W4HE - July 26, 2008

Charles A. 'Chuck' Stay
QCWA #4890
Age 101

Charles A. "Chuck" Stay, W4HE, receives his "80 Years Since First Licensed" Award

1. Chuck got his start in Amateur Radio in 1920

Soon Chuck and friends were engaging in two-way spark communications using antennas of various kinds. "We didn't have anyone or any books to help us with the theory, so we just tried out things to see what worked, and we learned to send and copy the code. I built several antennas, including a cage antenna made from bicycle rims. We were supposed to be operating on 200 meters, but frankly I had no idea what frequency I was operating on, I was just operating. DX was making a contact with someone in Bridgeport, Connecticut."

"I built a 'single-circuit receiver' using an Audion tube as a detector. The tube's filament drew 1/4 of an ampere, so the storage battery would run down pretty fast. One time my dad, who was an English immigrant, and I were listening for a widely-advertised attempt to make a voice broadcast from England to the Americas, but my battery ran down first."

"Tubes were expensive in those days at $5 apiece. Western Electric tubes were even more expensive. There was a row of radio stores in New York City that sold all the radio stuff, and half of it was faked. You never knew if a tube you bought there was going to work. They used to sell loading coils with the claim that the bigger it was, the better it worked."

"Later I got a bargain on a quarter-KW rotary spark transmitter, so I bought and used it with a heterodyne receiver using one tube, two variometers, and a loose coupler."

2. First Licensed as 2CQW in 1921

Eventually, an FCC inspector came out to Long Island and to close down all the illegal operators. Fortunately Chuck had become a licensed operator before then.

He attended Friend's Academy, a Quaker prep school in his hometown, and that's where he met his future wife. He noted that the school had excellent teachers, especially his math teacher and his chemistry teacher.

3. Earned his BSEE and a Navy Commission; Operated as W1BCQ

Chuck attended Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, and earned his BS in Electrical Engineering. He became engaged before graduation, so stuck around to learn French and Italian while his Italian-speaking fiancé finished her schooling. After graduation they were married, and he joined the Edison Company to work in the test department. After a year, he was transferred to the transmission and distribution department.

"All the ships that crossed the Pacific seemed to stop at Guam. We had a 10-section floating drydock that could handle a battleship, plus another smaller drydock. Minesweepers operated out of there, and then as the US took over islands in the Pacific, supply ships joined the crowd."

Stay ran an electronics shop of 25 sailors who repaired Navy transmitters, receivers, radar equipment, teletype machines, etc. and made various installations. One such installation was an array of nine rhombic antennas that covered all points of the compass. They were connected to RCA-built diversity receivers in a listening post located at the center of the array. "We built the array, but I never got to see the station in operation because I didn't have high enough clearance."

Stay replaced his old ham equipment with a high-powered Signal Corps transmitter and one of those RCA-built diversity receivers, but his 10m beam remained the one he had shipped out from the states.

"In those days, 10 meters was wide open and you could work anyone, worldwide. I'd work the states in the morning and South America in the afternoon... the long way around, via Africa. Europe was typically open after dark. There was a gal in Chile who was on the air a lot and we all chatted with her. XZ2EM in Rangoon, Burma, was another one I worked many times, but I could never get a QSL card out of him. That's when I really got into DX."

5. Operated as W4MUJ in the Post-War Period

After the war, Captain Stay was sent to the Charleston shipyard as an electronics officer for a year. He was then assigned to communications to help write specifications for the next generation of Navy equipment; his focus was on reliability, environmental, and space requirements.

He and his wife moved into a home on Arlington Ridge Road half-way down the hill near 23rd St. and just west of National Airport (DCA). He showed up at the FCC office, located in one of those ubiquitous temporary frame buildings on the Mall, to take the exam for an Advance Class license and to apply for a 4-call. Because he went in uniform, a photographer took a picture of him taking the exam, presumably as a publicity photo.

"There was a Lieutenant Commander in charge of the Navy's station on Courthouse Road in Arlington. Radio traffic captured by the Navy's receiving site at Cheltenham, MD, was forwarded by wire to this station and then on to the Pentagon. He was an ex-enlisted man, and because I wasn't a Naval Academy graduate, we got along just fine [chuckles]. When I began building my next ham transmitter, he let me scrounge parts from his vast supply."

"I'd come home from the Pentagon around 5 p.m. and get on 20 meters where I could usually work someone in England. With my diversity receiver and an antenna up about 25 feet, I did pretty well. First station I worked was Bermuda and the last state I worked before earning WAS was Delaware."

6. Ethel Smith, K4LMB, worked for Chuck in Naval Intelligence

From 1958 to 1963, Chuck worked for Naval Intelligence as an advisor to the Commanding Officer for Scientific and Technical Intelligence. "We used to examine all the Soviet intelligence-gathering equipment we could lay our hands on, and our source was usually the CIA. Our objective was to identify possible counter-measures."

"Ethel Smith applied for a job with us, I interviewed her, and she worked for me for three years. She was in a section that examined photos of Russian intelligence assets, such as fishing trawlers loaded with radar and communication gear. These folks gleaned what intelligence they could from what they saw in those photos. Ethel turned out to be very good at it."

Retired in 1963; Stays Active in Ham Radio as W4HE

Chuck retired as a Navy Captain in 1963, took the tests for the Extra Class license, and became W4HE. He soon joined the Alexandria Amateur Radio Club, which used to meet regularly at the Red Cross building in Alexandria, VA. There he met up again with Ethel Smith, K4LMB, and met her husband, John F. "Tex" DeBardeleben, W4TE.

"Tex was much older than she and was a very good radio man. Ethel used to run the 10 meter net at night, and Tex would report on the net's activities to the club. On the message handling nets, Ethel would take the time to teach people how to handle message traffic properly. She did a good job."

Chuck became involved in Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES), which was managed by the Department of Defense. His RACES group grew to be quite active, primarily because the Potomac would overflow its banks along the Alexandria docks every other year. One night when Alexandria's phones were knocked out, Chuck contacted another ham by radio who was able to call the local broadcast stations. These stations broadcast appeals for Alexandria's fire and rescue personnel to report for civil emergency duty. On another occasion, families had been evacuated to Brookville school, but there was no potable water available. Chuck contacted another ham via radio to ask the Coast Guard to truck water there.

As the local Emergency Coordinator (EC) for RACES and the Civil Defense Radio Operator for the City of Alexandria, Chuck carried a special pass that would give him access to areas otherwise inaccessible during emergencies. City officials and others were very cooperative in allowing him to set up stations and antennas in a school in Mt. Vernon, the Red Cross building, City Hall, and several other locations.

For several years, he was net control for the weekly RACES net on 75m. He also ran the VA "slow speed" CW net that operated every night between 6 and 7 p.m. on 80m. Traffic that needed to be forwarded cross-country was handed off to the "high speed" CW net that began at 7 p.m.

He enjoyed other social nets, such as the early morning "green turtles net" and "the old timer's net on 3903 that started at 1 p.m. on Fridays. Almost everyone on that net had been born before 1900, so I was a youngster."

He had a mobile 40 meter rig that sat on the floor on the passenger's side, leaving some room on each side for the passenger's feet. "My wife used to complain about that."

He still uses a 2m transceiver in his room on the 6th floor of the Goodwin House in Alexandria, VA, to chat with his buddies. It's connected to a J-pole antenna made out of copper tubing and mounted on the base of an old floor lamp.

As told to Dick Rucker, KM4ML, on March 19, 2002