An Avocation Becomes a Vocation
February 1943 QST Article
you know that the Hallicrafters line of radios is named after founder
Bill Halligan (W9WZE)? Hallicrafters, founded in 1932, was a major manufacturer
of amateur radio gear. During the years of WWII they ruggedized some
of their products to survive the harsh environments of battle. Hallicrafters
was sold to Northrop Corporation in 1966, at which time the product
line essentially ceased. Their gear is still very collectible by aficionados
of vintage Ham equipment. This story from the February 1943 QST
provided an inside look at the production floor at Hallicrafters. Having
cut my figurative electronics teeth on radar and radio equipment built
with tubes and point-to-point wiring while in the USAF, and then later
as an assembly/test technician at Westinghouse Electric building sonar
equipment for the Navy which included wiring chassis and building large
complex cable harnesses, I can personally relate to the photos accompanying
the article. When, for readers in the U.S., is the last time you saw
a company touting its "expert American craftsmen" on an assembly line?
This W9WZE.net website is dedicated to
February 1943 QST
of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the
ARRL's QST magazine. Here is a list of the
QST articles I have already posted. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
See all available
vintage QST articles.
An Avocation Becomes a Vocation
The Amateur Makes a Vital Contribution in the Manufacture of
Military Radio Equipment
BY HERBERT W. HAMILTON,*
It would be difficult to find another peace-time
hobby that could be converted to all-out war production in a way to
compare with amateur radio. The very fact that our American backlog
of trained radio personnel was found ready and able during past emergencies
has set the stage for our present critical situation. Once again the
amateur has been given the opportunity to serve a cause, not only in
the Signal Corps and the other services but, equally important, as part
of the group whose job it is to supply our fighting forces with the
finest radio communications equipment that can be produced.
Thousands of amateurs are now in the armed services, carrying out their
missions with traditional fortitude. Their long experience in peace-time
emergencies has given them pre-training in the art of handling traffic
and in the maintenance of equipment so that there will be no interruption
in the transmission or reception of vital messages. br>
Transmitters by mass production. On the assembly line at the
left individual units are carefully tested for continuity of
wiring and correct cabling by skilled girl operators. After
testing, all necessary adjustments are completed before the
chassis units are mounted in the transmitter cabinets. At the
right is a row of complete transmitters. fully assembled. tested
and ready for shipment to our armed forces. Note the final inspection
tags attached to the front panel.
These sturdy metal chassis will support parts of highest quality
and will be wired by expert American craftsmen - many of them
amateur radio operators. All holes must be free from burrs or
rough edges that could cause damage to the wiring system.
Insulated wires of various colors are wound about headless nails.
They designate the exact position where a connection will be
made. Later they are carefully laced together with heavy waxed
cord. Each "breadboard" is marked with an identifying number.
This YL is putting the finishing touches on a transmitter cable.
Inspectors examine each completed unit and check to determine
whether or not the cable will meet government specifications.
The spools of wire on the rack in the foreground show why copper
is so badly needed!
Heavy transmitter chassis are held at a convenient angle for
wiring on special wood frames. Each operator is responsible
for completing a designated series of connections in a prescribed
order. This steps up production and prevents mistakes due to
Transmitters being assembled on one of the many assembly lines.
Heavy tables support the tremendous weight of the units. Girls
as well as men play an important role in production. Many of
them will be among tomorrow's hams.
Transmitters are placed on dollies to facilitate being moved
along the assembly lines. The YL in the foreground is inserting
transmitting tubes in a completed unit. After continuity tests
are made it will be sent along to the inspectors and testers.
A familiar model is this receiver, here seen undergoing a series
of tests in the Hallicrafters laboratory. Military sets of similar
design successfully withstand terrific punishment when used
on our battlefronts.
Each transmitter receives its "baptism of fire" before being
packed for shipping. Precision equipment is used for these important
tests and actual testing must be executed by skilled radiomen.
Many are licensed amateurs.
Shielded test booths are an important part of a modern radio
plant. Outside QRN cannot be tolerated while critical adjustments
are being made. Grounded copper screen completely encloses each
articles in QST have given us a picture of the part that these amateurs
are playing on the fighting front. What about those on the home industrial
The combination of manufacturers and homebuilders has
been of tremendous importance in the job of turning out military equipment
to "get the message through." If it were not for the fact that American
radio manufacturers had been producing transmitters and receivers for
amateur radio operators throughout the world, the job of setting up
plants and the training of personnel for the vast requirements of war
would have been most difficult. Radio men are not made overnight. Like
the family doctor, a certain amount of basic training is essential.
Furthermore, a radio man does not become skilled in mechanical and electrical
operations simply by reading a textbook. He must acquire a technique
whereby he can use his common sense and ability to diagnose minor troubles
by the simple process of "sight" or "smell."
Amateur radio having
been in existence for many years, there are among its thousands of participants
a large number of "deferred essentials" and III-A men who can devote
their time to the construction, design and other duties associated with
the production of military radio equipment. Hundreds of them are engaged
as engineers, purchasing agents, servicemen, phasers, testers, shop
foremen and in executive capacities.
It was fortunate for the
nation that these men understood the requirements for continuous duty
on the field of battle and were able to undertake the construction of
new military sets and build them to government specifications. The amateur
has been an important factor in making our war production of radio materiel
what it is to-day.
Radio Production Converted to War
The production of radio equipment for public
consumption was ordered to cease last April. Little time was lost in
converting manufacturing plants to all-out production of equipment for
our growing military machine. It is a matter of record that many of
these factories are now flying the Army-Navy "E" flags high above their
Overnight these plants increased their production capacity
many times. New tools and machinery replaced older machines not suited
to the arduous task of day and night operations. New methods were adopted
which save valuable hours in turning out an elaborate transmitter or
receiver. Better parts and tubes made it possible to standardize so
there is no needless waste and so that replacement of a damaged part
will be made easier - particularly on the fighting fronts, where speed
is essential in the maintenance of communications equipment. There can
be no failures when lives are at stake.
That is why Uncle Sam
has placed so much confidence in American radio manufacturers. They
are doing an outstanding job.
Perhaps the best way to see how
this job is being done is to go on a tour around one of these plants
and take a look at the actual processes of manufacture. A logical choice
for such an inspection trip is the Hallicrafters plant in Chicago -
logical not only because before the war it was one of the world's largest
manufacturers of amateur communications equipment, but because it is
now producing such a large volume of military equipment based on these
In fact, right there lies one of the
major contributions flowing from amateur radio to the war effort. The
Hallicrafters make much special equipment based on new developments
for military needs, of course, but the greatest part of their production
is in transmitters and receivers the basic design of which was originally
created to meet amateur needs. It is significant that this "amateur"
gear - some of it designed as long as four or five years ago - is now
given top rating by the armed services for military needs.
The fact that this amateur-type equipment has been selected by the military,
often in competition with the best of the specialized commercial designs,
is a striking commentary on the discrimination and technical achievements
of the American amateur fraternity. It will be a strong chapter in our
record when the war is over and the details can be told.
Mass Production of Military Radio Equipment
The accompanying photographs are illustrative of the many tasks performed
in the 24-hour a day production of military radio equipment in the Hallicrafters
The various mechanical and electrical operations
in building a transmitter or receiver are most interesting to the observer.
Large metal chassis are carefully drilled to close tolerance. Any burrs
left on the chassis must be removed during this operation in order that
wires will not be cut. Every chassis must be protected against rust
or corrosion; this becomes most necessary when units are sent to damp
climates or for operation on naval vessels. Many improved formulae have
been developed for plating and otherwise protecting the metal surfaces.
Electrical conductivity has been improved, eliminating many of the older
Small parts such as terminal strips are riveted
in place. Nameplates are attached and stamped with the model number
and other information required. The larger parts, such as transformers.
condensers and inductances, are then bolted or otherwise fastened in
place, and the assembly is ready for wiring.
made for continuous service must be wired by skilled hands. The adoption
of color-coded cabling is an important contribution to simplicity in
wiring or servicing complicated circuits with their maze of connections.
Large boards, slightly bigger than the chassis, are used breadboard
style for the preparation of these multi-wire cables. Nails with heads
removed are driven into the boards at the spot where a turn is to be
made or where a socket or other part is to be connected. Various colors
indicate the particular classification of circuit, such as filament,
plate, cathodes, etc. Most grid circuits are omitted from the cable
- for obvious reasons. Cable boards are marked for identification.
It is amazing to watch the women who do this work prepare an
elaborate cable in a few moments' time. They become highly skilled and
rarely make a mistake. Inspectors examine each cable after it has been
completed, before it goes to the wirers.
There is a right and
wrong way to wire a radio receiver. Each operator must follow a prescribed
procedure in order to avoid confusion with the balance of the assembly
line. Special racks are constructed to hold the working chassis at a
convenient angle for good visibility during the wiring procedure. Each
operator has a designated series of wires to connect. The number of
operations on the assembly line is dependent upon the complexity of
the set. Techniques are developed to do the job in the shortest possible
time and with the most consistent wiring finesse.
on the Assembly Line
Many of the experts employed in
the construction of this equipment hold amateur licenses and have had
plenty of experience in the construction of their own gear. When they
return to the air it is certain that their equipment will not break
down due to faulty wiring or mechanical failures. We predict that many
of them will contribute in no small measure to the new radio art that
is to follow the war. The radio bug has also bitten many of those engaged
in the production of equipment who have never had any part in amateur
radio. Their training will aid them greatly to get on the air when amateur
operation is resumed.
Women are playing an increasingly important
part in supplying the military with radio units. Delicate operations
are executed in quick time by their nimble fingers. With the adoption
of ultra-compact sets, we expect many of these YLs to design and develop
highly efficient gear for their own stations after the war.
The activity of amateur personnel is not limited to the construction
of receivers. We find many of them on the transmitter assembly lines.
One of the photographs shows a group of employees busy assembling high-powered
units for service where several frequencies must be available at a moment's
notice. Modern engineering has resulted in tremendous improvements in
this type of transmitter. After hostilities, the amateur will be given
the opportunity to take full advantage of these late developments.
New methods for switching tank coils, new and improved means
for neutralizing, smaller and better components, stabilized crystal
oscillators, economical tube operation and many other features are most
intriguing. These must remain a secret until final victory is won. The
men and women who are in contact with these late developments will be
among the first to enjoy the new equipment at their stations.
Many hams have in the past been a bit careless in constructing their
own rigs. The American manufacturer has been responsible in many ways
for changing the entire technique in assembly, layout and wiring of
units. Bad habits have been corrected. Building a large transmitter,
for example, is done by following a carefully-planned system. Heavy
tables equipped with steel rails permit these bulky units to be moved
along the assembly lines in orderly fashion. Each operation is conducted
with precision by men and women especially trained to do their job in
as short a time as possible. Experience has shown that the radio amateur
is particularly well-suited to almost any operation that may be assigned
In making these large transmitters each assembly line
is charged with the responsibility for turning out individual sections.
A portion of one of these lines is shown in one of the photos. These
units, after receiving final tests and inspections, will later be placed
into their steel cabinets.
Final tests are conducted with extreme
care. Actual on-the-air conditions must be simulated in order to observe
the conduct of the transmitter under full operating conditions. Tubes
must be carefully checked and tested with overloads to insure that they
will not fail while in service. Amateurs selected for these responsible
jobs have the ability to detect any fault in operation by a glance at
the various indicating instruments. Here is where experienced operators
must be employed. Students having completed a short-cut radio course
cannot possibly have gained enough background to be able to assume responsibility
for so important a job.
The United States was fortunate in possessing
the great majority of the world's radio amateurs and skilled radio technicians.
These men and women were accustomed to the tedious tasks met in the
design and construction of complicated sets. They had learned that patience
was a virtue, and that the pace set by the American ham was the envy
of the entire amateur world. If it were not for these 'phone and c.w.
hounds, we would not have the radio equipment we now possess.
Up to a few years ago most
amateurs assembled and wired their own receivers. Some of them were
very efficient and reliable; others were not. The American manufacturers
of communications equipment undertook to design highly-efficient sets
that could be offered to the amateur at little more than the cost of
a homemade unit. Bugs were eliminated and many improvements added that
could not be handled in the average shack. The result was a trend to
purchase ready-made sets in preference to others. We hams will never
be satisfied with a mediocre receiver in our shacks. We would rather
layout a few extra bucks now and then in order to acquire the latest
sets that are more selective, equipped with better crystal filters and
possess all of the other refinements needed to combat the heavy QRM
that existed on our crowded bands prior to the QRT order.
trend toward manufactured equipment has paid huge dividends in our war
effort. Thousands of sets were available from jobbers and operators
for military use that would not have been on hand were it not for this
trend. Not so long ago an urgent plea was sent out by the Signal Corps
and other services asking owners of standard manufactured sets to offer
these to the government at a fair purchase price, to be used in our
training centers. Only those sets having diagrams and instruction books
were included. It would have been sheer folly to accept units that were
not duplicates of others or lacked pertinent information that could
be used to insure continuous duty. Thousands of hams responded by giving
up their cherished sets.
Today the old set is giving yeoman
service where it will do the most good. Thousands have been shipped
abroad, and many of them appear in photos received from our fighting
The demands of the military have resulted in new designs
and innovations. These will be incorporated in the new sets that will
find their way into thousands of radio shacks after the war. Some of
these late developments are most revolutionary. The panoramic technique
alone offers unlimited possibilities for accurate tuning of DX stations.
One manufacturer is even now keeping pace with the military sets by
incorporating many of the new ideas into experimental sets designed
for post-war amateur radio. This foresight should offer much encouragement
to those who are wondering how long it will take to return to "normal"
when the last shot has been fired.
Hams in the Labs
The typical American radio laboratory staff includes many hams.
In times of peace they are charged in designing new equipment for one
of the greatest hobbies known. The testing, alignment and other operations
were performed by amateur radio operators in hundreds of laboratories.
These men had learned the importance attached to the manufacture of
sets for use in peace-times and it was comparatively easy for them to
take over the responsibility of making precision adjustments on sets
tagged for Uncle Sam's forces.
A visit to one of these radio
plants puts us in contact with many hams that you have talked to on
the air. At the Hallicrafters, for example, we find Bill Halligan, W9WZE,
one of radio's old-timers, president of The Hallicrafters. When bombs
fell on Pearl Harbor, his company, like many others, possessed a large
group of skilled craftsmen engaged in building transmitting and receiving
equipment of many types. Among them are Herb Hartley, W9WNG; Cletus
Wiot, W9TDF; Donald Wilbur, W9BRT; Clarence Zorn, W9TAL; Wallace Burandt,
W9PTD; Fred Connor, W9CUK; Jack Cappels, W9EPB; Ray Polkingham, W9IAV,
and Jack Pekasovich, W9LOL - to mention only a few. All are applying
their technical and executive knowledge to the war effort. They realize
that the further pursuit of their radio hobby can only be guaranteed
by a final and complete Allied victory.
Yes, an avocation has
become a vocation to thousands of men and women. They are turning out
the finest radio equipment that can be made. Army and Navy inspectors
- also including many amateurs - are seeing to it that there will be
a steady supply of transmitters, receivers and other special equipment
reaching our fighting men wherever they may go. They also know that
the future of their hobby depends entirely upon ultimate victory for
the Allies. Without that victory, there can never be a return of our