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Defense and the Amateur
February 1942 Radio News Article

February 1942 Radio News
February 1942 Radio News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Here is one of the first "call to arms" for the amateur radio community published in an American electronics magazine. It appeared in the February 1942 issue of Radio News, which would have been the first printing following the official declaration of war against Japan following the December 7th, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. A couple months of lead time was required back then for submitting content and layout for a printing cycle, so since the February issue was likely mailed in late January, anything that happened in December probably wouldn't have made the cut. No mention is made of the soon to follow prohibition against unauthorized transmitting by Hams for the duration of the war, which went into effect December 8th (QST managed to get the news into the January edition).

Defense and the Amateur

Control station of the Fairfield, Connecticut Emergency Radio Corps network - RF Cafe

Control station of the Fairfield, Connecticut Emergency Radio Corps network.

By F. William Stewart

The time has arrived when Amateur Radio is being called upon to provide emergency communication service for the entire country - not for a few hours or days - but for the duration. Operators and equipment are prepared.

When our country declared war on December 8th, that declaration ushered in the biggest job that has ever faced amateur radio! We have all had a lot of fun out of ham radio during past years, and the ham has established an enviable reputation for the assistance he has rendered during innumerable emergencies that have arisen in the past - incidents ranging from the saving of the life of an individual in an isolated Alaskan shack, to supplying means of communication for whole communities cut off from the rest of the world by floods, storms or other catastrophes. But now the time has arrived when ham radio is being called upon to provide an emergency communications service for the whole country - not for a few hours or days, but "for the duration."

Already an appreciable part of the ham personnel of the country is serving in the armed services-having jumped into the breach when trained operators and technicians were badly needed. This puts an extra burden on those who still remain in civilian life, but it likewise provides them an opportunity for an invaluable service - an opportunity which hamdom is losing no time in grasping.

For many months preparations have been quietly going on among local and regional ham organizations from coast to coast. When war was declared there were many local communities which found themselves possessors of trained emergency communications nets; local Defense Councils, worried with a million details of organization and equipment, had the problem of emergency communications lifted bodily from their shoulders. Literally millions of dollars' worth of emergency communications equipment, complete with the capable operator-owners, was voluntarily placed at the disposal of the civilian defense authorities.

Equipment is tested thoroughly at regular intervals. Note J antenna.

In some instances these local amateur organizations were prepared for types of communications service which do not find practical application at a moment when major attention is being focused on local defense preparations. The government itself is working out plans for taking advantage of every type of service made available to it by amateurs, but in the meantime has given the signal to go ahead full speed on all communications activities pertaining to local defense.

The value which authorities in Washington attach to this service is perhaps best indicated by the fact that within 72 hours after war was declared the FCC, despite the multitudinous other pressing duties imposed by the emergency, started issuing extensions of station and operating licenses of hams who were already organized and affiliated with their local Defense Councils. It is known that within three days after hams were ruled off the air a group of close to 40 amateurs of Westchester County, N. Y., was duly authorized to resume operations immediately for defense purposes. A day later another group in the town of Fairfield, Conn., received similar authorization. At this writing, less than three weeks after "Pearl Harbor," there are thousands of amateurs who possess proper credentials to enable them to go on the air under orders from their local defense chairmen. 

Commercial 2 1/2 meter transmitter-receiver packs a husky wallop.

Revamped Radio News "Tiny-Tot" on 2 1/2 meter band is ideal for mobile.

The antenna tower at the net control station. Feeders are over 200' long.

Thousands of others are hurriedly organizing themselves, or where previously organized for inter-state or other long-range network operations, are reorganizing for local, ultra-high frequency service. Such organization cannot be accomplished in a day. Many have equipment to purchase or build, others have to gain more complete knowledge of the ultra highs, or of organization details. The next few weeks and months will be very active.

For the time being this new department, "Defense and the Ham," will dedicate itself primarily to this branch of emergency service, its purpose being to present information on both organization and technical matters to the end that dissemination of information gleaned from' the experience of now active nets and their members will be helpful not alone to those which have yet to be organized, but also to other existing groups which will profit by the interchange of ideas through a medium such as that offered by this department.

Organizations and their individual members everywhere are invited to submit information (and photos if possible) on their activities; on points of technical interest concerning equipment, antennas, mobile installations, emergency power supplies, etc.; and any other sort of dope that may be considered helpful to others. In addition, the writer of this department, in the role of "roving reporter" will endeavor to glean information here and there, through his own defense activities and contacts, passing along such of it as seems warranted.

Emergency Radio Corps Fairfield, Connecticut

A description of an emergency net organized early in 1941 in the Town of Fairfield will be of general and specific interest, particularly to groups in towns where the number of hams is limited, thus imposing an obstacle which requires, unusually careful thought to organization and planning if it is to be overcome.

Perhaps Fairfield faced an unusual number of problems, but not so many that ham spirit, plus the close cooperation of the chairman of the local Defense Council could not overcome.

Organized in the early months of 1941, this group consisted of all the Fairfield amateurs - some ten in number. By the time the early planning had been completed the number had been reduced to seven by enlistment in the army and navy. At best this latter number is small to provide emergency u.h.f. coverage of an area of something like 50 square miles of hilly, wooded country. So far as practice drills were concerned there was the additional drawback that practically all of the net members were engaged in essential defense industries and working 7 days each week. Some were on day shifts, others on night duty, with the result that it was indeed a rare occasion when all could be assembled at one time.

A distinct advantage existed, however, in the fact that the organizer of the group was thoroughly familiar with 2 1/2-meter conditions throughout the entire area of the town. Moreover his own home station location was up in the hills and centrally located, making it a highly desirable position for the fixed control station. These factors eliminated a good deal of experimental operating surveying which would otherwise have been necessary, and gave a clue, too, to the logical operating set-up.

His equipment includes a highly sensitive FM receiver, ideally suited to the reception of 2 1/2-meter modulated oscillators, and capable of hearing signals from even low-power transceivers operating at the town's extremities. Seventy-five watts input to an HK-54 doubling to 2 1/2, combined with a tower which boosted the "Q" 84 feet above ground, resulted in a signal which could be heard by these same transceivers anywhere within the town limits.

The plan adopted utilized this equipment as a control station through which all emergency communication would be handled. As a precautionary measure a gas-driven generator was installed so that even should the power lines fail the station would still be able to operate normally. With this set-up, plus a small amount of testing with a battery operated transceiver, it was definitely demonstrated that the field equipment need consist of nothing more than such transceivers.

The matter of field equipment, simplified though it was by this plan, introduced another problem. Not one of the members of the net was equipped for 2 1/2-meter operation. All were willing to so equip themselves, in fact some had already started construction work. But it's a difficult matter to sandwich ham construction into a 7-day work week, plus overtime. Here the town fathers made their contribution, to expedite matters, by appropriating money to purchase the necessary number of commercially-built transceiver units. The net was thus enabled to immediately initiate weekly test drills and these were carried on throughout the summer and fall. The wisdom of handling all traffic through the control station was soon demonstrated. Were it not for this, much more powerful field equipment would have been needed. Even then, with the relatively unfavorable antennas involved in portable operation, direct communication between field units would have been difficult if not impossible in some localities.

This will be appreciated when it is explained that the main business center is located practically at sea level while the greater part of the town's area, including outlying fire stations and other important factors, lies in the valleys separated from the business center by a series of hills. The entire town area is heavily wooded, even the business center being noted for its magnificent trees. Many of the important strategic points, even those separated from one another by only a mile or so, are thus effectively isolated so far as both line-of-sight and 2 1/2-meter paths are concerned.

With the network operating through its control station, intermediate relays were made unnecessary and thus the limited manpower could be used most effectively. Each field unit could be spotted at a strategic point to provide direct contact between these individual points and the control station. Field units at police, fire and defense headquarters take care of these three nerve centers, leaving three for assignment as occasion requires - at the scene of a disaster, first-aid headquarters, outlying fire stations, etc. In an actual mock disaster, staged during the summer, this small net proved itself capable of handling all communications.

On this occasion it was assumed that all normal services had been interrupted, including telephones, signal systems, power lines, etc. The radio net not only brought police, fire, Red Cross and defense services to the spot in record time, but likewise emergency crews from the telephone and power companies, water department, etc.

When war was declared this had become a smooth running unit, thanks to its regular weekly drills and field tests. Prompt steps were taken by the Defense Council chairman to obtain extensions of the licenses of the radio net members, with the result that within 5 days after amateurs were ruled off the air, this group was again ready for service, duly authorized by the FCC to continue its defense operations.

Revamped "Tiny-Tot" receiver mounted in one of the emergency net cars.

The planning of the Fairfield net extends not only to the type and operation of equipment, but maintenance as well. Thus at frequent intervals, all field units are brought to the control station for a periodic check-up. Formerly this extended only to a check-up of batteries and general inspection. Now that a state of war exists and emergencies are more imminent, this check-up is more thorough going and includes actual operating tests and measurements to forestall any possibility of trouble developing insofar as it is humanly possible to do so.

Another important factor which has received serious attention from the start is the matter of antennae. The first step was to experiment with different forms of antennae mounted directly on the transceiver units. It was found that a "J" antenna provided much more dependable and satisfactory service than did the original single telescoping rod. The "J" units now used consist of one short and one long telescoping elements, the former serving as one side of the matching section, the latter as the other half of the matching section and as radiator. With the Abbott DK-3 transceivers (the type used by this group) the bottom of the matching section mounts directly on the antenna stand-off terminals on the front of the case.

With this "J" arrangement a more potent signal is put out, partly because a better match seems possible, and partly because the actual radiator is brought further above ground, the transceiver case and the body of the operator by the interposition of the matching section. All of these are factors which can and do appreciably affect the signal when operating at these frequencies and with such low power. In these units the oscillator input drawn from the 135-volt, self-contained battery, is only about 1.5 watt.

To further increase efficiency, permanent antennas have been installed on the roofs of headquarters and other buildings where units are most likely to be required to operate during emergencies. Permanently installed feeders are brought down to the point where the unit is to be operated and it is only a moment's work to connect them in place of the portable "J's." This not only insures a stronger signal reaching the control station, but should that station be put out of commission it would be possible for at least some of the field units to maintain direct communication among themselves. Thus the important agencies of defense would be tied. together by this modified net.

Most of the net members have cars and the field units can therefore be rushed quickly to their assigned places when needed, or can be moved from one point to another as the need arises. Because intermediate relay stations are not required no serious thought has been given to the use of permanently mounted car antennas. Most operation is from buildings housing the various defense agencies such as police, fire, medical, etc., rather than from cars.

Even where these buildings do not have permanent antennas as mentioned above, it is usually possible to carry the transceiver and its attached antenna to an upper floor and thus gain greater elevation and higher efficiency than would be possible from a car. When it is necessary to operate out in the open it is a simple matter to place the whole rig on the car roof or other position which will provide greater clear elevation for its antenna than would be provided by any practical antenna system mounted directly to the car.

If there is any weakness in the Fairfield set-up it lies in the lack of a secondary control station to serve as a substitute for the master station in case of necessity. This need would have been supplied by some of the higher power portable rigs that some of the boys have under construction but coincident with the more urgent need for such equipment attending actual participation in the war, came the imperative demand for more and more defense production. As a result the boys now have even less time than before for ham construction activity.

This equipment, an Abbott TR-4, employs 20 watts into an HY-75, modulated by a 6L6G which is driven by a 7F7 microphone amplifier. In the receive position an HY-615 serves as the super-regenerative detector with the 7F7 and 6L6G functioning as the audio system to drive the built-in speaker. It utilizes an external plug-in power supply which may be either one of the a.c. type or a car battery and vibrator combination. Thus this rig is suited tor either fixed or mobile service. In fixed service a storage battery and vibrator pack provides a simple emergency power source should the power lines fail. Its compact size (9" x 8" x 5") make it readily adaptable to car mounting and a number of design features make it of special interest for emergency service, not the least of which are the improved efficiency made possible by separate oscillators for receive and transmit, antenna coupling adjustable from the front panel, jacks for metering the modulator and oscillator circuits, etc. An excellent mobile rig of similar design was completely described in November 1941 Radio News. - Ed.

In the meantime an important step being taken by the Fairfield group is the addition of a simple plug arrangement in the present transceivers, to permit the use of external, heavy-duty batteries during tests and drills, thus reserving the internal batteries fresh for actual emergency service. These external batteries are being enclosed in battery cases for added convenience. Such a case might prove too cumbersome for use in actual emergency operations, but not so in drills.

This, therefore, is the story of one civilian defense communications set-up. This is not presented as the ideal set-up for every town, but some of the details as worked out by this group will undoubtedly prove suggestive to hams and defense authorities in many other towns, villages and cities.

Insuring Effectiveness of Emergency Nets

Experience in net organization and operation has disclosed some precautionary measures that are of the utmost importance, yet are likely to be overlooked.

Many operators make periodic checks of their radio equipment but overlook the fact that they themselves, and their cars, are as important to the functioning of the emergency communications net as is their equipment. This is not to suggest that each one rush immediately to a doctor for a physical checkup (although this might not be a bad idea, just as a general principle) but it does suggest that one should provide for his physical comfort, and to insure proper car operation at all times and in any weather. When an alarm does come it may remain in effect for many hours. If one happens to be assigned to duty atop a cold, windswept hill he will appreciate the advantages of warm clothes, a thermos bottle of hot coffee, perhaps a supply of chocolate to sustain the inner man, and so on. One may feel that in the case of an air alarm there will be no time for considerations of personal comfort. But of what use is a man with teeth chattering, fingers numbed, and perhaps putting himself in the way of a cold which will make him inactive for days or weeks?

The smart arrangement is to have the proper clothing and accessories set aside where they will be instantly available either at home, in the car trunk, or wherever best suits the requirements of each individual. If at home the XYL can prepare coffee and fill the thermos bottle while the OM climbs into his warm clothes; if away from home maybe the thermos bottle from the trunk can be filled at a beanery while enroute. We wouldn't go on record as recommending it, but a bottle of something stronger than either tea or coffee has been known to offer definite advantages at such times - but don't go in for it unless you are the type that "can take it or leave it alone."

As to the car, the safest plan is to keep it well gassed at all times, tires in good condition and properly inflated, battery checked frequently, and so on. If a mobile rig depends on the car battery for power this requires extra precautions. It may even be worth while to provide a spare battery in the trunk, with a charger to plug into the house lines overnight now and then. If this battery is used to operate the rig it will help to avoid excessive drain on the car battery - perhaps allowing the latter to be used to operate the heater during a long cold vigil. Lacking such an extra battery, the source of supply can be assured by leaving the car engine running-providing there is plenty of gas in the tank.

If there are mechanical troubles, such as occasional difficulties in starting, for instance, better have the trouble attended to rather than take a chance on failure at an important time. Windshield wipers should be in good condition. An alarm might be accompanied by a black-out. In stormy weather under these conditions every possible aid to vision will be necessary.

In taking the various precautionary and preparedness measures suggested, it is well to bear in mind that. most communication nets are insufficiently manned and equipped to afford relief operators. When one goes on duty it will in all probability be for the duration of the alarm. No one expects an alarm to last for hours on end - but then no one expected the attack on Pearl Harbor. When prepared for the worst, anything less is that much easier. So, be prepared!

A suggestion to both operators and net directors concerning batteries is very much in order. The battery stocks of radio dealers are growing depleted and replacements are scarce. It's a good stunt to lay in a reserve stock if emergency equipment depends on dry batteries. Certain types of batteries are completely off the market. If rigs employ these types, suitable substitutes should be found at once. It is most inadvisable to wait until B batteries drop to 30 or 35 volts per 45-volt block before seeking replacements. Recently we had to wait more than 30 days for delivery of standard B blocks. Had the emergency rig been dependent on this order it would have been out of commission for something like three weeks before the shipment arrived. This is another argument for the external battery box idea being employed by the Fairfield net.

One last point, in closing this initial installment of this department. Don't advertise the fact that you are a member of an emergency net, or that your license has been extended. The government does not disclose the locations of its anti-aircraft guns and other defenses, and has mighty good reasons for its reticence. We hesitate to be accused of being a calamity howler, but none of us knows what information is being obtained and tabulated by subversive elements. Many hams probably feel that their individual efforts are too minor to be of interest or use to such elements and this is likely so. The fact remains, however, that every communication net operator is a cog in the defense wheel. It is even conceivable that putting even one such cog out of the running might seriously handicap the whole local defense function of the community in time of need. Visionary? Perhaps. But it's better to be safe than sorry and anything can happen in war.



Posted February 4, 2022

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