It Seemed to Them:
Early QST Editorials

1916 June

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A second "Rotten" article appears, by author "QRL".

We may not share all the vocabulary of the early amateurs, but the spirit of making do and getting on the air no matter what are still with us. Just go to any Field Day site.

We don't write the same these days, either, but much of the writing shows a lot of flair and ease with words that are sometimes hard to find today.

Some terms, with helpful links:

Rotten Receiving

By Q.R.L.

In the last number of QST, I read a very pointed article on "Rotten Sending" by "The Old Man." It was a good one and has inspired me to write you one on Rotten Receiving, because I am having more trouble receiving than The Old Man ever had from sending. Listen to this tale of woe:—

I began with a three slide tuner, a lump of silicon, a strand of copper wire taken from a piece of flexible lamp cord, and a wire hooked onto a board nailed to the back of the garage, where the nail holes would not show. We think we came pretty near getting the fellow up at the corner who had a half KW set. We found this receiving equipment was not quite sensitive enough.

Then we listened to the honeyed tones and words of a young friend who knew how to make a loose coupler. We jumped at this chance and he made one for us which had a slider on the primary and no taps on the secondary. It was a big brute of a coupler and when the slider accidentally got into contact with one of the wires, we got signals, provided they were strong enough and the station sending them was near enough. We decided at once that we were a full-fledged radio station and needed a Government license right away quick, to hang on the wall. We applied for this and secured a Second Grade Amateur station license with call letters which required several days to learn.

When the license shed its intense radiations throughout the room in the attic, we saw at once that some kind of a sending equipment was necessary. We built a transformer which would hook onto the house circuit and give a half-inch spark that was a hot one. From this moment, we can safely say that our radio troubles began. Some few incidents have happened during the three years which have rolled along since we built that transformer, which have not been altogether painful, but they are few and far between. That transformer started us wanting better things, and we have suffered and bled (at the pocketbook) ever since, trying vainly to get them.

I will skip over the harrowing details of getting our sending set so we could get as much noise into the ether as we made in the station. Maybe, when my nerve is up, I will write you about them. They will make you cry. The loose coupler led us to better our antenna. We bought three of the longest sticks of hard pine the biggest lumber yard in town had. We bolted these together, and they covered the entire lot. We had no idea they were going to be so almighty long. The problem of up-ending them a cold chill. After studying the situation for a week, we called in a pole setter who had a reputation of being able to snatch a telegraph pole and stick it in the ground while you turned your back. He brought out a thing he called a "gin-pole." He set this up, and caught hold of the new pole and the latter almost bent double. It pretty nearly stumped the expert, but he got it up finally after completely ruining the beautiful hedge between our lot and our neighbor, and starting a row with another neighbor over using his appletree as a fastening for the guy wires. This pole was a wonder. True enough, it was far from being as high as we expected, because the pole expert insisted upon using five feet of its valuable length in a hole he dug for it. Just the same, it looked like the real thing. We put up the longest spreaders ever heard of in this locality, and we strung all the copper wire we could afford to buy. We used porcelain cleats for insulators, and a modest little bundle of wires nearly as big as your wrist for a lead in. We figured we were going to get everything in the air when we got this hooked up.

The first time we tried this outfit we could not get anything out of it at all. It was a complete and absolute failure. It turned out that the trouble was with our detector, but we did not know it. We chased down the insulation, and let down the wires and hauled them up again, and soldered the joints and connected the wires together at the far end, and wore out the grass, and spoiled the blow torch, and had a terrible time generally, the net result of which was that the antenna was all right at first. The trouble was with the detector, which had somehow or other gone on the bum.

Our young friend then suggested that what we needed was an Audion instead of a mineral. Then we began to suffer for the want of an Audion. In those days Audions cost money, or at least it seemed a high price to pay for a piece of wireless apparatus. Nowadays we don't even choke at three times the price, which shows how our ideas have changed regarding laying out money to satisfy an amateur wireless appetite.

In the course of events, the Audion arrived, and this with the husky loose coupler made us feel we were up at the front of the line. (For a few minutes). We really received signals and the detector die not go out when we sent. For about a week we had a glorious good time. Then some body poisoned us. This fellow allowed as how we had no selectivity. This was s fierce and bitter pill to swallow. In oui secret hearts we knew he was right. We also knew that we could not buy this selectivity in a bottle nor in a paper bag. and that the only way to get it, was to look around and find something new to want and then to fool yourself into believing you could afford to buy it. This time it was variable condensers. After a while, we got up our nerve and bought some variable condensers. This was going to give us selectivity and we were to get greater sensitiveness along with the selectivity.

When we put the variables in on the primary and secondary of the old "he" coupler, they very successfully cut down our signals to about one-third of what they were before. When H used the phones he disconnected the variables. When I used the phones, I reconnected them. He insisted they were rotten. I, having paid for them, insisted they were O.K. Then we began suspecting the coupler. We eyed it critically by the hour. At the end of this time, we always thought of several other things to suspect. One was those porcelain insulators on the antenna. Another was, the place where the lead in came through the wall. Another was the height of the near end of the antenna. Our attic and receiving instruments were higher than this before mentioned near end.

Then some one said electrose insulators. There was nothing doing until we had these. When they were up, results were within one-hundredth of one per cent, the same as before. We could get the big Navy stations arid some boats but we never could get a smell of any of the New York or Pennsylvania or Jersey amateurs. There seemed to be some kind of a cloud over us as far as short wave lengths were concerned. After completely rebuilding the antenna, including putting in a mast in a tree at the near end and most scrupulously insulating our lead in and using stranded cable, we decided that we were exactly where we stood at first. Our receiving was just plain, simple rotten.

Then we eye'd the old loose coupler with some more suspicion. Finally we got a brand new one, the latest thing that skill, science, brains, and money could produce, so the salesman told us, and after much trouble got it connected up. The old "he" loose coupler, which by the way, had had taps put in its secondary, and a new ball bearing sliding contact on the primary, was put away, we thought for keeps. When we tried this new outfit, we got results about one-third worse than our previous worst. This was very encouraging, so we yanked out the new coupler and sent it back with our compliments, and asked to have the money refunded. We put back the old brute in its place, and when we got down to testing it, found that it also was deader than the deadest thing on earth. More trouble. The new coupler was not to blame at all, and we never had the nerve to tell the poor fellow who sold it to us, the naked truth.

We then decided to try the audion bulb. It looked good and it had a good record for some months, but there seemed nothing else to suspect. The new bulb borrowed from our young friend was just as rotten as ours, and yet over at his station he told about how it would bring in Key West so loud that you had to go down in the cellar and hide in a coal bin to prevent its rupturing your ear drums. Maybe, his statements were not quite so strong as this, but they were some strong, it seemed to us.

The flash light batteries in the Audion then had to come out, and when they did, we flung them across the street. New ones were put in and we found the net result was just about the same. The improvement was, conservatively speaking, approximately zero. Then, we thought it might be a good scheme to send the Audion back to the maker and have more taps put in the flashlight circuit. We did this, and the net result was consistent with previous net results, namely, the same.

Then we decided we would chuck out the whole blooming detector and buy a brand new DeForest. We did this, facing bankruptcy in the meantime. When the new detector came, it was nice and shiney, and had the new graphite resistance in the B Battery circuit, and we expected our troubles over, and that we would now hear the distant amateurs which the other fellows claimed they easily got every night. The first time we listened in, we were quite excited. In a moment we discovered that the net result was still consistent, namely, the same. We could get amateurs thirty miles away, but they were faint and hard to read while others got them strong.

There seemed nothing to suspect now, but the old coupler, so we hustled around and bought another new one with a dead end switch in the primary. This looked like the real stuff, and when it came to be hooked in, we again expected to get things. Again, however, the same old net result.

We were now getting both desperate and mad, so we busted loose and tried one of the new tubular audion bulbs. This came in due season, and expected another consistent net result, but H believed there would be something doing. There was. The first time we put the phones on, we heard a roar of stations which we had never heard before at any station we had ever visited. The long search had ended. We were happy, we got the big noise to the Queen's taste. Such a lot of QRM we had never imagined. And it was all because we had a bad run of luck on bulbs. It had resulted in our fixing up the details of our station, but just the same it had been a long and hard road.

But now, comes the same old trouble. We are sick of these 500 cycle signals on wave lengths from 600 to 2600, and sending the same old kind of stuff about when they are going to ship bolts, and castings, etc.", etc. What we want are the amateurs who are from 200 to 500 miles away and sending on wave lengths between 450 and 200. These are just as much in the background as they ever were. Therefore, we are still wanting something we cannot get. We now suspect our station ought to come out of the attic and go down into the cellar, so as to have a short ground connection. Somebody thinks our loose coupler losses are the cause of our trouble. The coupler is wound for receiving long waves and we are told that we cannot get efficiency on short waves unless we have an antenna whose natural period is below these waves, and a receiving transformer which has only enough wire on it to tune up to 500 meters. Another expert says we must keep changing bulbs because some will receive distant signals better than others, although they may be the reverse as to nearby signals. We are trying to get into the amateur relay game and must be able to work long distance amateurs. Up to date, we are all to the good on long wave lengths, but our receiving of short ones is just as rotten, as it ever was. And our antenna is only 90 ft. long with a 50 ft. lead in, and a 50 ft. ground connection. Has any one anything to suggest?

QST is beginning a more formal "Editorial" column. Unfortunately, it has to be dedicated to beating the bushes for financial support. The early QST was a 2-man operation, with Hiram Percy Maxim and Clarence D. Tuska carrying on the business and editorial sides, perhaps with some clerical help. It was far from clear whether this little League and its QST were going to survive.


The President walked into the closet we call our office the other day and said, "Well, young fellow, are you going to print QST during the summer months and put us in the poor house, or are you going to acknowledge yourself licked and call it off until Fall?" It sort of bore down on our sore spot, and we fetched a big sigh and leaned back from the typewriter and looked him straight in the eye for a full minute without answering. (Just between us, we had been thinking of the same thing for the previous week.)

It brought the vexed question up and we gathered up the loose papers which operation provided one broken down chair to sit on, and proceeded to thrash it out.

It seemed that the curve we have been plotting of our income showed a fierce droop from about the middle of April up to date, which was May 9th. There has been a droop every month along toward time for a new QST to come along, and we always explained it by the fact that the previous issue had got some stale and was forgotten to a certain extent. But this droop beat all previous droops a mile and then some. The question was whether it was due to the summer weather and outdoor things or because we were a little late this month in getting out, which of course left a longer period for the deadly droop to get in its fine work on the curve.

The more we argued the subject the less it seemed that the fellows lose all interest in radio matters in summer, although of course they do slack up some on operating. But do they lose their interest in the subject in general? Do they not want to know about what is going on in a general way as much as in winter, for there is a lot going on in summer as well as winter? Do they not want to keep in touch with improvements in receiving and sending and know about what works and what doesn't just as much as they ever did? And would not they come along with their subscriptions and help keep the pot boiling?

It was decided that they ought to have a chance to show what they would do, and that it was up to the crowd to decide and not for us to decide for them. This meant going on and getting out a June issue and seeing the result. If the droop is overcome and the orders come in at a frequency some where near that of a condenser discharge, why, it was easy, and we would put an electric fan in the closet and hire the typewriter for a couple more months. If the droop keeps the upper hand, then we must acknowledge we are licked, and we will dig down once again for the printer's bill and take a try at a job waiting at some summer resort or driving an auto truck for some one who doesn't know any better than to waste his time hiring us.

That's how she stands, fellows, so keep us in mind, and do what you can to help. If you have not sent in your subscription get busy. If you have not paid your annual dues, get some one to loan you a dollar quick and QSR, because we may be QRL about the time you read these lines. QRU? ? ? ?

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