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Saturday, August 21, 2021

W2EWL's "Cheap and Easy SSB" Rig -- And The LSB/USB Convention Myth

In March 1956 Tony Vitale published in QST an article about a "Cheap and Easy" SSB transmitter that he had built around the VFO in an ARC-5 Command Set transmitter.  Vitale added a 9 MHz crystal-controlled oscillator,  and around this built a simple phasing generator that produced SSB at 9 MHz.  He then made excellent use of the ARC-5's stable 5 - 5.5 MHz VFO.  His rig covered both 75 meters and 20 meters.  Here is the article:


Because it used the 9 and 5 frequency scheme, over the years many, many hams have come to think that Vitale's rig is the source of the current "LSB below 10 MHz, USB above 10 MHz." This is  wrong.   An example of this error popped up on YouTube just this week (the video is otherwise excellent): 

First, Vitale's rig had a phasing SSB generator. All you would need to switch from USB to LSB was a simple switch.  And indeed Vitale's rig had such a switch. Pictures of other Cheap and Easy transmitters all show an SSB selection switch. So with a flip of the switch you could have been on either USB or LSB on both 75 and 20.  With this rig, you didn't even need sideband inversion to get you to 75 LSB and 20 USB. 

Second, even if hams somehow became so frugal that they wanted to save the expense of the switch, leaving the switch out (as suggested above) would NOT yield the desired "75 LSB 20 USB" that the urban legend claims that W2EWL.   As we have been pointing out, a 9 MHz SSB generator paired with a 5 MHz VFO (as in the Vitale rig) will NOT -- through sideband inversion -- yield LSB on one band but USB on the other.   

W2EWL's rig could not have been the source of the LSB/USB convention.  I still don't know where the convention came from. I am still looking for the source. 

But leaving the LSB/USB convention issue aside, Tony Vitale's rig is an excellent example of early SSB homebrewing, and of a very clever use of war surplus material.  In the January 1992 issue of Electric Radio magazine, Jim Musgrove K5BZH writes of his conversations with Vitale about the Cheap and Easy SSB.  Tony told Jim that this rig came about because the Central Electronics exciters required an external VFO -- they recommended a modified BC458.   B&W had recently come out with a phase shift network. Vitale went ahead and built the whole rig inside a BC458 box.  FB Tony! 

In the December 1991 Electric Radio, Jim K5BZH reports that Tony was recruited into the ranks of SSBers when he watched a demonstration of SSB by Bob Ehrlich W2NJR in November 1950. Tony very quickly started churning out SSB rigs.  His daughter Trish Taglairino recounted that when her father had "done something great again" there would be a parade of hams to the basement shack.  About 30 guys showed up when Tony put his first SSB rig on the air -- they sent out for beer.  

Thanks to Jim for preserving so much SSB history. 

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