Enjoying Radio

National FB-7/FBX ad picture, October 1933 QST magazine   
    The signal faded in slowly, dying away into the background roar, returning.
    Jim's heart was pounding so hard it shook him.
    "Calling DX."
    Thousands of miles of black, tumbling ocean intervened. Outside, the two great towers, outlined irregularly in white, rose up and up into the swirling snow; downstairs, the input reactors sang monotonously in the ghastly glow of the rectifiers. The filaments of the push-pull stage in the 7-mc. amplifier imparted a dull radiance to the polished edges of the neutralizing condenser discs. All were ready, waiting to hurl the dynamite.
—from John C. Flippin, W4VT, "Jim," 01935

You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: You send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.—Albert Einstein

    Once a year Jeremy used to aim his highly directional rhomboid antenna up in the direction of Ceres Minor and transmit Indian music. Just for a few minutes. Just to let them know. Just in case they were listening.
    You might do the same from time to time. So they can be sure.
—Lorenzo W. Milam, Sex and Broadcasting, 01975.


y the mid 1880s CE, humankind had discovered and could rudimentarily produce and detect the electromagnetic emissions we now call radio. By World War I, the importance to human society of radio for commerce and defense had enlivened popular culture such that organizations of private, nonprofessional radio experimenters—radio amateurs, later nicknamed hams—had come into being worldwide. In the 1920s, the advent of broadcasting, first via radio wavelengths of hundreds of meters, later on shorter wavelengths found by hams to be more easily capable of spanning intercontinental distances, and later still at the much shorter wavelengths used by FM and television, spawned the hobby of distance listening—DXing, a sport even more energetically enjoyed by hams in two-way form. Even though my father and uncle had been licensed radio amateurs since the 1930s, my boyhood encounter with the how and why of the medium behind radio's message began with my own discovery that each nightfall brought to even the lowliest kitchen AM/mediumwave radio a flood of signals from cities hundreds to thousands of miles away. For me, radio works magic that cannot fail to enthrall.

But ah, what a beautiful thing a well-made rotary was! Here was where dreams were made. Here, in its crashing blue-white spark, was tangible evidence of its might. No matter if it could be heard for blocks—as indeed it could, unless it were put in a double box. No matter if it blinded the operator as well as made him deaf, and gave him red-rimmed eyes from its vaporized zinc electrodes. What if it did lose most of its energy in light, heat and sound; was it not the visible and mighty heart of radio?—from K. B. Warner, W1EH, "Silver Anniversary," 01940

Gildersleeve cartoon Table of Contents man  
Amateur Radio W9BRD Then and Now
The First W9VES
Amateur Radio W9VES I (01935–01969) and W9VES II (01996–02014)
Pretend Ham Radio
How to Get More Time for Ham Radio
The Marvelous Regenerative Receiver
A Cascoded-Triodes (Synthetic Tetrode) Regenerative Receiver
But Not For Voice (Robert S. Kruse, W1BAO, 01936, comparing regenerative receivers for Morse code and voice)
Celebrating Radio with a Navy RAL-5 Regenerative Receiver
A Hybrid Pentode-MOSFET Regenerative Mixer
The Crystalizer: Obtaining Crystal-Oscillator Output at f, Harmonics, and Subharmonics
A Two-BJT Variable Frequency Oscillator
Intrinsic Negative Resistance as a Cause of Parasitic Oscillations in Beam Power Tubes
Celebrating the One-Tube-Oscillator Transmitter
HC-49-Crystal-Safe Vacuum Tube Transmitter Designs
Seventy-Five Years of the Boosted Pierce
A Cautionary Note on the McCoy "Mighty Midget" Transmitter
Rediscovering the Band-Imaging Receiver
The full schematic of the Goodman Miser's Dream Receiver
Notes on R. L. Drake Receivers and Transmitters
Lowering the CW Receiving Pitch in the Yaesu FR-101 Receiver
Homemade Equipment Pictures
It's Been a Great Winter (K. B. Warner, W1EH, 01931)
Hams We Are (K. B. Warner, W1EH, 01931)
"I Can't Be Bothered" (R. B. Bourne, W1ANA, 01932)
Silver Anniversary (K. B. Warner, W1EH, 01940)
Christmas, 1944 (R. H. Newkirk, W9BRD, 01946)
The Opening of the Band (R. B. Bourne, W1ANA, 01946)
Jim (John C. Flippin, W4VT, 01935)
The Snug Ham Shack in Winter: Harry Hick's December 01956 QST Cover
Farewell to Monrovia
Main at Starr

We returned the midget monster with thanks and eagerly moved back among our economy-sized apparatus, choosing to be surrounded by our station. The v.f.o. is here, the rest of the exciter is up there, the driver is down here, and the final is in there. The t.r. switch is under this, the antenna coupler is over there, and the audio section is around somewhere. The power supplies are well distributed, and we can still monitor our keying by the blue pulsations of picturesque 83s and 816s. The receiver? Here we're even neater. The crystal front end is boxed at left, the tuned i.f. strip is in that one-pound coffee can, and the audio is—well, it may be in that two-pound cookie tin at right. Not sure of those other boxes and chassis till we take another inventory. When the next issue of QST arrives we'll be in there with our soldering stuff to try a suggested circuit or two. Plenty of elbow room, so we won't need a microscope for the job.—the previous W9BRD, "How's DX?," QST, January 01964, page 85.

And now, when the receiver has been built, adjusted, and placed in satisfactory working condition, it will be permissible to sit back and take a long breath. For the receiver is one of the essential parts of the amateur station. It it has been correctly built and if the location of the station is satisfactory it will receive as far as any transmitter can send. If it has open tuning scales; if it has lots of sensitivity and amplification; and if it is smooth and quiet in operation, it will be a very great comfort and a source of splendid pleasure.The Radio Amateur's Handbook, ARRL, 01929–01933

    Well, there you were, except for the gadgets such as blocking condensers, 'phones, kick-back preventer, change-over switch and a key with contacts as big as dimes to carry the heavy current. What could you do with it? You couldn't do much in the summer, particularly at night, because of the static. You couldn't hear anything when anybody else was sending in the same town, because a nearby signal occupied the whole tuner. But given a break, you could talk for miles, many miles. And given a really good break, a crisp clear winter night in the wee hours after the young squirts with the spark-coils had gone to bed, you could have the time of your life and actually work for hundreds of miles . . . if the signals didn't fade out, if interference didn't start up, if you didn't blow a condenser, or if you didn't lose that critical adjustment. Or if the cops didn't run you in for maintaining a nuisance, or a wind blow down your masts. And you could investigate the phenomenon known as kickbacks-in-the-power-wiring and, as we twice did, set the house on fire. Or the phenomenon known as corona losses, watching the great fuzzy caterpillars on the high-voltage parts of your antenna system. Or involve yourself in endless arguments over high note versus low, what the power factor is in a freely oscillating circuit, or how loose the coupling ought to be to obtain a "pure" wave.
    Those, our friends, were the days from which amateur radio has come.
—from K. B. Warner, W1EH, "Silver Anniversary," 01940

I've been a ham forever. I thought I'd lost interest in radio, but it turned out that I'd only lost interest in post-modern radio. It's all boring chitchat on overdesigned, mass-produced toys that are obsolete every 9 months. Since just about everyone in industrial countries will soon be wearing global communication on their belt, the romance will inevitably shift from the mere doing of radio to doing it as art. It's already starting, as witness the sudden rush to own any kind of tube radios at all.Hugh's Ominous Valve Works, The RF Section, encountered in this form on May 22, 01998

Amateur Radio As We Know It Today will come to an end at midnight tonight.—D. Newkirk, WJ1Z, "A 40-Meter Regenerative Receiver You Can Build," QST, September 01992

Revised February 12, 02023. Text not otherwise attributed is copyright © 2006–2023 by David Newkirk (DavidNewkirk@gmail.com). All rights reserved.