K6MMM Field Day 2020

  • Adaptation A pair of end feed antennas, HF station Photo: K8SQB


Greetings, All,My friend, Ms. Dorothee Ledbetter, just completed the edited video of this year’s Santa Cruz County Amateur Radio Club and San Lorenzo Valley Amateur Radio Club Field Day 2020 at Lago Lomita Vineyard.  I think she did a marvelous job, and hope you all enjoy the video.

Becky, KI6TKB

24-minute version (24.38, upl. 7/30/20)


At a time when most of our treasured annual events have been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, local amateur radio (HAM) operators found a way to keep this year’s June 27-28 Field Day event up and  on the air.  

Since 1933, with silence only in 1942-1945 due to World War II, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has promoted Field Day as an emergency-readiness exercise and as a way to promote amateur radio to newcomers.  Normally this event, held on a weekend in June, is a hard-working  beehive of people, shoulder-to-shoulder, raising portable antennas and sharing radio microphones and potluck dinners with an extended invitation to the public.  

However, when COVID-19 restrictions threatened to eliminate all of that, members of the Santa Cruz County  Amateur Radio Club and San Lorenzo Valley Amateur Radio Club were determined to find a way to hold this year’s June 27-28 event safely.    

Traditionally the two local Clubs join forces, often including the UCSC Amateur Radio Club members.  This year, the UCSC students did not participate, because most of them had left town when COVID-19 shut down the Campus.  

“When we looked at everything that had to fall away in order to make the event happen safely, things got simpler,” said Kerry Veenstra, the event coordinator and whose radio call sign is K3RRY.  No sharing food at a big public potluck.  No huge and complicated antennas that require lots of people working closely together to raise.  No open invitations to the public.  

Instead, the antenna configurations were simple, and the types of equipment used were reduced.   People signed up for short shifts of radio operation so that no one sat side-by-side.  Everybody wore masks, sanitized their stations often, and brought their own food and water.  The public visited the site via a Zoom conference tour.    

From a hill top vineyard deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the radio operators exchanged hundreds of messages with others from throughout North America over a 24-hour period, using power from solar panels and quiet portable generators.   This year, some people in the County set up smaller radio stations near their homes as well, and joined the Field Day event remotely.  

It was a great success.  

Ensuring that this year’s  Field Day was not cancelled was important not only because the radio operators treasure the event and it’s rich history, but also because the community service events that normally provide good disaster communication training for the radio operators who volunteer for disaster public service were all cancelled.  These include the Big Sur International Marathon, the Sea Otter Classic, and numerous local cycling and triathlon events.  

Amateur radio figures heavily into emergency communication plans throughout North America, and especially in Santa Cruz County, which becomes easily isolated in natural disasters.  Santa Cruz County has an unusually high number of licensed and active radio operators.  They are ready and waiting to lend well-trained assistance when called upon by local Emergency Operations staff in the next emergency or disaster.  

For more information, please visit: San Lorenzo Valley Amateur Radio Club: https://www.slvarc.org/   Santa Cruz County Amateur Radio Club: http://www.k6bj.org/

Tech Classes Move Online

By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU

I’ve been teaching ham classes for more than a dozen years now. My specialty has been the one-day Tech class. In this type of class, you review all of the questions in the question pool with the students over the course of six to eight hours, and then immediately give them the test before they can forget anything. 

I would hold these classes three or four times a year and regularly have 20 – 30 students in each class. The pandemic, of course, has put the kibosh on these classes. The last one I taught was in January. 

Frankly, I was wondering if I’d ever teach one again. A little over a month ago, however, I was approached by a fellow in Portland, Oregon about teaching an online class for some folks that he’d corralled there. After giving it some thought, I said yes.

So, now, in place of face-to-face classes, I’m teaching online Tech classes. There are plusses and minuses to this approach One negative is that I miss the face-to-face interaction with the students. On the plus side, teaching online allows me to offer classes more frequently. My first was in June. Last week, I completed the second class, and in August, I will teach a third class. 

I have had to make some changes to the format. Making people sit in front of a computer for six hours or more seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. So, instead of a one-day class, the online class consists of four, two-hour sessions, spanning two weeks:

  • Session 1
    • Electrical Principles
    • Electronic Components and Circuit Diagrams
  • Session 2
    • Radio Wave Characteristics
    • Antennas and Feed Lines
  • Session 3
    • Amateur Radio Signals
    • Electrical Safety
    • Amateur Radio Practices and Station Setup
  • Sessions 4
    • Station Equipment
    • Operating Procedures
    • Rules and Regulations

This seems to be working out pretty well. I’m using Zoom, and most people have been able to attend without too much hassle. To simulate the whiteboard that I use extensively in the face-to-face class, I’m using the Autodesk Sketchbook program (https://www.sketchbook.com/) and sharing my screen with the Zoom meeting attendees. To write on the “whiteboard,” I’m using a Gaomon M10K2018 drawing tablet. 

Sketchbook allows me to build up a document in layers, and the result is kind of a hybrid PowerPoint presentation and whiteboard. I can make layers appear when I start discussing a particular topic and then write over them. For example, when I go over the questions that use Ohm’s Law to calculate current in a circuit, I display the later with “E = I x R” and on a second layer, show how to calculate the answers to the questions

To take the test, students have to sign up for an online test session. Fortunately, several VE groups are offering online, remote testing. To sign up for one of these sessions, all students have to do is go to https://hamstudy.org/sessions. For the first two classes, the W5YI VEC scheduled a special test session.

I foresee teaching these classes monthly until the demand wanes. The next class will start on Monday, August 3. To register for the class, go to https://www.kb6nu.com/product/next-online-tech-class/. To find out when these classes will take place in the future, potential students can sign up for my mailing list by going to https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/m6l6t4.


Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, is the author of the KB6NU amateur radio blog (KB6NU.Com), the “No Nonsense” amateur radio license study guides (KB6NU.Com/study-guides/), and often appears on the ICQPodcast (icqpodcast.com). When he’s not teaching ham radio classes, he likes to operate CW on the HF bands, go for long walks around Ann Arbor, MI, and volunteer for Rotary Club service projects.

Field Day Surprises

Don Taylor

To say we live in interesting times would be an understatement. However, to have participated in Field Day 2020 underscores amateur radio’s ability to adapt to conditions, while building and maintaining social contacts.

Our story began about a month before field day. Our host asked a small group of local hams if we would be interested in operating a 1A station “with power” in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. 

My immediate reaction was a mix of emotions. First, I’d never operated a station over 100 watts, and this station would be running around 550W, what an opportunity! Second, with concerns of COVID-19, how difficult would setting up and operating a Field Day site? And Last, how well did my skills fit into the team being assembled.  As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now, for the rest of the story”. I couldn’t pass on this event. 

Field Day planning is an art. And even more so when it’s done with a minimum crew, when you are erecting a tower, and balancing 3 antennas (a tri-bander for 10-15-20m, 40m wire Yagi, and an 80m dipole (plus a beverage)). I’d recommend that you start simply, and build up to taking on a complex effort. However, it helps to learn from someone who is experienced, a visionary, and at times a MacGyver. Our host, Bob Wolbert (K6XX) happened to be all of those. Having worked with him in the past, I knew whatever plan he had in mind would work. Also I knew, with the minimum crew, it would be a Field Day where ‘all hands on deck’ was expected.

Friday morning, just 24 hrs. before the event, we arrived on site and started the assembly of the tower on a 90+ degree sunny day. First adding the boom and spreaders for the 40m wire Yagi to the tower, and then attaching the 4 element triband Yagi. The 40ft tower was then raised and guyed. The 80m dipole would be hoisted up into position, as we flew ‘the colours’ on the tower.


Friday afternoon we began the station setup and configuration. We knew we wanted to cover the basic modes of Sideband, CW and Digital, so we needed to ensure the configurations and PC software was correctly installed and operating. Tom Stollar (KW6S) was our Digital and VHF/UHF captain. Reed Cotton (N1WC an ARRL VE and instructor) and I (K6GHA) were focused on Phone operation. Our host (K6XX), whose name and call you may remember from the 2018 WRTC, was again the MacGyver focusing on CW. Bob also operated all other modes, and configured the Elecraft K4. We were one of a handful of test sites for the new Elecraft K4. I could only think ‘how cool is this?!’.  


The station set up proceeded without a hitch, and within five hours we were ready to copy the ARRL W1AW CW bulletin at 5PM Pacific. All went mostly according to plans. In my limited experience, an uneventful set up for Field Day can only be attributed to good pre-planning, team communication and coordination, and preparedness for the unexpected. Safety, contingencies, and backup resources are all a part of that preparedness. 

Saturday morning greeted us with a sunny and dry day in the high 80’s, and a growing excitement about the event ahead of us. Little did we know what fun Mother Nature planned for this year. 

We established the schedule of operation. The four of us, ensured we would be using our own headsets, addressed ‘best social and sanitizing practices’ for the open air screened mesh tent we were using, and finalized the systems setup for digital operations. The clock ticked to 18:00 UTC and it was about 86 degrees and calm. We were ready. N6IP 1A SCV (Santa Clara Valley). 


The operating schedule was set up to guide the team though an introduction to the Elecraft K4, build station and trade-off techniques and awareness, and to ensure mode configurations were operating efficiently. The first ½ hr. made sure we were working on all bands, antennas, and modes, and acted as a guided tour for the new K4 touch screen features. You may ask why we didn’t do this prior to the start of Field Day, and the simple answer was timing and the availability of the Elecraft K4. However, getting up to speed went smoothly. After the first half hour, each operator took a one hour shift to test their understanding, and become familiar with the radio and band conditions. The number of 1D stations was noted quite quickly in response to our CQ’s. 

I started my one hour shift and was amazed at the clarity and ease of listening with the audio from the K4. Even in a pile up I was able to sort most calls. I have a K3, and the improvements were noticeable. As I got used to the radio, my efficiency improved and just towards the end of my first hour I had settled into a fun rhythm and rate. It also was my first time using a beverage antenna and diversity reception. Having a different receiver in each ear was a little distracting for me at first. However it really opened up possibilities for operational improvements at my own home station. As Bob said “It made my 40m rate much better, listening to the Yagi in my left ear and the Beverage on the right. Reduced repeats down to nearly none.” 

It gave me a greater appreciation of what Elecraft has produced. My focus on making the next contact was so intense it took a tap on the shoulder to be told my time was up. I was having a lot of fun! I reluctantly unplugged and completed the operator change. We then settled into our standard 2 hr. shifts of operation throughout most of the rest of the event.  

Dusk fell on the West Coast and we were treated to a fire red reflection of the setting sun off the high forming wispy clouds. 20m was still active. As the sun set, there was a noticeable change in the weather. The wind had increased to about 10mph in gusts, and the temperature was beginning to drop. I retreated to my sleeping bag for a quick nap before my 1am shift was to begin. 

I awoke, excited for my shift, and was glad to have brought a jacket. The winds were now about 10 to 12mph steady, and the temps had plummeted into the high 40’s as I started. In the next 4 hrs, the weather didn’t improve. At the end of my 2hrs, Bob checked in and asked if I could do another shift. I couldn’t answer fast enough… SURE! He took over for 30 minutes, while I took the time to warm up a little bit, grab my sleeping bag as a wrap against the cold, and relieved him to pick up again on 40 and 80m. In that short time the wind started to really gust. It was over 15mph and sometimes higher. I could tell it was blowing because the fan in the tent, which was turned off, was freewheeling on its own and at a good rate! The temp was now down into the low 40’s. Not sure of the wind chill, but with an open tent layout, and expecting warmer conditions, I know I made a sight for Tom who arrived at 4am. He quickly retreated to get a blanket to use as his wrap, and we completed the shift change. 

As dawn broke at our elevation of 2600 feet, we were in the clouds. A thick marine layer of fog and dampness moved in as the winds abated. Band conditions improved, by 9:30am the clouds were breaking, and the temps were now on the rise again. The warmth and band activity was appreciated. 

There were no issues heading to the finish line of the event, and we finished with Bob at the helm closing Field Day out with CW. 11am arrived, we shut down the radio, took a breath, and began the station takedown. 

In our case, the station teardown was as uneventful as the set up. Within about an hour and a half, the tower was lowered, and the antennas removed. A quick, and much appreciated, snack provided by Bob’s wife Miki boosted our spirits and motivated us to the final clean up. Ropes, guys, and lines wound up, beverage and 80m dipole packaged up, 40m Yagi, Tribander, and tower disassembled and ready for put away.  

With planning, flexibility, and a little MacGyver’ing, N6IP logged contacts on all HF bands for which we had antennas. Everyone had a great time!

N6IP Field Day Contacts Logged: 
– 612 CW
– 649 SSB
– 132 Digital (FT-4/8)
for a total of 1393 contact, and score of 2137 points.

Bonus Points: 
100% Emergency Power – 100
Media Publicity – 100 (Film Crew for Elecraft K4)
Field Day Message – 100
Web entry – 50
Total Bonus350

Total Score plus Bonus – 2487

Even in these strange times, challenging conditions, and an added surprise from Mother Nature, Field Day 2020 was all, and more, than I expected. Saying I had a great time doesn’t capture the full essence of working with a great team, on a great station, and running with power. 

Having that additional power was a treat I won’t soon forget. As we broke down the station, Bob reminded me we were running an Elecraft KPA500 amp for Field Day, and said with a wink “you could even go another 4dB up in power, to 1500W someday.” As a Low Power operator, I am reminded often by Bob, “More power to you”. I can’t wait for an opportunity at full power!

As we departed, the team agreed that our operation fulfilled everyone’s expectation of the most important part of Field Day, great FUN. 

A Digital Field Day

I’ve enjoyed running the Field Day Digital effort for the past few years.
The issue was getting N1MM to work smoothly with the digital modes programs.  I achieved 70% sucess each year.
This year, I was determined to have the software running smoothly.  I had a few days off.  I read every article.  Set up the software and tested it continuously.  At a point, I set aside this effort to gather my field day supplies.
Before the field day event, WSJTX had an update.  I thought this might be something to help with Field Day.  The version went from 2.1  to version  to 2.2.2.
At Field Day, Gary was “Running” and made some 30 contacts that logged well.  I took over and tried search and pounce and the software crashed.  
Six hours of field day op time was wasted finding a solution.   Emails from across the country confirmed that WSJTX 2.2.2 was not “Ready for Prime Time”.
We used WSJTX with JT Alert to avoid dupes.  Jason used his skills to run up nearly 400 contacts.
Originally, I blamed N1MM for our failure.  In fact, it was the WSJTX update that caused the failure this year.
I have some angst over my continuing failures to get a smooth-running software suite .  My problems were seen in other operations around the country.
In the field, I find that simple, robust hardware and software are the key to sucess.  We have achieved this in our hardware.  I will spend some time this year finding software solutions that are “Bomb Proof”.
I wish to thank Kerry for his organizational skills.  Gary for his help setting up the station and running the station.  I wish to give thanks to Jason for making the most out of our Digital effort , using makeshift software, assembled at the last moment.
Craig Harlamoff   N6SBN    EOF

For those who missed the June 19 club meeting on Field Day, it is available on Zoom.

Once it has finished uploading, people can download and/or stream it as they see fit.

The zoom video is at: http://ulmo.solar/k6bj/zoom_0.mp4

The zoom audio is at: http://ulmo.solar/k6bj/audio_only.m4a

Club Meeting Friday June 19

K3RRY Will Explain Field Day During the Pandemic

I’ll be covering how to do Field Day during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ll cover how to participate from one’s own home and how to participate at the SLVARC/SCCARC Field Day site. There will be signups. I’d like to understand how many people are interested in signing up to work at the Summit Rd site. Would you ask on the club net? The current idea is to have 2-hour slots for both phone and digital and also to have some signup slots for simplex VHF, although the VHF slots will be limited to non-satellite times, until setup day when we will confirm that there is no satellite/terrestrial interference on VHF. Regardless, people in Santa Cruz will be able to contact us using their VHF HT over a TBD frequency. We’ll post a schedule when we’ll be listening.

Let’s get creative this year on Field Day

By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU

Since many of us are still hunkering down, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change much by the end of June, Field Day is going to be a lot different this year. Our club has cancelled our club event, and I’m really going to miss helping newcomers operate the GOTA station,  the food, and all the camaraderie. That doesn’t mean that Field Day can’t still be fun, though. Let’s’ get creative!

First, note that the ARRL has modified the Field Day rules for this year. The biggest change is that Class D stations, that is home stations using commercial power, can now work other Class D stations for points. Previously, this wasn’t allowed.

The second change is that the ARRL will publish aggregate club scores this year. In previous years, this was only done for Class A and Class F entries. Remember, though, Field Day isn’t a contest (yeah, right!).

Personally, I plan to operate 1B-Battery. I’m going to set up my KX3 on the front deck and power it with a LiFePo battery charged by a recently-acquired solar panel to get the 100 point bonus for alternate power. For an antenna, I plan to set up my 20m/40m fan inverted-V  “GOTA antenna” in the front yard. 

I’m going to shoot for other bonus points, too:

  • copy the bulletin—no brainer.
  • promote my location on social media—I am going to get on NextDoor and invite neighbors over to watch from an acceptable “social distance.”
  • put some literature down at the bottom of the hill near the street and claim a public information table.
  • send a press release to the local online paper and claim a media publicity credit.
  • perhaps get someone under 20 to come and operate while I coach from an acceptable “social distance.”

If Class B isn’t your cup of tea, check out the presentation, “Field Day and Social Distancing,”  http://tiny.cc/fdsd by Anthony, K8ZT. It has a lot of great ideas, including ideas on how to operate mobile (Class C).

Field Day doesn’t have to be a downer this year. Get creative and have some fun.

Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, is the author of the KB6NU amateur radio blog (KB6NU.Com), the “No Nonsense” amateur radio license study guides (KB6NU.Com/study-guides/), and often appears on the ICQPodcast (icqpodcast.com). When he’s not thinking up new ways to enjoy Field Day, he likes to build stuff and operate CW on the HF bands.

SCCARC May meeting recap with W6JIM

Our guest speaker was Jim Crites (W6JIM). Using a PowerPoint that detailed many interesting facts about the Long Island CW Club.   This  PowerPoint program was recently used on Ham Nation.

He demonstrated the free CW computer program he uses to teach CW, talk about other free classes his Club offers, and end with their website and how to join. 
Jim showed these things by sharing his screen with our group.

Here is Jim’s Bio:

W6JIM, Jim Crites

CW Instructor, Long Island CW Club

Home Town: Walnut Creek, CA

Retired USAF after serving over 30 yrs.

“Hello, I joined the Long Island CW Club in February 2019 in order to improve my own CW.  I was invited to teach for them 6-months later in August.  I teach Beginner-1 and Intermediate classes.

In Beginner-1 I introduce the first 20 characters.  My Intermediate class teaches the back-and-forth protocol used in a CW QSO.  I have taught over 80 students through 6-classes and have just started a new class of 26 students.I love CW and enjoy talking about it!  I look forward to meeting you soon to discuss the Long Island CW Club.”

Below are links to the meeting in different formats. Very cool…

[Note: I could only get the Zoom link to work on my iPhone and Mac laptop – Ron K6EXT]





Operating Practices on Field Day

There was a request at the last Field Day planning meeting for some videos  on how to operate on Field Day. Here are some links of some good practices and some bad practices. You should be able to discern the difference! If anyone knows of some other videos pleas add to the list. I have seen a video of a really sharp operator who was smooth, in control, and racking up the points, but I couldn’t find it. Let’s put together a virtual Field Day training session here.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOXzSqNd6PY – K7AGE 1B OR
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEOhDpdrOlE – KH6J making contact with K6MMM from Hawaii (Hey that’s us!).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CMT69w4Ssg – K6MMM FD 2016 2012 Anna making SSB contact (This is how it’s done!)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRMtOT60_PU – K7CST how to NOT make contacts

Gary Watson, K6PDL
Santa Cruz County Amateur Radio Club
San Lorenzo Valley Amateur Radio Club
-.-  -….  .–.  -..  .-.. 

k6bj] winlink, VARA, Fusion, and more

The Microhams online conference last Saturday had unfortunate technical
problems, particularly interruptions with their live audio.  They finally
got some issues sorted.  <grin>  Meanwhile, there was a lot of good and
worthwhile info, now available at YouTube.com.

You might soak in the modern ham info with these new titles on YouTube.com :

MicroHAMS Digital Conference 2020 – Vara Digital on Winlink – Randy Neals,

MicroHAMS Digital Conference 2020 – Winlink Tips and Tricks  <complex user
options, but fascinating resiliency>

MicroHAMS Digital Conference 2020 – Yaesu System Fusion – John Kruk, N9UPC
<John is the official spokesperson for Yaesu repeaters>

MicroHAMS Digital Conference 2020 – BPQ32 – John Wiseman, G8BPQ  <sweet,
do-it-all software from John “BPQ”>

MicroHAMS Digital Conference 2020 – Othernet – Syed Karim, KD9GII

MicroHAMS Digital Conference 2020 – FreeDV – David Rowe,VK5DGR 

MicroHAMS Digital Conference 2020 – Digital ATV Talk by Jim Andrews, KH6HTV 

Microhams 2020 Digital Data Radio: You Can Do It … MicroHAMS 2020

73, Cap KE6AFE

A modest proposal (for the next Extra Class question pool)

By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU

 At our last club meeting, I was discussing the changes to the Extra Class question pool with someone, and the topic of memorizing the answers popped up. As I always do, I mentioned that many of the questions you can only get right by memorizing the answer. At that point, someone down the way piped up. “Not me,” he said, “I studied the material so that I didn’t have to memorize the answers.”

At that point, the president called the meeting to order, so I didn’t get to challenge him on that point, but that statement is just plain wrong. First of all, it’s true that some questions you can only get right by memorizing the answer. Almost all of the rules questions are that way, for example.

Secondly, there is no way to study the rest of the material in any depth and still have time to actually be an amateur radio operator. The amount of material that the Extra Class question pool covers takes an electrical engineering student four years or more to study thoroughly. And even then, some topics are bound to get short shrift.

So, we’re back to memorizing. I would say that even an “engaged” person will memorize about half the answers. I’d go even further and say that those that “study” the technical topics, don’t study it as thoroughly as a college student would.

For example, there are a dozen questions in Section E7G – Active filters and op-amp circuits: active audio filters; characteristics; basic circuit design; operational amplifiers. Despite the name, you don’t need to know how to design or build an op-amp filter. All you really need to know is that op-amps are high gain devices and if you have a circuit like the one shown below, Vout/Vin = RF/R1.

These concepts are relatively easy to learn. but there are also two questions on filter “ringing.” Honestly, you’re better off just memorizing the answers to those questions unless you have a real interest in active filters that use op amps. Wading into the mathematics isn’t all that hard, but when you consider this is only one of dozens of topics, you can see where doing any kind of in-depth study is going to take you months, if not years, to accomplish.

A modest proposal

The end result of this approach to testing is that we have many Extra Class licensees who know about a lot of things, but not in very much depth. Perhaps that’s OK. Perhaps that’s just what the question pool committee of the National Council of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC) was shooting for. If, however, we want an Extra Class license to denote that the licensee has some real technical expertise, I have a modest proposal.

Basically, my idea is that instead of testing on an incredibly wide range of topics, we test applicants on a set of basics, plus one or two particular topics. These would be topics that the person has expertise in already or enough of an interest in to study the topic in some depth.

Below are the topics that I would consider to be basic and some that I consider to be more specialized. This is, of course, not an extensive list.

  • Basic questions (20 questions, everyone takes this part of the exam)
    • Safety
    • Rules and regulations
    • Electrical principles/basic circuits
  • Technical Interests (Choose two, 20 questions each)
    • Antennas and transmission lines
    • Radio wave propagation
    • EMI/RFI
    • Analog and digital design
    • Digital communications and networking
    • Software/software-defined radio
    • Operating: contests, DXing, direction finding, etc.
    • VHF/UHF

The questions in each of the technical interest question pools would be designed to really test the knowledge of the person taking the test. We’d have to figure out a way to make them difficult enough so that one couldn’t just simply memorize the answer. Questions could appear in one or more technical interest test. For example, a question on VHF/UHF propagation could appear in both the Radio Wave Propagation and VHF/UHF question pools.

Having said all this, I realize that this would not be easy to implement. You’d have to first decide on the topics and then enlist experts for each of the topics and get them to come up with a list of 80 – 100 questions each.

I realize that this has very little chance of being adopted, but it’s interesting to think about, no? And, we have four years to do this, so it could be possible.


Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, is the author of the KB6NU amateur radio blog (KB6NU.Com), the “No Nonsense” amateur radio license study guides (KB6NU.Com/study-guides/), and often appears on the ICQPodcast (icqpodcast.com). When he’s not thinking up ways to make the lives of the NCVEC question pool committee more difficult, he likes to build stuff and operate CW on the HF bands.

How the National Bureau of Standards helped make “radio”

This was originally published as “NIST’s Role in the Early Decades of Radio (1911-1933)” on the National Institute of Science and Technology’s blog, Taking Measure…….Dan

Even if you weren’t able to watch the recent Super Bowl on TV, you could still listen to the play-by-play commentary on the radio. But radio does more than just broadcasting sporting events or playing music. It plays a major role in emergency response, navigation and science.

The word “radio,” however, didn’t become part of our regular vocabulary until 1911, and it happened thanks in part to J. Howard Dellinger, a radio scientist at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), the agency that became the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This came about when the second International Radiotelegraph Conference was being planned in London, and a professor sent Dellinger a paper that he was going to present to the conference for review.

At the time, “wireless” was used as the term for radio communication, especially by the British. However, NIST was charged with revising standards in preparation for the conference, and Dellinger suggested that the professor use “radio,” which was already becoming a popular word in the U.S., instead of “wireless.” The professor agreed, and the word “radio” went on to become the universally accepted term.

Dellinger not only played a role in popularizing the word “radio,” but he also played a role in the first radio work done at NIST. A commercial company asked NIST to calibrate a wavemeter, a device developed by one of its engineers that measures electromagnetic waves like those of radio. Dellinger was known as the wireless expert and took on the project of calibrating the first radio instrument at NIST.

A New Type of Radio Receiver

But for radio to become mainstream, it first had to be commercialized, which began with its introduction into households. However, the challenge was building a radio set that used the electrical current, called alternating current (AC), which powered lights, fans and kitchen appliances when plugged into wall sockets. The predecessor to this technology was developed and patented by two researchers, Percival D. Lowell and Francis W. Dunmore, at NBS in 1922. They called their invention the “mousetrap.”

Percival Lowell with his patented radio set powered by alternating current. Credit: NIST

The “mousetrap” was a receiver for a radio amplifier that could run on AC. This was considered a breakthrough because at that time radios were only able to be powered by direct current (DC) provided by batteries. These batteries were bulky and heavy, had to be charged from time to time and were considered dangerous because of the acid used in them. The researchers’ prototype meant the radio could be used in homes without causing damage and with the same performance quality.

Lowell and Dunmore filed two more patents together for other innovations, and for the “mousetrap” they sold the rights to the Dubilier Condenser Corporation. Little did they know that, because there was no uniform policy on patents issued to government employees, their actions would result in more than a decade of litigation over who legally had the rights to the patent.

While they were tied up in court, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) developed its own model of the AC radio in 1926. Its model later became the first AC-powered radio sold to consumers.

Flying by Radio

During the early years of flight navigation, NIST was doing research to assist pilots while they were flying and landing. Pilots needed three things to get their bearings when flying “blind,” meaning it’s foggy, too dark or too cloudy to see. They needed to know the longitudinal position, altitude and speed of the aircraft, which were all achieved by various beacons installed in the plane. The remaining issue was that there were two frequencies the pilot constantly had to switch between the frequency that the Department of Commerce used to send weather information to planes and ships, which sometimes caused interference for pilots, and the frequency the radio beacon operated on, which gave altitude and other information.

Dunmore created a prototype, but Harry Diamond, a radio engineer who joined NIST in 1927, completed the device, called the radio guidance system. Diamond solved the problem by developing a separate device that allowed for voice communication to the pilot without receiving any outside interference from ships’ radios.

A Curtiss Fledgling, a trainer aircraft developed for the U.S. Navy, was equipped with the device, and flight tests were performed between NIST’s experimental air station at College Park, Maryland, and Newark Airport in New Jersey in foggy weather. After a series of successful tests were performed, the device was turned over to be used by the Department of Commerce in 1933.

Praise From a Famous Inventor

While mostly intended for serious users, some of NIST’s journals and publications were popular with the public. One such book, titled The Principles Underlying Radio Communication, covered topics such as elementary electricity, radio circuits and electromagnetic waves and was also published as a textbook for soldiers in the U.S. Army. The famous inventor Thomas Edison received a copy from NIST and wrote a letter thanking the first director, Samuel W. Stratton, for publishing it, saying it was “the greatest book on this subject that I have ever read.”

As these and other examples show, NIST had a significant influence on radio research between 1911 and 1933. However, NIST’s radio work didn’t end with the first blind landing. NIST would continue to contribute to the field leading up to and during World War II, and research continues to this day in areas such as 5G, public safety communications and spectrum sharing.



 Alex Boss is a general assignment writer in the NIST Public Affairs Office and covers standard reference materials (SRM). She has a B.S. in biology from Rhodes College and an M.A. in health and…

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