Summer 2008 Issue
Photo A. Left to right: Mike Markus;
unknown; John Manna, John Linse, K2HAC; Carl Scheideler, W2AZL; unknown;
unknown; Benny Cembrola, WA2MTT; unknown;
The hills of northern New Jersey, bordered to the west by the Delaware River and to the east by Newark Bay, have always been rich in natural resources. History tells us that the Lene Lenape Indians first hunted and fished in these hills hundreds of year ago. In the 1800s, the rivers that cross this region supported a thriving canal system, bringing coal from Pennsylvania to the industrial centers in Paterson and Newark. Later came the railroads, transporting huge quantities of mineral ore and fueling an industrial revolution here. Hematite, an ore used in the production of iron and steel, spurred the building of factories and railroads. Copper and zinc, which were used to make wire and batteries, helped the telegraph and telephone industries grow here. Galena, an important mineral to “crystal radios” was processed into lead for batteries and other uses. Mica, which even today can be found in large sheets, became a critical component in vacuum tubes due to its electrical and thermal-insulating properties.
Industry flourished in these hills, with
names such as Edison, Marconi, RCA, and Western Electric all setting up
shop. For all its natural resources, however, the greatest was that of
the working class people who lived here in the first half of the 20th
century. These were the people whose hard work and determination shaped
the world we live in today.
Although commercial VHF equipment would
eventually become available to hams from northern New Jersey companies
such as Clegg Labs, Whippany Labs, and to a lesser extent Federal
Telephone & Radio, it was helpful to know someone who happened to work
for one of these companies. This was likely to happen if you belonged to
one of the local radio clubs.
The Tri County Radio Association, one of
the oldest ham clubs still in existence, became a local gathering place
for numerous hams, including many notable VHF men. A small group of Tri
County members with an interest in VHF radio started an informal group
known as the Basement Laboratory Group, largely made up of employees of
the Bell Telephone Laboratories, but open to anyone with an interest in
VHF radio. Some members of this group would later play important roles
in VHF radio, including many significant firsts. In this series of
articles I hope to acquaint you with the members of this informal VHF
group, and the roles they played in the history of amateur VHF
The Basement Laboratory Group (BLG) was headed by Carl Scheideler, W2AZL, a talented RF design engineer who worked for Bell Labs. Carl’s work is believed to have involved the microwave repeaters that were spread across the hilltops of America in the days before satellite communications. In those days both telephone and broadband television programming were distributed via microwave relay towers spaced 30 to 50 miles apart and using specially designed horn antennas. The low-noise amplifiers and traveling-wave-tube amplifiers developed for use in these towers would later be used in the satellite ground stations that ultimately replaced them. An upscale version of the repeater horn antenna (photo B) was used to track the Echo satellite, a metalized balloon recognized as the first (passive) communications satellite, although experiments of this nature were conducted by BLG members as early as 1959 (see figure 1).
© Copyright 2008, CQ Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced or republished, including posting to a website, in part or in whole, by any means, without the express written permission of the publisher, CQ Communications, Inc. Hyperlinks to this page are permitted.