The Harvard Wireless Club: 80 Years History of W1AF

The Early Years

The Harvard Wireless Club celebrated its 80th anniversary with a two-day special event on October 14-15, 1989. We had a party and then the operators at the newly refurbished W1AF station made 1,000 on-the-air contacts. It seemed an appropriate time to investigate and record the Club's history.

The first 1AF record book in the Harvard University Archives tells us that The Radio Society of the Institute for Geographic Exploration at Harvard was formed in 1909 and changed its name to The Harvard Wireless Club in 1910.
Professor George W. Pierce was the first president, and Nikola Tesla, Thomas A. Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, Greenleaf W. Pickard and R. A. Fessenden were honorary members.

Pierce was the Rumford Professor of Physics and Director of the Crufts High Tension Laboratory, where the Club held meetings for many years. His "5 K. W. Pierce System" wireless telegraph at Harvard is listed in The First Annual Wireless Blue Book of the Wireless Association of America, dated May, 1909. Among Professor Pierce's personal papers in the University Archives is the carefully preserved certificate presented to him in March, 1910, naming him Permanent Honorary President of the Harvard Wireless Club.

The Club averaged about 25 members and acquired a quenched spark gap transmitter which gave "very satisfactory results." (All quotations, unless otherwise identified, are taken from the Harvard University Archives.) 1AF was recognized as a control station in the Boston area. In March, 1912, the Club published Amateur Wireless Stations within 20 miles of Boston, listing 300 stations which the Club'sCommittee on Calls had compiled. This occurred just before the Radio Act of 1912 became law, and with the list there is a plea to amateurs to "avoid making unnecessary noise" and to "send out a well-defined wave." These suggestions anticipated the approaching regulatory legislation.

The station was closed during World War I, after which a new station was installed in the Harvard Union, the student activities center at that time. These quarters were given to the Business School in 1920 and the Club was moved to the basement of Westmorly Court, now part of Adams House. The Cutting and Washington Company, which had previously donated the spark transmitter, donated "a new barrel antenna which might be used at Westmorly, if not too conspicuous.''

The period between 1921 and 1925 witnessed tremendous advances in radio, with 1AF among those at the forefront. At a club meeting on February 20, 1922, it was decided that a "CW set should be installed as soon as possible" to replace the rotary spark transmitter. By March, 1923, a "50 Watt tube sending set" using a UV203 with 1300 volts DC, and a receiver with a Reinartz tuner and amplifier were in use. The Club heard a lecture on the new Super-Heterodyne receiving circuit, and a paper on Professor Pierce's Application of the Piezoelectric Effect for Controlling the Frequency of a Vacuum Tube Oscillator. (The Pierce oscillator circuit is still in use.) The Professor held the experimental call 1XJ and the Club was permitted to operate on wavelengths shorter than 150 meters. The regulations which established amateur bands at 80, 40, and 20 meters were promulgated at Boston on January 19, 1925, but 1AF/1XJ, using 120 and 78 meters, worked with amateurs in England, Scotland, France and Holland in early 1924.

Spanning the Continent

Still, there was dissatisfaction with the station location at Westmorly. The antenna and counterpoise hung too low between buildings and the janitor disliked them. The matter was settled when "notice was received we must vacate Westmorly by July 1, 1924" because of a need for student housing. In meetings held at Crufts, the members considered alternative locations and finally decided to rebuild 1AF on top of the northwest corner of Harvard Stadium.

The new station was an immediate success when it began to operate in early January, 1925. It was housed in a 12 by 12-foot shack hauled up in sections over the edge of the stadium and had two 100-watt transmitters, CW and 'phone capability, two receivers and two 60-foot masts 150 feet apart to support the antenna. The New York Times reported on January 18, 1925, how "the new short wave transmitter built on top of Harvard Stadium spanned the continent," and The Harvard Alumni Bulletin included an illustrated article about the station in the issue of February 5. Trans-Atlantic contacts became more frequent and a good contact was made with California by daylight, previously impossible. On February 17, the operator at 1AF "shifted to 40 meters to get out of QRM" and found himself talking with a station in Morocco. Chief operator Thomas talked for 15 minutes with station Z2AC in Gisborne, New Zealand, spanning half the world. These were exciting times.

Despite the interest in long distance contacts, 1AF operators and their colleagues continued the traditional amateur service of handling personal and emergency messages free of charge through networks organized by the American Radio Relay League. Station 1AF is on the ARRL List of Official Relay Stations dated October 10, 1924. Sometimes the traffic was unusual. On January 22, 1925, 1AF took messages from the Hamilton Rice Expedition on the upper reaches of the Amazon River. Club secretary Fahnestock received the QSL card and a note of thanks six months later while on summer vacation from the college.

1930-1940: Hard Times

The records of Harvard Wireless Club are scanty for the 1930's and 1940's. The Club went into a decline after a fire destroyed the station atop the stadium. Lawrence Batchelder, '28, ex-W1AWU, recalls that the fire was due to an overheated wood-burning stove, but the date is uncertain. Still, the August, 1935, issue of QST describes a two-stage pentode transmitter in use at W1AF and in QST for February, 1936, a newer W1AF transmitter using two larger pentodes is seen, running 200 watts CW and 75 watts 'phone. Unfortunately, QST no longer has the original articles or author information.

Dana Atchley, II, '39, W1CF recalls little amateur radio activity at Harvard in the 1935-1939 years, although he was quite active at his splendid personal station. Edward Welch, '39, has a similar recollection, and Robert Wendt, '40, KD2WN, remembers the Club as "practically moribund, closing down for the war," when he graduated. "There was some equipment stored in the basement of Weld, including large transmitter tubes," recalls Wendt. He took them to his home and presented them to the Club on June 5, 1990.

Guy Black, '41, W4PSJ, recalls "an elusive memory of the Club" for the years 1937-1941, and Gene Simon, '43, W2KOY, has a similar recollection. Diligent searches in Harvard University Archives, cellars, attics, storage areas, and alumni records have produced no logs, photographs, or other records of this period. Atchley states that a "Harvard Radio Club," using the call W1JOO, was in operation from a Law School building on Jarvis Street in the late '30's, but the relation of this station to Harvard Wireless Club is unclear. Black, as well as Bill Hampton, '52, ex-W9SWQ, relate that the call W1AF was renewed for several years in the late '30's by Bill Coburn, an employee at the Institute for Geographic Exploration. Coburn taught a course in communications for geographical explorers, which was frequently taken by hams, until the Institute was disbanded in the '40's. The W1AF call letters happily came back to the Harvard Wireless Club after the war.

It was proudly noted in alumni reports during these years that George W. Bailey, '07, W1KH and W2KH, contributed greatly to radio and the wartime effort, and was President of the ARRL 1940-1952, as well as his Class Treasurer!

The Post-War Years

In the late 1940's a few amateur operators were permitted to operate from their dorms in the Yard, the Houses, and in the graduate schools. The Club gradually reformed under the enthusiastic leadership of Bill Hampton, '52, ex-W9SWQ, and Club President 1950-1952. He describes the trials and tribulations of starting up the station, now housed at 52 Dunster Street, using largely war-surplus and elderly equipment. Finally, a new transmitter was built and Hampton recalls the event that followed:

"I remember a city-wide power failure at the instant we turned on the 500-watt transmitter for the first time. For a few minutes we thought we had caused it."

Hampton and Cambridge recovered and Harvard Wireless Club went on to build more equipment and station gear, and to use it well. Carter Pfaelzer, W1TCD, President 1954-1955, recalls that a husky guyed ladder supported 10 and 20 meter beams on the roof at 52 Dunster, which made it relatively easy to work on the beams. The difficult part was getting up to the roof through a trap door, reached by another ladder which was just barely long enough. Steve Pakula, W6MED, President, 1957-1958, writes that the Club operated portable in Windsor, Vermont, for the Vermont QSO Party in 1955:

"We won by a landslide, using multiple operators and transmitters, resulting in Vermont QSO Party rule changes in the following years." W1AF achieved the Worked All States and Worked British Empire awards by 1957, but, on the negative side, there were complaints of broadcast and television interference from the Houses and other neighbors, as well as a Federal Communications Commission notification of "spurious emissions on 5476 kHz on March 12, 1956. Also, some equipment was stolen from the radio room at Dunster Street.

The membership rose to these challenges with determination and skill. It was moved at a Club meeting that "some low pass filters be obtained," and they were installed. A grid dip meter was built and put to use. A filter was placed in the TV set belonging to the Harvard University Police in the basement at 52 Dunster so that the chief could watch wrestling while W1AF participated in contests. Dean Watson suggested a new lock on the door and Dick Lipman, W1YZE, President 1956 1957, exhorted the members to remember to lock up when they left the shack. The situation improved. Club membership grew from eight in 1950 to 22 in 1955.

As with almost every other collegiate organization, the Harvard Wireless Club was periodically faced with the need to bring in new members as well as donations to pay expenses for repair and replacement of equipment, beyond income from dues. Beginning in 1956, the Club sponsored lectures on radio astronomy and other scientific advances to stimulate interest. Open meetings featured Professor Donald Menzel, Director of the Harvard College Observatory, who spoke at Lamont Library in 1956 and at Winthrop House in 1958. Professor Menzel is also W1JEX and a former Club Trustee. In a most enterprising and unique fund-raiser during the presidency of Paul Ryack, W1ETH, the Club presented the Fine Arts String Quartet, playing live and recorded Ravel, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Bartok to allow direct comparison and evaluation of hi-fi equipment. The concert was at Paine Hail in November 1962, the admission was 50 cents, and a modest profit was made. Correspondence with former members reaffirms their pride in the Club and its efforts to raise funds and attract members. Dean Chandler, WA9SMF recalls, "I participated in a rejuvenation of the Club, including a fund drive that transformed our equipment from home-built to a Collins transceiver!"

In 1958, Harvard Wireless Club became affiliated with The American Radio Relay League, and attained the long-coveted DXCC award, the second college club to do so. The Harvard Alumni Bulletin of February 20, 1960, devoted the lead article in "The Undergraduate" section to the Club. The Club ran a kilowatt on CW, but only modest power on AM (W1ETH's DX-35) until 1963 when a Collins KWM-1 was acquired and single side-band arrived at Harvard. CW continued to be the most popular mode, particularly for traffic handling and the pursuit of DX. A 10-15-20 meter beam was in use by 1966. Among the operators during this period was Katashi Nose, KH6IJ, Ed.M. '61, and a pre-eminent international DX'er and educator. Nose recalls a Field Day operation in a "rather woodsy out-of-the-way place south of Boston" where his wife prepared a Japanese-style barbecue, attracting many others to W1AF's location, all eager to trade hot dogs for grilled meat. Nose also writes that "I did not operate as much as I wanted due to studies having priority," a familiar problem at WIAF.

"Making Do"

Through the 1960's, Harvard Wireless Club "made do" with a combination of old AM/CW equipment and an aging Collins KWM-1. The dipoles frequently needed repairs and the beam rotator had a tendency to become stuck. Stuart Zeiger, KB1QW, President 1969-1971, reports that equipment was stolen from the station during the summer vacation of 1969. "I loaned my SB-100 for two years and canvassed alumni for help." Larry Wechsler, W3OD, President 1973-1974, writes of the change during his term of office:

"There was an amateur, an alumnus, down the street on the corner of Boylston. He was quite elderly and in 1973 he passed away. I managed to convince his son to donate his station to the Club. This consisted of a Collins S-Line and an NCL-2000 linear. We were able to raise enough money to put a tower on the roof and install two beams, a tribander and a 40-meter beam. We had a first class signal on most bands. We were finally able to compete effectively." Then Murphy, well known to radio amateurs, struck. "The following spring, a tropical storm came through Boston with 80 mile an hour gusts. The Harvard police called me because of pieces of metal hanging off the roof at the Club. I found the 40-meter beam in multiple pieces, not salvageable. We could not afford to replace it. We ended up with a dipole on 40 meters."

The Club's DXCC total rose to 173 countries by 1975, with the S-line backed up by a Heath receiver/transmitter combination donated by Richard L. Wechsler, '44. Sometimes the transmitter of one pair was used with the receiver of the other pair to keep W1AF on the air while repairs were made or parts were replaced. David Gil-mour, WA1QPD, President in 1978, leaned out of a high window of Malkin Athletic Center to string a wire across Winthrop Street to the tower atop 52 Dunster, and W1AF finally had a proper 80-meter antenna. Members participated in contests, sometimes under stressful conditions. Buzz Jehle, N5UR, remembers "a weekend contest with no heat in the shack. We filled coke cans with water and boiled them on a hot plate to heat the room." Then there is the unsigned note in the 1975 station log, the testament of a philosophical ham:

"Ah . . . the perennial problem of overloaded TV's, telephones and stereos. How about sending the girl on Winthrop Street a QSL card in recognition of her tolerance of the Donald Duck-voiced operators of W1AF?"

Traffic Handling

Traffic handling was the most important activity at the Harvard Wireless Club in the 1980's. Greg Quenell, WA2BWO, President 1982-1984, writes that "the membership was low but Professor Bill Vetterling, KO1O, and Bob Weinstock, KS6X (ex-KN1K, now W3RQ), checked into the Eastern Mass. Rhode Island Net regularly for a couple of years." Bob is a remarkable CW operator, essentially deaf, who copies code up to 60 words per minute through his fingertip, and who was sometimes Net Control for EMRI, and other nets. Bill, operating W1AF maintained a schedule with N1BBT, on board the Massachusetts Maritime Academy training ship "State of Maine," cruising in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean in the summer of 1982. During 46 days of operation over 890 pieces of traffic were passed from the ship and over 450 replies were received. At times WA1TBY helped W1AF on the Massachusetts end of the circuit. Aboard the vessel were 585 cadets and 74 officers and crew. The March, 1983 issue of QST notes that "hundreds of persons, both aboard the vessel and in the States, were given a valuable introduction to Amateur Radio."

Mario Inchiosa, '84, KA1IBC, and Quenell recorded a new achievement at W1AF in the station log on February 2, 1982: "Sent two slow-scan TV pictures to WA5BFF and got them back intact!" Inchiosa, who learned the code and received his license at the Club, remains an active member at the present as a graduate student. Vetterling, a former Club Faculty Advisor, still does high speed CW operating during contests. Alumni frequently express interest in visiting and operating the station, or in working W1AF on the air.

By 1986, it was apparent that the University considered the Club's quarters at 52 Dunster Street more suitable for a student activity other than the Harvard Wireless Club. Professor Vetterling and Professor Bill Bossert, WA1TYZ, Master of Lowell House, and also a Club Faculty Advisor, tried to prevent it from happening, but by the beginning of 1988, the University had dismantled the station. In the subsequent moving and storage, much of the equipment was damaged and rendered inoperable.


During the academic year 1988-1989 a most remarkable effort resulted in the rebirth of the Club. Lisa Rees, NT1Y (now N9LM), '89, President 1988-1989; Gunner Trumble, KC1SW, '91, President 1989-1990; Nathaniel Trumble, KC1WY, '89; and Mike Manafo, K3UOC, GSE '88, Station Trustee, found space at 6 Linden Street on the second floor of the squash courts building behind Adams House. A storage room was converted to an attractive and comfortable station.

A 10-, 15-, 20-, and 40-meter beam was erected, as well as an all-band dipole, individual 40-, 80-, and 160-meter dipoles, and a VHF antenna. The University assisted in the funding, but hard work was done by the hams.

The heart of the station is the brand-new state-of-the-art ICOM 781 160- to 10-meter transceiver, with a matching ICOM IC-4KL solid-state linear amplifier. There is a built-in keyer, a matching microphone, an external speaker, and a pair of headphone sets. This splendid equipment and the 4-band beam antenna were made possible by the generous gift of Carter E Pfaelzer, W1TCD, '55, Harvard Wireless Club President 1954-1955.

A second HF operating position uses an all-band transceiver, the ICOM 761, which is on long-term loan to the Club, driving an Alpha 77D linear amplifier, which was given to the Club by Dana Atchley, II, '39, W1CF. A third operating position uses an immaculately restored Heath Apache and Mohawk pair, which is the gift of Mike Manafo, GSE '89, K3UOC, Station Trustee. Using a combination of wall-mounted coaxial switches, any of these operating positions can be connected to any antenna. A Kenwood TS-9130 2-meter transceiver, Kantronics TNC and a Commodore 64 afford W1AF VHF and HF AMTOR, RTTY and packet radio capability.

Almost immediately after the new station went into operation, the Club started code and theory teaching sessions. A crop of new amateurs, as well as upgraded existing licenses, has already resulted. Since the special event in October, 1989, the Club has participated in the CQ Worldwide contest, the ARRL Sweepstakes, the 10-meter ARRL contest, the ARRL DX contest, and the WPX contest. The scores have been respectable. Projects under discussion for the future include antenna improvements, with installation of a Tel-Rex 20-meter monobander given to the Club by Dana Atchley for future use. Traffic handling via packet, VHF participation in safety and welfare communications at regattas and similar public events, and a newsletter are being discussed. Radio contacts with ham alumni, in pre-arranged schedules or in roundtables, are being considered.

The Harvard Wireless Club finished the 1989-1990 academic year with a climactic international radio event. After months of intensive preparatory work, and a great deal of help from Nat Trumbull, KA1IPB, '89, who was a graduate student in Leningrad during 1988-1989, eight members of the Harvard Club traveled to Leningrad on May 22, where members of the Leningrad Institute of Aircraft Instrumentation Club were their hosts. Harvard Club operators were granted full operating privileges by the Soviet authorities, were given a special call, US1A, and were permitted to operate from UZ1AWT, the Soviet club's station. Victor Stroganoff, UI, and various other Soviet hams assisted in making the arrangements. The Harvard group, including James Cho, KA1UZF (now N1HKR), '93; Jeff Clark, N1HKB, '90; Mario Inchiosa, KC1SY, '84, GSAS '91; Gail Le Bow, WA7WFZ, GSE '89; Mike Manafo, K3UOC, GSE '88, '98; Jack Porter, KC0VX, '91; Gunner Trumble, KC1SW '91; Nat Trumble, KA1IPB, '89; and Satish Vangal, WD1Y, '91, operating throughout the visit, including the CQ WPX CW contest, made over 21,000 contacts with about 170 countries before returning home on June 3. In October, 1990, UZ1AWT club members will travel to Cambridge to operate from W1AF for 10 days, to complete this remarkable exchange.

The Harvard Wireless Club, formed by explorers and radio communicators 80 years ago, is now a skilled group of amateur operators engaged in technical explorations and social exchanges across international borders, as well as service and friendly competitive pursuits at home. The underlying motivation is still communication with colleagues reached by radio. The future of the Club appears very promising for all concerned.

ARRL Logo Harvard Wireless Club is Affiliated with the American Radio Relay League, Inc.

� 1999 The President and Fellows of Harvard College.