Entertaining Uncle Oscar
1939 QST Article
comic strips (aka 'funnies') in the 1930s and 1940s featured numbskulls,
ne'er-do-wells, and simpletons. There was usually one character
in the strip's cast that was smart - at least in a relative
way if not absolute. Being familiar with some of the old comics
like Blondie, Barney Google, Krazy Kat, Beetle Bailey, Gasoline
Alley, etc., I can see a definite relationship between the story
line of "Entertaining Uncle Oscar" and the comics of the era in
this short story that appeared in a 1939 edition of the ARRL's
QST magazine. As you might guess, the feller named 'Ham'
is the smart one.
August 1939 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Q: Is it irony, coincidence, or premonition
on the author's part that the uncle's name is the same as the ARRL's
OSCAR series of Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio(s)?
Entertaining Uncle Oscar
By Eric Adams, VE3ALG
Ham is faced with
the pleasant task of demonstrating his station to Uncle Oscar, just
in from the country. Leads uncle into the shack and heartily hopes
that everything will work, since uncle shows signs of great enthusiasm.
Recalls final tank condenser arced four times on last transmission;
hopes uncle will accept same as natural phenomenon should it occur
again. Prepares for ordeal by turning on receiver, transmitter and
soldering iron since past experience has shown that this last item
must be used at least once per QSO on the average.
glad he has returned to 160 'phone since Uncle Oscar will no doubt
find phone far more interesting than c.w. Uncle mentions that he
has heard much about intercontinent amateur contacts and casually
requests that his nephew raise Africa or Europe. Ham explains that
such things are not done on 160 phone (and feels like adding, "Or
any other band," as far as he is concerned). Uncle Oscar gets very
excited and shouts, "I knew them newspaper articles was lies! It's
agin the laws of nature to talk to fellers in them places! How could
a body talk to someone in China when it ain't every feller what
speaks Chinese? Take me fer example, I don't reckon as how I know
a word of anything but English."
Ham is not impressed with
his uncle's English and feels like telling him to improve it before
worrying too much about his inability to speak Chinese, but respect
for his elders throttles this remark. Ham decides to impress uncle
by drawing sparks off the antenna with a pencil. Sparks are too
feeble to excite the ham-mind but nevertheless uncle is interested
and promptly wants to light a cigar on the antenna condenser. Ham
says it can't be done and leaves room to get matches, since he is
afraid of his lighter ever since he "fixed" it and it emitted a
seven-inch column of flame, nearly setting his hair on fire.
Ham returns and is horrified to find Uncle Oscar kneeling behind
rig with one hand on rack and his nose about a quarter of an inch
from cap of one of the 866's. Wonders if it would be best to shout
warning, or take more definite steps to enable Uncle Oscar to continue
living. Decides on latter course and gently but firmly drags uncle
backwards by the ears amid S9 protests at such unfriendly handling.
Protests cease after ham explains exact details, taking care to
point out that an arc jumping from the end of one's nose looks silly,
even though the victim is in no condition to worry very much. Uncle
says he only wanted to see inside of rig and proves his genuine
interest in radio by asking: (1) What would happen if a bird sat
on the antenna? (2) Does steam come off the antenna if the rig is
on while it is raining? Ham is not very sure about the first question
and idly grabs the Handbook to look up under "bird." Is somewhat
disappointed to find nothing so devotes his remarks to the second
question and emphatically denounces idea of steamy antenna.
Hunts over band which shows little sign of activity, so puts
rig on and calls a long CQ, interrupting same with frequent insulting
remarks directed at local hams who might be listening and who might
come on the air to defend their honor. Allows uncle to hear transmission
by using earphones on receiver. Uncle listens attentively and finally
remarks, "Say, this feller's voice sounds a little like your own,
don't it?" Ham stops CQ long enough to point out that it is his
own and that is possibly why there is some resemblance. Explains
to uncle what is happening and continues calling. Looks over the
band and is rather pleased to hear local calling him in an irate
voice suggesting a QSO of the 160-meter-feud type. Station calling
seems to be using a telephone mike and modulating about seventeen
per cent; the quality being very hard to read. Ham opens QSO by
asking, "What did you say you were selling?" which remark is calculated
to at least trigger off a "different" contact. Meanwhile uncle asks
what country the station they are working is located in, and if
the operator can speak English. Ham explains station being worked
is four blocks away and that the operator is speaking English. Uncle
replies that he cannot make out a word that is being said and why
not use the telephone if the other fellow is only four blocks away?
Ham decides poor quality is main reason for his uncle being unable
to understand QSO, so on next transmission withdraws his report
of Q5 S9 and substitutes Q-zero S9, after which he signs off with
a few "73's" and several other c.w. abbreviations which were never
meant to invade the 'phone bands.
looks over the band again and hears another local calling an out-of-town
station which he happens to know is right on his frequency, so when
local stands by he conveniently comes on shouting, "Hello test!"
Needless to say other local comes back bewailing fact that out-of-town
station was put out of the picture. Ham says he is very sorry and
obligingly supplies a Q5 S9 report followed by a series of highly
complimentary and exaggerated remarks regarding fidelity, etc. Lengthy
QSO follows during which such topics as rotary beams, 5-meter DX,
and YL's are discussed in great detail, most of the detail being
reserved for the YL portion of the transmission. Second transmission
is utilized to take apart several of the more popular transmitting
tubes, which are heartily condemned by both hams. The fact that
neither ham owns, or knows anyone who owns, one of the tubes is
a matter of apparently little importance. Third transmission deals
with popular commercial receivers which are treated with the same
derision given the tubes previously. Both hams are unanimous in
stating that they wouldn't dream of trading their own home-made
receivers for anyone of the commercial models which they have just
discussed. Neither ham bothers to mention he recently looked over
a few catalogs and cast many envious glances at the receivers just
panned with such gay abandon.
suddenly remembers his uncle and turns around to find that gentleman
sound asleep, despite the fact that radio history is being made.
Finally wakes uncle by shouting violently. Uncle jumps up, mumbling
unintelligibly, but quickly quiets down and devotes a rather sleepy
interest to the QSO which terminates three minutes later when the
other ham remembers a date with his YL. Ham feels very disgusted
with everything, especially his uncle, and resolves never to undertake
further demonstrations for anyone; then mentally decides to make
Susie the one exception. Telephone rings and ham finds next-door
neighbor wants to know if he is on the air since said neighbor has
been bothered with considerable QRM for the last few minutes. Ham
simply states he is not on the air, which remark he feels is the
solemn truth, as he is speaking on the telephone at that exact instant
and, therefore, is not on the air; whether he was on or not a few
seconds previously is a side-issue which ham does not consider necessary
Loud and unpleasant snores, very similar in tone
to some foreign (and domestic) c.w. signals, give audible evidence
as to Uncle Oscar's condition. Ham is completely fed up with both
Uncle Oscar and 160 meters. Decides to leave them both strictly
alone and goes downstairs to listen to Jack Armstrong on b.c.l.