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The John D. Kraus Memorial Amateur Radio Club (W8JK)

By: Jerry Ehman

Photo of John D. Kraus
Dr. John D. Kraus

[Note. All images below may be viewed in a larger size by clicking on each image.]

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During the last two months of 2006 there was discussion via both e-mail and at the regular meetings of our Radio Observatory (RO) group about the possibility of acquiring the ham radio callsign W8JK. That callsign was obtained by John Kraus (by 1930) and used until his death on July 18, 2004.

Realizing that more than two years have elapsed since the death of Dr. John D. Kraus, it was decided to investigate setting up a memorial club and to obtain the license W8JK for that club. Not only did we want to memorialize Dr. Kraus, but we also wanted the W8JK callsign so that someone who had no ties to Dr. Kraus (and who may not have even heard of him) would not obtain that calllsign.

During the discussions it was tentatively decided to form the "John D. Kraus Memorial Amateur Radio Club" in honor of Dr. Kraus. He was the Director of the Ohio State University Radio Observatory (OSURO) based in Columbus, Ohio. He designed, built, and operated the radio telescope given the nickname of "Big Ear" that was located about two miles south of the city of Delaware, Ohio (off U.S. Route 23 and just east of Perkins Observatory).

Several hams within our group looked up information about the procedures for obtaining that W8JK callsign. Near the end of this webpage, a brief version of those procedures will be given (under the subject heading of How the W8JK License Was Obtained).

Besides looking up information by some of our hams, a larger group of hams within our RO group said they wished to belong to this radio club. They include (with callsign and class within parentheses):

    Marc Abel (N8EVV, Advanced);
    Bret Boggs (WB8WKC, Advanced);
    Angelo Campanella (W8EDR, General);
    Robert "Bob" Dixon (W8ERD, Extra);
    R. Lee Edwards II (AA8GB, Extra);
    Paul Hurm (N8OT, Extra);
    Ronald Leeseberg (N8LPB, Extra);
    Bruce Lerner (KC8VEB, General);
    Douglas Wade Needham (KA8ZRT, Tech Plus); and
    Robert "Bob" Tournoux (N8NT, Extra).
Club Operations

During the discussions about the club it was realized that actual transmissions should not occur at the site of our Argus radio telescope. There are two reasons for this. (1) Our Argus radio telescope contains sensitive receivers used to receive celestial narrowband radio signals. Ham radio transmissions nearby would cause overload and possible damage to the electronics in the Argus receivers. And (2) the location of our Argus array is on the roof of the Satellite Communication Facility (SCF = SatComm) of the Ohio State University (OSU) and we do not (and probably should not) have permission from OSU to operate a private ham radio station on university property without their permission.

Thus, Bob Dixon offered to allow the club to use his ham facility at his home in Delaware County, Ohio. Bob has been a ham since his teenage years and has a wonderful ham shack and antenna setup.

Short History of John Kraus as a Radio Amateur


Photo of John Kraus
taken August 1957

Photo of John Kraus dated August 1957 John Kraus was born June 28, 1910 in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he lived until he completed his graduate studies at the University of Michigan in 1933.

As a boy of 10 he was intrigued with reports that nightly broadcasts had begun from a new AM radio station WWJ in Detroit, Michigan. He read that WWJ could be received in Ann Arbor with a simple crystal receiver, so he decided to build one. After building the receiver and erecting a long-wire antenna, he clearly heard WWJ as well as several others.

About a year earlier John listened to a radio receiver for the first time. It belonged to a neighborhood friend. He heard radio amateurs (or "hams") using their spark transmitters.

After using his crystal receiver for a while, John built his first vacuum tube receiver. He was able to detect dozens of AM broadcast stations, even one from California.

John and several neighbor boys set up a telegraph system and operated it succesfully. They discovered that it could also be used as a telephone system. John listened to commercial Morse code stations and to ham radio stations in order to become more proficient at the code.

He joined the Ann Arbor High School radio club; its callsign was 8DAN and it was using a 50-watt transmitter. He filled out the necessary forms to apply for a temporary license (which required no formal examination). A few weeks later he got his license with the callsign 8AFJ. He continued to improve his receiver/transmitter system.

He graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1926. He enrolled at the Universtiy of Michigan and majored in physics. In June 1930 he received his Bachelor of Science degree. In the fall of 1930 he entered graduate school, also at the University of Michigan, and again majored in physics. He obtained a Master of Science in 1931 and in 1933, at age 23, a Ph.D. in physics. His Ph.D. dissertation was on the propagation of ultra-short waves (a wavelength of around 5 meters).

W8JK QSL Card As a freshman at the University of Michigan, his primary hobby was the operation of his ham radio station 8AFJ. During his sophomre year he and his family moved to another location in Ann Arbor and he did little with ham radio for his sophomore and junior years. His interest in it returned, however, in his senior year when he passed the license exam including the Morse code test. He requested and received the callsign W8JK; I don't know the date but it was either in late 1929 or early 1930. [An image of his QSL card is shown on the right.]

Besides his interest in radio and physics, he also developed a keen interest in aeronautics. He joined the University of Michigan glider club.

Starting in 1933 at the University of Michigan Physics Department, he was involved with the "Norge Project" in which he was able to reduce the noise (knocking) produced by the rotary compressor in Norge refrigerators. Starting in 1936, also at the University of Michigan Physics department, he was involved in atomic particle cyclotron accelerator research.

In 1941 he married Alice Nelson and they lived in Washington, D.C., where he was a civilian scientist with the U.S. Navy responsible for "degaussing," or neutralizing, the electromagnetic fields of steel ships to make them safe from magnetic mines. He also worked on radar countermeasures at Harvard University's Radio Research Laboratory.

96-helix radio telescope In 1946 John and Alice moved to Columbus, where he took a faculty position at Ohio State University. His first large radio telescope was a design that eventually included 96 helices; it operated at 250 MHz. [See photo to the left.]

Big Ear radio telescope -aerial photo He designed and directed construction of the "Big Ear" radio telescope [see aerial photo to the left] which discovered some of the most distant known objects at the edge of the universe and conducted sky surveys mapping over 19,000 radio sources (over half of which had never been previously detected). He was closely identified with efforts and activity related to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. In this endeavor he edited and published Cosmic Search, the first magazine about SETI. The now-famous "Wow!" signal, of possible extraterrestrial origin, was detected by "Big Ear" in 1977.

Winner of Sullivant Medal John spent his entire career at the Ohio State University. He was awarded the title of McDougal Professor of Electrical Engineering and Radio Astronomy. He was awarded the Sullivant Medal from Ohio State "for outstanding contributions to radio astronomy and electrical engineering" [see photo on the right.]. He was the author of many articles, the following widely used texts: Antennas, Electromagnetics, Radio Astronomy, and the popular books: Our Cosmic Universe, Big Ear and Big Ear Two, which have variously appeared in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese. His professional memberships included the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), of which he was a fellow. He received the Centennial Medal, the Edison Medal, and the Heinrich Hertz Medal from the IEEE. The Antenna and Propagation Society of IEEE twice awarded him its Distinguished Achievement Award, the last in 2003 "for a career of outstanding innovation and invention in the field of antennas, and for the many students he has taught and inspired to excel in electromagnetics."

Mentally active and vital to the very end, he was a last living link to many of the astonishing scientific discoveries of the 20th century. He was of a bygone era of empirical and observational research and hands-on invention.

More About His Ham Radio and Antennas Activities

John Kraus with Bruce antenna Having moved from one location to another in Ann Arbor, the second home was located on three acres of land; there was also a considerable distance from each of his neighbors. This provided John with the space to experiment with various antennas. He was becoming very interested in antennas, particularly beam antennas. One of his first antennas was a folded antenna of the Bruce type mounted between two poles and pointed toward central Africa and, bidirectionally Australia; this antenna was of the same type used by Karl Jansky except that John's antenna did not rotate. [See image on the right.] John also installed additional Bruce antennas pointed in other directions.

In 1937, after reading an article by George H. Brown entitled "Directional Antennas", John developed, for the 20-meter wavelength band, a "flat-top beam" antenna (later to be called the "8JK beam" or "W8JK beam" antenna). Two 1/2-wavelength-long horizontally-arrayed wires spaced only 1/8 wavelength apart were strung between two poles and fed at the center. This antenna was unidirectional. [See the two images below.] After confirming that the antenna worked well, John wrote an article for the west coast amateur radio magazine RADIO; the article appeared in the March 1937 issue. John got many favorable letters as a result of that article. To answer inquiries about the antenna, John wrote a second article which was published in the June 1937 issue of RADIO. He was barely able to get on the air because of the time he needed to answer the letters he received. Also, many amateurs who happened to drive near Ann Arbor, Michigan stopped by to see John's antennas and ham shack.

Flat-Top Beam (W8JK) Antenna
Flat-Top Beam (W8JK) Antenna
Flat-Top Beam (W8JK) Antenna
Flat-Top Beam (W8JK) Antenna

His next project was the construction of a flat-top beam antenna 20 meters long mounted on top of a pole 5 stories high with a motor for rotating it to point in any direction. [See the two images below.] He wrote a lengthy article with many diagrams and photographs about it which was published in the December 1937 issue of RADIO.

Rotatable Flat-Top (W8JK) Antenna
Rotatable flat-top (W8JK) antenna
Rotatable Flat-Top (W8JK) Antenna
Rotatable flat-top (W8JK) antenna

The above text shows how John Kraus became very involved in antenna design, construction and operation and this was to continue for the rest of his career at the Ohio State University (and beyond). I will now just mention many of the additional types of antennas that John Kraus either invented or modified as well as analyzed.

  • Multi-wire dipoles

  • 3-band rotary beam antenna supported by two towers with an elevated walkway between them for rigging and servicing the antenna

  • Corner reflector antenna (several sizes and types (i.e., using two flat sheets, parallel wires, window screen, metal rods, etc.)

    1946 and following: Professor in the Ohio State University Department of Electrical Engineering

    • Axial-mode (end-fire) helix antennas (the normal mode had been studied previously by others including Harold A. Wheeler); John discovered that the beam off the end was highly directional and was circularly polarized

    • 24 dipoles on a 6 meter (width) by 4 meter (slant height) frame. The dipoles were soon replaced with 6 helices, each 11-turn, 30 cm in diameter. This became OSU's first radio telescope. Ken Baker, a reporter from the Ohio State Journal (later combined with the Columbus Citizen to become the Citizen Journal) referred to this radio telescope as the "big ear". This telescope was later moved to a location on the West Campus of OSU. Additional sections were added increasing from 6 to 12 helices, then to 24, then to 48 (October 18, 1952), and finally to 96 helices (summer of 1954). Celestial observations were conducted at a frequency of 250 MHz; maps and source locations and strengths were made. John realized that a limitation of this design was the fact that the frequency range was only about a 2 to 1 ratio; this ratio was too small for a radio telescope (which John felt should have a ratio of at least 10 to 1).

    • The "Big Ear" radio telescope. In the summer of 1956 Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, Ohio) allowed OSU use of "20 acres more or less" of land near the Perkins Observatory, about 2 miles south of the city of Delaware, on which to build a new radio telescope. John's design was for a tiltable flat reflector, a fixed paraboloidal reflector and an aluminum covered ground plane in between. Originally, John had planned for the fixed paraboloidal reflector to be 610 meters (2000 feet) wide by 61 meters (200 feet) high and the flat reflector to be 610 meters (2000 feet) wide by 85 meters (280 feet) in slant height. Due to insufficient funding available, the paraboloidal reflector ended up with dimensions of 360 feet by 70 feet, and the flat reflector with dimensions of 340 feet by a slant hieght of 100 feet. Observations began in 1961. This design became known as a "Kraus-type" radio telescope, and the nickname of "Big Ear" was also linked to this telescope. A telescope of very similar design was built in Nancay, France. Another telescope of a somewhat similar design, called the RATAN 600, was built at Zelenchuckskaya, Russia.

Additional Images

John Kraus' "Ham Shack"
John Kraus' Ham Shack
One of His Stations (Photo Taken in 1939)
One of his stations
John Kraus at Control Position
John Kraus at control position
Receiving Position
Receiving position
Transmitter- Dec. 1930
Transmitter- Dec. 1930

Receiving Table - Dec. 1930
Receiving Table - Dec. 1930

Rotatable Beam Antenna
Rotatable Beam Antenna
Beam on Two Towers with Walkway"
Beam on Two Towers with Walkway
John Kraus with Corner Reflector
John Kraus with corner reflector
Corner Reflector Using Rods
Corner reflector using rods
John Kraus Conducting Experiment with Axial Helix
John Kraus conducting experiment with axial helix
John Kraus with Model of Helix in the Background
John Kraus with Model of Helix in the Background
John Kraus Showing First Section of Helix Radio Telescope
John Kraus showing first section of helix radio telescope
12-Helix Radio Telescope
12-helix radio telescope
12-Helix Radio Telescope
12-helix radio telescope
Receiver in Trailer for 12-Helix Radio Telescope
Receiver in Trailer for 12-Helix Radio Telescope
96-Helix Radio Telescope
96-helix radio telescope
96-Helix Radio Telescope
96-helix radio telescope
Big Ear Radio Telescope - Modified Original Plan
Big Ear radio telescope modified original plan
Big Ear Radio Telescope - Working Scale Model
Big Ear radio telescope working scale model
Big Ear Radio Telescope - Aerial Photo
Big Ear radio telescope -aerial photo
Big Ear Radio Telescope - Aerial View & Diagram of Ray Path
Big Ear radio telescope -  aerial view & diagram of ray path
John Kraus Behind Flat Reflector of Big Ear
John Kraus behind flat reflector of Big Ear
John Kraus on Ground Plane of Big Ear
John Kraus on ground plane of Big Ear

How the W8JK License Was Obtained
  • Regulations of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) were studied to determine the procedures for obtaining the W8JK license. It was learned that the W8JK callsign becomes available in the event someone asks for it as long as more than two years and a day have elapsed since the passing of the holder of that callsign. That time period had elapsed.
  • E-mails with Dr. Kraus' eldest son (Dr. John D. Kraus, Jr.) resulted in obtaining his approval of establishing the club.
  • Bob Dixon (W8ERD) filled out the FCC online forms to request establishment of the "John D. Kraus Memorial Amateur Radio Club".
  • The request was approved and Bob Dixon obtained the printed license. The callsign for the club was KD8ERD and Bob Dixon was listed as the Trustee for that club (with Bob's home address and telephone number used).
  • Now that the club was established, Bob Dixon reviewed the application forms and instructions on the FCC web site for obtaining the W8JK callsign.
  • Since the FCC would accept only one phone number and email address, Bob Dixon gave them his home information. He included the social security notice of John Kraus' death, plus the obituaries from the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and Delaware (Ohio) Gazette. Bob was given a tracking number with which he could check the status.
  • John Kraus' license for W8JK was cancelled.
  • Bob Dixon submitted electronically the forms to assign the W8JK callsign to our radio club. He also submitted the separate form needed to pay the application fee of $20.80 from his credit card. At the time of those submissions, nobody else had applied for this callsign.
  • The FCC database showed that our application was officially on file and was predicted to be approved (www.ae7q.com was used to check on the status). AE7Q says the average approval time is 18 days, although our original license came much sooner than that.
  • We learned that the FCC was restructuring its procedure for handling "vanity" callsigns (and W8JK is considered a "vanity" callsign), and, thus, it would take much longer to receive the paper copy of the license. The reason for this restructuring was that many times a person would file multiple (even hundreds) of identical applications for a certain callsign; the FCC decided to change the rules so that any application beyond the first would be ignored.
  • The FCC ULS (Universal Licensing System) database was checked frequently.
  • The AE7Q FCC search tools show that the W8JK license was issued to our club on Feb 9, 2007 and it expires in 2017. Bob Dixon looked at the FCC ULS site directly and it shows the license. Note that, due to the FCC restructuring, it took about two months for the W8JK license to be issued. Bob Dixon has not yet received the license in the mail. However, we now consider that the club is properly licensed with the callsign W8JK.
  • Finally, on February 16, 2007, Bob Dixon received the paper copy of the license from the FCC. Of course, in the process, the FCC had cancelled the original KD8ERD call sign assignment for the club.

    The first image below shows the front side of the license. The second image (to the right of the first image) shows a reproduction of the Conditions as printed on the back side of the license.

    Bob Dixon obtained a printed certificate from the website www.vanityhq.com; this is shown below the first two images.

  • Club operations began. The first on-air QSOs (contacts) occurred on February 17, 2007 from the ham shack of Bob Dixon.
  • Bruce Lerner (KC8VEB) agreed to be the QSL Manager. He will design the QSL card.
  • A Constitution was prepared. On June 2, 2007 the Constitution was approved. Bob Dixon (W8ERD) was elected President and R. Lee Edwards II (AA8GB) was elected Vice President. Here is a webpage showing the text of that Constitution.
  • In late June 2007 a separate website w8jk.org was created; Paul Hurm (N8OT) became its webmaster. The purpose of that website is to report on past activities and upcoming events for W8JK. [Note. The webpage you are now viewing is designed to serve as an historical document: (1) describing the activities of John Kraus as a ham, physicist, electrical engineer, and radio astronomer; and (2) outlining how the John D. Kraus Memorial Amateur Radio Club (W8JK) was established.]
  • On July 7, 2007 a final design for the QSL card was approved. The image below shows that final design.

Note: The club did not operate under the KD8ERD callsign because the goal was to operate under the callsign W8JK.

Lee Edwards obtained a letter and a certificate from the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) indicating that our John D. Kraus Memorial Amateur Radio Club (W8JK) is now declared "a duly affiliated society with an affiliation date of October 6, 2007". Below are images of both the letter and the certificate.

[Credits: Some of the information in this webpage was found in the book "Big Ear Two - Listening for Other Worlds" by John Kraus; 1995, Cygnus-Quasar Books. The images were scanned from photos and lantern slides donated to NAAPO by Dr. John D. Kraus, Jr., eldest son of the late Dr. John D. Kraus.]


Copyright © 2007 North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO)
Designed by Jerry Ehman
Last modified: October 22, 2007