Geoff Allsup, W1OH
(formerly WN1BFI, 1964)
In early 1960, my Dad and my uncle Bob began to encourage me to "play" with electronics. I was probably 8 years old at the time, about to turn 9 in late April 1960. Uncle Bob gave me a copy of an old radio handbook and my Dad bought one of those early 10-in-1 kits from Lafayette Radio (I found this in a box not long ago when my folks moved). This was a vacuum tube based kit, and you had to mount terminal strips on a piece of masonite perf board then solder the parts for the circuit you wanted to build onto the terminal strips! One of the configurations was for a low-power AM transmitter. We built that and Dad would drive around the neighborhood listening on the car radio while I talked and see how far it would transmit, or my Mom would drive me around while I listened to him. I can't remember if we ever got it to work as far as my grandparents' place a few blocks (maybe half a mile) away. I also built a number of crystal sets, winding coils on old toilet paper or wax paper tubes. I still have the Philmore Cat-Whisker type galena crystal that I used on most of these. I tried tapped coils and coils with small secondary windings; I had a tuning condenser from the 10-in-1 kit to try as well. The antenna was a long wire strung into the trees in the backyard to the window of my upstairs bedroom in our small Cape in Pawtucket, RI. It was probably no more than 60 feet or so long. A grounding strap attached to a copper water pipe in the small upstairs bathroom provided a ground. My interest in radio continued to grow and a Knight Kit Ocean Hopper regen receiver soon followed.
The Ocean Hopper, with plug-in coils, was interesting, but hard to use. But I still have a log book of some of the shortwave and ham stations that I was able to hear, beginning with a first entry of 17 May 1960. The log book was a $1 offering from National Radio Co. entitled "Official Log - National Association of Armchair Adventurers" and has a couple of articles on ham radio and shortwave listening, plus a reference list of shortwave broadcast stations with frequencies and times, followed by a bunch of log pages with entries. By February 1961, there is a note that I was using a Knight Kit R-55 superhet that my Dad and I built after Christmas of 1960. The log started to show more activity, especially ham radio listening, as the R-55 was a much easier receiver to use!
Also during these early 60's years, my Dad and I got interested in early CB radio, back when folks actually had to apply for a license, and use a call sign issued by the FCC. The first radio was a Lafayette crystal controlled CB rig for the car (wow, tubes and a vibrator power supply), and then later a Knight Kit base station CB radio for home. Now we could talk all around town (Pawtucket, RI) pretty well. And sometimes there was this skip thing, hmmm?? Anyway, I logged a lot of stations now while shortwave listening, and I started learning Morse code. But I played with the CB a lot also. My Dad and I met a bunch of other CBers in the area and I talked to folks in the evenings when I could.
I recall another item which increased my interest in radio and ham radio in particular around this period. Somewhere, I obtained a small, maybe 8 page, reprint from Boy's Life Magazine. On the cover of the reprint was an article with pictures of a young ham who had built a mobile station into the basket on the handlebars of his bicycle, with (I think) an antenna mounted on the rear of the bicycle. This idea really intrigued me (I've yet to actually do this myself nearly 45 years later), and made me more convinced I should get my ham radio ticket. Incidentally, the reprint also contained an article on building a Conelrad radio, basically a crystal set with a 2 stage transistor amplifier built onto a wooden board, complete with a tuning capacitor so you could find and mark the locations on the dial for the 2 Conelrad emergency AM broadcast frequencies. My Dad and I actually obtained the parts for this and built it.
Sometime in the winter of 1962/1963 (I would turn 12 in April 1963), one of our CB friends, Ed, suggested he and I study for the ham radio Novice license - for some reason my Dad always encouraged my radio efforts, but never did want to get a ham license himself. So Dad bought some ARRL manuals for me, the 10-in-1 kit became a code practice oscillator (tubes, remember!) and I studied and practiced code. Sometimes Ed and I would work together - I'd get a ride from my Dad or I'd ride my balloon tire bike across town to Ed's place. Ed knew a ham nearby, Walt, W1EKI (SK), and we visited his modest station. What impressed me most about Walt was his ability to have a conversation with me in his shack while simultaneously working someone on CW at 30 or 40 WPM with a bug! Unfortunately, I don't recall much about Walt's basement shack, except that he had a Johnson Viking Adventurer and the Vibroplex bug. By the fall of 1963 (I was in the 7th grade now), we were both ready to take the test, and on the evening of November 22, 1963, we went to Walt's place and I took my Novice test. Remember that date? JFK had just been shot that afternoon! Now, since this was the good old days, the completed test went into the mail back to the FCC for grading! I was pretty sure I'd passed, but it was about 2 months later that I got my license in the mail and knew for sure! WN1BFI - I'm a ham!! Ed got his license too - WN1BFH.
The day after taking my Novice exam, November 23rd, (a Saturday so no school or work) my dad and I took a ride to Boston (Tufts Radio, I think) and my Dad bought a REAL receiver for me - a brand new Hammarlund HQ-180A. WOW! Selectivity! And a dial you could set to a frequency within a kilocycle or so. I did a lot of listening, and was hoping to get one of those little AMECO AC-1 crystal-controlled, plug-in coil transmitters, or if I got real lucky, maybe a Viking Adventurer like W1EKI's once I got my license. I set up an operating area in my bedroom, and got organized as much as possible. But by Christmas 1963, anticipating that I'd passed my Novice exam, Dad said we could get a good transmitter with "room for growth". He bought me a Viking Valiant 2 - a 270 watt, VFO controlled, AM-CW rig - a kit which I built over Christmas vacation and early January 1964. It had provision on the front panel to plug in a crystal instead of using the VFO, which I needed since I was only a Novice. And as for the 75 watt Novice power limit, since the Valiant used three 6146 transmitting tubes in parallel, I just left 2 tubes out, and tuned up till the meters told me I was at 75 watts INPUT. Dipoles fed with twinlead would load directly off the Valiant's output network. I had a couple of J-38 keys my Dad had gotten somewhere. For headphones, I was still using the soft WW2-vintage pilot's helmet with the built-in headphones that my Dad had kept from his days flying P-40's and P-51's late in the war; the headphones looked a little goofy, but worked great! Anyway, I was in business!
My logs show my first contact with WN1BFH on 24 January 1964. I did a lot of operating in 1964, using a handful of crystals for 80, 40, and 15 meters. (Also a lot of CQ'ing without result - we had to log everything back then). My antenna was a multiple dipole for 80 and 40 meters fed with heavy 75 ohm transmitting twinlead. The Valiant's output network would tune this fine on 15 meters as well. SWR?? Who knows! The Valiant loaded up fine; a small fluorescent bulb held along the twinlead glowed when the key was down. I was making contacts, so all was well! Since Novices could use 2 meter phone, Ed scrounged up a Gonset Communicator for himself, and some sort of homebrew 2 meter AM rig for me for a few bucks, and I even tried a bit of 2 meter phone! But remember that this was the era of the 1 year, once per lifetime Novice license. I also began studying to upgrade to General Class by the end of 1964 (my Novice license would "evaporate" in January 1965). Code did not seem to be a problem, as I was getting much faster with all the operating time. I had an ARRL license manual full of questions and answers for the General Class test, plus a 1963 ARRL handbook, and my study partner, Ed. In the late summer of 1964, Dad and I drove up to Boston to the FCC office at 1600 Custom House, and I passed my General class theory and 13 WPM code tests. One funny thing is that my recollection of the 1600 Custom House FCC office is all in black and white! Like many hams' memories of the FCC offices of the 50's and 60's, I recall a large group of nervous folks waiting for exams, and a stern FCC examiner. The code test was given from, I think, an Instructograph. Then we each had to send on the straight key provided - even though many of us brought our own keys, the drill seemed to be to try their key first. After about 20 seconds of sending, I was told I'd passed and could go on to the written exam. In 1964, this was a multiple choice exam; after completing my exam, I handed it to the examiner and sat down to wait for the result. A few minutes later I was told that I'd passed! Of course, then as usual in those days, the wait for the new license began (no instant upgrades back then). As I recall, this time only took 5 or 6 weeks, and, on 21 September 1964, my license arrived in the mail, but SURPRISE!!! A new call...never did figure out why, but I was issued WA1CUS as my General Class call (Ed, on the other hand, became WA1BFH when he upgraded a little while later. Go figure!)