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.