In the Beginning

Things mechanical and electrical have always been a fascination, probably due to countless evenings spent in the basement watching Dad make and repair things. A top class welder, metal worker, lathe operator and carpenter, Dad was skilled. His observant young son was a thirsty sponge.

babychamp 1One day it was time to practice what had been learned. That auspicious beginning, driven mostly by curiosity, unfortunately ended in “demolition”- the disassembly of Dad’s night table radio, the “All American 5”, an AC/DC 5 tube AM broadcast radio built in the late 1940’s. The “Baby Champ”, as it was known, boasted a complement of octal tubes - 12SA7 converter, 12SK7 IF amplifier, 12SQ7 audio detector and signal amplifier, 50L6 audio power amplifier, and 35Z5 rectifier. Can you remember those?

Not surprisingly, without a soldering iron, solder, proper tools, a schematic, not to mention the appropriate knowledge, re-assembly of the Baby Champ was quite out of the question. It truly was a "Humpty Dumpty" moment!

And so started the junk box. Mom was not amused, but Dad said nothing. Instead, a story soon spread at the local paper mill that Fred’s young son was into the disassembly of old tube radios - for parts. And as providence would have it, this happened just as transistors were bursting onto the scene. Tube radios were out - transistor radios were in.

Dad’s friends soon began dropping their old tube radios on our front porch. It was a veritable bonanza! 

Quickly, disassembly and de-soldering skills grew, and so did the junk box. Soon a large, neatly sorted and catalogued inventory of components was accumulated - resistors, capacitors, pieces of wire of various lengths and colours, RF coils inside little metal cans, chokes, transformers, tubes, miscellaneous hardware - along with once proud radio skeletons, populated only by empty tube sockets, painstakingly stripped of components and all traces of solder.

radioBy age 12, custom built shelving and dozens of small wooden boxes housed a fabulous and growing treasure.

Thanks to articles in magazines like Radio World and Popular Electronics and a ready supply of recovered components, experimentation lead to the construction of a small broadcast band transmitter - whose harmonics might just allow operation on 80 and 40 meters.

A citation from the Canadian Department of Communications monitoring station at Montague, Prince Edward Island, later confirmed that theory... 

The watershed event though, was the Boy Scout “Jamboree-on-the-Air”about year later, during which the Ham Radio "bug" bit hard and deep. That passion continues to this day - a half century later. 

For almost every baby-boomer Ham operator, military surplus loomed large - a "Number 19 set", an AN/ART-13 transmitter, a BC-348 receiver - later giving way to Hallicrafters, National, Heathkit, Drake and Collins gear, and eventually to the Japanese "invasion" of JRC, Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu equipment.

The solid state technology revolution drove the design and development of smaller, lighter, more compact equipment, whose performance characteristics were previously unimaginable. What an exciting time it was to be a Ham!

And with each succeeding generation of radio gear, the bar of performance had been - and continues to be raised.

In addition to rapidly evolving equipment technology, a large part of the enjoyment and effort has included building and erecting antennas. Everyone in the antenna game knows bigger and higher is better!

Remember the Johnson Matchbox?

Building RF amplifiers also provided great satisfaction - remember 813, 4-400 and 4-1000 tubes? Remember oil filled power supply capacitors, swinging chokes, and vacuum variables? 

 Life truly is too short for QRP!