An Avocation Becomes a Vocation
February 1943 QST Article
you know that the Hallicrafters line of radios is named after founder
Bill Halligan (W9WZE)? Hallicrafters, founded in 1932, was a major
manufacturer of amateur radio gear. During the years of WWII they
ruggedized some of their products to survive the harsh environments
of battle. Hallicrafters was sold to Northrop Corporation in 1966,
at which time the product line essentially ceased. Their gear is
still very collectible by aficionados of vintage Ham equipment.
This story from the February 1943 QST provided an inside
look at the production floor at Hallicrafters. Having cut my figurative
electronics teeth on radar and radio equipment built with tubes
and point-to-point wiring while in the USAF, and then later as an
assembly/test technician at Westinghouse Electric building sonar
equipment for the Navy which included wiring chassis and building
large complex cable harnesses, I can personally relate to the photos
accompanying the article. When, for readers in the U.S., is the
last time you saw a company touting its "expert American craftsmen"
on an assembly line? This W9WZE.net website is dedicated
February 1943 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
An Avocation Becomes a Vocation
The Amateur Makes a Vital Contribution in the Manufacture
of Military Radio Equipment
W. HAMILTON,* W9MRQ
It would be difficult to find
another peace-time hobby that could be converted to all-out war
production in a way to compare with amateur radio. The very fact
that our American backlog of trained radio personnel was found ready
and able during past emergencies has set the stage for our present
critical situation. Once again the amateur has been given the opportunity
to serve a cause, not only in the Signal Corps and the other services
but, equally important, as part of the group whose job it is to
supply our fighting forces with the finest radio communications
equipment that can be produced.
Thousands of amateurs are now in the armed services, carrying out
their missions with traditional fortitude. Their long experience
in peace-time emergencies has given them pre-training in the art
of handling traffic and in the maintenance of equipment so that
there will be no interruption in the transmission or reception of
vital messages. br>
Transmitters by mass production. On the assembly line at
the left individual units are carefully tested for continuity
of wiring and correct cabling by skilled girl operators.
After testing, all necessary adjustments are completed before
the chassis units are mounted in the transmitter cabinets.
At the right is a row of complete transmitters. fully assembled.
tested and ready for shipment to our armed forces. Note
the final inspection tags attached to the front panel.
These sturdy metal chassis will support parts of highest
quality and will be wired by expert American craftsmen -
many of them amateur radio operators. All holes must be
free from burrs or rough edges that could cause damage to
the wiring system.
Insulated wires of various colors are wound about headless
nails. They designate the exact position where a connection
will be made. Later they are carefully laced together with
heavy waxed cord. Each "breadboard" is marked with an identifying
This YL is putting the finishing touches on a transmitter
cable. Inspectors examine each completed unit and check
to determine whether or not the cable will meet government
specifications. The spools of wire on the rack in the foreground
show why copper is so badly needed!
Heavy transmitter chassis are held at a convenient angle
for wiring on special wood frames. Each operator is responsible
for completing a designated series of connections in a prescribed
order. This steps up production and prevents mistakes due
to complicated circuits.
Transmitters being assembled on one of the many assembly
lines. Heavy tables support the tremendous weight of the
units. Girls as well as men play an important role in production.
Many of them will be among tomorrow's hams.
Transmitters are placed on dollies to facilitate being moved
along the assembly lines. The YL in the foreground is inserting
transmitting tubes in a completed unit. After continuity
tests are made it will be sent along to the inspectors and
A familiar model is this receiver, here seen undergoing
a series of tests in the Hallicrafters laboratory. Military
sets of similar design successfully withstand terrific punishment
when used on our battlefronts.
Each transmitter receives its "baptism of fire" before being
packed for shipping. Precision equipment is used for these
important tests and actual testing must be executed by skilled
radiomen. Many are licensed amateurs.
Shielded test booths are an important part of a modern radio
plant. Outside QRN cannot be tolerated while critical adjustments
are being made. Grounded copper screen completely encloses
each test room.
Recent articles in QST have given us a
picture of the part that these amateurs are playing on the fighting
front. What about those on the home industrial front?
combination of manufacturers and homebuilders has been of tremendous
importance in the job of turning out military equipment to "get
the message through." If it were not for the fact that American
radio manufacturers had been producing transmitters and receivers
for amateur radio operators throughout the world, the job of setting
up plants and the training of personnel for the vast requirements
of war would have been most difficult. Radio men are not made overnight.
Like the family doctor, a certain amount of basic training is essential.
Furthermore, a radio man does not become skilled in mechanical and
electrical operations simply by reading a textbook. He must acquire
a technique whereby he can use his common sense and ability to diagnose
minor troubles by the simple process of "sight" or "smell."
Amateur radio having been in existence for many years, there
are among its thousands of participants a large number of "deferred
essentials" and III-A men who can devote their time to the construction,
design and other duties associated with the production of military
radio equipment. Hundreds of them are engaged as engineers, purchasing
agents, servicemen, phasers, testers, shop foremen and in executive
It was fortunate for the nation that these men
understood the requirements for continuous duty on the field of
battle and were able to undertake the construction of new military
sets and build them to government specifications. The amateur has
been an important factor in making our war production of radio materiel
what it is to-day.
Radio Production Converted to
The production of radio equipment
for public consumption was ordered to cease last April. Little time
was lost in converting manufacturing plants to all-out production
of equipment for our growing military machine. It is a matter of
record that many of these factories are now flying the Army-Navy
"E" flags high above their plants.
Overnight these plants
increased their production capacity many times. New tools and machinery
replaced older machines not suited to the arduous task of day and
night operations. New methods were adopted which save valuable hours
in turning out an elaborate transmitter or receiver. Better parts
and tubes made it possible to standardize so there is no needless
waste and so that replacement of a damaged part will be made easier
- particularly on the fighting fronts, where speed is essential
in the maintenance of communications equipment. There can be no
failures when lives are at stake.
That is why Uncle Sam
has placed so much confidence in American radio manufacturers. They
are doing an outstanding job.
Perhaps the best way to see
how this job is being done is to go on a tour around one of these
plants and take a look at the actual processes of manufacture. A
logical choice for such an inspection trip is the Hallicrafters
plant in Chicago - logical not only because before the war it was
one of the world's largest manufacturers of amateur communications
equipment, but because it is now producing such a large volume of
military equipment based on these amateur designs.
In fact, right there lies one of the major contributions flowing
from amateur radio to the war effort. The Hallicrafters make much
special equipment based on new developments for military needs,
of course, but the greatest part of their production is in transmitters
and receivers the basic design of which was originally created to
meet amateur needs. It is significant that this "amateur" gear -
some of it designed as long as four or five years ago - is now given
top rating by the armed services for military needs.
The fact that this amateur-type equipment has been selected by the
military, often in competition with the best of the specialized
commercial designs, is a striking commentary on the discrimination
and technical achievements of the American amateur fraternity. It
will be a strong chapter in our record when the war is over and
the details can be told.
Mass Production of Military
The accompanying photographs
are illustrative of the many tasks performed in the 24-hour a day
production of military radio equipment in the Hallicrafters plant.
The various mechanical and electrical operations in
building a transmitter or receiver are most interesting to the observer.
Large metal chassis are carefully drilled to close tolerance. Any
burrs left on the chassis must be removed during this operation
in order that wires will not be cut. Every chassis must be protected
against rust or corrosion; this becomes most necessary when units
are sent to damp climates or for operation on naval vessels. Many
improved formulae have been developed for plating and otherwise
protecting the metal surfaces. Electrical conductivity has been
improved, eliminating many of the older set noises.
parts such as terminal strips are riveted in place. Nameplates are
attached and stamped with the model number and other information
required. The larger parts, such as transformers. condensers and
inductances, are then bolted or otherwise fastened in place, and
the assembly is ready for wiring.
Radio equipment made for
continuous service must be wired by skilled hands. The adoption
of color-coded cabling is an important contribution to simplicity
in wiring or servicing complicated circuits with their maze of connections.
Large boards, slightly bigger than the chassis, are used breadboard
style for the preparation of these multi-wire cables. Nails with
heads removed are driven into the boards at the spot where a turn
is to be made or where a socket or other part is to be connected.
Various colors indicate the particular classification of circuit,
such as filament, plate, cathodes, etc. Most grid circuits are omitted
from the cable - for obvious reasons. Cable boards are marked for
It is amazing to watch the women who do
this work prepare an elaborate cable in a few moments' time. They
become highly skilled and rarely make a mistake. Inspectors examine
each cable after it has been completed, before it goes to the wirers.
There is a right and wrong way to wire a radio receiver.
Each operator must follow a prescribed procedure in order to avoid
confusion with the balance of the assembly line. Special racks are
constructed to hold the working chassis at a convenient angle for
good visibility during the wiring procedure. Each operator has a
designated series of wires to connect. The number of operations
on the assembly line is dependent upon the complexity of the set.
Techniques are developed to do the job in the shortest possible
time and with the most consistent wiring finesse.
Amateurs on the Assembly Line
Many of the
experts employed in the construction of this equipment hold amateur
licenses and have had plenty of experience in the construction of
their own gear. When they return to the air it is certain that their
equipment will not break down due to faulty wiring or mechanical
failures. We predict that many of them will contribute in no small
measure to the new radio art that is to follow the war. The radio
bug has also bitten many of those engaged in the production of
equipment who have never had any part in amateur radio. Their training
will aid them greatly to get on the air when amateur operation is
Women are playing an increasingly important part
in supplying the military with radio units. Delicate operations
are executed in quick time by their nimble fingers. With the adoption
of ultra-compact sets, we expect many of these YLs to design and
develop highly efficient gear for their own stations after the war.
The activity of amateur personnel is not limited to the
construction of receivers. We find many of them on the transmitter
assembly lines. One of the photographs shows a group of employees
busy assembling high-powered units for service where several frequencies
must be available at a moment's notice. Modern engineering has resulted
in tremendous improvements in this type of transmitter. After hostilities,
the amateur will be given the opportunity to take full advantage
of these late developments.
New methods for switching tank
coils, new and improved means for neutralizing, smaller and better
components, stabilized crystal oscillators, economical tube operation
and many other features are most intriguing. These must remain a
secret until final victory is won. The men and women who are in
contact with these late developments will be among the first to
enjoy the new equipment at their stations.
Many hams have
in the past been a bit careless in constructing their own rigs.
The American manufacturer has been responsible in many ways for
changing the entire technique in assembly, layout and wiring of
units. Bad habits have been corrected. Building a large transmitter,
for example, is done by following a carefully-planned system. Heavy
tables equipped with steel rails permit these bulky units to be
moved along the assembly lines in orderly fashion. Each operation
is conducted with precision by men and women especially trained
to do their job in as short a time as possible. Experience has shown
that the radio amateur is particularly well-suited to almost any
operation that may be assigned to him.
In making these large
transmitters each assembly line is charged with the responsibility
for turning out individual sections. A portion of one of these lines
is shown in one of the photos. These units, after receiving final
tests and inspections, will later be placed into their steel cabinets.
Final tests are conducted with extreme care. Actual on-the-air
conditions must be simulated in order to observe the conduct of
the transmitter under full operating conditions. Tubes must be carefully
checked and tested with overloads to insure that they will not fail
while in service. Amateurs selected for these responsible jobs have
the ability to detect any fault in operation by a glance at the
various indicating instruments. Here is where experienced operators
must be employed. Students having completed a short-cut radio course
cannot possibly have gained enough background to be able to assume
responsibility for so important a job.
The United States
was fortunate in possessing the great majority of the world's radio
amateurs and skilled radio technicians. These men and women were
accustomed to the tedious tasks met in the design and construction
of complicated sets. They had learned that patience was a virtue,
and that the pace set by the American ham was the envy of the entire
amateur world. If it were not for these 'phone and c.w. hounds,
we would not have the radio equipment we now possess.
Up to a few years ago most
amateurs assembled and wired their own receivers. Some of them were
very efficient and reliable; others were not. The American manufacturers
of communications equipment undertook to design highly-efficient
sets that could be offered to the amateur at little more than the
cost of a homemade unit. Bugs were eliminated and many improvements
added that could not be handled in the average shack. The result
was a trend to purchase ready-made sets in preference to others.
We hams will never be satisfied with a mediocre receiver in our
shacks. We would rather layout a few extra bucks now and then in
order to acquire the latest sets that are more selective, equipped
with better crystal filters and possess all of the other refinements
needed to combat the heavy QRM that existed on our crowded bands
prior to the QRT order.
That trend toward manufactured equipment
has paid huge dividends in our war effort. Thousands of sets were
available from jobbers and operators for military use that would
not have been on hand were it not for this trend. Not so long ago
an urgent plea was sent out by the Signal Corps and other services
asking owners of standard manufactured sets to offer these to the
government at a fair purchase price, to be used in our training
centers. Only those sets having diagrams and instruction books were
included. It would have been sheer folly to accept units that were
not duplicates of others or lacked pertinent information that could
be used to insure continuous duty. Thousands of hams responded by
giving up their cherished sets.
Today the old set is
giving yeoman service where it will do the most good. Thousands
have been shipped abroad, and many of them appear in photos received
from our fighting fronts.
The demands of the military have
resulted in new designs and innovations. These will be incorporated
in the new sets that will find their way into thousands of radio
shacks after the war. Some of these late developments are most revolutionary.
The panoramic technique alone offers unlimited possibilities for
accurate tuning of DX stations. One manufacturer is even now keeping
pace with the military sets by incorporating many of the new ideas
into experimental sets designed for post-war amateur radio. This
foresight should offer much encouragement to those who are wondering
how long it will take to return to "normal" when the last shot has
Hams in the Labs
typical American radio laboratory staff includes many hams. In times
of peace they are charged in designing new equipment for one of
the greatest hobbies known. The testing, alignment and other operations
were performed by amateur radio operators in hundreds of laboratories.
These men had learned the importance attached to the manufacture
of sets for use in peace-times and it was comparatively easy for
them to take over the responsibility of making precision adjustments
on sets tagged for Uncle Sam's forces.
visit to one of these radio plants puts us in contact with many
hams that you have talked to on the air. At the Hallicrafters, for
example, we find Bill Halligan, W9WZE, one of radio's old-timers,
president of The Hallicrafters. When bombs fell on Pearl Harbor,
his company, like many others, possessed a large group of skilled
craftsmen engaged in building transmitting and receiving equipment
of many types. Among them are Herb Hartley, W9WNG; Cletus Wiot,
W9TDF; Donald Wilbur, W9BRT; Clarence Zorn, W9TAL; Wallace Burandt,
W9PTD; Fred Connor, W9CUK; Jack Cappels, W9EPB; Ray Polkingham,
W9IAV, and Jack Pekasovich, W9LOL - to mention only a few. All are
applying their technical and executive knowledge to the war effort.
They realize that the further pursuit of their radio hobby can only
be guaranteed by a final and complete Allied victory.
an avocation has become a vocation to thousands of men and women.
They are turning out the finest radio equipment that can be made.
Army and Navy inspectors - also including many amateurs - are seeing
to it that there will be a steady supply of transmitters, receivers
and other special equipment reaching our fighting men wherever they
may go. They also know that the future of their hobby depends entirely
upon ultimate victory for the Allies. Without that victory, there
can never be a return of our avocation.