Vintage Radio

My Beginning in Amateur Radio

By Bruce Haupt – WA6DNT

 

This is an early history of the events that led me into Amateur Radio. It spans a time of from1953 to 1976, and relies on my 66 year old memory. It is accurate as best as I can remember.

In 1953 when I was 9 and in 4th grade, I joined Scouting. As a Cub Scout, one of the skills learned was how to build a crystal set. This project was home brew all the way.  The detector was made up of a holder made out of a copper plumbing part that held a Galena crystal. The "cat whisker" was made out of a bent cloths pin.  A pair of high impedance headphones was the hardest part to find. The long wire antenna and a good ground to a water pipe finished the set.  Stations were heard on this set up, but it was very tricky finding just the right spot for the point of the "cat whisker" on the crystal to get the detector to work. As a young boy, this just led me to want a better radio that could pull signals out of the air as if by magic. This led to my first Heath kit which was a model CR1 crystal set, which really worked well.

Around 1954 kids in the neighborhood formed a club. The interest's was model (HO) model railroading. We also wanted to build a telegraph line for communications between our houses. We went to a construction site where they were blasting away the entire side of a hill for a road. After the work was finished there were hundreds of feet of wire left, that was to be thrown away. We saved them the trouble, and used it to string a wire pair for a long distance of about 4 blocks. Slender bodies were seen crawling through culverts and over trees and along fence lines, to string wire to each house. My dad chipped in the money for some E.F. Johnson telegraph sending sets. It took a pile of large 1.5 volt batteries to get the sounders to work at each end. Then there was the matter of learning Morse code. It was slow but it worked! I wish I still had those telegraph senders today.    

 

When I was in 6th grade in 1955, a neighbor gave me an old Philco radio. It was in a wood cabinet as large as a juke box. It had a large yellow Dial, with a number of bands and the name of different SW stations on it. I strung up an antenna wire, and I was in business. WOW! What a wonderful World I discovered. I was listening to stations from all over the world! Then one morning before school I discovered a round table of folks talking. I noted the location on the dial and started listening every morning, and I got to "know" the regulars that checked in.  Some of the calls I remember to this day like Bert W6VU, and W6MJB. The Philco had 6D6 tubes in the IF. The big speaker made the stations sound super! I soon learned that the band I was listening to was 75 meters. I discovered another band (40 meters) where I could hear more folks talking in round tables, after school.  One Saturday I heard a VERY loud station talking and he mentioned where he lived on the air. Well I just had to see this station, so I rode my bike from La Mesa all the way to Spring Valley (about 10 miles) and sure enough I looked up on the hill and I saw this antenna array. He was still talking on the rig when I knocked on his door. He was sure surprised that some kid would ride all that distance to see his station. His call was K6ZQR Doc, The TX was a Viking 1 driving a P-P 813 link coupled, the modulator was p-p 811's, in an 8 foot rack. When he keyed that rig there was a large relay that sounded with a loud  "clack"  The 866's would throw a glow across the floor , with a  high power hum. All these meters would swing with his voice. I was hooked! After I got licensed, I visited him a number of times.

 

A school buddy invited me to stay overnight in Spring Valley. He had a bootleg "broadcasting" station in his garage with a long wire antenna; he picked a clear spot on the AM band and played records over the air. He even had "commercials" he played from large vinyl disks he got from the drive in Movie Theater. Up the hill from my friend's house, was another antenna farm. I hiked up there and knocked on his door. I met another friendly Ham, He was K6QJN Guy, and his wife was W6VSL Barbara. He had a DX100, and a beautiful SX28. He was running a "Beer can" 40 meter vertical!

 

One day I missed the bus so I had to ride my bike to Grossmont H.S. I passed this house just on the other side of the hill from where I lived. More antennas were visible, so I made a point to go back there on the weekend. His call was W6FMJ Berg Crawford. He was a teacher at Hoover H.S. He built his own beautiful equipment. He had a remote controlled KW in the garage and a 75A1 RX. He had a shop in his garage. He later built his own SSB exciter and put a product detector in his 75A1. He liked to take trips with his Airstream trailer, and hired me to take care of his trees and property when he was away. Since I also took care of the house plants, that gave me access to his QST collection. I sat on the back porch and read for hours and hours.

 

By now I was a freshman in High School, (1958). Across the road there was a strip mall, with a Post Office on one end and a radio & TV repair shop at the other end. I hung around the repair shop and got to know Joe and watched him work and started learning how to troubleshoot electronics. Joe would throw chassis out back that were not repairable. I started hauling these big TV chassis, hanging one on each handle bar of my bike and grunt this load home where I stripped them for parts. One day I was watching Joe work on a large TV on the bench and he got across the second anode HV. He was sitting on a stool with rollers. The shock caused his muscles to propel him at a high speed backwards through the open door and into the real estate office next door where the stool flipped him off and Joe ended up on the floor staring up at the surprised person sitting at the desk! That taught me to respect H.V!

 

I learned that the Post Master at the other end of the building was a Ham, so I paid him a visit. He was W6CAV George; he lived up the hill and invited me up to his house. He had a neat station built into a cabinet that housed a 75A4 on the bottom and a Valiant on the top. With the glow from the 866's and the buzz of H.V. with the modulation transformer talking - I thought I was in Ham heaven! What a beautiful setup! He was into running phone patch traffic with overseas military personnel. He had a schedule with an Okinawa ham, KR6MH on 10 meters. At the top of the hour the S meter on the 75A4 slammed over against the pin and with a 1 X 1 call: "W6CAV - KR6MH  ready for traffic?" the session began. George would place calls all over the US to unite love ones by Amateur Radio. This showed me how valuable and rewarding public service can be. 

 

I studied for my Novice test and in October of 1958 Berg W6FMJ gave me the test which I passed! I waited impatiently for my call sign and License to arrive from the FCC. Meanwhile I was collecting components for a station. Being cash poor, I got a ride to the local "surplus" store which was loaded with all kinds of parts and radio's from WW2. I purchased a 200 Ma meter, and RF choke, switches, Airdux tank coil, oil filled HV filter caps, a 1625 RF tube, and some BC375 antenna tuning units which contained a gold mine of parts. TV chassis supplied the power supply components. I ended up building a single tube 1625 crystal controlled 50 Watt 80/40 meter oscillator transmitter. My dad helped me assemble my first Heath kit receiver an AR3, but it proved to be too unstable for communications so I went back to "Allied Surplus" and purchased a pair of ARC5 80/40 meter receivers. I modified the ARC5's with a mute circuit that I could set the level on, so I could listen to my own transmitter without overloading. Finally my license came: WV6DNT. By now I had a collection of crystals for 80 and 40 meters, a straight key, and a dual band dipole. I was in business. I called CQ a number of times but no one came back. It was hard to tune in stations on the ARC5's, so I finally rigged up a multi turn vernier gear reduction knob and I made up a dial with a pointer that gave me over 270 degrees of band spread for the novice band. That helped and finally someone called me! My hand was shaking so bad with excitement I could hardly write or send, but as time went on, I had many CW contacts and my CW speed increased. When I passed my novice test Berg gave me his BC474A a complete "portable" station, but I could only listen with it, as it was VFO on TX which was not allowed for novice licenses. One of my contacts was a local, WV6DAK Paul now N6BZY.

 

My Novice year was running out so I studied for my Technician license, since I was not yet sure I could pass the 13 WPM General test. I passed and got my call change to WA6DNT, which I still have. With the Tech license I got into 2 meters with a Heathkit “Twoer". There were no repeaters in those days so everyone was rock bound around 145.5.   The RX was so broad it really did not matter were the TX frequency was. When I started driving, I went mountain topping with the Twoer and filled log pages with contacts. In those days we liked to go up on top of Mt Helix on "lover’s lane" at night to work DX with our 2 meter gear. It stirred up anger with those who were there for "heavy petting".

 

My High School had a radio club, but being cash poor it was hard to get a station on the air. By 1960 I had a General license. Several Hams I remember were Fred WA6BJM who had a SX99 RX, and a DX100 TX, Dennis WA6DBC, had a Globe Scout 680 TX, and HQ129X RX. Dennis's house was "on my way home" so I would stop off at his house and we would work DX. Dennis' family ate at 5PM and usually I would get invited to stay for dinner. I was very polite and helped set the table and take out the trash. Then I would continue my walk home, and eat my "second" dinner with my family. I grew in height like a weed! My mooching way's came to an abrupt end when Dennis's mom called my mom to compliment her for raising such a polite helpful son!   My own station was upgraded for phone operation. I added a Heath VF1 VFO, and built up a P-P 6BQ5 - 6AN8 modulator from the ARRL handbook, INSIDE the DX20. It worked great until the power transformer smoked, so I replaced it with a heaver duty Triad transformer. The receiver was up graded to a RME4300. On the air every day after school, Fred, Dennis and I conducted a "Home work net" where we helped one another with problems. Soon other young hams joined us from other schools, on 40 meters.  The H.S. radio club was interested in "Science" and an idea was put forth to build a Tesla coil.  But of course when Hams go about to build a Tesla coil, "Wimpy" would just not do! Every one pitched in and soon we had all the parts including an 8 foot cardboard tube that had held rug. The final design ended up with an 813 oscillator with 1500 volts on the plate! Now where to put the free running oscillator frequency? We certainly did not want to cause interference in the Ham bands, but the 11 meter ham band had been just stolen and given to a bunch of CBers. We adjusted the frequency to stay in the 26-27 MHz band. We got it running and we had a spike on the top of the 8 foot coil that would throw corona many inches! At night it was spectacular! A 6 foot florescence tube would light up, clear down the block!     

 

By my senior year I had passed my driving test, but could not afford a car, so I borrowed my parent’s car to get to classes it was a 1959 Rambler. I built up a mobile TX using a 6AQ5 PA, modulated with a 6AQ5, Crystal controlled on the local "commute" frequency of 3825 KHz. The RX was an 80 meter ARC 5. I tapped into the IF and plugged it into the antenna jack of the car BC radio. The power came from a dynamotor. The antenna was a Webster "slim Jim" It worked great! People who had money were running rigs like Gonset Twins, and AF67's. Later I acquired a pair of working BC611's and put them on 3825, and made a number of contacts with them. I remember those times fondly. As young adventurous hams we liked to cruise in our mobiles at night and talk on the air. One night I remember riding with Dennis WA6AWM. He had a DX35 in the back seat converted to a mobile TX. We pulled into a drive in for some hamburgers. While waiting for the order, we decided to get on the air. The antenna was an 8 foot center loaded whip, bent over and clipped to the rain gutter. When it was released, it whipped back slashing the florescence tubes over head! All of a sudden it was raining glass all over the car. That was an expensive meal.    

 

I met some other interesting Hams in the early 1960's. One was Harry K6AJ. He only worked CW at very high speeds. He had a Hallicrafters HT20 TX, and a HQ180 RX. He got on the air during the "spark - gap" days, and I would sit and listen for hours with him telling what it was like in the good old days, before all the store bought equipment became available.

 

I started checking into the "Mission Trail" traffic net on 3954 KHz every night, and started handling "radiograms”.  My phone activity increased, when I upgraded to a B&W5100 TX and a Heath Mohawk RX. The "time and frequency" standard for the net was from W6KUU Hal, who had a large monster of a TX called a Collins KW1. The RX was a Super Pro with a large spinner knob. To watch Hal work high speed CW traffic net’s was like watching an artist. Hal had the ability of using stereo headphones with TWO CW nets going, one in each ear. He could keep the two CW stations separate in his head and obtain near perfect copy. His other trick was to monitor traffic on one net while carrying on a conversation with a visitor in the ham shack, He would pause the conversation and turn back to his mill and type at a furious pace to "catch up", then turn back to the visitor and say "as you were saying?"

 

In those days the "El Cajon Amateur Radio Club" was being formed by Ed - WA6BGS. In those days El Cajon was still rural and there were horses and groves of trees. Ed had his Ham Shack in an old barn. He had a tower with a large Yagi on top. The TX was a Globe King 500 and the RX was a Collins 75A4, what a beautiful station. I could only dream! The ECARC is still an active large club and after ED's passing, they adopted his call sign as a club call.  

 

I also got involved with what was called "Civilian Defense" (CD), and started checking  the city of La Mesa into the Monday night net. Most city stations were located in the Fire Stations. The TX was a Viking 2 - Xtal controlled on 1987 KHz. The RX was a Hallicrafters SX71.  The antenna was a base loaded vertical, on the roof, with elevated counterpoise. All the stations on the net put in loud "slam dunk" signals. There also was a Gonset 2 meter "Goony Bird". All the gear had a large "CD" logo on the case. This was the time of the "cold War" and people were building "bomb" shelters in their back yards. I traveled out to Gillespie Field to tour the "net control".  What a set up. Large towers in the front and multiple operating positions using Viking Valiant TX, and HQ170 Receivers. I am still involved with the County of San Diego and work in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), but now it is called RACES.

 

I became active in Transmitter hunting. This sport was and still is a blast of fun! I rode "shotgun" while others drove. In those early days the hunts were on 10 meter AM, using mostly home brew equipment. When the hunters got close to the hidden transmitter, often the only portable “sniffer” needed was a good nose, to hunt for the smell of overheated power supply components! Books could be written on the fun that was had. I remember one hunt, but let me set the stage for the reader. This was in the days before freeways, in San Diego. To drive to "LA", one traveled the winding coastal 101. To drive north to what was then far away Escondido and points north, the only choice was 395. In those days "Mission Valley" was wall to wall agriculture and dairy farms. In my opinion it should have been left that way. Some day man will regret destroying very good farm land for shopping malls, car lots and freeways. The area north of the city was being torn out for the beginning construction of I-5. There was an entire neighborhood that had been destroyed and all that was left were foundations and streets - a perfect place to hide a hidden transmitter! The hunters started at the San Diego Zoo parking lot - as I remember. The bearing pointed north, and the race was on. Most arrived in the general area mentioned above, at about the same time. A car was spotted by its self way over from where we were. "That must be the hidden "T" we all thought! There was a labyrinth of roads to navigate. A number of hunters found the route and arrived at the same time. The headlights were shafting through the mystery car. We all jumped out at a run with our hand held DF units. What we observed was a couple in the back seat heavily engaged in an activity that would be embarrassing if photographed!! OOOPS!! SORRY TO BOTHER you two. We backed off and resumed the hunt. I could hear the woman screaming at her now EX boy friend "I thought you said this place was secluded!!"              

 

By the time I was a junior at San Diego State I could finally afford to purchase a car which was a 1964 VW bug (6Volt). I put a retired taxicab "West Coast" VHF FM transceiver in the bug. I put it on the now busy 2 meter 146.64 MHz simplex frequency. The problem was when I would key the 832 PA the VW would come close to shutting down and the lights would be way dim. After blowing out several generators, I turned that rig into a base station, and waited for the day I could afford a car with a 12 volt system. One day when I was on the air with the 2 meter FM rig, the transmitter suddenly quit. Not wanting to end the contact I grabbed my Heath grid dip oscillator, rigged up a link coil to the antenna and swished it on to the simplex frequency using the still working FM rig RX. Then I yelled into the side of the GDO which FM modulated the signal so my contact could hear me, (he was mobile - a few miles away). Ham ingenuity at work!  

 

After my graduation in 1967, from San Diego State University with an Electronics degree, and a minor in Radio & TV broadcasting, I attended a college Christian group who met for bible study near the SDSU campus. I had heard the gospel many years before but this time it took root in my soul, and I received the free gift of salvation from a living loving saviour - the Lord Jesus Christ. The burden of sin was lifted from my soul and I was flooded with peace and love that has never left me. My first prayer was for a job that I could also grow in my new faith. The next day, at a Christian gathering someone walked up to me and asked: "How would you like to work for KECR FM Family Radio, broadcasting the gospel?  What an answer to prayer! I needed a commercial license to work on the KECR transmitter, so I studied for my 1st class Radiotelephone license. I also practiced my CW skills by copying CW ship traffic on HF. I went on to pass my 1st Phone and 3rd telegraph and Amateur Extra at one sitting at the FCC office downtown.  This began my "Heavy Metal" adventures. KECR had a 5 KW GE FM transmitter up in Crest. It fed 5 Collins rings for an antenna. The transmitter was remote controlled from the studio in El Cajon. We had to do "Proof of Performance" test's which measured the entire audio frequency response from the mike, console, link and transmitter, combined.  Transmitter readings were from a rotary dial telephone selector. The engineer would dial a number and record the resultant meter reading. The cabling from the studio to Crest was vulnerable to Vandalism. In the country young people would "target practice" by shooting the glass insulators on the poles.  If they took out the cable, then KECR would lose the link and be dumped off the air. One day the transmitter suddenly left the air and would not reset from the studio. A trip to the Crest transmitter site found the breaker on the 3500 volt power supply had tripped. We reset the breaker and everything came back on. A few days later Bam! We were off the air again. These failures increased in frequency, driving us nuts. Finally we got a hard failure, where the breaker would not reset. Trouble shooting was not easy; 3500 volts at 1.5 amps can send a careless person into eternity real fast!  It was discovered that the HV secondary of the plate transformer had shorted to the case! Now how to get this beast back on the air? The transmitter was old and no longer supported by the manufacturer. The transformer would have to be custom made, which would take a long time. I suggested that they unbolt the transformer from the chassis and slip some 2 x 4 wood under it to insulate the frame from ground. There was a gasp at the thought of creating a lethal shock hazard, but as they considered the long time KECR would be off the air, it was decided to proceed with the plan, and very plainly mark and label the hazard. Eventually the transformer was replaced. Later I found employment at Marine Electric and worked on tuna fleet boats. My commercial license was becoming useful. Some of these boats were very old, dating back to WW2. On these I came across more "heavy Iron” rack mounted KW rigs that had worked the marine HF channels. Most used P-P link coupled PA tubes. They were no longer used because of the tighter type acceptance specs imposed by the FCC. I tried to get them "donated" to a good cause, by me for use in the Ham bands. I would like to report that I succeeded, but when the boats came back from a long fishing expedition, I usually found that these rigs had become true boat anchors. I got to work on some interesting ships, including the "Flip" which was a very long narrow research vessel. The front of the ship had ballast tanks that allowed the front to sink so the ship was in a vertical position, which allowed research work to be done without having to get wet.

 

One day, I was driving around La Jolla and I spotted a very large quad antenna. I just had to find what it was connected to!  I found a dirt non de script driveway down to a cement block house, where the hard line entered from the antenna. I knocked on the door with no response, and since it was unlocked I boldly walked in. When I opened the door there were a number of tall racks with meters and windows with glowing P-P 4-1000’s!  I turned the corner and there was a large room filled with Collins 51J4's and 75A4's. There were also a number of 28KSR RTTY machines. Talk about HAM heaven!  The on duty operator was friendly once he learned I was a curious ham operator. I learned the station belonged to Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The call used was "WWD". They used the station to communicate with research vessels traveling all over the world. The walls were covered with photo's and QSL cards from many exotic places. I had to ask "how does one get employment at this station?" I learned that work duty was split between 6 - 8 months of ship duty, and an equal time at WWD. Since I was newly married by now, I realized that sea duty would not be good for my marriage. Later at Marine Electric I got to work on the radios aboard the “David Star Jordan” a Scripps research ship.  

 

In 1973 we moved to Escondido Calif. and took a job with "Southcom”. They made HF SSB communications transceivers. The SC150 was used on commercial channels. The "Sea King" was used on fishing boats. The SC120 and 130 were 20 watt back pack military transceivers.  The Ham technicians like to put these rigs on the air during slack time. The company got into financial difficulty and there were layoffs.

 

I next worked for Trans World Communications (now Datron) they make military radios both HF SSB and VHF FM base, mobile, and portable pack sets like the popular PRC1099. I would love to purchase one. 

 

With all the college classes that I took for learning Electronic technology, I never found a course in "Trouble Shooting". This valuable skill was learned mostly by my Amateur Radio experiences. It all started in Joe's TV shop many years ago, and has been so invaluable to me all these years. I thank the many amateur radio operators that mentored me with much patience and kindness over the years.         

 

The equipment in my stations over the years of 1958 -76 are listed below. There were some overlaps.  

 

Transmitter                                                       Receivers       

BC474A                                                               BC474A

1625 50 Watt 80/40 xtal cw                           ARC5’s 80/40 meter

Heath DX20, Viking Navigator                        RME4300  

B&W 5100                                                          Heath Mohawk

Hallicrafters SR150                                           SR150

Drake TR3                                                          Drake TR3

Drake TR7                                                          Drake TR7

Web Hosting Companies