Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Friend Harry

Today, July 29th 2008, is my 75th anniversary of taking the amateur radio examination. It was 75 years ago today that Harry and I visited the radio inspector's office and passed our exams.

I was quite looking forward to the time when Harry and I would both retire and we could enjoy our friendship that started so many years ago. That hope was not destined to come true. Harry developed a heart problem in later years and unfortunately became a 'silent key'.

Amateur Radio was a major part of Harry's life history, something I feel I was also a part of in the early years. To get to that beginning we have to go back almost 60 years to when ham radio was called "amateur experimental".

It's hard to remember just how I met Harry but we went to the same grade school and soon found we had a common interest. Radio to us then was crystal sets, hooking up telephones between the house and the wood shed and trying to hear distant stations on the broadcast band.

Suddenly I discovered Amateur Radio and Harry shared my excitement. We became obsessed with the desire to get involved. Our wires from the house to the shed became keying lines and the telephones were exchanged for Morse keys and buzzers. We studied like crazy for months...eating, sleeping and dreaming of the day we would take our exam.

That day finally arrived: Saturday morning, 9 am, July 29, 1933. The elevator to the 14th floor seemed to take forever. Thank goodness the building only had a 12th and 14th floor, because if we had known the 14th was really the 13th, we would have failed for sure.

Walking through the door and being confronted by the all powerful Radio Inspector, the man viewed as being next to the Prime Minister, was awesome and traumatic. After managing the preliminaries indicating that we wanted to take the amateur exam, we were ushered in and seated.

I was chosen first to send a little code practice to Harry. After a couple of minutes I was told in a loud voice to stop. It was then Harry's turn to send and then in a couple more minutes there was another loud "stop". Harry and I already had our speed up to about 20 wpm so the Inspector must have been satisfied. Although we didn't realize it at the time, that was our code exam. Next came diagrams and oral questions, and all the time we were feeling failure.

Finally we were asked for 50 cents and that to us in the Depression was big money. When we asked what that was for, the Inspector barked that it was the examination fee...we had passed and did we want it or not. Actually the tough attitude was all a put-on. We found later that he bent over backwards to give the hams a break.

Harry, being a bit younger, continued on with school. I got on the air but Harry didn't have time. I eventually got a job and moved away. Harry finished school and also got a job, then joined the Air Force when Canada entered WW2 in 1939.

Over the years I saw little of Harry as we were both busy working or studying and raising a family. Little gems of information told me he went to university on his Veteran's credits and received a degree in teaching. In a few years he went back to university and got his Masters and then his PhD. With his qualifications he was appointed to the faculty of the University of British Columbia.

One evening several years ago I thought I would relax and listen to the ham radio. After listening to a few stations, I hit one that took my attention. The operator was talking about the University of BC and his son Wayne and his wife, May. Things started clicking into place...this sounded like Harry. Finally on his signover, I got the call letters, VR4CC. I couldn't believe it! It was Harry down in the Solomon Islands. When he cleared with his contact I gave him a call and he came right back with HI AL. Apparently the Canadian government had sent him out on a special educational assignment. Fortunately some departing ham had sold him a FT101 and a G5RV antenna which put him on the air.

When he returned home he brought the rig and antenna with him and stayed active. He applied for a VE7 call and was offered a reissued call sign with the suffix next to mine. He claimed it was probably the one he would have received if he had taken it when I got mine in 1933.

Later another assignment took him to California where he had further cardiac problems. Unfortunately he was unable to make it to retirement and we were never able to take up our old friendship. Harry always gave great credit for his success to ham radio. He believed it was the Amateur exam that put him in a position to take advantage of all the Right circumstances. His ticket put him in the Air Force as a Radar Officer and promotion came fast.

So to my old friend Harry, it's 73's and SK.

(for those non-hams who may be reading this, 73's means "best regards" and SK means "end of transmission".

73's...Al (VE7KC)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Back Yard Radio Club

As teenagers, little did we think, when the stock market crashed in 1929, that it would have a profound effect on our future. The shock waves that created the great depression meant no work, little money and lots of spare time. This situation did much to create the 'Golden Days of Radio'.

Being young, many of us had considerable interest in this wonder of the age, much like the kids of today with their fascination with computers. At this stage my interest was mainly in broadcast band DX. My buddies and I would stay up half the night trying to hear KDKA Pittsburg, WLW Cincinnatti, WGY Schenectdady and with good conditions, JOAK Japan and VK2ME Australia.

Just about this time my father built a shed in the back yard, for what purpose I don't know. Maybe a car, although we didn't own one, or maybe a workshop. In any case it didn't get to be either as it got commandeered for a club house.

Of course it had to be made usable so we found an old wood stove as a start. Next we lined the inside walls with old cardboard boxes and papered them with newspaper comics. This turned out to be a serious mistake as some of the members and visitors were distracted and spent too much time reading the walls and ceiling. We eventually improved the walls and got rid of the comics in favour of real wallpaper. One memorable occasion occurred when a member doing the ladder work stepped down and put his foot in the paste bucket. Fo some reason, he didn't appreciate the humour of the situation.

Even up to this stage we were still not aware of Amateur Radio. The big break came by accident. Every fall the Vancouver dealers put on radio shows promoting the latest sets; Stromberg, Carlson, Atwater Kents, Marconi, Philco and a host of others. As an attraction, one of theses shows included an operating ham station and fortunately I just happened to attend.

One of the two operators was a young outgoing fellow who set out to explain what Amateur Radio was all about. Seeing that he had a potential convert, I was invited to see his home station. The receiver had two tubes and the transmitter had one, both ran off the same B eliminator power supply. The antenna ran straight out of the upstairs window, through a condenser and clipped directly on the tank coil. My new found friend also told me about the big radio club and suggested I should attend.

This information was relayed back to our radio club membership and immediately we had a new interest. The 'big' radio club turned out to be a bonanza. We found a friendly licensed ham who agreed to attend our meeting and teach us the requirements for becoming a radio amateur. Learning how vacuum tubes worked, how circuits oscillated and how an antenna resonated was pretty heady stuff for us budding hams.

Besides learning the technicalities, we enjoyed the social life of getting together. After a meeting we would take a collection for coffee makings and buy some day-old doughnuts. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter were special and somehow we found money for turkeys. The mothers did the cooking and one member started bringing his sister. It would appear that all members were not just interested in Amateur Radio. Our intructor proved this by marrying the sister.

Eventually all members wrote their exams, obtained their call signs and got a rig on the air. At this time most of us didn't realize we were preparing ourselves for a career in radio. Some became commercial operators, some radio service technicians, avionics specialists, plus other vocations in electronics and communications. One even credited Amateur Radio as being the route to his Ph.D.

The club disbanded long ago, the club house disappeared and most of the members are now 'silent keys'. Of course more than 70 years have passed now, but for myself there are many happy memories of the old back yard radio club.

this story was originally written in and published in World Radio Magazine in June 1995.