The Birth of Rice Radio, 1918

In a box of materials collected by the Rice Historical Commission in the late 1970s I came across a document in which E. Finley Carter ’22 lucidly explains the origin of Rice’s amateur radio station. (This felt like a gift from heaven, by the way. If any of you have a story I suggest you write it down just like this and send it to me.) Note that it was a donation from famous Rice flunk-out Howard Hughes that set things in motion:


This set me to wondering if there might be some mention of this transmitter in the program for the Engineering Shows of the early 1920s and indeed there was. It was Exhibit  72 in the 1922 Show, but I scanned the whole page for your reading pleasure:

The next thing I started thinking about was Mr. Carter. Here he is second from right with his rascally fellow E.E.s in the 1922 Campanile:

(Anybody know what K.V.A.’s might mean? Or is it just lost to the ages?)

It didn’t take long to discover that Finley Carter had gone on to a spectacular career after he graduated from Rice, much of it (but not all) involving work in radio. Here’s an image of him during his remarkable tenure as President of the Stanford Research Institute:

And here’s a link to his page on the Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Go take a look–he did pretty good for a young lad from Elgin, Texas.

The last thing I’m wondering about is whether that antenna equipment is still up there on the campanile. Will check tomorrow.

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10 Responses to The Birth of Rice Radio, 1918

  1. kVA is usually a kiloVolt-Ampere. A Volt-Ampere is the same as a Watt for DC. For AC, it can be different, for reasons that only an EE would care about.

  2. Gloria Meckel Tarpley '81 says:

    I know there was an active ham radio club in the late 70’s, when I came to Rice. My home was in Mexico City, and it was very expensive to make international phone calls. My dad was a ham radio operator, so he had me connect with the folks in the ham radio club at Rice, and they would patch me in so I could talk to my parents once a week, free of charge. Other than having to end every comment with “over”, it worked like a charm, and I’m very appreciative of the guys in the club that made it possible. Hard to imagine, in these days of cell phone coverage anywhere, anytime!

  3. Don Johnson says:

    KVA is equivalent to power, so they were the “power guys” from an EE perspective?

  4. While I was a Faculty Member in the EE/CS Department from Fall 1968 through Fall 1978, I was Faculty Advisor and trustee of W5YG. The station was in an unused room at the end of Abercrombie Labs far from EE. Tim Bratton was the President. We had a Johnson Viking Killowatt transmitter. I have forgotten which receiver, perhaps a Collins 75A3. We had a 160 meter antenna that ran from the top of the quad’s 90′ tower in the form of an upside down V.
    Tim also arranged for the delivery of a large communication tower {whose base was a square and about 10-12 feet on a side).at that end of Abercrombie. A Rice Alumni, George … who was an executive at Houston Lighting and Power arranged for the installation. The station was fairly active while Tim Bratton was at Rice.
    I had a station in my office with antennas on the EE Abercrombie Wing and first as W2AZM/1, and then as WA5UOZ, I operated from Abercrombie. Then I changed my W2 call to W5THF reflect my living in Houston and at the end of 1996 to N5EI when the N call prefix became available. When I left for the sabbatical from which I did not return, J. Venn Leeds Jr. became faculty advisor and trustee.
    At one point I had a QSO (radio conversation) with Finley Carter and one of his friends. It was the only time I talked to him.

  5. Buddy Chuoke '75 says:

    What a great story, Thanks for digging this one up, Melissa.

  6. baileyn says:

    I think you meant 2nd from the RIGHT.

  7. Pingback: The Spanish Flu at Rice, 1918 | Rice History Corner

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