Building For The BK Party?



It's almost that time of the year when, once again, the '29ers start preparing for the winter Bruce Kelley 1929 CW Party. A recent posting on the Yahoo AWA (Builder's) Group by Lou, VE3AWA, reminded everyone that there were only 108 more sleeps before this year's Party.



In case you're not familiar with the 'BK', it's a winter CW event celebrating the early days of amateur radio.

Transmitters used for the event must be self-excited only ... no crystals are allowed ... and the tube(s) used must be those that were available in 1929 or earlier. It's an eye-opener to hear how the band must have sounded in the early days of amateur radio CW... even better if you're making those beautiful sounds yourself.

The 'BK' usually spawns a flurry of construction, so if you think it is something that might interest you, you have until December to get ready! Unfortunately many aspiring '29ers always leave it too late and inevitably run out of time before any last glitches can be overcome.

For many builders of  '29-style gear, especially transmitters, the two-weekend December event is the highlight of the year as it gives them the opportunity to get on the air with their early-style rigs and work as many other '29ers as they can.

Every year there are numerous transcontinental CW contacts made with the simple, usually single-tube, self-excited oscillators that look as if they would have difficulty just being heard across town! Tuning in to the BK Party may be the closest thing you can find to a 'time machine' these days, as a small section of the CW bands (160-40m) take on the same sounds you would have heard when tuning across these bands in the late '20s.

When I first listened to a BK Party several years ago, I was surprised at the wide range of signal quality coming from these faithfully reproduced exhalers, running the gamut from the 'almost Collins-like' MOPAs to the unique sounding raw-AC notes coming from some of the one-lungers.

Most of the stations I have worked in past BK events were running less than 10W input yet, even with the terrible conditions experienced in the last two events, their signals were making it across the continent on the low bands ... and all were having a great time doing it!


Larry's (NE1S) TNT makes it back to the west coast every year in the BK Party.



Shown above is a fine little TNT built by Kevin, WB2QMY, in New York. It uses a very affordable UX-201A triode, originally manufactured in 1925 for radio receivers. Although Kevin's TNT puts out barely 2 watts on 80m CW, we had no trouble working each other in the BK QSO Party. If you build it, they will come!


If you've ever entertained thoughts of wanting to participate in the '29 QSO Party, this late-summer 'heads-up', could be just what you need to make it happen ... there is still plenty of time to put something together for this year's event. Here is the specific information for this year's BK Party.

There is plenty of information available right here on my blog that will answer many of your initial concerns surrounding tubes, circuits and components:

An Introduction To Building ... '29-Style

'29-Style Transmitters ... What To Build? - Part 1

'29-Style Transmitters ... What To Build? - Part 2

As well, my own website contains several detailed construction procedures on various transmitter styles used back in the day ... and an inspirational 'Gallery of '29-Style Transmitters' from other builders. In addition, there is a lot more '29-specific information in this blog, all of which can be found here, for several nights of bedtime reading!

Should you decide to take on a simple transmitter for this year's party (and there are dozens of participants hoping that you will), here are a few things to keep in mind:

You don't need much power to make contacts ... just a few watts will do it. If your antenna system is efficient and you can hear reasonably well, expect to work '29ers all across the continent.

Your transmitter does not have to 'look pretty'! You can breadboard up something with modern components and as long as the tube-year qualifies, you're good to go. Too many get bogged-down with making a showpiece ... that can always come later.

I, and others, have found Hartley oscillators to be the easiest to get going and often produce the best notes. Although the power limit this year has been increased to 25 watts DC input, just 2 or 3 watts coming from a simple Hartley will guarantee you a ticket on the BK time machine.

A wonderful source of advice, inspiration and even help with parts, can be had by joining the AWA (Builders) Group.


For now, I'll tempt you with the basic information regarding the QSO Party as published by the 'BK' sponsor...the AWA.

The Bruce Kelly 1929 QSO Party is a yearly AWA sponsored event where participants build their own transmitters using the designs, techniques, and tubes that were available in 1929 and earlier, and then put those classic transmitters on the air and try to contact as many other 1929 stations as possible.  Since they use early designs, it is a cacophony of whooping, chirping, buzzing, clicking, drifting, swishing, swaying, warbling, and other interesting signals.   This is what ham radio sounded like in 1929 and for two weekends in December its 1929 again on the ham bands.

Rules:  Transmitters must be 1929 or earlier types of self oscillators such as the Hartley, TNT, PP tuned grid tuned plate, MOPA, Colpitts, etc.  No crystal oscillators.  Tubes must have been available during or before 1929.  Typical tubes often used are type 10, 45, 27, 211, 71A.  Individual stations can be worked only once on each band over the course of two weekends.  You can use any vintage or modern receiver that you wish.  The event is open to all 1929 stations including non-AWA members and AWA members. 

Input Power:  Transmitters are limited to a power INPUT of 25 watts or less. 

Frequencies:  The QSO Party typically operates between 1800 to 1810 Kcs, 3550 to 3580 Kcs , 7100 to 7125 Kcs, plus or minus depending on QRM.  40 meter activity is up significantly because it offers both night time AND daytime propagation!   

Presently, a large percentage of the activity is from Minnesota and points eastward ... the west is poorly represented for some reason but activity out this way has been slowly increasing over the past few years.

You don't need much in the way of power ... every year I work several eastern 'BK' stations that are running just 2 or 3 watts, usually using  receiver tubes pressed into RF oscillator service ... much like the original 'boys of '29' probably had to do


With the solar cycle winding-down and the expected return of undisturbed great winter conditions, this year's BK Party should be better than ever ... especially with even more new clunkers chirping away in the night.

Should you join the fun, there will be many '29ers looking for you I can guarantee!

courtesy:VE3AWA
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

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