W2JGR Ham Radio Biography
Jules, W2JGR, became a silent key on January 9, 2006. God bless you my friend.
Ham Radio Biography – W2JGR
What follows is a collection of snapshots, of one person’s 68 years of ham radio experience gleaned from 22 paper log books, two large loose leaf books, eleven shoe boxes of QSL cards, and a still mostly intact memory.
How did I become interested in ham radio? I recall it clearly. I had read in the New York Times about a ham in Alaska who was able to have a Calculus problem solved for him, by radio, by a ham in Texas. That struck a chord. I somehow sought out the ARRL and received a booklet entitled “How to Become a Radio Amateur.” On October 7, 1935 I took an examination, which included a code test at 10 wpm, at the Radio Inspector’s (RI) office at 641 Washington St. in New York.
I received my two sided, wallet size, radio license dated 12-31-35, signed by J.B. Beadle, assigning me W2JGR with Class B operating privileges. To this day I have that original license in my possession. Following World War II, I upgraded to Class A, which included taking a code test at 13 wpm. Class A was ultimately grand-fathered to Advanced Class, which I have held ever since.
My first logbook was a collection of stapled pages produced by a ‘mimeograph’ machine using a layout of my own design. The first entry is dated March 23, 1936, although my first QSO of record was with a local station on 80 meter CW on March 30, 1936. I had to call on my “doublet” antenna, with a rig I do not recall, for a whole week, before I made a contact. Each call was dutifully logged even though no contact had resulted. With visions of a visit by the RI in my head I continued this practice for many years. The first DX contact (my 114th QSO) from W2JGR was not logged until 1:40 A.M. local time on December 13, 1936, and was with VK4HR on 20 meter CW. An hour later VK3GP gave me RST 569. I still have his QSL card, but none from VK4HP. Soon after, I worked a local down the street. He said he worked me on 40 meters. I was transmitting on 20 meters! We visited and became good friends. Unfortunately I can find no record of what my rig was those first months, but in late December 1936 I made a marginal note that I was now using a Type 57 tube as an electron-coupled oscillator, a 46 buffer, and a 210 final. I do recall I had built this rig on a true ‘breadboard’, and that I was using a wire dipole. 20 meter CW DX kept being worked sporadically and all DX contacts were highlighted with red pencil. Logbook 1 went until February 8, 1937. It appears that of all the calls that were made, only about ten percent resulted in QSOs. Many pages have a marginal notation of “PHOOEY.” That poor old log book is now faded and crumbling around the edges. My first QSL card carried the banner across the top: “W2JGR IS OPERATED FOR WORLD WIDE FRIENDSHIPS.” Over the years, that statement evoked many pleasant responses on reply cards.
PROGRESS and WAR
Logbook 2 shows that in June 1938 I was using a 6L6G Tri-tet oscillator operating off 110 V. DC mains with about 2 watts output. It was not until February 1939 that I noted completion of a new rig consisting of a 6L6G E.C.O., with 2 6L6G’s as a final amplifier with 500-600 volts, feeding a Zepp antenna cut for 80 meters. I now had a noisy motor-generator located in the ‘john’ adjacent to my shack to convert the city mains DC to AC. It started up every time I turned on the transmitter. A note in the log margin says “September 1, 1939. War starts in Europe. VK’s, ZL’s, G’s, F’s, D’s are off the air.” My last prewar QSO was on January 28, 1940. I was working as a civil servant Naval Architect on the conversion design of merchant ships to army transports, and had no time for ham radio.
GETTING STARTED AGAIN – POST WW II
August 31, 1946 found me back on the air using a 6V6 crystal oscillator, with 6L6 final with a power input of 15-20 watts. An entry dated a few months later noted I was using my first post war newly constructed rig using a 6L6 Tri-tet Oscillator, 807 doubler with an 813 final running 1500 volts on the plate. The city mains were now AC. The rig was designed by Noah, W2HEE, and built by myself. It had a few problems. On Oct. 26 I received a polite phone call from the New York City Police Department
that I was interfering with their 33 mhz receiver located on top of the George Washington Bridge tower, which was about 13 blocks away. In a few weeks the rig was cleaned up, and I started operating again. It was not until November 8, 1956 that I had my first phone contact. From then on it was mostly phone, and occasional CW, until the RTTY bug hit me in the early 80’s.
Several of the most pleasant QSOs I ever had were with “Jim”, W2SMA, in late 1946 and early 1947. He was located at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, 50 miles from me, up the Hudson River. He was a young Lt-Col teaching electricity at the academy. Our 20 meter QSOs were so solid that I figure the Hudson River acted as a 20 meter waveguide for us. We were both new parents at the time. 23 years later, in 1969, I read in Electronic News that Brig. Gen. Irving R. Obenchain Jr. had been appointed commanding general of the Safeguard Communications Agency, Army Strategic Communications Command. That was Jim.
On a Saturday evening, December 14, 1946 I had one of those thrills that only come a few times in a ham’s lifetime. At 8:07 PM local time, I called Yuruey Phi, C8YR in Laochunmiao (Petroleum City) in Kansu province, China, on 20 meter phone. I had been in the process of checking the band edge with my BC-221 frequency meter when I heard him call CQ. That QSO lasted one hour and three minutes, with signals at both ends peaking S7-8. I was running 345 watts to a dipole on the roof. He was running 220 watts. I received his photograph and QSL card not too long afterwards via the ARRL QSL bureau. That QSL card was valid for my first DXCC submission thirty years later.
The post war years provided many contacts with hams in the military, stationed overseas. Although I never did phone patchwork, I did relay messages, and on occasion had a family member come into the shack to speak directly to loved ones overseas. The DX counters kept coming. In the late evening of August 25, 1949 I had a 1-1/2 hour phone QSO with Len Collett, W0DEA, in Joplin, MO, on 20-meter phone. My next radio activity would not come again until September 25, 1954. With three youngsters growing up, and in the middle of a developing engineering career, ham radio had to wait a bit.
REVITALIZATION and HIATUS
January 1954 QST carried a great construction article of a multiband 300-watt CW/AM transmitter using a tube lineup of 5763-6C4-5763-5763-6146-813. I built that from scratch including all the metal work except for the front panel which was machined and engraved as a ‘government job.’ I also built the high powered phone modulator with a tube complement of 6J5-6J5-6L6-two 811A’s. I still kept logging unanswered calls, although the percentage of ‘hits’ approached 100 percent at times. Phone was the mode of choice. In December 29, 1954 I replaced my wire dipole with a 16 foot vertical with four radials on my garage roof. In early 1955 it appears that I tired of domestic rag chewing and the log started filling up with DX calls. By early 1956 I no longer logged unanswered calls. I alternated CW and phone. On April 8, 1956, Terrell, G8BD visited my shack. On October 5, 1957 at 8:10 PM I logged the Russian satellite, Sputnik, on 20.005 Mc. I then copied it on successive orbits and sent a QSL card to which I received a response. My activity between early 1957 and late 1974 consisted only of a few QSOs a year. Family obligations and a maturing engineering career took priority.
SSB ARRIVES FOR ME
In December 1974, having almost lost interest in the hobby, at the suggestion of Greg Stephenson, W2OBO/W1DGC, I purchased a Yaesu FT-101B SSB Transceiver and was back on the air with a vengeance. The old military surplus Hammarlund Super-Pro receiver and the 813 transmitter languished in the basement for years before being sold and scrapped respectively. I was still using my vertical.
THE BELGIAN RAFT
With my new modern rig sitting on a card table, on the second floor of my home, I made it a habit to monitor 20 meters every day before going to work. I picked up a male voice of heavily accented English early on December 27, 1974 signing ON4AXA/MM. He identified himself as The Belgian Raft called “The Last Generation.” This was Alfonso Oerlemans, who with a countryman Raoul de Boel, and a Moroccon fisherman Hassan Cribatou, were crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Safi, Morocco to Trinidad in the West Indies. Their home base contacts were ON5KL, and his QSL manager Pam, ON4QP with whom they checked in frequently. Every morning, as I monitored, I taped their contacts. Finally on January 8, 1975 I made a contact with them. They were at 9 37 N , 55 W. They had left Morocco on October 26th and landed on Trinidad on January 16, 1975 after traveling 3500 miles for 82 days. The raft was described as being 5 x 8 meters and equipped with sails which were said to be used if the equatorial current was not to their liking. I called a popular columnist at the local Long Island paper and told him what was happening. To my surprise he came out with a column entitled “Maritime Mystery”. It started like this:
“Who is this brave and mysterious sailor named Franz? (sic) What is he doing out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? What is the nature of his medical experiments? What is he observing? And for whom? They are tantalizing questions for Jules Freundlich of Malverne, himself an explorer of distant places. though by radio beam, not raft…….”
The article continued, and he pretty accurately reported what I had told him. Toward the end he said:
“Now that is an intriguing tale. But Franz’s mission seems to be a particularly well kept secret. Crossing the Atlantic on a 16-by-25 foot raft is an undertaking of extraordinary high drama, yet the Coast Guard, which knows pretty much everything happening at sea never heard of Franz or his raft. Franz identified himself as a Belgian, yet a series of inquiries at the Belgian Consulate in Manhattan yesterday afternoon produced no one who knew anything about Franz…..”
Well, the arrival of the raft at Trinidad was duly reported by the Associated Press, and my columnist friend sent me a copy of the AP wire story and a great accompanying 8 x 10 glossy photo of the raft and its occupants as it arrived at its planned destination. In due time I received a QSL card from his manager. It contains a picture of the raft and a map showing the route taken.
EPILOGUE TO THE BELGIAN RAFT
About four and a half years later, in July 1979, I received a handwritten letter from Fons. He was in Canada with his wife, visiting North America. He mentioned he had made over 700 QSOs during the trip. I quote the next sentence verbatim.
“In October 1979 we’ll make a new and more remarkable expedition. It’s our intention to cross the Atlantic in a steam boiler. It’s an underwater excursion module.”
However, the main purpose of the letter was to advise me that he would be visiting New York City and wanted some help in receiving information about the city. He gave no return address in Ontario but promised to call me when he arrived. I never heard from him, or of him again.
THE ROARING SEVENTIES
The 70’s saw a dramatic change in my ham life. In 1975, after 40 years of using verticals and dipoles I erected a 40 foot E-Z Way two section 40 foot crank-up, tilt-over tower, and attached a Hy-Gain TH3Mk3 beam on top. I could not get over the difference in performance over a dipole! Someplace along the line I purchased a real husky amplifier, the Henry K-2000. This was my first taste of real power. The logbooks filled up fast, and are crammed with DX entries. I entered SSB fone contests, and received my first DXCC certificates (Mixed and Phone) in April 1976.
In mid-1976, the Department of Commerce, under budget pressure from Congress announced it was terminating the 18-minute after the hour WWV propagation reports. Many amateurs, including myself wrote letters urging that this order be rescinded, citing the many world wide users of this valuable information. I do not know how many letter were received, but the order to terminate was cancelled. Grass roots voices do make a difference.
In August 1979 I received WAZ No. 251 for 20 meter Single Band Phone. This same award for 20 meter Single Band RTTY had to wait another decade.
In late 1974 I wrote to the SRAL, the Finnish amateur radio league, that I would be visiting Finland to visit my new first grandson. (In later years, he would become OH2LKI.) I said that I was interested in operating /OH2 but preferred to rent equipment, if possible. I received an answer from a twentysomething ham named Martti Laine, OH2BH. Martti told me it was unnecessary to rent equipment if I wished to operate. Upon my arrival the following summer, Martti gave me the shack keys for unlimited access to the Nokia club station, OH2AW. This was my first experience operating as DX and it was like a dream station. The transceiver consisted of the Drake Twins and a home brew amplifier feeding a tribander on a 66 meter (210 ft.) tower. The station was located on a rural peninsula jutting into the Gulf of Finland with water on three sides, a perfect radio location. On my trip to Finland in 1996, I learned, much to my sadness, that that station is no longer in existence. The 1975 trip, however, taught me the true nature of ham hospitality. I met many wonderful Finnish hams who remain my friends to this day. I fondly remember spending a day at the home of the legendary Armas Valste, OH2NB. My second trip to Finland in 1977 gave me the opportunity to participate in the SRAL Summer Camp, a nationwide field day type gathering held every year. That experience was documented in my article in January 1979 CQ magazine, entitled “Report from Finland.” Since that time I have been to Finland many times, always enjoying the hospitality of the OH guys. My last trip report was published in the Digital Journal of May 1996. Oddly (?) enough it is titled “Report From Finland!
MORE HAM HOSPITALITY
In 1947, soon after the war, I had worked Les, G8NY, for the first time. His QSL card hung on my wall for the next 30 years. Sometime in 1975 I again ran across him on 20 meters. I astounded him when I called him by name. Subsequently we kept weekly schedules which continued for several years. In 1977 Les and his XYL visited the states for a three month tour of the U.S.A. All during their trip, they never had a hotel bill, as hams all over the country welcomed them as guests. My XYL and I hosted them on arrival over Memorial Day weekend, and on their Labor Day departure weekend. Upon Les’ return home, we continued our weekly schedules. My logbook contains their written notes of appreciation. Pretty hard to have such a personalized notation these days in a computerized log!
During a business trip to Egypt in 1980 I had the opportunity to visit with Bass, SU1BA in Cairo, who I had worked on 20 meter phone.
One afternoon in late 1980, I had a nice chat on 15 meters with Ken, VS6IC. When I told him my QTH he said he was K2MTC and had lived only a few blocks from my home in Malverne! You have read of such coincidences many times, I am sure.
I call this decade the happy 80’s because that is when I feel I made some really great strides in the hobby. November 27, 1983 was a day to be noted. That was my first RTTY QSO. It was with my good friend, Art, K2ENT. I used a TI-99/4A computer with a Kantronics Hamsoft plug-in module, and a AEA CP-1. By April 1985 I had RTTY DXCC Certificate No. 101 on the wall. By October 1989 I had WAZ No. 26 for 20 meter Single Band RTTY.
RTTY became an all consuming passion with me. My logbooks during this decade show about 96 percent RTTY operation, 3 percent SSB, and 1 percent CW. The CW was generally reserved for working new new countries. The SSB contacts are generally for schedules with old friends. In 1986 I replaced the K-2000 with a Kenwood TL-922 amplifier which I kept until I moved to Minneapolis in 1991.
In July 1986, along with Charlie, KD2SX (now N1RR); Ed, K2MFY; and Jay, K2OVS; I spent a week operating /VP2M at Spanish Pointe on Montserrat. Over a weekend we operated SSB and CW in the first IARU HF contest, acting as the HQ station of the Montserrat Amateur Radio Society, VP2MU. Our facilitator on the island was the fabled Errol “Bobby” Martin, VP2MO. After the contest, at Bobby’s suggestion, we visited, and walked down into the volcano crater at Soufriere Hills, which had been dormant for over 400 years. A few wisps of smoke emanated from the rocks indicating this was indeed a volcano. Bits of vegetation, including small trees, attested to its tranquility.
Over the past few years, the island has been devastated, and all but destroyed after the volcano came to life. Today much of it lies under a thick coating of volcanic ash and most of the area is off limits. A mass evacuation is probable soon. In the aftermath of the first eruption, our friend, Bobby, was seriously injured in an automobile accident which killed his wife, Mae. I have heard reports that Bobby is back on the air, but I have been unable to verify this. In a few years VP2M will undoubtedly be at the top of the Most Wanted DXCC Countries list.
CENTRAL/SOUTH AMERICA CONTESTING
Around 1985 or 1986 I met John Troost, TG9VT at a dinner meeting of the Long Island DX Association. John was already a RTTYer of some note. His oldest son, Lawrence, was a freshman at Columbia College and John needed an inexpensive reliable communications link with him. I agreed to handle messages to/from Guatemala, and did so all through Lawrence’s freshman year. As an act of appreciation, John invited me to spend a week at his home in the highlands outside Guatemala City, and to operate with him in the CQWW RTTY contests in 1987 and 1988. This was my first taste of RTTY contesting and was great fun. John was a legend in his own time. His message handling exploits during the Persian Gulf War were documented in the RTTY Journal of April 1992, and in the award winning commercial video called “Last Voice From Kuwait” by Frank Moore, WA1URA. Incidentally I have saved a ream of recorded RTTY messages from those days, which to this day still make fascinating reading of conditions inside Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation. John became a Silent Key in November 1992.
In 1989, Ted, HC5K invited me to operate the CQWW RTTY contest as Single Operator, All Band, from his QTH in Cuenca, while he went off to the Galapagos to a winning Multi-Op effort. Before the contest I operated SSB and RTTY as HC5/W2JGR. For the contest I was assigned the call HD5Z. This was the only contest in which I ever won a plaque! I placed No 1 in South America with 776,195 points. I believe there was only one other SA entry! However, the score was good enough to be No. 3 in the world. After the contest, the Galapagos group convened back at Ted’s QTH. This included Jay, WS7I, and Hal, WA7EGA, both of whom chided me on my novice type contest operating style. Their comments were taken to heart as my later contesting has demonstrated. However I have not come near to winning a plaque in any RTTY contests since, but I love the excitement of contest participation.
RTTY FROM THE UNITED NATIONS 4U1UN
In the spring of 1988, five of us, Victor, KD2HE; Allen, N2KW; Eddie, NT2X; Lou, NN2G; and myself, had the good fortune to be able to do the popular spring BARTG RTTY contest from the top of the United Nations Secretariat building in New York. It was not a record winning score (475,300 points), but with only a vertical antenna, we were able to give out a new RTTY country to many stations. I described the operation in an article published in CQ magazine in September 1988.
Ah, what a decade this has been! Lots of RTTY operating with a roller coaster ride on the sunspot cycle. It seemed that the digital modes really took off in the 90’s.
It started out just right on January 6, 1990 when I worked Roman, UA1OT, on Franz Josef Land for a new RTTY country. For January 20, my log contains a note “SOS distress traffic on 28085 voice indicating a ship is sinking. at 48N 10E. The Coast Guard was on frequency and appeared to have things under control. I moved off. On 28 January I gave Sombat, HS1BV in Bangkok one of his first RTTY QSOs. I then turned him over to KB2VO and K6WZ. In the fall. Valery, UA9YD with wife, and Yuri, UA9YE, visited Long Island. We were all hosted at a nice lunch by Art, K2ENT and his wife Roslyn. In July I gave Andy, RW3AH (currently 9X0A) the first DX AMTOR QSO outside the Soviet Union. I again worked him in September when he was using the call 4K0ADS in memory of famed Russian scientist Andrej Sakharov. The logs for the 90’s are full of such special reminders.
In March 1991 the RTTY Journal published my article on a “Lightweight RTTY TU for DXpeditions.” It describes a compact lightweight inexpensive rig consisting of a Tandy 102 laptop, riding piggyback on a CP-1 using terminal software written by K8TT. I had checked it out on the air in 1990 and knew it worked. In 1997, when reading Bill Gates’ book “The Road Ahead”, I discovered that he, in conjunction with a Japanese named Kazuhiko Nishi had actually designed that little laptop for Radio Shack, the first one of its kind, in the early 80’s. How close one can come to greatness without knowing it! I still have my 102.
In September 1992 I became the DX News columnist for the RTTY Journal, succeeding TG9VT, who had to quit because of ill health. Writing the regular monthly column continued until December 1995, after which it was picked up by Don, AA5AU.
RTTY DXCC HONOR ROLL
One achievement, of which I am most satisfied during this period was my successful petition to the ARRL for establishment of the RTTY Honor Roll. RTTY had been finally recognized as a legitimate DXCC mode some years before. When Gin, JA1ACB, one of the world’s foremost RTTYers reached Honor Roll level, the ARRL recognized it under “Mixed” category. This disappointment drove Gin off the air for several years. The first vote on the petition by the DX Advisory Committee failed because it was tied into another unrelated item which clearly needed to be defeated. Subsequently the petition was voted on in its own right. DXAC ballots were returnable to the committee chairman, Charlie, KY0A on November 29, 1993 (my 76th birthday!). RTTY Honor Roll finally came into its own. I tried to convince JA1ACB to reapply but he chose not to. My good friend Luciano, I5FLN, became the first to qualify. By September 1996 only seven had achieved this level. At this writing in the fall of 1997, I believe this number has grown to about 12. I am still short two countries.
HAMS HELPING HAMS
In mid-1991 my wife and I left the wonderful propagation I enjoyed on Long Island, and moved to Minneapolis, MN. As far I can determine this area is a black hole of little or no RF. I knew a few fellows here but none was more interested in my getting on the air than Bob Stanek, W0HAH. Early on, Bob rounded up a crew of local hams, without whose help and knowledge I would never have gotten back on the air. I decided on a big antenna, a Sommer 8 element 7 band Yagi on a 15 foot boom. Larry, N0CIB (now N0XB) recommended a guyed 40 foot Rohn 45 tower on the roof of the 15 story building. Together we designed the structural mounting of the tower, and ordered the steel and necessary fittings. When the time came for installation, a group of strangers showed up and the tower and antenna were installed. I can thank John, NJ0M; Ron, N0AT; Doug, W0BKS; Bob, KG0GII; Larry and W0HAH for getting me back on the air before the ice storms came. And come they did, but my RTTY DXing slowly added up the counters to a respectable level. The Sommer antenna survived the first winter but successive winters took their toll and it was replaced in 1996. I think that the effects of Minnesota ice storms are not among the design parameters of amateur antenna manufacturers. Sadly W0HAH became a Silent Key in late 1996.
NICE RTTY DX
1992 was a good year for RTTY DX. It included such new ones as VK9XM (February), VP8SSI (March), AP/WA2WYR and S2/HA5BUS (April), VQ9YA (May), 4J1FS and VP8CKB, So. Georgia (June), and 9A1BHI (July). In January 1993, the Sommer antenna lost a few element ends in a severe ice storm. However the SWR never exceeded 3:1 on any band so repair waited until summertime. In spite of this, new RTTY counters such as 5R8DG and AH1A (January), N9NS/KH5K (March), new Balkan countries in April, ET3YU (June), and 9U5DX (November) contributed to making this a good year.
1994 started off with a bang with 3Y0PI in January, but things moved very slowly after that until October when I snagged V63AS. Things picked up a bit in 1995 with TN4U (February), and 3V8BB (June). Two new ones were captured in 1995 with XU95HA and VP8CQS South Shetlands (April). ZL8RI was logged in May 1996. VK0IR in January of 1997 was an auspicious start for the year in which I was to reach four score years. September brought 5A28 and VK9WY into my log. If anyone copies the following prefixes on RTTY, you are invited to call me collect at 612 377 7269 any time of the day or night: 4S, 7O, A5, BS7, BV9P, EP, FT8W, FT8X, FT8Z, P5, and SV/A.
In March of 1988 I had my first AMTOR QSO using a PK-232. I marveled at the perfect copy, though I was somewhat dismayed at the slow throughput. I subsequently progressed from the toy-like TI-99/4A computer through two generations of PC’s to a 486/66DX2, and several modems. I obtained a HAL PCI-3000 which today is still my controller of choice, especially for RTTY. I also have the PCI-4000/M which I have used on all the digital modes with which it is equipped. But the old reliable PCI-3000, with its ‘scope output for tuning, is the digital equipment of choice. It can also be used for chasing high speed CW ‘new ones’. My antennas have ranged from the lowly dipole and vertical as recounted earlier in this tale, to a Hy-Gain TH3Mk3, a KLM KT-34A, the 8 element 7 band Sommer yagi previously mentioned, to the currently used Tennadyne 8 element log periodic on an 18 foot boom. Wires for 40 and 80 meters do just fine, since my antennas are favorably located over some of the highest ground in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. A Ten-Tec OMNI VI generates my FSK signal, and an Ameritron AL-80A helps me push up to 500 RTTY watts into the antennas. In December of 2000 I discovered PSK31 and MFSK16, but RTTY FOREVER.
– 73 Jules W2JGR