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Entertaining Uncle Oscar
August 1939 QST Article

August 1939 QST

August 1939 QST Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Popular comic strips (aka 'funnies') in the 1930s and 1940s featured numbskulls, ne'er-do-wells, and simpletons. There was usually one character in the strip's cast that was smart - at least in a relative way if not absolute. Being familiar with some of the old comics like Blondie, Barney Google, Krazy Kat, Beetle Bailey, Gasoline Alley, etc., I can see a definite relationship between the story line of "Entertaining Uncle Oscar" and the comics of the era in this short story that appeared in a 1939 edition of the ARRL's QST magazine. As you might guess, the feller named 'Ham' is the smart one.

Q:  Is it irony, coincidence, or premonition on the author's part that the uncle's name is the same as the ARRL's OSCAR series of Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio(s)?

Entertaining Uncle Oscar

By Eric Adams, VE3ALG

Ham is faced with the pleasant task of demonstrating his station to Uncle Oscar, just in from the country. Leads uncle into the shack and heartily hopes that everything will work, since uncle shows signs of great enthusiasm. Recalls final tank condenser arced four times on last transmission; hopes uncle will accept same as natural phenomenon should it occur again. Prepares for ordeal by turning on receiver, transmitter and soldering iron since past experience has shown that this last item must be used at least once per QSO on the average.

Entertaining Uncle Oscar (1), August 1939 QST - RFCafeIs glad he has returned to 160 'phone since Uncle Oscar will no doubt find phone far more interesting than c.w. Uncle mentions that he has heard much about intercontinent amateur contacts and casually requests that his nephew raise Africa or Europe. Ham explains that such things are not done on 160 phone (and feels like adding, "Or any other band," as far as he is concerned). Uncle Oscar gets very excited and shouts, "I knew them newspaper articles was lies! It's agin the laws of nature to talk to fellers in them places! How could a body talk to someone in China when it ain't every feller what speaks Chinese? Take me fer example, I don't reckon as how I know a word of anything but English."

Ham is not impressed with his uncle's English and feels like telling him to improve it before worrying too much about his inability to speak Chinese, but respect for his elders throttles this remark. Ham decides to impress uncle by drawing sparks off the antenna with a pencil. Sparks are too feeble to excite the ham-mind but nevertheless uncle is interested and promptly wants to light a cigar on the antenna condenser. Ham says it can't be done and leaves room to get matches, since he is afraid of his lighter ever since he "fixed" it and it emitted a seven-inch column of flame, nearly setting his hair on fire.

Ham returns and is horrified to find Uncle Oscar kneeling behind rig with one hand on rack and his nose about a quarter of an inch from cap of one of the 866's. Wonders if it would be best to shout warning, or take more definite steps to enable Uncle Oscar to continue living. Decides on latter course and gently but firmly drags uncle backwards by the ears amid S9 protests at such unfriendly handling. Protests cease after ham explains exact details, taking care to point out that an arc jumping from the end of one's nose looks silly, even though the victim is in no condition to worry very much. Uncle says he only wanted to see inside of rig and proves his genuine interest in radio by asking: (1) What would happen if a bird sat on the antenna? (2) Does steam come off the antenna if the rig is on while it is raining? Ham is not very sure about the first question and idly grabs the Handbook to look up under "bird." Is somewhat disappointed to find nothing so devotes his remarks to the second question and emphatically denounces idea of steamy antenna.

Hunts over band which shows little sign of activity, so puts rig on and calls a long CQ, interrupting same with frequent insulting remarks directed at local hams who might be listening and who might come on the air to defend their honor. Allows uncle to hear transmission by using earphones on receiver. Uncle listens attentively and finally remarks, "Say, this feller's voice sounds a little like your own, don't it?" Ham stops CQ long enough to point out that it is his own and that is possibly why there is some resemblance. Explains to uncle what is happening and continues calling. Looks over the band and is rather pleased to hear local calling him in an irate voice suggesting a QSO of the 160-meter-feud type. Station calling seems to be using a telephone mike and modulating about seventeen per cent; the quality being very hard to read. Ham opens QSO by asking, "What did you say you were selling?" which remark is calculated to at least trigger off a "different" contact. Meanwhile uncle asks what country the station they are working is located in, and if the operator can speak English. Ham explains station being worked is four blocks away and that the operator is speaking English. Uncle replies that he cannot make out a word that is being said and why not use the telephone if the other fellow is only four blocks away? Ham decides poor quality is main reason for his uncle being unable to understand QSO, so on next transmission withdraws his report of Q5 S9 and substitutes Q-zero S9, after which he signs off with a few "73's" and several other c.w. abbreviations which were never meant to invade the 'phone bands.

Entertaining Uncle Oscar (2), August 1939 QST - RFCafeHam looks over the band again and hears another local calling an out-of-town station which he happens to know is right on his frequency, so when local stands by he conveniently comes on shouting, "Hello test!" Needless to say other local comes back bewailing fact that out-of-town station was put out of the picture. Ham says he is very sorry and obligingly supplies a Q5 S9 report followed by a series of highly complimentary and exaggerated remarks regarding fidelity, etc. Lengthy QSO follows during which such topics as rotary beams, 5-meter DX, and YL's are discussed in great detail, most of the detail being reserved for the YL portion of the transmission. Second transmission is utilized to take apart several of the more popular transmitting tubes, which are heartily condemned by both hams. The fact that neither ham owns, or knows anyone who owns, one of the tubes is a matter of apparently little importance. Third transmission deals with popular commercial receivers which are treated with the same derision given the tubes previously. Both hams are unanimous in stating that they wouldn't dream of trading their own home-made receivers for anyone of the commercial models which they have just discussed. Neither ham bothers to mention he recently looked over a few catalogs and cast many envious glances at the receivers just panned with such gay abandon.

Ham suddenly remembers his uncle and turns around to find that gentleman sound asleep, despite the fact that radio history is being made. Finally wakes uncle by shouting violently. Uncle jumps up, mumbling unintelligibly, but quickly quiets down and devotes a rather sleepy interest to the QSO which terminates three minutes later when the other ham remembers a date with his YL. Ham feels very disgusted with everything, especially his uncle, and resolves never to undertake further demonstrations for anyone; then mentally decides to make Susie the one exception. Telephone rings and ham finds next-door neighbor wants to know if he is on the air since said neighbor has been bothered with considerable QRM for the last few minutes. Ham simply states he is not on the air, which remark he feels is the solemn truth, as he is speaking on the telephone at that exact instant and, therefore, is not on the air; whether he was on or not a few seconds previously is a side-issue which ham does not consider necessary to discuss.

Loud and unpleasant snores, very similar in tone to some foreign (and domestic) c.w. signals, give audible evidence as to Uncle Oscar's condition. Ham is completely fed up with both Uncle Oscar and 160 meters. Decides to leave them both strictly alone and goes downstairs to listen to Jack Armstrong on b.c.l. set.



Posted April 17, 2020
(updated from original post on 5/28/2013)

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