Yellow Van!

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Watch out! Watch out…there’s a yellow van about!

The yellow van is owned by the Post Office Radio Service and driven by Gerry Openshaw G2BTO. Gerry was our local Post Office inspector, he was well respected and the sight of his van when working mobile would make any Radio Amateur quake in his boots!
When I was first got my Amateur Radio Licence the airwaves were monitored by the GPO and if you were to (God forbid!) step out of place and say something you shouldn’t on Topband, a visit from Gerry Openshaw was imminant. He had the power to close down your station at anytime.

Gerry is a great bloke! He came to inspect my station shortly after gaining my licence and very thorough it was too then signed my log book. Part of his job was finding Pirate Stations and at the time Topband was rife with them. (I tell a few amusing tales about them…stay tuned!) Using state of the art direction finding equipment, Gerry was able to pinpoint a station to within 10 yards…scary!!
I met Gerry once in town, his famous yellow van was parked outside the pastie shop on Churchgate and he was enjoying a pastie and taking direction finding readings on one of our local pirates. “Come on Steve…i’ll show you how it works” he said. There was the state of the art equipment…a ferrite rod, a map and an Eddystone EC10!! I thought the back of this yellow van was packed with equipment! Television Interference was another one of of his roles. Television Interference (TVI) from Radio Amateurs (and other sources) was a big problem. My friend Neil had a ‘Korting’ Colour TV and Gerry spent a lot of time trying to solve the problem by adding various filters.

Gerry has a long history of Radio Communication and has a great story to tell of his role during the war at Bletchley Park and the Enigma Code.

Cracking the secret code

Winter Hill Transmitter

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Back in 1967 my Uncle (Bill Kay), who worked for the IBA at the Winter Hill Transmitter invited my Dad and myself to come to the open day at the transmitter at Winter Hill. I thought this was fantastic and couldn’t wait for that day on the 27th September 1967, I was 13 years old!
We went up Georges Lane to the transmitter on a coach and when we arrived there was a marquee for refreshments next too the road.
I remember vividly the tour around the station in the ITV building particularly the Transmitter Hall and the Control Room. In the BBC building there was a real BBC Colour TV Camera and cameraman where I saw myself on Television in COLOUR…WoW! Remember, Colour TV was launched in 1967 so I must be one of the first to see Colour TV in action! (At home we never got a colour TV until about1975) I brought back loads of info about the station which I still have today.

A great day out – thanks Dad!

Since then, I spent quite a lot of time at the transmitter with Bill Kay (my uncle) on Sundays where I spent all day working with him on the transmitter. It was great to see the station during a normal day and how it was important to monitor the standard of the transmissions. During that time the transmitters were changed to 625 lines and a new extension was built to house the new equipment, this included semiconductor and digital technology.
I really enjoyed my visits to the station, at times I would wander about and look around the area of the mast and stand on the ‘stays’ which were concrete slabs that held the guys that hold up the 1015ft mast.

When I was at the transmitter one day Bill took me into the base of the mast, which is actually two small rooms with doors, here I could see the cables that supplied the signals to the aerials and see all the way up the hollow mast. The mast has a lift that takes engineers up to the 750ft level. If you slam a door at the mast base, the sound travels all the way to the top of the mast and bounces down again then bursts the door open! Incredible!!

I’ve got to tell this one…
Outside the station is a pool of water, which looked quite nice, but is really there in case there is a fire at the station.
One day, Bill was mending his Mini in the garage at the station when a guy came along and asked…”Have you seen an old Army Tank round here?” Bill looked at him puzzled and replied, “No, but there’s an old submarine in that pool there!” This guy really didn’t know what to make of it…I thought it was hilarious!
He went away scatching his head still looking for this Tank!

Radio Nordsee

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Do you remember the Pirate Radio Stations?

Back in 1965/6 I was listening to Radio Caroline during the day and Radio Luxemburg at night. Radio Caroline on 199 metres could be picked up clearly with a good transistor radio but not very strong. My Dad used to listen to Radio Caroline in the kitchen by placing our (GEC) Transistor Radio on top of the electric cooker power switch, this acted as a super aerial when picked up by the ferrite rod in the radio. Pop music during the day? unheard of if you listened to the BBC Light Programme or Home Service! When it went dark the reception of Radio Caroline went very noisy as QRM swamped the station from other continentals. (Remember Radio Prague and Radio Moscow?) Radio Luxemburg with it’s powerful transmitters and huge aerials was the best station to listen to at night if you wanted pop.

1967 and along came Radio 1!

The Postmaster General’s tried to make way for the BBC’s answer to Pop music by shutting down the Pirate Stations. Radio Caroline moved to international waters in an attempt to keep on the air.

“Too many stations! “
Was the excuse for trying to close the Pirates.

See the story of Radio Caroline

I remember the day when Radio 1 came on the air, got up early to listen to Tony Blackburn and the first ever Radio Broadcast before going to school. At school everyone was talking about it…pop music at 7.00 in the morning before school…Brill!!
I loved to listen to the breakfast show on Radio 1 in those days, Tony Blackburn would always play a great record just after the news at 7.30am.

I still listened to Radio Caroline, although there later became two Radio Carolines (North and South) Later however in 1971, another station appeared…an excellent station that could be picked up clearly and played not just pop music…but ROCK MUSIC!

This was Radio Nordsee International RNI which broadcast some super stuff! RNI was a Pirate Station from the Radio ship MEBO 2 located in International waters off the coast of Holland. When the station first came on the air reception reports were requested, so I sent them a full report of my reception of the station over space of a couple of hours. In return the station sent me a QSL card!

My best memories of RNI was listening to songs like Silvia and Hocus Pocus by the group Focus along with The Who and even Led Zeppelin! I could easily pick up the station from my own Communication Receiver (Hallicrafters SX24) or my ‘other’ broadcast receiver which was a wonderful old valve receiver with a half moon dial that sat in the cabinet that held up the bench in my shack! (The speaker was huge and you could really blast out the music from RNI!)

On the back of my QSL card details of the station are listed:

MW Transmitter: RCA 105 KW
Frequency: 1232 kHz – 244 metres, 1367 kHz – 220 metres.
MW antenna: Vertical Marconi

SW Transmitter 1: BBC 10 kW
Frequency: 6205 kHz – 48.3 metres
SW antenna: Inverted V

SW Transmitter II: RCA 10 kW
Frequency: 9935kHz – 30.18 metres
SW antenna: Inverted V

FM Transmitter: R&S 1 kW
Frequency: 100mHz

Generators: 2 x 250kVA Struver Diesel

Length: 60 metres
Width 9 metres
Displacement: 570 BRT
Aerial Mast: 52 metres

Who would have thought…

Today we have thousands of Radio Stations…it seems that anyone who wants one can have a licence for one! 24 hours of commercial crap! Play one record then ten minutes of ads, follow it with a phone-in, a wind-up and a competition. Garbage!!!

Bring back the Pirates!

CQ2 VHF Receiver

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This was a classic project! Back in 1969 there were very few Radio Amateurs transmitting on VHF (2 metres) along came this project in Practical Wireless which used a previously unknown device called an FET (Field Effect Transistor) these devices could work at very high frequencies (VHF) so I decided to have a go at this one!
After spending all my pocket money on a 2N3819 FET, the CQ2 began to take shape. I mounted the receiver on an aluminum front panel which was originally built to house an oscilloscope that I began to build when I was at school. (not a good idea!!) The metal chassis caused havoc with the tuned cicuit, so I rebuilt it on a piece of plywood! When the receiver was built I made a QUAD ANTENNA for 2m. The receiver was tuned by squeezing or lengthening the coil and fine tuning with the variable capacitor. Very tricky, as the receiver was a super-regen it was inclined to ‘take-off’ and blot out everyones television for miles around!

Here is the circuit…

The first results was listening to the gas board from their PMR transeivers, but after hours of twiddling I finally heard Chris Hartley from Bolton who worked 2m! Chris had a huge antenna system located in Bromley Cross and ran high power on 2m!

My very first attempt at VHF communications!

Why have I posted this…because my Grand Daughter, Melissa who is two years old decided to tear off the front cover of the original magazine (35 years old!!) After a big sort out with some magazines in my room. CQ2 Melissa!

Pye Cambridge

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What a wonderful hybrid transistor / valve PMR rig this was!

This super AM Tranceiver could be tweeked and modified to run AM and FM on 2m at about 5 Watts output. The rig was a hybrid, mainly transistors but used a QQVO-310 valve to supply the RF output. It had a built in invertor power supply to provide the high voltage needed for the valve PA.
Neil, G3ZPL used a dash mount Cambridge on AM to go mobile in his Hillman Imp back in 1972. Had some great fun with this rig and on one occasion while visiting ‘The Wilton’ Pub on Belmont Rd, Neil decided to try to use the Cambridge to interfere with the loud jukebox in the pub. We sat outside shouting into the microphone…never did know if it worked!!

Later, I managed to get hold of a bootmount Pye Cambridge with it’s wires and remote control console and moutted it in my Austin A35. A few crystals and a bit of modding got me on the air mobile on 2m with a Halo antenna!
The bootmount Cambridge was great, so when I got a company car…a Ford Escort…I decided to modify the bootmount to make it dashmount. I did this by building a front panel for the box and adding an LED channel display. The channel display was the biggest job, it consisted of a matrix of about ninety diodes mounted on several layers of circuit boards. It worked a treat and displayed channel numbers to match the crystal frequencies. The whole unit was mounted under the dashboard held with a couple of big stetchy rubber clips. Some great contacts were made while driving around, later a quarter wave whip, (mag mount) was mounted onto the car roof.

Gosh…I spent so much time tweeking these beasties. They were so well made and the boxes were completely sealed so that even though the outside looked rough, the insides were like new!

What about this then…

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In the days of the 1970’s as an apprentice TV and Radio Technician at Telefusion (about 1974) I worked in a small unit in Cobden Mill mending radios and cassette recorders and other small items. The miners were on strike and we had a three day week. Trouble was that you could mend transistor radios without mains power, so we bought a load of batteries and carried on working with our coats on! It was great fun really!

Around that time I worked with some more apprentices, Ian Harrison, Bhad Govan and Jim Hulton. Ian was quite keen on amateur radio and one evening we went to see a well known amateur radio voice on 80m who’s callsign was G3MCR (more about this later)

One day I was repairing a cheap transistor radio that covered all the Short Wave bands including 160m and after replacing a component and re-aligning the radio using a Heathkit Signal Generator, I decided to have a listen on 160m. Guess what…there was Alf, G3HRV in Walkden about two miles up the road. After listening to his QSO with a room full of apprentices I thought it might be good idea to try and contact him using the Heathkit Signal Generator!!

A bit of a long shot, but by keying the aerial (a TV aerial that went all the way up the side of Cobden Mill) I thought it would be worth a try. I called Alf in CW and….he came back….i’ve never seen a room full of apprentices so astounded! We completed a QSO in CW with about a milliwatt of signal!

This was one of my most original contacts ever, and yes…I put it in the logbook!

Alf was a great guy, I went to see him a few times when I worked in Walkden. I would often listen to him talking on 160m with Ralph, G3WWZ.

Flying Spot Scanners

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Watch out….there’s a 5FP7 about!

I thought it might be interesting to post this on the blog…an email from John Stratham who went school at the same time as Neil G3ZPL.

While Googling during a quiet time at work, I came across your site which fired off some happy memories.
As a youngster at Bolton School I was always amazed by the skills of Neil Richardson G3ZPL who ran the
Radio Society. I clearly remember him working on TV using a photo-multiplier tube he’d aquired from somewhere. I have not heard anything of him since he left school and often wondered what became of him.

Hi John,

Thanks for your message, always nice to hear about someone who has happy memories!
When you were at Bolton School I was at Deane Grammar School where we also had a ‘kind of’ Radio Club at lunchtimes. Our Physics teacher Mr Bristow, was also a licenced radio amateur, but he never went on the air!

Neil and myself got our licences about the same time (1970/1) and used to talk for hours on 160m and later 2m and 70cm bands setting up cross-band contacts which allowed us to chat like being on the phone. One of the best projects that we did together was Amateur Television. Neil had a photo-multiplier tube and a 5FP7 flying spot scanner and this allowed still images to be transmitted over the 70cm band to my receivers. Neil worked out a really clever way of not having to send ‘sync pulses’ to lock the images…we used the BBC’s ‘sync pulses’ by tapping them off another TV receiver. Dead clever! Neil had such innovative ideas, great times were had!

After leaving school, Neil went to Cambridge University and took a Degree in Engineering, then later completed a Phd in Engineering at Cambridge. Neil then got married to Christine (also from Cambridge) and then moved to Palo Alto in California and worked for a large company over there. He now travels around the world and is president of another company over there in Palo Alto. Neil and Christine have three children and as far as I know they are still in Palo Alto. Neil keeps in touch, but I don’t think he has been to Bolton for quite a long time now.

As for me John…i’m a Primary School teacher in Bolton and love my job!

A lot of memories here! I remember the famous 5FP7, never got one myself, but I will never forget the smiley face that Neil painted on the front of the tube then transmitted via the photo-multipier tube. This was the first image that I received over 70cm, I thought it was hilarious…a big smiley face filling the screen! The 5FP7 was a long duration device, the screen would continue to glow long after it was turned off, so the smiley face would glow under the bed all night….scary!

I managed to obtain a couple of high quality photomultiplier tubes that came from the Winter Hill transmitter supplied by my Uncle who worked there. These devices provided the ‘Test Card’ from the ITV Transmitter. I never did get these devices working!