On February 17, 1936, Hiram Percy Maxim, "The Old Man," cofounder of the League and its president from the start 22 years earlier, died suddenly at age 66. Later that year, a devastating flood struck New England, and the headquarters station, W1MK, located at Hartford's Brainard Field, near the Connecticut River, was destroyed. No trace of its antenna structure was found after the waters receded. During the flood, the lesser-known League headquarters club station, W1INF, located in nearby West Hartford, handled a great quantity of flood relief traffic.
The Board of Directors decided that a new station be built on a more suitable site in memory of President Maxim. In December 1936, the FCC--in the first action of its kind--assigned the call W1AW to ARRL in memoriam. A 7-acre site was purchased in the sleepy town of Newington, about 5 miles southwest of Brainard Field. The Maxim Memorial Station, W1AW, was dedicated on September 2, 1938. The dedication ceremony was broadcast nationally by radio. The new building sat alone while the town grew up around it. Then, in 1963, the new ARRL Headquarters building was added to the site. W1AW underwent a major interior renovation in 1988-89, and the roof was replaced in 1996. Exterior brick and concrete were repaired in 2000. Thanks to careful attention to the building's historical significance, the exterior looks much as it did at its 1938 dedication.
Let's Go Inside
Although most photos of W1AW show the front (east-facing) side of the building, no one can remember when that door was last used. Visitors and staff enter from the west side, the door facing the ARRL Headquarters building. The entry foyer contains artifacts of early W1AW history. On the left is an early post-World War II 80-meter 1 kW transmitter and "Old Betsy," a rotary spark gap transmitter that once belonged to "The Old Man" himself, and was installed at President Maxim's Hartford residence.
Also to the left is a display case housing many early radio components, including a section of a telephone pole that once supported the huge rhombic that filled the space behind W1AW--the space now occupied by the ARRL Headquarters building.
To the right there is an old roll-top desk that actually belonged to Hiram Percy Maxim himself. It was received as a donation.
Attached to the wall on either side of the entry are the W1AW Kilowatt Club plaque, and the Hiram Percy Maxim plaque, listing the names and call signs of those who contributed toward the station's 1988-89 renovation.
An operating console in the center of the main room coordinates transmissions—CW, digital and SSB--to all of the W1AW bulletin exciters and amplifiers. These transmit W1AW bulletins and Morse code practice on seven HF bands simultaneously.
Voice bulletins are read live. An AMR 64 audio mixer sends the signals to the transmitters. The console also houses a line-voltage and phase-angle monitor and a switchboard that allows the station operator to manually control keying functions and transmitter power output. Two Icom receivers--an IC-725 and an IC-R7000--monitor actual on-the-air transmissions.
Facing the console, housed in its own 8-foot-wide, floor-to-ceiling cabinet is the six-bay equipment rack housing a patch panel and all the bulletin transmitters. Tall sliding glass panels allow access to the equipment but also isolate the equipment from the main room.
One Harris 1-kW solid-state amplifier is mounted in these racks. (The Harris RF-3200 HF transceivers has since all been retired.) Now, Icom IC-756ProIIs and IIIs are used on 160 meters through 10 meters with a Kenwood TS-590S being used on 40 meters.
Ameritron AL-1200 type amplifiers are used on 40 and 20 meters. Icom IC-PW1 amplifiers are used on 160 meters and 10 meters and Acom 2000A amplifiers are used on 80 and 17 meters.
For 2-meters, a Yaesu FT-2900R is in operation. This transceiver is attached to a Mirage 150 watt repeater amplifier, located in the basement.
The Hewlett Packard 5371A Frequency/Time analyzer and Hewlett Packard HP 5345A Frequency Counter are used to test the broadcast equipment when necessary. The innocent looking box underneath the counter is a Sprint systems GPS-based 10 MHz frequency reference used by the HP equipment. It is locked onto at least five (5) GPS satellites and is used to generate a 10 MHz reference signal for the test equipment.
The patch panel located at the end of the equipment rack is used to attach the various antennas to all the equipment in each studio.
W1AW transmits for approximately eight hours a day, five days a week, alternating between code practice and code and teleprinter bulletin transmissions. In addition, voice bulletins are transmitted daily at 9:45 PM eastern time using SSB on HF and FM on 2 meters. . This heavy-duty service generates a lot of heat. Therefore the entire equipment rack is forced-air-cooled to protect the transmitters.
Upon entering the "main room," visitors will see the three operating suites or studios to the left. Thanks to the generosity of the many manufacturers who have donated equipment over the years, each provides up to three well-equipped operating positions. The studios are enclosed by sound-deadening walls and a thick glass door that allows other visitors to look in but not disturb the hams at their stations.
Visitors to the Maxim Memorial Station, W1AW, may operate the station during visitor operating hours, 10 AM to 12 noon, and 1 PM to 3:45 PM, Monday through Friday. Be sure to bring your Amateur Radio license, or a photocopy, with you.
Considered the “Contest” studio, position one has an Icom IC-7700 transceiver. An Icom IC-PW1 amplifier is located in the cellar and is attached to the IC-7700. The IC-7700 can also be used for operating various digital modes, such as RTTY and PSK31. Position two consists of a donated Yaesu FTdx9000D transceiver. The donated Acom 2000A amplifier is attached to the Yaesu. All positions are equipped with foot switches, headsets, CW keys and Heil microphones. Each position can be operated on any HF band, including 6 meters.
A lot goes on in Studio Two. In addition to the donated Flex Radio Systems Flex-5000 SDR, there is also an Icom IC-7000 H/V/UHF transceiver and an Icom IC-9100 transceiver located here. The Yaesu FT-1900 serves as an APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) transceiver. A Yaesu FT-1900 is used as a transceiver for the W1AW RMS Packet (Winlink 2000) gateway. For satellite tracking, the program Nova-for-Windows - or SATPC32 - controls the Yaesu G5500 Az-El rotator. A Davis Systems automated weather station sends data to the APRS program. In all, there are three HF positions available in Studio Two.
Rounding out the operating positions, Studio Three has a donated Yaesu FTdx5000 and Yaesu VL-1000 “Quadra” amplifier fill the center position. A donated Kenwood TS-590 transceiver is located nearest the front window. This is attached to an Alpha 9500 amplifier.
Located near the front door is what’s considered the “Digital Station.” The equipment here is used to operate EchoLink, as well as running a Winlink 2000 node. In addition to Winlink use, the Kenwood TS-480SAT is also used for MARS/SATERN operation. An Icom ID-1 23cm D-Star transceiver and Icom IC-2820 2m/70cm D-Star transceiver allow access to the D-Star network via a D-Star repeater located in Bristol, CT. An AOR ARD9800 digital modem is used for digital HF operation. And, the Rohde & Schwartz XK-2100L HF transceiver is available for testing and casual HF operation.
Across from this station sits a rather, non-descript PC and Yaesu FT-2800M VHF transceiver. This equipment is used to operate the W1AW IRLP node (4292) on 147.425 MHz. Although this IRLP node was installed primarily to allow HQ staff access to areas involved with emergency communications, the system is also active during visitor operating times to allow for casual operating. The Icom IC-7000 is Studio Two is usually set to the node frequency.
The Rest of the Story
The remainder of the first floor is dedicated to an office for the station manager, a workshop where minor repairs are made, a kitchenette and a restroom for staff and visitors. The PC nearest the foyer entrance is used for demonstration purposes when necessary. It’s currently used to display weather fax images received with a Hamtronics R-139 weather fax receiver. The images are those from various NOAA-xx weather satellites.
The second floor of the building--once the attic--is set up as a conference room. The Board of Directors, Board committees, local clubs and ARRL staff make use of it from time to time.
The building is protected against fire, intruders and electromagnetic interference. W1AW is not totally immune to EMI problems, however. Although those who install alarm systems typically know about EMI, they seldom confront the type of challenge that W1AW presents--a simultaneous concentration of high power and wide-band transmissions. W1AW station manager Joe Carcia, NJ1Q, has had to devise his own cures when the professional installers were stumped. Now all is well and the Newington Police and Fire departments can relax.
W1AW can operate on its own auxiliary power for up to a week, continuously. The entire building load is an impressive 25 kW, but a 60-kW Kohler generator can take it in stride. The generator is exercised weekly to ensure that it will be ready if needed.
Today, bulletins transmitted by W1AW are received with ease throughout the country. The information transmitted covers a broad range of topics such as propagation, Keplerian elements for satellite tracking, news of interest to all hams, and DX information. On Friday UTC, a DX bulletin replaces the regular bulletins. This news is of such great interest to hams in Europe that the 20 and 40 meter rotatable beams are connected in phase with the fixed beams to assure a strong signal to Europe as well as to the continental US. The bulletins are eagerly received and rebroadcast by other clubs and users.
In his book 200 Meters & Down Clinton B. DeSoto relates the story of Hiram Percy Maxim's desire to purchase an Audion tube. Unable to send a message to Springfield, Massachusetts, from Hartford, Connecticut--a distance of 30 miles--despite his 1 kW output, Maxim resorted to relaying the request via a ham in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, about halfway between.
That experience prompted Maxim to conclude that a national Amateur Radio organization could coordinate the relaying of messages, and thus greatly improve the distances hams could cover. The name for the new organization reflected this purpose--the American Radio Relay League.
In December 1915, each member of the newly formed League received in his mail a 16-page magazine called QST--the "December Radio Relay Bulletin." Its stated object was "to maintain the organization of the American Radio Relay League and to keep the amateur wireless operators of the country in constant touch with each other."
Today, W1AW continues to provide the service that was the basis for the ARRL's founding nearly 100 years ago.