CFS Alert: Photos 4 - Amateur Radio

1964: The complete station. (L-R) Hammarlund SP-600 receiver,  Racal RA-17 receiver with RA-63 SSB adapter and the TMC model SBT-1K transmitter. Above the Racal adapter  is a model TFS-3 Frequency Shift Converter with a tone demodulator, a device necessary to drive a printer. The TFS-3 was designed for the reception of Double and Single Frequency Shift signals.

At the very right is the Technical Material Corp XFK107 Frequency Shift Keyer.  To the right of the keyer (and out of sight)  was a teleprinter. This configuration was deemed as the emergency backup for Alert's main HF and LF comms links thus justifying the expenditure of public funds for amateur radio. (Photo via Jim Troyanek) 

Jim Troyanek operates the Model 15 teletype.  (Photo via Jim Troyanek) 
1964: (L-R) Jim Proctor, Jim Troyanek and Ron Hutchinson (Photo via Jim Troyanek) 
1964: Jim Troyanek is standing under the amateur radio tower. (Photo via Jim Troyanek) 

1972: This Collins desk console (which is out of view on the main document) is  integrated with a home made operator's console. Note the  Dymo tape message which says to leave the beam pointed south when finished. In case the rotor became inoperative in between operating sessions, south would be the best direction . (Photo by Jim Troyanek) 

This certificate was given to Eric Earl VE1ZS (and now KG4OZO) for his contributions in passing phone patch traffic from Alert. Since the original certificate is 15 inches long, it has been posted in two parts. (Images courtesy Eric Earl) 

Spring of 1962. After 6 months of darkness it's time for the sun to rise, a process that took about 10 days before it actually cleared the horizon. At the left side is the amateur radio beam antenna . (Photo by David Smith)
Earle Simth comments about some of the contacts he made in the high Arctic using call sign VE8AT." There were a number of RCMP posts, HBC posts, a few priests, etc., in the Arctic  who were not ham radio operators but did have transmitters operating just above 4.0 MHz.  They would listen to us on our 75metre frequency and reply on their 4.0 MHz frequency - it worked just great.  I had two receivers to work with so didn't have to rapidly spin the dial to listen to the guys above 4.0 MHz. My logbook also used to note one well know Arctic personality, unlicenced I'm sure, who used to check in as "VE8 Herschel Island".
Maurice Drew operating VE8TU in 1960. (Photo via Maurice Drew)
Maurice describes VE8TU in 1960. "The transmitter was an old RCAF WWII era 100 watt relic that operated in the 20 meter band. It fed a four element beam just outside the radio shack. Since the rotor used to freeze up in winter, we had to crank the beam around with a pipe wrench. The microphone we used at the time was an old RCA Victor carbon mike which failed to modulate my voice so I always used CW instead.  In 1964, Ron Hutchinson installed an inverted 'L' antenna that was used to communicate with stations in the vicinity such as Isaacsen, Griese Fiord  and other locations".
1958: Earle Smith in front of the AN/FRT-501. Above it is a signal generator which was slightly modified to work as a VFO.  (Photo submitted by Earle Smith).
Earle also describes some of the unusual weather conditions which can suddenly grip Alert. "I remember working up on a tower one time doing some feedline repairs when a windstorm came up, blowing snow.  The blowing snow was from ground level up to approx. 25 agl.  I couldn't see the guys in the group, just a faint glow from their flashlights.  It was perfectly clear up on the tower where I was. Looking down was like looking at waves of water flowing by me".
1960:  VE8TU antenna at night which means its in darkness nearly six months of the year. (Photo by Maurice Drew)
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1960: This is the method of anchoring the ham antenna guy wires. Because of the permafrost, the barrel could not be buried. Instead,  it was filled with either dirt or gravel. (Photo by Maurice Drew)

alert_radiogram_1961_s.jpg 1961 era: Before the advent of cheap long distance telephone, Internet e-mail and Voice Over IP services,  radiograms were a very popular way to send messages at *no cost* using amateur radio nets. This message, originating at VE8TU in Alert, was destined for Smiths Falls, Ontario and was relayed by CW to VE3RCS in Kingston. Often the last portion of the relay was by telephone. Sometimes there was only a few minutes of good radio conditions at the point of origin so the operator had to get the message out quickly. Even in 2007, radiograms are still in continuous (but reduced) use in spite of advances in communications technology. Click to enlarge. (Image courtesy Maurice Drew)

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1962: A daytime view of the amateur radio beam antenna. (Photo by Jim Thoreson)

Charlie Harris, VE6HM in Edmonton, was instrumental in setting up phone patches for Alert personnel so they could talk to their families. Charlie was known far and wide as the "Arctic Mailman". (Photo submitted by Earle Smith).
Note the new National HRO-60 receiver in the photo.  This receiver was a special gift to Charlie, in recognition of all of his traffic handling and phone patching over the years, by various hams across the North and Arctic.
QSL card of VO1XA used at Alert. (Image source unknown)
Even after the establishment of VE8RCS as a permanent station call sign, there is one confirmed instance of an operator using his personal call at Alert after that point. Scott, VO1XA, served in Alert in 1994 and provides some details. "When I was posted to Alert in 1994, I knew there was going to be piles of QSL cards to deal with as evidenced by my 1987 and 1989 tours. I had boxes of them!  A QSL manager, who I met while serving in CFS Bermuda and operating the amateur radio station there, agreed to handle my Alert QSLs which would keep everything separate from VE8RCS.

One unique thing that I did back in 1994 was to bring most of my own equipment up to Alert because I had heard that the ham shack had been stripped down from its former complement.  I didn't know what to expect.  As part of my gear, I also included a packet modem.  VE8RCS had used some digital modes on and off for a few years but I put the station on an automatic bulletin board service (BBS) for nearly 6 months.  People from all over the world logged in and left me short e-mails.  It was pretty cool way to communicate back then".

A story about VE8RCS was published in the July 1981 issue of QST. Excerpts from that article are posted here.

"When the weather turns hot, it becomes easy to think about hamming in cooler places, such as Canada's most northerly outpost, Alert, NWT. Alert now has most of the services of a modem community. Five diesel-powered generators supply up to 1000 kWh of electricity. Each day, 10,000 gallons of water is pumped from Dumbell Lake, 2 km away, and heated and reheated before being stored for use in two 50,000 gallon reservoirs. Forty-eight vehicles of all types provide transportation in and around the base.

Station personnel have living quarters that would be the envy of many servicemen in the south. The three newest barracks have kitchenettes, lounges, and automatic washers and dryers! Residents of Alert have plenty of free time. For more active types, there's a weightlifting room, a gym, a curling club and a bowling club. A closed-circuit television system carries taped television programs eight hours a day. An FM radio station, manned by volunteers, plays music around the clock. And to keep in touch with the folks back home, there is weekly mail delivery by Hercules aircraft from CFS Trenton.

VE8RCS is located across from the barber shop, in the same building that houses the Junior Ranks  Mess and the CHANEX store. In many ways, it's a typical ham station with dimensions of  approximately 12 x 15 feet. The main station is a Yaesu 901DM and an Alpha 274 linear amplifier feeding a 5-element Wilson monobander at 65 feet. This station is used exclusively on 20 meters. A second station, with a Kenwood TS-820 feeding a Hy-Gain Thunderbird TH6 beam antenna  at 50 feet, is used on other bands and for backup. A sign over the nearby backup station instructs operators to make sure the beam is pointed south at the end of the day. This is done as a precaution in case the rotor freezes up. South is the direction that will procure aid for the station in case some seriously goes wrong.

What is different about VE8RCS is its purpose. A typical tour of duty at CFS Alert is six months. The cold, the isolation and particularly the separation from family and friends can become very depressing. Thus, the many licenced amateurs among CFS Alert personnel devote hundreds of hours each month to phone-patch traffic, keeping the 200 residents of Alert in touch with those in the outside world. You can imagine it's a service well appreciated".

Credits and References:

1) Jim Troyanek <intarsia(at)>
2) Ron Hutchinson  <hutch(at)>
3) Douglas Stewart  <dougjoy(at)>
4) Eric Earl, KG4OZO  <eearle(at)>
5) David Smith <drdee(at)>
6) Maurice Drew  <maurice0404(at)>
7) Earle Smith - VE6NM <t16ru672(at)>
8) Jim Thoreson <jimthoreson(at)>
9) Scott, VO1XA, VP9MM -  now VA3XA
10) Spud Roscoe <spudroscoe(at)>
11) American Radio Relay League

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Nov 23/08