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Veteran Wireless Operators Association Honors Two Hams

05/02/2008

At their annual awards banquet on April 26 in New York City, the Veteran Wireless Operators Association (VWOA) honored two Amateur Radio operators with two of the association's top awards: Fritz Raab, W1FR, and John Curtis, K6KU. Raab gave the keynote address at the banquet. "The dinner speech was a wonderful presentation of the Amateur Radio Experiment domestically and that which is happening internationally. He explored what may happen, if things go well for the museum stations on 500 kHz and for radio amateurs," said VWOA Chairman Francis Cassidy. "Ever since the emergence of the Global Marine Distress and Safety System, professional radio officers have discussed the prior use of 500 kHz. They know the attributes in the oceans of the world where ground wave transmissions on the oceans provided their primary informational experience of these transmissions."

Fritz Raab, W1FR

Raab, of Burlington, Vermont, received the VWOA's De Forest Audion Gold Medal, honoring his "technical achievements in 35 years of radio engineering." Raab serves as the experimental project manager for The 500 KC Experimental Group for Amateur Radio. The ARRL 500 kHz experimental license, WD2XSH, was issued in September 2006 and has 20 active stations.

"I'm kind of excited to see how we can apply modern technology to a 'classic part' of the radio spectrum," Raab told ARRL in 2006 when the experimental license was issued. He pointed out that 500 kHz -- the traditional maritime emergency frequency -- is roughly geometrically halfway between the 136 kHz experimental band and the 160 meter amateur allocation. "In contrast to 160 meters, 500 kHz is low enough to offer good ground wave propagation," Raab said, "but in contrast to 137 kHz, it is high enough to allow us to engage in real communication with realistic equipment."

Raab said he would eventually like to see at least a secondary 600 meter amateur allocation from 495 to 510 kHz. "Besides the opportunities for experimenting at low frequencies, that frequency is well suited to regional groundwave communication," Raab said. He said he envisions the eventual use of the spectrum to provide Amateur Radio emergency communication via groundwave, without having to deal with the vagaries of the ionosphere or causing interference to any other services.

Additional information on the 500 KC Experimental Group for Amateur Radio can be found at the experiment's Web site and also in the July/August 2007 issue of QEX.

Raab said that it was "a real honor for me to receive an award named after one of the most important inventions in radio, and given by an organization whose members have included a number of the legends in the field. As a newcomer to 500 kHz through our experimental license, it is especially nice to be recognized by a group of people who have actually used 500 kHz for communication."

Raab is chief engineer and owner of Green Mountain Radio Research, a consulting firm that he founded in 1980. He received his BS, MS and PhD in electrical engineering from Iowa State University. Raab is co-author of Solid State Radio Engineering and author of more than 100 technical papers; he has been issued 12 patents. Raab's professional activities include RF power amplifiers, radio transmitters and radio-communication/navigation systems. He is a fellow of IEEE and a member of ARRL, HKN, Sigma Xi, Association of Old Crows, Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Radio Club of America.

John Curtis, K6KU

Curtis, of Granite Bay, California, received the VWOA's Marconi Memorial Award Plaque "for his lifetime efforts of perfecting electronic circuits to generate Morse code as exemplified by the development of the Curtis Keyers."

In an article Brad Mitchell, N8YG, wrote for the ARRL Web site in 2002, he said, "Modern transceivers incorporate many features that not long ago were considered accessories: CW keyers and SWR meters come to mind. John Curtis, K6KU, created an electronic iambic-keyer circuit and subsequently offered an IC chip to do the job. He revolutionized keying, as we know it."

Mitchell wrote that Curtis, when studying for his Amateur Extra ticket, "decided to get a feel for the requirements of the Extra Class test by undertaking a circuit design project. John built a keyer circuit and learned about digital electronics." This keyer worked so well that Curtis's ham friends told him he should market it. Curtis followed the advice, and in 1969, he placed an ad in Ham Radio Magazine announcing the Curtis Electronic Devices EK-38. The -38 and its follow-up, the -39, became so successful that Curtis quit his day job and formed Curtis Electro Devices.

Curtis had established a lot of contacts while working at a semiconductor manufacturing company in the 1960s. These paid off for him when he decided that a keyer circuit could be implemented on a chip. He started with two designs: The 8043 and the 8044. "The 8043 was designed as a completely custom integrated circuit in CMOS," Mitchell wrote. "At the same time, International Microcircuits was looking for a chip in which to test their gate array technology. The first chip down the line was the 8044, produced for Curtis. The 8043 worked first try. It was limited to dit memory, and sold for $7.95 in quantities of 50 or more in 1973. The 8044 also worked right off the bat. It offered dah memory in addition and sold for $24.95 in 1975. The 8044M was introduced in 1980. M stood for meter. A meter could be hooked up to a pin of the 8044M to indicate sending speed."

In 1981 Curtis added mode B keying characteristics to his keyers. Mode B simply added an extra dit or dah when the operator stopped sending, depending on which was sent last. If a dit was sent last, an extra dah would be sent. If a dah were sent last, a dit followed. Curtis added this feature to his 8044B. He introduced several keyers incorporating his new full-featured ICs. The first was the EK430 incorporating the 8043 chip. Curtis also introduced a fully integrated keyboard chip called the 8045. In June 1982, Curtis Electro Devices produced its last keyer, the Lil' Bugger. Offered as the K5 or K5B, it incorporated the 8044 or the 8044B chip, respectively. Both models sold for $39.95 and were quite popular.

In spring of 1986, Curtis introduced the 8044ABM chip. It incorporated selectable A or B modes and the speed meter, becoming an industry standard. In the 1980s, however, microcontrollers were making serious headway and Curtis chips were no longer in demand. MFJ took over part of the line and Curtis Electro Devices ceased operations in April 2000.

The VWOA

The Veteran Wireless Operators Association was founded in 1925 to foster fellowship among wireless operators aboard ship, in the military, and in the shore stations. Through the years, the ranks of the VWOA have included most of the executives and innovators of the broadcasting and communication industry, as well as thousands of radio operators.

Today, in its 83rd year, the VWOA serves as both a link to the history or radio, as well as a bridge to the future. Its members have been, and continue to be, on the front lines of the development of radio and television broadcasting, satellite communications, and the entire digital revolution. Current membership is approximately 300 men and women. Members are concentrated along both US coasts, but members also reside in almost every state as well as Canada and several other countries. For more information on the VWOA, please visit the VWOA Web site.



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