Ernest W. 'Skip' Swenson
QCWA # 31728
Ham Radio Profile - 7/24/10
I guess I was always interested in science. My father was a career Air Force pilot, so aviation was a part of our family life and a regular source of examples in technology advancement. In 5th grade, I built a crystal set and my first single-tube receiver on a wood plank and powered it with several home-made battery packs. I was hooked on electronics from that point on.
I was introduced to CB radio through a friend's father. It was fascinating to me, to be able to hear other voices from clear across the country. After my father's retirement, we moved several times before settling in the Los Angeles area between my sophomore and junior years. I was first licensed as WN6VVA in my junior year of high school in 1967. After passing the mandatory 5 WPM code test administered by my elmer, George Rundquist, WB6NNU (SK), the novice written test had to be ordered from the FCC. It too was administered by my elmer. Working CW on HF and phone on 2 meters (AM in those days) was exciting. Aided by the sunspot cycle at that time, the HF bands were long and active. I was able to enjoy both a modest novice station at home and a club station at school. The shack at home consisted of a Lafayette general coverage receiver, a Knight Kit T-60 transmitter and a Cushcraft 14AVQ vertical. The vertical was mounted on the roof of our 2 story apartment building in Encino, in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. While my parents worried about my school grades, I spent virtually every evening and weekend working the 40 and 15 meter bands. George took pity on my receiving conditions in the home shack and loaned me a National NC 300 receiver until I was able to buy a Hammarlund HQ-180. Wow, now we were cookin. While working stations from Tarzana, CA (next door) to Tanzania, my CW proficiency improved - a lot. The novice ticket was only good for 12 months in those days providing considerable incentive to upgrade. My Chemistry/Physics teacher was also a ham (technician) and wanted desperately to pass the General Exam so he could get on the HF bands. In an act of mutual support, we went downtown together to the Federal building one sunny day and took the 13 WPM code test. Passing this was a prerequisite to being allowed to take the written exam. I was allowed to proceed to the written test, he was not. My joy in passing the General was dampened by my teacher and friend's disappointment in failing.
As it turned out, after failing two more attempts at the code test he gave up. I'm sure many of us can relate to this sad story. That's the way it was in 1967.
The general class license opened the door to a whole new world of radio adventures for me. While most of my time was still consumed with school and extra-curricular activities (ham club president and school electrician responsible for keeping the stadium PA system and the coach's intercom system up and running), almost every weekend was spent on the air, at home or on my Elmer's station. The draw to work the rig at WB6NNU was huge. His station consisted of the full Collins S-Line, a Henry 2K floor model linear and a 4 element, tri-bander beam. He let me run the station as much as I wanted - an offer he probably regretted in the end.
The Vietnam conflict was raging in Southeast Asia. I spent the winter of 1967-68 working MARS stations in Guam and S. Vietnam running phone patch traffic for the troops. We were told that they lined up outside the MARS stations a half-hour before our scheduled times. The domestic phone system was still under Bell Telephone. On every occasion we were assigned a full-time operator and the calls we made from our QTH to any point in the US were free of charge. I don't remember how many patches we completed, but I'll never forget the emotion in some of those phone calls and the feeling I had having a hand in making them possible. George and I were sent a basket of tropical fruit on Christmas as a thank you from one of the units we serviced.
My interest and knowledge of radio circuit design grew those last 2 years of high school. Several of my friends also became hams but were not as interested in the technical aspects of the hobby as me. I built several Heathkit rigs and converted a number of ARC-5 transmitters - building power converters for use on 115 VAC, 60Hz use. I spent most of the summer of 1968 building a legal limit HF amplifier for a friend. The design was taken out of the ARRL handbook. The rest of the summer was spent working at the Topanga Canyon Mall to pay for my "new" 1961 Chevy Impala.
After graduation, I attended San Diego State University in pursuit of a BS in Electrical Engineering. We had a well equipped ham club there too. It was equipped with several operating positions. The antenna farm consisted of dipoles on 80 and 40 meters and stacked monobanders for 20, 15 and 10 meters, all on top of the 5 story engineering building. I took my turn as president of that club as well. However, our members were usually too busy to get on the air much because of our heavy study loads. While in school I joined the San Diego ARES group. We held numerous exercises around town providing radio communications to any public event that asked us. During my time with the group, we were called up to support the National Forest Service one summer to augment their communications during a particularly bad fire around Julian, CA in the Cuyamaca mountain range. What an adventure. Somewhere along the line I upgraded to the Advanced license. This too had to be done in the FCC office at the Federal Building in downtown San Diego.
After graduation I went to work for Motorola's Government Electronics Division in Scottsdale, Az. as an RF/Microwave engineer. It seemed like all my EE co-workers were also hams. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. Being married, having our second son just arrived and attending graduate school at Arizona State University left little time for amateur radio. After spending over 3 years in the desert, and completing my MSEE, I decided to go for the PhD at the University of Washington in the great Northwest. Honeywell had a small facility there in Seattle that had just received a large contract to design and build a new lightweight torpedo for use in Anti-Submarine Warfare. Our move out of the desert was assured when they offered me a job. It was 1981 when we moved to the Seattle area and the next chapter of my ham career began.
By the time I took the Honeywell job, I had moved from RF/Microwave design to system computer modeling and digital signal processing design. Little did I know that my professional career was moving into what would eventually become a major technological movement in ham radio, software-defined radio. We had an active ham club at Honeywell. The club station was made-up of a mix of fairly recent solid -state rigs and some vintage "hollow-state" rigs. Being a company club presented some challenges, as we were all pretty busy with our day jobs including quite a few weekends as I recall. Studying for the PhD qualifier took its toll on my operating time as well. I spent a few years in the Washington State Civil Air Patrol and provided training and leadership as a lieutenant and adult leader in the cadet program. This offered an opportunity to take the hobby to a new group of potential hams. We were successful in adding a number of novices and technicians to the ranks over those 2 years. We were very proud when one of our cadets was accepted into the Air Force Academy and went on to take his degree in Electrical Engineering.
Eventually I took on the position of Interdivisional Consultant in Honeywell and spent some time back in New England supporting design/development programs with technical issues and short-term critical needs. While it was interesting putting out engineering design fires, being a corporate fireman meant considerable time away from home. However, I was able to work the bands from other company ham club locations including several in Minnesota and Massachusetts. On one occasion I was given the opportunity to support the efforts of an eastern Massachusetts VHF Club building an Earth-Moon-Earth station. I was able to develop a computer model of the RF functions of the station with an RF link model that allowed them to perform "what-if" trade studies for different antenna configurations. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay and see the fruits of our labor. Later reports from the group, however, indicated that the station was successfully put on the air.
In 1989 I struck out on my own to start a consulting firm. One of my largest customers was a company in Chelmsford, MA that had a contract with the Naval Research Labs in Washington, D.C. to design and build a Software-Defined Radio for the Navy SEALs. This was truly ground-breaking work. I was one of a team of 3 engineers with my assignment being the design and verification testing of the radio's digital signal processing algorithms. Little did I know at the time that we were one of the few programs bringing this new design approach to the Department of Defense. As we all know this is now a burgeoning technology being embraced by our hobby. After 7 years on my own, my consulting business base of small defense contractors was drying up. With 2 sons about to enter college, I decided to return to my old employer (now Alliant Techsystems) and picked up where I left off.- more hamming in the great northwest. The cold war was over at this point, pentagon budgets were decreasing and even large defense contractors were merging together to survive. Our plant was sold to Hughes Aircraft and then, a year later, Raytheon bought Hughes. A year after that acquisition, it was announced that the plant in Seattle would be sold. I was offered to stay with the company, but as part of the deal, be relocated to either Tucson or Providence, RI. Given our previous stint in the desert, the decision was a no-brainer. With the decision to relocate to New England in 1999 another chapter opened in both my professional and ham careers.
As a life member of the ARRL it was fun to consider just how close to Mecca (Newington, CT and W1AW) I really was. In 2000, while working at the Raytheon Portsmouth, RI facility a group of employee-hams and I re-opened the old Submarine Signal Division ham club (K1WEW) and put a new 2 meter repeater on the air. It was around this time that I joined the QCWA and became a member of Yankee Chapter #112. However, reassignment to a new program in Sudbury, MA forced relocation yet one more time. In 2004 we moved to Bolton, MA our current QTH. Bolton has many amateur stations within its limits. Most appear to have substantial towers. I, on the other hand, continue to use wire antennas and a ground mounted vertical. In addition, I have added a new interest to my ham endeavors. Like so many my age, I have been bitten by the restoration bug. Over the last 2 years I have slowly, very slowly, been working on restoring a couple of Johnson Viking rigs that were once items of my boyhood dreams. Over a period of 3 years I acquired two vintage transmitters, a Valiant I and a Ranger I. In both cases it was love at first sight when sighted at the ARRL Maine State conventions. My days of toiling at the design bench at work are far behind me, so it's very satisfying smelling rosin core solder once again.
Since arriving in MA, I have joined all 5 QCWA chapters here in New England and have become a life member of QCWA. This year I was elected as president of the Yankee Chapter. We were honored last year with the board of director's approval to hold the 2011 QCWA National Convention here in Warwick, RI. As convention co-chair, I am hoping to bring our New England chapters together to host a convention that is not soon forgotten.
As you can see participating in ham clubs has been an important part of the hobby for me. When we moved to Massachusetts I decided to join a local club, the Algonquin Amateur Radio Club. This club is closely connected with the local Fire Department and Department of Public Safety. As such, we have a number of members that are very active in RACES. We also support the community by providing school watches at graduation and Halloween and communications during town parades. In return, we are allowed to hold our club meetings in the middle school library. This relationship also pays off on field day. A portion of the fire house is provided to us. It's nice to stay cool, dry and bug free during, what is normally, a very intense activity.
Ham radio continues to be a constant in my life and I have been able to re-establish a home station with 160M through 70CM capabilities including the ability to operate all standard modes and most digital modes.
Nickname: Skip. Licensed: WN6VVA/WB6VVA in 1967, Los Angeles. Current Station: Yaesu FT-1000MP MKV, FT-987D, IC-706MKIIG, Johnson Viking Valiant Transmitter, Johnson Viking Ranger, Tokyo Hy-Power HL-1.5KX Linear; Antennas: Cushcraft R8 Vertical - Ground Mounted, OCF Dipole for 80M thru 10M (excludes 30M & 15M) and half-wavelength Dipoles for 160M and 60M; Mic. - Heil, Goldline; Drake R8B General Coverage Receiver. Occupation: Director I, Systems Engineering, Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, Woburn, MA. Memberships: Life Member ARRL, Life Member QCWA - President Yankee Chapter #112, Algonquin ARC, FISTS #9558, SKCC #6438 and QRP-ARCI #13816.
Enjoy rag chewing mostly - both phone and cw. Currently getting the Valiant on the air for 160 and 80 meter AM nets. I recently added a Ranger to the list of "Heavy Metal" rigs. I will be marrying these up with the Drake R8B receiver for a vintage radio operating position. Albeit, I am mixing decades a bit. The R8B is solid state and the Valiant and Ranger are just SOLID. I will be on the 160M "Grey Hair Net", every Tuesday evening around 8PM Local Time in New England - 1.945Mcs (Oops, MHz).