Winter 2009 Issue

The Basement Laboratory Group:
A Pioneering VHF Club
Part 3 – A Year to Remember

In Part 1 of this series on the Basement Laboratory Group
(Summer 2008 issue) WA2VVA featured Carl Scheideler, W2AZL,
and his well-known converter. In Part 2 (Fall 2008 issue) WA2VVA featured his father, Walt Morrison, W2CXY. In this part there are excerpts from a special Christmas tape recording that his father prepared for Ralph “Tommy” Thomas, W2UK/KH6UK, who at the time was residing in Hawaii.

By Mark Morrison,* WA2VVA

This, the third article on the Basement Laboratory Group, has two sections. The first section gives a brief history on aurora, VHF scatter communications and in particular items of interest from the year 1956. The second section is selections from a transcript of a Christmas tape WA2VVA’s father put together for Tommy Thomas, W2UK/KH6UK, when he was living in Hawaii. It includes a number of VHF pioneers telling their own VHF stories in 1956. Most of the guys on the tape are no longer with us. Even so, their words to Tommy provide both relevance and history for us today.

The History

For the members of the Basement Lab Group the year 1956 was a year of anticipation, not just for the upcoming sunspot/aurora cycle, and the opportunity to participate in the International Geophysical Year (IGY), but also for the chance to communicate with Ralph “Tommy” Thomas, W2UK. Just one year earlier, RCA had relocated Tommy from New Brunswick, New Jersey to the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. It was there that Tommy would join the ranks of an elite group of radio men—those who once served as Engineers-in-Charge of the Marconi Transpacific facility.
In this remote location, Tommy was removed from anything approaching the VHF bands he left back east. In letters written to Walt Morrison, W2CXY, Tommy expressed interest in getting back on the VHF bands, even though little activity existed there at the time. In order to encourage Tommy, Walt produced an audio tape as a Christmas greeting from Tommy’s friends back home.

Walt sent a form letter to over two-dozen VHF pioneers, asking each to prepare a 10-minute audio tape of what they had accomplished in 1956 and what they hoped to accomplish in 1957. The final master, which Walt spliced together from all the tapes returned to him, is a reflection of the early days of VHF radio not just from the perspective of those living it, but when they were actually living it!

Presented on the following pages is a brief history of those days, followed by transcripts taken directly from Walt’s Christmas tape.

Background History of the VHF Ham Bands

Aurora: Although astronomers have been counting sunspots for thousands of years, the potential for sunspots to interrupt everyday life on Earth was not appreciated until the widespread use of telegraphy came into being. In 1856 The New York Times reported how a huge aurora caused interference with telegraph circuits all across the nation and described how the aurora “took possession” of telegraph offices, causing “all sorts of fantastical and unreadable messages” to be received. Numerous other references to aurora-induced Earth currents finding their way into the telegraph wires, and disrupting railroad operations, can be found in the literature.

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