Eric Manning VA7DZ

My amateur radio history

Eric Manning, VA7DZ

It’s 1948, and I’m looking at a book in my Grade 5 class at Johnson Memorial School, Sarnia, Ont. The cover shows two intrepid Arctic explorers hunched over a wireless set, with a square loop mounted on top. I’m fascinated by the picture, I still wonder exactly why.

I show it to my little chum Gwen Hunter, who says that her dad has one of those in the basement at home. I go home with her one day after school, and sure enough, mysterious and beautiful glowing lights, [especially the voltage regulators in violet!], and interesting knobs and meters. Alex Hunter, VE3DZ, demonstrates his Meissner Signal Shifter, Hallicrafters S-40 and amplifier with an AM QSO. I’m entranced.

1951, and I’m visiting the Hunter residence on Sunday afternoons, but not because of Gwen. Nope, Alex and I sit in the breakfast nook and he tutors me using a 1944 ARRL Handbook. To get the Certificate of Proficiency in Radio [Amateur] I have to draw from memory, and explain in detail, the schematic of a superhet receiver, and the Handbook has a minimal [just 3 tubes] example. Also a transmitter, and a filter for key clicks, as I recall.

At school, No. 102 Sarnia Collegiate Institute & Technical School Army Cadet Corps offers Signals training courtesy of Mr WDB Ritchie, who patiently sends Morse code after school most days. A trip to Windsor, and after two hours with the Radio Inspector, Mr R G Gooding, I passed! A Class B licence, callsign VE3DPV is issued in Spring 1954.

Meanwhile, Radio & TV News describes a complete station “for the cw hound,” comprising a two-triode regenerative receiver, a 6AG7-6L6 rockbound 25-watt transmitter, and a power supply switched to support both. Walter Ashe Radio offers the whole works as a kit for $45 US, and after assembly it works! A flattop centre-fed with tuned feeders is the antenna, and the first QSO happens on 3525 KC amidst August thunderstorm crashes, with the RCAF station at Clinton, maybe 60 miles away. Ecstasy, just like the first solo flight.

Summer 1955 at Camp Borden (now CFB Borden) and the Operator, Wireless & Line Signals Course gets me up to the 15 wpm required for the Advanced Certificate, and another trip to the Radio Inspector in 1956 follows. Meanwhile the regenerative receiver has been replaced by an NC-57, plus a BC-453 Command Set as IF amp to improve overall gain, and the transmitter gave way to a homebrew VFO/807 rig for 80-10 meters cw, QST article by Cmdr. G L Countryman, USN.

In 1956 I inherited a transmitter from a Great Lakes cargo ship (a laker). Removed from the hold with a crane at the Port of Sarnia, the Marconi LTT-4 was in a four-foot steel plate relay rack, and featured 100 lbs of copper-oxide rectifiers, a pair of type 211 triodes, and a tank coil the size of my torso, for 500KHz ship-to-shore working.

I replaced the rectifiers with 866 mercury-vapour tubes, and rebuilt the radio as a push-pull amplifier with an L-section final tank, excited by my homebrew 807. A quarter-wave 15m vertical and an HRO-5 allowed me to work some Europeans, joy, [plus every TV in several blocks, all of them trying for fringe-area reception of Detroit stations using corroded rooftop yagis]. A grid-bias modulator allows a few local AM QSOs but I remain a cw hound.

Then, off to college and the end of my ham career for several years, except for the UWO and UW ham clubs and short spurts of building a Heathkit Mohawk receiver and buying a secondhand Collins 75A-4 from World Radio -- a wonderful receiver indeed. A dipole in a townhouse attic in Aurora, Illinois provided a few QSOs, but not many, and no DX.

1980 finds the Mannings in our cottage overlooking Lake Huron near Goderich Ont., complete with a hydro pole installed by Bill, VE3BXI, carrying a bamboo-pole cubical quad with nested elements for 10, 15 and 20, rotated by the Armstrong Method. The quad and an early Ten-Tec transceiver let me work some choice DX, including Niue Island in the 1984 Radiosport, despite a monster pileup. Hooked again.

Another long interruption due to the move to Victoria, until the Elecraft K2 appears. Wow, the Heathkit experience is back! And, the specs are incredible. So, I built my K2 in 2000, added the SSB, autotuner and 100w amp cards, and put up a tribander on a 40-ft telescoping pole in the backyard on Phyllis St.

(Saanich Council voted unanimously against the “tower,” but Industry Canada approved it anyway, bless them. I’m now active in Emergency Communication, partly in the hope that one day I may be able to help to save the sorry and shortsighted backsides of Saanich Council.)

Anyway, with this station I managed to get up to 100 countries confirmed, CW, without much trouble.

A high point came when I went to Dhaka, Bangladesh to give a talk. I had a palmtop computer running MixW for logging, and a Force 12 centre-fed short dipole for 10-20 meters. The K2 ran on its internal battery at 10w CW, and I had a charger to recharge it from the mains overnight. So, I went South-East from Dhaka along the Bay of Bengal, past Chittagong to St Martin’s Island, where I set up shop in the local motel, 100m from the saltchuck.

For just once, I was in charge of the pileups -- a glorious feeling which every DXer should experience! However, the island generator went severely overvoltage and fried my trickle charger one night, and so the lightweight DXpedition came to halt in two days. [I say “lightweight” as the whole works fit into 2 carryon bags for rig and computer, plus 1 checked gym bag for the antenna. I wrote an article for TCA about it.]

Since then, I have been to Newington to collect my DXCC, and am now QRV from a University of Victoria lab, where I have access to a TH7 yagi on the lab building roof when it is not in use for telecommunications courses.

I built a K3 which I use with Skimmer, SDR/IF and LP-PAN for contesting and DX. I like the K3 second receiver, as I can track the DX in the left ear and listen to the competition with the right ear in split mode, and piggyback exactly on the freq of the last guy worked.

I’m now approaching 150 entities -– slowly! I’m CW first and foremost, but work a little PSK and SSB once in a while. I hope to get onto Magic Band CW after we get the 6M yagi repaired.

Eric Manning
August 2010