Ham radio is an activity that’s been around for over a hundred years and boasts millions of adherents around the world. It should come as no surprise that an institution so ancient and so compelling would harbor a few mysteries.
During the early development of radio the activity was particularly attractive to a certain kind of fellow, one with a keen interest in science and industry and often a fellow whose station in life was a cut or two above that of the ordinary man. The formation of clubs and societies, recondite in nature and hidden within the rank and file of this adventurous lot of explorers led to more than a few secrets.
That much you might know. What you probably don’t know is that a few of these clandestine organizations remain active inside the hobby to this very day.
I’m not personally a member of any of these groups nor do I have first-hand knowledge of who they are or what they do on a daily basis. But from time to time I hear from some of these secret members who drop bombshells on me that strain credulity.
I think they’ve given me a few of these nuggets to distribute because I’m an oddball. Really, compared to other ham radio bloggers I rarely over-hype the hobby and pretend to be its personal spokesman as has become common among those intent on making “X” number of contacts a day and who extol only the virtues while never telling the whole story of what it’s like to be a radio amateur.
That’s what I like to think anyway.
More’s the likely they know I’m close friends with W6OBB and they’re looking for a higher profile outlet in exposing the reclusive activities of the Lodges and are using me to get that information to him. In any event, on occasion a package arrives at my shack, delivered by a personal courier as happened just a few days ago.
This time the package included a short tale of something that happened 35 years ago and it included instructions to share it with my readers, which I’m doing today…
It seems that back in the late 1970’s a distinguished scientist and radio amateur whose name must not be spoken had developed a rather amazing antenna that performed well at high frequencies. It’s precise construction remains a secret to this very day but imagine if you will a six-foot long tube whose diameter was about two-inches. A coil of wire was wrapped around almost the entire outer body and inside there were active components, including a small pump as most of the tube was filled with a Noble gas compound that periodically required refilling.
To simply say that this antenna worked well would be a serious understatement.
Reports indicated that the antenna was highly effective without a tuner across all of the HF amateur bands. Placed horizontally or vertically in the corner of a room or the attic it was an order of magnitude more effective than any directive array installed at 150-feet.
In a nutshell, it was The One, the killer antenna that the prophets had written about.
This would revolutionize the world of HF communications. No longer would the fellow with the 100-acre antenna farm and California Kilowatt rule the Honor Roll. Now even the lowliest QRPer with his milliwatt homebrew designed gear would be on equal footing with the millionaire.
In essence, the new antenna would instantly turn the 99 percent into the 1 percent and at least when it came to hardware, there would be no more elite amateur radio stations.
Plans were made to manufacture the small wonder. This scientist/inventor wanted to sell the antenna for US $1000 and he fully expected to eventually sell one million of them making him the first amateur radio manufacturer with $1 billion dollars of revenue.
He tried to keep these plans as secret as possible for obvious reasons so he never patented the antenna which would have announced it to the world. His belief was that the gas compound required was so exotic that even if someone managed to reverse engineer the design, the compound would remain the only edge he needed.
The first five-thousand units were assembled in a large, vacant building somewhere in New Mexico.
It was about that time that the inventor discovered that his secret had leaked when he got a call with an offer to purchase the design – which he refused – and he continued to build inventory. But the phone calls and strange contacts never ceased – all warning him to sell the design for the antenna or risk losing it all.
He underestimated the threat and continued in the pursuit undaunted. Until one night when he was visited by four members of one of these secret societies who explained to him that ham radio was bigger than he and his design. And that his antenna while extremely clever would ruin the hobby by allowing those with the most basic equipment to compete on equal footing with those who had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware and antenna farms.
Equal wasn’t good nor was it even “fair” he was told.
Unmoved by their threats, he stood to leave so they grabbed him, pulled a covering over his head and tossed him into the back of a dark colored sedan and drove off into the desert where he was never seen again.
The inventory of over five thousand antennas was moved by truck to a landfill outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico where they were first crushed and then buried. Three feet of concrete cover the burial site and while a few of the local hams had some knowledge of this activity, the years have created doubts as to its veracity and scope, leading some to conclude that this was just another urban legend.
But I know better and now so do you.
I can tell you this because the inventor had an assistant.
A fellow radio ham who hid in the shadows when the abduction took place and who watched this all unfold.
And at 85 years of age, he figures there’s no reason to take this story to his grave…