Founding of W9YT

The Second Coming of W9YT…by Fred Laun, HK3NBB/K3ZO As printed in the January, February and March 1983 issue of The Badger State Smoke Signals.

This scribe was in on the founding of the Badger Amateur Radio Society at the University of Wisconsin. At the time, i was W9SZR, originally from Kiel, Wisconsin. The other co-founders were W9VAK of Fond du Lac, now in the Chicago area; W9SDC, then and now of the Chicago area; W9VOO, now W9OO of the Chicago area; W9RQN, of Superior, now K6EUW of San Diego; and W9ZQA from Chetek, now KE6MD of Berkeley, California.

At the time I arrived on the UW campus in the fall of 1955, there was only one place on the campus to operate, and that was at W9GOC, a dormitory club station at lakeside (Lake Mendota) with an old Meisner Signal Shifter driving a single 813 amp, which had been built without neutralization. The only band on which the monster would operate without problems was 40 meters.

There was an HQ-129X Hammarlund, which, for its day, was a pretty good receiver. And, the antenna was an end-fed Zepp, which was strung between the tops of two dormitories and worked quite well.

In those days, the FCC meted out hellfire and brimstone to those who dared to operate a club station using their own callsigns, but occasionally it was difficult to resist temptation. Thus it was that (after a brand new Heath DX-100 had been acquired and assembled) one day W9ZQA heard CR8AC (Goa, a Portuguese colony then in India) coming through on 20 cw and gave him a call. Lo and behold, CR8AC came back. The wise old DX sages of Madison, at the next meeting of the Four Lakes Amateur Radio Club – which most of us were members of – pronounced the CR8AC a bootlegger. But eventually ZQA got the QSL, which he cherishes to this day.

When not in use as a ham rig, the DX-100 could be found on 1610 KHz (that was the lowest we could get the vfo to by detuning all the slugs) masquerading as “WCCC, Clark City, Missouri.” (I hope the statute of limitations has run out.)

This station had some of the most hilarious ads ever heard in broadcasting up to that time, perhaps only exceeded in later times when K9ELT (now N6ZZ) was working as a BC engineer at WIBA. We tested the field strength of the station by driving all around Lake Mendota, and were happy when it could be heard in most places.

Since VOO and ZQA were working in broadcasting at the time, the tapes were professionally done. A fellow named Paul Carlson, who never became a ham, also made important contributions to the program. Transmissions were limited to about two hours per broadcast, not because we were worried about the FCC, but because it took about 6 hours of work to get a decent hour of programming taped.

Our psychic rewards were reaped the following morning, when silently accompanying anonymous groups of students on their way to classes, we heard about “that crazy radio station from Missouri.”

While transmissions from “WCCC” were intended to be heard by students, those of W9GOC were not. Yet, given the almost non-existent image rejection characteristic of the cheap “AC-DC” sets of the day – and every student had one – W9GOC was frequently heard and cussed at from one end of dormitory row to the other.

Through some perversity of Mother Nature, it turned out that when someone checked into the Badger Emergency Net, the image fell right on top of WIBA. In those days, it should be added, thirty-nine fifty was not merely a net frequency; it was also known as the international testing frequency, scene of the great battles of the Kilowatts between W9HIF and W9PYM; of the great humorous monologues and flights of fancy between W9HIF and W9LUQ.

It was the home of the bootlegger and frustrated would-be-hams from rural Janesville who would play music on request from a fabulous record library. Throughout the daylight hours, in other words, you had to participate on thirty-nine fifty or be deemed to ignorance about what was happening in Wisconsin Ham Radio.

Eventually, tired of escaping through a back window of the clubroom to get away from angry students wielding baseball bats, we decided to do something else to establish a club station somewhere else.

W9VAK was on some kind of a student engineering council which had $350 to burn. In the electrical engineering building was the MARS station of Army ROTC, K9WBJ. (Yes folks, in those days all stations with the prefix K9 were military club stations; only in the 2nd and 6th districts had the FCC run out of W prefixes) The Army had never been able to get permission to put up more than a dipole on the roof, and wanted to add a beam.

Thanks to our faculty adviser, Prof. Glenn Keehler, we had the permission for the beam. Therefore we talked the Army into letting us use the station in off-hours in return for letting them use the beam during classroom hours – the $450 went to buy a World Radio TH-4, one of the first tribanders (the antenna division of World Radio later branched off on its own as Hy-Gain), and rotator, plus coax and rotor cable. There was already a crankover tower on the roof.

The Badger Amateur Radio Society was thus established., affiliated with the EE Faculty. Prof. Keehler, rummaging thru old files came up with a license issued to the U.W. Physics Department for an Amateur club station in the thirties with the call W9YT. On presentation of that license to the FCC, they agreed to re-issue the call to our new society.

In those days, two-letter calls had not yet been reissued and it was rare to hear one on the air. The idea that we young, wet-behind-the-ears types were coming on with a two-letter call caused no end of criticism on the Badger Net the first few times we checked in. At one time, it had been a tradition to reserve the “Y” following the number for college clubs, i.e. W9YH/Illinois, W9YB/Purdue, W6YX, Stanford , etc.

For those of us who had come from all over the state to attend the U.W., the Army equipment we got permission to use was like a dream station. At that time it was rather rare to hear a kilowatt on the air. You could either brew your own or buy a Collins KW-1 or a Viking KW, spending kilobucks in the days when a kilobuck was a kilobuck. We had a BC-610 which could run about 700 watts input, quite a lot of soup. Plus 2 Collins R-388-URR receivers, Amateur RTTY, etc. W9ZQA drew the lot to make the first contact from W9YT in August, 1957, and made the first trembling CQ to be answered by W9TPS who lived almost across the street on 20 c.w.

The first log of W9YT was somehow lost along the way, but it is my understanding that every log from the second onward is still available for current members to peruse.

It would indeed have been a shame had the FCC eliminated club station licenses. With the old logs in hand, a current member can get the feeling that he is a part of a tradition, forming part of a chain between past and future members. For example, in the W9YT log will be found a contact with JT1AA, the first station ever on the air from Mongolia.

This was a contact made by yours truly as a direct result of a challenge from W9LPL to all the members. The first operator to work JT1AA from W9YT would be awarded a free beer from one of the campus sudseries.

It is still a thrill for me every time I hear W9YT on the air, as it immediately triggers memories of some of the most pleasant experiences of my life. Some pretty well-known ops came out of W9YT: There was K9ELT from Madison, now N6ZZ, who has operated all over the Caribbean, and put HH9DL on the air when HH was still very, very rare. There was K9ZMS from Sun Prairie, now N6NA, who has operated from Clipperton. W9VZL from Milwaukee is now N4XX, CQ’s Washington Columnist.

Yes, indeed, any operator at W9YT today is part of a long and proud tradition!

Reprinted from the April 1983 issue of the Badger State Smoke Signals, is “The Badger Amateur Radio Society Today” by Steve Dubberstein, NA9D/VS6WO (ex. WB9PYE)

Over 25 years have passed since the second coming of W9YT. Hundreds of students have operated the station in this time, W9YT providing a welcome relief from the everyday chores of college life.

W9YT is located in room B314 in the basement of the UW Engineering building. The station consists of a Kenwood TS-830S and a tough homebrew kilowatt feeding monobanders on 20, 15, and 10; with directional dipoles on 30, 40, 80, and 160 meters. The station is also active on 2 and 6 meters, and just last semester finished up WAS on 6.

W9YT was probably best known nationwide in the late 60’s and early 70’s when a Drake B line was combined with the antennas and Kilowatt to make it one of the finest club stations in the country. With the help of some very ambitious and gifted operators, W9YT has placed as high as 1st in the nation in CW SS, 2nd in phone SS, and 6th in CQWW DX multi-multi competition. The club has also made BPL several times, and is still active today on the traffic nets.

The Badger Amateur Radio Society today consists of about 30 student members. Daily activity includes skeds, casual operating, and traffic handing. W9YT can be heard in most major contests and field day. One of the more popular activities is an occasional on-foot transmitter hunt, with fox hiding somewhere in the campus area.

Although the University provides a small room for a shack and a room for antennas, BARS receives no funding and is thus supported mainly by student member’s dues. The station is plagued by RFI problems, and must maintain a low profile in order not to become extinct (as has recently happened to W9YM at the University of Illinois). We invite alumni and non-alumni alike to drop in for an eyeball anytime, or just give us a shout on your way though Madison on W9YT/R (146.685 out, 146.085 in). W9YT is still today regarded as one of the finest college clubs in America, and hopes to be able to provide an outlet for all future hams that attend the UW.