The 1930’s and Amateur Radio

1930’s QST Magazine by the American Radio Relay League

I recently heard about the National SW-3 Regenerative Receiver, and became “smitten” with it. Mainly because it was one of the first commercially produced amateur radio receivers, and because it was one of the last regenerative sets before heterodyne receivers took over. With 3 tubes, 2 coils and just a handful of parts its also a rig I can fix and maintain – and restore if need be. Plus, I want to hear that “swooping” sound it makes – which went away with the advent of the heterodyne receiver.

I feel quite lucky that I was a ham in 1973 at age 13 turning 14 – because that was the last time you could hear the OOT’s talk about the 1930’s – and I did talk to a few – they were my Grandfathers age. Bob Morris, W2LV was one – he put the first tower and antenna on the Empire Stte building and he worked for Marconi.

Going through a bunch of these old 1930’s QST’s, I have noticed:

  • Hams mostly built their own gear – and it was a huge source of pride to understand electronics
  • There were more parts advertisements than commercial rig advertisements
  • National of Malden, Massachusetts were one of the first and most active early commercial radio manufacturers of ham gear
  • Most parts advertisements were in New York and New Jersey – many near where I was born in Passaic, NJ
  • There were more “Letters to the Editor” with complaints that look a lot like today – bad operators, bad transmitter designs with crummy power supplies and “chirp”, “hum”, etc
  • Some complaints were AM Phone vs. CW use of the bands
  • Some complaints were high power vs. low power
  • There were complaints of the (waning) sunspot cycle dimming but 160M coming back to life
  • Because of the complaints about crummy signals – manufacturers were just starting to see an opening for a market – for more stable receivers and more clean signal transmitters
  • 5 meters was a hot topic
  • Contests were a hot topic and the “DX Contest” was a big deal
  • The bands were getting crowded – part of the issue were wide signals
  • Not everyone had AC in their homes. Some still used batteries, but that seemed to be changing
  • There were many new and exciting tubes – so new and improved circuits were developed
  • DXing was very interesting – hams were asked to provide communication for scientific expeditions to places like the South Pole and South Seas Islands – and were allowed to communicate with them. In fact, “traffic handling” and DXing were much more closely aligned. This was a golden time – imagine providing real service while also DXing
  • Gil, W1CJD was in fine form with his brilliant cartoons adorning many pages and adding a little bit of humor for a “serious” magazine packed with technical information
  • Gil must have started something – the radio parts advertisers hired hams who were cartoonists to adorn their advertisements – and they were quite funny. The humor was goofy and charming in fact
  • The articles were written by the likes of James Millen, W1AXL and were quite educational. The September 1931 article “A Combination A.C. and D.C. Amateur-Band Receiver explains the design ideas behind the National SW-3 in great detail, and his conversational tone is very refreshing. I like the use of the word “job” – i.e. “Its a 3 tube job” . . .


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