How long you ask? How about 50 years. I was a young boy in 1955 that was 50 years ago. I bought a book that was called "How to Become a Radio Amateur" published by the ARRL in 1955.
I wanted to become a Ham in the worst way, however not knowing any hams and how to contact any, I would just read and re-read the book wishing I could build the little transmitter, receiver, and power supply shown in that book.
Finally in 1967 I got my novice license WN5TCZ. I went for many years but the thought of building those simple little rigs never left the back of my mind. I knew some day I would build these beautiful little rigs.
I started collecting things as years went by. One of the main things I collected was an old wooden Apple crate. I had to have this because the chassis for all three pieces of gear were made from wooden slats.
I saved the crate for 25 years and had to defend my prized crate from my wife and my four kids. They either wanted it for projects or wanted to throw it away.
I had to be cleaver and keep it hidden, as you know they don’t put Apples in wooden crates anymore.
The reason for the wooden Apple crate is because the chassis for all three rigs were built on wooden slats. These rigs are sometimes called "slat rigs".
Let’s go back a little to the beginning of this article, and examine the time frame.
You ask why it took so long to build the little rigs. I have found out this is not an uncommon thing with hams. I have read four articles written by hams stating they had to build a rig they saw when they were young. The satisfaction and the urge were finally put to rest after building the rig they dreamed of for so long.
I contacted these four hams and asked why they thought the urge was so strong and never left them. The answer was the same from all four, they did not know why.
They answered, the urge only left after building and using the piece of equipment.
I believe I can answer why the urge was so strong in me to build the "Sucker Stick Transmitter."
I came upon this ARRL book by chance and started reading how anyone could build these small rigs and talk to people all over the world from ones own home.
This so impressed me I would read and reread the book.
It made a big impression on a young mind that stuck for over 50 years.
You have got to remember that to think of talking to some one around the world or even in another state 50 years ago were unheard of for most folks back then.
I think that’s why the urge never left me until the pieces of equipment were built and used on the air.
The quest to build the three pieces of gear came to be in November of 2005. I cut out all the pieces of wood from my apple crate, sanded all the pieces, and put three cotes of clear polyurethane, to bring out the natural beauty of the wood.
I built the power supply first, and got it working with all voltages correct 400 volts for the plate, 6.3 volts for the filament of the 6v6 tube.
The circuit for the transmitter was called a Tri-Tet circuit which meant you could operate 80 meters and 40 meters using one 80 meter crystal, therefore saving the novice operator the expense of buying a bunch of crystals.
I ordered some of the parts from Play Things of Past. Mr. Gary B. Schneider. He has a wonderful website with over 200,000 antique parts of every description and his prices are reasonable.
I finished all three pieces in about three weeks. The power supply and one tube regenerative receiver worked without any problems.
However I have never used the regenerative receiver after reading that it does not like switching back and fourth from receive to transmit and that the wind swaying the antenna back and forth makes it unstable.
I got the transmitter finished hooked it up with a Dow key antenna switch using my old Ten Tec century 21 as a receiver, I thought this would be fitting because the receiver is 28 years old.
I called CQ on 40 meters one evening for about an hour with no results.
I was thinking that the 4 watts I was putting out was not cutting it for band conditions.
I tried the next evening with the same results no contacts. I knew I could make contacts using only ½ watt on my antenna? So what was the problem?
I put the frequency counter in the antenna line, and soon found out why I was not making any contacts. Each time the key was pressed the frequency would jump all over the place some times way out of the ham bands.
Hand capacitance effect was just as bad if you brought your hand anywhere near, the frequency would be all over the place.
There was nothing in all the building instructions explaining this or how to correct the problem.
I started changing parts and part values. All of my reading indicated you could deviate 20% on parts and still have a working unit.
This went on for about two weeks and 4 complete rebuilds with nothing that I did changed or in any way corrected the instability of the rig.
What a let down, what a let down, after all the years thinking about the transmitter and now after all the hard work using old period parts and all brass hardware to make it look like a rig from the past.
I became disgusted with the whole thing and put it in the corner of my shack.
My hat is off to the guys and gals that built and had to use these rigs back in 1955. I’m sure they knew something to tame the rig I did not know?
How could this non working rig be; because it was published several years in the same ARRL publication "How to Become a Radio Amateur"?
How could it not work after all it was field tested by ARRL lab technicians at that time?
I’m still wondering about that one.
I had another rude awakening about crystal controlled transmitters.
I thought the reason a novice had to use crystal control is because the rig would not transmit but on the crystal frequency?
I’m also trying to figure that one out?
My problem was solved about 3 weeks later while in qso with a friend and he told me he was running a single 6L6 tube transmitter.
Notice I said 6L6 and not 6V6.
I almost fell out of my chair; here was a great sounding 6L6 Sucker Stick Transmitter with no problems and a perfect sounding CW note.
An article was written on the 6L6 by Dave Ingram in CQ Magazine October 2004 page 54. The circuit was changed and all the inherent problems were blown away.
No frequency drift and no hand capacitance problems with an added bonus the 6L6 put out about 8 watts not 4 as the 6V6 did.
This was a happy day for me. I rebuilt the transmitter and put it on the air.
On about my third or fourth call I was greeted by a Florida station that gave me a nice signal report and made my day.
I am always worried about the purity of the note, and also about key clicks and always ask the other station to coment good or bad about the signal.
One day I was in QSO with a station that told me he would record me and send a file via e-mail. This really made my day I was thrilled to here my little transmitter working just as it should with a pleasant sounding CW note.
One thing that I do for every QSO is:
If we had a qso and I was on the little rig you will receive my QSL card, a nice letter explaining the rig and a color picture of my pride and joy.
I put together a nice letter explaining the little “Sucker Stick Transmitter” as it was called in the book “How to become a Radio Amateur” published by the ARRL.
It was called a "Sucker Stick Transmitter" because the plate and antenna loading coils were wound basket weave style on penny sucker sticks.
The other reason I built the rigs was to see just how hard it would be to compete with new technology of today with rigs of the 1950’s, and if WAS would be obtainable.
So far I have 33 states confirmed with QSL cards. This is a good start towards the WAS award.
I also have a nice picture with a short bio on QRZ.COM under my call WA5TCZ check it out.
In almost every QSO that I have I will bring up the 6L6 one tube transmitter and more times than I can remember I’ve been told “I had a 6L6 rig when I was a novice” or “man I built one just like that when I was a novice.”
A good spin off from this has been positive and usually ends up with an e-mail requesting a copy of the building instructions. On three occasions I was told this put the fire back in ham radio for three hams that had been off the air for about 20 years. One of these hams had a mega DX station with acres of exotic antennas and got burned out and stayed off the air for 25 years and wanted to come back with simple antennas and QRP.
If the resurrection of a simple little 6L6 Transmitter can do all that, I hope its legacy will never be forgotten and will light the spark for new and old timers for many years to come.
I hope you enjoyed our little trip back in time to 1955.
I also hope it will inspire you to build some thing or just to get on the air and enjoy ham radio again.
73 Darron Sanchez
*Remember if you build this transmitter use the schematic from CQ magazine October 2004 page 54 re-designed by Mr. Dave Ingram.
I have not been very active with the little rigs since building them in December of 2005. The problem has been with the current sun spot cycle and it makes QRP difficult.
The bands will pick up and I will eventually get that WAS certificate, using a little transmitter from the 50’s.
Any comments or any help you can e-mail me at:
I remember when I was 11 years old in 1950. For Christmas my Mother and Father gave me a radio in a cardboard box because I was always fooling around with some kind of radio. The radio was the most exciting present I had ever received.
The rebuild of this radio was an exciting adventure as it brought back many fond memories of my first encounter with radio.
Building and working the little Rokcmite radios was done to see just how low you could go in power and still make a reliable radio contact.
This is the true story about how I got my Ham license at the FCC Office in New Orleans, LA.
How strong of an impression is made on a young child that took most of my life for this project to come to fruition. Here is a story about the little "Sucker Stick Transmitter", the receiver and the power supply.. read more
This is an April Fools story that includes myself and a friend with fictious call letters.
(Max is now a Silent Key)
For the stamps collectors not familiar with amateur radio communication a definition of the abbreviation (signals) QSO and QSL is needed.
Already in 1912, to overcome the language barriers faced by radio operators of all nations as they tried to communicate with other operators all over the world a series of codes were internationally adopted, among them the "Q" code.
What is a QSL? A QSL is simply an acknowledgment of a contact established by radio between two amateur radio stations, which is called a QSO.
Fred SCHNELL, 1MO who, accompanied by John REINARTZ, made the first two way CW QSO over the Atlantic ocean, with the French Ham Leon DELOY, 8AB during the night of November 28, 1923, on shortwaves (110m).
The most common form of confirming a QSO is a written card containing the name, call, geographical location of the station sending the card and the other station's call.
The QSL will also mention the date, the time, the frequency and the mode of transmission used, and a report on the readability, strength and tone of the signal.
As it is said among radio operators that "A QSL is the final courtesy of a QSO", this QSL has to reach the operator you have contacted.
This card is necessary as a proof of having established a QSO with an other station for obtaining various award, such as for having contacted all continents, all districts in a given country etc.
Before seeing how this can be achieved, let us see the magnitude of this exchange of QSL cards.
There are some five millions Amateur Radio Operators (hams as they are called ) around the world which could make easily hundreds of QSOs a month.
This exchange of QSLs can be achieved in two ways. The first and very expensive is the "direct" way , that is finding the address of your correspondent in special directories in which amateur radio stations are listed by
country and by call sign, and then go to the post office and mail your QSL card.
This way can become very expensive. Therefore a cheaper way had to be found and the QSL Service Stamps were introduced.
Amateur radio operators already in the early days of radio had formed regional clubs or societies which grouped themselves into national societies and finally in Paris in 1925 the International Amateur Radio Union IARU was founded by some 25 National Societies.
Today more than 200 societies are members of the IARU. From that date the contact and the activities between hams of different countries became easier and national QSL Bureaus were established and QSL service offered to their members.
The QSL bureau is usually a national radio association office were hams can send a whole batch of their QSLs.
Radio magazines with world wide circulation as the "Short Wave Magazine" in London also served as QSL bureau for their members, sorts them according to the country of destination, then sends them in bundles to the corresponding QSL bureau which will distribute the QSLs to its members.
Most countries have QSL bureaus operating along the same line, providing by far the least expensive way of
exchanging QSL cards. However the expenses are to be covered by the users, either by a membership fee or by the purchasing of QSL STAMPS which will be affixed at the back of each QSL, as a proof of payment of a certain fee allowing the operator to use this service.
Today very few QSL Bureaus still use the colorful QSL Stamps which have, if not completely disappeared, been replaced by ugly rubber stamps.
From the date of the QSO reported on the QSL one can approximately state that Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany were among the very first countries to issue QSL stamps in the early 1930’s, soon followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia and France.
More than three dozen other countries followed in the 50's, 60's and 70's until the end of their use in the mid 80’s.
Most stamps have reproduced the emblem of their national society, i.e. a diamond shaped lozenge with usually a tuned circuit represented by the symbols used in circuitry for an antenna, a coil, a condenser and a ground, together with the initial letters of the name of the society.
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) was using already the diamond shaped logo when the IARU was formed, and as Hiram Percy Maxim, the president of the ARRL became IARU first international president, the diamond was adopted by the IARU, and then by most national societies.
As an example in a small country like Switzerland, there are some five thousand hams. The QSL bureau handles about a million QSL cards a year: Just between Switzerland and Germany the exchange of QSLs amounts to two hundred and forty kilos a year.
Belgium and Switzerland appear to be the only countries of having, at one point in time, printed QSL stamps with a denomination value.
It might be interesting to know the story of stamps which became QSLs. In the 1920’s, listener who wrote to American and Canadian Broadcasting stations for verification of listenership would receive one of the stations QSL stamp together with a confirmation card.
The stamps were printed in various colors displaying the American Eagle perched on top of a globe of the world with radio towers either side.
The Canadian stations printed a beaver gnawing a tree.
Superimposed were the station call letters.
These “EKKO” stamps, named after their publisher, could be placed in a specially printed album with spaces for “verified reception stamp” from all known stations.