Howard Booth, VK2AMD, was the Inaugural President of the first radio club in Wollongong, In those days known as “The Wollongong Amateur Radio Club”.
Howard Booth was brought up in the city of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, where he and his family lived up until the time that he, his wife and two sons emigrated to Australia – arriving in Wollongong in May 1948.
Howard had been interested in radio as a hobby since his tender years. He sat for and passed an examination in Morse Code at 20 WPM, (which was required before he could qualify for an Amateur Licence at that time) on 26th January 1923 – ie: at the age of 14 years!
Shortly after Howard and his family settled in the city he was approached by some of the (very few) local Radio Amateurs (of which one, Greville Dennys – an army officer- who was known to have held the callsign VK2UK), and was asked if he would form a club covering Amateur Radio activities in the area.
Meetings of the Wollongong Amateur Radio Club subsequently commenced at the Technical College in Gladstone Avenue in June 1948 – with Howard as Founding President. As was usual in those days, the construction of a Club Station was made an early priority. Howard tells of him building the transmitter and receiver at his place of work, which was HG Palmer’s Electrical and Radio Store – where he was able to obtain the parts. The transmitter – containing two 807 valves, in push-pull in the final – was built over a period “of about 24 hours” It was, of course, crystal controlled (they ground their own crystals from watch glasses etc in those days) – It operated on 40 metres -and later, when a doubler stage was added, on 20 (and also at some time on 80?) metres. He says that “the parts of the original transmitter cost about ten bob”!!!($1.00).
In order to be able to set up their equipment, the club had to move from the Technical Collage to suitable premises,. So Reg Waters, VK2WV (a club member and radiographer at Wollongong Hospital) offered the use of a shed at the rear of his house at 21 Bourke St North Wollongong. The Club Station operation commenced with two test transmissions to VK2WV on 5th and 6th July 1948 – according to the first Logbook (which is presently held by the IARS librarian). At that time it was necessary to use the callsign of a licensed amateur who was present as the club station callsign had not yet been issued.
The first contact outside the Wollongong area was on CW, with Charlie Fryar, VK2NP, the President of the Gladesville Radio Club. It was thought most likely to have been on 40 metres.
The first club license (issued as VK2AMW) is identified as an Experimental Licence, and was isssued by the Commonwealth Postmaster General’s Department. You can see a 776KB scanned image here.
Although many of the early contacts were on phone, CW was the only mode used, so that new unlicensed club members may satisfy their urge “to get on the air” by operating on phone from the club station rather than study for their own licences, using the Morse and theory tuition being offered by the club.
All amateurs in those days were “Full Calls” and had to first operate for six months on CW only, before being granted phone PRIVILEGES and ONLY THEN after satisfying a Radio Inspector, when he carried out a Station and Logbook inspection, that they had actually used CW (and not phone) for those first six months The station logbook shows that, all contacts from about the end of August were on CW. This continued for some time thereafter.
Howard received his Australian licence, under the callsign VK2AMD, in September – but it was 3rd December 1948 before the club received its station licence, under the callsign VK2AMW. When Howard and his family moved residence out of town to Ocean St Windang (where he still lives) he relinquished the President’s job in the Wollongong Radio Club to Eric Fisher, VK2DY, who remained in that position until the mid 50’s.
Howard still kept in close contact with the club as when, after about two years at Bourke St., it moved again so that it would be at a more accessible position near the centre of the city. Howard offered them the part time use of his gymnasium, which was located in a room “behind Passlow’s shop” – then located at the lower end of Crown St. The rent of five shillings per week (50 cents) was shared between Howard and the club. When the station was set up at this location it used an end-fed antenna with 300 ohm feeders.
The club was forced to move again in June 1952 because Passlows wanted to use Howard’s Gym for a stocking factory. The next meeting place and club station location was at the home of Col Meering (a member who did not have a callsign) at 45 Rosemont St West Wollongong. Some of the club members transferred there but others found it more convenient to gather of a Sunday at Howard Booth’s home at Windang – where they continued to meet – and receive Morse Code training etc, if required – “for some years”.
Others in the club went to Rosemont St where they could use the club station, which resumed operation under its VK2AMW callsign on 5th July. Tuition in Morse Code and Theory was available to them also.
On 25th June 1953 the transmitter at VK2AMW was taken off the air for modification. Unfortunately this project was never completed – “and due to this and to other factors, numbers dwindled over the next year or so” – meetings eventually ceasing. This transmitter has never been found.
Col Meering continued to renew the VK2AMW licence each year (it cost him one pound for renewal in 1956 $2.00) up until about 1957 or 1958 – at which time, he tells that “I was contacted by a local amateur who was one of a group planning to reactivate the club” He passed the licence information on to them, but did not take part in any of their activities. A large sheet metal sign – received from Col Meering at Rosemont St in 1991 – is still in existence (at VK2ALU’s place) – it reads:
WOLLONGONG AMATEUR RADIO CLUB
In 1962 the club was reformed and then the name was change to the Illawarra Amateur Radio Society. It was incorporated in 1984.
In the early days of the club it worked very closely with the then Wollongong University College. With their CSIRO installed 30 feet (10metre) parabolic radio telescope installed at West Dapto. In 1969 a group of Wollongong Amateur Astronomers and a group of local Amateur Radio Operators requested permission to use the facility. The Wollongong University promised limited funds. Unfortunately the Astronomers left shortly after and then the site was taken over by the Amateurs. The first EME (Earth Moon Earth) tests where conducted on 432.000 Mhz (70 centimetre band) with a view to investigation of the characteristics of this most difficult means of radio communication. The first test where started in 1972 and signals where heard from a station in California U.S.A, but it was not until May 1973, after repeated tests that a two way EME communication was possible. In the process it was necessary to have state-of-the-art receiving equipment, this was obtained with the assistance of others working overseas, some in development laboratories, in order to detect the extremely weak signals.
By 1977 the group had used the dish to detect radio noise from the stars at the centre of our galaxy, and carried out experiments on radio propagation characteristics of the path to the Moon during the period that it eclipsed the Sun and had Communications with Europe, Japan, Africa, North and South America. The group where working towards more sophisticated forms of EME, when vandals caused severe damage in 1977 and the site was closed down after more irreparable damage in 1978.
Another site was obtained on top of the escarpment and tests where carried out on the 1296 Mhz band (23 Centimetre band). But again intruders caused damage and in 1987 most of the equipment was removed and the project was terminated.
Countries worked on 433MHz where USA 13 contacts, Canada 2, UK 1, France 2, Italy 1, Luxembourg 1, Sweden 1, Holland 1, Japan 1, Zimbabwe 1, French Guyana 1. Making this 5 continents.
Contacts on 1296 MHz USA 2, Canada 2, UK 1, Germany 2, Sweden 3, Switzerland 2, Czechoslovakia 1, Zimbabwe 1. Number of Continents worked 3.
(Taken from the log of VK2AMW held by Lyle VK2ALU.)
Well it’s great to remember the PAST but the future of Amateur Radio is what we are all interested in. Lets take this NEW technology by the hand and walk hand in hand with it!