All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Revisiting the Regenerodyne.

With the Novice Rig Round-up coming up this February, I thought I might review a circuit I developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  What became known as the Regenerodyne began as an attempt on my part to come up with a small travel receiver to take with me on the road.  I traveled for a living, and lugging the Drake or the Q5'er was just not practical.  I needed something I could toss on a night stand at a hotel, clip the antenna to a bed rail or window screen, and yield enough sensitivity and selectivity to be worth using.  It needed to be stable.

I originally started building a Direct Conversion receiver for 80m, and two converters.  The audio amp was about 100dB in the gain department, and the plan was to use a chain of 88mH toroids with 1uF caps shunted and bridged around these surplus toroids.  I built these before, they were ok.  I really hated the massive audio gain necessary for these rigs, and I hated the lack of selectivity, the native widebanded nature these receivers embody.  All these deficits can be made up for, but in the end what we have is a not-so-simple "simple receiver".  And I still had what I considered an annoying high-gain amp.

But I did like the idea of converting high frequencies down to a lower frequency, where greater gain and selectivity is natural.  Radio circuits simply behave better at lower frequencies, the lower the better.  It's an old concept going back to the dawn of the Superheterodyne receiver.

Having already built a regen for 80m cw - which was built like a VFO - I simply took my 3n211 / 2n2222a xtal downconverters and coupled them to the grid of the regen.  

Wow.  I had 40 and 20 meters, tuning and behaving like 80 - 160 meters.  That means better stability, selectivity, and overall gain than ever I had using a regen as a TRF on those bands.  Since the output of those mixers were untuned, I could tune pretty much the entirety of 40 and 20 meters with equal performance from end to end.  The selectivity and gain of the regenerative tuner was sufficient to select the intermediate frequency from the mixer output.  This made for a very simple IF transformer.

By 1990, I had substituted the solid state modular converters with a standard cathode injected tube-type mixer incorporating a 6J7 pentode and a 6C5 triode xtal oscillator.  The regenerative detector itself was made to tune 3.0 down to 2.5 mc.  This enabled me to use a 10mc xtal to produce a tuneable range of 7.0 to 7.5mc.  The converter and tuner was built on the same chassis as an integrated unit.  

This had several advantages, not the least of which was instant band changing. 10.0, 13.0 and 17.0 xtals gave me 40, 30 and 20m respectively, and the dial never had to be recalibrated for each band.  I had a converter standing between the regen detector and the antenna, so virtually NO RF leaked, and images were not even a hint of an issue.  From the front panel, this receiver looked like any other regen.  But in operation, these higher HF bands tuned like 140 meters, which meant lots of selectivity, lots of gain, and the regen control barely had to be touched every 100kc or so, if operated at critical threshold.

It became the "tamed regenerative receiver", although technically it's a superhet.

So, now you have the basics of the Regenerodyne, and a history of it's design concept.  What surprised me was that when I did research to see what other folks did in the past along these lines, I discovered that in over 50 years of published articles, I could not find anyone doing the exact same thing.  One letter to an editor described using an outboard converter for 10 meters, feeding a regen at 160 meters in 1938.  That was about it.  It seemed that nothing was written about building both the detector and xtal converters on one chassis!  Probably because by 1938, the virtues of a fixed tuned detector enabled it to enjoy the new technologies, such as single signal filtering.  Anything regenerative became a technological cul - de - sac.

Frank Jones developed what he called the "Super Gainer", which was a variably tuned converter feeding a fixed tuned regenerative detector at 100kc.  Between 1936 and up to WW2, there were several variants of this set-up.  I needed a name to avoid confusing my circuit with the Super Gainer, because my circuit was the reverse of the 'Gainer.  Mine was a fixed tuned converter feeding a variably tuned regenerative detector.  I came up with the name Regenerodyne.  

I shared the Regenerodyne with Dave Ingram at the Atlanta Hamfest, where he encouraged me to send an article to CQ magazine.  While that never happened, I did open up a web page in the early 1990s featuring this circuit.  

I met Arnaldo Corro of Radio Habana's "DX International" on the Glowbugs Group reflector about this time, and we compared notes.  Turns out, he was working on the very same idea, and the most amazing thing was the name he chose for this lash-up:  Regenerodino!!

I built three prototypes of the Regenerodyne, the first is shown in the opening photo.  The last one I built is a miniature version intended for dedicated use on 20m.  I still have that one, the others were sold over time.
Let's take a look at the Regenerodyne circuit itself:

You should be able to click on the schematic to enlarge it.  This is the Classic Regenerodyne.  The only variants I ever made were a double tuned front end and maybe an audio power amp.  But this is the heart and soul of the "R-dyne".

From the antenna, the desired signal is tuned and fed directly to the grid of the 6J7 pentode, while the 6C5 xtal oscillator injects the cathode.  The output of the mixer is untuned, therefore four signals are present at L3: the oscillator frequency, the input frequency from the antenna, the difference frequency, and the sum frequency.

The regenerative detector grid coil L4, which is also the tuner, has an extremely high native Q, which is more than selective enough to pick out the desired frequency, which is, of course, the difference frequency.  Not only does it pick out the difference, but it maintains this difference as the detector tunes.  As such, the IF, as regards the Regenerodyne, is not one fixed frequency, but rather a "window", or continuum of frequencies.  I call this the "IF Window".  In the circuit under discussion, that window is about 300 - 400 kc wide.

The coil form that supports L3, L4, and the feedback coil L5 is a pill vial or a plastic 35mm film canister.  You can pretty much use any form you want.  The RFCs are primaries from old audio plate to voice coil transformers.  Note the capacitor across the audio output choke: it provides enough filtering, in combination with the chokes value . . . whatever that is . . .  to knock out the sonics, or high audio frequencies.

Notice that all the parts sort of date to the late 1930s?  I purposed to use antique radio parts as much as I could.  Mission accomplished.  I also wanted not to depend on manufactured IF transformers.  In the Regenerodyne, you wind that transformer. In fact, the Regenerodyne compares to a standard 1-v-1 regen receiver in overall parts count, circuit complexity, and building cost.

Operating the R-dyne is fun.  Now, personally, I like the idea of regenerative control.  I feel I have more control over the received signal than with any other receiver.  At 2.5 mc, the tuning rate almost matches a far more complex superhet, and while you do need to touch up the regen injection as you tune, at these lower frequencies, the amount of adjustment is far less than operating a regen on 40 or 80 meters.

Here is a sample of a Regenerodyne in action.  Notice that I am still using a window frame and wire clip for an antenna.

The next video is the same Regenerodyne in play, a few weeks later.  The band was, unfortunately, pretty dead.  But it was the only time I had available to set up to shoot.  The audio on each of these videos was fed into an outboard audio amp so the cheap microphone on the camera could pick it up.  All in all, it wasn't a bad couple videos.

Now, lets have a little photo "Show and Tell".  My first Regenerodyne was built in a large BUD cabinet, using National vernier hardware, the famous HRO dial and PW gearing, which I think is a must for any receiver if you can get your hands on one.  Whenever I find them, I buy them if I can.  If you are into building receivers, it's an investment in the enjoyment of your receiver, believe me!  The little "Eaves Dropper" shown in the video uses the National Velvet from an SW-3, and is built into a National SRR cabinet.

This is a photo of the first Regenerodyne, removed from the cabinet.  Yeah, black wrinkle finish.  Is there any other, really?

Top view showing the PW gearbox and the 75pF tuning cap and calibration cap.  To the left is the 6J7, and behind it the 6C5 LO.  Top center is the 6SN7.  Next is the audio choke.

From the rear apron, you find the power connects and the xtal that determines the band.  I did not wire a band switch although I could easily have.  I had no problems just plugging in the xtal I needed as I needed it.  This particular radio covered 40, 30 and 20m.  The IF window was 3.0 to 2.5kc.
 Below deck shows the twin ganged input tuner.  This radio had a double tuned RF input to the mixer, and both coils are wound on the same form with no attempt to shield one from the other.  Worked out pretty nicely, really.  It was sort of a tuneable Butterworth filter.  The coil center right is the detector coil.  The Mixer coil is wound directly over the detector tuning coil, matching the turns count.  I have about 1/16" of insulation between the two coils, which took the form of a thick, foamy double sided tape.  I think it was called "Tiger Tape".  A few layers of electricians tape or even masking tape will do.
 Here is the rig in operation in the field.  Note the power supply is seperate, using two back to back filament transformers to develop the 100vdc B+ operating current.  The stand-by switch is one the power supply.  Headsets plugged in the back, on the rear apron.

This is my current Regenerodyne, the only one I kept.  As mentioned earlier, it is nick-named "Eaves Dropper" because of it's diminutive size.  It is a dedicated 20m receiver, covering 14.000 - 14.250.  When I take this guy to the Hamfests and operate it on my swap table, I always draw a crowd with it.  The OTers all think its a regular regenerative TRF receiver, and when I tell them it's a 20m receiver, they all want to hear it. When they handle the tuning and the regeneration control, they are amazed. I tell them it's a superhet in disguise, they look at the three tubes and next to nothing parts count, the hand wound coils, and they always walk away amazed.  I have turned down a lot of offers for this little rx, and yes, it's still not for sale.  It's the last of my prototypes.

Here is the view through the flip top lid.  Lower left is the 6SN7 detector/audio stage, above it is the detector coil.  Above it is the band tuning coil, and to it's right, the 6J7 pentode mixer, and center right is the metal 6C5 LO.  In the upper right corner you can see the xtal.  Audio choke is on the lower right.

Another view of the upper deck, and the 35pF tuning cap.  There is no calibration cap on this rig, I just wound the detector coil just right . . . luck.  See the masking tape over the detector coil?  That's yer IF transformer, gang!  The detector coil is wound like any other tickler coil arrangement for any other typical "Novice" regen receiver, but then a couple layers of tape is put over that coil.  Then the mixer coil, untuned, is wound directly over it, matching turns count and direction.  I borrowed this technique from the 1929 Bearcat Model 3B.  This actually helps the coupling, because the relative impedance is matched.  More or less.  Nothing is precision here.

Below deck.  Here, I did use 2.5mH RFCs instead of audio choke primaries, largely owing to space allowance.  I can't really tell the difference.  You can see the band tuning/ peaking cap.  Regeneration is controlled by a 50k Cardwell milsurp pot.  Boy, just looking at it, there's almost nothing there.  Yeah, it's a superhet.  Would you believe it just looking at it??

No "Show & Tell" with the Regenerodyne is ever complete without showing Ken Lotts's version. I love his construction techniques!  He sent me these shortly before he parted with it.  Yeah, it sold.  Ken used quality parts and did a quality job.

Just a few more shots before I close this segment down.  I wonder who has this receiver now? Also, I wonder if the person who bought my original regenerodyne, the one shown at the opening of this installment still has it?  And if they sold it, does the new owner know he or she has the very first Regenerodyne by that name?  Hmm . . . . 

Well that's about it for tonight.  Hope it was a fun, maybe educational little excursion.  Try building a Regenerodyne!  Bang for the buck, they are hard to beat, and are a genuine communications device!

For those wishing to view the original article and photos, click here, or copy and paste:

-gary // wd4nka

ADDENDUM  (31 Mar 2015):

At the end of the second week of February, Novice Rig Round-Up came and went.  It was an overwhelming success with lots of participation.  I thought I might share the rig I used, largely because the Regenerodyne played a major role at WD4NKA.

The Regenerodyne featured in the above videos was the primary receiver used at my station for NRR.  I padded the front end tuner for 40m, and replaced the 13mc xtal in the LO with a 10mc xtal.  The xtal was about 8kc off, which made my tuning lag by that frequency, but it was easy to compensate for on the dial.  (Apparently my 13mc xtal was more like 12.920 mc.)

Now, a couple interesting exponents developed as I paired the R-dyne with the transmitter I would use with it, a two valve MOPA consisting of a 6AG7 xtal oscillator, and a 6V6G final, running at around 10w. input, to a 33 foot vertical mounted on my roof, using a four-wire ground system.  One exponent was side-tone.  For a while, my Hammarlund HQ-170 provided that, but I had to tune to each frequency.  I discovered that after a while, I got used to hearing the receiver "block" during transmit, and in that blocked state, I could hear a bit of ripple from the power supply.  Not enough to actually modulate the cw carrier - it sends a pure DC note.  But when the transmitter is parked right next to a regenerative detector, you can hear the slightest bit of hum.  Sometimes more than slight, but in my case, it was just enough to use as a side tone.  So I stopped using the '170 for that purpose.

Another exponent was the use of my transmit xtal to spot my transmit frequency.  Obviously my regen detector was completely blocked for several kHz.  So, I built a small 2n2222a xtal oscillator into a small mini-box, and set it by the receiver. That worked great!  But I noticed something that I will try to describe:

I could control the amount of carrier from that little oscillator box by it's proximity from the receiver.  The closer the stronger, &c.  At some point, the carrier "injection" was about equal to the receiver's own autodyne regenerative feedback.  Tuning the feedback below threshold, I found that I could plainly hear signals being demodulated just as easily as the receiver in it's own regenerative detection mode.

What I had was, in effect, a direct conversion detection action going on.  But more than that!  Further adjustment of the feedback increased the Q beyond what it would have been without the oscillator on and the detector depending on it's own autodyne detection action.  The feedback was actually below just normal threshold, the most sensitive point of any regen detector.  But since an external carrier was producing the audio product, cw signals could still be heard, and quite loudly.  But then, I would tune the detector to make sure I was tuned to the center of the "injected carrier".  I noticed that certain signals audible within that carrier width would attenuate or accentuate depending on how close I tuned to either "fringe edge" of the carrier.

What I was observing was something approaching single signal action.  I would call it "reduced sideband filtering", not complete suppression as you would find in a regular single signal filtered receiver.  But there was a noticeable reduction of signal on the other "side" of the injected signal.

So . . .

My Regenerodyne operated in two modes for NRR.  Regen mode, and enhanced Direct Conversion mode (EDC, to coin an acronym.).  One nice thing about EDC, was that like a regular DC receiver, there are no antenna affects.  Now, the Regenerodyne does not suffer from antenna affects, but a standard twinplex does.  EDC might be an idea to stabilise a TRF regen detector, although the most practical way to inject an external signal to the regen detector is by use of a xtal oscillator, which would require the receiver to be retuned to the carrier of each channel. "Channelized operation".  But then, if you operate with a xtal controlled transmitter, it could be practical.  A regenerative Direct Conversion (RDC - there we go again!) would be more selective than it's standard solid state counterpart, AND require much, much less audio gain!

Food for thought.

Below is the home-brew station used for NRR:

The transmitter is built into the cabinet of a defunct VTVM.  Keys used was the J36 (shown) and an 8-amp straight key from the Royal Air Force.  Not shown is the power supply . . .you can just see the front of it on the extreme right.

I also used my Gonset GSB-100 and HQ-170 combo during NRR, too.  I'd say about half the contacts were made via the rig shown above. The Gonset runs about sixty watts output.  The MOPA runs right around six watts.  My aggregate total between my MOPA at 5-6 watts, and the Gonset at 60 watts was 350 points.  Not a bad showing for a three-valve regen based lash-up!

This is a shot of the actual operating position during NRR.  Left to right: Power Supply, ACR (switch, actually), Spot Oscillator minibox on top, MOPA, and Regenerodyne.  There's my 8-amp RAF key with all my xtals mounted on the same board as the key.  Head-sets are low-Z military from around 1952.

This is the log I kept for NRR.  I am seriously considering designing and printing "NRR Log Books" specifically designed to be used for next year's NRR.  Catagories include power used, type of rig contacted, whether it be VFO or Xtal controlled, QRP or QRO.  NRR QSLs may also be offered.  Letterpress printed, of course!

And look what came in the mail on Monday!  My NRR Certificate!  There ya go!  So, never let it be said that a Regenerative Receiver is unsuited for serious communications!  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It's just . . . not a "plug-and-play" affair. 

So, that's it for now.  Stay tuned for further installments, where in one way or another, Wireless meets Letterpress (in this case, the Certificate!)

-gary // wd4nka.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A New Table for the Print Shop / Radio Station !

It took about seven hours, including carrying stuff over to the other unit across town to make room for the new station table.  It is 33 inches wide, 70 inches long, and comes up to about 28" from the floor.  The door is a solid core type, skinned with Luan Mahogany.  To prevent the skin from ripping while sawing, I laid a piece of plywood over the cut area, and sawed through.  The entire table frame is made of 1 x 4, paired to have the thickness of a 2 x 4.  I like this idea because it leave a lot of room for making mortises.  I not only screwed the pairs of 1 x 4 together, I also glued them.  The table is insanely strong!  It needs to be.  It's gonna carry the Boatanchors!

The next few shots are a progressive show and tell.  I took photos as I went, in case someone might like some ideas for their own Boatanchor Table.  Here we go:

The door was 80 inches in length.  I didn't have the room for that, but I could accommodate 70 inches.  Thus, we had to take out the circular saw.

Solid Core doors have a thick wooden edge, but the centers are usually filled with fibre, sometimes loose enough to scoop some out to replace the wooden "plug" that was sawn off.  In my case, it was a particle board fillers.  I was rather glad for that, because I could just screw 'n glue a new edge onto the kerf end of the table!

The first thing I did was box in the support frame upon which the table would actually rest.  This I made atop the door itself.  I guess you might say this door was earning it's keep as a work table before I even built the work table!

My world revolves around C-clamps!  Here, the table leg is both glued and screwed together.  Now, where the legs screw onto the upper frame itself, I only screwed.  This is because I want to have the ability, should I need it, to remove the legs for transit.

Mounting the braces.  These will also serve as a support for a ply shelf beneath the table, should I choose to do so.  The front does not have a bracket as the back: the reason is that this table will actually be a desk.

I am clamping, gluing and screwing on the last piece, the center support bracket.  The lumber used is construction grade, the warping was atrocious!  These brackets helped to torsion the wood back into proper line.

A close up of the lap mortise, again, clamped, glued and screwed.  Btw, this table came out perfectly level.  I attribute this to the support brackets literally forcing a straight line.

The center bracket required that I bring out my trusty pipe clamps.  With the frame clamped to the table, the pipe clamp slowly brought the sides into positive pressure against the glued ends of the center bracket.  The table top would lay straight.

There she is!  Ain't she perdy?  I love the look of  Mahogany!  Even if its a door.  Oh, you can see the treatment as the sawed edge, or the "kerf side" of the door.

Another aspect of the table. When the time comes where I need the lower shelves, I may make a drawer unit instead of a plywood shelf.  Just a thot!

By the time the sun went down, I was able to maneuver first the frame, then the table top into the shop.  But before I could do that, I had to dismantle my old computer table, the place of which this table is taking.  Nice to have something like room!  It's been a long time since I had an operating table like this.  Check out the "Key Garage".  I have a place for my log, and my small collection of keys!  Oh, and the headsets, too.

Here is a more comprehensive shot of the table.  The rigs seem to like it.  Oh, and introducing them, from left to right: Yaesu FT-101EE, setting atop a Dentron MT-3000A tuner.  Next to it, a Hammarlund HQ-170.  Setting atop it is an Art Deco electric clock from 1939.  Next is the Gonset GSB-100.  And finally, a Tombstone Broadcast receiver.  And just what is that parked around that clock??

Why, it's Dilbert, Alice, and the Pointy Haired Boss! Looks like Dilbert has the "doe in the headlights" look this eventing. These guys have been staffing my stations for years, I am not about to lay them off now!  Dilbert remains still one of my fav reasons for reading a Newspaper.  Also, did you know he is a Ham?  Yup.  Scott Adams, the artist/ author has him passing his exam.  Congratulations, Dilbert!  You have a higher class license than I !!
Well, Mission accomplished!  Next to come: Home Brew Radio and Novice Rig Round-up!!

Stay tuned!

de wd4nka 


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Catching Up!

Wow, it's been an eventful year! 

During the Holiday Season, the Letterpress Activity begins to slow down, with the last set of Christmas Cards going out to an Arch Diocese up in Virginia Beach.  Apart from a few purchases from our Etsy Shop, and one Christmas Indie Market show in DeLand, Florida (up the road) - we decided to take a bit of a Letterpress break.  But Nature abhors a vacuum!  So, what fills this vacuum?

Why . . . Boatanchors, of course!

Now, just a little back story here: I once had the kind of Ham Shack that many folks would have drooled over.  I had the Hallicrafter rigs, I had the National rigs, I had the Johnson rigs, I had the military Command sets, the Antennas, the B&W test equipment, the O-scopes, GDOs, SGs, Tektronics this, HP that, over thirty five years worth of Antique Wireless restoration.

. . . yeah, and we still didn't get to the V-500 Viking, museum quality HRO-5, and an FM commercial Transmitter!  But I sold all of this for an even nearer and dearer avocation become vocation: Letterpress!

All this stuff had to go.  It took about three months.  The proceeds went into a very nice 1936 8x12 Chandler and Price New Series platen job press, paper cutter, type, inks, papers, later a Pearl treadle press, a hand fed Kluge, a power stitcher . . . and all this space became filled - and remains filled - with Letterpress and Bookbinding apparatii.

And so it was since 2007.  I went from being WD4NKA to Paper Wren Press. 

Well, I never ceased to be WD4NKA, but the 15 foot by 11 foot room ceased to be dedicated to WD4NKA. 

Then, in December of 2013, my son in law's father, Steve, offered to me his FT-101EE, for a nice price.  He thought I might enjoy using my license, and, well . . . he understood, once a Ham, always a Ham.  And then, a fellow from Church, Ron, gave me HIS station.  Part of it is the cover photo for this blog, that cute little Kenwood (which I have since sold, in order to purchase that FT-101EE!)  Along with this acquisition came a Drake TR-3, in dire need of refurbishing.

Soon, the back wall of my Print Shop became Radio Active again.

There ya go.  Little FT-101 . . . Little Dentron MT3000a . . . a couple keys, a nice Astatic Mic, a fairly hard to find low impedance set of headsets dating back to the Korean War . . . nice little corner.

And then comes the 2014 Holiday Slow Down. 

Courtesy Bry, AF4K, I suddenly become the proud owner of a transmitter built by a guy named Faust.  Faust Gonset.  A GSB-100.

Gee.  You know, I took secret pleasure in finding this under my shop composing table, where the marble "imposing stone" lie.  The Gonset GSB-100 is a multimode transmitter dating to the middle 1950s.  It is about twenty three inches deep, nineteen inches wide, and about fourteen inches tall, weighing in at about seventy pounds.  It seems to be relatively clean.  Welcome to Paper Wren Press, "Faust"!  ( I love that name.  Faust.  Maybe my daughter can name her first kid Faust.  I'll text her and ask . . . )

I had a pair of new 4-400z amplifier tubes.  If you don't know what those are, take heart.  Until I had them, I didn't know either.  And since I stood very little chance of finding a transformer and tuning caps to handle 'em, I sold them.  Again, courtesy the resources of AF4K (and former owner Ronnie Hull), the proceeds from the sale of those two tubes brought this into my Print Shop:

I always wanted a big ol' receiver that had something like quality going for it, and even more important, symmetry.  I am, after all, a design artist.  The appearance of my radios are just as important as their function, if not more!  I once had a National NC-303 and a 300.  Wonderful receivers, but I could not get my mind around their avante guard asymmetrical front panels that were the rage in industrial design by the Year of our Lord 1960.  I grew up on Hammarlunds and RMEs.  Mine was a world of black wrinkle finish and meticulously measured out front panels.  Maybe I'm old fashioned - ya think?  But I really need symmetry in my life.  These big Hammarlunds have that.  Behold: my newly acquired HQ-170.

And so it follows: that little desk won't carry these nineteen inch by twenty inch by fourteen inch beasties!  A new operating table is in order!

And this is tomorrow's task.

So, this is the view from the top, at the Paper Wren, WD4NKA.  Old Time Printing . . . and Old Time Radio!  

And, you know?  He who forgets the past - forfeits the future!


Saturday, January 18, 2014


Part of the mission of this blog is to explore the commonality between Radio and Letterpress.  Specifically, Amateur Radio, and more often than not, vintage wireless and the graphics and print activities that surrounded it.

First, permit me to introduce to you, none other than:

The "Wapsi".  Also known as the Wapsipinicon Almanac.  Printed by a fellow named Tom Fay.  You can read about this amazing magazine here. The short description of this publication is that it is printed out of Small Town Iowa, carried in Barnes & Nobles in that state.  It's a completely letterpress printed magazine, Linotype set, printed from hard metal formes on an ancient cylinder press, along the lines of a Kelly B or Little Giant press.  What's amazing to me is how such a magazine can even exist in this day and age.  The cost of production in sheer labour intensity is enormous.  Hence, one publication per year has been produced by Tom's operation, "Route Three Press" for over twenty years, now.

The cover art is amazing.  Now, I am not entirely sure if they still use the old process, but at one time they used traditional ply wood, hand cut, to print their covers.  This was pretty common back in the the later 19th century and first three decades of the 20th century.  Back in this era, each colour required its own separate wood 'block', which was cut in register with the other colours and the "key", or black colour wood block.  In the cover above, two colours are utilized, the blue and the black.  Each colour would have it's own hand carved block.  Another word for a printing surface is "die".

I really enjoy these covers from the Wapsipinicon Almanac, and largely because the covers, in the main, are hand wrought as they were in 1919.  Now, I cannot say that every magazine was printed using wood, some were "dot etched" copper dies, using a photographic method of exposure and acid etching.  But many did use plywood dies, one of which was Vogue.  Close scrutiny of Wireless Age magazine indicates that they used similar, at least up to 1919.  My understanding is that the Wapsi cover art is designed by local artists, and hand cut on premises, usually by the artists themselves.  The annual magazine enjoys the talents of a Linotype operator who has been in the business over sixty years.  I don't know the type of cylinder letterpress they use, but Tom calls it "ancient".  Tom runs it himself.

I thought I might, for educational purposes....which is the decided aim and function of this blog....share a few Wapsi Covers so you might get the feel of a genuine, hand wrought artisan publication.

Here we go:

. . . amazing, isn't it?  By the way, the Wapsipinicon is a conjunction between two indian names, Wapsi, and Pinicon.  They were lovers who drowned in the river which bears their name.  Sorry saps.  (-yawn-)  But a great rag!

Ok, now the Wireless connection.  I direct your attention to probably the best known and one of the oldest surviving technical magazines: "QST ", the official organ of the American Radio Relay League;  It began publication by Hiram Percy Maxim, founder of the League itself.  When he started the "Relay" League, he took in members of another radio club which was in existence since around 1909, called the Junior Radio Club which, believe it or not, managed to strike off a one-shot magazine of its own!  I cannot find a photo of it, neither can I find the name of that publication, but I am pretty certain its existence and continuance was something Hiram desired to perpetuate, probably as a tool to bond fellowship among members and as an Amateur Radio recruiting tool.  The magazine title is taken from the wireless telegraphic "Q" signals, and means "General Message for all Amateurs", beginning publication in 1914.  While I do  not have a photo of the original first edition (really more of a printed membership roster, less a magazine at first) - below is an idea of what it looked like.  The magazine cover art is very common for trade publications, mostly simple hand drawn art-deco framing, titling with typeset characters.  Liberal use of typeset border fonts seem to be incorporated into these covers. Below is an early QST:

By way of translation, the cover reads "QST de the American Radio Relay League".  "de" is the telegraphic shorthand for "this is".  Again, QST  as a three-letter signal sent telegraphically over the air carries the meaning of "Calling All Hams" or "Calling All Wireless Operators".

This particular QST has a blue-grey cover, printed in black, for the month of December, 1915. I believe the cover stock colour changed month to month. This was a true informational magazine, carrying ads, and quite early in the game, comics.  The magazine was printed through the first World War, announcing America's first wireless Wartime ban, and then, in 1919, heralding the lifting of that ban.

By the late teens, QST sported some surprising cover art, for a private hobby organization with a few hundred members and a limited budget.  I am sure Hiram sunk a lot of his own money into these sorts of ARRL endeavours.

This is the general look and design of QST from the late teens, and up to the middle of the 1920s.  I think this cover is a wood cut duo-tone, vermillion and black.  That is a wartime era dirigible depicted on the cover, crossing over either the English Channel or the Atlantic.  Love the font used, and the lightning bolts emanating from the framed title "QST:".  That motif pretty well held through the 1920s.

This July, 1922 cover is probably my favourite.  Again, its a duotone print, green and black.  Notice any similarity between these magazines and the Wapsi?

This is another one of my favourite covers.  I love the central circle design framing the little "Radio Shack".  Now, there's a real radio shack, stovepipe and all!  Check out how far it is from the house!  This is a duotone cover, aquamarine and black.

Hmm . . . another canoe theme.  Come to think of it, there's a lot of canoe oriented art going on with the Wapsi, too!  I might guess this was a traditional favourite.  Note that more than two colours are being used.  Right about 1921, QST began more and more to use screened four-colour separations in their printing, but from time to time, solid colour rendering would still appear.  By the way, these magazines of the early twenties or late teens sell for a considerable sum these days.  Back in the seventies, you could have picked these rags up for almost nothing.  What a difference forty years makes!

Here is a three-colour combination of dot-etched screen work on copper plating, and solid colour printing, very possibly using the same wood die technique employed by Vogue at this time, and more recently, the Wapsi.  Notice that the level of artwork varied considerably.

Printing varied a bit, too.  The registration of the red-orange die slipped a bit.  Oops.  Notice that this colour is used for both the skin pigment of the operator, screened at about ten percent, and for all text.  This appears to be a 1922 duo-tone.

A 1922 tri-tone. Red, brown and black  Red and Black would be the primary elemental cover colours with this magazine.

This was to become the standard cover format through 1930.  Three colours, solid and screened.  The title text is obviously hand drawn.  The text on the bottom is type, using the ubiquitous Cooper Black, the most extensively used advertisement font in the western world, and still thriving today.
From about 1931 up through 1939, QST used a cover format that consisted primarily of a half tone photograph of something having to do with an article or feature within that issue (usually), surrounded by a solid red frame.  I refer to these issues as the "Red Jacket Issues".  Just me.  

As the cover art was evolving, something else was evolving with QST : personalities and a unique style all it's own.  QST was becoming less a trade journal, and more an entertainment and information publication, with pen names like "T.O.M." (The Old Man), Hiram Percy Maxim, President and fearless ARRL leader himself, "The Dixie Squinch Owl", written in a style that fall somewhere between Will Rogers and Colonel Sanders.  Not only was "the Squinch" funny, he also touched upon subjects of morality, including racial equality!  It might be said that of all intellectual and academic endeavors, there was never a racial barrier in obtaining a DOC or FCC Ham Ticket!  I think, in a way, we were ALL ahead of the curve, there.  

One of the guys that got me into Ham Radio was an African American Technician Class Op, Al Harmon, in Philadelphia, 1969.  He was an avid 6-meter VHFer who would regularly work into New Jersey using a 10 watt Lafayette AM rig and a Squalo bumper mounted 6m folded dipole array.  Operated a nice station since the early 1950s. He operated hand in hand with his white counterparts during the riots.  There was no divide. We were all brothers in a very unique fraternity.

Back to Printing and Wireless:

Comic illustration was coming into it's own in QST.  From the mid 1920s, up into the very early 30s, Otto Eppers, W6EA did the bulk of the comic illustration, but he eventually left, applying his almost Robert Crumb stylings and caricatures for more commercial ventures, doing ads for Itel McCullough and Taylor Tubes. (Actually, I might be more accurate to say that San Fransisco's Robert Crumb may have been heavily influenced by Otto Eppers!")  Taking his place at QST came the unassuming Phil Gildersleeve, possibly one of the most iconic comic illustrators - and least known - in the 20th century.  Unknown because he only drew for one magazine: QST.  Well . . . perhaps.  I suspect he moonlighted for the competition once or twice.  I have a 1937 edition of Radio magazine featuring "Scratchi", the fictitious ham from Osockme Japan, which was a quasi-regular article taking the form of a letter to the editor from said Hashfisti Scratchi, in very broken English. The article artwork is clearly, unmistakably, the handiwork of none other than Phil Gildersleeve.
Ahh, but this is fodder for another installment.  Time for me and my ol' buddy Scratchi to say "Ima no wakare" until next time!



G. Johanson, Printer, the Paper Wren Press.