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Judge Addison Brown: Renaissance Man

Addison Brown by Whipple, 1852.png

Addison Brown. Wikipedia image.

When you think of federal district judges, you generally don’t think of botany or astronomy.  But that’s because you haven’t heard of Judge Addison Brown, Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In 1878, while a New York attorney, Brown traveled to Colorado to observe a total eclipse. His observations of the eclipse were published by the Naval Observatory in 1880.

Brown first notes that his telescope “arrived uninjured after its journey of 2000 miles,” and then laments that during the week previous to the eclipse, his bodily indisposition prevented his performing a fair share of the preliminary work of his team’s mountain encampment at an elevation of 9000 feet. Nonetheless, Brown kept the chronometer properly set, relying upon a colleague at Central City, CO, which had telegraphic communication with Washington in order to receive daily time signals from the Naval Observatory.

One of Brown's sketches of the 1878 eclipse. GoogleBooks.

One of Brown’s sketches of the 1878 eclipse. Google Books.

Brown apparently overcame his altitude sickness and was in camp the day of the eclipse on July 29, 1878. He noted that “the only disadvantage of the elevated station was its exposure to the high southerly and westerly winds which prevailed. On the morning of the eclipse, warned by the furious gale of the day previous, which nearly carried away our encampment, the telescope was removed to the partial shelter at the rear of our extemporized observatory, where comparative quiet was secured. In other respects, the day was faultless; the atmosphere was clear and brilliant, and the few fleecy clouds that appeared after noon offered no obstruction to our work.”

To ensure that his eyes would adjust to having good night vision at the moment of totality, Brown bound a bandage around his eyes five minutes before totality. Upon totality, he removed the bandage, allowing him to make his description of the corona. Brown notes that, to his surprise, “the light was sufficient to read the print of the New York Tribune’s editorials without difficulty.” He described the corona as having a yellowish hue, rather than the “pearly white” he had expected.

After ten seconds’ observation of the corona, Brown turned his attention to the horizon, which was a “gorgeous glow of orange-yellow light, with scarcely any red intermingled.” The wind, which had been strong before the eclipse, gradually lessened as totality approached. By the time of totality, it was hushed to nearly a perfect calm.

After observing the horizon for but a few precious seconds, Brown returned to his telescope, where he made more observations of the corona, the sketches of which were included in his accounts.

Judge Brown’s scientific pursuits were not limited to astronomy.  Brown was the author, along with Nathaniel Lord Britton, of the three-volume Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canadawhich is still available from Amazon at the links below.

Brown was named to the bench as a recess appointment by President Garfield in 1881.  He was formally nominated and confirmed by the Senate later that year.  He retired in 1901 and died in 1913.

WJAZ and the Eclipse of 1925


Portable station WJAZ. Radio News, Jan. 1925.

NASA eclipse imageDuring the August 21 solar eclipse, I’ll be contributing some radio propagation data by making beacon-style transmissions on 7 MHz from the path of totality.  These will be picked up by the Reverse Beacon Network, and can be analyzed later to see how the eclipse affected radio signals traveling through the ionosphere.

Such experiments are nothing new, as shown by an article in the February 15, 1925, issue of Radio Progress.  Radio station WJAZ was one of several portable radio stations licensed in the 1920’s. The station was owned by and licensed to Zenith Corporation, and was mounted on a one-ton truck chassis. It was originally built in 1924 for testing to determine the best location in Chicago for the company to build a permanent station. It continued service to promote Zenith radios by rolling into towns to provide something for local radio buyers to listen to. The station was equipped with a battery operated 100 watt transmitter, a generator, and 53 foot telescoping antenna masts.

In anticipation of the  eclipse of January 24, 1925, the company brought the station to Escanaba, Michigan, which was on the center of the eclipse path of totality.  This eclipse was visible along a path from northern Minnesota extending to the northeastern United States and then over the North Atlantic.  WCCO in Minneapolis managed a live remote broadcast with a portable transmitter in an airplane.

After driving the 1120 kHz portable station to Escanaba, Zenith set it up at the rear of a garage building with a 100 foot antenna running almost straight up the mast. The studio was set up in the front show window. For the three nights preceeding the eclipse, the station ran a musical program from 10:00 PM to 1:00 AM and solicited reception reports. An average of 500 reports were received by telegram each night, since the station was awarding free Zenith receivers to those reporting from the greatest distance, as well as to listeners selected by drawing. The greatest distance covered during those tests was about 800 miles.

The night before the eclipse, the station was on the air from 10:00 PM until 1:30 AM. At 3:00 AM, the station was back on the air in advance of the 8:02 AM eclipse, and remained on the air until 9:00 AM.

The station reported that between 3:00 and 5:30 AM, only ordinary results were obtained, with a few telegrams coming in from Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. As the normal “gray line” propagation began at about 5:30 with the sun starting to rise, propagation was enhanced, and telegrams were received from as far away as Oklahoma. As the station began to go under the shadow of the moon, the station reported that the normal early morning enhancement of propagation continued, with reports being received from Nebraska, North Carolina, Ontario, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa.

The article concludes that the tests “proved conclusively that the theory of ionization and absorption of radio waves due to the sun’s rays is no longer a theory only, but actually a fact.”


Making QSL’s With a Hectograph

1937JulSWTVhectographThe venerable hectograph made an appearance 80 years ago this month in the pages of the July 1937 issue of Shortwave and Television magazine. Today, it’s trivially simple to print numerous copies of a document at home with an inkjet or laser printer, or to go to the local copy store and print them there. But this hasn’t always been the case.  80 years ago, printing in quantity was more or less a secret art practiced only by professional print shops.

But there was one exception, and that exception was the hectograph, or gelatine duplicator as it’s called here.  The desired image was drawn or typewritten onto paper using special ink, that ink was transferred to gelatine, and then copies could be made onto any paper.  The hecto- prefix implies that a hundred copies could be made, although that’s more of an upper limit.  Nonetheless, for small print jobs, the hectograph provided about the only method of home printing for many years.

This was not lost on one Miss M.E. Burke, who was apparently a shortwave listener in need of an inexpensive method to produce SWL or QSL cards.  She used a gelatine duplicator, simply printed them at home, and then sent the idea to the magazine, which agreed that it was a good idea.

Back in the day, hectographs could be purchased wherever office supplies were sold.  My own entry into the world of publishing came when I got a toy hectograph for Christmas.  I soon graduated to a more professional model, on which I was able to prepare typewritten newspapers.

Since they are obsolete technology, you can’t buy a hectograph today.  But fortunately, they are so simple that you can make one at home, and I have full instructions at my website.  All of the materials you will need are readily obtainable, and you’ll be on your way to creating a vintage style QSL card or other printed item.


Eclipse Travel Recommendations for MN & IA

You can still get an inexpensive hotel room to view the total eclipse!  It’s also possible to make a last-minute road trip!

Path of Totality. NASA image.

Path of Totality. NASA image.

This page has been updated through August 15.  In addition to advice for making advance reservations, it also includes advice for making a last-minute road trip the day of the eclipse.

Quick Links

August 21 Solar Eclipse Planning

The eclipse is just a week away, but visitors from Minnesota and Iowa can still get reasonably priced accommodations to see it.  There are still hotel rooms in Omaha for under $100 a night, and from there it’s just a 50 mile drive to see the eclipse on Monday.  But rooms are filling up.  Three more hotels just became unavailable over the weekend.  Because of expected traffic patterns, Nebraska is probably a better choice for visitors from Minnesota and Iowa, even though Missouri is slightly closer.

As of August 15, there are still hotel rooms in Omaha, and I recommend making a hotel reservation or camping Sunday night.  A list of campgrounds is available at this link.  But many visitors will decide to see the eclipse after it is too late to make reservations.  Therefore, I am including this information for those who decide make a one-day trip from Minnesota or Iowa to see the eclipse.  This will be a long drive, but it is both possible and worthwhile.

The Bus from Des Moines

One option for visitors from Minnesota and Iowa is this bus from Des Moines.  This special eclipse bus leaves Des Moines at 4:00 AM and arrives in Lathrop, Missouri, a few hours later.  The return bus arrives back in Des Moines at about 6:00 PM.  Lathrop is expected to be very busy, and I would recommend bringing a backpack with food and beverages for the day.  The bus fare is $50 per person.  If seats on this bus are still available when you read this, it might be a very good option, even if you are driving from Minnesota.

Last-Minute Road Trips

If you plan to drive directly to the eclipse in a one-day trip, plan extra time, as traffic entering Nebraska and within the state will be very heavy.  You will need to drive at least as far as Lincoln, NE, and arrive before totality begins at about 1:00.  (See below for possible destinations, but as long as you get west of Lincoln, you will be able to witness the total eclipse.)  The normal drive time from Minneapolis to Lincoln is 6 hours 34 minutes.  The normal drive time from Des Moines to Lincoln is 2 hours 54 minutes.  However, you will need to allow much more time.  There are only four highway bridges crossing the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska.  These could become bottlenecks.  In addition, there will be heavy traffic between Omaha and Lincoln, as Omaha residents move into position to view the eclipse.  While it is impossible to predict for sure, I would allow an extra six hours.  This will ensure that you arrive before the biggest rush, it will allow you to drive further west, which will allow more viewing time, and will allow you time to find a good viewing spot.

I expect that traffic between Minneapolis and Des Moines on Interstate 35 will be slightly heavier than usual, and that will become heavier as you drive west toward Omaha on Interstate 80.  Then, I predict that you will encounter extremely heavy traffic as you approach Council Bluffs and Omaha.

This means that you should leave Minneapolis by about 11:00 PM Sunday, or leave Des Moines by about 4:00 AM.  Monitor current road conditions during your drive with a traffic app, or by listening to radio stations such as WHO Des Moines (1040 AM) or KFAB Omaha (1110 AM).  (Cell phone apps might be unavailable due to extremely heavy usage.)  You will be able to hear both of these strong radio stations throughout southern Minnesota and Iowa, and they will alert you to the possibility of having to take alternate routes.

Possible alternate routes  include:

  • Taking Interstate 90 west to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and then south on Interstate 29 toward Omaha.  If traffic becomes heavy near Omaha, you can take other highways southwest toward the path of totality.
  • Driving to Sioux City, Iowa, and crossing into Nebraska at South Sioux City, and then driving southwest on state highways until you reach the path of totality north of Interstate 80.

I recommend filling your gas tank in Council Bluffs, Iowa, before you enter Nebraska.  There may be long lines at gas stations in Nebraska.

Also, bring a cooler with food and beverages for the entire day.  There may be very long lines at restaurants and stores.  If you need any last-minute items, buy them in Iowa.  Also, bring a printed map of Nebraska, or download the map to your mobile device so that you can view it even in the case of internet outage.

If you are too tired to drive home after the long drive, hotel rooms will probably be available in Nebraska on Monday night.  If not, there will be rooms available in Iowa.

Basic Travel Planning Information

NASA eclipse imageThe total solar eclipse will take place on Monday, August 21. If you live in the Midwest, then it’s extremely unlikely that you’ve ever seen a total eclipse, unless you happen to have visited Winnipeg in 1979. That was the last total eclipse visible in the United States, and was visible in the Pacific Northwest before moving through North Dakota and into Manitoba.

If you remember seeing an eclipse in the United States after 1979, then what you saw was a partial eclipse. The difference between what you saw previously and the August 21 event is literally the difference between night and day. During a total eclipse, such as will take place in August, the sky goes dark, stars come out in the middle of the day, and the sun’s corona is visible.

During a partial eclipse, even one that is almost total, such as 99%, you might not even notice if you didn’t know about it in advance. You’ll probably notice that it’s a bit darker outside, but the effect will be the same as a hazy or partly cloudy day. If you make a pinhole viewer, then you can see that the eclipse is taking place. But if nobody told you, you probably wouldn’t even think to look. I’ve experienced multiple partial eclipses. They’re somewhat interesting, but not really that big a deal.

On the other hand, a total eclipse is a big deal.  Some people travel to remote parts of the earth and spend tens of thousands of dollars to watch them. Some people fly their Lear Jet up to Nova Scotia to watch the total eclipse of the sun. It’s dramatic, and for most people, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

Where to See the Eclipse if You Live in Minnesota or Iowa

On August 21, you won’t have to visit some remote corner of the world. You won’t even have to fly your Lear Jet up to Nova Scotia. You can easily drive to view the eclipse, but you need to do a little bit of advance planning, and you need to do it now.

As you can see from the map above, the path of totality does not pass through Minnesota.  In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, about 80% of the sun will be obscured.  If you know what to look for, you’ll notice it , and it will be moderately interesting.  But frankly, it won’t be a very big deal.  You’ve probably seen it before, and you’ll probably see it again.

Similarly, viewers in Iowa won’t see anything very interesting.  Most sources don’t even list Iowa as being within the path of totality, although this is not quite correct.  A tiny piece (about 450 acres, specifically, Ivan Woltemath’s soybean farm) in the extreme southwestern corner of the state, will experience totality for a few seconds.

If you live in Minnesota or Iowa, you’ll need to travel to view the eclipse.  If you make your plans now, it will be a very low cost trip, since inexpensive hotel rooms close to (but not directly inside) the area of totality are still available, starting at about $53 per night.

The Best Itinerary from Minnesota and Iowa

For eclipse travelers in other states, other viewing locations will be more convenient.  But for those in Minnesota, most of Iowa, western Wisconsin, and the eastern Dakotas, I have mapped out the best strategy.

If you look at a map, the closest viewing spot from those areas appears to be near St. Joseph, Missouri.  This is the closest spot in terms of distance, since it’s about 400 miles from Minneapolis or 200 miles from Des Moines.  However, as I explained in an earlier post, this is actually a poor choice, because there will be a major choke point along Interstate 35 near Lathrop, Missouri.  If you head for the St. Joseph area the day of the eclipse, it’s very likely that you will be caught in an apocalyptic traffic jam on Interstate 35.  Also, every hotel room near St. Joseph has been booked for months, and it’s impossible to find lodging.

Another choke point, predicted to be even worse, is located in northeastern Kansas, at a point on U.S. Highway 75 near Sabetha, Kansas. Highway 75 is parallel and close to Interstate 29 as it heads north through northwestern Missouri and southwestern Iowa. Therefore, I predict that northbound traffic along I-29 will also be monumental the morning of August 21.

Fortunately, those of us in Minnesota and Iowa can avoid both of these choke points and still find hotel rooms close to the area of totality.

MSPtoHomesteadMy recommendation for those coming from Minnesota or Iowa to view the eclipse is to drive to Omaha on Sunday, August 20. You can still reserve a hotel room in Omaha the night before the eclipse, and the prices are still very reasonable. You will not be within the path of totality, but you will be very close. On Monday morning, you can drive west on Interstate 80 about 50 miles to Lincoln. In Lincoln, you will be able to view the total eclipse. Traffic along Interstate 80 will probably be quite heavy, but you will be able to divert yourself completely away from choke points on Interstates 29 and 35, shown in red on this map.

The route shown on the map takes you to Homestead National Monument of America, which is one of the better viewing spots in Nebraska.  Homestead is planning for the large crowds, and it will be one of the locations from which NASA will be doing its live broadcast.

Path of totality within Nebraska. NASA image.

Path of totality within Nebraska. NASA image.

If you follow this recommended itinerary, on Sunday, it will be about a 400 mile drive to Omaha from Minneapolis.  On Monday morning, you can drive about 50 miles to Lincoln, where you will be able to view the eclipse.  Lincoln has a number of events and viewing areas planned, which   are listed here.  For better viewing, you can head south from Lincoln to  Homestead National Monument.  Or, you can continue west on Interstate 80.  The interstate more or less follows the path of totality, so every mile you drive west gives you a little bit more totality when the total eclipse begins at about 12:58 PM.  Most towns along the interstate have special viewing areas prepared, and you can find a listing at

You will have a lot of flexibility as far as actually viewing the eclipse.  Any legal parking spot close to Interstate 80, west of Lincoln, will allow you to view the total eclipse.  Even if millions of visitors descend upon the state, finding your viewing spot shouldn’t be a problem.  Instead, the problem will be finding lodging.  All hotel rooms directly within the path of totality are now completely booked.  At this point, unless you want to sleep in your car, you’ll need to stay in Omaha Sunday night and then make the relatively short drive to your final viewing spot on Monday morning.

Omaha Hotels Available Sunday Night

Fortunately, hotel rooms are still available in Omaha on Sunday night, August 20, and it’s only a 50 mile drive to view the eclipse the morning of August 21.  The following information was updated on August 14 and was current as of that date.  Some of these hotels are now unavailable, but by clicking on one of the links and checking availability for August 20, you will see a list of other available hotels.  Rooms are still available under $100 as of August 15:

The following Omaha hotels have rooms available Sunday night, August 20, under $100:   Econo Lodge West Dodge ($60), Sleep Inn & Suites Airport ($67), Hotel RL by Red Lion Omaha ($85), Comfort Suites Omaha (no longer available), Super 8 Fremont NE (no longer available as of 8/13), Motel 6 Omaha (no longer available as of 8/13),

The following Omaha hotels have rooms available Sunday night, August 20, under $200:   Magnolia Hotel Omaha ($148, use coupon code TRAVEL8),  Country Inn & Suites By Carlson Omaha Airport ($101),  Hotel Deco XV ($125, use coupon code TRAVEL8) , Holiday Inn Express & Suites Omaha South – Ralston Arena ($150).

By following the links above, you can secure an inexpensive hotel room and view the eclipse!

If you’re an attorney and want to earn Continuing Legal Education credit as part of your eclipse trip, please visit my Eclipse CLE page.


1927 Baffin Island Expedition


Effie M. Morrissey 1894.jpg

Effie M. Morrissey in 1894. Wikipedia photo.

Shown above as it appeared 90 years ago is radio operator Edward Manley aboard the Effie M. Morrissey, as it prepared for the Putnam Baffin Island Expedition to the Arctic in search of the magnetic north pole.

The smaller battery powered transmitter on the shelf would operate on 33 and 20 meters, with the larger longwave generator transmitter was on the left. The battery set used twenty B batteries in series to supply 900 volts.

The ship was built in 1894 and served as a fishing vessel until 1925. She made her first voyage of exploration in 1926. The preparations shown above were for her second voyage.

In 1946, the ship was renamed the Ernestina, and is currently based at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. She is owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The top photo is from the July 1927 issue of Radio Digest.

Eclipse Radio Experiments

NASA eclipse image

Solar Eclipses & Radio Propagation

If you’ve ever tuned the AM radio dial at night, you know that the sun has an effect on radio propagation. At night, you can hear stations from hundreds of miles away, even though those stations can’t be heard during the daylight hours. This is because the signals are either absorbed by or reflected by various layers of the ionosphere, and these layers behave differently in the presence of sunlight.

Radio propagation through the ionosphere. NOAA image.

Radio propagation through the ionosphere. NOAA image.

In general, lower frequencies (such as the AM broadcast band) work better for long distances at night, and higher frequencies work better during the daylight hours. Observations made during other eclipses show that the brief period of “night” during totality does have an effect on the ionosphere, and this has an observable effect on radio propagation.

This eclipse will allow for the collection of a huge amount of data, and it is likely that this will contribute to a greater understanding of the ionosphere.  This is because there are now automatic data collection tools such as the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

The Reverse Beacon Network is a collection of radio receivers operated by amateur radio operators all over the world.  They are constantly monitoring large portions of the radio spectrum and “skimming” the signals.  Other networks listen for different transmission modes, but the Reverse Beacon Network is constantly listening for CW (continuous wave, or Morse Code) transmissions.  Whenever it hears “CQ” (a general call) or “TEST” (a test transmission), it records the call sign of the sending station.  The network stores this data for later download, and also makes it immediately available for display on the internet.


The image above is a screenshot from the Reverse Beacon Network taken today.  I sent a transmission in Morse Code consisting merely of the words “TEST DE W0IS.”  That transmission was picked up by several of the skimmers in the network, and the information was almost immediately displayed on the internet.

As you can see, my signals were picked up by skimmers in Alberta, Ontario, Pennsylvania, New York, and Kansas.  The numbers on the chart (snr, signal to noise ratio) show my signal strength at each location.

Radio propagation is sometimes more of an art than a science, and it’s somewhat surprising that my signal was heard at these distances at the time of day I did the test, about noon local time.  The pattern shown here is more typical for later in the afternoon for the frequency I was using (7 MHz).  Typically, at midday, I would expect to see more hits within about 400 miles, and fewer at the distances shown here.

But on the day of the eclipse, comparing the reports throughout the day should show what effect the eclipse is having on radio propagation.  I expect that before totality, the propagation toward the west coast will be enhanced, as areas starting in Oregon experience “nighttime.”  After totality, I expect propagation to be enhanced toward the east as the path of totality moves toward South Carolina.

While I might change my plans, I think I’ll concentrate on 40 meters (7 MHz) during the eclipse.  Lower frequencies such as 160 meters (1.8 MHz) or 80 meters (3.5 MHz) will have more dramatic effects, but the necessary antennas are much longer.  Since I’ll probably be viewing the eclipse from a fixed location, I should be able to set up a full-sized dipole for 40 meters (66 feet of wire, fed in the middle) without too much difficulty.  If we need to move quickly and use a mobile antenna on the car, then I’ll probably switch to 30 meters (10 MHz), since the mobile antenna starts to be more efficient at higher frequencies, but 10 MHz is probably still low enough to see some eclipse effects.

You’ll be able to monitor my signals yourself in real time by following this link, which shows the most recent times my signal has been picked up.  On the day of the eclipse, I expect the map to show reception on the west coast in the morning, moving toward the east coast in the afternoon.  (Since RBN won’t have any way of knowing that I’m not at my home location, the graphic display will incorrectly show my signal as originating from Minnesota, even though I will be in Nebraska.   When the data is analyzed later, it will show my location correctly.)

The data I generate will be part of a larger project, the HamSCI 2017 Eclipse Experiment.  After the eclipse, data will be collected and analyzed by researchers such as those at Virginia Tech.

How Hams Can Participate in Eclipse Science

To increase the amount of radio signals to analyze, a contest named the Solar Eclipse QSO Party is scheduled to take place on August 21 from 1400-2200 UTC (9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Central Daylight Time). Participants in this contest will submit their logs, and data will also be skimmed automatically by networks such as RBN.  If you are an amateur radio operator, I encourage you to participate in this event.  Even if you are not near the path of totality, it is likely that radio propagation will be affected for thousands of miles.

How Anyone Can Participate

AMRadioPicFromDotGovIf you are not licensed, but you own a normal AM radio, you can also participate and collect valuable ionospheric data.  As noted above, AM signals propagate much greater distances at night, and the eclipse will have an effect.  Some night before the eclipse, tune through the dial and note which distant stations you are able to pull in.  Write down the call letters, frequencies, and locations of the stations.

If you need help identifying the stations, the easiest way is often to wait to hear the call letters of the station and Google the call letters to find the location. Or if you missed the call letters but heard the name of the city, try Googling the frequency and city.  For example, a search for “780 AM Chicago” will confirm that you’re tuned in to WBBM.  You can also search the official FCC database, either by frequency or call letters, at this link.  Also, this listing at the FCC website shows the strongest AM stations at most spots on the dial.

During the daylight hours, but before the eclipse, tune to those spots on the dial again to ensure that you can’t pick them up.  Also, some frequencies might have stronger local stations on during the day, which might cover up the weaker more distant signals.  It will be best to concentrate on frequencies where you hear nothing during the day, although the distant signals could very well overpower a closer station.

On the day of the eclipse, tune to those same spots on the dial and see if you can hear the stations.  You will probably find that they come up out of the noise when the path of totality passes over the station, or when the total eclipse is on a straight line between you and the station.

For example, I would expect that when St. Louis sees totality, KMOX (1120) will be booming in for hundreds of miles.  Similarly, when the total eclipse makes it to Nashville, then WSM (650) will be heard in most of the eastern United States.

Also, listen for some stations on the other side of the path of totality.  For example, when the eclipse is over Missouri, I would expect that listeners in Oklahoma and Texas might be able to hear stations such as WCCO (830) in Minneapolis or WHO (1040) in Des Moines.

Before the eclipse, identify some stations, both close to the path of totality, and on the other side of that line.  Find stations that you can normally pick up at night, but not during the day, and then listen for those stations to come up out of the noise as the eclipse shadow moves into an optimum spot.

For most people, the best radio to use will be your car radio.  Most car radios have good AM tuners, and they usually have the advantage of having a digital display so that you can tune to exactly the right spot on the dial.

For more information on this experiment and how you can participate and submit your observations, see this article at Sky & Telescope magazine. A good starting point for learning about tuning in distant stations on the AM dial can be found at Wikipedia.

If you don’t want to be tethered to your car radio, another alternative is to buy a radio similar to the ones shown below.  These radios, even though inexpensive, will provide good AM reception with a digital read out that will allow you to quickly tune various stations.  Some of them also have shortwave, which will allow you to do more elaborate observations, as explained at the Sky & Telescope article.

(In addition to radio experiments, it’s important to have a portable radio if you want to receive weather and traffic information during the eclipse.  Due to the large number of people traveling to the path of totality, it’s quite possible that cellular and data networks will become overloaded in many areas.  Having a radio with you will allow you to learn where the breaks in the clouds are, even if your smart phone is without a signal.)

Radio propagation has been studied during most eclipses in the 20th century.  For example, during the 1945 Victory Eclipse, research was done by researchers in recently liberated Norway, and German installations were even quickly re-purposed to do this research.  Because of the huge amount of data that will be collected, thanks to technologies such as RBN, this eclipse promises to add to the understanding of the ionosphere, and it’s quite possible for citizen scientists such as you and me to contribute.

For more information on the eclipse, see my earlier posts.

Plan For the Eclipse Now!

NASA eclipse imageWe’ve been warning now for a few weeks that to make your eclipse experience more pleasant, you need to plan now! It’s still possible to get a hotel room or campsite relatively close to the path of totality.  However, in most areas, it’s now necessary to book your lodging in outlying areas and plan to drive to your viewing spot the morning of August 21.  We’ve already posted about the potential for gridlock that morning, so you’ll want to plan your route carefully.

As of just a week ago, many more hotel rooms were available.  For example, until just yesterday, it was possible to book a hotel room in Charleston, SC, for about $100.  (And a couple of weeks ago, you could have booked the same room for $50.)  But that changed today.  Here’s what you see now if you want to book a room in Charleston:


Eclipse glasses are also becoming more difficult to find.  During a 2015 partial eclipse in England, there was a shortage of the glasses, and as we predicted previously, it looks like there will be a shortage here as well.  There are two major U.S. manufacturers of the special glasses, which are necessary to safely view the eclipse before and after totality.  One of those manufacturers is Rainbow Symphony, and here’s what their website displayed today:


The glasses are still available, and it’s likely that Rainbow Symphony will soon be open to new orders.  In the meantime, you can order yours on Amazon, as I did.  They have the Rainbow Symphony glasses, as well as glasses from the other American manufacturer, American Paper Optics:

In addition to those quantities and styles, Amazon has many other buying choices, which you can view at this link.  When buying glasses, be sure to look for the ISO certification.  The normal retail price is currently about $2-3 (the links above are for larger quantities.)  There are cheaper uncertified glasses available, but I’m personally not willing to take the risk.  It’s still possible to get the glasses, and if you need larger quantities, I’m sure the Rainbow Symphony website will be back in business soon, as is American Paper Optics.  But if you wait until mid-August, then it will probably be too late!  Get your eclipse glasses now!

Another good source of ISO certified eclipse glasses is American Eclipse Glasses in Torrington, Wyoming, right in the path of totality.  This is a small business that realized there was an opportunity, so they had the glasses custom manufactured and certified.  They have great deals, especially if you need only a few pairs and can’t find them locally, because their shipping charges are extremely reasonable:  The glasses are $3 each, which is about the going retail price.  However, shipping is only $1.03 for the first pair, and then only 3 cents for each one after that!  If you can’t find them locally and need one or two, I recommend you visit their website.  

Or better yet, their prices are even lower if you order in bulk.  On August 21, your friends and neighbors are going to want glasses, but just like in England, there won’t be any available.  You can give them away to your unprepared friends and neighbors, or you can sell them for a fair profit.

Similarly, it’s now a lot harder to find a hotel room now than it was just a week ago.  And it will keep getting harder.  For links to available hotels, please see my constantly updated pages for the western U.S. and eastern U.S.  I also have links of available eclipse campsites.

1957 VHF Receiver

1967JulPEIt was a simpler time sixty years ago, and this electronics hobbyist and aviation enthusiast was able to walk out onto the tarmac with her suspicious electronic device, as shown on the cover of Popular Electronics, July 1957.

She is listening to aircraft traffic with a simple VHF receiver, and the plans are shown in the magazine. The set was a crystal set using a 1N82 diode, with one CK722 transistor for audio amplification and tuned 90-145 MHz. In addition to being useful for listening to aircraft, the magazine said that it could be used to zero in with bloodhound accuracy in a hidden transmitter hunt.

In testing the set at a local airport, the tower could be heard several hundred feet away and approaching planes could also be heard.


Wanted by Uncle Sam: 2000 Amateur Wireless Operators


A hundred years ago, Uncle Sam was looking for amateur wireless operators, and the ARRL was doing everything within its power to make sure the need was met. The July 1917 issue of QST came complete with the application blank necessary for young hams to sign up:


It was explained that applicants were to take the filled in enrollment form to their nearest Navy Recruiting Office. (If they didn’t know where it was, ARRL HQ could provide the address.) At the recruiting station, the officer there was to certify the applicant’s physical condition. Then, the applicant would return the form to ARRL HQ, which would send it to the proper headquarters. “They will notify you when and where to report.”

The accompanying article explained that 2000 wireless operators were needed by the Naval Reserve. “At the outset all will probably agree that this is a call of humanity and before it is over every one of us will have to play his part. To play your part and do your bit,–does not mean you must shoulder a gun. Your part if you are a radio operator is to serve in that capacity. Your duty is to enroll today. Uncle Sam must have wireless operators. You must not fail him in this hour of need.”

The article explained that enlistment was for the duration of the war, and that reservists would be able to ask for discharge during times of peace. It stressed that enlistment would give one of the finest educational courses in the country, comparable to a college education.

1917JulyQST3Two schools were in operation by the Navy. Harvard University had turned over to the Navy Pierce Hall, in which at present 150 radio electricians were being trained. A smaller school was in operation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And as enlisted man, the recruit would have the opportunity to enter the Naval Academy by examination. Pay ranged between $32.60 and $72.00 per month, plus uniform and subsistence.

An accompanying editorial, probably written by Hiram Percy Maxim, admonished “hurry up and enroll.” The Old Man notes that the “engineering course given is unquestionably one of the finest things offered in this country in the way of a practical training in electrical engineering.”

After mentioning the pay, the Old Man opines that “any amateur radio operator who does not take advantage of it ought to have his head examined.”

The editorial concludes by admonishing young men to think it over, “and make Mother and Father read this editorial.”

Archie Banks, 9AGD, Radio Amateur & Beekeeper

1917 Archie Banks 9AGD

A hundred years ago, American amateur radio operators were off the air for the duration of the war. All stations, both receiving and transmitting, had to be dismantled, and antennas lowered to the ground. But the July 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter detailed the activities of 24 year old Archie Banks of rural Delmar, Iowa. Banks lived on a farm about a mile out of town, and when he was sixteen, he developed an interest in electricity. He had the house wired with electric lights powered by batteries, and within two years, he was dabbling in wireless. He reported that his first set didn’t work well, and he could only communicate the one mile to Delmar.

But his second station was considerably more successful. He was licensed as 9AGD, and among other things was able to reliably copy the twice daily news and weather reports sent by the stations at the Illinois State Agricultural College in Springfield, and the Iowa State Agricultural College at Ames.

Rather than keep these important bulletins to himself, Banks took it upon himself to share the information with neighbors. Initially, he shared the information with anyone who desired to phone him, and the service was popular. Area farmers had access to immediate weather reports, rather than having to wait for the daily nespaper to be delivered by the R.F.D. carrier.

But Banks decided to carry it a step further, as shown by the sign here. In addition to his labor on the family farm, Banks had a side business consisting of about a hundred hives which he used to raise honey. The honey was advertised by a roadside sign. He added this sign, encouraging passers by to stop and read the news and weather reports. Initially, the sign was placed as a public service. But Banks soon noticed that those stopping to read the weather would be in a good position to buy some honey.

Banks had his beekeeping-wireless enterprise in operation as early as 1913. In that year, he had a paper read at the state bee convention, published in the Report of the State Bee Inspector, an essay entitled, “The Art of Selling Honey From a Producer’s and Retailer’s Point of View.” This paper reveals that the wireless was but one advertising mechanism he employed. He recommended advertising which included a few recipes. “This will make the housewife anxious to try them out just the same as one is to try a new car.” He recommended giving out samples, since they “create an appetite for more and the neighbor or friend will probably purchase a case or more the next time he sees you.”

His main sign (not shown in the Electrical Experimenter article” was eight feet by two feet and “hung across the road,” which was a main highway. It read, in large red letters, “Eat Honey,” with the phrase “for sale here by the section or wagon load” in large black letters. He states that he also had “a large signboard on which is printed the weather report which I receive daily by wireless. Passerby stopping to read this report get a view of the honey sign also–thus killing two birds with one stone.”

Banks is also described in an article in this 1917 issue of The Country Gentleman.

According to this link, Banks was born in 1892, the son of B.D. Banks and Hannah E. Banks. According to this 2016 obituary of his son Harlan Banks, he later married Edna Bowman and had multiple children. At some point, he moved to California, since the son’s obituary shows him graduating from high school in Santa Barbara.

Archie Banks Santa BarbaraAccording to this site, in 1925, Banks was one of five hams in Santa Barbara when an earthquake struck the town on June 29, 1925. The city was completely cut off from the outside world, prompting the hams to patch together a CW station to send out an SOS. Help was summoned when an operator aboard a Standard Oil Tanker heard the SoS and summoned help. This photo, appearing in a Russian language book, shows Banks operating from Santa Barbara after the earthquake.

According to the Social Security Death Index, Banks died in October 1984 in Santa Barbara. According to his gravestone, he served in the U.S. Navy both World War I and World War II.

Banks is listed as 9AGD in the 1916 callbook with an address of R.F.D. 2, Delmar, Iowa. He doesn’t appear to have a listing, either in California or Iowa, in the 1922 call book.

DelmarIowaStreetViewInterestingly, I think I found the location of Banks’ 1917 honey sign, which would be this Google street view.  According to the Electrical Experimenter article, Banks’ station was about one mile from Delmar and eight miles from Maquoketa.  This farm house is about that distance from the two towns, and seems to match the house shown in the article, assuming the magazine photo below was taken from the rear of the house.  The location is on Iowa Highway 136, just west of US Highway 61.