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UC Berkeley Amateur Radio Club Celebrates its Centennial

02/28/2014

The Amateur Radio club at the University of California, Berkeley (W6BB) is joining ARRL in celebrating its centennial this year. For those who are members of the club today, the magic of Amateur Radio has not worn off.

 

“I’m still fascinated by the profundity that an electrical signal can leave the radio in front of me, travel up a wire to an antenna outside, and someone halfway around the world with an antenna outside connected to their radio can hear my voice and talk with me,” club member Bill Mitchell, AG6RB, a chemistry graduate student, told UC Berkeley NewsCenter reporter Steve Hockensmith for his article, “Century-old ham radio club making waves in Richmond.”

As part of its celebratory activities, W6BB will take to the air with a special event station March 21-28, using the centennial-appropriate call sign W6C. Operation will be on 40, 20 and 15 meters — and 10 meters, if it’s open — on SSB and CW. A commemorative QSL card will be available. The club also will use W6BB/100 during its centennial year.

The club’s call sign went through some changes in the early years, starting out as 6XB, then 6XM, before the Federal Radio Commission granted W6BB in 1929. Although the original 1914 station is long gone, a new one was established last year at Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station — at the north-east shore of the San Francisco Bay in Richmond. Yet another is being set up in Cory Hall on the university’s main campus; it should become up and running this spring. The W6BB club currently has 25 members, including undergraduate and graduate students as well as some staff and faculty members. There have been times over the years, though, when W6BB went dormant. That was the case when Friedrich Sommer, K6EE, came to Berkeley in 2005.

“I grew up in Germany in the ’60s and ’70s, and for me Amateur Radio was the window to the world, even across the Iron Curtain,” Sommer is quoted in the UC Berkeley NewsCenter article. Now an adjunct professor in theoretical neuroscience and the club’s faculty adviser, Sommer said when he got to campus, there was no equipment, no place where antennas could be erected — nothing.

As Hockensmith explained in his article, that started changing after Stephen Stoll, then the head of the campus’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, contacted the club. Stoll was interested in ham radio’s potential usefulness during disasters; emergency preparedness is a major part of the club’s charter. With Stoll’s help, the club set up a new headquarters at the Richmond Field Station. The once-disused shack is now filled with both vintage and modern Amateur Radio equipment, and members put up a 25 foot tower. Much of the equipment was donated by Bay Area ham operators over the last few years. W6BB has participated in both weekends of the ARRL November Sweepstakes as well as in the California QSO Party.

“What we have here is basically a walk through history,” Sommer said in the NewsCenter article. “We have equipment from as far back as the 1930s that you can still actually use. So part of the club’s mission is to give people direct access to this old, beautiful technology.”

That direct access is what drew Tholfaqar Mardan al Waheed, KJ6WEH, to the Amateur Radio Club. A programmer/analyst in the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s computer mechanics lab, Mardan al Waheed’s passion is experimenting and building circuits.

Michael Lustig, KK6MRI, an assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department, has started teaching his students about Amateur Radio. Lustig says there’s plenty that a 21st century electrical engineer can learn from tinkering with 20th century ham radio technology. All 60 students in his digital signal processing class plan to take their license exams. -- Our thanks to Sarah H. Maxim, great-granddaughter of Hiram Percy Maxim, W1AW, for calling this news to our attention!

 



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