A History of Early Ham Radio at Santa Barbara State College (SBSC)


By  George McGinnis (Class of 1942)



Wayne Hilton (W6LEF) and George McGinnis (W6PCI) had built and operated the ham station at Compton Junior College, and both arrived at SBSC in the Fall of 1939 as Industrial Education (I.E.) majors.  We shared an apartment on Garden Street and walked to the Riviera campus for our classes.  I brought my 75 meter phone ham station from my home in Compton and operated it from the apartment for most of that school year.  During that same year, Wayne and I started a Ham Radio Club at SBSC.  Our sponsor was Mr. M.T. Wells, the radio instructor at the college.  The radio club had only 5 or 6 members.  The I.E. Department head, Mr. E. E. Ericson (known as triple “E”), was pleased that we had started the club, and gave us every encouragement.


There were no ham radio operations on the Riviera Campus at SBSC, with one exception.  The college held a “Fair” in the spring of 1940, and each department was requested to field some sort of exhibit.  The Industrial Education department had its exhibits in a room which opened into the Quad.  Wayne Hilton and I used our personal ham equipments and operated from this room for one day.


At that time, plans were underway to move SBSC, in its entirely, to the Mesa Campus, in a phased move, as buildings were completed.  The Industrial Education Department’s buildings were then under construction and that department was the first scheduled to move.  The radio club members requested that a ham station be included on the new campus, and Mr. Ericson agreed.  We arranged for a small ham shack to be included on the second floor of the largest building, along the main corridor.  The shack was about 6’ x 8’, and had a large picture window facing the corridor, permitting visibility into and from the room.  We were given an allotment of funds for equipment and the transmitter was built by the technicians of Editors and Engineers, a company based in Santa Barbara.  This company published the Radio Handbook, a rival of the ARRL publication.  The transmitter had type 812 vacuum tubes in push pull in the final with type 811’s as class B modulators.  Wayne and I were friends of the two publishers and frequently visited their office on State Street.  I do not recall which model receiver we ordered.  We also ordered a rotary beam antenna, with rotator and mast.


One of the I.E. students was hired to remain at the Mesa campus during the summer of 1940 to inventory and sign for all equipment arriving for the new buildings.  He made a terrible blunder and signed for all the ham equipment, but actually the rotary beam antenna with rotator and mast were never delivered.  When school convened in the Fall of 1940, Wayne Hilton and I discovered the error.  Mr. Ericson tried to trace the missing equipment, but was not successful.  The room for the ham shack was in place, but merely roughed in.  The carpenter class installed acoustical tile on the walls and ceiling for the room, and provided an operating table.  The electrical class installed the necessary wiring.  In the meantime, I applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a club license, with myself as the custodian.  Club members installed an 80 meter antenna on the roof of the building.  In the late Fall of 1940 everything was in place and we went on the air, first contacting local Santa Barbara stations for test purposes.  Wayne Hilton and I operated on 75 meter phone in the afternoons after classes, and sometimes during the noon hour.  We had no difficulty contacting hams all over the West Coast.  We often relayed messages for students to their parents, usually in the Los Angeles area.


The ham station and the ham club were well known on campus.  We club members did not confine ou interests merely to ham radio, but were interested in all forms of electronics.  Wayne had a public address system, and he frequently supplied noon hour dance music in the Quad of the Riviera campus.  I still have a La Cumbre school annual that has a photograph showing Wayne’s large loud speaker enclosure at the head of the Quad, with students dancing on the concrete below.  The ham club also installed a public address system on a float used in a Santa Barbara civic parade.  Each SBSC department was invited to enter a float, and ours was built by the automobile shop and carpenter shop.  It had a Hawaiian theme, and featured a slowly revolving platform with Hula girls, and Hawaiian music.  The audio amplifier operated from automobile batteries hidden in the framework of the float.  I have no recollection where we obtained the Hula girls, since there were no females in the I. E. departmet.  I guess we volunteered our girl friends. 


When school convened in the Fall of 1941, many I.E. department students were missing.  They had been either drafted into the army, or had volunteered for the military.  Mr. Wells, our club sponsor and a Naval Reserve Officer, had been called to active duty in the Navy.  Wayne took a civilian job with Bendix Aircraft, Burbank, CA, and later joined the Navy.  I had already joined the Naval Reserve, and they were waiting for me to graduate before calling me to active duty.


I continued operating the ham station during the Fall of 1941, and made minor improvements to the ham shack with the help of the carpenter class.  It was a very professional looking room when completed, and would make any ham proud today.


The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, all hams were ordered off the air.  School Christmas vacation followed a few days later, with mid-term graduation on 30 January 1942.  I graduated at that time and was immediately called to active duty.  Almost 9 months later, when I was stationed with the Navy in South America, my parents forwarded a letter to me from the Federal Communications Commission, directing measures to be taken to secure the SBSC ham station, for which I was still custodian.  One requirement was to remove the transmitter’s crystal, and place it in a safe.  I wrote Mr. Ericson from Brazil explaining what had to be done.  He replied later that he had complied with my instructions, and then I reported compliance to the FCC.  That was the last I ever heard of the station. 


Wayne Hilton returned to SBSC in the Fall of 1947 to complete his BA degree.  He reports that the station was still there, but that some part of the transmitter had been stolen, and the station was off the air.  He also reports that the 1952 edition of the radio amateur callbook shows the station callsign as W6RFU, licensed to Sam McNeal.  I do not recall if this was the original callsign or not.


After graduating from SBSC, Wayne Hilton obtained an MS from USC and later became a professor of electronics at El Camino College.  I remained in the Navy, did postgraduate work in electronics at Harvard and MIT, built military electronic installations all over the world, and commanded several of them.  My teacher education at SBSC was not entirely wasted.  My last two Navy assignments were as commanding officer of large military schools.  Wayne is now N6WH, and I am K4CRQ.  Both of us have been continuously licensed since the early 1930’s.




This article was sent to the Amateur Radio Club at UCSB in October 1992 by Capt. McGinnis.  It also appeared in an issue of the Coastlines magazine.