All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Novice Rig Round-Up, 2017.

Another NRR event has come and gone.  A year's worth of organizing, repairing, procuring, designing, redesigning, asking volunteer help, restoring and refurbishing keys, transmitters, receivers.... all climaxed on the air on the third week of February.

For the most part, our activity tended to center around 7100 - 7125 KHz, forty meters, although there was also activity on fifteen and eighty meters as well.  I, myself, am almost entirely forty-meter involved, and rarely stray from there.  As such, I confine my remarks and observations thereunto.

How it all began.

Novice Rig Roundup was started by Bry Carling, AF4K, and myself (WD4NKA) as the result of a conversation we had on two-meter simplex one night.  Bry mused if it might be fun to set up our old Novice stations if that were possible, and try to recapture the magic of our first contacts   Maybe if others thought it might be fun as well, wouldn't it be neat to get a bunch of ops on, say, one of our old Novice watering holes and just share about our rigs.  Maybe even have something like a Novice Sprint!

It certainly wouldn't be an overly technical group. These old classic Novice rigs were not all that involved, what, with xtal control and maybe an S-38 receiver!  Or, in my case, a 6L6G MOPA and a 6SN7 regen.  

Ahh, sweet simplicity.

As our thoughts developed with input from others, it became clear that what we call and picture in our minds as "Novice" was actually only one of several eras of what was, in fact, "Novice" !    

For many years, the original Novice License operating platform established by the FCC (the class of licensure in itself part of a new program introduced by the FCC called "incentive licensing") consisted of xtal control transmission, cw on the HF bands only, limited A3 voice on two meters, and 75 watts plate input to the final amplifier. The license itself had a non-renewable one (later two) year life span.  You could renew in reality, but you had to wait for one year to do so, and retake the test....  which was 25 questions, some multiple choice questions, some questions requiring a written answer, and if you go back to the early 1950s, some drawing of simple circuits.  You had to pass a five word-per-minute international morse code exam, both sending and receiving.  A volunteer examiner could administer the exam provided he or she was a General Class or higher license holder.

As the years rolled by, these rules changed.  The xtal control restriction went away in the mid 1970s, as did the 75 watt power restriction, and voice on two meters went away.  Novices were given a small portion of the new 15 meter band, in addition to their other subband allocations.  By the 1990s, with the repeal of the morse code requirement, the Novice Class all but disappeared,  finally being formally dropped by the FCC into the new millennium.

What exactly is a Novice?

Needless to say, exactly what a "Novice" actually was, or is, all depends upon when one was a Novice.  This meant that to have such a "Roundup"  (a name inspired by the ARRL's "Novice Roundup" of past generations) would require a broad aperture of rigs and even a wider scope of operator "memory".   One ham's "Early Years" may have been a DX-40 and Drake 2A.  Another's may be a crate-built 6V6G power oscillator (PO) and a 6U8A handbook regen.  Still another's may be a Kenwood TS520, or an Icom 746!  We concluded that we would celebrate ALL these rigs, regardless the era, which enabled our first "voice" on the air.

What we are really celebrating is just that.  Our first voice.  It's not just the rig, you see, it's also the fist behind the key.  Aside from morse, we all have one thing in common: we started at some point.  Most of us started out as Novices.   Our rigs, of course, are an integral part of that experience. Like our first car.   It's the celebration of that experience that is the heart and soul of NRR.   And hearing all these familiar rigs on the air is fun.  The slow drifting, the "youp" and chirp, it's all part of what many of us fondly remember.  In fact, ours is the only event on the planet that ever offered a point bonus for an OO report!

NRR begins to organize.

As the basic NRR idea germinated, we set up a FaceBook page and submitted our ideas to several hams on the different boards, lists, reflectors and pages.  So many began showing interest and began requesting membership on the FaceBook page that we realised the need to plan a practical calender set of dates and times,  to hold what we decided would be a week long on-air event.  The event was to be low pressure, enjoyment based, and while we wanted a no-competition-pressure sort of thing, we did want to offer an easy to reach challenge, for those so inclined.  Which, as it turned out, was a majority of our growing number by 2014.

We understood that to have such an event, there needed to be structure and parameters.  We based the metrics upon what most call "Classic Rigs".  Even though all are welcome to join the event, with any rig, points could be scored when contacting a "Classic Era" Novice Station, xtal controlled, 75 watts input.   We later modified this to a varying points system based upon xtal or vfo control, qrp or medium power, or over 75 watts as reported.  During our last NRR event, we modified this to include the participant's own station . . . also first-time-contact multipliers for states and countries. 

Participation Certificates

As a Letterpress Printer, owner of Paper Wren Press, I printed certificates of participation for any who would submit a log.  These certificates were printed from engraved metal plates, wood mounted, printed on a 1936 Chandler & Price Letterpress, then overprinted planographically with the applicant's name, call and points awarded.  These certificates were hand printed one by one in three colours.  I might add that this is the same process used to print Oxford Degree certificates, or "sheepskin".  I believe NRR is the only event to offer this sort of "sheepskin" in living memory.  Of course, prior to WW2, ALL such items were printed this way.

Our first Certificate for the 2015 NRR event.  These images came from the IDE master image

 Our second Certificate, with new text and date backgroud.

Photo of the original Certificate "shell".  Key silhouette is hand drawn from an actual key.

Close up of printed text.  Paper is Neenah Classic Laid Text weight.

This year's event featured some enhancements.  We extended our event a couple days to take in two weekends.  We incorporated an automatic logging system.  We also have a web site, as well as our original FaceBook page.  I already mentioned changes in our scoring system, which can be seen on the web page.


This year I chose to operate xtal control from my rather 1930-ish "station", which sports a Regenerodyne receiver built into a National SRR flip-top "Bud" cabinet, and uses a 6V6 MOPA, xtal controlled at a whopping 15 watts.  My "mill" is parked right next to it.  It is the oldest piece of equipment in my station, a 1910 Remington Model 30, once used to type telegraph copy for the Rail Road.  It is caps only, designed for land line use.  But it works for me.

Left to right: Power supply, Regenerodyne, Mopa, 8-amp key and mill.
Transmitter Close-up.  I call it a "Mini-Bandmaster".  Built into a VTVM cabbie.

This is the Regenerodyne, an original, the second one ever built under that name.  It is a three valve regenerative based single conversion superhet, one of the most reliable receivers I have ever owned.

Chances are, if you contacted me during this past February's NRR, this was the rig you heard.  80% of my score and a surprising (to me!) number of states were contacted by this lash-up.  The antenna is a 33ft. vertical mounted on my roof.  Two xtals were ever used with this station: 7114 and 7123 KHz.  I tuned 5 - 10 KHz side to side of zero beat to catch other xtal controlled stations nearby.  Operating this station is a real throw-back!  You need a spotting oscillator to find your exact frequency, but you often do not actually operate on your "exact" transmit frequency, really.  Unless the other chap happens to have the same frequency xtal.  Also, as a regen receiver, you don't have a modern "sidetone".  In fact, you have NO sidetone.  You have a blocked detector and a bit of common mode hum at key-down.  After a while you get the feel of the straight key and the sound of the blocked detector coming over the 'phones, which serves as a sort-of "sidetone", after a fashion.  It all works.  What is amazing is that I worked twenty-four states with this rig, broad as a barn door, under very noisy conditions fraught with  QSB!

I also had a new addition to WD4NKA: a complete 1961 "Novice Station", which I also used for NRR.  This consists of a Heathkit DX-40, both xtal and vfo controlled by a Hallicrafter HA-5 vfo which the foresightful Novice of course would not have used until the coveted General Class license was secured.  Right?   The receiver is a Drake 2B, simply the finest code receiver ever built in my humble opinion.... and a lot of other ops' as well.

L to R, speaker, Drake 2B, DX40 with SWR bridge on top, and HA5 VFO.

Rounding out my station is another addition, a Hammarlund HQ-129-X, a "red letter" 1946 model that is absolutely awesome on AM, and will actually suppress an opposite sideband to a degree, making cw quite pleasant, and SSB more than tolerable.  Add to this my trusty Yaesu FT-101EX, for a whopping 35 watts of clear-channel AM, all flowing through my Dentron MT-3000A, the station "control head".

WD4NKA, when not totally trashed by layers of overlapping projects!  Usually takes me a week to find the desk.
Screen-shot of my "Logger 2017" entries. 
 Above is a screenshot of my Logger entries.  See those entries marked "xtal"?  Those are all made using the MOPA and Regenerodyne.  4088 points total, and while others made much, much more than that, I, like most of us, was not out to grab max points.  We were out there to get into the mix, say hi, talk a little about our rigs, and just enjoy the contact made with a "novice rig".  Frankly, some of the folks out there did impressively well with some very basic equipment!  I, for my part, ran 70 watts on average from the DX-40, and 12 watts average from the MOPA.  Keys used were my RAF 8-amper and my Bunnell J-36 "Lightning Bug", both from WW2.

Operating Position at WD4NKA
 Here I am, tuning up the DX-40 for a little bit of action.  The Drake 2B performed flawlessly, and despite the removal of a faulty filter choke in the DX-40, it being replaced by an equivalent resistance, with a decreased voltage drop resulting in a higher voltage getting to the 6146 final to the tune of 90 watts input - did not misbehave one bit.  The final and the successive stages seem to be just fine.  I did beef up the PS filtering circuit, however.

Ok, now for a turn of the corner:

NRR Limited Edition QSL Cards.

Paper Wren Press (which is me) has offered to print custom QSL cards for NRR participants, not only for use during NRR proper, but for year round use as a regular station card.  We celebrate our Novice Rigs year round, and these cards illustrate that very point!

QSL card for special event station WN4NRR (AF4K)
 These cards are printed via Letterpress, using three colours: black, blue green, and red.  Notice the top and bottom borders?  Yup, it reads "nrr".  This card is inspired by the symmetrical designs of the 1930s, and are printed on the very same card stock used for such items over the past 80 years.  These days, it's made by Cougar.

QSL card for WN5AIA
 Ronnie's (WN5AIA) card arrived in the mail day before yesterday.  These cards are very striking.  They are printed on a fairly rare beastie, a press known to us in the trade as an "Open Kluge".  Kluge is one of the finest letterpress ever built, and had a production run from around 1919 to about 1965, when these types of presses were replaced by offset presses, and later, digiprinters.  The Open Kluge is especially designed for hand feeding.  These cards are printed one card at a time, one colour at a time.  Takes about a week to do one order of 250.

For those interested in having this card for your own station, details can be obtained by contacting me at:, or

That's about it for this excursion into Wireless and Letterpress.  Thanks for visiting my blog, and listen out for my station, WD4NKA either cw on 7100 - 7125 KHz, or on AM phone on 7290 KHz, or thereabouts. 

Good Providence in all your endeavors!

gary / the Paper Wren.


  1. Noe that's a ham station. Love the vintage gear. Too many appliance operators today. There is nothing like the GLOW of tubes. NX2U

  2. Gary, a great write up. Thanks!

    I do want to correct a couple of statements made. First, for many, many years the novice not only couldn't be renewed, but you could NEVER retake it. There was no one year period where you could take the novice a second time. And second, the novice was ALWAYS multiple choice. This is clearly stated in ARRL license manuals going back to 1951 when the novice was created. I've been researching the novice license lately and these are two things I'm quite sure of.

    73 de Bruce, K1BG

  3. Wow! some beautiful colored pieces there mate! Those aren't chinese are they?

  4. Best clean ever: get glass, fill with a 1/2 cup or so of iso alcohol… put glass in a larger bowl filled
    with boiling water, and do a hot water bath until iso alcohol is nice and warm.

    pour hot iso into rig, close holes with fingers, and shake.
    should be sparkling clean within seconds! pour dirty iso onto plate and let evaporate overnight!
    this is way more efficient than heating
    the rig, cold iso washes, salt washes, hot water washes…