Gerard M. Foley

Travel & Photography Collection

Amateur Radio and Me

My first real contact with amateur radio came around 1929, after the vacuum tube had come to be the major tool for all kinds of radio. It made the transmission of voice and music possible, although for economic and technical reasons most amateurs still used code for communication. When I entered Germantown High School in Philadelphia I found that there was an amateur radio club, with a license and callsign W3BTT, and a transmitter and receiver which the students who had amateur licenses could use to contact others in distant places. I was an enthusiastic member of the club, but I never mastered the International Code well enough to feel I was ready for the amateur license examination, which then required ability to read 10 words per minute.

I was living as a bachelor in Columbus Ohio in the fall of 1939, when I finally dared to try the amateur license examination. I failed the code test, now raised to 13 words per minute. A few days later I met a girl, four weeks after that we were married, and a month after that I passed the examination with no difficulty, even though I had paid hardly any attention to the code in the meantime. I was issued a license for station W8UKI, and could transmit as I wished.

My early home made (home brew, in amateur lingo) transmitters were quite simple and modest, using receiving tubes, and for code only. I did the best I could with antennas, which were always long wires strung from the building I lived in to a convenient utility pole. Utilities officially do not favor this, but no one ever interfered with me. Because of my employment in Columbus I was granted faculty privileges at Ohio State University, and so was eligible to join the amateur radio club there, which operated a powerful transmitter with a good antenna in the building that had formerly housed the university broadcasting station, WOSU. The callsign is W8LT. On one occasion I had the good luck to have a conversation with an amateur in Oregon who told me he managed a wood pulp mill. At the time I was working on the problem of early breakage of chipper knives, giant knives that resembled a razor blade and were used to chip logs into pulp. He told me the reason for the breakage, which was the presence of steel spikes and pieces of steel chain in the logs, a fact which the maker of the knives either did not know or concealed from us! I got the information quite accidentally, but it verged on an illegal use of amateur radio for commercial gain. Needless to say it was quite helpful in my research on the problem.

I had built, while I was a university student, a large elaborate super heterodyne receiver which worked very well. Later I depended on commercially built receivers. After WWII, like most amateurs, I modified many surplus military transmitters for amateur use. Before amateur radio was shut down at the time of the declaration of WWII, I was mainly a "ragchewer", but with a certain preference for distant stations.

When I returned to Ohio in 1976 I had the space to erect a rotatable "beam" antenna on a modest tower, and the leisure to spend time in trying to contact distant stations and to operate in some of the contests which are held to test the skill of amateur operators. I never reached the top ranks of "dxers" nor of contesters, but I had a few modest triumphs. Now that I live in a retirement community I have had to adopt simpler equipment.