Bob Elms VK6BE

Bob Elms 1955
The Young VK6BE
Left to right....antenna tuner, AT5 tx and AR8 receiver

Bob Elms 1956

VK6BE and W2APF in VK6BE's hamshack in around 1956. W2APF was world famous as Uncle Dave of Uncle Dave's Ham Shack, a large ham radio retail business in the USA.

Bob Elms 1963

A typical ham shack of about 1963.

In the picture of my shack:

1. Bench left to right: Eddystone 750 dual conversion general coverage receiver, Home brew transmitter incorporating a Geloso VFO with a 6146 in the final, AM and CW.

2. First shelf: Class B1 modulator for AM, centre cascode converters for 6 and 2 with the switch box underneath them to switch from one to the other. I can't remember what the next unit was but it could be an antenna tuner for 6. Not sure of that. I don't recognize it.. CRO.

3. Top shelf: Palec valve tester, tins of parts. Shows the extent of home brew in those days when you needed so many tins of parts. We virtually made everything except a receiver..

4. Above my head: Antenna tuner for 80 metre dipole with three wire tuned feed line about 40 metres long. The third wire allowed for a different configuration of the antenna. The feeders were spaced with pieces of irrigation pipe (plastic). Their length was owing to the antenna being in a tree on next door's property 65 feet in the air. As long as you could tune it to a certain length it worked very well in spite of the length.

5. Power supplies were built into the wall cavities (caneite walls). There were several to supply the different voltages needed. Rectifiers were 5R4GY or similar for the low voltages and 866 as for the higher.

My interest in amateur radio goes back to 1953 when I helped VK6KO, Kevin Westbrook, convert a Bendix TA12 to the amateur bands.

Bendix TA12

Bendix TA12

I had been a signals man in the army during WW2 and had an interest in radio and  I started building radios, TRF valve jobs in the first place. I had heard amateur signals on 40 metres back in 1948 when amateur radio was beginning to recover from the enforced silence  during the war. The first signals I heard in 1948 were from Mal Urquhart (VK6MU) who was using an ex-army AWA 101.



I had already had  some experience of hearing amateur signals in the late 1930s on 200 metres when amateurs were permitted to run transmission designed for the public, with speech and music. 200 metres could be tuned in on an ordinary household BC receiver, so those running programmes on 200 had an audience among the ordinary listening public. Bill Phipps (VK6WP) was one of the first I heard. I renewed Bill’s acquaintance in 1955 when he ran a shop in Victoria Park just round the corner from where I was living. I was very active on 80 metres and Bill started up again on that band. After a nightly chat we retired to either his shop or my house for supper.

Gaining an Amateur Licence

In 1953 I moved to Perth and studied for the amateur licence - theory, regs and CW. The CW at 14 wpm was a breeze as I was a radio operator in the AIF during the war, using morse code everyday, all day, at a minimum of 20 wpm. I passed the exams first go and got my current call sign in March 1955. Through contact with Don Graham (VK6HK), Rolo Everingham (VK6BO) and Wally Howse (then VK6ZAA)  I got interested in VHF operation. My first rig for 144 was an AR301A (think I got that right) which had an IF in the megahertz region (can’t remember whether it was 10 megs or 30 megs) This was ex army equipment and broad as a barn door. I could literally read all the AM transmissions on 144 without having to tune the band for  them. It was valve equipment of course with acorn valves.

Then I saw what  Wally Howse (VK6ZAA then) was building for AM reception and transmission and built first a cascode converter for 144 using a circuit from the ARRL handbook. This worked well with my disposals receiver and I then built a transmitter using a 6AC7 as oscillator tripler, 6M5 doubler and 5763 driving a 6146 at about 20 watts input. I then (1957)  built a converter and transmitter for 56 megs. which was the amateur band for Australia then, as Channel 0 had taken over the 50 meg spectrum. We protested loudly about this change by the Australian authority, warning that with the rising sunspot cycle we could see  interference on an international scale, and the ARRL stated that they would protest if Australian TV signals interfered with their operations on 50 megs.

International Geophysical Year

We operated on 56 megs for a few months, and then were allowed on 50 for the duration of the International Geophysical Year, which was to occupy 1957 and was then extended for another year or two. I volunteered as an observer for the Stanford University in California, and as a reporter for this part of the world my offer was accepted. The Australian authority had earlier told us protesters that their experts had informed them that propagation outside Australia on 50 megs was unlikely. They had no sooner said this when 50 megs burst open into VK6 with hundreds of Japanese amateurs coming into Perth. The signal coming from low power JA stations were phenomenal, S9+ with some JAs using a 6V6 into a lump of wire, 20 metre dipoles etc. When the sunspot count went above 200, trans equatorial scatter (TEP) was experienced with fluttery JA signals coming in at good strength till  9 or 10 p.m. It was unfortunate that amateurs in some regions did not have 6 metres; it has been proved in a subsequent sunspot maximum that world wide  propagation would have been almost certain to have occurred..

Then signals started to come in on  F2 propagation from other countries besides Japan with 9M2DQ (Malaya) being worked twice and F2 signals from New Guinea and also New Zealand in the mornings. These were not new countries of course for some of us as sporadic E had already caused propagation from Australia to both countries  earlier.

VHF Group Formation

In 1955 the WA VHF Group had been formed as a result of the intransigence of the WIA, which classed the holders of limited licences (Z calls) as Associates of the WIA and refused them full membership. I attended one meeting of the VK6 Division when the Limited Licencees present were told they were only tadpoles and must pass morse before they could become fully accredited frogs!!! The VHF Group was formed and  became quite strong. After the WIA changed its attitude and admitted the Limited Licencees to full membership of the WIA the Group  continued to this day.

In late 1957 or 1958 it was decided by the VHF Group  that conditions on 50 megs were so good that a beacon should be built and run as often as possible on 50 megs. Don Brown, VK6ZAV, built one consisting of 6AC7 into a driver with a final (807??) running a few watts. 


VK6VF 50 MHz Beacon

Where to put this was the question and finally it was installed in my bedroom in a sleep out in Kalamunda. Fortunately I was single at the time!!! The callsign was VK6VF. It transmitted  CW, keyed by a switching device using a round revolving  disk of phosphor bronze with the call sign cut out of the rim, and at first a trailing piece of metal which contacted the disk and keyed the callsign. This was not successful as the sparking at contact soon burnt out the piece of metal. A change was made to a set of car ignition points with the plastic operating contact running on the rim. This worked fine. The only other problem which did not affect the utility of the beacon was that varying line voltage affected the speed of the keying of the beacon. Around lunch time and for much of the day it keyed at around 6 or 7 wpm but at night it took off at about 25-30 w.p.m. Line voltages in 1958 were not noted for their consistency. When I first got my licence I was plagued with a line voltage which dropped to 180 VAC at night right when I wanted to operate,  which resulted in my relays dropping out.

Why put the beacon in my bedroom? Easy. The regulations in those times insisted that all amateur stations while operating were attended . The nearest we could get to that was my bedroom which meant that the beacon was attended all night and could be run all night and at weekends. During the week it was on all the time I was at home. We could not do better than that.

Great Success

Was the beacon effective? Yes it was. Reports of reception came from the Phillipines, and Hong Kong as well as Australia wide. Unfortunately the Phillipine amateurs were so busy working JAs that we did not work them . Their beams were permanently fixed on Japan. Incidentally  new beacons were built by the VHF Group later, in the 1960s, for both 50 and 144 megs. These were housed for some time in the laundry at my house and I must confess we stretched the regulations about continuous operation a little and  they ran for most of the time, day and night.

During this period (from 1957) we in WA had been hearing an FM broadcast on 49.75, a radio programme but though it beamed from the north we could not discover where the station was located.  Then while I was listening to it one day it identified as HLKA Voice of America in South Korea.  I  sent them a QSL card and a card came back from the station listing the frequency, not as 49.75 but as 17 mHz. It then dawned on us that we were listening to the VHF link from the station studio to the transmitter, not the final transmission meant for broadcast internationally. This was low power wide band FM and that we could hear it 59+ indicated how good radio conditions were at this time..

At this time also some of us were hearing a huge signal with a loud buzz on it which spread over some megs causing interference at times. Then  I think it was Noel Gardiner whose call sign I forget, found he could get a  picture by tuning into the signal with one of those new fangled TV sets. I had built a Radio and Hobbies TV set using a 5BP1 and also managed to lock in a picture. No sound however as their audio channel was around 6 megs. International TV reception into Australia  reported for the first time! The TV station we were receiving was in Siberia near Vladivostok.

On the road

In the 1950s Wally Howse and I undertook several country trips to test the path on 144 back to Perth. We went to Albany where Wally Green (VK6WG) had been trying to contact Rolo (VK6BO) on 144 without success so far. We set up Wally Howse’s gear on the top balcony at Albany High School and had immediate success with good signals to VK6BO. We found that Wally VK6WG’s problem had been that he was using a Command receiver as an IF for his converter and it was difficult to fix on any single frequency. The dial markings were far apart. Wally (VK6ZAA) marked the spot with a pencil and Rolo and Wally ran successful daily scheds from then on. We also visited Jack Cowles’ (VK6EJ) place in Bencubbin, Cyril Eakins’ (VK6CN) place in Kellerberrin, and also Merredin working back from all those places with no difficulty.

Merredin mast

This was my brother Ted's place. That was his tool shed in the background. The bent mast happened when we tried to push the mast (3/4"water pipe) up by all pushing from the bottom of the mast. We got it up most of the way and then saw that the antennae were still on the ground. The mast had buckled. We straightened it out and got it up somehow.

We worked across to Bruce Rock where Don Hawkesworth (VK6DW) was in solitary 
confinement  with no one to work despite having an 832 running on 144. We visited Don during this trip.

Bruce rock

The car above was my Standard Vanguard. Wally VK6KZ, then VK6ZAA, would load the car with his high power rig, station receiver with the converter. Flat batteries were not unknown. All out and push!.

Albany Propagation

In later years from Albany I ran scheds with VK5ZK (Garry) in Adelaide. Bernie Gates (VK6KJ) had already worked stations in VK5 and VK3. Garry and I  carried on a nightly scheds for about a year with a surprising number of successful contacts on 144. Then Garry posted over a 432 meg converter in order for us to try that band Albany to Adelaide. We hooked up on 144 and then switched to 432 and there was VK5ZK on CW easily readable. Then the band collapsed on both 144 and 432. I did not have a transmitter on 432 at the time but Wally Green, VK6WG,  very quickly got himself on transmit and receive on that band and it was left to him to complete the first two way Albany to Adelaide both ways. He followed that up, of course, by taking out records, including world records on a number of the higher bands. Wally Howse (VK6KZ) also set some records working across the Bight on several high frequencies into the gigahertz bands. I already held the record for long distance mobile on both 144 and 432 with a VK3KAJ/M for a contact in 1991. The last long distance record on 144 to be broken was to VK2 from Albany and for one year I held   that record for a contact in January 2007 . However another huge opening in VK2 a year later when I worked 12 VK2s on 144 SSB in a huge but short opening Wally pipped  record by 3 km!

Move to Kalamunda

My home in Kalamunda was in a superb situation at 900+ feet above sea level with a first class take off in most directions except the SSE. I could work Brian Clarke (callsign forgotten!) in Geraldton on both 50 and 144 daily. Strangely 50 was better than 144 for some unknown reason.. We had expected it to be the other way round. I could work Brian on AM when amateurs in Perth could only hear a heterodyne. Such is the importance of a good location on a hilltop.


Foxhunts! They were popular from around 1958 using 144 megs. The foxes became very good at inventing new ways of fooling the hounds. We had at first fixed stations set up somewhere round the metro area. One  fox used a revolving beam to simulate QSB, another ran a coax cable went under the waters of the Swan River for some distance to an antenna on a  pylon . Another devious fox ran two transmitters about 1 kHz apart in frequency which gave a very nice tone for those using AM but inaudible to anyone listening on FM. I had the honor of being the first mobile fox which kept the hounds tricked till Rolo Everingham’s son spotted my car driving around Attadale and the penny dropped. Another time I built a tiny transmitter on 144 using a couple of 12AT7s doubling and tripling to 144 megs and modulated with half a 12AT7 as a reactance modulator so that the signal was NBFM. The rig was set up in a pram with mosquito net over the top, halo antenna in the hood and car battery on the undercarriage. Friends wheeled the pram up and down King’s Park Road. NBFM made it difficult but not impossible for AM mobile receivers and ruled out the use of  snoop loops using diodes for detection. This worked well  until one wily fox asked to see the baby.

Syd Smith (VK6SJ)  had a bright idea and built a tiny rig using 6J6s powered by lantern batteries and hidden in his great coat pocket. He caught a bus at West Midland to Midland Town Hall and back again.  Unfortunately the rig broke down and a good idea was ruined. Fox hunts seem to be a thing of the past in this age of sophisticated gear.

VK6WIA News Broadcasts

Unfortunately I never photographed the VK6WIA broadcast equipment.

For the record I took over the broadcasts from Wally Coxon (VK6AG). At first the broadcast went out on 40 metres only using an AT 20, a huge ex RAAF base transmitter which had  parallel 813s in the final modulated by another pair of the same. The output was 400 watts AM. While the broadcast was being made none of the family could use any electric appliance (toasters, electric kettles etc.) in the kitchen as the main fuse to the house power would blow.

The news was read by me into a microphone live. There were complaints from country areas that 40 was unreliable at 9.30 AM and I then built an audio distribution device so that I could run simultaneous transmissions on 80 and 40. We got rid of the AT20, all 1/2 ton of it and the Division bought a Geloso for the 40 metres transmission and a tape recorder on which I recorded the news and put it out on the two bands, 40 AM and 80 SSB on my home brew phasing transmitter.. VK6BO took the transmission from one of these for 144, another  amateur (forget his call) relayed it on 160 metres and later another (VK6RU??) put it out on 20 metres for the north. For a brief period I also transmitted on 6 metres FM. So we had the spectrum well covered.

After the news portion of the transmission the tape recorder was turned off and a transmission from VK6GH, George was rebroadcast for technical notes.  I found out later that simultaneous transmission was a no-no as far as the Radio Branch was concerned as also was transmitting speech from a tape recorder. The technical authorities were very slow to catch up with technical advances. A good example of this was when a senior radio inspector whom I will not name came to inspect my station. The conglomeration of gear had him rather worried as he found it hard to measure my DC input to my final (limited to 150 watts at this time) on my HF rig as it ran SSB not AM. He asked the usual question "What are your modulators" and I replied "A pair of OA90S". He raised his eyebrows and said, "But those are diodes!". I replied "Yes, but I am using a balanced modulator for SSB." He didn't get that at all and asked a lot more questions and finally said, "What are your plate current and anode voltage when you run CW?" I replied", 1500VDC at 100 MA". "OK, he said, "But we will put it down as 1400 volts. 1500 is getting too close to the limit." The Inspector went away satisfied.

I continued to do the broadcasts until I transferred to Albany in 1971.

To list the gear used for the broadcast:

Phasing rig - my home station rig 80 metres SSB  (later replaced by the Division's Swan 350 transceiver..

Geloso transmitter  40 AM

For a time 6 metres on FM car phone (forget the breed but it had a QQVO3/20 in the final)

Tape recorder into a single  audio in, four audio outputs to distribute the audio to the transmitters.

The HF SSB home brew power supply was two fold, 250 DC for the low power stages and 1500 volts for the final. Rectifiers 866As which could be purchase ex disposals for 10/-. The final tube was an HK 257B which was also disposals for 10/- each.

Bob VK6BE.