By Bill Loucks, VE3AR
(VE3BDB Note: Bill Loucks has had an interesting life and career, including during World War Two where he was involved with various military communications and electronics gear such as the WS#19. We are grateful to him for providing this exclusive account.)
Recently while sorting my old files I came across my first ham license, dated 30th April 1936, nearly 70 years ago. This brought back a flood of memories which I now share with you.
Look at the frequency bands on my license (thumbnail at bottom of page). Notice that most are broken into segments. This allowed Advanced Amateurs (who required 2 years operation as an ordinary Amateur plus further code and theory tests) to have their licenses endorsed for phone operation by typing telephone after C.W. against the appropriate frequency range. Phone frequencies then were 1750 - 2000, 3500 - 3550, 3850 - 4000, and 14100 - 14300 kHz, with no phone on 40 meters. Interestingly, we had our own exclusive Canadian phone on 3500 - 3550 kHz, and CW both below and above the 20 meter phone band.
Look also at the number on my license, 1807, perhaps meaningless in itself but suggestive of something interesting. The number on my Certificate of Proficiency in Radio dated 7th April 1936 is 3354. These were introduced in 1922 and numbered sequentially. Dave Lloyd ex VE3AW held number 1, which now hangs on the wall of current VE3AW, the HQ station of the CNIB Amateur Radio Program which he founded in 1967. Taking into account Silent Keys from 1922 to 1936, ham population in Canada in 1936 was about 3000.
Another interesting item: then we had 5 meters, 56 to 60 MHz, not 6 meters at 50 to 54. When amateurs came back on the air following WW2, it was apparent that TV would be the next big frequency user. The authorities set aside 13 channels for TV stations. Channel 2 was from 56 to 62 MHz taking over our 5 meter band. But to keep hams happy, they temporarily gave us 4 MHz of channel 1. Now 60 years later we still have channel 1, which is why TV channel numbers begin at 2!
Canada was divided into five call districts: 1 for PEI, NS and NB, 2 for Quebec, 3 for Ontario, 4 for Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and 5 for BC , Yukon and NWT. Also, VE9 calls were for truly Experimental Radio Stations beyond and above Amateur Experimental Stations. They could operate in the ham bands, but usually also were given other frequencies. Alex Reid VE2BE, one of the originators of the Canadian Division of ARRL and its first Director, held VE9BE. I never managed to work a VE9, but others did.
Call signs in the US also had their peculiarities. There were only nine call districts - no zero. Suffixes beginning with X were assigned to broadcast stations since short wave broadcasting still was considered experimental. KDKA in Pittsburgh, one of the first short wave broadcasters, had the call W8XK. Suffixes beginning with Y were assigned to schools, mainly club stations at universities. Occasionally a W0 call would be assigned to a station hard to classify. I have an SWL QSL card from a W0 flying across the States in a balloon. In both Canada and the US, one had to get a new call sign on moving from one call district to another.
We were called The Amateur Experimental Service both internationally and nationally. Our purpose in the scheme of things was primarily "Self-training". And that it was. Practically everyone designed and built his own equipment. I started with a one tube transmitter using a type 45 triode which had a plate dissipation rating of 10 watts (250 v at 36 ma). I used a TNT oscillator circuit, which as the name suggests, was dynamite. The more usual circuits were TPTG (tuned plate tuned grid) and HARTLEY.
The TNT tuned only the pate circuit. Meters to tune up by were expensive, and many of us did not have one. We used a pilot lamp hooked to a one turn loop of wire having the same diameter as the tank coil, held close to the tank coil and tuned for maximum brilliance. To check for RF we held a neon bulb close to the circuit or drew an arc with a lead pencil.
Eventually I bought a milliammeter, the cheapest available. This was a moving vane type, not the respected moving coil type. Inside was a permanent magnet and a magnetized vane connected to an indicating needle. A small coil of wire near the magnet carried the current to be measured. Its field altered the total magnetic field affecting the vane and the needle would move. Very cheap, but also very vulnerable. The first short circuit demagnetized the permanent magnet and the meter was useless. I went through several before I could afford a moving coil meter. (Don't forget those were the "dirty thirties" and I lived in probably the hardest hit part of Canada.)
We had only diode, triode, tetrode and pentode tube types then. The tetrode was a great advance, not needing neutralizing when used as an RF amplifier. Usual transmitter circuits required an A power supply for the filaments, a B supply for the plates, and a C supply for the grid bias. But there was a zero bias receiving tube, a type 46, which I used in a later rig consisting of a 47 pentode oscillator and a pair of 46s in a push-pull zero bias final. Key-up plate current was not zero, but was a small fraction of key-down, and the tubes did not overheat. This saved making a C supply.
Tubes in those days did not have a cathode and heater. They had a filament just like that in a light bulb, which functioned as the electron emitter or cathode. But a hum would develop if one side of the filament was grounded to provide the return path for the plate current. So, the filament winding on the power transformer had a centre tap to provide a balanced ground connection. Filament voltages of receiving tubes were 2.5 volts at currents as high as 2 amps.
Developed a bit earlier, but still commonly found in transmitters in 1936, were triode tube types 203, 210 and 211. The 210 had a rated plate dissipation greater than receiving tubes (forget how much), and the 203 and 211 were 50 watters. A typical QRO transmitter was a 210 driving a pair of 203s modulated by a pair of 211s. Also around in those days were the vintage 171 tubes of battery radios used before the Roger's Battery less was invented (call letters of broadcast station CFRB come from Rogers Battery less), and the first miniature tube called a peanut tube. The peanut tube was used in hearing aides - not the kind you put in your ear but the kind you carry on your shoulder.
Operating styles were quite different pre-war. Transmitter frequency control was primitive, initially with self excited and later with crystal controlled oscillators. Crystals were expensive. The tri-tet oscillator permitted output on the fundamental or second harmonic, thus covering two bands with one crystal. Crystals for frequencies above 4000 kHz were scarce and costly. So, to get on 80, 40, 20 and 10 with one crystal we used a tri-tet oscillator followed by a doubler stage.
Since frequency was fixed, only by luck could both stations be on the same frequency. When we called CQ, we would start listening at the bottom of the band and slowly tune higher until hopefully we heard a reply. This could take some time, so when one answered a CQ one called for a long time, up to a minute, before signing. That is what made break-in, QSK, popular. Using frequency multipliers simplified the rig but also produced some strange effects. I remember one QSO on 40 with a chap about 20 miles away when it suddenly occurred to me that he may not be operating on 40. I asked him, and he was transmitting and receiving on 80. He was copying my oscillator before doubling and I was copying his second harmonic. My first cross band QSO.
My receiver in 1936 was a home built version of the National SW-3 having a T R F, a regenerative detector, and an audio stage, and of course used plug-in coils and earphones. Soon I added a power output stage to run a speaker. Simple, but effective. I even worked several VKs on 40. In the winter of 1938 - 39, I designed and built my first superheterodyne receiver, a sooper-dooper affair, constructed around a commercial 3 stage, 5 band turret tuner covering 550 kHz to 30 MHz continuously.
It had mechanical band-spread using a dial with a 140 to 1 fine tuning ratio. It also had an IF crystal filter using a crystal from a National HRO, and an IF Lamb noise silencer. The noise silencer proved invaluable, not for silencing noise but for silencing the receiver during keying. We had no fast acting relays nor vacuum tube T/R switches. We used a knife switch or conventional relay. Most of us did not switch the receiver off and just put up with the thumping from keying. The Lamb noise silencer silenced the receiver during keying.
When WW2 came along, the "self-training" of the Amateur Service came into its own. All licensed hams in 1939 received an invitation to join the RCAF because of the skills developed as hams. At the time I was enrolled in engineering at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and we were asked to stay at school and complete our degrees. I stayed, but was able to contribute to the War effort during summer vacations.
In 1940 I worked on the survey party that laid out and supervised the construction of Number 32 Service Flying Training School (S F T S) just south of Moose Jaw, as chain-man, rod-man and eventually instrument-man. In 1941 we extended the runways and taxi strips. This airport still is in use 65 years later, now called C F B Moose Jaw and home to the illustrious Snowbirds.
In 1942 I worked at the Northern Electric plant on Shearer Street in Montreal, on the production of the Number 19 Wireless Set for tanks. It consisted of three separate units on one chassis, an HF transceiver (A Set), a VHF transceiver (B Set), and an intercom (C Set) and was produced on an assembly line of about 120 operators. After every fifth operator an inspector checked the work in progress, plus a final check and live test at the end of the line. I started as a line inspector, but in a week or so was moved to final inspection. My ham training enabled me to quickly locate and repair faults in the sets. All sets had markings in the Russian language and were destined for the Russian Army. (In a later message, Bill advised: Yes, I remember Syd Sillitoe, not as a friend but as the engineer in charge of #19 production at Northern. His recollections I am sure far outdistance mine. I have little to add other than it was the first HF transceiver I ever encountered, and really was amazed at how it was done. It took many years for the amateur community to adopt transceiver technology.)
I graduated in Engineering Physics in April 1943. A month before graduation I joined the RCNVR, the "Wavy Navy", along with my six classmates in Engineering Physics. After receiving five months training in naval basics, radar theory and radar practice, I was posted to Signals School at Saint- Hyacinthe, Quebec, to teach Radio Artificers the intricacies of naval radar practice. All Radar Officers held commissions in the Special Branch of the Navy and wore a light green backing under their rank stripes. So did Laundry Officers, Bandmasters, and other odds and sods. So, to recognize their special value, all Radar Officers were reclassified late in 1943 as Electrical Branch and wore a dark green backing.
The Canadian Navy began training Radar Officers in 1940, one class a year usually of 20 to 30 fresh university graduates in engineering or physics. They were NOT for the Canadian Navy. All graduates of the classes of 1940, 41 and 42, and half the class of 43, went to the British Royal Navy. As a graduate of class of 43, I was asked if I wished to go to the Royal Navy and said it didn't matter, wherever I was needed. I stayed with the Canadian Navy. All of the class of 44, the final class, stayed with the Canadian Navy.
Initially we were not called Radar Officers, for the Allied navies did not have radar - they had RDF. A short time after WW1, navies had radio Direction Finding or DF equipment. When radar came along it was viewed as an extension of direction finding to include range as well as direction and hence the name Range and Direction Finding or RDF. It was not until the Yanks came into the War that the term radar came into use.
After a year at Signals School I was posted to sea as a Group Radar Officer for an escort group of six corvettes on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. Each ship had two sets, the older SW-1C VHF Canadian set, popularly called The Swick, operating I believe around 180 MHz and using a yagi antenna with manual rotation, and the new 3 GHz British set using a parabolic slice antenna also with manual rotation, and of course the VHF IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) transponder continuously sweeping the range of frequencies used by VHF radar, 50 MHz or more, using a broad band vertical antenna.
The IFF would automatically respond to any incoming radar pulse with a coded reply giving its own elongated pulse(s) on the tail of the reflected pulse to identify the target as friend. Both the VHF and early microwave sets used coax feed to the antenna. This consisted of copper tubing about half an inch in diameter filled with an anhydrous compound, I believe magnesium oxide, which sucked up water like a sponge. The first thing one suspected when echoes began to get weak was water in the coax. The repair was simple. Use a blow torch to boil out the water, starting 4 or 5 feet from each end and progressing to the end. The VHF antenna was mounted on top of the mainmast requiring a frightening climb.
Radar of course produced echoes from waves as well as from objects in the waves such as a submarine periscope. While at sea I came across the circuit of a British device to reduce wave clutter, and decided to build one. It worked fine, so I sent a letter describing the device to my former boss at Signals School and set off to sea again. When I next hit home port I was met by the RCMP, telling me in no uncertain terms I had breached national security by putting highly classified information in the regular mail. (It was caught by the universal censorship we had in those days.) I was properly chastised. On my next return to home port I found waiting for me a Commendation from the Admiral. After VE Day I was no longer needed at sea and was transferred to the newly created Canadian Naval Radio Laboratories at Saint-Hyacinthe. My first assignment was to build anti-wave clutter devices for all Canadian naval 3 GHz surface warning radar. Guess the self-training objective was met.
On discharge from the Navy I took up the veterans' benefit of further education, and enrolled in a Masters in Radio Physics program at the University of Western Ontario in London. By then I had a wife and daughter to support and needed more money than the Government granted, so became a lab demonstrator in physics during the winter term, and was given a summer job working for the Department of Medicine. My assignment was to design and build a device to record the instantaneous heart rate. This I did, and the work was published in the NRC Journal of Research under the title An Instantaneous Recording Tachometer for the Study of the Human Autonomic Nervous System. Again, my thanks for the self-training of ham radio.
My thesis was to be based on the correlation between optics theory and radio theory, particularly the phenomenon of diffraction which occurs when light passes over a sharp edge. Physics labs demonstrate the effect by passing light through a pin hole and showing the resulting rings on a screen, using a setup known as an optical bench. At microwave frequencies, a parabolic reflector antenna virtually is a pin hole, and spurious radiation can cause confusing side echoes. The Canadian designed RXC, 3 GHz (10 cm), naval radar built by government-owned Research Enterprises Limited in Leaside had such an antenna and was almost useless because of side echoes. Sea trials of RXC were done on one of the ships in my group before I took over, and in spite of a disparaging report by the Radar Officer who conducted the tests (also one of the 1943 class), the set was still in service. I believe only two or three were ever produced. Research Enterprises became Philips Electronics after the War.
Being used to home brewing, I set out to make a radio light source, a radio pin hole, and a radio optical bench to determine experimentally if the diffraction of radio waves followed the diffraction laws of optics. I used a type 723 klystron, the local oscillator tube of 10 GHz (3 cm) radar, driving a wave guide horn antenna to illuminate a wall of copper mesh about 20 by 20 feet with a 3 foot pin hole in the centre, and an optical bench of another horn antenna, this time feeding a crystal detector commonly used in radar, all erected on the back campus. The contraption worked like a charm, again thanks to the self-training of ham radio.
I joined the Research Division of Ontario Hydro in May 1947 and specialized in distribution and transmission of electricity. This started off with grounding for safety to life and property, including lightning protection. We needed to know more about lightning to properly design protection systems. I was given the task of designing and building a device to count the number of individual strokes in a single bolt of lightning. I came up with an electronic counter triggered by the electrostatic field picked up by a small antenna. It worked well - too well, for it was counting strokes from miles around. We added a visual gate, a photocell, to require both the electric field and a flash of light to trigger. Again, ham radio to the fore.
Scads and scads of war surplus electronic gear came on the market in the late 1940s, much to the delight of hams. In Toronto Yonge Street just south of Wellesley became the home of most vendors. Alongside the surplus vendors was a small store selling regular electronics, not surplus - Electrosonic. Our shopping habit took us first to the surplus stores, and if (rarely) we could not find the part we needed there, then to Electrosonic and pay the regular price.
One surplus store in particular was overflowing with gear - receivers, transmitters and power supplies. To move them faster, this store had auctions every so often, and of course I frequently attended. I came home one time with three Marconi B-28 naval receivers for only $7.00. They had a 230 volt power transformer and as I recall covered 60 kHz to 18 MHz. The valves were British, the EF series. On two B-28s I replaced the transformers with Hammond 115 v units and all valves with modern Canadian tubes. Both sets worked fine.
Then I completely rebuilt the front end of one to convert it to ham bands only. Again it worked fine and I used it for some time. I sold the third unmodified unit for $7.00. Another time I came home with two fully operational massive power supplies. They used a pair of mercury vapour 866s to give 500 v at 500 ma, a mercury vapour 83 to give 200 v at 100 ma, and a huge copper oxide rectifier stack giving many amps at up to 24 v as determined by the setting of taps on the power transformer. I used one for several years to power my home brew transmitter. You should have seen the flashing blue lights when I keyed! Also, crystals for frequency control were dirt cheap, but of course ground to military frequencies.
Several entrepreneurs sold crystal kits containing mounted crystals in the 6000 to 7000 kHz range and a package of grinding powder. All one had to do was swipe the quartz wafer a few times across a piece of plate glass coated with a water mixture of the grinding powder. If one took too many swipes and its frequency was too high, one used graphite from a soft lead pencil to lower its frequency. Net cost of a 40 meter crystal was about a dollar.
TV reception in Toronto began in the early 1950s when two stations started broadcasting from Buffalo, channels 2 and 4. And all hell broke loose for hams. The second harmonic of 10 meters and the fourth of 20 fall in the middle of channel 2. Until then, no one worried much about harmonics. During the Sweepstakes Contest just after TV reception started, I was busily racking up points when the phone started ringing, the door bell began clanging, and people started banging on the window of my basement shack. They demanded that I stop transmitting (there was some special program on TV). Being young and egregious, I continued racking up points. The next day a Radio Inspector showed up at my door and put me off the air until I fixed the problem.
My rig at the time was home brew and wide open - no shielding. During the next few months I completely enclosed it in copper wire mesh, by-passed everything, and built a low pass filter for the antenna. Finally I checked with the neighbours, and no TVI. Later they began complaining about hearing me on their telephones. Again the Inspector came around and this time checked my radiation including harmonics. All was OK. The problem was swamping of the neighbours equipment with my fundamental. I installed RF filters on all their telephones. The only complaints since then are when houses change hands and the new equipment needs protection.
Pre-war I had push-pull finals using high Q, high Z, tuned circuits This made it easy to couple to a zepp antenna having balanced feeders - just clip them on the tank coil at the appropriate spot, or couple with a swinging coil. With the advent of affordable coax cable and hardware after the War, all my homebrew rigs had a pi-network tank with low Z coax output requiring an antenna tuner in order to match a zepp. My first tuner was a bread board affair on a piece of masonite, using home wound plug-in coils about 3 inches in diameter and a wide-spaced variable capacitor. B & W coil stock had not yet appeared on the market. In 1958 I finally got a commercial rig, the HeathKit Apache. Believe-it-or-not, I still was only an Amateur, not Advanced, after being a ham for 22 years.
Never having had a phone rig, I just saw no reason to upgrade. So the first thing I did was see the Department of Transport and take the Advanced test, which was very, very cursory, the inspector being somewhat embarrassed at testing an old timer with a 2-letter call. Also, I decided to upgrade my antenna tuner to go along with the new rig. The new one had two sets of coils and variable capacitors covering all bands from 80 to10 meters, with balanced output required by a zepp. I included a home grown SWR bridge and meter using a simple circuit I found in QST. It worked remarkably well. Single side band came along in a couple of years, so I got a HeathKit SSB Adapter, the SB-10, for the Apache. It used the phasing method of generating a SSB signal, not the filter method used today. This required delicate readjustment of front panel controls whenever changing bands.
July 1970 QST, Lew McCoy W1ICP, then Novice Editor of QST, gave plans to build "The Ultimate Transmatch" on which practically all commercial tuners now are based. It had a balun to match a balanced line as well as the usual coax output, and covered 160 meters. I built one which I still use.
In May 1963 I worked VE3FNO Frank Micallef and discovered he lived not far away. I invited him to join my club, West Side Radio Club, and he attended every event until moving back to Malta in 1968, taking with him my rebuilt ham band Marconi B-28 receiver. There he became 9H1BM and needed an antenna tuner, so I sent him my 1958 one which he uses even today. But the interesting part is how Frank capitalized on self-training. In Toronto he had a clerical job with Canada Bread. After getting his ham ticket, he went on to qualify as a commercial operator. When Frank returned to Malta he became an operator at the Malta marine station 9HD, handling ship-to-shore traffic. Retired now, he remains active in ham radio, and we keep in touch on the air as well as by letter.
These are some of the memories brought back by seeing once again my first License to Use Radio. It all started nearly 70 years with this piece of paper, and I am most grateful for the self-training and pure pleasure it has given me. I hope today's new amateurs find their use of radio equally fulfilling .
September 5, 2005
later messages, Bill advised: My first
posting as a Radar Officer was to the staff of HMC Signals School in
St.-Hyacinthe, Quebec, training Radio Artificers in the practical side of radar
(as opposed to the theory which they had received earlier). I soon discovered a
VHF receiver on site, and started listening around. Came across an FM broadcast
station on about 40 MHz, which turned out to be an experimental transmitter of
the Marconi AM broadcast station in Montreal (forget its call). This was in
1943, and quite possibly was the first FM broadcast station in Canada. Mailed a
signal report and received a very nice thank you from the station manager.
My sea time was as Radar Officer for a group of six escort vessels based in Halifax. Normally, this consisted of an Algerine M/S, the St. Boniface, and five corvettes, Trail, Sorel, Matapedia, Dundas and Hepatica, and was known as W-4 group. But St. Boniface was in refit for much of my time at sea (September '44 to April '45), and Sorel then carried the Senior Officer. I was attached to the SO's staff as Group Radar Officer, and spent some time on each ship depending on the needs of each. I never had a cabin, sleeping on the settee (a narrow bench) in the Wardroom at sea and in hotels ashore when tied up. The only exception was the St. Boniface which had a Sick Bay
with a bed on gimbals. If no one was there, that is where I slept - pure luxury!
Each ship carried a 10 cm (3 GHz) radar and a VHF (180 MHz?) radar. The St. Boniface's 10 cm unit was the Canadian designed RXC built by Research Enterprises Ltd. (REL) in Toronto. All the other ships carried the British type 271, either the P or the Q model. Each ship also carried the Canadian
VHF set, SW1-C or "Swick", which usually was used only when the 10 cm set broke down. The 271P used two huge vacuum tubes as modulators (pulsers) and coax feed to the parabolic slice antenna. The most common fault on this set was the modulators going soft (gassy). The 271Q used a single gas filled thyraton tube as a modulator and wave guide to the antenna, also a parabolic slice. The thyraton seldom gave trouble. Both sets used manual antenna rotation and had Class A display on the CRT. The RXC on the other hand had a plan position indicator (PPI) CRT display and motor driven antenna. But, it had horrible side echoes causing great confusion in interpreting the display. The RXC on the St. Boniface was the first unit tested at sea. Another Radar Officer from my 1943 group, Dick Montgomery, put the RXC through its paces and produced a negative report on it. As far as I know, this was the only RXC ever in actual service.
Being a prewar ham and ardent home-brewer, I tried something a bit out of the ordinary. On one trip I made a slight modification to the modulator an a Swick radar. I added voice modulation to the normal pulsed radar to create pulse position modulation (PPM) instead of a steady pulse repetition
rate (PRR). I sent out a variable PRR as modulated by voice. Our next port of call was Staten Island (New York City). I went on the air calling CQ and watched for a reply. No answer!!
In my spare time at sea while in the St. Boniface, I often retired to the back up communication center near the stern, which normally is not manned, and spent time twiddling the knobs on its receiver. Believe it was the Canadian Marconi CSR-5, but not sure. It was a lovely piece of equipment I also came across I believe the MSL-5, an older set.
Because of the pressures of raising a family while going to school, I quit my M.Sc. program at Western (UWO) in January of 1947 and took a job with the RCN at DND HQ in Ottawa, as a civilian Technical Officer in the Electrical Department under Terry Burchall. I soon discovered that DND HQ had a ham station, so spent my spare time operating it. (My family was still in St. Thomas just south of London) It had a big 500 watt transmitter, I believe the RCA AT-1 (?), a ground station for the RCAF. Forget the call. But it also had a remote unit at the Airport controlled by a telephone line from HQ. So, I also operated that unit from time to time.
My stay in Ottawa was brief. I soon realized that the future for a civilian in the Navy was quite limited and I did not want to go back into uniform, so quit my job there at the end of April 1947 and joined HEPC (Hydro) in Toronto in May of 1947, where I spent the next 35 years.
So, there is a bit more of my memories. Hope you find it helpful.)
(And, one more: One more memory surfaced last night while going to sleep. About the radio set known as TBS. For security reasons, we usually used visual signaling (VS) to communicate with other ships by Morse code on the blinker light.
Of course this was impossible in fog or bad weather. Along came the TBS set to fill the void. This was an AM rig operating I believe on 72 MHz using a pair of 808 tubes in the final running about 70 watts. TBS was "Talk Between Ships". It was installed in the Chart Room just off the bridge so that personnel on the bridge could use it without the need for a wireless operator. Being VHF, it was considered more secure than HF which could be detected and DFed over far greater distances.
still was less secure than VS and was used with discretion. It was physically
large being mounted in a rack about 3 feet tall. In those days there still was a
debate going on between the merits of AM vs FM as the preferred method of
modulation for VHF, and AM was chosen for the TBS.)
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