All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

QSL Cards

I've always been a collector.  It started with collecting coins.

There was an ad on the back page of  comic books back in the early sixties featuring an 1804 silver dollar.  It read something to the effect : "If you find this coin, it's worth $25,000" !   The implication was that you might find this coin in change. Yeah, in 1959.  So every evening mom and dad would dump their change and my sister and I would pour  over each and every coin, hunting treasure.  The elusive 1804 silver dollar never surfaced, but we did find some neat older coins just the same.  I found a 1914 half dollar, once.  We found a lot of  Buffalo nickels, and I think we had an assortment of 1909 pennies. Maybe an Indian Head penny or two. I think a morgan head dime might have made an appearance.

Needless to say:  was I turned on to collecting coins.  Maybe too turned on.

When my parents noticed that I had taken to lifting old coins from the church collection plate as it passed by me, they realized that a change was needed in my collecting habits.  When we got home from church that day, dad sat me down by the kitchen counter by where our incoming mail was stacked.  He pulled out an envelope and directed my attention to the green one cent 1954 regular postal issue postage stamp affixed to it (the one with Washington's portrait).

"You see this stamp Gary??  People COLLECT these things! It's called 'Stamp Collecting' !!"

 That's all it took.  From that second on, I embarked on a life of rummaging, through the mail, through old letters, through my grandparent's attic and every other attic in the neighborhood.  I began checking out library books about Philately in the first grade,  such that by the tender age of twelve, I had memorized both volumes of the 1967 Scotts Catalogs, plus the Minkus American catalog to boot.  I continue collecting to this day.  I attribute Philately to my interest in printing and Letterpress.

Part of my draw to Amateur Radio (I am WD4NKA) comes by way of Philately, or Stamp Collecting.  It  is the postal stationery associated with Amateur Radio that I find as a major area of interest. Another draw was the early Amateur Radio Press, which in the 1920s took the form of private press publications.  My very first Amateur Radio reading materials were a set of 1938 QST magazines given to me by an older ham.  The photos of the ham shacks appearing in these magazines showed the walls of these ham shacks and radio rooms literally covered with "QSL Cards".  Many of these radio shacks were in attics, so the cards covered not only the walls, but the ceiling as well.  I began finding these cards at the Hamfests our local radio club held in town.  1920s and 30s QSL cards were not hard to find in the 1970s. I soon amassed a collection of my own.  It was only a matter of time before I would have my own QSL card, following the pattern of these old QSL cards of the 1920s and 30s.

My first QSL cards (above) were letterpress printed - of course!  In time, when I began to set up and run a Letterpress Studio from my home, I would procure a 9 x 13 Kelsey front lever press, circa 1903.  Using what few fonts I had, I began copying the format of the older QSL cards, which worked out nicely for me because I was running a 1930s / 1940s era radio station.

I might mention the type used on the green card: the top titling is Litho Shaded, 36pt, the next line 12 pt Caslon 337 Old Style, my call being set in 48 pt Caslon Italic.  The next two lines 12 pt Caslon, then "Wedding Text", a font commonly used for Announcements. The remaining two lines are set in 10pt Caslon 337 Old Style.

My Station at the time featured a 6AG7 / 6L6G MOPA coupled to my regenerative superhet, a "Regenerodyne", housed in a National SRR cabinet. For those times I needed a very selective receiver, I used my BC-453 "Q-5er". My primary communication mode was cw, International Morse Code, using "Kafer", my trusty Vibroplex Champion Bug, and "Blitz", my 8-amp Royal Air Force key that actually saw service during the London Blitz. Ahh, but enough with my stuff, and on to the subject at hand.

So, just what did those old QSL cards of the 1920s and 30s look like?  How were they different than QSLs today?

Truth is, they were actually pretty similar to the cards of today, but with some differences.

Firstly, practically all hams in the 20s and 30s built their own rigs. There was very little in the way of commercially built equipment available to them. When those early hams made contacts, it was owing to the work of their hands, their skill at building and their knowledge of circuitry.  There was a great deal of pride and prestige involved. It was only natural that these amateur radio operators would become an especially tight, close knit fraternity.
These QSL cards are products of that Fraternity, a window into the hand-crafted technological world which was then the State of the Art.

The word "QSL" is part of the international Q-signals, a type of short-hand that means, literally, "confirmation of receipt of message".  These "Q" signals were used to speed along code transmissions and to simplify and clarify communications.  When a station sent "QSL?", they were asking "Did you copy everything?  Was I understood?", and the receiving station might send "FB OM QSL ON ALL" or something similar.  It means "Fine business Old Man, I copied everything and everything has been understood."

A QSL card serves as documentation of any contact for which it is sent.  The information written on the card will mirror much of the information entered in the Station Log.  Each QSL card indicates the date of the contact, the frequency, originally in kc (kilocycles) or mc (megacycles), later kHz and mHz (kilohertz and megahertz), the mode of transmission, the quality or condition of the signal received during the contact.  The old cards usually carried some sort of hand written description of the transmitter, and often a fairly detailed description of the receiver.  These descriptions became less involved as more and more store-bought equipment became increasingly commonplace in the Ham Shack.  

Through the latter 'teens, and through the twenties, cards largely described the transmitters in terms of exciter type and power to the antenna.  As tubes became more prevalent, replacing the old Spark Wireless transmitters, circuit types and final amp tubes, or what the British call "Valves" - a more accurate term - started to be indicated by types.  A Hartley self excited oscillator driving a pair of 810s in parallel, feeding 200 watts to an off-center fed dipole, for instance.  Receivers too, were described by their circuit architecture,  such as a Regenerative Detector and One Step audio into a short wire, or names of favourite designs, such as the "Bearcat 1-v-2", meaning one stage of RF amplification (or isolation, those RF front end amps were usually untuned!), "v" was the detector, 99.9 percent of the time regenerative, and "2" meaning stages of audio amplification.  Sometimes references to "Tuned AF", a form of audio filtering, might be mentioned.

Below are a examples of QSL card images I have collected as I studied their designs.  Many of these really are not only examples of radio history, but also great examples of job printing.  Some of these cards used what was then the latest border and letter fonts offered in the American Type Founders specimen books of that time.  Often the fonts chosen reflected the Art Nuveaux which was popular up into the 1930s.

 The following two cards are my own designs using my call, based upon models from the 1930s.  The nice thing is that since I have the very presses that printed these cards originally, the cards I print are neither replications or imitations.  These are the real deal as ever there was one.  And like me, most of the shops that printed these early cards were local small job shops.  Some were themselves, hams.  Most of them drew upon hand set type and borders.  Some had advantage of Ludlow or Linotype/ Intertype linecasters to help things along.  A few, later cards, began to be stereotyped for mass production late in the 1930s, when QSL cards, like the Ham Radio Press, became something that called for mass production.  Just as the QSL Card was evolving and finding it's place in the world, so were Amateur Radio Publications.  Along with these publications came advertisers, and widespread commercial ads.  

The rest is history.

As I wrap things up, I might add that if there is sufficient interest in vintage QSL cards, I can make these cards available.  Contact:

Letterpress meets Wireless here in the form of possibly the most widely sent post card in the world, serving a very important service of documentation - the QSL card.  Today, these cards are slick, four-colour graphic devices offset or digitally printed, if they are printed at all.  Many hams are opting for electronic QSLs, sent via eMail or other digital media.. As a Philatelist, I tend do things the "Old School" way.  There's a real touch and feel value in writing or typing out an actual paper QSL card.  There is an intangible 'something' about receiving a QSL card in the mail.  Something that connects me with my fellow hams of the 1920s. Something that requires my hands to handle, to write, to make.  Just like my homebrew rigs.  Just like the printing of these cards.  And it's here that Wireless meets Letterpress.

CUL, 73

de WD4NKA.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rush to Meet the Sked!!

I am sure you have found yourself in a rush before.  Eight hours to move a mountain, and you have to start from scratch, and you haven't even begun yet.  And such it was last night for my very first on the air 'schedule', or "Sked" in radio vernacular.  The folks from the local vintage radio group, "Florida Boatanchors" had decided to meet on the 40 meter band, many of you remember it being called the "Short Waves".  Amateur Radio Stations have privileged air space right there with the Broadcasters, and have had now for one hundred years.  

The exact frequency is 7290 kHz, on some of your SW receivers, that might look more like 7.290 mHz.  The mode was AM, the traditional voice mode used in radio communication for better part of ninety years, now.  My particular rig can also do AM transmissions, so I decided to participate.  

But alas!  No antenna!  My old wireless station had been dismantled and sold over five years ago, and my leftover antenna 'stuff' lay mouldering in a pile of aluminium and oxidized copper wire and corroded coax.  Fortunately, part of the recent offering gifted to me included 100 feet of coax cable, and a generous assortment of plugs and mounting posts.  I had a lot of soldering to do before the Sked at 10am, Saturday!  It was midnight right now!  

So, first thing I did was haul in the coax, and thread it through the Letterpress Shop.

One hundred feet of tangled coax can be a challenge, especially at midnight.  I had to interleave it back and forth from one end of the shop to the other.  It was raining outside, so all my work had to be conducted inside.

The above photo shows part of my work space, literally, on the feed board of the press!  Also the stool, which served as my coffee cup parking lot during this operation.

My actual 'soldering station' was the top of my washing machine in the utility room.  Here is where I soldered all my connections which included: my coax plug to fit my radio (PL-259-Y, silver plated!), and an assortment of banana plugs.  I also had to strip the coax, peel the shielding, pre-tin the center conductor, and spread the shielding over the "shoulder" of the RG-58-U plug adaptor.  Yeah, all this fancy terminology just to say I had to solder up my transmission line.  Hey!  That's why the FCC tests us! < grin >

Just so you "dyed in the wool" ops know, I am writing this blog toward my former non-technical audience for whom I wrote as a freelance writer for the Electronics Hobby industry.  I know a lot of you may be very new at all this, many of you are old hands at the key.   But I must tell you, whether you are a newbee or a grisled vet, you must agree there is nothing like soldering on pure military grade tinned silver.  Oh, man, the 60/40 solder and flux just nicely.  There!  Ain't that a pretty connector?  I mean, really!

You may have gathered by now that I am a "Plumber's Delight" kind of guy, who uses a lot of PVC in his antenna construction.  This goes way back to my Novice days.  As I poked around my pile of mouldering antenna junk left over from years ago in my back yard, I came across one of my early dipoles, which still had it's PVC center connector!  Wow!  All I had to do was remove the rusted screws, replace them with the posts you see on the ends of the "T" in the above photo, which are actually banana jacks.  The coaxial cable feeds through the bottom, the coax is separated inside the "T" with the braid going out one side through a hole, the center conductor our the other.  These are then screwed into the end posts.  The actual antenna wires have banana plugs soldered on to one end of each length.  These are, in turn, plugged into these end jacks, and wrapped twice around the screw (the phillips head screw you see in the photo), one for each side.  This relieves the wire strain on the insulator, and protects the coax connection to those wires.  The antenna itself is called an "Inverted Vee", which we all used as Novices back in the 1970s.  Very simple, sure-fire antennas!

And here is my operating position.  My TS-430S, power supply and AT-120 antenna matching unit are parked on my Press' feed table.  My coffee cup has found a new parking lot, as you can see.

Ok, so I get to bed at 2am.  Wake up at 8am, wow, only two hours to get the wire attached to the center insulator, get it up on the push-up pole, feed the coax into the shop, and be on the air by ten AM!!  Time to hustle!  And what you see above is the result.  Voila' !  One Inverted Vee!

If you look closely, you can see how I terminated my wires to the ground: a thin aluminium stake, a piece of nylon weed-wacker wire (say that three times real fast!), and a piece of hardwood substituting for what should be a "Dog Bone" insulator.  As kids, we used to use bottle necks from Coke bottles, filing off the sharp edges of the glass.  Each side of this dipole "Vee" antenna is terminated to the ground in this manner.  There is no earth ground used in this installation.  The radios themselves, however, are grounded.

Here is a closer look at the Inverted Vee's center feed insulator.  It is held to the mast with a simple "U" clamp made for antennas, available at Radio Shack and most hardware stores.  The wire is actually thinner gauge than I am comfortable with, it's 24g hook up wire.  But it was all I had on such short notice.  Normally I use 18g stranded copper, tinned every foot or so.  And so this wire will be replaced soon enough.

These are the sum total tools used, apart from the soldering pencil and clamps at the soldering station.  A pair of dykes, a philips head screw driver, a rat tail file to file the PVC a little so the U-clamp would fit around it, a pair of heavy duty scissors, and channel locks.  Oh, yeah, and weed-wacker wire.  Did I say that right?

So, did I make the "Sked"?  Yup.  Exactly at ten AM!  And I was able to tune the antenna, and it performed flawlessly via the AT-120 antenna tuner.  Now, I could cut and trim the antenna wire itself, tuning it exactly to the frequency I want, and not even use the Antenna Tuner, but I like the ability to re-tune this antenna on other bands, something that can only be done with a tuner.  

We all gathered at 7290 kHz, but some of us had weaker signals, so AF4K (Bry) and myself QSY'd - changed frequency - down to 7270, and held our conversation on single sideband, a mode of transmission and reception that is a bit more modern, and much more efficient.  We had great signal levels between our QTH's. (locations in the Q-signal Lexicon).  We just chewed the fat for about an hour, a lovely QSO (conversation, or contact). 

Wireless meets Letterpress here in this instance, by sharing the same space.  The press is still eying the Kenwood rig suspiciously, but I believe a bond of friendship is in future for the Kenwood and the Chandler & Price Letterpress.  Expecially when it comes time to do those incredible vintage QSL cards!!
And now, for more coffee!

Stay tuned!

-de wd4nka ar k

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A "Plumber's Delight": The Classic 10m. Half Wave Vertical.

The idea was to try out my newly acquired Kenwood TS-430, but alas! My Amateur Radio Station an workshop of some 35 years was sold in 2007 to finance and make way for my Letterpress Studio and Shop (Paper Wren Press) - which means I had nothing in the way of an antenna.  I didn't just want to string up a random wire, I wanted something that was actually designed to get a signal out over the Ether.  Well . . . 

. . .as it turned out, a few months ago, while recuperating from major surgery, I found myself whiling away the time doing a bit of qrp work from my last remaining transceiver, my 10m HTX-10.  I homebrewed an antenna that follows the ham-made moniker "Plumber's Delight", which for a guy who was still attached to a portable I.V. unit and maybe had about a quarter of his natural strength and wit about him, is a testimony to it's ease of construction and assembly.  Thus, I offer for your perusal my own version of the "Plumber's Delight: a Portable Ten Meter Half Wave Vertical"

This antenna uses two stainless CB aerials, 102" in length, and a mounting bracket that permits them to be mounted end to end.  Mine was obtained at the Orlando HamCation, along with about 25 feet of coax.  My bracket also has the nicety of having an SO-259 female attached for ease of feedpoint connectiong.  I am not using a balun for this, but I am feeding this antenna through an AT-120 tuner. 

This is that bracket, showing the SO-239 female.  The antenna itself is basically this piece, the rest, involving schedule forty PVC from the hardware store, is simply a method of holding the vertical dipole up above the ground.  Here you can see the top, which is an 'L' connector, a short length of pipe and an end cap, all of which is mounted atop an eight foot length of PVC.

Looking a bit further away, you can see that the mast is two sections of pipe with a "T" connector holding the top and bottom pipes together.  The 'T' also hold that short piece of pipe with and end-cap.  This serves as a bottom element stabilizer.

This is a view of the mounted antenna bracket.  You may have already noticed that this antenna can be mounted either vertically, utilizing the bottom bracket stabilizer 'arm', or horizontally.  I drilled a hole through the 'L' connection with the mounting PVC section inserted, dropping a screw-eye through the hole, screwing it in tight to keep the weight of the antenna hardware from rotating the mount,  I could have simply glued the PVC into place, but it's easier to rotate the antenna and the mount to change polarity, than to unbolt the antenna and rotate it ninety degrees.

Vertical orientation requires something to keep that bottom element from flopping around, and I must say, these stainless steel "whips" are "whippy".  They are resilient, yes, but great Scott, these things can really pendulum themselves, which can serve to loosen fittings.  Hence the L-bracket stabilizer.  It may not be absolutely necessary, but I recommend it's use.

Another close-up of the antenna feed point.  This bracket and the coax cost me about twenty bucks at the Orlando Hamcation, but you can make one of these if you have a good sized drill and some parts from Radio Shack, which still carries - I think - the SO-239 connector, screw, and mounting base that accepts these whips.

You can see the screw-eye that I used to hold the PVC mounting pipe in position.  Why a screw-eye?  Sometimes it might be handy to throw a stabilizing line up to the top to give added support to the antenna on a windy day.  Also, it might serve as a handy center mount for a wire dipole!

The antenna is light enough to be entirely supported by a five foot aluminium pipe, hammered into the ground.  I use only one U-bracket to hold this antenna in place, the bottom of the antenna mast is  resting on the ground.

Owing to the short length of RG-58u coax, I had to mount the antenna near the front door.  Here is what the antenna looks like when mounted.

Here is a closer shot.  The overall length of the antenna itself is 16'5", and actually does a pretty respectable job on Two Meters as well!  I had just enough coax to run into the house.

Here's the new rig: a Kenwood TS-430s, Power Supply and AT-120.  It is running somewhere around 50w on Ten Meters, although that may not be precise.  This is a one hundred watt HF rig, but owing to it's age and the frequency, I am willing to fudge in the absence of a watt meter and guess somewhere around 50 watts pep on ten meters.

The frequency where I heard the most activity on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 @ 2pm: 28.555.  Station called was VE9WW, Nova Scotia.  Signal copied was 5/ 6, signal reported: 5/ 7-9.

A flat SWR was achieved and maintained from 28.300, through 28.900.  Not a bad spread, really!  Especially when considering that the antenna is actually resonant in the 26-27 mHz range.  What was really amazing was that my two meter rig actually liked this antenna!  I have not done the math, so I don't know how this antenna behaves on 146 mHz electrically, but I have used the 102" whip on my car before to do some two meter simplex dx work.  I think it works out to about three half-waves, with a low impedance node at the feed end.  

This is a little three-minute video that I made of the contact with Bill up in Nova Scotia.  Not exciting, but it was nice to document a first contact for me.  First contact using my new/old TS-430s.  Hoping to find a nice MC-50 mic for it one day, and some good head-sets for cw.

That's about it for this installment.  I know it's been quite a while, I have had to focus on the Letterpress end of things.  My hope is to have some time to get back into Amateur Radio, even if for a little bit each week.  The idea of this blog is to merge both methods of private communications, Ham Radio and Private Press, together, because I am convinced there are common threads between them that can bind.  It has not escaped my notice how many Hams are also Letterpress Printers, and how many Letterpress ops are....hams!  There is a reason for that!

73, de wd4nka!