W1AW Will Help YOU Become a Ham
January 1957 Popular Electronics
the call sign of American Radio Relay League (ARRL) founder Hiram Percy
Maxim, lives on long past his death in 1936 as the call sign of
the official ARRL broadcast station located in Newington, Connecticut.
Two of the ARRL's main qualifications for status as a
501(c)3 entity are its public services and educational aspects.
Broadcasting practice Morse code messages has always been a service
(and educational tool) provided for Amateur radio operators of all statuses
from rank beginner working toward his/her first license to the seasoned
50 wpm veteran bugmeister (code proficiency is no longer a requirement
for any license level). The people and equipment have changed since
the article appeared in a 1957 edition of Popular Electronics, but the
fundamentals have not.
January 1957 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
W1AW Will Help YOU Become a Ham
By Perry F. Williams, W1UED
receiving the code necessary to obtain a ham license by listening to
evening, from a short-wave radio station in Newington, Conn., the letters
"QST QST QST de W1AW W1AW W1AW" ring out crisply in International Morse
Code, calling to order a unique classroom of the air. Responding to
the call are doctors and housewives, truck drivers and bankers, teachers
and machinists, engineers and school children in cities and towns throughout
the country. Each sits in front of a short-wave receiver, pencil in
hand, translating the dits and dahs of radio code into English letters
and words. Their common objective is to acquire sufficient skill in
code reception to pass the Federal Communications Commission examination
for an amateur radio operator license.
The "teacher" of this
code class is a machine which uses a punched tape to trigger the seven
short-wave transmitters. "Final exams" are given once a month,
station W1AW conducts its code proficiency certificate session. One
minute of perfect copy is required for "graduation" at any particular
speed, in 5-wpm steps from 10 to 35 wpm. Anyone is welcome to make use
of the code practice, and to receive a certificate of proficiency, without
charge, upon sending qualifying copy to the American Radio Relay League
in West Hartford, Conn. The League conducts the program as one of its
services not only for amateurs, but for those wishing to join the ranks
of the nation's 150,000 "hams."
Becoming a "Ham."
W1AW's code practice program is a key to the door of the fascinating
hobby of amateur radio. Hams claim the distinction of having the only
hobby which is provided for in international law, and for which a license
Practice receiving the code necessary to obtain
a ham license by listening to WIAW In the United States, the FCC is
in charge of issuing amateur licenses after an examination in code,
radio theory and regulations. One of the tests is simple enough to have
been passed by children of seven, while another is so tough that professional
operators have been known to fail it.
Most newcomers-more than 25,000 last year-start with the Novice license,
requiring a code speed of five words per minute, and a simple written
exam. Though it is valid for only a year, and grants limited privileges,
the Novice license provides the thrills of two-way communication using
one's own private radio station in the cellar, attic or living room.
Quite a few Novices have "worked" (ham lingo for contacted or communicated
with) all 48 states; several have reached all six continents and as
many as 50 countries during their license period.
the operator adjusts the tape transport
mechanism for the daily code lessons. These lessons are transmitted
in the radio amateur bands.
The operating position
at W1AW includes a variety
of standard-brand radio amateur receivers and transmitters. Both
phone and c.w. are employed.
Being a radio amateur
attracts all ages. C. N.
Crapo, of Milwaukee, Wis., has held the same license since 1920;
his call letters are W9VD.
This young lady
received her license when she was
seven years old; she is Sharon Pakinas, of Bothell, Wash., and her
call letters are WN7UOH.
have to travel a long way to try either of these exams. The papers are
obtained from the nearest office of the FCC, and any amateur holding
a General (or higher) Class license may serve as the examiner. Government
and commercial radio telegraphers can conduct the tests, too.
The next step, and one which most hams regard as their goal, is
the General Class license. The written exam is a little tougher and
a speed of 13 wpm is necessary. With this license, an amateur may operate
on any amateur band, using phone (voice), c.w. (code), radioteletype,
or other forms of communications authorized on some bands.
Choice of Activities. Not only does the amateur have
a choice as to the bands and types of signals he uses, but there also
is a variety of activities available to him. The largest group is the
"rag-chewers," congenial fellows who like to strike up conversations
over the air with almost anyone, be he in the next town or halfway across
the globe. Then there are the "DX hounds." These fellows aren't too
interested in chatting with the ham in the next state; what they want
is contacts with amateurs in exotic places like Tibet, or Gambia, or
Qatar, or Niue. There's a special award highly regarded by the DX'ers,
the DX (distance) Century Club, issued by the ARRL for submitting proof
of communications with 100 or more different countries or territories.
Amateurs regularly exchange colorful postcards confirming radio contacts,
and these are submitted for the DXCC and for other awards.
men" are hams who meet at regular times on a certain frequency to relay
messages for each other and for the general public. A typical message
might be from a Yale student to his folks in Ohio wondering what happened
to his laundry; another from a "boot" at Great Lakes Naval Training
Center telling his girl in Miami that he'll be home Friday; and a third
from W6XXX in Los Angeles to W7XXX in Phoenix asking him to listen on
50 mc. at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Many of the message relayers are members
of the National Traffic System, set up by the League; all take part
merely for the pleasure of snappy, purposeful operating. The FCC forbids
amateurs to accept any sort of pay for services performed as hams.
Still another group is interested in emergency operation. These
hams hold regular drills once a week or oftener, to keep themselves
in trim for the real emergency, be it fire, flood, hurricane, blizzard,
tornado, explosion or enemy attack which may some day hit their communities,
tearing up normal communications facilities in the process. With their
equipment powered by gasoline generators or batteries, they are ready
to fill in whenever called upon. Their organization, the Amateur Radio
Emergency Corps, sponsored by the League, is the backbone of the official
civil defense communications system, The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency
What ARRL Is. Most hams, of course,
have two or more of these interests, and split their operating time
among them. They all have in common the American Radio Relay League,
a non-profit, non-stock membership corporation with headquarters at
38 LaSalle Road, West Hartford 7, Conn. Anyone interested in amateur
radio may become a member, but voting membership is restricted to U.
S. and Canadian amateurs.
The headquarters is a beehive of activity.
About 65 paid employees, including 27 hams, are engaged full time in
coordinating the work of volunteer amateur appointees, conducting contests
and other activities, designing new equipment to be described in the
League's monthly magazine QST and in the "bible" of hamdom. The Radio
Amateurs' Handbook, and in producing and distributing other inexpensive
booklets to help amateurs learn about and improve their hobby. Especially
important for the beginner is the "Gateway to Amateur Radio" package,
including Learning the Radiotelegraph Code, How to Become a Radio Amateur,
The Radio Amateurs' License Manual, and Operating an Amateur Station.
Headquarters also distributes free information on getting started in
Four miles away is the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial
Station - W1AW - which is owned by the membership, and was built to
honor the famed inventor who was the co-founder of the League in 1914
and its president until his death in 1936. The call letters were his
own, and were assigned to the League in commemoration by a special action
of the FCC after "The Old Man" died.
Sparked by the ARRL, amateur
radio has seen a tremendous growth through the years. Fifty thousand
hams held licenses in 1941. Fifteen years later, in 1956, there are
150,000 hams - and more are coming.
They're bound to - for as
any ham can tell you, no other hobby can match this one: the fun of
the rag-chew, the excitement of a contest, the thrill of working a new
country, the satisfaction of smooth-running "home-brew" equipment, and
that wonderful useful feeling which comes from message-handling and
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