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Article Profiles First African-American Radio Amateur, Rufus Turner, W3LF


The computer hardware/software/do-it-yourself blog Hackaday has profiled Rufus Turner, W3LF (ex-K6AI) — the first African-American radio amateur and one of the more fascinating personalities in US history. Born on December 25, 1907, in Houston, Texas, Turner “became fascinated by crystal diodes and published his first article about radio when he was 17,” according to Hackaday. He went on to build what Hackaday described as “then the world’s smallest radio set” in 1925, while still a teenager.

In the day when radio amateurs still were allowed to broadcast, W3LF became the first radio station licensed to an African-American. He broadcast with a 15 W in Washington, DC, and operated another radio station for his church.

Working with Sylvania in the 1940s, Turner helped to develop the 1N34 germanium diode. And in 1949, he wrote “Build a Transistor” for Hugo Gernsback’s Radio-Electronics magazine (May 1949 issue, p 38) — at a time when transistors (aka “crystal triodes”) not only were cutting edge but not commercially available. His meticulously described project involved the sacrifice of two 1N34 diodes and reusing one of the cases.

In January 1950, his article, “A Crystal Receiver with Transistor Amplifier” appeared in Radio and Television News, along with plans for a three-transistor radio. This was in the days before such things had begun to appear on the market.

While he had attended Armstrong Tech in Washington, DC, and he became a licensed professional engineer, he veered into the non-technical sphere of academe later in his life, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, and in 1960 — at age 52 — he became an English professor at California State College, where he’d obtained his BA. He pursued a PhD in English at USC, with his thesis analyzing the life and literary output of 18th century romantic Charlotte Turner Smith.

He taught until 1973, but continued to write electronics articles. He died in 1982, the same year his The Illustrated Dictionary of Electronics appeared in print. — Thanks to Hackaday, Southgate Amateur Radio News, Radio-Electronics




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