Monday, April 29, 2013


     A probable "freebie" from a big name in radio, back when the amateur radio market was a significant part of their business and a huge source of goodwill:
     These 3x5 cards were meant as a supplement to one's station log.  Filed by callsign, they let the 1930's ham look up "W9AAA" or whatever callsign he was talking with, and see if perhaps they'd spoken before, and if so, what about.  If I have sized this right, it should just print out to the same size as the original.

     The logbook that goes with this is a real period piece: the back of every page is a catalog page for the company's products!  It's actually kind of handy: a 28-page logbook, 25-page catalog, plus seven pages of useful reference data (including the inside covers).  Don't look for a scan soon: "Entire contents copyrighted 1938, No. 267644, by Bud Radio, Inc.  No portion of the contents may be used without written permission."  I wonder what the present-day successor would say if I asked?

     The logbook was used by R.E. Morwood, a fellow in Springfield, Missouri from 7 July to 23 September, 1939.  All CW, much of it on 20 meters, a little 40m (at ½ one of his 20m freqs., probably on the fundamental of that crystal) and even some on 10m at its 2nd harmonic.  From the logged frequencies, he probably only had two crystals, both on 40m.  The handwriting is that of a young man; the last mention I have found online with that callsign is from a 1941 issue of QST, listing him as the Missouri Section Communications Manager and giving his first name as "Robert."  Someone with a different last name holds the callsign now.  The same name (with a different call, also now held by someone else) shows up as part of the team that pioneered amateur "Moonbounce" communications in the 1960, bouncing signals off the Moon to establish two-way communications between ham stations in Massachusetts and California.

Friday, April 26, 2013


     At least, they look remarkable.  I haven't had a chance to try them and I am arguing with myself over buying a set: Lee Valley's Woodworker's Parallel-Tip Screwdrivers.  Sized, they say, for #4 through #10 woodscrews, they have hollow-ground parallel tips the same width as the shaft and the rugged "perfect handle" design, in which the driver body is one piece of steel with two wooden scales to form the grip.  The cross-section of the grip is oval, allowing a better hold and keeping them from rolling.

     This is just about every desirable feature in a flat-blade screwdriver.  They include a carbide burnisher to improve grip with brass screws, a great idea if it works.

     I rarely endorse current commercial products and this is based on the catalog info -- but the design is just plain right in many ways.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


     I had just reached the point of starting to wire up the heater circuit the other night when--

     I broke a terminal on the oscillator tube socket and realized the modulator socket was oriented wrong.

     The modulator socket was easy to fix -- unsolder the one modulation transformer lead still attached, removed retaining ring, turn socket, reinstall.

      The oscillator socket is ceramic and not as easy.  After a false start and much struggling, I did get it moved.
     Now I have to redress the heater leads and solder them.

     One of the coils arrived today.  Thanks to an uninformed packing job, it rattled around in the box all the way and arrived with the fragile old plastic broken.
     There's a fix for this, involving taping to shape and applying multiple layers of "coil dope," polystyrene dissolved in toluene or acetone.   I seem have  misplaced my bottle of the stuff, so I will have to buy or make more.  I'll still have to fabricate a new support bar to hold the coil to its plug.

     Such damage is not unsusual; the old plastic becomes quite brittle over time.  It's just disappointing.

     (The damaged octal socket is next to the coil.)

     I'm looking for 80-meter and 20-meter coils -- if you see any boxes like this one, do look inside, please!

     Some of the frequency-determining crystals (probably) arrived today, but they're "signature required" and no one was home.  I'll try to pick them up tomorrow.  One step at a time.

Monday, April 22, 2013


     Not a phone number; Central won't know what you're talking about if you ask for it.
     Another antique-store find, it certainly looked as if it should work -- and it did!  Weston was a huge name in meters for the better part of a hundred years.  Their VU meters were among the very best (and very first) made.

     The fan shape of this meter is typical of early 20th-century meters, a streamlined change from the heavy cylindrical castings found on older meters.  It mounts to a panel using the terminal studs, typical of most such "surface-mount" meters -- and insulating bushings, if the panel is metal.  This one is missing a bushing at the (metal) case on one post; I can probably come up with something.
     I didn't need a zero-center milliammeter, but one never knows; it's not like they're still making this type.  It sure looks great!

     A nice application for a meter like this would be in a 1930's economy-type ham transmitter, where one meter does the work of several with meter jacks in the plate and grid connections and a long cable and plug connected to the meter.  Just add suitable shunts at the meter jacks and voila!  No fussing around wiring the grid-current jacks backwards, either.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


     Today was a Road Trip Day, up to the North Central Indiana Hamfest, a small but very nice event.  I bought up a few things there -- a 50 Mc/S transceiver (Seller: "What'll it take for me to sell you this rig?  It works!"  Me: [names utterly ridiculous price] Seller: "Sold!"  And so it goes), a coax feed-through and hardware for it, some switches and a meter.

     On the way back, we stopped at several large antique shops and at one, I picked up a funny-looking box.  Seemed heavy but not too heavy -- a deluxe sewing kit? poker chips?  Backgammon?

     Then I noticed the word on the lid: "PHILCO."
     I had to open it.

    It's a nice little nutdriver set, sort of a long and short, with multiple sockets!  All 5/16" hex drive, nonstandard but a reasonable tradeoff between size and strength for the long one.
     The very smallest socket (3/16") is broken and there's an empty, added-extra-lish hole, but it's got 1/4", 5/16", 3/8" and 7/16" sockets, which covers most of the common fastener sizes for radio work.  (I've got my doubts about the 3/16" driver being original, based on spacing and the look of the hole for it.  On the other hand, that is the right size for a lot of 4-40 and 4-36 hardware.)  Nice-looking drivers, though the box is a bit beat up, and priced to move at $14.00.  There was a little rust on the long driver, easily removed with light oil and a brass scraper (a/k/a a spent .45 ACP casing; think of it as beating a sword into a plowshare).

     I bought a few other things as well, some of which I'll write about in subsequent days.  The entire road trip was about 140 miles, including one hamfest, one military aviation museum, one flea market, two antique malls and one of the best barbeque places in central Indiana. 

Friday, April 19, 2013


     One of two identical units needed for the ARRL rig in "Building an Amateur Radiotelephone Transmitter" and a nice example of later breadboard construction.  Mine follows the original as closely as I could manage, with the addition of a fuse and front-panel switch.
     Still dangerous, despite a smear of white paint on the neutral side of the AC plug so you can get it in the socket right way round and a ground terminal connected to the shells of the transformer and choke to hook to station ground.  Making it child- and pet-safe can be done but you'd need some ingenuity, especially if maintaining a period look is a goal.

     This one checked out at over 500V with a capacitor-input filter -- those 630 Volt Solen Fast filter condensers suddenly don't seem all that extravagant!  I changed to choke-input (look closely and you can tell) and the output is still too high for the application: the transformer dates to before Hammond changing to a tapped 115-125VAC primary and the HV secondary was high-ish to start with.  So it'll have to be replaced by the next step down.  Good thing I hadn't built both of them.

     Too bad I'd already bought two transformers.  Hey, extras for the next project -- might even be big enough for the Harvey-Wells Bandmaster power supply that needs built.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


     There is progress, it's just the slow kind.  I have replaced the crystal socket with the proper one (and made an oversize washer for it to match the other ceramic sockets; it allows the retaining spring to lock in on the thin chassis metal) and installed one of the patch plates, with fuseholder.

     Here's the busy bench:

     And a better look at the underside of the chassis.  I tinned a couple more spots for soldering ground connections, too:


Wednesday, April 17, 2013


     These days, if you're driving though central Indiana and put your radio on 94.7, you hear a (mostly) older-rock station, playlist locked down in the 1980s, anchored by a long-lived (30 years?) and highly popular morning show.

     The usual history has it the station was originally put on the air in 1959 by the WFBM stations, who already had a 5 kW AM and the city's first commercial TV station that sent out more than test patterns.  (Wm. H. Block's department store briefly held WWHB and even started testing in 1947 on channel 3, previously used by experimental W9XMT, then got cold feet.[1])  Why not add FM?  Fast forward to when WFBM-AM-FM-TV was sold in the 1960s and the FCC decreed radio and TV had to go their separate ways; they have done so ever since.  Nice, neat story.

     ...Not so fast. 

     The story is a lot longer, goes back a lot farther -- and produced an AM station, lawsuits and an FCC battle over the license as a side-effect.

     It starts in April, 1944, and not on 94.7 but in the old FM band, the one you probably never heard of, with a construction permit granted to WABW at 47.3 Mc/S on your FM the unlikely event you had an FM dial, that is, let alone a receiver to go with it.  Associated Broadcasters owned the station and by October 1945 they were on the air, probably from 445 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis.  (The studios were there and it's tall-enough building).

       In May, 1945 they made history as the first FM station to broadcast the Indianapolis 500 -- earlier that month, they'd covered a record-breaking qualifying run, when Ralph Hepburn barely missed 134 mph for four laps. Pretty exciting -- if you'd known it was there and had a radio that went that high.

     By the fall of that year, they were testing on the new FM band, at, yes, 94.7 Mc/S.[2]  (And/or 94.9, sources vary).  No one but hobbyists who'd made their own had receivers for that frequency.  There were a few -- a very few! -- commercial radios that picked up the 42 - 50 Mc/S band, so 47.3 soldiered on, too.  (It was probably shut down in 1946 or 47.)

     They now had two FM radio stations and few listeners.  Something had to be done.  Associated Broadcasters had picked up an AM "construction permit," a sort of pre-license license, for WBBW, 250 Watts on 1550 kc/S (daytime only) and by April of 1946, they were trying to sell both stations to Curtis Broadcasting, who already had stations in Terre Haute and Evansville, Indiana.  They were also being sued for nearly $9000 in back wages by local radio engineering legend Martin Williams, who had an 8% stake in WABW.

     In August 1946, a new player filed to buy the stations: Radio Indianapolis, Inc, "owned by World Wars I and II veterans."  Meanwhile, Curtis planned to pay Associated Broadcasters in stock and assign WABW-WBBW to their Evansville On The Air subsidiary.

     After various filings and counter-filings, the dispute went before the FCC in 1947.
    In February of 1948, Associated Broadcasters applied to move WBBW -- still not on the air! -- to 1,000 Watts on 1590 kc/S.  (Maybe they were hoping to get a better price from whoever won the license fight?)

   The Commission ruled for Radio Indianapolis, Inc. in March 1948, and they filed to "take over immediately."  They also applied for a new studio and transmitter location: 30th and Kessler, former home of experimental TV station W9XMT, a ready-made studio and tower for the stations.

     By August 1948, the Radio Indianapolis stations, WXLW and WXLW-FM, on 1590 and 94.7 respectively, were on the air.  The AM was still only on between sunrise and sunset; in December, 1949, they applied to stay on the air at reduced power until midnight (denied) and May of 1950 found them asking to move to 1130 kc/S (never happened.).

     In February, 1950, WXLW-FM applied to suspend operations for sixty days and by April, Radio Indianapolis was granted deletion of the FM license.  By their reckoning, the FM station had never turned a profit in six years of operation.

     94.7 Mc/S was nothing but hiss until WFBM lit it back up in 1959.

In the intervening years:

     In mid-1954, WXLW had made another application, this time moving to 950 kc/S and 5,000 Watts from a brand-new transmitter location on 56th St. The move was complete by 1955. The station was still daytime-only but the increased power made them more competitive.

     Martin Williams, undeterred by his tribulations at WABW, put Indianapolis's second commercial FM on the air in 1957.  WFMS, at 95.5 Mc/S from the Antlers Hotel downtown, played classical and "popular concert" music; in the 1960s, they moved to a tower on the East side. The format has changed, but the station is still on the air.

     And 94.7?  In the early 60s,  WFBM passed up a chance at "superpower," 250 kW, but the station has been grandfathered in at a few thousand watts above the usual 50kW limit ever since and as WFBQ, it's been the next best thing to owning a gold mine for decades.

     A bit too late for Associated Broadcasters.

     (Many thanks to David Gleason's amazing archives at American Radio History, without which I'd still be wondering whatever happened to WABW and why "WBBW" never showed up as having been on the air in Indianapolis, let alone that it became WXLW!)
1.  The prehistory of FM in Indianapolis is complicated -- in 1947-48, Wm. H. Block's had an FM license (dropped when they dropped their TV experiment) and so did most of the big AM stations in town -- none of them on the frequencies their FMs would eventually occupy!  Most were never on the air.  It was a decade before FM got much attention.

2. FM was "kicked upstairs," to make room for TV...and, it is said, as a spite-move by RCA against FM pioneer Edwin  H. Armstrong.  Possibly; but FM stations were supposed to serve well-defined, line-of-sight areas, and during WW II, long-standing radio lore has it that plenty of East Coast radio fans heard military tank communications in the 40-50 Mc/S range from North Africa when propagation conditions were favorable!  (This could be nonsense; on a quick search, I can't find any tank or other WW II military vehicle  radios in that range.  They all seem to skip the range between 30 and 70 Mc/S.) If local service was the plan, the real question was why RCA thought those frequencies would be okay for TV.  Unpredictable interference is a heavy price to pay to satisfy spite.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


     It's a fading art; the sign painter's stylized, indvidualized visions have largely given way to standardized plastic cutouts, quick, cheap...and empty.

     Maybe that's what you want for a sign that says "NO SMOKING within 8 feet of door by state law."  Conversely, it's a lousy way to get the name of your business out there, though the handful of clever artists who put die-cutter "printers" to work in an original way do a little to buck the trend.

     Standing right in the middle of the avalanche armed with little more than a brush and perhaps a stencil, America's remaining sign painters are doing their part and more -- you can find examples in my neighborhood, Broad Ripple (Good Morning Mama's, outstandingly so).  You will find even more examples and, better yet, exemplars at The Sign Painter Movie, a documentary with a fascinating trailer and a long, linked list of folks busily employed painting signs.

     It's a rare trade and a unique skill; I could wield a lettering pen well enough, long ago, but a brush?  That's a whole different art: a pen will guide your hand; a brush requires piloting.

     (Link found at the blog of one of the better-known underground comix artists.  Not unsurprisingly, if you think about it.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


     Photos will have to follow later, but I have made two little "patch plates" to cover non-original holes in the chassis and allow reinstallation of the original-style RF output connectors (ceramic feedthroughs), power cord grommet, and a new fuseholder.

     Over the weekend, I installed a new (used) desk in my ham shack.  I brought it home in pieces and reassembled in the basement, without instructions.  Also an old, heavy-duty, three-shelf printer stand, from back when printers were good-sized items.  I'll use t for radio gear.

     Last but not least, I found the power supply I built several years ago for another transmitter project and never tested.  It's an example of late-1930s breadboard construction and yes, there will be pictures, especially if it works.  (Huge long-term project, which I return to from time to time.)

     Readers of this blog may enjoy J. D. Leach's Thermionic Emissions website.  He's something of an expert on the Clough-Brengle line of test equipment, first-rate in its day and still pretty good.*  Many items from his collection were on display at the most recent Indiana Historical Radio Society meeting.
* We must, of course, make an exception for audio test oscillators, which were not really tamed until Hewlett and Packard put the Wein-bridge oscillator to work in '39, just in time for Walt DisneyClough-Brengle, starting several years earlier, used the beat-frequency technique to generate audio sinewaves just like everyone else at the time, and the resulting output tended be rather, ahem, richer and more full than a pure sine wave.  But so was the output of everyone else's, and C-B's no-nonsense approach to user interface made their audio oscillator simple to use.