Good Ole’ Ham Radios, by W9PPG, Bill Weinhardt

     Updated 26 September 2001.      URL is

Editor’s note: This is the most impassioned love of a hobby I’ve ever read. S. W.

got to thinking the other day of my 46 years in ham radio and some of the equipment that I have used. Back in 1951, I was 12 years old when I got my Novice license, and WW II government surplus equipment that could be converted to ham band use was common. About a year before I got my novice license I was trying to learn the code to pass the general class examination. My dad made a trip to Chicago with a ham friend, Glen Rogers, W9ASX, who also worked on the police department and came back with two ARC-5 command set receivers and a companion transmitter. One of the receivers covered 3-6 MHz thus it could be used on the 80 meter amateur band. The other was the 6-9 MHz receiver and the ARC-5 transmitter would cover the 40 meter band.

he novice class license was to be put into effect at some point the next year. It was to have code operating privileges on the 80 meter and 11 meter (changed to 15 meters a few years later) amateur bands with phone and cw privileges on a portion of the two meter band. Since I was having trouble getting up to 13 wpm code speed for the general, I soon started preparing for the 5 wpm novice exam and intended to take the test as soon as I could after it went into effect.

o listen to W1AW and to have a receiver to use assuming I got my license, I got some help from dad’s ham friend and converted the 3-6 MHz ARC-5 receiver to AC operation (it had been used in military aircraft and the filaments operated from 24 V DC and had used a dynamotor power supply for the high voltage). With this little receiver (which I still have by the way), I copied code practice from W1AW, other hams when I could find anyone slow enough for me, and I must admit a lot of AM phone on the 75 meter band.

he novice license went into effect in July of 1951 as I recall and the first time the FCC examiner was to make his quarterly visit to Indianapolis was to be in August(in those days there were no volunteer examiners and all examinations were before an FCC examiner). My parents took me to Indianapolis on the scheduled day and I took the code test and the written exam. I knew I passed the code since they didn’t allow you to take the written exam unless you passed the code. You had no idea whether or not you passed the written exam until you received your license or a notice in the mail a few months later.

ince I felt fairly confident that I did OK on the written test, I was soon going to need a transmitter – I hoped so anyway. Help came from my dad’s ham friend on the police department and his junk box. He had a defunct old Meissner signal shifter so everything was stripped from it except the power supply, the other tube sockets and a big multisection variable capacitor. Glen (dad’s friend) quickly sketched out a simple two-tube crystal controlled transmitter and told me to use as many parts as I could that I had stripped out of the old signal shifter as long as the values were close. Well, after a few weeks and much help from Glen and some additional parts, I had a transmitter with a 6V6 crystal oscillator and a 2E26 amplifier (2E26’s were in plentiful supply from Glen since he was in charge of police communications and the 2E26’s used in the mobile units were replaced at routine intervals). But would it work? Since I didn’t have a license yet – over to Glen’s house with the rig for him to try it and no it didn’t work the first time. He found a few bad solder joints, some wiring errors, and had to change a few component values and then low and behold a transmitter that worked and in checking things out with his Simpson, ran about 30 watts input. Now all I had to do was wait for my license.

few days after my birthday in early October when I got home from school there was a letter in the mail from the FCC. I opened it and there it was – my license with my call letters – WN9PPG ( back then the letter N was inserted in the call sign for novice and then after upgrading it was removed. Now I had my license but was afraid to get on the air. A phone call later and Glen was on the air and he became my first contact. Over the next three or four months, I gained confidence and made quite a few contacts with this setup. The ARC-5 receiver left a bit to be desired though. The 3700-3750 KHz novice band covered only about one quarter inch on the circular dial and the 1435 KHz IF didn’t do much for selectivity either. On the crowded novice band, it was very difficult to separate stations.

ad had told me that when I reached a certain number of contacts, I could have a new used receiver. After about 5 months, I reached that number and soon I had a National NC-57 receiver. This had a bandspread dial and what a world of difference. I thought I would never need anything better. All the while I was working toward upgrading to General class license. Back then, the Novice was good only for one year and non-renewable. Unless you upgraded, you were done.

n May of 1952, we took the train to Chicago and spent the night in a hotel so we could be at the FCC office early the next morning for my General class examination. To make a long story short, I passed and in July my new ticket came in the mail without the letter N in the call sign. Of course now I wanted to get on phone but better CW horizons had opened as well. Now I could use all the 80 meter CW band plus 40 meters which was entirely a CW band at that time. Some more crystals for 80 and an amplifier coil and some crystals for 40 and I was in business, or was I. Well I now had a license that entitled me to operate phone on some of the HF bands but I didn’t have a phone transmitter.

n interesting side note. Incentive licensing existed then. Up to 1953 or 54, General class licensees had no phone privileges on 75 meters or 20 meters; you needed an Advanced class license. There was no phone operation on 40 and there was no 15 meter ham band. Then 100 KHz of 40 was opened up to phone and 15 meters was opened for ham use. At about the same time, the Extra class was created but General, Advanced, and Extra were all granted full operating privileges.

nyhow in 1952 I desperately wanted to get on phone. An old ham who was had been a railroad telegrapher was selling out and he had a home brew 10 meter phone transmitter I had my eye on. The deal was however that he wanted to get rid of everything so to get the transmitter, I had to take everything else. It took most of the money I had earned that summer working for the City traffic department painting yellow curbs, white stripes for crosswalks, and yellow traffic signals but I wound up with the transmitter, a WW II surplus BC-348 receiver (this turned out to be the real gem of the purchase) and a bunch parts and other stuff.

So now I had 50 watt phone transmitter for 10 meters but guess what? The 11 year sunspot cycle. We were just about at the bottom of the low end of it, and propagation on 10 meters was in the cellar. The only other HF band on which I was entitled to operate phone was 160 meters. No problem says dad’s friend. Just convert the transmitter from 10 meters to 160, so with his help I did and got on 160 meter phone. Meanwhile I had found the BC-348 receiver to be far superior to the National NC-57. I made a bunch of new friends on 160 and continued to operate some CW on 40 and 80 as well.

year or two later ham radio took a drastic change with 40 meter phone, a new 15 meter band and full HF operating privileges with a General class license. Also there was this strange "Donald Duck" type talk showing up on the phone bands. SSB was beginning to appear. After much soul searching, I spent another summers worth of yellow paint earnings (money I was saving to buy a car when I got to be 16) to purchase in kit form a Central Electronics 10A SSB exciter. I think it cost about $125 as a kit.

ince I didn’t really have a good place to assemble the kit, a ham who had a TV service shop allowed me to use some of his bench space and tools to build the kit. I went to his shop every afternoon after school and over several weeks got the kit put together. (Side note: This ham was Bob Peck W9MOW who several years later with Ed Hoover W9SAR and Bob Walgreen formed a company called P & H Electronics and built for the ham market a line of linear amplifiers. The first was the LA-400 which used 4 modified 1625 tubes in grounded grid).

got it on the air in early 1954 using a converted BC-458 ARC-5 transmitter as the 5-5.5 Mho VFO. The Central Electronics 10A ran about 10 watts input on SSB and CW. When there weren’t many people operating SSB, it was amazing what these 10 watts would do. I worked California stations numerous times on 75 meters in the mid fifties on SSB and made tons of CW contacts on 40 and 80. The BC-348 was not really a great SSB receiver so I progressed to a used Hammurlund HQ140X along about 1955. I started construction of an amplifier for the 10A but by then cars, dating, and soon going to college interfered with my ham activities. I continued to use this last setup during my time in college and left it at home when I went into the Navy on graduation.

uring my Navy years in Pacific fleet submarines during the sixties my ham activities were pretty much on hold since COMSUBPAC did not permit amateur operation. I did spend time in the radio room though with the radiomen and the TCS, TBL, RAK’s, and by the mid sixties R-390’s and the Collins URC-32. I spent a lot of time listening on the ham bands and wishing I could operate. I actually did once and very briefly.

e were enroute from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and the skipper had a message he absolutely had to get out. The radiomen were unable to raise any Naval COMSTA. The skipper had directed me as Operations Officer and my Communications Officer, who was also a ham, to stay in the radio room until we could find out what was wrong with the equipment. They were using a military frequency not far removed from the 40 meter ham band. We quickly found that they couldn’t get any Navy shore station to respond but Tom and I could see nothing wrong with the equipment.

n desperation, to determine whether the gear was working or not we decided to QSY the TCS (a 75 watt CW/AM phone Navy transmitter) to the 40 meter CW band. We made up a bogus New Zealand call, sent out a short CQ-DX, and set back and listened to a humongous pile-up. We figured if we could get someone’s attention with the TCS on 40 CW, the radiomen should be able to do the same with the 500 watt TBL a few hundred KHz away if they kept trying. Eventually they did succeed.

bout the time I was transferred across country to teach at Submarine School at New London, CT dad told me he had just got his novice license and was now on the air using my old HQ140X and a transmitter he had traded with my Central Electronics 10A.

decided to get back on the air and through the newspaper classified ads ran across a Drake 2B and EICO 723 being sold by a former novice who had lost interest and didn’t upgrade. This got me back on the air quickly but it wasn’t long that I wanted something better in the way of a transmitter.

ad was working furiously to get his General class so we could talk on phone instead of CW. SandRA (my wife) and I made a trip to the Big Apple on the New Haven RR and one of the places I went was Harrisons to look for a used SSB transmitter. As we walked in the door there was a stack of brand new Hallicrafters HT-44‘s on the floor at a very reasonable price. Hallicrafters was closing them out. I had one shipped back to New London and I used the Drake/Hallicrafter combination for about 6 years. Dad and I started keeping weekly skeds while we were in Connecticut and later in Maryland. We soon found that CW was far more reliable for our skeds than SSB.

In the early 70’s I decided that I wanted either a transceiver or a receiver/transmitter combination that would transceive, so after much investigation I retired the Drake/Hallicrafter setup and went with the Kenwood Twins. I used this setup for nearly 20 years and had excellent luck, though I do believe the Drake 2B was a superior receiver.

By the late 80’s the new 12, 17, and 30 meter bands had been authorized and my Kenwood setup would not operate them. I guess I must have dropped enough hints about that because for Christmas 1989 my wife and son (KA9EFU) presented me with a Heath SB-1400 transceiver. (It was made for Heath by Yaesu and really was a FT-747 with a different front panel). WARC bands watch out, and boy have I had fun on them-particularly 30 meters.

he SB-1400 died on me in 1996 while keeping a CW sked with dad (he was then 88 years old and living by himself and we were now keeping daily skeds). I quickly ordered a new Yaesu FT-840 and that is what I am currently using. The SB-1400 has since been repaired.

don’t feel quite the attachment to the new solid state gear as I do to the older stuff. I have managed to acquire some older gear and sometimes on straight key night I put an old Globe Scout and a HQ-140X on the air. Its kind of nice to make some contacts with the warm orange glow of tube filaments. I have also added to the WW II ARC-5. I have at least one of each of the transmitters (these covered 2.1 to 9.1 Mho with 5 separate units) and at least one of each of the receivers (these covered 390 KHz to 9.0 Mho with 5 separate units). This series of transmitters and receivers was a real treasure trove to the hams after WW II. Many hams operated these on the air in one way or another. Parts from these well engineered little radios were used in many construction projects as well.

ell this kind of sums up my "good old days of ham radio" but these weren’t really the real "good old days". For those you will have to find a real old timer.


article ©1996 William Weinhardt, email me for permission to use

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