On Boxing Day, I was getting a little stir-crazy at my in-laws house in Mount Vernon New York, where we are spending most of Christmas Break. After a few frenzied days of presents, trips into New York City, and late night game-playing sessions, everyone was in the mood to crash, read books, and maybe watch some TV.
I was in the mood to play radio, hadn’t brought along any radio equipment. However, it occurred to me that I knew of at least one station within a short drive: the mothership, the radio station of the American Radio Relay League itself, W1AW. I did a quick check on google maps showed it less than 90 minutes away.
I gave ARRL a quick call to make sure that some staff would be there and then pointed the car at Connecticut. I drove though light flurries on the way up — the sort that did not even require windshield wipers, but also the sort that would shut down the government for a week if they were to occur in the DC area, where I usually live. The trip to Newington, CT was uneventful, and as I drove down Main Street, I stopped checking street address numbers when I started to see antenna towers through the tree branches. These are monstrously tall towers like you might find in the middle of the plains states or West Virginia, but more the sort you’d expect in the suburbs. What is remarkable is that each of the towers is chocked full of antennas, some of them really not very high above the lawn.
The W1AW station itself faces Main Street, and the picture was taken almost from the road. Behind the station, there is a parking lot, and behind that is the ARRL administrative office. I parked and headed into the office building, the front portion of which is a large reception area. One side is a display area for ARRL publications, tee-shirts, etc., but there is also a front desk. I signed into the log book at the front desk and was told that if I wanted, I could join a tour and/or operate W1AW.
The day after Christmas, many of the staff took the day off, so it was quiet at HQ, but a volunteer, Jim, took me around to see the place. We started in some offices related to member activities including the outgoing QSL bureau, VEC, and EMCOMM support. We peeked in at various offices related to creating the ARRL publications like QST and QEX: the editorium, the graphics department, and the labs in which product review testing takes place. The product testing room is essentially fully shielded and has a solid wall of test gear. Across from it, there is a more conventional lab with work benches, soldering irons, and typical test gear piled high. Walking through the halls, there were several display cases with all sorts of antique radio and electronic gear, documents related to technical and political milestones in radio, and some of the original Wouff Hong artifacts.
After touring the admin building, we walked across the parking lot and spent some time in W1AW itself. In the foyer area, there is a rotary spark gap generator (not connected to an antenna), and the Old Man’s desk, with vintage gear. There are three modern operating rooms, each with two positions. In the first room, boom-mounted Heil mikes are attached to top-end contesting rigs — $15k+ radios with more knobs, buttons and glowy bits that I knew what to do with. The middle room was also set up for voice operation and perhaps digital, and the room nearest the front of the building had more middle range rigs and was set up for CW. There is also a computer console in the center of the station that controls the automated transmissions. Behind it, there is a wall of rack-mounted equipment including the patch bays that allow RF to be routed from any operation position to any antenna.
When I got back that evening, I took a moment to renew my license. I just took a look at QRZ, and it appears that the renewal has already been processed by the FCC. Looks like I won’t have to think about this again until 2024.