K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume VI

My Participation in Pirate Radio

        This one is not exactly ham radio, however, had I not been a ham I would never have gotten involved in this activity.  I used a lot of my ham radio knowledge, meger though it was, to build up the subject of this article.  Again, as with many of my early activities, I'm depending on fact that the statute of limitations has run out on my "semi-illegal" activities.

eye_patch.jpg (6135 bytes)             Recently I saw a picture of the Knight BC band AM transmitter which was sold by the Allied Radio Co. and offered as a kit.  Seeing that picture sure brought back some good old memories.  Back in 1960, I was a sophomore in college in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, at Northeastern State College and I had one of these small transmitters.  I lived on the top (3rd) floor of the men's dorm...(remember back when colleges use to separate the men and women?)  The dorm, at that time was shaped like a capital letter C with the center part being the cafeteria and TV area and the two other parts were 3 story dorms, one women's and the other men's.  The women’s section was on the north side and the men’s was on the south.

           I had an agreement with a girl in the women’s dorm, also on the 3rd floor, to provide an end attachment for my long wire antenna for the broadcast band.   As I recall, the rules back then said – the antennas should be a maximum of 10 feet in length and the user was not to broadcast further than 50 feet.  Well, sure enough, if you used an only 10 foot antenna you could only broadcast about 50 feet, however, with the 300 plus foot long antenna I had, I was able to hear it (very weakly) over a mile away at the edge of town and it easily covered the several blocks making up the campus.  I can't remember what frequency I used; I guess it has just been too many years.  I do remember that in that geographical area, there were few AM stations available and I don’t recall any FM stations copyable.

           I had an automatic "record player" (no, not a stereo, I don't think they were available yet) which could take a stack of 10 or 12  33 1/3 RPM records at a time and that became my broadcast station turntable.  I would place lighter, pop music on to play during the day and it could pretty much play hours and hours of music with the station totally unattended.  During the evening I would play quieter study music.  On Sundays, I played good southern gospel music like The Statesmen and The Blackwood Brothers.  The neat thing was, everyone wanted their own music played on the radio station so they brought me all of their records.  I had the pick of the best records from both dorms.

           A new student moved in off campus and started a business making and selling pizzas, hot and delivered.  He needed advertising to spread the word and I had just such a means of advertising.  I would advertise "Ron's Pizza" during the evening study hours and he provided me with a free, delivered pizza of my choice every night.   I guess if you are going to be a pirate radio station, you might as well break a few more laws too, huh?  I wouldn’t recommend a hot pizza every night to others but it sure seemed like a great idea back then.

           The college president heard about my station and called me in to his office……...it like to scared me to death.  He asked me about the station and I told him it was less than a watt.  He said he thought it maybe 10 or 15 watts.  I don't think he had the least idea what a watt really was but he realized the description “less than a watt” sure didn’t sound very big so he though that must have been OK.  He must have said, a dozen times to me, "keep it clean!"  When I assured him that it would be... this was 1960-61 remember... he said I could continue.  A month or so later, he attended his monthly Kiwanis Club meeting at the cafeteria in the complex and after his meeting, he came up to see my "station."  Scared us to death to open the dorm room door (room was full of guys laying around listening to the station directly) and see the college president, Dr. Harold E, Garrison, standing there.  After viewing the transmitter and seeing that it couldn't have been more than a watt, he told me several more times to "keep it clean" and he was gone.  “Whew!”

           I even had an afternoon program on, I believe, Thursday afternoons with answers to the lovelorn.  I remember starting that part of the program off by playing several lines of the song, “You cheated, you lied……. You said that you loved me….”  Then I would read the questions and the answers for all of the love-starved.  There was really only one problem with the legitimacy of the whole thing and that was, both the answers AND the questions were made up by one of the girls in the dormitory at the end of my antenna.  Still, it was a popular segment and had lots of listeners.

            Altogether, it was a great time and, as I recall, I ran it for a couple of years, however, if I am ever confronted by the law about this activity, I will deny everything.  The nice thing for the college students was, there was a commercial radio station in town, but it was really "hick" and not nearly as "sophisticated" as my station.  Since Tahlequah was the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, it was not uncommon for them to broadcast not only the news but also the hog and cattle reports in the Cherokee language.  We were much above that.  I don’t think my station ever put any dent in their listening audience or in their commercial advertising income.

           I wonder what ever happened to that old Knight transmitter?   Wouldn't that be fun now.........???

Other college electronics activities

          The next year after my broadcast station activities, my wife (then girlfriend) Gloria transferred to Tahlequah to go to school there.  By this time, the dormitory I lived in had been expanded and two additional wings had been added.  Now, instead of being shaped like a capitol C, it looked like a capitol H with the center being the cafeteria and TV area and the legs being two girl’s and two boy’s wings (still segregated by gender).

          Back then, to go get your girl you had to go to the front desk (where the housemother lived) and have someone page upstairs for the girl to come down.  All this was a time-consuming process and, although life wasn’t running at quite the break-neck speed of today, it still was a waste of time to wait.  Since this was pre-cell phone and pre-telephone in your room, the only way to tip off your date of a good meeting time was to call her floor from your pay phone to her floor’s pay phone (bad idea – too expensive).  Of course, if you’d planned ahead and pre-determined a certain time, you could save some time.   Never being quite that organized, they never seemed to meet with much success.  If there was just some way to communicate that I was coming to get her, I could save so much time.

          Electronics to the rescue, I built up an intercom for just us.  Since Gloria was in the girl’s dorm not directly across from mine but instead, in the new wing which was on the other side of the cafeteria area.   That meant the wire for the intercom had to run from my window, across the cafeteria and to the wing catty-cornered from mine.  It was a distance of probably about 450 feet or so.

            The intercom worked great and saved us both a lot of time.  We were very careful to not take advantage of the school’s rules, in fact the housemother knew we had it and even thought it was a good idea.  We even had “dorm devotions” with some of the members of our BSU (Baptist Student Union).  My roommate, Bruce, was a young preacher so several times a week there would be several girls huddled around the speaker in Gloria’s room and Bruce would provide a devotional message to the group.  This was all quite innocent and quite successful.

            However, several other guys in the boy’s dorm discovered what we were doing with our intercom system and since I had gotten permission to do it, they chose to install one from their room to another girl’s room.  Unfortunately, they did not use their intercom for talking to their girlfriend or to have dorm devotions.  Instead, they made arrangements with the girls to secretly invite others (girls) into their room and talk about “assorted things” while a group of boys huddled around their intercom speaker listening to the goings on.  The topics they heard were often approaching fairly “raw” discussions.

When the word got back to the school administrations personnel that these guys were “up to no good” with their intercoms, the word came down that EVERYBODY had to remove all intercoms to rooms.  It was too bad to.  It was a good plan, which worked well, but all things have to come to an end.  Bad folks often ruin things for good folks and that’s what happened to us.

Added September 13, 2007

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