A Bauhausian Look at Ham Radio Station Layouts

World Famous W9DXX at her station

I can appreciate the very fine effort that Ham Radio Operators put into their stations in the 1920’s and 30’s. Most were home brewed, but in the 30′ that (just barely) started to change – some started purchasing National, Collins, Hallicrafters, Hammarlund and other manufactured gear – and judging by how many Collins 75A4’s that were manufactured a compared to how many KWS-1 transmitters were built – I am sure hams were much more likely to purchase the receiver and still build the transmitter – even into the beginning of the 50’s.

Transmitter and receiver separated at W8BXY

I’ve noticed in many vintage Ham Radio shack pictures that the transmitter and receiver were often separated or put in an L configuration – with the “concentration” on the receiver, it being right front and center and in the face of the operator – and the transmitter off to the side or in a “return”. This makes a lot of sense – because of the tuning procedure of the old rigs – I am sure that most ops hung out on their favorite frequencies. Anyone using crystal controlled (as I did in 1973 with a Hallicrafters HT-40 transmitter certainly did. I had three or four 40M crystals) – that was it. Instant band switching and automatic antenna tuners were not to happen for several years.

Collins KWS-1 transmitter

The tuning procedure of my Collins KWS-1 takes time – its more like tuning a linear amplifier – and that makes sense – it IS a linear amplifier built right into the transmitter. In fact, for a (ahem / sort of) “desk top unit” – I think it is to this day, the finest Ham Radio transmitter ever designed and built. When I switch bands and tune it – I do want to stay on that frequency – or at least that portion of the band much more than say on my ICOM IC-7300. It is the equivalent to the “slow food” movement – where people took time to prepare their meals with love and caring vs. “fast food”. My KWS-1 is “slow food” and my IC-7300 is “fast food” – hi hi. Maybe this is called “Slow Radio?” . . .

By the 50’s stations were still big – but were more desk top

My KWS-1 power supply is about the size of a small file cabinet – but much heavier. In some ways it was one of the last “column oriented” transmitters – with the transmitter in many cases stacked on top of the power supply.

Some operators put their Gold Dust Twins on the desk – and the power supply off to the side

I love my newly “apportioned” and updated configuration of my shack. I do have a “return” – but its a parts station and bookshelf that has my technical books and notebooks. This way I can grab a book – like the ARRL’s ON4UN Lowband DX-ing book – that is the last in its series now that John has retired from updating it. I love to read about antennas while listening to Ham’s Gibber Jabber.

The most ironic thing about the KWS-1 is that I am no rush to fix that brass tape – because I have found that my temporary fix works like a champ – and that once I have tuned it to the 40M CW band – that’s the only band, mode and location on the dial that I care to hang out. Its less of a nostalgia thing than it is a convenience thing. Form follows function? (Just kidding – its just laziness in this case) . . .

Begali HST III Sideswiper or “Cootie” key

While on the subject of “form follows function” – I am reminded of the German school of design – the Bauhaus as well as many modernist designs put forth during the 1930′ – and flying in the face of other more ornate designs. Art Deco gave way to more simple, functional and modern designs – but I do see a period where the world was “in between” – where there was just a little design “flare” – but where buildings and products were somewhat “boxy” and more functional than ornate. I find that just a little design flare goes a long way. The “escutcheon” design of the Gold Dust Twins tuning mechanism – and the “Velvet Vernier” dial on the SW-3 are the epitome of the finest in ham radio design. Everything else is just a knob or switch on a box. It was exactly just the right industrial design.

Bauhaus Logo

The keys that I have used for years are way over designed for the way I send. Its hilarious that I only just figured this out now – and due to a “happy accident” of playing “slow radio” with the KWS-1. I totally take for granted that I can turn on my IC-7300 and immediately make contacts and work split. When I had an amplifier that had an autotuner, that was also taken for granted. This was necessary for working DXCC entities on the way to Honor Roll – but using the Gold Dust Twins is the exact opposite.

The Gold Dust Twins have forced me to think and operate in a much different manner than the modern equipment – and much more than nostalgia (which was my initial drive) – I am finding that my mind is more open to all things Ham Radio – and even more things “Industrial Design” than ever.

So – you tell me – has this getting into the “vintage thing” worth it?  You betcha!

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