August 1939 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Popular 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.
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.
Is 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.
Ham 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.
Ham 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 to discuss.
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. set.
Posted April 17, 2020(original