Mike, W3IRZ and Sam, AE4GX

recreate their Novice Stations and make a contact...!

(click on small picture to get the "big" picture.)

This  is the whole station of Mike, W3IRZ with the J38 key on the right and the DPDT antenna knife switch on the left. Left rear is the SW-54 with AT on top. Center rear is the P/S for the TX. Right rear is the 6L6G-6AC7 TX e/w AT-1 photo behind it. Note that the J38 key has a meter attached to its rear to counter balance the key when tapping on it. 

This  is a close up of  Mike, W3IRZ's   SW-54 RX & AT.


This is Mikes'  TX close up..!


This is the box of parts replaced on the RX rebuild. Note the 3 tune up lamps in front of the box. Two are neon bulbs (NE-2 & NE-51) and the other is a flashlight bulb with a two turn RF loop pickup.

Sam’s actual Novice station (photo taken in 1957)

A general shot of station Sam, AE4GX's   bench with recreated novice station.

Another shot showing the AE4GX novice station area at a better angle.

Internal DX-20 oscillator section showing FT-243 xtal.

Millenium Event – Two Circa 1956/1957 Stations Recreated and Successfully used in QSOs!

The following is a collection of emails, photos and narratives that describe a once in a lifetime event for "old" hams. The recreation of Novice station setups and operating them in these modern times.

Mike Branca W3IRZ (Novice call WN3HCI 5/28/56) and Sam Billingsley AE4GX (Novice call KN4PVS 6/19/57) both have been wanting to recreate their station setups and attempt to establish QSOs on the bands in current times.

Mike W3IRZ had held on to his original National SW-54 SW Receiver and had been searching for a Heath AT-1 transmitter. Even at Dayton this year the price of these babies was about $125 bucks and much more from other sources. Mike decided to recreate the electronics of the AT-1 in a homebrew rig and get his SW-54 running again (old caps, etc). Mike still had his J-38 straight key and below he describes his efforts in these repair and homebrewing efforts.

Sam AE4GX had recently found a Heath AR-3 receiver on the qrp-l list and Mike Supplied a Heath Q-multiplier unit (a receiver accessory for improving the signal selectivity). Sam had asked several guys to look for a Heath DX-20 at the Dayton hamfest. Pickett AD4S found one at the next to last row of boneyard tables at a great price. The filaments lit up so it was a done deal.

Mike had already advertized his historic event proposal (see below) and Sam just tagged onto it hoping he could get the DX-20 running. At the time Sam had no idea if it was in working condition.

***** Mike Declares the special Event

Hi gang, 45 years ago I was originally licensed at age 15 on 5-28-56 as both a novice and technician with WN3HCI & W3HCI. This Monday, May 28, I will activate the WN3HCI station again on 3.700 Mc. It will consist of the original SW-54 receiver (a horrible RX), the original J-38 key and for the TX there will be a homebrew 6AG7 - 6L6 G rig using the original 6L6 from my AT-1 which is now long gone. I plan on operating at 1 PM, 5 PM and 7 PM EDT using the call sign WN3HCI/W3IRZ. Remember that the license is a combined operator license and station license so the WN3HCI call is appropriate for the WN3HCI equipment. All those who accomplish a QSO with me will receive an original WN3HCI QSL card. For those not into high speed
CW let it be known that I am not either and all calls are welcome and you set the pace.

**** Mike describes his Novice setup

The original AT-1 produced 7 to 8 watts out on 80 meters and since I will be using a 250 volt power supply I will be pushing it to get 6 watts and more likely 5 watts. No wattmeter will be used and the tune up will consist of the plate meter and neon plus incandescent bulbs so it fits both the QRP and nostalgic criteria.

When I started operating in 1956 the first thing I learned was that the 3X3 calling was useless as it took a long time to scan the band to find the response. Since your RX was pretty crummy (the S-38 and regen guys had the same problem) you really didn't know where your signal was or where the received signal was either. You simply called CQ (6X6 and 10X10 were not unusual) then tuned from 3.5 to 4.0 listening for your call sign. Using the original equipment forces me to operate in a similar manner (but don't expect a 6X6 call) so if you have a signal strong enough for me to hear anywhere in the 80 meter band we can have a QSO just like the old days. Due this is likely to be a
local event and as I recall that in 1956 I only used it for a month or two before I switched to a homebrew double conversion job (which I still have).

My usual contacts then were all the local kids within the city of Washington DC.

If you have a reasonably priced AT-1 we need to talk. Also looking for surplus 80 meter FT-243 crystals (or just the holders) marked 3700 and/or 3735 kc and I will trade other 80 meter crystals for them.

***** Mike discribes his restoration efforts on the SW-54

To those who are interested. I spent the weekend working on my original National SW-54 receiver to bring it up to reasonable operating condition and discovered (when I finished) that it never (for me) worked OK. This probably was the reason that I replaced it. A few years ago I had put a 3 wire cord on it for safety and had replaced the IF cans with new (NOS) ones as the old ones wouldn't tune. This weekend, however, I worked seriously to bring it up to par as the success of my operation tomorrow will depend on me hearing other stations. Here is the list of parts changed.

First I attacked all the paper bypass and coupling capacitors with a total of 11 new ones. While working on capacitors I removed the 3 fixed mica padder caps and replaced them with silver micas or NPOs. Four electrolytic caps were replaced as were two questionable resistors. The 50C5 AF output tube was weak and the more you ran the set the more distorted the audio got. Didn't have a new one but substituted a 35C5 and added a 75 ohm 10 watt resistor to the filament string. With the AF fixed I could notice that when listening in the AM mode as the received signals kept getting weaker over time till the RX quit. Turned out to be a 12BA6 IF amp tube that was leaky (?) and for some reason would slowly reduce the negative AVC to zero and then to a volt or two positive thus killing the reception. Obviously a replacement tube fixed the problem. Also when doing the re alignment the RF trimmer on the Hi band could not be turned tight enough to tune. Adding a 33 pf NPO fixed it right up.

Also since the radio ran a bit hot I left the back cover off for better ventilation in the hopes that the drift would be a bit lower and since I had previously added the 3 wire cord there would be no safety concerns. My intention was not to modify the radio other than for safety and to repair using higher quality parts. The bottom line is that it never sounded this good even with the selectivity being wider than a barn door. There was no single signal selectivity either so it was like a DC RX. I was able to make a calibration chart for the 0 to 100 dial so it makes it easier to get on frequency. It was a real fluke as each hash mark (on 80 meters) was 10 kc so I set the dial to 70 for 3.7 mc. Then 3.6mc was 60 and 3.5mc was 50. That put 3686 about 1 1/2 hash marks below 70. If I had only known this 45 years ago.

***** Mike describes his receiver test with Sam

Tonite a test was made with Sam, AE4GX to see if this newly restored
receiver could hear QRP signals. Sam fired up the ICOM to 5 watts and I heard him RST 559 with me being a 579. Sam then switched to the Sierra at 1 watt and I copied him at RST549. Ok now I am in business. Although I tested my 6AC7/6L6G at 5 watts on the bench all tune up at the operating position was with a hand held neon bulb as an RF indicator, the milliameter to dip the 6L6 plate and a flashlight bulb connected to a two turn loop held near the antenna tuner coil. All attempts were made to be authentic to ham radio of 1956.

The bottom line is that if I had known all this back then I would have been more successful. Morse code also has taken me decades for me to become comfortable with and if I had an Elmer then I'm sure things would have been different.

*****Mike recaps the QSO list on event day

Thanks so much guys for helping me do the time trip. Today I made 4 contacts which is more that I made 45 years ago. It took me 3 days then to make my first contact. Here is today's log and each of you will get a 45 year old QSL card; I only had 10 cards so at least I didn't run out.

5:00 PM AD4S RST 349/579(me) TNX Pickett
5:19 K4TJD 449/579 TNX Tom
5:26 W4JHR 349/569 TNX Joe
7:00 AE4GX 579/579 Tnx Sam (Sam using his ICOM at 5w
7:10 AE4GX 599/579 Tnx Sam on his novice rig (DX-20 @ 40 watts)

****** Mike’s recreate pictures

Please note that no SWR meters, Field Strength meters or Watt meters were harmed (nor used) during the making of these historic contacts.

Mike W3IRZ

****** Sam comments on the DX-20 checkout

When I got the DX-20 the only in-band xtal I had for 80 mtrs was my NOGA net frequency xtal 3.6864. So I set the rig up with straight key and dummy load and turned on the on/off power switch. No action. Nada. So I opened the cabinet and found that the switch had given up the ghost and used alligator clips and wire to bypass it. Rig came right up and grid current was easily settable and plate dipped as expected. Sounded OK in my station ICOM rx monitor.

****** Sam comments on AR-3 setup

The AR-3 is a simple superhet (much like the SW-54) but when transmitting you have to turn the rx to standby (removes audio) so your ears don’t suffer too much. The old analogue dial is not well calibrated so you really need to have the transmitter freq on as a spot. Even this overloads the rx so you just get close. Initially I had the AR-3 on my Butternut vertical and the DX-20 on my longwire but found that I couldn’t copy Mike (or st least I didn’t think I could) so I put both on the longwire with a transfer switch. With Mike sending several longs sets of V’s I was able to find him with the AR-3 and successfully made a QSO with complete exchange. Boy stal controlled transmitter and drifting anlogue rx makes a challenging situation. No wonder the Noivces in the old days didn’t make too many contacts.

***** Sam’s comments on the event

Well it’s the successful completion of a long search for my original Novice station components. I still had my J-38 key, like Mike, but I didn’t use it for the historic event. Maybe next year Mike at the Jan 1st, 2002 straight key night.

Sam, AE4GX