Fall 2008 Issue

The Basement Laboratory Group:
A Pioneering VHF Club
Part 2 – Walt Morrison, W2CXY

This second installment of WA2VVA’s look back at our pioneers focuses on someone dear to him, his father.

By Mark Morrison, WA2VVA


Figure 1. Photo of a Weston Electric Light Company employee in 1938.

The factory in Newark, New Jersey is now silent. No longer do the dynamos run there, singing their distant song. No longer does the arc light cast its brilliance upon the ground below, nor do the cobblestone streets surrounding this place give any clue as to what happened there so many years ago.

However, in the not-so-distant past, this place was a beacon for industry and technology. It was here that the standards for measuring electricity were first established, born of necessity in the developing years of the second industrial age. Thomas Edison lived nearby, as did the captains of industry.

Yet for one inventor, a chemist by trade, work was a passion and this place was home. This was the Weston Electric Light Company, founded by Dr. Edward Weston, holder of over 300 patents and contemporary, nay competitor, of Thomas Edison. Weston’s factory in Newark was the first of its kind, dedicated to the production of finely crafted carbon arc lamps and the dynamos needed to run them.

Weston equipment was used in some of the earliest examples of public lighting, first in Newark and then in major post offices and parks across America. In 1883, Weston equipment was even used to illuminate the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1887, Weston invented the first truly permanent magnet that would become the backbone of electrical measuring apparatus for decades to come.

Weston also invented a photo-electric cell that was used in photographic exposure meters popular at the time. Weston’s greatest achievement, however, may have been his founding of the Newark Technical School, now the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where many a young man got his start in the age of power and lighting.

One such man was Walter Morrison, who as a young man in the 1930s worked at Weston by day and attended Newark Technical School by night. This was a good fit, as Weston made instruments for photography as well as radio, both avid interests of Walt’s. On at least one occasion, Walt brought his camera to the Weston Instrument facility on Frelinghuysen Avenue for a behind-the-scenes look at the place. The photograph in figure 1 from 1938 shows one of Walt’s co-workers at the controls of a Model 766 direct-reading oscillator, part of a trio of products marketed for the new field of FM radio, the latest invention of radio pioneer Major Edwin Armstrong.

Completing the trio were the Model 772 Super-sensitive analyzer and the Model 787 UHF oscillator, the latter tunable from 22 MHz all the way up to 150 MHz. Weston advertised that such a wide frequency range “safeguards against obsolescence in the event of changes in assigned frequencies.” Those familiar with the tragic story of FM radio can appreciate that statement.

In 1931, at the age of 17, Walt received his first and only call, W2CXY. Almost immediately Walt showed an interest in VHF communications, as illustrated by the pins shown in figure 2 from the 7th Annual ARRL Hudson Division Convention held in Newark the following year.

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