VE3OSC anecdotes and mysteries

Just a few thoughts and questions about the original amateur radio station VE3OSC at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. If you’re able to shed any light, or offer additional information, please do get in touch.

Collins 51S-1 receiver

Collins 51S-1 receiverThe 51S-1 receiver was a general coverage radio, spanning the entire shortwave spectrum, and it would have cost much more than a ham-bands-only receiver which would have been the typical companion for the 32S-3 transmitter, namely a 75S-3B or a 75S-3C.

So, why was a 51S-1 chosen? Did the person buying the equipment for VE3OSC just ask for “the best of everything”? Or was there perhaps some intention to demonstrate non-amateur use of radio, e.g. short-wave broadcasting or commercial radioteletype?

The question is interesting because the 51S-1 actually made the station more difficult to operate. It uses a different PTO than the other S/Line equipment, and therefore cannot transceive with the 32S-3 transmitter. So we had to zero-beat the transmitter with the receiver every time we changed frequency. This was no problem for those of us brought up with separate, often unrelated, transmitters and receivers, but it was unusual for the early 1970s when transceiving (single control of transmitter and receiver frequencies) was becoming common, and was offered with the standard S/Line receivers.

Linear amplifier

The station originally had a Collins 30S-1 kilowatt linear amplifier. It was there when I began operating the station, although I never used it because the station put out a great signal using just the 100 watt 32S-3 transmitter and those nice antennas.

I was also asked to avoid using it because it would interfere with the security guards’ walkie-talkies!

Shortly after I started operating the station, perhaps late 1970 or early 1971, the 30S-1 disappeared and was replaced by a homebrew linear amplifier. I cannot remember what tube(s) it used, but it appeared to be very well built. Maybe it came out of the Science Centre workshop?

My recollection is that the new amplifier was floor-standing, like the 30S-1, but the colour photo seems to show a desk-top linear. I’m not sure if this is the one I remember, which could have been in two cabinets, one for the RF deck and one for the power supply.

I wonder why the amplifier was changed, and whether it was ever used much.

Telrex Big Bertha

The Big Bertha antenna system was extremely impressive, a US-built unguyed welded steel pole over 100 feet tall. There were monoband yagis on it for (I think) 40, 20, 15 and 10-metre bands. There were only a couple dozen of these monsters ever built.

But even though I started operating within a year or so of the Science Centre opening, the Big Bertha was no longer in use, and I cannot remember the reason. Possibly it had stopped rotating?

Fortunately we had a Hy-Gain TH6-DXX tri-band yagi on a guyed tower that worked very well. Of course, there were no WARC bands back then.

Another irony is that the Science Centre was built in a ravine, so a 100-foot mast barely got us back up to street level.

Anyone know the story of Big Bertha? I’ve heard that a helicopter was used to take it down.

Collins desk microphone

In the early photos of the station, you can see a Collins desk microphone. These were made for Collins by the Turner Microphone Company which, like Collins, was located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

But by the time I started working at the station, the Collins mike had been replaced by a Shure 444. This is also a very nice microphone, and works very well with the Collins transmitters.

Why was the original replaced? Perhaps it was too valuable (today the Collins mikes sell for 10 times the cost of a Shure 444) and someone walked off with it?

Another possibility: the microphone in the early photos appears to be an SM-2 which did not have the push-to-talk button found on the SM-3. Perhaps operators didn’t like having to flick the switch on the 312B-4 station console when they transmitted, so the Science Centre opted for the Shure microphone rather than the more expensive SM-3 when they decided to add PTT?

(I use a Shure 444 with my Collins station, and it still reminds me of VE3OSC.)

Why was VE3OSC shut down?

Some time, in the late 1970s perhaps, the station was closed down. I had left Toronto by that time, and wasn’t in touch with any of the original operators. Does anyone know why the station closed?

Similarly, does anyone have any history about the original Ontario Science Centre Amateur Radio Club? Was its demise related to the closure of VE3OSC?

Thanks for reading, and feel free to send any information, or raise other points of interest.


“I started operating at OSC in around 1969 or 1970, usually on a weekday, having skipped my classes at Leaside High School. Of course it was an amazing experience to operate Collins gear at the time. There was also a Heathkit HW12 and the 2-metre GE or Motorola rig that you mentioned.

“Like you, when I started operating OSC I only had CW privileges and I thought that the Hallicrafters keyer was the latest in high tech! The Vibroplex key with a bright red set of paddles set everything off nicely. Funny how you can remember some details and forget others. Your photo brought back the memory that the wall at the operating position was covered with cork board.

“I remember being “on duty” one day when the Spanish Ambassador to Canada came for a tour. I was very impressed by his expensive suit, shiny shoes and even shinier teeth. I explained to him how the station worked and asked him quite formally. “Mr. Ambassador, I’m speaking with someone in Baltimore. Would you like to say hello?” He happily picked up the microphone, then proceeded to “double” with the other station, finishing by holding the microphone up to his ear. This out of sync conversation continued for a few minutes with him always keying the mike at the exact moment the other station started to transmit. Finally, with an undiplomatic “to hell with it” he tossed the mike back to me. As I recall, his wife was the real diplomat in the family. She kindly took over and had a nice chat with the other station.

“On another occasion I had the brilliant idea of bringing my own microphone to the station. It worked fine with the Collins. Unfortunately it proved much easier to bring that mike into the building than it was to take it out. It took me a week or so to get it back and I’m lucky not to have been arrested.

“I still collect boat anchors including old Collins gear and, partly due to my memories of OSC, I own a 32S-1 and 75S-3.”

– Doug Bingley VA3BD (ex VE3CPB)

“In 1965 I worked at what was, at the time, the Ontario Centennial Project being built for Canada’s Centennial in 1967. By the time we moved into the completed building it was named Ontario Science Centre. In 1965 I was 18 and had just arrived in Canada OSC was my first job. Coincidentally last week I was invited to a celebration of the 50th anniversary of OSC. Seeing the original Ham station brought back happy memories.

“My Dad was G3EGH. Although an avid SWL, I did not become a ham until 1997.

“The OSC employee in your station photos is Les Popelyak callsign VE3CCP. Also in the Canadian Database are VE3CCQ Bernice (his wife) and VE3CCJ (his son John Eric, I believe).”

– Peter Hodgson VE3UR, December 2019

The allure of the Collins S-Line

Amateur radio VE3GCLOne day in the very early years of the Science Centre, my father’s cousin Ken stopped by VE3OSC and was very impressed by the station. So much so, that he then paid a visit to the Department of Communications office in Toronto where his commercial radio operator’s certificate instantly gained him an amateur callsign (VE3GCL). He also went to the Collins dealer and got an S/Line, which immediately made him the coolest member of the family in my opinion. Ken was a great operator and a really nice guy. He died in 2020.

I wonder how many other people were inspired to take up amateur radio after visiting VE3OSC.

Leave a Reply