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On the Frontiers of Science
by Clinton B. DeSoto
NOT ALONE on the frontiers of civilization where men go to enlarge their knowledge of the earth but also on the frontiers of science where men seek to pierce the veil of infinity the radio amateur ventures into the unknown.
"The reason for our wonderful advances in radio and other scientific fields is beacuse we allow our youngsters to play with new ideas and inventions. We encourage them to experiment with radio by making them licensed operators, giving them our blessings and telling them to go ahead. Every great advancement that has been made in wireless and radio was discovered by youngsters. All that our great scientific laboratories have done and are doing is merely refining what the young fellows have discovered."
This was said by the president of one of America's largest radio-manufacturing firms.
His point of view, characteristically, is the utilitarian one. It was expressed differently and, again, characteristically by a newspaper writer:
"Man's subjugation of the frontiers of science calls for the same clear-eyed persistence, the personal courage to overcome the bitterness of disappointment, and the ability to transmute the filmy stuff of dreams into the obsidian hardness of fact that marked man's conquest of new lands.
"The onward sweep of amateur radio has been attended by these qualities. In three decades the hams, working without renumeration, without hope of personal profit, seized the ether spectrum and forcibly bent it to their will."
The amateur himself, of course, has another viewpoint still. He's just doing what he wants to do because it's fun and he likes to do it.
He is by nature an ingenius fellow. The fact that he frequently suffers the handicap of lack of money and apparatus, that he does not have well-equipped laboratories in which to work or, often, the advantages of a good technical education, only whets his intensity of purpose.
There was a young amateur in the Middle West who can be cited as an example. This lad's parents were very poor; in fact, they lived almost in poverty. Yet he had an outstanding station, and his signals were well known on the air. He reached out long distances, and his signal had many of the qualities that indicate good engineering design and precise adjustment.
This boy had little formal education. He had attended grammar school until he was able to work and then he had assisted in the support of his family. They were very poor indeed. Despite this he had an exceptionally complete and effective station installed in a tiny closet in his mother's kitchen.
How had he done it? The answer is that he had constructed every last detail of the station himself. Even such complex and intricate structures as headphones and vacuum tubes, the products of specialists, were homemade. He had located the dump of a wholesale drug house and there he found scraps of glass that could be blown. On the electric-light company's dump he picked up bits of broken tungsten filament wire from burned-out bulbs. With these he made his vacuum tubes. To exhaust the tubes he built his own mercury pump from broken test tubes found on the drug company's dump. His greatest problem was to secure mercury for the pump; he could not make that. But he finally found another amateur who had some and begged enough to complete his pump.
His headphones, built from bits of wood and wire, displayed the most ingenius construction. Similarly, everything else in the station was cleverly handmade. In fact, the greatest financial expenditure this young lad made in building his station was twenty-five cents for a pair of combination pliers.
Hiram Percy Maxim once said, "THere is no way to hold down such passionate purpose. No penalty suffices. Death is the only cure." And to illustate his point:
"I know of one young chap in a Middle Western city who secured his first information on radio from the contents of an ash barrel. On one occasion he had found an article on wireless in a discarded copy of the Scientific American which had been thrown into an ash barrel. He read it until it was worn out and undecipherable except to himself. He hungered for more knowledge. He wondered where he might find it. He went to the lady who ran the public library. She had never heard of wireless and treated him with suspicion. He went to the telegraph operator at the railroad station. But nobody knew as much as he did, and so he was compelled to return to the ash barrels which he watched carefully thereafter."
This youngster continued to pick up scraps of knowledge wherever he could find them and throughout his later life he always seemed to know just a bit more than those about him did. What is more, he learned to apply his knowledge. In the course of time he became one of the outstanding figures in the radio industry.
Many of radio's leaders began in just such a way. At first their progress was slow because there was little information. But gradually these attic experimenters, these basement laboratorians, learned the art of wireless.
At first the distances they covered were small, a few blocks or a mile or two at most. But gradually they improved, until by 1912 distances of several hundred miles were being spanned. In that year the first radio law was passed, relegating amateurs to what was then considered the useless wavelength of two hundred meters.
Eventually transcontinental records were made, and the amateurs began to talk about bridging the Atlantic by wireless in 1901, using tremendous power and long wavelengths. Commercial communications companies not long afterward duplicated the feat, using the same tactics: prodigious power and mile-long antenna systems resembling cross-country distribution lines. Amateurs, on the other hand, were sure it could be done with low power and short wavelengths. The war interfered with their plans, however, and by late 1921 they still had not succeeded. The reason for this, some said, was that European ability was not on a par with that of the American hams.
In February of 1921 the A.R.R.L. sponsored tests in which some two dozen selected American amateurs transmitted prearranged signals. Despite intense interest on both sides of the water the tests failed. So large was the number of English listeners with their regenerative or self-radiating receivers that they jammed each other. No American signals were heard.
A second series of tests was planned for December. This time, in order that no possible deficiencies in British receiving apparatus could imperil their success, the American amateurs decided to send their best qualified member overseas with their own hard-earned funds and with him the best American equipment. Not that the ability of the English was seriously doubted, but--well, they had not succeeded before, and this time the Americans were going to be sure.
This was a big venture for a group of amateurs, with no prospect of material reward. In fact, it has been called "the greatest sporting event in scientific history."
The whole project was carefully planned and executed. Paul F. Godley, probably the foremost receiving expert in America at that time, was chosen for the job. Elaborate arrangements were made with the amateur organizations and radio publications across the water, and "Paragon Paul" (as he was called because of his famous "Paragon" receiver) began hectic, sleepless weeks of building special amplifiers, testing various tuning arrangements and experimenting with different antennas.
On November fifteenth, exhausted from the strain of his preparations, but convinced that his equipment was perfect, Godley sailed from New York on the Aquitania. The night before, at a testimonial dinner given him at the Engineer's Club, a sealed packet containing the secret codes and final schedules for the tests had been handed him.
At noon the great liner was backed out of her berth, and Godley started on the second stage of his remarkable journey. Amid the pandemonium and confusion the radio hams who came down to see Godley off solved the problem of being heard above the din by holding their arms up above the crowd and then opening and closing their hands to form the continental code in heliograph style. They talked to Godley on the boat dock that way for half an hour, rather to the perplexity of the surrounding crowd.
It happened that H.H. Beverage, an engineer of the Radio Corporation of America, also an amateur, was sailing on the same boat. Beverage was discovered leaning over the rail on the same deck, watching the proceedings with great interest. This information was relayed to Godley by "hand radio," and he thereupon walked over to Beverage and introduced himself. Beverage grinned and as he shook hands with Godley with his right hand he formed a nonchalant "OK" with his left. The two kindred spirits thereafter spent the greater part of the voyage together.
This kind of spirit followed Godley throughout his trip. Radiograms from amateurs which reached him on shipboard were filled with it. "At no time had I viewed the trip as anything even remotely approaching a lark, for there were sacrifices which had to be made," he said later. "But it was these radiograms, each bubbling over with sincerity and a will for success, that first brought home to me the extent to which all those eyes reddened by long watches on the relay routes must be following me."
A month, lacking only a few days, went by. Paul Godley arrived in England and was royally feted in London. He set up his apparatus for preliminary tests but found conditions in the city wholly unsatisfactory. Then he traveled to Scotland in search of a suitable location on the moors near Androssan.
The weather was abominable; the temperature hovered close to freezing, and there was a chilling fog. After hours of tramping the beaches in rain and wet he finally located two sites that seemed favorable. But when he returned at high tide they were almost completely covered with water.
There were other disheartening experiences, but at last, in the midst of an overpowering downpour, a satisfactory field was found.
Time was growing very short, for days had been spent searching for a suitable site. At noon of the day preceding the opening of the tests huge bundles of gear, together with a tent, storage batteries, trunks, floor boards and poles for the antenna, were hauled onto this field in a one-horse wagon. The ten antenna poles were scattered down the field at 125-foot intervals. Floor boards were spread on the ground, and the trunks and paraphernalia placed on them. A laborer began digging holes for the poles, and Godley and two others started erecting the tent. They had just nicely raised it into position when a gust of wind lifted the whole affair and carried it away, ending operations for that day.
The following day additional labor was enlisted. The weather was warmer, with high winds and driving rain. By noon the rain had slackened to a drizzle. The tent was erected, and the side walls were up. Darkness found the antenna poles installed, and the wire, a phosphor bronze strand twelve hundred feet long, was strung. Godley, together with Pearson, the official checking operator, and the two laborers, continued to work after dark, burying ground plates four and one half feet deep in the wet, sandy soil.
Godley and Pearson returned to the hotel for a late supper and then resumed their preparations in the big tent. Working by lantern light, a table was improvised of boards and trestles. Boxes became chairs, and an apparatus trunk served as a back rest for the operator. Tubes, accesories, high-tension battery--all were unpacked and connected in place.
Outside the tent the rain beat down relentlessly. A small oilstove inside did its best to provide warmth but it struggled against heavy odds.
By 11:30 P.M. the three-thousand-meter amplifier, to be used in conjunction with the superheterodyne receiver, was functioning, and station FL in Paris was picked up with no antenna connection. At midnight time signals from POZ in Nauen were used to check the timepieces.
Godley's log picks up the story:
". . . By about 1 A.M. we were on Beverage wire and feeling for short-wave signals and picking up harmonics from FL's spark and many high-powered continuous-wave stations, although harmonics much less severe than near London, with the exception of Clifden-Ireland's which are very strong.
"At 1:33 A.M. picked up a sixty-cycle synchronous spark at about 270 meters chewing rag. Adjusted for him and was able to hear him say, 'CUL,' and sign off what we took to be 1AEP, but atmospherics made sign doubtful. That this was an American ham there was no doubt! I was greatly elated and felt very confident that we would soon be hearing many others! Chill winds and cold rains, wet clothes and the discouraging vision of long vigils under the most trying conditions were forgotten amidst the overwhelming joy of the moment--a joy which I was struggling to hold within! I suggested hot coffee at once, and Pearson volunteered to warm it on our stove. He had a pot and bottle in his hands when I called sharply to him to resume watch! Our welcome American friend was at it again with a short call for an eight district station! His signal had doubled in strength, and he was booming through the heavy static and signed off clearly 1AAW at 1:42 A.M.!"
The thing had been done. An American amateur station had been heard across the Atlantic Ocean!
Actually, this was not an official reception since, the tests had not formally begun. It was not until 12:50 A.M. on the morning of December tenth--twenty-four hours later--that Godley heard the first official amateur transmission from 1BCG, an elaborate special station set up for the tests at Greenwich, Conn., by half a dozen New York amateurs led by Major Edwin H. Armstrong, working as a unit.
Before the tests were over Godley heard the signals of more than thirty other American amateur stations. For ten bitter cold and rainy days he made his home in that drafty tent, headphones glued to his ears and fingers taut on the dials of his receiver, usually with just one official witness at his side, while the twenty-seven stations transmitted during the reserved periods and every American amateur who could get a set on the air shot signals at him during the open time.
The thought of a warm corner by the open fire in the lounge of the hotel was strongly tempting at times when the wind whistled through the tent walls at Godley's feet and blew down in gusts around his head. But he carried on until the triumphant end of the tests, logging new signals every night. That amateur signals transmitted with the meager maximum power of one kilowatt on the despised wavelength of two hundred meters could be successfully received across the Atlantic Ocean had been demonstrated for all time. The A.R.R.L.'s transatlantic message bill, incurred in obtaining daily reports of the tests, proved that. Arrangements had been made for representitives in each country to cable collect a daily report of each American amateur station heard and the foreign station that had reported it. So many European amateurs reported that the bill was nineteen hundred dollars!
Godley returned to America on the Olympic on December twenty-eight, a conquering hero. "His niche in the Radio Hall of Fame is secure forever," said QST.
Having proved that the two-hundred-meter wavelength, discarded by the professionals as worthless, could be made to span the broad Atlantic, amateurs started trending downward into still shorter waves. They were to prove that the theoreticians had been right on one point: the two-hundred-meter wavelength itself was the poorest in all the radio spectrum for transmitting over long distances--a fact which made their accomplishment all the more remarkable. But they proved, too, that wavelengths shorter than two hundred meters were even better than the long waves, that they would reach thousands of miles with tiny transmitters and a few watts of power.
It was two years later that the amateur exodus to the short waves began. The feat of spanning the Atlantic--this time in two-way amateur communication--provided the tangible evidence needed to demonstrate their worth. In November 1923, after months of careful preparation, Fred Schnell and John Reinartz, from their stations in Hartford and Manchester, Conn,. talked with Leon Deloy in Nice, France--the first two-way transatlantic amateur contacts, accomplished on a wavelength of one hundred meters!
The precision with which the 1MO-8AB contact was planned and carried off makes an inspiring picture. Under the plan Deloy at 8AB agreed to call Schnell at 1MO on exactly one hundred meters at precisely 9:30 P.M. Eastern standard time on the evening of November twenty-seventh. Early in the evening the receiver in Hartford was tuned accurately to one hundred meters, and Schnell did not touch the dial thereafter. Precisely as the clock struck nine-thirty the strangely stirring twenty-five-cycle gargle from faraway France was heard calling 1MO. It might have been a neighbor lad next door with a key and buzzer, but instead four thousand miles of lonely black ocean separated the Frenchman, sitting with hand on key in the library of his home in Nice waiting for the second hand to cross the mark, and the Americans in their little stations in New England silently listening and watching the time until, synchronized, the thoughts from the one flowed to the others in the form of electromagnetic waves traveling high over the miles of trackless sea.
In the next few months adventurous amateurs dropped down to forty meters, and communication with Australia and South Africa became a reality. Then twenty meters was tried and it responded by making long-distance daylight communication. Soon amateurs the world over were chatting with each other like next-door neighbors.
Such amazing performances by the amateurs with their short waves aroused the interest of commercial and government people alike. These impudent youngsters with their attic stations and their backyard aerials and a hundred dollars' worth of junk were outperforming the gigantic long-wave coastal stations with antennas strung on eight-mile-long rows of steel masts hundreds of feet high and massive plants that consumed power enough to supply a small city.
The U.S. Navy decided this state of affairs was worth looking into. In 1925 the Navy Department came to the A.R.R.L. to ask the loan of Fred Schnell, traffic manager of the League, to conduct tests on short waves during a seven-month Pacific cruise. The Navy had been impressed by the astounding results the amateurs were getting with short waves; it wanted to investigate and, if possible, to adapt. What better way to obtain a demonstration than to take a typical amateur along on maneuvers and have him show how it was done?
Schnell, by reason of his position with the League and the fact that he was the first amateur to work two-way across the Atlantic, was regarded as the outstanding short-wave amateur of the time. He was offered a free hand in showing what might be done with short waves over long distances.
The arrangements were worked out. Schnell was already a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve; all he needed was a white uniform. He built a special amateur c.w. transmitter and receiver of the most modern type, packed them into a pair of boxes and reported aboard the U.S.S. Seattle, flagship of Admiral Coontz.
"Lieutenant Schnell reporting for duty, sir," he said.
"You're late," the fleet radio officer greeted him brusquely. "Where is your equipment?"
Schnell pointed at the two large cases he had brought with him. "There it is, sir."
The radio officer muttered something plainly derogatory under his breath about "pin boxes" and "in the Navy!" But Schnell was quickly accepted as a proper member of the services because of his obvious sincerity and ability.
His first problem was installation of the station, or, more correctly, finding a spot to install it. The radio officer warned him that the Seattle was already overcrowded and that he would have to find a place where he would not be in the way. After searching from stern to stern it became apparent that there was only one available location, the compass shack. This was the structure just forward of the mainmast on the boat deck, about fifty-three feet above the water line. It was about six feet square and completely surrounded by heavy boiler plate except for five small portholes.
Fred had his equipment installed and the antenna strung by the time the fleet sailed for Honolulu on April 14, 1925. Maneuvers were carried on in Hawaiian waters intil the end of June. During this time Schnell made many contacts on the air, but his real work was yet to begin.
Promptly at 9 A.M. on July first the fleet shoved off on the Australian good-will cruise. It was then he had to show the Navy what his short-wave set could do, that it could move traffic when all the other radio transmitters failed.
Operating conditions in the compass room were far from agreeable. The temperature, product of two uptakes from the engine room which ran along the compass shack on either side, coupled with the tropical weather, ranged between 126 and 130 degrees. Fred perspired so much while he operated that frequently he was forced to tape the headphones to his head to keep them from slipping off.
He had made it understood beforehand that he was to be permitted to handle his Navy traffic through amateur stations. The hams, in turn, had been asked to lend a helping hand. This meant that thousands of them would be sitting up all night if necessary, their headphones glued to their ears, standing by to get Schnell's traffic through to Washington. All he had to do was to announce his presence on the air and a hundred voices clamored for his call. Indeed at times he needed only to press the key once, without signing or otherwise declaring his identity, and so distinguishing was the signal from NRRL and so intent the listening hams that invariably he logged from two to five stations calling in reply!
This convincing demonstration of the utility of the short waves and the unquenchable amateur spirit proved a revelation to the skeptical naval officers.
During the greater part of the cruise beyond Hawaii it was Fred's responsibility to handle all of the fleet's official traffic, for the long-wave transmitters were beyond the range at that distance. Even the gigantic eight-thousand-watt main transmitter had a reliable range of only sixteen hundred miles. But Schnell maintained direct communication between the fleet and the American continent through amateur and naval stations with his two-hundred-watt transmitter even when his ship was anchored in Australian and New Zealand harbors, seven thousand miles or more from home.
"Schnell had only to touch the key at NRRL, and his signals were heard around the world," a naval officer later said. Fred Schnell covered himself with glory. Naval men were greatly impressed by the amateur enthusiasm and organization as well as by the amazing performance of the short waves. Since that time the Navy has been consistently in the fore of short-wave practice and progress.
Not every amateur, of course, is fertile with ideas that will revolutionize the structure of radio. As in every field, amateur radio has its leaders and dominant figures. Some are specialists in specific fields, others are dilettanti who try everything under the sun and occasionally hit on something new. But each has that spark of unselfish interest that makes his work with radio a labor of love in contrast to the professional with whom it is labor for a day's pay.
One of the most brilliant and ingenious of all the simon-pure radio amateurs was the late Ross A. Hull. Possessed of a restless, inquiring mind and limitless enthusiasm and energy, he spent his brief lifetime in a constant and indefatigable assault on the frontiers of man's knowledge.
Ross Hull was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1902. His early training was in the field of architecture. Before his schooling was ended, however, the fascination of radio gripped him, and by 1922 he was one of Australia's outstanding amateurs. He was, in fact, the first Australian to hear American amateur signals across the Pacific Ocean.
His ability brought Hull a position as technical editor of the leading Australian popular magazine dealing with "wireless." When Fred Schnell landed at Sydney during the Pacific cruise in 1925 Hull met him at the dock, and the two began to talk about radio and America. Then and there Ross Hull resolved that someday he would come to the country where radio amateurs were enabled to do such fascinating and worth-while things.
This compelling urge did not subside, and in 1926 Hull left his job in Sydney and his post as secretary of the Wireless Institute of Australia to begin his American tour. After a leisurely journey across the United States he arrived for a visit with the headquarters staff of the A.R.R.L. in Hartford. It happened that there was a vacancy in the technical-information-service post on the League's staff at that moment. This was an admirable vantage point from which to survey the American radio scene, and Hull asked for and got the job.
What was first intended to be a visit of a few months' duration extended into a semi-permanent stay. When the time set for his visitor's permit expired Ross secured first one extension and then another. He became assistant technical editor of QST, the amateurs' magazine. He found time also to do other technical writing and played a significant part in reincarnating the model-airplane-building hobby in this country by introducing the balsa wood technique which had already become popular "down under."
So Hull stayed in the United States through 1927 and into 1928. The latter year was a critical one for amateur radio. Representitives from the principal nations of the world had assembled in Washington during the last months of 1927 and drawn up an international treaty regulating all of radio's shortwave branches. When the negotiations and the compromises were concluded the international regulations finally adopted imposed new standards and restrictions more severe than those which had grown up haphazardly under domestic regulation. These new rules were to go into effect on January 1, 1929. American amateurs had just one year to get ready.
Foreseeing the necessity for developing new equipment and methods to meet the problems imposed by the new regulations, the A.R.R.L. inaugurated a special Technical Development Program. Hull was chosen to head that program. With a small group of assistants he plunged into the problem of compressing years of technical research into a few short months.
The brillant success of the A.R.R.L. Technical Development Program is one of the epochal achievements of amateur radio. Hull's studies over that period revolutionized the entire technique of the amateur game. Exploring every phase of amateur equipment, he analyzed weaknesses, established new requirements and devised electrical or mechanical modifications to meet those requirements.
The program ended in early 1929. Shortly afterward, unable to secure further extensions of his temporary visitor's permit from the immigration authorities, Hull returned to Australia and resumed his post as technical editor of Wireless Weekly. But the lure of American life had got under his skin, and a year and a half later he was back in the United States, this time permanently, under the quota.
Almost immediately his interest turned to the ultra-short waves or ultra-high frequencies, then radio's newest frontier. For some years this field had been lying fallow; it was ripe for an abundant harvest.
The development of the u.h.f. field was carried on as a step-by-step program in which Hull collaborated with his associates on the technical staff of the League and other experimentally inclined amateurs. In 1930 simple, compact apparatus was devised that operated with extremely low power and yet was efficient and workable. Old circuits were adapted, and new circuits were devised. In 1931 countless field and point-to-point tests over a period of months thoroughly demonstrated the utility of this apparatus and charted its performance. In 1932 a further involved series of point-to-point tests, as well as several test flights of an experimental radio-equipped airplane over the Boston--New York route, provided data for determination of the laws governing the local transmission characteristics of the ultra-high frequencies.
It was then that general amateur participation began. By the hundreds hams loaded with experimental gear made for hilltops and observation towers--the highest points they could find--in order to participate in the tests. Beginning in early April of 1932, they climbed to mountaintops through mud, slush and fog to get in on the fun. Soon thousands of u.h.f. stations were on the air, an experimental laboratory so huge that it included all the more densely populated sections of the nation.
This popularization of the ultra-high frequencies by showing amateurs the fun to be had with local contacts both at home and from portable and mobile stations was one of Hull's outstanding accomplishments.
But that was only part of his work, for he continued to carry on extensive research of his own. The second floor of the old colonial farmhouse in West Hartford where he made his home was literally converted into a u.h.f. radio laboratory.
It was through his work there that he exploded the theory generally accepted until that time, and which he himself had helped establish, that the very short waves could not be transmitted over a horizon. Known as the "line-of-sight theory," it held that these waves, like light, would not bend and follow the curvature of the earth and were therefore useful only over distances as far as the eye could see, a maximum of ten or twenty miles in practice. The work of amateurs with ordinary equipment and antennas tended to confirm this theory.
But one night as the five-meter stations in the Boston area were holding their usual over-the-back-fence conversations they discovered an interloper in their midst, a "large, juicy signal" which claimed to originate in West Hartford, Conn., over a hundred miles away. At first they dismissed the signal as an obvious hoax; everyone knew the maximum range of five-meter signals was at most perhaps thirty miles.
When finally they were convinced of its genuineness, however, the wildest excitement broke out. For weeks it was the dominant topic of conversation in ham circles. There was just one question on everybody's mind: "How did Hull do it?"
A fundamental keynote of the amateur is his willingness to share his discoveries with others. Hull told immediately and freely how he had devised a directive antenna that concentrated the energy of his signals in a beam that gave the effect of multiplying the power used many times.
But this did not explain why the signals which were not supposed to return to earth did so at distances as great as three or four horizons away. Having demolished the traditional line-of-sight theory, Hull set about developing a new one.
Setting up an ingenius home-built signal-strength recorder utilizing photographic principles in his hill-top laboratory, he asked Harvard University's Blue Hill Observatory to send out hourly tones on an ultra-short wavelength. These signals he recorded every hour of each day over an initial period of twenty months. He had constructed a topographical map of the great-circle route between Blue Hill and West Hartford which showed that intervening ranges of hills and the earth's curvature formed four intermediate horizons between the two points. Despite the distance the transmissions were received day and night with scarcely ever a lapse.
Study of more than twelve thousand recordings showed definite daily and seasonal cycles that did not coincide with any of the recognized radio phenomena. It was apparent to Hull that some cause other than those hitherto known to affect radio transmissions was influencing these mysterious u.h.f. signals--some agency of the lower atmosphere rather than of the ionosphere. Hull cast about for other natural phenomena that could be reconciled with the cycles he had observed.
Finally the whole involved structure of a new theory, lower-atmosphere bending of ultra-short waves, was worked out in detail. Comparisons with meteorological data, with temperature and humidity conditions, were made by using data secured on meterological airplane sounding flights made each morning at Mitchel Field, Long Island, and East Boston, Mass. It was found that temperature stratification inversions gave the ultra-short wavelengths their best performance. The most favorable conditions occurred when tropical air masses overran the cooler layers of polar air.
Such works, of course, ventures into the field of pure physics. It is the sort of thing more to be expected of a cloistered savant than of an amateur dabbling in his spare time. Yet there was a practical phase to the work, too, not only in analyzing and predicting u.h.f. performance, but as a possible tool for the meteorologist to use in weather forecasting.
Not content to stop there, Hull enlarged the scope of his research in the field, recording additional signals over other paths and on other frequencies, and devised an ingenius integrator, using a bank of ordinary electric clocks to simplify the laborious task of analyzing the thousands of recordings that resulted. With this data he was able to expand and elaborate on the refractive air-mass theory.
It might be emphasized that all this was purely amateur spare-time work, for it was conducted quite independently of Hull's editorial duties. Nor did it constitute the sum of his extracurricular activities. An insatiable hobbyist, possessed of a restless, inquiring mind and a determination to do a superlative job of anything he attempted, he poured an incredible number of hours and infinite enthusiasm into a multitude of other projects both in and out of radio. He was interested in various technical and artistic fields, photography, astronomy, music, painting, literature, into which he habitually threw himself with the energy of ten men, always to emerge with remarkable results.
In the spring of 1937 his interest in model-airplane building, dormant for nearly a decade, was revived. Coworkers broached the idea of building a model of moderate size that could be controlled in flight by radio, and Hull attacked the problem with his customary vigor. During the summer he flew the first successful radio-controlled soaring model and thus pioneered another new frontier in radio.
Late in 1937 his interest was attracted by television which had by then been successfully achieved in commercial laboratories. In earlier years he had been rather sharply critical of the television "industry," particularly of the stock-selling and promotional schemes surrounding much of it. He knew that the stage of its development prior to 1937 did not warrant the claims that were being made.
But when electronic television showed itself as a practical actuality he became intrigued by the possibilities of its application in amateur work. He admitted that the amateur had little opportunity to lead the way in the development of television, as had been done in radio, because of the greater complexity and cost of television equipment. But he was sure that if only these barriers could somehow be lifted amateurs could contribute usefully in television development.
Characteristically, Hull set about lifting these barriers. He constructed an elaborate collection of equipment and set it up at his new home situated on a higher hilltop a thousand feet above sea level. With his remarkable ability to scoop up ultra-short-wave signals he succeeded in receiving N.B.C.'s experimental television transmissions from New York City, more than one hundred miles away, almost as well as they were being received near by, much to the amazement of the N.B.C. engineers who believed the maximum range of their transmissions to be fifty miles. He built an experimental television transmitter which was sufficiently promising to indicate that amateurs might one day expect two-way television communication on terms within their reach. He was in the midst of plans for further developments.
And then on the evening of September 13, 1938, following a small dinner party at his home, Hull left his guests to their coffee and retired to his laboratory to connect up his receiving equipment in order that he might show them television pictures about to be transmitted from New York. Wearing a pair of headphones connected to the sound-channel receiver, he reached over a high-voltage transformer in the experimental power supply on the floor in order to insert a plug into a wall socket. As he withdrew his hand it came in contact with the high-tension lead to the forty-four-hundred-volt transformer. Current from the transformer passed through his body. He fell, unconcious, his hand still touching the high-voltage lead, the headphones completing the electrical circuit to ground.
Among the dinner guests was a physician, an X-ray expert familiar with high voltages. The doctor sensed trouble from the next room and he ran to Hull's aid. Within thirty seconds he was dragged clear of the lethal voltage, and artificial respiration was applied. Other doctors arrived; adrenalin was administered; a pulmotor was brought.
But it was all to no avail. Death had been instantaneous. The career of Ross A. Hull, premier amateur experimenter, had ended on the firing line of a new frontier.
The immediate objective Ross Hull was seeking at the time of his death, two-way amateur television between individual experimenters with simple and inexpensive home-built equipment, was achieved two years later. Other experimenters took up the torch after his death and carried the work forward until success was finally realized.
On other fronts, too, the experimental work of the amateur continues. New frontiers of science are constantly beckoning him onward. Broad vistas open before him, not alone of refinements in technique and practice, but of whole new fields awaiting exploration. Embryo developments even now in prospect have within them potentialities for revolutionizing important phases of communication, electronics and the allied arts.
Step by step amateurs are climbing along the ladder of the electromagnetic waves. Leaving behind the conventional radio waves as measured in meters from thirty thousand to fifteen hundred, they have successfully mastered first the short waves and then the ultra-short waves down to a meter in length. Now they are on the brink of the microwaves, quasioptical vibrations that oscillate at the incredible rate of three billion cycles per second or more, waves measured not in meters, but in centimeters.
Beyond the microwaves lies another no man's land, a region that blends into the infrared heat waves which precede visible light. And beyond visible light in the electromagnetic spectrum there are the ultraviolet radiations and then the X rays and the gamma rays and, beyond them all, the cosmic rays. It does not require too much strain on the imagination to conceive that someday the new frontier for these amateur explorers of science will be those mysterious emanations from outer space, the cosmic rays.
"The amateur's workshop is the air," it was said by George W. Bailey, president of the American Radio Relay League. "His tools are the priceless attributes of ingenuity, resourcefulness, enthusiasm and love of his work, his coworkers some seventy-five thousand brethern scattered throughout the entire world. Together they are doing much toward writing the specifications for radio communication of tomorrow."