Tag: Amateur radio

Nostalgic musings

Early days in London

In my recent post Electrosensitivity, I wrote about “spending a number of years studying for a Diploma in Electrical Engineering at Faraday House, Southampton Row, London and becoming a UK Radio Amateur at the age of 17 (G3PUK)“.

In reverse order, I shall start with becoming a UK Radio Amateur, now rather back in the mists of time!

After my father died in 1956 my mother subsequently remarried.  Her new husband was Richard Mills and he was very knowledgeable about radio matters; he was a technical author in the radio-communications industry.  It was Richard, my step-dad, who showed me how to make a crystal set and I started listening to the strange world of wireless radio.  It fascinated me and motivated me to save up my pennies and buy an ex-military radio receiver known as a R1155.

r1155

I had joined the Harrow Radio Society who, amazingly, are still active today, as their website demonstrates.

Under the fabulous tutelage of many of the older ‘hams’ I went on to sit my exams and on Valentine’s Day 1962 was awarded the Postmaster-General’s Amateur Radio Certificate.  I applied for a call-sign and was allocated G3PUK.  I was just 17 years old!

G3PUK0001

oooOOOooo

Now some memories of Faraday House.  I can do no better than refer you to an article that appeared on the Electrical Review website in the UK.  As the article was published over three years ago, I think republishing it on Learning from Dogs isn’t being too naughty.

faradayhouseplaque

Faraday House Association closes after 105 years

FRIDAY, 29 JANUARY 2010

It is with sadness we report the Faraday House Old Students Association (FHOSA) is to close after operating continuously over the last 105 years. It had been host to thousands of chartered electrical engineers. The Association membership is derived from old students of Faraday House.

In 1888 the revised Electric Lighting Act encouraged many local authorities to apply for Parliamentary Powers to establish generating stations to transmit power. Faraday House was founded to train engineers in this new practice. The college started life as the Electrical Standardising, Testing and Training Institution at Charing Cross but in June 1890 used the name Faraday House. It was located in the Charing Cross area, and fees were 100 guineas per annum. The first Faraday House Dinner was held in 1895 – it was free and some 170 attended. In 1905 the FHOSA was formed and 100 old students joined. A move was then made to Southampton Row. By now the college had 110 students.

In 1909 Dr Russell was appointed principal, and pioneered the sandwich course. This meant students had a year or so of theory and then experienced work in industry, returning again to more theory. By 1914 many old students joined up and a crash course was started to aid the war effort. By 1919 some 350 had been in the services and 34 had died. In 1920 the fees had risen to 300 guineas.

By 1928 1000 students had joined the Old Students Association and in 1929 a 40th anniversary dinner was held. In 1939 a discussion with the governors resulted in a decision to evacuate the college to Thurlestone in Devon. A new principal, Dr WRC Coode-Adams, took over from Dr Russell. Faraday House took over the Links Hotel. Staff and students who were married lived in the hotel or in houses that had been taken over by the college.

In 1942 the college returned to Southampton Row. After the war Faraday House had difficulty in recruiting, students were lured to other colleges and universities by grants. In 1957 Mr GH Randolph Martin was appointed Principal. He had been a lecturer at the college since 1948. The college closed its doors in 1967 as losses were now running at £20,000 per year.

During its lifetime Faraday House produced a succession of engineers who attained the most senior positions in industry and electrical supply in many countries, and six old students have been president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (now the IET).

The Old Students Association has a membership that is steadily growing older and shrinking as members die. The closure was inevitable without younger people coming forward to run it. The FHOSA will shut its doors finally after the Annual General Meeting in March 2010.

Here’s the front of the building.

Faraday House, London
Faraday House, London

How the years have flown by!

Trip down memory lane

The amazing development of electronics over 50 years.

(A republication of a post first shown on the 13th August, 2009)

The calendar reliably informs me that this is my 65th year.  My brain, of course, lags somewhat in accepting this!

My step-father during my early teenage years worked for Elliott Brothers (the link goes to an interesting history of the firm that started in 1804) in Borehamwood, just north of London.  He encouraged me to fiddle with ‘steam’ radios and

try and understand how these basic circuits worked.  It was then a small step to deciding to become a radio amateur, popularly known as a radio ham!  In those days it was a case of some pretty intensive studying to pass a Theory exam as well as being able to pass an exam in sending and receiving Morse code.

So joining the local radio society seemed like a sensible idea.  That was (and still is!) called the Radio Society of Harrow.  That it is still in existence after all these years is truly delightful.  Those Friday night sessions at the Society and extra-curricular classes on Sunday morning at Ron Ray’s  (G2TA) house, an hour’s bicycle ride away from home, ensured that shortly after my 16th birthday I was granted a Licence, G3PUK.  It was a very proud moment.

Anyway, once granted a licence it was time to build my own radio transmitter.  Most of the details have been lost in the mists of time but what is recalled was that the final amplifier was a pair of 803s driving an 813 (These are radio valve numbers).  It sounds like something from the ark!  But again ploughing the inexhaustible files of the Web, it’s possible to see what these radio valves looked like.  Thanks to the National Valve Museum.

Here are pictures, courtesy of the National Valve Museum of those two radio valves:

803 – The substantial wide glass tube envelope is 58 mm in diameter (2 1/4 in) and, excluding the special five pin base pins, is 216 mm tall (8 1/2 in).

813 The classic envelope is substantial at 60 mm diameter (2 1/3 in) and 170 mm (6 2/3 in) long excluding the special base pins. The anode is 53 mm long and 48 mm wide. The metal is 1 mm thick.

803 radio valve
803 radio valve
813 radio valve
813 radio valve

It’s difficult, today, to imagine devices which are essentially diodes (well, technically the 803 was a pentode and the 813 a tetrode) being between 6 and 8 inches tall!

My own self-build transmitter had not really been successful emitting more heat than light, so to speak.  Literally, in the sense that these large radio valves kept me warm in my converted garden shed at the bottom of the garden.  They also completely wiped out TV reception for those households with a 1/4 mile range that had invested in early television sets!  It was time to move on to the R1155.

Around this era, less than 20 years after the end of the War in Europe in 1945, war-surplus equipment was widely available including ‘compact’ transmitter-receiver units.

One popular one was the RAF R1155 which had been fitted to RAF Lancaster bombers and RAF marine craft.  It was also fitted to the Sunderland flying boat.  This information plus the photos below is from this fascinating web site for those wishing to be ‘geeky’ about this.

RAF R1155B transreceiver
RAF R1155B transreceiver
Internal view of the R1155B
Internal view of the R1155B

Just compare the view on the right to the inside of your domestic radio or your cell phone.

A lot happens in 50 years!

My personal journey now leaps to 1978 and I have just left IBM UK having had 8 fabulous years with them as an Office Products salesman.  My fledging company, Dataview Ltd, has just become the 8th Commodore Computer (CBM) dealer in the UK, based in a small office in Colchester, Essex, about 50 miles north-east of London.

The CBM PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) released in 1977 initially with a calculator type keyboard was useless for any business application but soon came out with a typewriter sized keyboard, making it a more viable business

CBM computer, circa 1978
CBM computer, circa 1978

machine.  Today, as this is typed on an ‘old’ laptop with 2GB RAM, it seems unbelievable that these CBMs were sold with between 4k and 96k of RAM (memory) and no hard disk, although one could purchase an add-on that comprised dual 5 1/2 inch floppy disk drives.

YouTube obligingly finds  a short video on the Commodore PET for those really wishing to enjoy the nostalgia!

So to turn to the 21st century and to run out of understanding.  We appear to live in a world of multi-later printed circuit boards of unimaginable (to me) component density, assuming that the word ‘component’ is even relevant today.

Haven't a clue what this is but it's very modern.
Haven’t a clue what this is but it’s very modern.

What an amazing period it has been!

A long way from yesterday!
A long way from yesterday!

Now let me see was it Pin 920 to Pin 140, or Pin14 to Pin 860 connected to Pin 56 ………?