The Wireless Club of the University of Pennsylvania was founded on October 4, 1909 by a group of enthusiastic wireless operators led by Julian S. Simsohn (College 1911). The Pennsylvanian carried regular reports about the Club as it organized, installed its equipment and began receiving and then started transmitting from campus.
The Club quickly attracted fifty members with a wireless station located on the first floor of Houston Hall in the west alcove next to the present day Bodek Lounge using an antenna stretching between the tops of Houston and Logan Halls.
Two Philadelphia newspapers also reported early Wireless Club activities:
The Philadelphia Bulletin reported that “…messages have been sent from the Hampton Club a distance of 250 miles, while aerograms have been received from points 500 miles away. Cape Cod is heard every night…”
The Public Ledger reported “…the Wireless Club is one of the strongest organizations at Pennsylvania. It is in constant communication with five universities and with the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Frequently it sends messages to ships at sea…”
The University of Pennsylvania holds a leadership role in the history of College and University Amateur Radio. Penn organized and hosted the first meeting of schools interested in wireless radio communication. The Intercollegiate Wireless Association held its first meeting at Houston Hall on the University of Pennsylvania campus on April 9, 1910. This association was formed with the University of Pennsylvania and MIT as its two charter members. At that time, it was noted that “…it is practically certain that Cornell, Princeton, and seven other colleges will join shortly…”
Since the Club’s founding pre-dated the Radio Act of 1912, its first callsign was self-assigned. This callsign appears in the “Third Annual Official Wireless Blue Book of the Wireless Association of America”, dated June 1, 1911. The University of Pennsylvania is listed as “UP” with variable bandwidth and 3 1/2 inch spark.
Federal licensing started in late 1912, with annual station lists issued beginning July 1, 1913. Many club stations opted for a “Special Land License”. The University of Pennsylvania was one of the few university club stations to obtain an amateur radio license. Unfortunately, there is less information about the early amateur radio stations than the special land stations, since they were not reported in the monthly Radio Service Bulletins, and were only listed once a year in the annual station lists. The old license files apparently were not saved or deposited in the National Archives.
There is an entry for amateur radio station 3ASO, licensed to the University of Pennsylvania for 500 watts in the July 1, 1916 edition of the Department of Commerce Radio Stations of the United States. The 1916 list was the last annual report before the start of World War I, when all the amateur station licenses were deleted. After the war, most of the re-licensed stations received new call signs.
The first post-World War I Amateur station list appeared on June 30, 1920. The 1925 annual report is the first to list 3KZ as assigned to the University of Pennsylvania. At that time, the October 1924 edition of The Pennsylvania Triangle reported that “…a Radio Club under the supervision of the student A.I.E.E. is also being organized which will give all “Hams” a chance to pound brass and listen in while they are away from home…” The January 1925 edition of The Pennsylvania Triangle reported that 3KZ, the modern station of the A.I.E.E. will be operating full blast. The equipment including a powerful receiving set and a 100-Watt, 80-meter transmitter, will, according to Jess Haydock and Nick Henwood “get everything on the air, and off”…” In March 1925, it was reported that “…The Radio Club has the station installed in the Engineering Building and it has now been in operation for about a month. Recently the room has been open at night and several times all-night watches have been maintained. The station will soon be on the air regularly three nights a week. For the present time, the club members will be engineering students only. The membership is made up almost entirely of licensed operators. The set was built in the shops and its performance is excellent. Work has been done with many distant stations as far as the Rockies ….”
The W prefix was mandated as of October 1, 1928. Since the Club held the 3KZ call at the time, the Club became W3KZ and held that callsign for about two years. It is unclear why the Club failed to renew the W3KZ callsign in the early 1930s. The holder of the W3KZ callsign post-1930 became Club member and University of Pennsylvania alumnus Rodman Buggy, EE ’35.
The Club was reborn as W3ABT in the fall of 1932. The Pennsylvania Triangle regularly reported on the Club’s progress which can be read by clicking on the articles listed on the right side of this page. By 1934, the Club completed construction of a new AM and CW transmitter with a power input of one kilowatt. The Club suffered with static in their receivers and a redesigned double-antenna system was built in order to correct the problem. In 1935, the Club became all-University once again. Dr. Carl Chambers was the Faculty Advisor. Club activity continued into the early 1940s. All Amateur Radio activity ceased when the United States entered World War II. The Club minutes for 1942 – 1943 contain the following note “…Radio Station W3ABT operated almost daily until USA entered war. Station now off and under lock…”
When station activities resumed after World War II, the Club was once again operating in room 214 of the Moore School Building. It was during this period that the Club became an ARRL Affiliated Club. The Club offered a free message service to the University. During the Christmas season of 1949, the Club sent over 500 Christmas greetings and personal messages to people in the States and to GI’s overseas. This service was also demonstrated during Engineer’s Day in 1950 where more than 500 people saw the operators sending messages.
The Club room contained a Collins Autotune transmitter and used a long wire antenna that extended from the Moore School Building to Bennett Hall. AM transmissions had a tendency to interfere with the public address system in the Moore School Building, especially the condenser microphones used in the adjacent lecture hall, so operating hours were restricted to non-class hours.
Behind a screened-in cage covering one wall of the W3ABT operating room was a home-brew 300 watt transmitter built by Club members that had a control panel with several pushbuttons and colored indicator lamps. During the 1950s, the home-brew transmitter was used successfully in conjunction with the Club’s Collins 75A-3 receiver for many CW and voice contacts with foreign amateur radio stations on 20 and 40 meters. It was also used to check into the College Net on 75 meters. Amateur radio stations participating in the College Net, which met on Friday afternoons, were situated mainly at Ivy League colleges and universities. Club member John Balan (ex-K2IBU), in particular, enjoyed participating in the Net. Also in the W3ABT operating room was a surplus Navy teletype machine that could only be used for receiving.
Edward J. Brauner (W2UR, now KF7LR) and Dr. Robert Gephardt, W3SJM (now K2VFK) were at the Moore School as undergraduate and graduate students from 1949 to 1955, and each became the Club President. Dr. Robert E. Bartlett, Jr., W8FTD (now also HP3FTD) joined the Club as an undergraduate student at the Moore School in 1952 and was at Penn as a graduate student during 1956-1958 and 1960-1961. He also eventually became Club President, after first holding various other Club positions and persuaded the University to fund the Club for the first time.
In the early 1950s, when Brauner, Gephardt, and Bartlett were Club members or officers, the Club held a Field Day weekend of its own at a farm outside Philadelphia using portable equipment that in those days was rather cumbersome. After erecting a long wire antenna and setting up equipment, Club members camped out in tents overnight. Some Club members who participated remember that someone had forgotten to bring enough food and that they had to go to bed hungry. Although Club members managed to get the transmitter operating that evening, they were unable to make any contacts until the next morning on 75 meter AM, when they were able to talk to radio amateurs in New York and New Jersey.
In the mid-1950s a three-element 20 meter rotatable directional beam antenna was erected on the roof of the Moore School building and greatly improved the station’s ability to communicate with radio amateurs in foreign countries including Australia, Morocco, Liberia, Ascension Island and Russia. Contacts were also made with many countries in Europe and South America. John Balan remembers operating W3ABT one night and contacting amateur radio station VK3WL in Melbourne, Australia, where an uncle of his was waiting to talk to him and to his father, who had come down from New York City. That was the last time his uncle and his father were able to talk to each other before his father’s death. John is still very proud of that contact.
The Club remained active through the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s with little change. In 1961, thanks to the generosity of the Franklin Institute and the Philmont Mobile Radio Club, the Club received a new tower and 3 element yagi antennas for 10, 15 and 20 meters that were mounted in a Christmas tree array. In 1962, the Club purchased a Hallicrafters HT-32B, and a National NCL-2000. The Club could now operate using SSB.
In the middle 1960s the Club maintained steady student involvement even through the sunspot minimum. The Club purchased a Collins 75S-3 receiver to replace the Collins 75A-3 receiver and also installed Gonset G-50 and Clegg 22’er six and two meter transceiver equipment and a new VHF tower and antennas. As sunspots increased and the bands improved, the Club decided to concentrate on gaining ARRL’s Worked All States and DXCC Awards. Both of these awards were confirmed by 1967. The Club also decided to improve the HF operating area by moving from desktop operation to rack mounted console equipment, selling the Hallicrafters HT-32B and buying a Collins 32S-3 to match the existing Collins 73S-3 receiver. In 1967, a second Collins receiver, a Collins 75S3-C, was purchased to enable split operation. The Collins S-Line and the National NCL-2000 would remain the HF gear through the rest of the 1960s. The HF antennas remained unchanged until a severe storm damaged the 3 element ten meter beam in winter of 1968 -1969. The Club decided to move to a combination ten / fifteen meter 3 element beam while upgrading the 3 element twenty meter antenna to a 4 element HyGain 204BA beam.
The Club became active on RTTY after discovering an unused Teletype Model 19 that had been donated to the Moore School by Bell of Pennsylvania. Permission was granted for the Club to adopt the Teletype machine and it was quickly connected to the HF equipment using a W2JAV demodulator. This demodulator was soon upgraded to a Mainline TT/L-2 RTTY Demodulator built by Russ WA3FRP from a 1967 article in RTTY Journal. The Teletype Model 19 was also upgraded to a Teletype Model 28 KSR that was purchased by the Club through RTTY Journal. The Club quickly worked all continents on RTTY and received WAC RTTY #106, the first College / University Club station to receive this award.
Field Day, starting in 1967, was held at the University’s Valley Forge Research Center. The University had acquired two sites west of Valley Forge National Park that used to be a U.S. Army Nike Missile Base (PH 82L and PH 82R). Field Day 1967 operated from the Launcher Area that was also known as the Lower Site. This is where the Nike Ajax missiles were once located. All Field Day operations, after 1967, took place at the Upper Site, which was originally called the Integrated Fire Control Area. This is where the acquisition radar used to be located.
The Club started experimenting with SSTV in the early 1970s. The Club also handled a large volume of traffic related to the Vietnam War. Many young people from the Philadelphia area were drafted into the Armed Services and were sent to boot camp in South Carolina or San Diego. The Club would receive radiograms from both bases from recruits who wanted to let their loved ones know that they had arrived safely. The Club received the radiograms through ARRL’s National Traffic System and then made phone calls to the families in the Philadelphia area. The Club also continued the longstanding tradition of providing phone patches for people who needed to contact others in the area who were away from home on assignment in the military or for other obligations. The Club’s efforts were consistently recognized in QST magazine, being honored with Brass Pounders’ League (BPL) certificates and ranked high in the Public Service Honor Roll each month.
The Club also organized and ran classes as part of Penn’s “Free University” program and was able to get a number of students interested in learning the theory and practice of Amateur Radio.
In 1975 or 1976, the Club made its first major equipment change in years when it sold the Collins S-Line and purchased a new Kenwood Station.
Club activities were hampered by TVI as the University was experimenting with “distance learning” in the 1970s, and had a TV classroom built. The idea was that the professor could lecture in the studio, and be watched by students at a remote site. Students could ask questions by a talk-back system (audio, no video). The lectures could also be videotaped. The studio was set up with multiple cameras, audio and video mixing, etc. This was in the days before inexpensive TV cameras and VCRs so there was a considerable capital investment for the University.
The distance learning studio was placed directly under Room 214. Transmitting on any band with more than a few watts of power caused all sorts of havoc down below. Examination showed poor grounding, no shielding, and other problems. Club members helped improve the shielding and grounding in the TV studio but the problem was never really solved except to observe “quiet hours”, which meant the Club was off-the-air during most weekday afternoons and early evenings.
David Dodell was the Club president in 1976. David made the recommendation to obtain the N3KZ callsign when the 1×2 blocks became available, and the Club selected N3KZ as the “New” 3KZ based on the former Club callsign from the 1920s. Club callsign W3ABT was dropped at that time and remained unused and thankfully remained unassigned for the next thirty years.
In 1979 the Club entered into an agreement with the Holmesburg Amateur Radio Club, most notably, the maintenance of a two-meter repeater on one of the High Rise dorms. This agreement, negotiated by Club President Marvin Shelton, remains in effect today.
During the early 80’s, the club maintained a station with two Kenwood HF transceivers, two-meter equipment, slow-scan television, a Model 28 Teletype machine, and an array of antennas on top of the Moore School Building.
Tower #1, originally installed in 1961, stood on the southwest corner of the Moore School roof held a 4 element Hy-Gain 204BA yagi for 20 meters and a Cushcraft 19 element Boomer yagi.
Tower #2 was a 20 foot section of Rohn 25 bolted to the south side of the Moore School roof and held a 5 element Hy-Gain 10 meter yagi and a 4 element Cushcraft 15 meter yagi.
Tower #3, originally a part of the now defunct “Distance Learning’ system, was a 60 to 70 foot tower on the north side of the Moore School roof.
A 4 element wire yagi for 40 meters was suspended between Towers #1 and #3 aimed at Europe. In addition, a 2 element wire yagi for 40 meters was strung over the Moore School parking lot (Chancellor Street) pointed to the southwest.
Two 80M dipoles were hung northeast to southwest and north to south respectively. A 160 meter dipole was hung east to west.
Each Valentine’s day, the club garnered publicity by sending radiogram Valentines from students to destinations across the globe. This publicity no doubt helped the Club maintain funding from the Student Activities Council.
In 1982, the University of Pennsylvania Amateur Radio Club and the Holmesburg Amateur Radio Club joined forces to operate W3WP, or “Whiskey Three William Penn” as the station was proudly announced over the air. The special event station obtained use of the callsign by enlisting the callsign’s owner as a temporary control operator. The William Penn station served to commemorate the Tricentennial of the City of Philadelphia as part of the City’s “Century IV” celebration, and it operated from Penn’s landing the weekend of October 23rd, staffed by a mix of University Students and Holmesburg club members. The University of Pennsylvania Amateur Radio Club and the Holmesburg Amateur Radio Club worked together again in the summer of 1984, setting up a Field Day operation at the Valley Forge Research Center.
During this time period the club faced RFI problems, receiving a number of complaints that its transmissions were causing interference to some of the instruments within the laboratories of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. After finding that “quiet hours” imposed by the Dean of the School did not allow sufficient time for the Club’s activities and the School’s, the Club was asked to find a new home. Although several possible locations on campus were scouted during the 1982 – 1983 school year by the President at the time, Steve Phillips’, KI3Q, plans for a new station location were slow to firm up. The Club’s plans to move to a new permanent location hung in limbo through the 1983 – 1984 school year.
By 1987, there was basically nothing to speak of as far as antennas. During the previous year the school had re-done the roof on the Moore School and Pender Labs Buildings. The contractors removed the towers and the HF and VHF antennas on the Moore School Building roof, cut them up and threw them in the dumpsters. So there were no antennas except for the 40 meter dipole that stretched between Moore and Towne.
The Club had a TS-711 Kenwood 2m all-mode rig that didn’t work, a Kenwood 820S that didn’t work, and a Kenwood 530SP with second VFO that needed new tubes. There was a Dentron Clipperton-L amplifier (4 x 572Bs) and an Alpha 76 (pair of 8874s), both of which had burned tuning caps and other problems.
The Club had lost Student Activities Council (SAC) recognition. Club President Al Broscius N3FCT and Jeff DePolo WN3A successfully petitioned for SAC recognition and spent the rest of that year fixing equipment, putting up a few wire antennas and some VHF and UHF antennas just to get back on the air.
At the start of the 1988 school year, the Club went to SAC with a big proposal. It included a new forty foot Rohn 45G tower on top of the Moore School Building), a KT-34A tribander, VHF/UHF yagis, satellite Cpol antennas, rotators, 220 and 440 all-mode rigs, etc. SAC provided most the Club’s funding request which bought the equipment and the antennas. The Club members ended up providing in the rest of the money to pay for feed line and all of the other accessories, parts and supplies. The Club did an alumni mailing to ask for donations to cover things like postage, QSL cards, etc. This effort ended up raising another $1,000 and some used equipment.
There were a number of non-Penn people, who were called “the Elders” who had been involved with the club for many years. They kept the Valley Forge site alive and maintained relationships with the administration during the down years of the Club. They ran field day at the University’s Valley Forge Research Center site. They are W3BMA, K3AIJ (SK), WB3EOC, WB3BSN, AI3K, and a few others. Tom, K3AIJ, was the ringleader. He was a great guy and really did a lot for the Club over the years. Club and Penn alumnus Dave Pascoe KM3T and Jeff DePolo became friends with Dave assisting with the best ways to deal with the Penn Administration, the best angles to work to get funding.
The group led by Al, Jeff and the Elders had the station back up and running at full steam by Christmas 1988. Membership grew, activity grew, and the Club operated the PA QSO Party, Field Day, Sweepstakes and most of the other big contests. There was someone in the station operating almost every night. Garrett WZ3G (originally KA5UHK) came in as a new freshman, as well as Matt AA3FQ, and things continued to run smoothly. The Club received $8K to 10K a year from SAC for the next several years, adding a TS-940 at the main station, a new 2m all-mode rig, packet gear, accessories, etc. The Club ran VE test sessions every month and always had a good turnout.
What was left over went into building out the upper site of the Valley Forge Research Center station. The Upper Site, or Integrated Fire Control Area, where the acquisition radar was located was perfect as a secondary operating location. It had two thirty-five foot tilt-over towers that were originally lightning arrestors for the acquisition radar, three thirty-five foot platform towers where the Nike radar antennas had been located. The Club located a forty foot tower on top of one of the platforms hosting a 40 meter monobander, two tribander (CL-33 and a refurbished Telrex that was donated by Club Alumnus Perry Klein W3PK, VHF and UHF yagis and omnis, a vertical HF multiband antenna, and wire dipoles on 40 meters and 80 meters. The radios were the TS-820S from downtown plus a Kenwood TS-850, Dentron and Heathkit SB-220 amps that K3AIJ provided.
The Club always did well on Field Day, and won the multi-operator class for Chester County a few times in the PA QSO party. Everything was going very well for the Club in the early to mid-1990s. Then the core group that had re-established the Club graduated or left school. The Club stopped holding meetings, recruiting new members and lost SAC recognition.
At the same time the University put the Valley Forge property up for sale. The Club room sat dormant for a couple of years. The Moore School Building was undergoing renovation at this time and during the replacement of the windows in Room 214 all of the equipment, logbooks, records, pictures, awards and QSL cards were removed from the room and lost.
At this point, the only part of the Club that continued operation was N3KZ/R. The repeater system was installed and continues to be maintained by Jeff DePolo, WN3A. Although the system signs Club callsign, N3KZ, it is privately owned. WN3A owns the repeater hardware and performs the majority of the construction and maintenance of the system.
Russ Miller WA3FRP was on campus in May 2004 for his 35th Reunion and noted that Room 214 was being used as an office. He contacted Jim Talens N3JT and they decided to re-start the Club as an alumni organization. Jim and Russ started to contact former Club alumni. By the fall of 2005, a group of eighth former Club members had completed a new Constitution and By-Laws, elected new officers and a new Club trustee. The eight alumni were Jan Carman K5MA, Howard Dicker WA2IMB, Harve Hnatiuk KB3FW, Perry Klein W3PK, Leo Kluger WB2TRN, Russ Miller WA3FRP, Steve Phillips KI3Q and Jim Talens N3JT.
One of the first acts of the Club was to file a request with the FCC for the return of former Club callsign W3ABT. This was accomplished in early 2006. Other completed tasks included establishing a new Club Web site and a Club Fund. A series of ads were run in The Gazette in order to attract new Club members.
Jan, K5MA, got the Club back on-the-air in a big way from his home QTH in Falmouth, MA. He operated W3ABT during the CQ WPX Contest in May, 2006 with a total of 3,324,564 points, 1737 QSOs and 662 prefixes. At that point, the Club was up and running once again.
By the summer of 2006, the Club had a new Faculty Advisor, Prof. Saswati Sarkar from Network Communications Systems, and focus changed from operating as an Alumni Club to building a student-led organization and working to reestablish a Club station at the University.
The Club held its first meeting in a number of years on September 8, 2006 at Brasserie Perrier in Center City Philadelphia. Attending that meeting were Fred – K3BHX, Russ – WA3FRP, Henning – OZ9O & W1YS, Professor Sarkar – Club Faculty Advisor, Mike – KB3NDC, Kay – N3KN, and Rob – VE3SHZ.
Club meetings continued during the fall 2006 and into the winter and spring of 2007. The Club focused on increasing student enrollment, developing a strategic plan for a campus station, planning for Field Day and working DX.
By the spring of 2007, the Club’s strategic plan was completed and implementation was under way. The Club was also able to regain its W3KZ callsign.
The Club continued to hold regular meetings and on October 5, 2009 held a special meeting to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Club’s founding.
A new antenna was installed on the roof of the Graduate Research Building, next to the Moore School Building, in October 2010.
The Club was finally able to complete a station and have a QSO on September 24, 2012, using callsign W3KZ.
Many thanks to the Nancy Miller of the University Archives and Revathy Iyer of the Engineering Library for their assistance in compiling this information.
A special thanks to Thomas H. White of “United States Early Radio History” and Stephen J. Melachrinos, W3HF, for their assistance and research.
Thanks also to Club Alumni John Balan (ex-K2IBU), Dr. Robert E. Bartlett, Jr. W8FTD (now also HP3FTD), Dr. James R. Beitchman W3EMD, Edward J. Brauner W2UR (now KF7LR), R. Jan Carman W3JXS (now K5MA), Jeff J. DePolo WN3A, David S. Dodell WB7TPY (now K7DSD), Dr. Robert Gephardt W3SJM (now K2VFK), Harvey D. Hnatiuk KB3FW, Dr. Perry I. Klein K3JTE (now W3PK), James P. Miccolis WA3IYC (now N2EY), R. Russell Miller WA3FRP, Dave Pascoe KM3T, Steven B. Phillips KI3Q, Eugene H. Poppel W3BWI, Marvin Shelton WA2BFW and James H. Weidner K2JXW