Those Fabulous Fifties

— an era in retrospect

C Stewart Gitlmor W1FK Spencer Road Higganum C 7 i)64«if

Of course, you remember your old rigs, but what was everybody else using 25 years ago? I have two different "dream" station s from 25 years ago One was pictured on the cover of the 25<T ARRL pamphlet, "How to Become a Radio Amateur It showed a youth sitting in a room that was plastered with QSL cards. Apparently everything the kid needed in order to get those QSL cards was on the desk in front of him: A little home-built two-tube receiver and a one-tube home-built transmitter constructed on a wood chassis with an 80-meter coil wound of red and white bell wire. Fhat was my dream station back in 1952 I stared at this cover photo for hours while I was studying the code and the questions for the Nov ice test

I never saw a picture of my other dream station I first heard of it in 1953, just after I got my General ticket. This hot-stuff dream rig was supposedly owned by a farmer someplace west of me in the state of Kansas, I never knew who this guy was, nor did I learn his name or call, (Today, I'm not sure he ever existed,) He had a complete Collins station: 75A-3 receiver, 32V-3 exciter, and KW I final Remember, this equipment went for over $5000 in 1M5 V To top it all off, so the story went, the guy had a forest of telephone poles, wjth rhombics going off in eight directions.

As I recalled these thoughts recently, I figured that it would be interesting to find out what the aver age ham really used 25 years ago. So I dug out a bundle of QSL cards from 1953-55, my first three years on the air as a Novice and as a General class license holder Some of you may be a little surprised, as was I, to discover which rigs were the most popular in 1953

It was an interesting time for amateur radio World War II was recent enough so that there was still lots ot surplus gear around The Novice class license was a new option and the market for ham gear was opening up, vet you coutd still go into radio outlets like Bur stein-AppIebee in Kansas City or Walter Ashe in St Louis and buy single resistors and other small com ponent parts At Fort Orange Radio in Albany NY, they even sold rf cigars! At least their ads always showed "Uncle Dave W2APF in his shack calling

Mount Cadillac Nudes
Fig. 7. Vtking II transmitter with Heathkit VF-1 vto. Photo courtesy oi W1FYM, 64 73 Magaztne * August, 1960
Harvey Wells Bandmaster

Fig, 2. Harvey-Wells Bandmaster transmitter. This example has been much modified over the years.

CQ with rf coming out of his stogie.

My first rig was a National SW-54 allband receiver and a home-brew single 807 transmitter using an end-fed Zepp antenna on 80 meters It seems that I was not at all unusual in starting with a home-made transmitter and a commercially-built receiver I entered ham radio long after the time when hams made their own condensers out ot mason jars and toil, but home-buift and surplus conversion rtgs were very < om-mon,

1 dug out a bundle of seventy cards, sent by hams from Maine to California to me in Grandview MO. 1 went through these and made a list of the rigs, antennas, and bands used by each. Let's look at the transmitters first. Eleven zards described home-built iransmitters of less than 100 A'atts input and another *leven home-brew jobs angedj from 100 Watts to a ;W, Four more rigs were BC ind ARC Command series var surplus conversions, ind forty-four rigs were •uilt from kits or were pur-hased ready-made.

Far and away the most opular transmitter t orked during the mid-}50s was the Johnson Vik-g series. Seventeen of the ?venty rigs listed in my jndle of cards were Vik-gs, many ot which were >me*built The Viking II id |ust come out; its pre-icessor, Viking 1, was very jpular and the improved odel seemed to be every-iere It was available in ; form only in 1953 and tnt for $279.50, with a ir of 614b fmais modulat-by a pair of 807s There i still a lot of Viking ngs jse today, many of which 1 operating on the 27Hz Citizens Band, The Johnson company, like mmarlund, fames Mil, and many other radio companies, advertised its component parts at great length in the radio magazines, but Johnson really came into its own with the Viking series. Soon they added the Viking Ranger, along with regular and mobile vfo kits. Eventually, by the late 1950s, they had a whole line of transmitters, from the Adventurer (a small CW rig) to their kilowatt final console, which was built into a desk. The lohnson stuff was good gear When I was at Stanford University, the EE department took a great manv Viking kilowatt finals and converted them to 2-kW pulse amplifiers which were used all over the world during the tGY for HF radar backscatter experiments on

After the Viking I and II transmitters, the next most frequent model mentioned in my bundle of QSL cards was the Cadillac of ham gear, the Collins 32V series, of which t worked five examples The 32V-3 cost $775, with its IDM tetrode tinal modulated by a patr of 807s. Seven of the seventy rigs were put out ready-made or in kit form b\ Leo Meyerson's World Radio Labs in Council Bluffs IA Four of the seven were his big 400-Watt Globe King models, rigs designed to utilize a pair of wartime produced final tubes, two V-70-Ds which were like 812s except they had 7.5-volt filaments. Leo also put out Globe Trotters, Scoutsr Chiefs, and Champs, advertising ' More workable Watts per dollar/' The Globe King was a real boat anchor—the first several models were coU-changmg types and one was in a Bud Company cabinet three racks tall.

Most popular among the littie commercial rrgs was the Harvey-Wells Bandmaster series (T BS-50 to 50D). Four of the seventy cards were from guys using Bandmasters. This little 807 rig was described optimistically as working from 80 meters clear down to 2 meters, with top band operation possible if you built up the capacitance and inductance In the 80-meter tank circuit Now, the 807 tetrode was only designed to go up through 6 meters at full ratings, and the Bandmaster plate* urrent meter was useless at 2 meters, so you had to tune it using a flashlight bulb! Pretty primitive —but it didn't matter much, since the other guy on 2 was probably using a Gonset Communicator Depending on whether you wanted the stripped down " I unior" or one of the more fancy models, the Bandmaster went lor about $160 in kit form, includ ing power supply Included among the other rigs 1 worked were Heath (they came out with the AT-1 peanut whistle about 1954, then ¿he DX 100), Meissner, Elmac, Tenar. and Sonar f n-gineering

The home-brew rigs I worked went all the way from a 6AG7 os< ilIator/6Lb final running 12 Watts up to one guy using a pair of 2r>0s at a full gallon Overall, the home-builder seemed to choose a bLb final for low-power rigs and a single 807 or pair of 807s (or its 12-volt version 1625) for mediumpower rigs The bigger boys ran tubes like the 812, 813, or 250. As 1 remember, at ieast half the hams were rockbound Vfos were outboard accessories foi most rigs All sorts of little outfits

1980 Ham Radios
Fig. 3. Hallicrafters SX-71 receiver, introduced in 1950.
1980 Ham Radios

Fig. 4. National NC-183D receiver This model was new in 1953, based on the NC-18S, introduced in 1948. Photo courtesy of National Radio Company.

(between the Ozarks and Chicago] were sources of cheap crystals in FT-243 holders. We could adjust some of these by grinding them with toothpaste or grinding compound, The crystals cost less than $1.00 apiece, and if you ground one too unevenly, causing it to quit oscillating, it was no great hardship to throw it away.

Going back over those seventy QSL cards, I was surprised to find Hallicrafters so dominant among receivers Almost half (thirty-four) of the receivers were Hallicrafters, including ten of the modei SX-71 s„ The SX-71, at $22$, was the cream of the "medium prtce class/' as the Hallicrafters ads used to say It was a double-conversion superhet with eleven tubes and a rectifier, covering the broadcast band up through b meters. Among the other Hallicrafters receivers worked were SX-99s, S-76s, 5-43s, S-42s, quite a few S-40s, an S-28, S-24, S-20, S-17, and a coupie of S-3fis I remember the S-38s well because f had their rival—National's SW-54. iach of these little table radios sold for a few cents under $50, National produced seventeen of the oth er receivers listed: the NC-183, -173, -125, -98, -88, -46, and the famous HRO series. The third most popular receiver manufacturer was Hamrnarlund, with nine examples including the HQ-129, the HQ-140, and the celebrated ' Super Pro" I worked only a couple of guys with Collins 75A-series receivers. It was beautiful gear but too expensive for most of us. In 1953, the 75A-3 cost about $670 with all accessories.

Of course, for commercial and military use, Ham-mariund made the SP-600, Collins the 51| series, and Hallicrafters the SX-73. We only heard of these at military base ham and MARS stations because they ran all the way up to $1000 per receiver. Quite a tew fellows used the surplus World War 11 receivers on 80 and 40 meters, or with converters for the higher frequencies.

Looking over the old cards for their choice of antennas, I divided the cards into low bands (80 and 40 meters) and high bands (20 through 10 meters) On the higher bands, everybody seemed either to have a beam or else merely a dipole. Some beams were all grounded "plumber's delights." lelrex was the beam to own, although 1 often worked Mosley, Hy* Gain, and other beams. I don't remember working anybody who had anything other than a 2- or 3-elemen beam, although some o these were "mini-beamsh and "tri-beams." Quad were not heard of (at leas not around my area) n those days, Eventually I go 3 elements on 20 meter and 3 elements on 10 mt ters, and I turned them wit a chain-driven, prop-pitc motor or with a pip wrench (most of the time Lots of guys used proi pitch motors for bigger a rays and selsyn motors f< smaller antennas. The Si syns wouldn't always tuf since they had limited torque and they sometimes "hunted"' for each other. That is, the selsyn in the shack and the selsyn on the tower would end up pointing in some mutually satisfactory direction unknown to the chief op

As you might expect, the low bands turned up a larger list of antenna types, though most were wjre antennas. Half of all antennas worked were dipoles, with the plain dipoie or ''doublet in use more often than the popular folded dipoie. This latter came into use after World War If when plastic-covered 300-0hm line became readily available at TV stores. Only a few hams among those in my bundle of seventy QSL cards used verticals It was still some time before the trap vertical was used as a popular antenna Finally, there were a few off-center-fed wires which the oper ators usually called "Win-dom" antennas. Others used end-ted wires including a half-wave wire end-fed with VS- or VS.--wave 600-Ohm open-line feeders. This "Zepp"-type antenna had been developed for use on the German Zeppelin airships. In the mid-50sH 600-0hm open-spaced line and 75-Ohm twisted-pair wire were still often used.

t have reported only on CW and AM contacts in my bundle of QSLs from 19S3-1955 I did not get a chance to operate SSB until 1958, but one heard the "Sidewinders" or "Donald Ducks" on the phone bands 25 years ago The ARRL Handbook introduced a chapter on SSB and also on DSB (double sideband) techniques tverybody was learning how to tune in the stuff (rf gam down, at gain up, fiddle with the bfo.. .). Central Electronics of Chicago was selling SSB exciters and other companies quickly got on the bandwagon. As for AM ngs, most guvs f talked with had high-

Receiver Hro

Fig. 5. The National HRO receiver. The first HRO, a 9-tube superhet, was introduced in 19.34. All featured the famous "PW HRO precision-ganged tuning condenser. The HRO-Sixty, shown here, came out in 1953. Photo courtesy of National Radio Company.

level plate-modulated transmitters, although quite a few used the cheaper cathode- or grid-modulated approaches. I remember a radio handbook photo of a one-tube cathode modulator which plugged in the CW key jack.

Among these seventy QSl.s from 25 years ago are four from YL operators. My mother thought I was driving the house crazy talking about ham radio, so, unknown to me, she went down and took her Novice test and passed She drove up one spring day to where our high school track team was practicing and just showed me her Novice ticket. She later passed her Technician ticket and became W0TRC

The Heath Company was beginning to expand their line of instrument kits, but most hams I knew didn't have much test equipment back in 1953. WWII surplus instruments usually amounted to signal generators and voltmeters. I knew one guy who had a Dumont Fig. 6. Heathkit model 0-8" 5-inch oscilloscope, dc to 1 three-inch scope and one MHz, $43.50 in kit form tn 1953. Drawing courtesy ot other fellow who owned a Heath Company.

Fig. 5. The National HRO receiver. The first HRO, a 9-tube superhet, was introduced in 19.34. All featured the famous "PW HRO precision-ganged tuning condenser. The HRO-Sixty, shown here, came out in 1953. Photo courtesy of National Radio Company.

1980 Ham Radios1980 Ham Radios

gear, either. What I did seem to covet were Greenlee metal chassis punches. They weren't cheap, but I managed to collect four or five, for octal sockets, miniature sockets, etc. Somehow, I always seemed to mangle the minibox I was working on, even when I was using a chassis punch.

My brief survey of some hams I worked 25 years ago doesn't pretend to be the last word in statistical sampling. If you chose to go back 30 years, you would not find many hams with commercial kit transmitters If you go back only 20 years, you would find that SSB was really getting a major part of the market. For example, E. F. Johnson had several SSB exciters to go with their "Viking Kilowatt/' Hallicrafters had the HT-32 SSB exciter and HT-33 kW amplifier, and Collins had their "S" line. Perhaps, if you had lived in a different region than me, your sample of cards would include hams who used El-dico, Conset, Eico, B & W, RME, Tecraft, Central Electronics, or other gear.

All in all, most hams 25 years ago weren't appliance operators. Nearly everyone had a commercial receiver, but about Vj used homebrew transmitters with another Vz using commercial designs built from kits, if you worked one of my "average" hams in 1953, he probably used a dipoie on the lower HF bands and a dipoie or beam on 14 MHz and above. Most likely he was running an 807, a pair of 1625s home-brew, or a kit-built Viking I!, and he was receiving you on an SX-71. Chances are one of you had a vfo and the other was rockbound.

What might you find today? Why not dig into your drawer and read your QSL cards! ■

Fig, 7. Heathkit model "GD-l" grid-dip Oscillator, 2 to 250 MHz, $19.50 in kit form. Drawing courtesy of Heath Company.

grid-dipper. Several hams that I knew owned VTVMs, but the vswr meter was rather rare around my neighborhood. The extent of my own test gear in the 1950s was an Eico multimeter kit which I built for

$12.90. I also had a neon bulb for an rf indicator. At this time I was only a high-school kid and therefore not expected to own much test gear. But I really don't remember my older ham friends owning much test

The antenna with a big difference.

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