On May 26, 1917, a group of electronic experimenters formed the Saint Cloud Mic and Key Club. Starting one of the first amateur radio clubs in the nation. Five years later, they joined the American Radio Relay League, the first national amateur radio organization, and changed their name to the Saint Cloud Amateur Radio Club.
Perhaps the first licensed radio ham in the St. Cloud area was Robert “Bob” Witchen, WØSV, licensed about 1921 as 9SV. He was the chief engineer of radio station KFAM, the first commercial radio station in St. Cloud. Many “old timers” will recall that KFAM was originally called WFAM and later changed to KFAM.
The Federal Communications Commission assigns the call letters after considering the wishes of the owner of the station in this case The Saint Cloud Daily Times. The first letter of the call in most cases was a W for stations east of the Mississippi River and a K for stations west of the Mississippi River. The FAM stood for the “family” station.
Along with Robert Witchen were the Schultz brothers living on the west end of St. Cloud and Earl Gerard, WØDPB, licensed in 1925 from the north end. There was a radio ham W9MF as well as Claude Crever of St. Joe, a member of the banking family there. Claude’s amateur station was called W9CPP.
The writer on one occasion back in about 1925 was a guest of Claude Crever. We took The Great Northern railroad from the west end depot at St. Cloud to St. Joe, a distance of not more than six or seven miles. We stayed at the Crever residence which was quite a beautiful home. Claude had his “spark gap” radio transmitter and his “honey-comb coil” receiver in his bed room. When he pressed the key the room lit up from the huge spark which certainly rent the air. I believe we worked into Wisconsin that night.
You will notice that the early Amateur Radio Stations in Minnesota were given a numeral 9 in their call sign. That was because there were only 9 radio districts in the United States. We were in the 9th district. Later on a tenth radio district was formed and we were placed in the 10th district and we soon learned that a zero with a line through it would stand for ten. Bob Witchen’s call was later changed to WØSV. The St. Cloud Radio Club call is registered as WØSV in honor of Bob Witchen, first licensed ham in the area.
On fifth avenue north in St. Cloud right by the railroad tracks there was the gas plant which actually made the city gas out of coal. There was some sharing of the building right by the railroad tracks behind Nash Finch with another public utility, an electrical substation. The Wheelock Whitney utility, which later became the Northern States Power Co., metered its electrical supply to the area from this location. It was only natural for employees in the public utilities to become interested in ham radio. Such persons as Frank Knoll, WØFSD, J. F. McCutchan, WØHXY, and Beryl Millette, WØRIL were among these. George Gunderson, local radio repairman, also a member of this group later left for the west coast to enter business in California. Eugene Eveslague, W9AQU also left the St. Cloud Area to work with N.A.S.A. out of Washington, D.C. Father Vincent Huebsch, WØUYU, and Al Frank, WØZNE of Waite Park were also in the group.
Perhaps the St. Cloud Mike and Key Club meetings began somewhat informally in the old power station by the tracks on fifth avenue north. Early meetings consisted in sharing their experiences with each other and enjoying the tales about their contacts.
A few interesting comments about their interests are as follows
Bob Witchen and J. F. McCutchan became famous for their 2 meter converters employing the Wallmans Converters. They tried hard to eliminate the background rush from the multiplication factor to reach 144 mc. Mac ( J. F. McCutchan ) became famous for his “poor man’s standing wave meter” using his 30 mil. dial lights. Beryl Millette had a huge utility pole erected in his backyard on the east side. He ran full 400 watts while Bob Witchen ran a kilowatt home brew using a pair of VT-27’s in the final.
The boys won’t forget the time Bob Witchen set his basement on fire at his residence on 6th Avenue North. Bob had some metal rods just the right length on shelves along the basement wall and they got so hot from the R.F. they started a fire. Building their own beams was not uncommon. WØZNE, Al Frank, rotated his beam with ropes around 2 sweeping compound can covers for a pulley. This was known as the “Armstrong rotator”.
In the early days of radio, many a radio ham got his start building regular radio equipment to receive radio broadcasts. Kresge’s five & ten cent store where Jupiter now is, carried quite a few parts. You could buy condensers plates, spacers, shafts etc and build say a 23 plate variable condenser. They had fixed condensers, fahnstock clips, taps binding posts transformers and much more. If you had the money you could purchase a factory built radio. The potential hams however preferred to build their own equipment.
Commercial radios at the time were sets handled by John Ellenbecker’s Granite City Electric on fifth avenue and later Weber’s Music Store etc. Granite City Electric on fifth avenue had the DeForest Radio, Atwater Kent, Crosley, Fada. You could rent a Magnavox loud speaker for fifty cents a day and you needed a storage battery to help it. Most people used earphones and listened to WLAG now WCCO, KMOX, voice of St. Louis, WOC Davenport, WLW Cincinnati, WGN Chicago and programs featured the Palmolive Shave Cream Show “Can you top this”, Amos & Andy etc. Popular songs were “Toot Toot Tootsie Don’t Cry”, “Bye Bye Blackbird”, “Yes We have no Bananas” etc.
The St. Cloud Mike and Key Club held formal meetings in the U.S. Naval reserve portable building aside from Riverview School on the St. Cloud State Campus back in the years 1948-1949 about. At that time Al Frank WØZNE was president of the club. On one occasion Drew Heath WØHEO now retired from N.W.Bell Telephone Co. and his friend WØHED also from Ma Bell came all the way in to our meeting and went home with the prize, an old 304TL Transmitting tube with the call letters WØHED on it for coming the greatest distance.
We staged a state wide picnic at the Sauk Rapids Municipal Park. J. F. McCutchan was in charge of the refreshments. Bob Hall WØCRO from Stark Electric, formerly Lew Bonn of Minneapolis came and set up a “ham station” right at the park. We communicated with Sherm Bowen WØRHT who was airborne mobile in his plane overhead. Besides the old timers we also had Otis Rood and family and our Dakota Division Director from Moorhead WØTSN Godwin Dosland in his Cadillac.
The St. Cloud Radio Club as the local group is known today has held a State Wide picnic every year and has become quite famous. In 1980 the picnic was moved to the Senior Citizen Center and was well attended.
Presidents of the club over the years were – Bob Witchen, Al Frank, Beryl Millette, Bob Molitor, Otis Rood, Jack Maus, Rudy Gibson, Mike Berscheid, Mike Lynch president.
The 1980-81 St. Cloud Amateur Radio Club officers are Mike Lynch KAØHQS, president, Andy Faith KAØETZ, Vice President, Marie Lynch, Secretary, Jack Maus, WØMBD Treasurer; and Dr. Bruce Ellis WØBF, Trustee of the radio club call WØSV.
There have been many faithful workers in the club. It would be difficult to mention all of them. Some who contributed service “beyond the call of duty” as the saying goes would first of all include Jack Maus WØMBD who has been the clubs’ treasurer, picnic chairman, repeater council member and Life Member of the ARRL etc.. Dr. Bruce Ellis, WØBF and Jerry Hardwig WBØWEW and Bob Molitor WØRVO and Roger Haug WBØWCK.
The members of the club over the years have been most helpful in assisting younger persons in their ham endeavors. All of them can remember the assistance received from members of the club when they first started out. It is difficult to remember every contribution of every club member as they have all contributed in some important way.
On October 19th, 2001 Burlington Northern, working with club members and previous Sheriff Charlie Grafft, to donate the 1,152 square foot building to the Saint Cloud Amateur Radio Club.