April 24, 2014

Back to the Future — amateur radio enthusiasts bring transmitter back to life

Rick Nichols

Special to The Gardner News

The wait – four weeks short term and 40 years and counting long term – was well

“The Big Kilowatt Beast” towers over Larry Woodworth, left, and Joe Krout as they field contacts from near and far during Saturday’s three-hour special event. Submitted photo

“The Big Kilowatt Beast” towers over Larry Woodworth, left, and Joe Krout as they field contacts from near and far during Saturday’s three-hour special event. Submitted photo

worth it when the 75-year-old transmitter built by amateur radio pioneer Marshall Ensor was reactivated Saturday evening at Ensor Park and Museum south of Olathe.

As a handful of “hams” (amateur radio operators) looked on from the kitchen adjacent to the small radio room at the east end of the two-story Ensor home, Joe Krout, W0PWJ, and Larry Woodworth, W0HXS, manager of the Ensor complex, effectively manned the control panel, bringing “The Big Kilowatt Beast” back on the air so that it could be used once again to communicate with people hundreds of miles away.  Joe and his father Harry, W0YQG, were instrumental in restoring the device and were honored for their efforts on December 8 when framed certificates from the Olathe Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) were presented to them.  That was the date originally set for the reactivation of the transmitter, but technical difficulties involving the antenna, difficulties complicated by a light mist, kept it from sending any messages under Marshall’s well-known call sign, W9BSP.
   Harry, a former student of Marshall at Olathe Junior High School and retired electrical engineer, estimated that he and his son devoted somewhere between a year and a half and two years to the project.  He said they ultimately had to replace most of the wiring but were able to do much of the work without having to move the transmitter, which is housed in an attractive walnut cabinet whose top and sides are easily detached to allow access to the unit.  On those occasions when the transmitter had to be removed from the southeast corner of the radio room and repositioned in the kitchen, a hydraulic lift was tapped for the task.
   Marshall, a manual arts instructor in the Olathe school system for 47 years, and his younger sister Loretta had been using the transmitter to teach “Radio by Radio” to would-be hams for more than four years when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor forced the federal government to immediately prohibit all amateur radio operations until the end of the war.  The device was returned to service upon the cessation of hostilities and continued to handle traffic over the airways on into 1972, two years after Marshall’s death, when this “electronic voice” went silent and seemed destined to remain silent.
   Enter “The Krout Boys,” who began working on the transmitter in May 2010 to “resuscitate its vital circuits” for the benefit of both current and future hams.  The radio “spoke” for the first time in nearly four decades in January 2011 when it was finally put to the test and was improved by the addition of some modern safety features in the months that followed, further preparing it for Saturday’s much-anticipated event.  Before then local hams had used a state-of-the-art transmitter to communicate with others as W9BSP, which was reintroduced to the airways in 2003.
   Signed by OPRD Director Kevin Corbett, the Above & Beyond Award each man received recognized the pair ”for going above and beyond” in restoring the transmitter.  “By reversing the decays of time you have given new life to the famous Marshall H. Ensor 1937 KW Transmitter,” the certificate reads.

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  1. [...] Back to the Future — amateur radio enthusiasts bring transmitter back to life The wait – four weeks short term and 40 years and counting long term – was well worth it when the 75-year-old transmitter built by amateur radio pioneer Marshall Ensor was reactivated Saturday evening at Ensor Park and Museum south of Olathe. [...]

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