How I became interested in amateur radio

17 Park Crescent

 

Built during the late 19th Century, Park Crescent in Brighton consists of 48 Grade II listed Regency houses.

Three of these building were replaced after the Second World War because of bomb damage, and another was the scene of one of Brighton's notorious "Trunk Murders" of the 1930s.

Park Crescent encircles a private garden which was formerly a pleasure ground and cricket pitch; home to the Brighton Cricket Club which later became The Sussex CCC.

Over time many of these houses had been converted into flats, and it was indeed at Flat 3, 17 Park Crescent that I spent my early life growing up.

Flat 3 is in fact on the top floor, with picturesque views of the private garden and beyond, from the lounge and what was my bedroom.

The roof of these buildings is in the form of a double apex style. Imagine an ‘M’ shaped roof where there is a walkable channel in the middle, not only over number 17 Park Crescent but many of the adjoining properties as well - useful I found out later for stringing up a long wire!

In fact this 12 year old child found that by carefully repositioning the hall cupboard and clambering on top of it aided by a pair of steps, I could gain access to the loft via a trap door high up in the wall. A further trap door in the loft gave access to the roof and onto the walkable channel – what a discovery!

My first communications receiver was an ex-government ‘Canadian 52 set’ made by the Canadian Marconi company and sold to me by GWM Radio in Worthing who specialised in ex-government communication equipment.

Canadian 52 receiver

Canadian 52 Set

This covered a frequency range of 1.75-16.0MHz CW and AM.

There were many shops similar to GWM Radio around in the 60’s. The most popular ones were in London’s Lisle Street (Soho) and Tottenham Court Road. The pages of Practical Wireless would be full of adverts from many of these outlets every month.

I was still at school at the time and had saved up my pocket money all year for this receiver. It eventually arrived, packed in a large wooden crate and was waiting for me when I returned home.

The crate had been placed just inside the main entrance hall of the building.

Flat 1, the ground floor flat was occupied by an elderly gentleman and his wife. He couldn’t help noticing when this large consignment arrived, and was inquisitive and enquired what it was.

With great enthusiasm I somehow managed to open the crate, removed the straw and there it was! “A short wave radio receiver” I replied to the gentleman – I may have called him Sir – but then again probably not – especially after what happened over the following weeks.

Having climbed three flights of stairs (managing to avoid tripping over Smokey the cat who belonged to flat two) and undoubtedly stopping for an oxygen break, I and my new acquisition eventually made it to the shack (bedroom).

What was I going to do for an aerial? Now 14years of age, I probably didn’t have much knowledge of amateur radio aerials and anyway I was more interested in general short wave listening.

I recalled how I had previously gained access to the loft, and so that was where my very first radio aerial was to be strung up – attached to the rafters at each end, eventually being threaded though a pin hole in the corner of my bedroom ceiling and down to the radio.

Now at this time TV reception was very poor in the low lying areas of Brighton. VHF 405 line TV only being available from the Rowridge (Isle of Wight) or London transmitters. TV reception in Flat 1 apparently was awful – so the elderly gentleman told me and much worse since that ‘box’ arrived!

“You must be transmitting” he said angrily. Repeatedly telling him it was only a receiver and did not have the ability to transmit fell on deaf ears. I’m afraid, my poor old mum got it in the ear. Anyway he must have sorted out whatever was causing his TV problem as he eventually stopped making any comments.

I enjoyed my first experience listening to the short wave bands very much, and soon wanted more – a better receiver and a decent aerial to go with it.

My interest in the amateur bands began shortly after I started attending Brighton Technical College in Richmond Terrace – just a short distance from home.

Brighton Technical College

Brighton Technical College

I was studying radio and TV servicing and was sent there by my employer Scotts Radio one day a week for five years. Scotts Radio was an independent dealer who had a number of high street shops with their service department in London Road close to Preston Circus – another short walk from home.

They say you remember the best teachers at school; well we had two great ones at college; Ron Bravery G3SKI and Richard Canning G6YJ. Some of you will remember and indeed may have been taught by Richard as he used to also teach the Radio Amateurs Examination courses (RAE).

Richard (known to us as Fred Canning) was a keen CW operator, lived with his wife in Burgess Hill, and for a few years later in his life, taught the RAE at Marle Place Burgess Hill. I can recall his Bungalow in Windmill Drive with long garden and antenna to match.

 

Richard and Ron had set up an amateur radio station in the basement of Brighton Technical College, and as students we would be given demonstrations of the station.

The station consisted of a KW Viceroy HF Transmitter (100Watts out) and a KW77 receiver. The antenna was a 132ft centre fed Zepp installed between the college and the brewery. All modes were catered for (CW-AM-SSB) although AM was still the most popular (1966 era).

The ‘transceiver’ as we know it today had not arrived on the scene as yet. Separates were the order of the day. Having tuned the receiver into an amateur station’s CQ call, you would then adjust the transmitter to net onto the receiver’s frequency; this by means of very low level RF signal.

Those of us studying radio and TV serving were encouraged to attend the RAE course for a useful form of revision. This would be one evening a week over the academic year.

Now here’s the crack: Richard Canning was such an entertaining lecturer that most of us didn’t just sit the course for one year, but three instead! – Now there’s evening entertainment!

Indeed some of us took the radio amateurs exam in year two for the hell of it, and still came back for more. It wasn’t that we were swats – far from it.

To lighten the evenings lecture especially when the subject matter became dull, Richard would have us rolling about laughing as he re-told stories from the time when he was employed by the Welsh Electricity Board and all the high voltages he had to deal with, and the things that went wrong – although I suspect they had a meaning for us.

There was great rivalry between Richard and Ron with regards to amateur radio stations worked on the air. Indeed both of them wanted to be the first to show off their latest collection of QSL cards.

Working at the Scott’s Radio service department gave me access to a huge number of components – fantastic for the prolific constructor that I was to become. Indeed my service manager Robert Harding was very supportive – after all I could only gain experience which hopefully would benefit the company.

Some of my early home brew can be seen in this picture, including the 4’ long bench at the end of the bed.

Shack of G3XQM 1966

G3XQM First Radio Shack 1966

Entering the room from behind the curtain is the 600 Ohm feeder of the 132’ end fed Zepp aerial. By the age of eighteen, I had plucked up enough courage (and foolhardiness) not only to climb up onto our roof, but to climb over three other roof tops as well! The antenna I made using 14SWG hard drawn enamelled copper wire. The feeder spacers I made by cutting up lengths of EGA tubing (electrical conduit). The 132’ was fixed at both ends using porcelain insulators with short lengths of supporting wire attached to facia boards.

The Zepp feeder connects to a home brew ATU located on the shelf. Main components within it were the large tapped coil wound around a former constructed using a couple of strips of Paxolin board glued at right angles to each other to form an ‘X’ cross section. The wire was wound over the ends of the X.

Two reasonable wide spaced tuning capacitors were used probably in the value of 150pf – 250pF. The small meter I seem to remember was just used to sniff the RF and was not actually an SWR bridge, although I did construct one at a later stage.

Many of the unusual components were readily available from ex-government radio shops in Brighton such as Arthur Sallis in North Road and Hay & Sons in Trafalgar Street.

The antenna worked like magic proving in one lesson that height (we were three storeys up) was as important as resonant length.

Next to the ATU is the six valve oscilloscope built using a 3” ex-government radar tube. Used mainly for checking on modulation depth of the AM carrier while transmitting.

I seemed to have spent an awful lot of time cutting up aluminium, and I have lost count of how many valve bases I cut out with drills, round and half round files – no fancy valve base cutters at this shack!

Sitting on the bench left, is the first transmitter that I built. It is a 5 band HF 80m-10m 50 watt output AM rig based on the design by F.G Rayer G3OGR in Practical wireless - worked a treat especially with that aerial.

Sitting above it, is a Top Band AM/CW transmitter. Now I have to publically own up here how I practiced a bit of deceit…..

The ‘Codar AT5’ was a popular Top Band (1.8MHz - 2.0MHz) and 80m AM/CW transmitter. This was available to purchase from a shop in Southwick.

I rang them and said I had purchased one of their Codar AT5 transmitters and that it had now developed a fault, and would they kindly send me a circuit diagram so I could fix a repair – something like that.

What kind people – from that circuit diagram, three of us went on to build a copy of that rig. I leave the names of the other two out of this article to save any embarrassment.

On the RH side sitting on the bench is a second hand commercial KW77 all mode receiver – the same model that I saw a year earlier in use in the basement radio shack of the Technical College. SSB was starting to become popular.

Finally sitting on top of the KW77 is a general coverage transistorised receiver – never did work very well (deaf) for some reason so would have been dismantled – the parts used for some other project.

The flat in Park Crescent also saw the construction of Hi-Fi amplifiers – some of you will remember the popular Mullard 5-10 design (5 valve 10 watt output). I constructed two of these on one chassis, built a pair of speaker enclosures, fitted them out with woofers and tweeters – Voilà - Stereo – Herb Alpert – eat your heart out!

While all this was going on in the 60’s the backdrop was ‘Off shore radio ships with the likes of Radio London and Radio Caroline broadcasting pop music usually 24hrs a day from the North sea.

This caught the public’s imagination and was a great hit. Up until then the only station to broadcast pop music was Radio Luxembourg, although that was really only receivable in the evening which tended to fade in and out.

The BBC only broadcast pop a few hours a week on their ‘Light Programme’

August 1967 saw the marine offences bill outlaw the pirates. Shortly after that Radio 1 started broadcasting to fill the hole left by the radio ships. In my opion radio has never been the same since.

Written by Tony G3XQM