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HISTORY OF THE
PROVIDENCE RADIO ASSOCIATION,
INCORPORATED, W1OP 28

WRITTEN BY: DOMENIC M. MALLOZZI, N1DM

PROVIDENCE RADIO ASSOCIATION, INC.
1 LUDLOW STREET
JOHNSTON, R.I.

NOVEMBER 2005

The Providence Radio Association (PRA) started in 1919 in the Elmwood section of Providence, RI. As far as can be determined at this time the members were young men with a common interest in the wonders of wireless. Amateurs had been off the air since the beginning of World War I and in that period all amateur licenses had expired and that it was not until November 1919 that hams got back on the air 14 . The club was formed by amateurs who were itching to get back on the air and those who had to wait for the war to end to allow them their chance at transmitting. When many amateurs had left for war spark was still king, during the war many were exposed to CW (spark was legal on US ham bands until 1927). Even though the PRA was not the first ham radio club in RI, it was an early club (the earliest RI club that we find a reference to is the “Rhode Island Wireless Association” in 1910 15 ) and is the earliest surviving RI ham club. By September 1920 the group became more organized and were referred to as the Elmwood Radio Association. The eight original members were Lewis S. Bellem, Stanley S. Read, Howard O. Cushing, Harold O. Brewster, Earl Baldwin, L. Clifford Leighton, Joseph W. Cohen and Allen Cordin. 16 As the Elmwood Radio Association they met at Lew Bellem’s home at 99 Stanwood Street weekly to discuss radio and help each other. By 1921 they needed larger quarters and moved to the Providence YMCA on Broad Street and decided to change the name to the Providence Radio Association to reflect that they wanted to be more than a neighborhood organization.

After a year the club filed a “Resolution of Affiliation” with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in October 1921 17 , with Lew Bellem, 1BES as president and Lew Leighton, 1ETD as secretary signing for the club. At that time the club was meeting in rm. 201 of the YMCA on Broad Street in Providence (a location the club would use on and off through the mid 1940’s). This resolution was approved by the ARRL on November 19, 1921 and an ARRL club charter of affiliation was issued. The members were a small group that continued to grow as the wireless boom of the 20’s occurred. By 1922 the clubs expansion caused a move to a rented facility at 159 Niagara Street. 16 From 70 members in 1922 18 the club had grown by 1923 to 101 members 19 (of whom 31 were licensed). The fact that three years later in 1926 there were only 43 ham stations 20 (not counting 1LI) licensed in Providence shows that the club was the major organization for hams in the city of Providence. In fact the period for licenses was 2 years in this era and in 1926 there were only 14,902 amateur licenses 21 in the US and its possessions.

The club realized from the beginning that the regulatory issues of our hobby were important. As one of the few hobbies that had codified federal regulations along with various local regulations and codes affecting it, this was a critical area that could not be ignored. They also recognized from the beginning that this meant representing the interests of all amateurs not only its members. This is shown in an early article in the Providence Journal 15 about the clubs reaction to new radio regulations. The club has continued this representation of its members and the hobby in general in rule making issues to this day.

The club members were active in the experimentation that marked the continuing development of radio at that time. In fact Alpha Learned, 1AAU one of the PRA’s early presidents (and a ham and commercial operator prior to World War I) published three technical items in QST in the 20’s 22 23 24. As most hams of the day did, the clubs membership was active in building their own equipment as is shown by a 1923 article in the Providence Journal that reported that the PRA had sponsored a receiving set contest 25 for its 100 members. This contest was judged by John E. Marshall, Lou Bellem (1BES), and Harry H. Tilley (1GV). The winners were for two or more tubes Alpha Learned (1AAU), in the two-tube class Horrace Young (1CAB), in the one tube class Chester Ward (1ARK) and second in the one tube class was Clarence Miller. The article shows a picture of the proud winners with their professional looking gear and comments on Alpha Learned’s professional looking work which was consistent with his holding a commercial ticket and experience as a shipboard operator knowing the importance of good construction. This tradition of home brewing continues to this day as shown in the amplifiers in use at the W1OP shack in 2004 as well as the continued home brewing activity of various members.

The PRA became one of the few club licensees in the early part of the century when in 1925 the club obtained 1LI1 26. This made it one of only three club stations in Rhode Island that year (the other two being at Pawtucket High School and at St. George’s School in Newport). In fact in 1925 only 8 non-school radio clubs existed in New England and in 2004 the PRA and the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) station are the only two of that group still active. Little is known of this station other than the details contained in the various U.S. government call books at the time and the annual reports made by the club to the ARRL. In 1925 the club showed a power of 50 watts, which sounds pretty run of the mill today. But it was a good sized station when we consider that in 1925 the highest power commercial broadcast station in Rhode Island was 500 watts and one station was a part timer running 20 watts 27. In 1928 when the international radio convention required the use of prefixes indicating the country of the station, the PRA was among the original group of ham stations that sported the new W prefix to their calls.

THE 1940’S
PROVIDENCE RADIO ASSOCIATION, INC.

Obviously, the history of the early 1940’s was driven by World War II. The PRA, as did many organizations, changed its concentration to support the war efforts of the country. The annual reports to the ARRL for that period clearly show that many members of the PRA went into military service, while those still at the club provided home side radio training at the YMCA in Providence. The effect of the war was obviously profound in ham radio as it was in the rest of society. The following excerpt from the 1944 Annual Report to the ARRL shows that the remaining members while officially off the air for the duration were none the less using their skills to support the community in this time of need. Though not a club activity many members joined the Providence Police Radio Patrol34.


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Mobile Radio Patrol W1UA, W1BIT



It is important to remember that radio in mobile applications was not as prevalent as it is now, so this activity by members was considered state of the art (this activity was not carried out on the ham bands, so the lack of a ‘valid’ ham license was not an issue).

“The members of the Prov. Radio Assc. left are attached to the Prov. Police Radio Mobile Patrol with Father Mahoney their leader. Walter B. Marshall W1JEZ Director, John M. Bristow W1JP Captain, Robert C. Bellisle W1KKE Captain, Alphonse Tonaszewski W1HJB Captain, Nicholas Abbentante Ex W1BTV Leut., Theodore Davis W1NLF Leut., John A. St. Martin W1MQZ Sgt., Further information write to Walter B. Marshall W1JEZ Director.....20 members left in club due to war and war work, we left are trying to keep the home fires burning so our hams across the seas can come home to our radio club.”35

The same report showed of the 46 members only 20 were left, with the poignant note that the “war has taken many”. Almost every month QST mentioned hams at various locations around the country and the world in military service or working to support the war effort. We do not know of any PRA members who may have lost their life in service to their country but occasionally the death of a RI ham in the service would be reported in QST 36. Those remaining on the home front supported the War Emergency Radio Service and other civil defense activities.

The 1945 annual meeting had 10 attendees and was one of the cases in club history where a single person filled multiple elected positions. The club continued to meet at the YMCA’s Conduit Hall continuing its long association with the YMCA. Even during the war years those interested in radio still gravitated to the PRA and in January 1945 there were two new members37. The club continued to hold monthly meetings during the war years and through 1947 as members returned from the war. As members returned in 1946 ex-GTN ran code classes on Tuesdays at 7:30 and Doc Davenport W1PCQ taught theory after that at 8:30 PM38 to get new members ready for their ham exams in Boston. Horrace Young W1CAB and others came up with military and technical films for the meetings after the war.

The social functions that the club was remembered for also started again with a banquet on March 30, 1946 with W1NUA winning a door prize (a VTVM). By 1948, the annual dinner dance at Johnson’s Hummocks was drawing approximately 250 attendees (hams and XYL’s)39, ham radio was back.


Providence Journal, January 1, 1922


Providence Journal January 24, 1922


Providence Journal February 2, 1922


Providence Journal February 19, 1922


Providence Journal
April 2, 1922


Fall River Globe
June 28, 1922


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Providence Journal, December 3, 1922


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Providence Journal, February 25, 1923


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Providence Journal May 12, 1923


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Providence Journal, June 3, 1923


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Providence Journal, March 31, 1924


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Providence Journal, May 18, 1924


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Providence Journal, June 12, 1924


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Providence Journal February 13, 1925


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Providence Journal March 31, 1926


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Providence Journal April 8, 1926


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Providence Journal April 10, 1926


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Providence Journal March 20, 1927


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Providence Journal March 27, 1927


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Providence Journal March 27, 1927


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Providence Journal April 3, 1927


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Providence Journal April 10, 1927


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Providence Journal April 10, 1927


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Providence Journal April 24, 1927


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Providence Journal May 8, 1927


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Providence Journal June 12, 1927


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Providence Journal June 19, 1927


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Providence Journal June 30, 1927


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Providence Journal October 21, 1928


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Providence Journal October 28, 1928


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Providence Journal February 10, 1929


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Providence Journal February 17, 1929


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Providence Journal February 24, 1929


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Providence Journal March 3, 1929


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Providence Journal March 10, 1929


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Providence Journal March 17, 1929


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Providence Journal March 24, 1929


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Providence Journal March 31, 1929


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Providence Journal April 7, 1929


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Providence Journal April 14, 1929


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Providence Journal April 28, 1929


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Providence Journal May 19, 1929



Providence Journal
January 3, 1942



Providence Journal
January 31, 1942



Providence Journal
February 13, 1942



Providence Journal
May 2, 1942



Providence Journal
November 12, 1942


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Providence Radio Association, Convention, 1958




14 DeSoto, Clinton B.: Two Hundred Meters and Down: West Hartford, CT: ARRL: 1935: page 59
15 DeSoto, Clinton B.: Two Hundred Meters and Down: West Hartford, CT: ARRL: 1935: page 30
16 “Wireless Fans Cooperate”: Providence Journal: December 3, 1922,section 5, page 2
17 On file with the American Radio Relay League, Inc. (ARRL): 225 Main Street: Newington, CT 06111
18 “City Radio Association Protests New Regulations”: Providence Journal: January 27, 1922: page 9
19 Annual Report to the ARRL dated 5/10/1923 on file with the ARRL in Newington, CT
20 “Amateur Radio Stations of the United States”: Edition June 30, 1926: Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation, Radio Service: page 29
21 DeSoto, Clinton B.: Two Hundred Meters and Down: West Hartford, CT: ARRL: 1935: page 114 & 132 (quote from Department of Commerce annual report for 1926)
22 “Learned, Alpha A. (1AAU): “A Calibrated External Hetrodyne and Wave Meter”: QST: October 1922: page 37 [ NOTE: QST magazine referred to in these footnotes is published by the American Radio Relay League, Inc.: Newington, CT ]
23 Learned, Alpha (1AAU): “A Compact Receiver”: QST: February 1927: page 34
24 Learned, Alpha: “Frequency vs. Wavelength” (“Experimenter’s Section”: QST: July 1929: page 45
25 Providence Journal: June 3, 1923: pg. S5-11
26 “Amateur Radio Stations of the United States”: Edition June 30, 1925: Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation, Radio Service: page 20
27 Providence Journal Almanac 1926: Providence Journal Co.: Providence, RI: page 56
28 HISTORY OF THE PROVIDENCE RADIO ASSOCIATION, INCORPORATED, W1OP BY: DOMENIC M. MALLOZZI, N1DM
29 Radio News November 1924
30 MERRILL PECKHAM BUDLONG, Obituary
31 Communications Receivers
32 Providence Journal, May 1st, 1921
33 oldqslcards.com
34 Providence Journal:January 27, 1942:pg. 1 and Providence Journal:February 17, 1942: pg. 12
35 Annual report to ARRL on file with ARRL.
36 QST: January 1944: pg. 75
37 QST: March 1945, pg. 72 (Station Activities)
38 QST: Dec.1946, pg. 98 & 100: (Station Activities)
39 QST: August 1948: pg. 78 (Station Activities)