Summer 2007 Issue

The Lost Letters of KH6UK
Part 1 – The International Geophysical Year and the Most Well-Known QSO


This two-part article presents the history of Tommy Thomas, KH6UK, as well as excerpts from Walt Morrison, W2CXY’s files pertaining to Tommy’s ground-
breaking QSO with John Chambers, W6NLZ. Part 2, to be published in the next issue of CQ VHF magazine, will cover Tommy’s pioneer EME work.


By Mark Morrison, WA2VVA

Ralph “Tommy” Thomas was an accomplished radio operator whose “can do” attitude and excellent operating skills brought notable success on more than one occasion. We begin this two-part article with an introduction covering some of the history of Tommy’s accomplishments.

Introduction

First in 1926 (as 2UK) Tommy exchanged messages with the George Miller Dyott expedition in the jungles of Brazil when commercial operators had failed to get through. The New York Times even reported on the event in its December 28, 1926 edition. Figure 1 is the front side of Tommy’s QSL card.

In 1938, he was one of three radio amateurs to provide weather reports to aviator Howard Hughes on his record-setting flight around the world. In 1953, Tommy provided reports to George Rose, K2AH, during the first use of a transistor in amateur radio. In 1954, Tommy and Paul Wilson, W4HHK, were credited with the first meteor-scatter QSO ever made on 144 MHz. However, as impressive as these feats were, none won the acclaim that Tommy’s 1957 QSO with John Chambers, W6NLZ, did, which is arguably the greatest amateur achievement of the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Some may think this accomplishment had nothing to do with the scientific purpose of the IGY, but in 1960 the General Electric company awarded both Tommy and John the prestigious Edison Award, the only time it was ever awarded for scientific achievement.1 The judges of this award are said to have compared this accomplishment with the first radio transmissions across the Atlantic in the early 1900s. Even today this event remains a hallmark of amateur cooperation, skill, and determination.

Tommy lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he worked for RCA Communications (RCAC), formerly Marconi America. In 1955, RCAC relocated Tommy to Hawaii to be engineer-in-charge of its Trans-Pacific radio station at Kahuku, Oahu. This historic station was one of the original Marconi stations spanning the globe in 1914, completing the link between Japan and California.

Once settled in Hawaii, Tommy received a new callsign, KH6UK, and put together his beautiful station (Photo A). Note the greetings on the right side of the photo. To keep in touch with his friends back home, Tommy wrote or typed letters, including many to my father, Walt Morrison, W2CXY. The typewriter used for many of those letters can be seen in the photo. When Walt passed away in 2002, these letters were discovered in a basement filing cabinet; they hadn’t been seen in nearly 50 years!

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