The Watson's Radio Club, Alan Masson (call sign GM3PSP).
There was a very active amateur radio club at Watson’s during the 1950s, 60s and 70s with informal meetings every day (believe it or not) and a formal meeting one afternoon a week. We were fortunate in having two teachers who had been in the Royal Signals during the war and who gained their Amateur Transmitting Licences after leaving the services. These were Tom Simpson (callsign GM3BCD) who taught Technical Subjects including metalwork, and John Hughes, GM3LCP, who taught Physics.
Tom constructed the necessary equipment, through several generations of (valve) technology, for a world-class short-wave transmitting station capable of communicating with anywhere in the world when ionospheric conditions were favourable, using an impressive “cubical quad” aerial on the roof of the school. He operated the station in its “shack” in the school basement, under the stage, every lunchtime, with members present.
The writer was a member around 1960 which was the time of a very strong “sunspot maximum” which provided outstanding radio conditions including speaking to Australian stations as though they were locals. There was a notable contact with a missionary station in the Congo at the time of the civil war there. The missionary operator requested that we pass an important message about their status to the London HQ of the missionary society.
When Sputnik-1 was launched we heard its beacon transmitter easily on short-wave.
John Hughes, as a physics teacher, was well-equipped to present technical classes in radio theory and the transmitting regulations to members during the weekly club meeting in his lab. The objective was to prepare them to sit the fairly stiff Radio Amateurs’ Exam (RAE) which was necessary to obtain a transmitting licence. But that was not all! In those days we also had to pass a Morse test at 12 words per minute to obtain our licence. The reason was that some of our frequencies were shared with the marine service and we had to be capable of understanding possible messages from ships that we were interfering with their radio traffic.
The result of John’s training classes was that over 40 pupils passed the RAE and the Morse test (until it was dropped) and obtained their transmitting licences. They typically assembled their own stations at home using the readily-available ex-WWII equipment available on the surplus market or from components purchased from Brown’s Wireless on George IV Bridge or Miller’s Radio near the Playhouse. Transistors were just starting to become available but mostly it was valve technology. The only downside to valves were the high voltages involved
– up to 500V or more in transmitters! Home-constructed equipment could be entered in the club’s constructor’s competition at school.
As well as operating from home (typically a corner of your bedroom, with a wire aerial going out the window to a pole at the bottom of the garden), the club took part in a number of radio “contests” with the objective of “working” as many stations as possible, as far away as possible and simply exchanging a signal report, serial number and position locator. National Field Day was operated from the grounds of the school several times and club members carried equipment to some of the summits in the Pentland Hills – Allermuir and West Kip - to operate in VHF contests. One of the club members specialised in using reflections from the Aurora Borealis to make long-distance contacts on VHF.
An archival website of the Radio Club is available here containing all the history, photographs and news that is available, and a contact address.
Former members of the Radio Club keep in touch mostly by e-mail these days and we have had a small reunion a few years ago, with another one overdue! You are invited to get in touch with the writer to renew friendships and to provide any additional content for the website.