls for feet.

The set featured two antenna taps. One, going directly to the main tuning coil, was used to tune in the strongest station. When more sensitivity was required, the antenna could be attached to a primary coil.

1946SeptPM2The other set, while appearing more rustic, actually contains a couple of more modern twists.  First of all, it replaces the cat’s whisker with a 1N34 germanium diode.  It also featured a dial cord.  No variable condenser was used.  Instead, tuning was accomplished with a permeability tuned coil, which was adjusted by moving the iron core through the coil with the dial cord.

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NPOTA: St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

St. Croix River looking north from Interstate State Park, Minnesota. By Aaron Fulkerson –  CC BY 2.5.

Last week, I did two National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  I did both of them from William O’Brien State Park in Minnesota.  My station consisted of my  Yaesu FT-817, powered by a 12 volt sealed lead acid fish finder battery,  The antenna consisted of a Hamstick mounted on the back of my car.  The QRP (low power, 5 watts) radio and very modest antenna have proven quite effective, especially on 20 meters.

During the ARRL NPOTA event, Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 11,000 activations from 449 different different units of the NPS (with only 40 not yet activated), with over 600,000 individual two-way contacts.


William O’Brien State Park, Minnesota. By Greg Seitz (The.dharma.bum at English Wikipedia) – Photo by Greg Seitz (The.dharma.bum), CC BY-SA 2.5.

I made the quick jaunt to William O’Brien on Friday in order to work Patrick, N9OQT, who was set up at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana.  Patrick was there doing an Amateur Radio demonstration for a conference of state park superintendents from around the country, and he put out a call for activators to work him from different state parks around the country.  My five watts can be extremely effective using CW (Morse Code), but I thought it would be a challenging contact using voice.  However, since one of the purposes of the event was to demonstrate Amateur Radio to the gathered park officials, Patrick wanted to use voice only.  I started out by setting up in the parking lot of the park’s visitor center.  Even though this location is quite a distance from the river, it’s at a much higher elevation, and I thought it would make the difficult contact easier.

I needn’t have worried, since he copied my 5 watt signal quite well.  I immediately drove down to the river, and he copied me quite well from there as well.  He made a total of 124 contacts, including a total of eight state parks around the country.


Patrick Twigg, N9OQT photo.

Patrick’s operating location was an interesting juxtaposition of history and modern technology.  He was set up in the recreation of Thomas Lincoln’s (Abe’s father) 1820’s carpentry shop.  In addition, he reported local interference from roosters crowing in the background.  His radio and logging computer are shown on the old workbench, with the power source being the battery shown on the floor.


Carpentry Shop at Lincoln Boyhood Home, Patrick Twigg N9OQT photo.

After working Patrick, I went to CW and worked about 30 more contacts over the course of the next hour.

On Saturday, my son and I made another trip to the St. Croix River, and I decided to do another activation.  We spent most of the day exploring the glacial potholes at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, Minnesota.  The parking lot near the potholes is more than a hundred feet from the river, and the other unit of the park has somewhat difficult access due to road construction.  So we decided to stop at William O’Brien on the way home, where I set up in the same spot as the previous day near the boat landing.  This time, I didn’t get “spotted” on the DX cluster, so I spent about an hour answering other calls in order to make my required 10 contacts.  The most interesting contact was with Jim, K7MK, who was doing a SOTA activation in Idaho.

Shafer Butte, Idaho. National Forest Service photo.

Shafer Butte, Idaho. National Forest Service photo.

Summits On The Air (SOTA) is another Amateur Radio activity in which hams set up temporary stations on various mountain summits.  These can range from very modest summits that can be reached by car, to ones requiring serious mountaineering skills.  Jim’s location appears to be one that was somewhere between these two extremes, as he was atop the 2311 meter Shafer Butte in Idaho.  He reports that his activation involved a 6 mile hike, including a 1400 foot vertical ascent.

William O’Brien is a 1520 acre park founded in 1947, and located on the St. Croix River less than an hour from Minneapolis and St. Paul.  It’s location close to the metro area makes it an extremely popular park, but its being on the St. Croix can make it very much of a wilderness experience.

Minnesota’s Interstate State Park is located slightly further away from the Twin Cities, in Taylors Falls, Minnesota.  It was founded in 1895.  The main visitor center is located immediately adjacent to the downtown area of Taylors Falls, and the campground and other facilities are located about a mile down the river.  It’s also a very popular park with Twin Cities residents to explore the glacial potholes, and is also a popular venue for rock climbing.  It is located across the river from the Wisconsin state park bearing the same name, from which I’ve done a previous NPOTA activation.

1928: First Television Drama


Today, we take a look at one of the more pleasant events that took place on September 11, namely, the first television drama, which was aired 88 years ago today, on September 11, 1928.

28. On that date, radio station WGY in Schenectady, New York, carried the audio, with the visual broadcast carried by W2XAD, of the play The Queen’s Messenger by J. Hartley Manners. The play was chosen since it had only two characters, but still pushed the limits of the medium. Despite only two characters in the play, four actors were used, along with three cameras. Two of the cameras were focused on the main actors, and to remain in focus, the actors had to maintain a very exact position. The other camera focused on the hands of two other actors, who served as doubles and handled the props. When one character sipped a glass of wine, the hand doubles first poured into a glass in view of one camera. Then, another camera cut to the main actor’s face as they sipped from an identical glass.  The hand doubles, along with the props, are in the foreground of the picture above.

The “cameras” actually consisted of stationary photocells, and the subjects were lit by a “flying spot” projected through a spinning disc.

1931SeptTVNewsMakeupIn the photo above, the director, in the white shirt, can view all of the actors, and switches from camera to camera, viewing the end result on the monitor. Considerable experimenting had to be done with makeup until the choices shown here were settled upon. In addition to using colors that provided suitable contrasts, another problem was maintaining focus as one part of the face moved.

The entire process is described in detail in an article in the September-October 1931 issue of Television News.  The article also recounts a second production done a couple of years later, after which time the technology had advanced to a point where a more traditional stage could be used.

Outside the studios for the 1928 broadcast, the station had a series of radios and televsion receivers to allow as many members of the press as possible to watch. The broadcast was repeated, first during the day, probably for the benefit of the press, and then again at night for more distant televsion entusiasts to be able to pick it up. The station reported reception reports from as far west as the Pacific coast.



W2OEC, Ft. Monmouth, NJ, 1946


Seventy years ago, the cover of the September 1946 issue of Radio Craft shows the well equipped station at W2OEC, the military recreation club station at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Since the base was the home of the Signal Corps, it understandably had a large population of hams. Indeed, since there were hams from throughout the country, there was talk of adding an award for working all ten call areas within Momnouth County, New Jersey.

There were plans to equip the station with a kilowatt on all bands below 30 MHz. Transmitters consisted of military models BC-610 and BC-339.

The accompanying article described the station’s antennas, which included a rotatable beam for 10 meters. The 80 meter antenna’s main lobe was aimed for Missouri, allowing good coverage of the entire country.

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1931 Television Image

1931SeptTVFor an idea of what kind of picture quality was available with early mechanical television, here is an example from 85 years ago, from the September-October 1931 issue of Television News.

The photo was sent to the magazine by H.E. Burket of 819 Center Street, Chicago, Illinois, who reported that he captured the image from the broadcasts made by the Chicago Daily News station.

Burket’s receiver consisted of an 18″ scanning disc, driven by a synchronous motor with gear transmission. He had been experimenting with various glow tubes. While neon tubes were most commonly employed, Burket noted that spot and crater type glow tubes with white or green light gave superior images.

He reported that the photographs were made with exposure times of between 2-1/2 and 10 seconds. He also noted that while lines were visible on this image, he had recently switched to a different scanning disc with which the lines were no longer visible.
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Siege of Leningrad: 1941-43

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the Siege of Leningrad. On September 8, 1941, German and Finnish troops cut off the last land access to Leningrad, in a move deliberately designed to starve the residents. The city was cut off almost completely until January 18, 1943. For most of that time, the only lifeline was a route over Lake Ladoga known as both the “Road of Life” and the “Road of Death.”

RIAN archive 324 In besieged Leningrad.jpg

Nevetsky Prospekt, Leningrad, 1942. Wikipedia photo.

During the siege, approximately 1.5 million Soviets died, mostly of starvation. Most residents subsisted on 125 grams (about a quarter pound) of bread per day, and the bread consisted of half sawdust.

One propaganda coup scored by the Soviets was the premiere of Symphony No. 7 by Dmitri Shostakovich. It was composed by Shostakovich partially while in the sieged city, and partly after being evacuated. But it had its premiere on the Leningrad radio on August 9, 1942. The date was highly symbolic, since it had been scheduled by Hitler as the date for a celebration within the city of the completion of the invasion. Supposedly, Hitler even had invitations printed up for the event to be held at the Leningrad Astoria Hotel.

The first rehearsal lasted but 15 minutes, since the musicians (especially the brass players) were physical unable to perform due to malnutrition. But with heroic efforts, the concert took place as scheduled, and was broadcast.

For full propaganda effect, loudspeakers outside the city were directed toward the German lines, and the German soldiers were treated to the concert. One German soldier later recalled, “who are we bombing? We will never be able to take Leningrad because the people here are selfless.”

Civilians constructing anti-tank fortifications. Library of Congress photo.

While the concert was broadcast over “radio,” the actual broadcast almost certainly took place not over the airwaves, but through the extensive Soviet wired broadcasting network. The vast majority of “radio” receivers in the Soviet Union were not actual radio sets, but a speaker, transformer, switch, and volume control, which may or may not have been mounted in a radio cabinet. The receiver was commonly called a “rekord.” These simple receivers were connected to a wired network, similar to a telephone network, which would carry the program continuously.  Indeed, according to this source, private radio receivers were confiscated at the very beginning of hostilities with Germany.

Immediately prior to the war, the Soviet Union boasted over 5.5 million wired speakers. In contrast, as of 1936, the country had only 650,000 radio receivers, 270,000 of which were crystal sets.  A nice collection of such speakers (mostly postwar) can be found at this link.

The use of wired radio during the siege of Leningrad is stated here:

The wire net of the radio diffusion exchange may carry programs which originate at the exchange, and this makes possible utilization of the radio for mass communication of a purely local nature. This ability to broadcast without actually going “on the air” proved itself invaluable during the war, since the local radio could continue to function and maintain contact between the authorities and the population without the risk of having enemy aviators make use of the signals to guide them to their objective.

An outstanding example of such use of the wired net is to be found in the siege of Leningrad. During the siege the Leningrad wired net operated around the clock. During hours when no programs were on and throughout the night the Leningraders kept their speakers tuned in.  The slow beat of a metronome kept the wire alive. Whenever it was necessary to make an important announcement the beat of the met – ronome was rapidly increased. Thus, at all times the authorities were able to maintain constant contact with the population, to transmit orders, warn of danger, or make special announcements .

Communications Research 1948-1949, page 245.

The Seventh Symphony was first broadcast in the United States on July 9, 1942, over the NBC network. As explained in an article in the April 1945 issue of Radio Age, the musical score was sent from Moscow to the United States via facsimile, or what the article called radiophoto.

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