Station History

Hello, my name is Doug Dowds, W6HB,

I am the trustee for K6AA and President of URAC for 2016.

The station is located at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. We operate 6 days a week; closed on Mondays. We operate the radios, but there is also a lot of interaction with the public. Individuals, school and other groups, tour the museum and stop at the station. This gives us an excellent opportunity to familiarize the public with what Ham radio is all about. Both, by explaining it to them and by demonstrating the various modes that we use at K6AA. We have visitors from all over the world, and it is great to be able to chat and learn more about them. Hams from around the country and the world are frequent visitors to the station. New Ham buddies are often developed. Hams that I’ve met on the air stop in at the museum to visit, several are from other countries.

Station Perks

It is a lot of fun to work at the club station and we are always looking for “new blood”. It’s easy to get started and operators of all license classes are needed. Several perks go along with working at the station including discounts at the museum store. The museum store is an excellent place for very special gifts at very reasonable prices.

Construction of K6AA

I’ve been asked a number of times about the construction of the station. Such as “how”, “why”, and “when” things were done – and “by whom”. I know that I will probably leave out a contribution made by someone, but I will make an effort not to do that…

The Room

During initial conversations with Dr. Lee – L.A. Maritime Museum director, he showed us the room that K6AA now occupies. At that time it was used as a storage area and the other half of the room was, as it is today, used as part of the archives section of the museum.

An interesting fact is that the room was where the Harbor Department had their radio room when they occupied the building. Their radio console is still there and is used as a desk by Jack Whitmeyer, who works with the archives. The coax coming through the ceiling, and left in place when the Harbor Department moved out years earlier, was used for our first contacts from the radio room.

In order to have close contact with museum visitors, it was necessary to cut a hole in the wall between what is now the radio-room and the public area adjacent. One of our club members, Beth N6PMN, volunteered to make the oak counter and the decorative framing for the window. Beth did the work in the woodshop at South High School in Torrance, where she was a student. Those of you that have seen the results of her work must agree that it is a real work of art. The hole was cut and framed by Tony Circo KI6Z, Richard Requa KB6FLF, Ken Moore W6WIS, and Jim Pitman, WA6MZV.

The Console and Shelving

The museum gave us one of their antique display tables to use as the base of our console, and we promptly cut off a part of the legs to lower it to the right height. A chance inquiry at a local lumber store resulted in the obtaining of a counter top that had been damaged in shipment. It was no longer useable as a kitchen countertop, but was just what we needed for our console. It was cut down to fit our table, and is still serving us well, looking as good as it did when it was installed.

The shelving was designed and built by Ken W6WIS, in his shop at home. The partial wall that divides the room was constructed from material left over from an exhibit in the museum, and the portholes in the wall also were from museum storage.

Ken and and Jim Pitman wired the console shelves and installed them. Radios, power supplies, and all the accessories were added.

Support and Equipment

After the first meeting in September 1987 with Dr. Lee the SW Division ARRL convention was held in Scottsdale, AZ. It provided an excellent opportunity to approach the manufacturer’s representatives face to face. Jim Pitman, WA6MZV, and Bev Pitman WA6TIU, still had some contacts within the Ham radio industry having owned. They talked to several of the major manufacturers, and some of the not so major ones. Ken W6WIS, through his contacts in the industry, talked to several manufacturers and  the 3 ganged up on a few other manufactures as well!

Having limited room it was decided that there would be 3 operating positions at K6AA. Short wave or HF, computer communications using packet, and the VHF/UHF amateur bands. Thanks to Kenwood for the HF position, and Yaesu and ICOM for the VHF and UHF equipment. AEA provided the interface for the computer to radio equipment or TNC and Daiwa for the antenna rotator. Letters, written by Dr. Lee on the club’s behalf, had requested specific pieces of equipment. As a result we were furnished the following equipment from these companies: Kenwood, a TS-440 system, including the radio, power supply, desk mike, and an external antenna tuner; ICOM, 2 meter, 220, marine, and an 30kc-30mhz all mode receiver; Yaesu, a tri-band base VHF/UHF transceiver; AEA, an all mode TNC and 3 VHF and UHF antennas; Daiwa gave us one of their heavy duty Mil-Spec antenna rotators: Henry radio furnished us with several hundred feet of great coax.

All this equipment, together with other items donated by club members, including the tower still in use and a commercial wire antenna from which over 100 countries were worked, a used computer for the packet station, another VHF antenna, and from one member came the 4″ steel conduit through which the coax arrives at the station from the tower, got us going in March of 1988.

Through the years the club has replaced and or upgraded the equipment and configuration to what exists today.

Antennas and The Museum Attics

The antenna feed lines, or coax, go from the antennas on top of the clock tower into the station. It’s not an easy journey. Two HF antennas, four VHF-UHF antennas, and a rotator cable on more than a 100-foot path was a major undertaking. From the top of the clock tower it is gathered in a bundle and travels down the outside to the next roof level. It then passes inside the clock tower through a four inch PVC elbow. Inside the clock tower it enters a four inch steel conduit system. Snaking its way through several multi-level sections of attic and two attic walls. There is a permanent pull rope installed in the conduit. A space was allowed to work with the coax in the attic. It all comes down into the station via a four inch PVC pipe, ending behind the station console.

The attics of the museum are a very interesting labyrinth with several places were walls prevent progress in the direction you want to go, and it’s a long, circuitous, and laborious journey to arrive at the other side of the wall. It was first discovered when installing the speaker wire from the marine radio at our console to the speaker in the public area on the second floor. The wire was being fed through what was thought was the wall separating the attic over the room where they had installed the speaker and the attic over our station. There were numerous shouts of, “go ahead, feed it through”, answered by, “I am feeding it through, can’t you see it?” After a bit of time, we concluded that we had a problem. A little exploring disclosed that there were two walls, side by side, separated by about three feet of space. Now they knew why the alarm system people took that strange route in that area. They wisely followed their path, although it took about 35 feet more wire.

Needless to say, many long hours of work, gallons of sweat, meetings and more meetings, sandwiches from the deli up on 7th street… went into getting K6AA on the air as one of the best publicly displayed Ham stations in the world. It is kept that way by the small group of operators that give freely of their time and efforts to keep it so. The station allows its members to proudly say “I belong to the United Radio Amateur Club, you know, the one that has the station, K6AA at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.”

K6AA is truly known around the world by Hams who have visited in person or on the air, and by non-Hams who visit daily from all points of the compass. The club station has had a lot of visitors since it opened in early 1988. Our Visitor’s Log Book notes many celebrities.

Notable K6AA Visitors

In October of 1990 the museum was visited by the replica ship, the HMS Bounty. It was built for the 1984 version of “Mutiny on the Bounty”, starring Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, and Lawrence Olivier. It was most interesting to talk to “Captain Bligh”, who was an expert on the life of the real Bligh and of the mutiny. The young man portraying Fletcher Christian was a great, great, great grandson of the famous mutineer. Arriving on the Bounty, as it made its way from Ventura to our museum dock, was Tom Christian, VR6TC (now VP6TC). Tom is the great, great, great grandson of Fletcher. Awaiting on the dock at the museum was quite a crowd, including Betty, VR6YL, Toms’ wife, and two of his daughters, Darlene and Sheri. The Christian family was a guest of the club and the museum for the day. Tom even got in some operating at K6AA, and when you visit the radio room you will see a picture of that hanging on the wall. K6AA has had several QSO’s with both Tom and Betty after they returned to their life long home in the Pacific, Pitcairn Island.

In 1993, we were visited by Sir Henry Pigott G0MYL, in his sailboat, the S/Y Glory. Sir Henry was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his solo trip around the world in the mid 1980’s. His boat, the Glory, was built by Henry and was only 19 feet in length. Henry stopped off at the museum, both, going up the coast, and on his way south. On his second stop he tied up at the museum for about a month, while doing some repairs and awaiting a part for his wind generator to get here from France. During his visit he used K6AA frequently to keep schedules with his many Ham friends around the world. Our wall has a photo of Henry operating K6AA. Many QSO’s were made with Henry after he left to complete his trip.

Huell Howser, the TV documentary maker, has also visited us. While doing a piece on the museum for his show, California Gold, he included our radio room as one of the segments.

Robert Stack also visited us while using the area adjacent to K6AA to film part of one of his Unsolved Mysteries shows.

Our log books have many more entries and it would be near impossible to list them all, especially since we are constantly visited by many fascinating people on a regular basis.

It would also be impossible to list all the Hams that have visited K6AA as there have been hundreds from all over the world, and I am sure from every state in the USA.

Working the clubs station, K6AA, at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, has to be one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a few hours of your free time. You never know whom you are going to meet, or where they are from, and I have met some very interesting people from all walks of life.

Might YOU be our next visitor?