|National FB-7 amateur and communications receiver. Note plug-in coils for various frequency ranges.|
The story behind this National FB-7 (From the Op-Ed page, QST November 1994)
In the Beginning
At the end of World War II in 1945, a bomber pilot named Bernie came home to North Carolina, toting a National FB-7 receiver, manufactured in the mid l930s. He also brought home a profound sense of indebtedness to a fighter-escort pilot named Eric, whom he had first met in flight training. After Eric and Bernie were assigned to the same base, they became best friends, neither doing much without the other. They talked a lot about their lives and aspirations.
On a November night in 1944, while he was escorting Bernie's bomber over Europe, Eric's plane was hit by antiaircraft fire. In an instant it burst into fire, exploded and plunged to earth. Bernie lost radio contact with Eric immediately. This was the most gut-wrenching experience of Bernie's life; he mourned his friend for months.
On returning to North Carolina, he went to work in an insurance office. Perhaps the radio reminded Bernie too much of the war, and his lost friend. Or, unable to speak his appreciation to Eric directly, Bernie said it another way. A colleague in that office had a 10-year-old son. Bernie presented the FB-7 to the boy, wanting to enrich a life yet ahead. The 10-year-old was me. I still remember how excited I felt. I was fascinated by things electronic, but so far had done little more than dismantle a couple of old radios and wire together a key and buzzer. The FB-7 turned far-away dreams into reality. "CQ, CQ, this is Victor Easy Three Romeo Uniform," its heavy, permanent-magnet speaker spoke forth, bringing a new world into my life. "W4BYA, you are five-by-nine, Bill; this is W4MKT" - a realm of absolute magic. To this day, I can still see the type-80 rectifier tube that stuck prominently out the top of the power supply.
My regret is that I lost touch with Bernie before he could know the impact that radio had on my life. For 30 years, the FB-7 was one of my closest friends. It introduced me to the enormous possibilities of ham radio. It taught me CW. It carried me through my first QSO: with WN4THH, Wally, in Greer, South Carolina. on October 10. 1951. It brought me a variety of friendships over several states. One year it was called upon for Field Day service when the local radio club's HRO-60 went dead.It even accompanied me to college, as part of a clandestine receiver/transmitter/ tuner unit built into a self-constructed wooden footlocker. Late one night, I strung #28 transformer wire to the next dorm for an antenna.
The FB-7 netted 36 countries and 49 states on 40 meters. I repaired it, searched out replacement tubes for it, and rewired its underside. I had my first initiation into hamfest negotiating over a $20 RF amplifier to put on its front end. On several memorable occasions I got shocked good and hard changing its plug-in coils, by not remembering to turn off the high-voltage power supply. I built a new power supply for it when one of its filter capacitors blew up and spattered white gunk all over my room.I have accumulated a box full of spare 6C6, 6D6, 39144 and 42 tubes to make sure it lives a long life. I even have National's instruction booklet for winding plug-in coils; I will wind a pair for 20 meters and try to earn DXCC on it.
Sometime this Fall I will gather together a couple of ham friends, turn on the FB-7, serve some wine and cheese, read this story, and draw everybody in the whole chain of events back together for a few minutes. I think Bernie and Eric will appreciate being recreated in our memories - certainly they deserve it. And I figure it will give the rest of us a due sense of who we are and where we came from.
And somewhere beyond that I will (indeed, I must,) in some way yet undetermined, pass forward the appreciation - a chain of thanks that began 50 years ago with a tragedy high over Europe.
One man dies a violent death, and that death creates blessing for others in the future. I think I have heard that story somewhere before.
In 2003, James Chatham donated the National FB-7 to the Museum of Radio and Technology.