Amateur activity in the Edmonton area was recorded as early as 1914. Records of this early period are practically non-existent, but a main item in the “50 Years Ago” column in the Edmonton Journal of January 23, 1965, states: “The Edmonton Amateur Wireless Association will hold its regular fortnightly meeting next Friday in the YMCA.” Evidently the amateurs of that time were attempting to keep a Club going during the War, but there is no evidence as to its success.
After the War, the first signs of life in amateur activity were beginning to show. The first action that led to the formation of a club took place in the bedroom of a young lad, Joe Dobry (now VE6DR, and still active from a Calgary QTH). They called the Club the “Teepee Wireless School.” An explanation of this name was that the group had very little money and there were only two known sources of wireless gear, both in the United States. They decided that if they were to call themselves a “School” they would be able to obtain a discount on any material they purchased. The name was used for several months, but it was changed for practical reasons. They had no money to buy anything anyway, and in addition, the name was not attracting the type of people they felt should be members of the Club. The Club became “The Edmonton Wireless Operators Association” about six months after the historic meeting in the Dobry bedroom.
By the end of 1921 and into 1922 there was a tremendous increase in interest about “radio”, as it was now being called. The “broadcast boom” hit Edmonton by the spring of 1922. The interest of the general public in radio was phenomenal - they started to build radio sets and the demand for tubes and other parts was beyond the ability of the suppliers to cope with. The situation improved later, but it was still serious in 1924. However, these “set builders” swamped the Radio Club in 1922 and it became almost exclusively a Broadcast Listener’s club. The hams dropped out and there was no radio activity on a group basis for the next few years. By this time the BCL’s thinned out, and it became a ham club again.
Sometime during 1923 the Club obtained a “9” (experimental) call which they sometimes used to broadcast music. The Club operated for while from the Royal George Hotel. There was also a broadcasting station operated from this hotel using the call letters “CFCK”, operated by the Radio Supply Co. where Ted Sacker (VE6BW) spent his working hours. No doubt may “non-working” hours were also spent here, keeping the station in operating condition. The station license was later taken over by the University of Alberta and became CKUA in 1927.
The reason for the discontinuance of the Amateur broadcasting station is not clear, but interference with radio receivers most likely was one of the causes. The fault, of course, was not always the ham’s since the receivers used by most BCLs - even the manufactured sets - were not very selective. For the most part they were regenerative receivers, without any R.F. amplifiers. With only one tuned circuit between the antenna and the detector grid, there were wide open to interference of any type. In fact, the BCL stations interfered with each other, as it was customary to tune in a broadcasting station with the tube oscillating and then detune the regeneration after the station was tuned in. A fair amount of energy was radiated by the antenna to interfere with other sets tuned to the same station. The same type of receivers were used by the hams, the only difference was the frequency the sets tuned to, and of course, the same type of interference was experienced on the ham bands. The regenerative receiver still was the most commonly used until the early 1930’s, when the superhetrodyne receiver became more common.
By 1927 the Club was known as the Edmonton and District Radio Club and membership had grown considerably.
The new call letter assignments and regulations were set out by the government in 1929. As early as 1931, quite a number of the local hams were using 40 meter crystals. These were brought in from England by Charlie Harris, VE4HM (now VE6HM). Also, during the 1930s the 20 and 10 meter bands were being used, and tremendous distances were worked with relatively low power.
Unfortunately, during the depression which began in 1929, many people were out of work, or were forced to accept cuts in salaries. This made the purchase of radio gear and other “non-essential” items very difficult. In spite of this amateur radio made great strides.
The first “Hamfest” held in Alberta began from a somewhat more ambitious radio club meeting when the Edmonton group would be guests at a meeting in Calgary. The year was 1928. Four members of the Edmonton Club left for Calgary by train. When the train stopped at Red Deer the group decided to get off and find something to eat. It appears that the service left something to be desired, and when they returned to the station there were just in time to see the train leaving. As luck would have it, a gentleman appeared and he offered to take them in his Model T Ford to catch up with the train down the way. En route, they burned out a connecting rod, and it took some time to get it repaired. They eventually arrived in Calgary late at night, tired and very cold since their coats were left aboard the train! This, no doubt, was a Hamfest that these enthusiastic amateurs would never forget.
Since that time until the outbreak of the war hamfests were held on a fairly regular basis, every other year. The 1933 Hamfest took the form of a special meeting to which the Vegreville Ham Club was invited. The club was organized by Clare Watts, VE4EZ. He claimed that one percent of the Vegreville population were hams - 24 hams - 2400 people! The final hamfest prior to the War was held in July of 1939, and many visitors were present, including several from the United States.
In the past the N.A.R.C. has recognized those hams who have made a significant contribution to amateur radio over a long period of time. To anyone who they think has qualified for this honour, life memberships are conferred. Up until the present (1967) two such memberships have been awarded. The recipients were Charlie Harris, VE6HM and Ted Sacker, VE6BW.
Charles Harris was born in England in 1886 and came to Canada in his early years. He served with the forces overseas during the First World War and then returned to Edmonton. His first QSO was in May 1926, and he has been very active since. His wife, Hilda, having mastered the code, obtained her amateur certificate of proficiency in the early 1930’s. Charlie was the S.C.M. for Alberta in the early 1930s and has been a member of the A.R.R.L. for almost all of his years as a ham. He has handled a large amount of traffic over the years, and is still handling traffic for fellows stationed in the north country.
Ted Sacker began his radio career in Edmonton in 1923 when he was with the Radio Supply Co. Many hams and BCLs have benefited from his experience. For a time he operated an amateur broadcasting station. He took over Radio Supply and it became the center of ham radio activities in the Edmonton area. Later he sold the company and opened Sacker Electronics. He has now retired from the wholesale radio business and is operating a small specialized business “Sacker Geonics” and makes and sells equipment used in the geophysical field. Ted has always been interested in amateur radio and is ever ready to help a fellow ham overcome technical problems.
After the end of the war, the ten meter band was made available to the hams and they were operating on this frequency in great numbers. The sun spot cycle happened to be favourable and the DX worked made the old-timer’s eyes shine. “Worked all countries” were made in a few hours, where previously it had taken some operators as long as seven years to log that many countries. The remainder of the bands were opened by the following April, and an unprecedented increase in the number of hams took place. A factor in this increase was the amount of war surplus equipment that appeared on the market. The cost of the equipment was very reasonable, and the power of the average ham station increased considerably. An interesting development in these times was a more general use of portable and mobile equipment on the lower frequency bands. Some hams were able to operate while traveling to and from work, on vacations, business trips, etc.
Then came TV… Television was making a tremendous impression on the public; much the same as radio had done about thirty years earlier. TV effected (sic) hams in different ways. Some gave up amateur radio for the pleasure of just watching the new fad, other had to restrict their operating considerably because of TVI. Many wondered where the days of amateur radio were to be numbered because of the difficulties they encountered, and they didn’t think that radio and TV could exist in the same spectrum.
About this time, single side band began to show up. This promised to cover great distances with lower power, and use less band width than the AM mode. SSB (single side band) was slow to start but it gathered steam as it interested more hams. They soon realized that it did most of the things it promised.
The growth of the new method of transmission had another effect on ham radio, and that was the reduction in home-construction of equipment. The main reason for this was that the equipment is so complex most hams would probably not be able to do a good job, and it would be cheaper to buy it ready-made. The advent of transceivers, of course made the thought of construction less palatable again. The use of SSB has also had the effect of increasing the power used by amateurs.
Early members of the N.A.R.C. used to say that only a limited amount of DX could be worked from the Edmonton location. Present members have blown this theory out the window. Members like Gene Krehbiel, VE6TP, Art Craig, VE6BY, Chuck Gawlicki, VE6NX, and Jim Dykes, VE6WR, are working DX regularly, and some have worked as many as 300 countries. There are possibly other explanations for this as well, such as more efficient receivers, new techniques, beam antennas, higher power on both CW and SSB.
Hamfests in Alberta have been held on a somewhat irregular basis, but have been most enjoyable when they have been arranged. The announcement was made at the 1958 Hamfest that Call License Plates would be made available by the Government of Alberta for the 1959 season. The Minister of Highways presented the first Call Plate to the Club, “VE6NC”.
The Club has undertaken several projects, with some of them proving extremely successful. One project was to set up a ham station, together with antennas and equipment for the Paraplegic Radio Group in the University hospital. The station was set up to operate on most of the normal amateur bands. Subsequently, a 2 meter station was set up, and this has been of tremendous benefit to the group.
Another project, on a somewhat smaller scale, involved the purchase of a Braille-writer for Alex Morrison, VE6CE. This has helped Alex greatly in keeping the station log up-to-date as well as general correspondence. Alex has been a strong supporter of the Club in many ways, such as maintaining skeds for various events, as well as keeping up the code classes on the air for several years.
Excerpted from “From Spark to Space, The Story of Amateur Radio in Canada”, published by the Saskatoon Amateur Radio Club, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1968.
Reprinted with the permission of the Saskatoon Amateur Radio Club, February 1996.
EARL GROTZKI (VE6ERL)