The 90-Year Saga of a Collins 30W Transmitter
by: Rod Blocksome, November 19, 2021

 Before Collins Radio Company existed, there was Collins Transmitters, a very small company owned and operated by Arthur A. Collins located in the basement1 of his home at 1720 6th Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Clair Miller2, a fellow amateur radio operator (9EFS in 1925; later WØKFA), was the only employee and he was part-time. Miller was a recent graduate of Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) when Arthur hired him in June 1932. He spent 15 years with Collins, then left to later become President of Rex Manufacturing which he founded in 1948. He also was president of Quality Casting, Inc. of Monticello, Iowa. Clair passed away January 28, 1976 at age 66.

 In 1932 Arthur began running small advertisements in the ARRL Journal QST. The July 1932 issue contained the first ad (Figure 1) for the model 30W transmitter. The ad stated that it came complete, less vacuum tubes and the frequency determining crystal. The transmitter produced 30 Watts on the 160, 80, 40 and 20 meter ham bands (1.8 to 14 MHz) and sold for $95.60. Accounting for inflation, this is equivalent to $1,930 in 2021. Today you can buy a new Yaesu FTDX-10 transceiver, speaker, and power supply for this amount.

 Benton White, W4PL, from Chattanooga, Tennessee was traveling through the Midwest in July of 1932. He noticed the Collins ad in his new issue of QST and decided to visit the Collins factory when he arrived in Cedar Rapids for the weekend. He managed to purchase a Collins 30W transmitter that day.

 Thought to be only the second 30W transmitter built, this unit resides today in the Collins Aerospace Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Its journey from the 1932 basement factory to the museum is a fascinating odyssey.

 We begin with an excerpt from the book Arthur Collins – Radio Wizard by Ben Stearns…

• A glimpse of the firm’s operations in those early days was described in an article entitled, “From Little Acorns, The Great Oaks Grow,” written by E.H. Marriner, W6BLZ, which appeared some years later in CQ Magazine.

• Here is a success story which had amateur radio for a beginning as viewed by Mr. Benton White, W4PL. This is the story as he told it:

Figure 1 – The Collins 30W
advertisement from QST July 1932.
Excerpt from: “From Little Acorns, The Great Oak Grow”

 Some time in 1931 or 1932 the XYL3 (spouse) and I found ourselves in the course of an auto trip, spending the weekend in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I had bought a ‘QST’ en route and leafing through it came across the first Collins Radio ad that I remember seeing.

 That Sunday afternoon we set out to drive around the city a bit, and I decided to go by the Collins factory and see what it looked like. Idle curiosity entirely — it was Sunday afternoon and I had no idea of buying anything anyway.

 The address brought me to a stop in front of a comfortable home on a shady residential street. ‘There must be some mistake,’ I said to my wife, ‘but I’ll step in and ask anyway.’ Going to the door, a dark-eyed, pleasant looking party answered the bell. Yes, this was Art Collins and this was where the Collins transmitters were made — would I like to see one? Yes, I would, but just a minute while I go back to the car and tell the XYL that I would be inside for a little while.

 As I again approached the front door I overheard — I could not help but overhear — Mr. Collins excitedly calling over the land line to a Mr. Miller (who turned out to be another ham associated with Mr. Collins) that he better call off that date and hurry over. ‘I think we got a customer.’ This man Miller appeared almost at once, with a squeal of brakes from an old jalopy in front of the house. We all went down into the basement which was the ‘factory’ I had been hunting all afternoon.

 Let me hasten to say that it was a nice place to work. There were benches around two sides on a nice smooth concrete floor, with good lighting. There on the bench stood a nearly completed transmitter which was explained and examined. All being brother hams, we sat sociably on stools while they fired up soldering irons and did a little work. I liked both of them and I liked the way they worked. I also liked what they were building. Mr. Collins made a good guess and they got a red hot customer.

 I offered to buy if I could have the transmitter on the bench; take it right now and pack it into the car and carry it back to Chattanooga with me. They already had in mind selling it to another customer, but with me figuratively waving the cash under their noses, they decided it would be a shame to let good money get away. In short, I got this transmitter and the other party got the next. There is no serial number on it and this is therefore purely a matter of memory, but I definitely understood at the time that was the second transmitter that the now great Collins Radio Company had made and sold.

 Cashing some travelers checks, I carefully packed the rig into the car and drove off with it.

• The article concluded by noting that Benton White used the transmitter for many years, with few modifications. He replaced an electrolytic condenser and coils, the 47 tube became a 46 and the 510 a 901. The original coils were wound on Bakelite forms and were replaced with ceramic.

• The transmitter which White purchased was the 30W, for which he paid $95.

• Clair Miller, Arthur’s first full-time employee (the “associate” referred to in the account), recalled Arthur was reluctant to sell the transmitter to Benton White because he had promised it to a customer in Minneapolis. Telling a friend about the incident years later, Miller said he had to take Arthur upstairs to the kitchen to convince him they should sell it to White and build another one for the other buyer.

• An issue of the Collins Signal dated April-August, 1933, included this item in a column about activities of hams: “Mr. Benton White, W4PL, reports that he is working K6’s regularly on both 40 and 80 meters with his 30W and that he is beginning to make contact with VK stations.”

 A similar version of this story was published in the April 1956 issue of CQ Magazine as “The Story of Collins Radio” by Ed Marriner, W6BLZ. At the end of that article we learn a bit more:

Excerpt from: “The Story of Collins Radio”

 Down through the years the transmitter remained a treasured possession of Benton White, complete in its original condition except for replacement of a condenser. He operated the transmitter for a good many years until it became semi-retired as a low power emergency and field day rig.

 Several years ago Mr. White died. The story of this incident was related by W4ARP, now W6ARP, Harry Heibeck, and brought to the attention of Mr. Collins. With a brief lead, the Collins company started to track down the early production transmitter. It had changed hands since the death of Benton, but was located and arrangements were made to obtain it for an amateur equipment display room at the Collins plant in Cedar Rapids.

 Here it rests after many long years with only one flaw, that being a missing Hammarlund type MLW-125 tuning condenser which was in the original unit.

 The April-August 1933 issue of the Collins Signal contains further information on the 30W transmitter…

Excerpt from: April-August 1933 issue of the Collins Signal

 A few people have gained the impression that the 30W transmitter was discontinued with the announcement of the 32A and 32B transmitters. This is most decidedly not the case. There are more 30W transmitters in operation than any other COLLINS type and sales of the 30W are continuing to keep pace with the sales of the 32A and the 32B. The 30W has slightly greater output than the 32A and it is ideal for the amateur who is primarily interested in CW work or who plans to convert his 30W to a 150A or 150B at a later date.

 Sometime in the mid-to-late 1960’s this photo of Arthur Collins (Figure 2) was taken showing three items of personal significance; the 30W transmitter originally sold to Benton White, a framed mounting of Collins vacuum tubes manufactured per the Robert Goddard patent, and thirdly he is holding what appears to be a silver dollar whose significance is presently unknown.

 In 1983 the Collins Museum in Building 120 was created in conjunction with celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company. This 30W transmitter (Figure 3) has been on display there ever since.

Figure 2 – Arthur Collins and the 30W transmitter he sold Benton White in July 1932

Figure 3 – The Collins 30W on display in the Collins Museum

 Now, in November 2021, another addition to this story has come to light. Joe Knight, of San Pedro, CA at the urging of AACLA Board Member Jim Stitzinger, donated a stack of vintage QSL cards to the AACLA for use in the Attic Ham Station replica. One of the cards was from Benton White, W4PL, dated May 6, 1935. Benton’s 1935 card is very unusual as it contains a good quality photograph of Benton and in the background you can see the Collins 30W transmitter that he purchased from Art Collins three years earlier.

 Further research on the internet has turned up another, later, QSL card from Benton White (Figure 6) with a photo showing his station in 1940 still containing the Collins 30W transmitter.

Figure 4 – W4PL QSL Card from 1935

Figure 5 – High Resolution Scan of Benton White and his
Collins 30W Transmitter in 1935

Figure 6 – A 1940 version of Benton White’s QSL Card  -click to embiggen.

Figure 7 – The Collins 30W is visible at the top of the second rack from the left.
It is described on the card in terms of its vacuum tube line-up: 47X – 46 - 210

 Now we ask “Who was Benton White – this man whose 1933 vacation trip intersected with a young Arthur Collins just starting to manufacture amateur radio transmitters in his home?”

 From page 359 in “Standard History of Chattanooga, Tennessee” – edited by Charles D. McGuffey; pub. by CREW and DOREY, Knoxville, 1911, we learn:

Expert from page 359, ”Standard History of Chattanooga, Tennessee”

 George T. White was born and raised in Hamilton County, but during the war his father moved to Florida. Mr. White has been a very successful lawyer, and has amassed a large fortune. He is a hard-working man, a close student, and is a painstaking exhaustive worker in a law suit. Mr. Francis Martin, who came here from Ohio about twenty years ago is Mr. White’s partner and has been for several years, and he, too, is a lawyer of ability. Recently Mr. White has taken his son, Benton White, into the firm with him, and it is now White, Martin & White, and is an exceedingly able firm, which does a very large business.

 Additional information was found on page 85 of the March 1963 issue of QST:

Expert from March 1963 issue of QST

Silent Key

 We seldom write obituaries in this section of QST, but just as we were going to press we were saddened by the news of the passing of Benton White, W4PL. With heavy heart, we feel that his passing should be a matter of special record.

 Ben was “Old Ben,” the master traffic handler, when most of us were in three-cornered pants and before many of us were born. During his long and illustrious career he made the honored BPL4 column 182 times and stands third in our post-war BPL Honor List. Much of the time, it was W4PL who headed the column with the highest traffic total of all.

 But Ben was more than a mass-production traffic man. His procedure was exemplary, his fist well-nigh perfect, and he was always QRV to handle traffic for anywhere, any time. If W4PL couldn’t handle it, it couldn’t be handled. On top of this, Ben was gifted with a rare sense of humor, as anyone knows who ever received a letter from him. His favorite hang-out was 40-meter CW in the early morning, where many other traffic men stood watch with him in what they called the “Hit and Bounce” Net. Up until a very short time before the illness that resulted in his death, W4PL was active doing what he loved best – handling traffic.

 We cannot replace traffic men like Benton White. All we can do is record and morn his passing, which we do herewith. Vale, W4PL !

 The web site for the “Hit and Bounce Net”5 provide more details on Benton White who is listed as the founder of this traffic net.

Expert from Hit and Bounce Net web site

 Benton White, W4PL, August 18, 1884 – January 26, 1963

 Ben White was first licensed when in his forties. Merrill Parker, W4BBT, said that it was in the spring or early summer of 1932, about six months after he received his own license. Ben had been an engineer, and later an attorney, practicing civil law in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1928, he retired from the practice of law, built a new home on the ancestral farm located about 10 miles from Chattanooga, and a couple of years later became a ham. According to Jack, K2GWN, he later called his place “Sea Kew Acres”, and had a sign on the front gate that read: “Hams welcome, but if you have a phone rig in your car take it out before entering”. Jack says he thinks Ben was only kidding. Ben’s pro-CW outlook was illustrated by his response to an interview question about his “most embarrassing moment as a ham”:…the time that two out of town hams came to see me. The family pooch bit the CW ham and let the phone ham alone!

 In an article that he wrote in 1958, under the title “Traffic Handling — Then and Now”, Ben told a little about the early years of traffic handling: “…a message was more of a novelty than anything else, addressees were amazed that such a thing could be done, and few examined the date with a critical eye. Schedules were haphazard, and much traffic was moved by simply calling CQ Baltimore or CQ North.

 The first nets and trunk lines were the result of individual effort, and there was nothing systematic about it. Trunk lines preceded nets; you had a buddy in Memphis, and it turned out he contacted regularly a ham in Enid, Oklahoma, who was night man at a power sub-station. With his station located where he worked and plenty of time on his hands, this Oklahoma ham knew and worked operators to the west with consistent regularity… a trunk line came into being.

 Ben’s own first traffic handling experience occurred on his third QSO. Here’s how he related that experience in the February 1957 newsletter: “On my third QSO after getting my ticket, I handled a piece of rush and emergency traffic… as the twig is bent so the tree is inclined. A feller up in Jonesboro, Tennessee had heated words with his YL, and in a huff, and to show his independence, walked out on her and came down on a visit to Chattanooga where he had friends. Back home, in a bigger huff, and full of independence too, the gal decided to teach him a lesson by marrying another guy. Feller No. 1 had a friend in Jonesboro who was a ham, and he got on the air with a CQ Chattanooga Rush Tfc., and I was the ham he raised. (Was I nervous!!) I finally located the guy at a dance and broke the news to his land line. Any doubt I had about the bona fides of the message was set at rest … he said, What! W-h-a-t!! W-H-A-T!!! and never bothered to hang up. For those who want a happy ending, he got back in time to make his peace, and eventually married the gal.

 From that beginning, Ben quickly became an avid traffic handler, operating many hours every day. He started making BPL in the early 1930’s, and in a 1957 article mentioned (almost in passing) that he had “…about 75 BPL cards tucked away in a drawer somewhere…” He also listed some of his “wallpaper”: ORS, WAS, WAC, SS, RCC, A-1 Opr., 35 WPM, and various public service certificates, and went on to say that the slogan at W4PL was “QSP Anytime, Anywhere, Any Number.” It’s no wonder that he was known to his contemporaries as “The Dean of Traffic Handling.”

 Ben’s station, as he described it in 1960:

 The shack that surplus built. During Uncle Sam’s great surplus spree I bought, for the handsome sum of $100.00 per copy, three xmtrs (transmitters) that would have gone on board liberty cargo vessels if the war had lasted longer. Made by Federal; CW only; xtal (crystal) or built-in VFO; any frequency between 2000 and 24000 kc; pair 813’s final. Receivers are an NC-300 … and a war surplus job that says on the panel Reception set R106 MK III. I guess it was made lend-lease for England and never got across. It is much like the HRO of fifteen-odd years ago … antennas are a half-wave flat-top, with single-wire feeder tapped off-center for each band used. I have 35 acres and plenty of room.

 To better illustrate Ben’s perspective on traffic handling, public service, and operating procedures, here are some excerpts of his various newsletter articles:

 On CW sending (1958): (Relating to the use of keyers and bugs)

 The main error that users of this key fall into, lies in adjusting the key so that the dots come at a rate of, let us say, 30/35 WPM, and the dashes at a 20 WPM speed. Some weird code can be the result. The colossal fault most common to the use of both keys is the lack of proper spacing … in extreme cases, no spacing at all. The erring op dumps a mass of dots and dashes into your lap and it is up to you to sort em out and make some sense out of it.

 On Break-in (1958)
… I do not like it and do not use it … it is quite a strain to me, speaking personally, to be sending with one half my brain, and listening with the other half to every random chirp, sound or squawk…

 On traffic handling (1960): (Responding to “Why do you handle traffic?”)
An offhand answer would be, because I like it. But in more detail it would break down about as follows:
(A) You are doing someone a service. Especially is that so where armed forces overseas personnel is concerned.
(B) You meet the best operators on the traffic nets, and they are hams with ideas and ideals like your own.
There is an additional reason for me. When you get to be 75 years old there is not much left that you can do as well as a much younger man. I like to think that handling traffic is one of them.

 Advice for new traffickers (1960):
Don’t send faster than you can receive. Your opposite number assumes that you can copy at the speed you are sending. Don’t forget that your spacing has more to do with making your code intelligible than the dots and dashes put together. Don’t be afraid to ask for a fill or a QRS… any traffic man worth the name is glad to do either.

 And finally, these two philosophical statements (1959 & 1958):
Although amateur radio is usually referred to as a hobby, as a matter of pure law, no license is ever issued to any radio station except in the public interest, convenience, or necessity. Of all those who avail themselves of the privilege, the traffic man comes nearest to living up to his share of the bargain. Disaster work is spectacular, and gets headlines; but amateur radios happiest contact with John Q Public is the steady day in and day out handling of messages —– free gratis, for nothing, on the house and with the compliments of amateur radio. We are building up for amateur radio an immense backlog of good will; and for those who take their obligations seriously, we are operating our stations in the public interest, convenience and necessity.

 An example of Ben’s public service that he called “the best job I ever did” occurred in 1949.
A big ice and sleet storm had hit the Midwest hard. Ben had been keeping a schedule with P.A. (Mac) McCreery of Columbia, Missouri, and together with a third station (W4BAQ) they offered their services to the Western Union Telegraph. The storm had knocked down all the wires, and Columbia had been cut off from the outside world. The Western Union promptly accepted their offer. Here is Ben’s own description of the job:

 For six days these three stations handled every message that went out from Columbia. Beginning about 8:00 a.m. I would take five and stop to telephone them to the local office of the Western Union, where they were put on the wires. When I stopped to phone, W4BAQ in Memphis stepped up for his five – while he was phoning, I took another five, and so it went till around 8:00 p.m. when skip set in.

 Ben suffered a heart attack in September 1962, and was QRT from the end of that month until his death the following January. That he was a “traffic man” up to the very end is evident from a note he sent to (then) Keeper of the Kennels, W4IA, around Christmas-time, 1962 (in part):

 As a form of indoor amusement, the Doc classes step-climbing several degrees lower than Medicare. Hence am off the air and can only hope for a later dispensation. Several of the old-timers here have offered to bring the shack downstairs, but you know what a job that would be. I better just be patient — or as patient as I can. I am not even listening – it is not wise for an old soak to pause at the tavern door and look inside…

 Ben’s old call (W4PL) is now held by the Chattanooga Old Timers A R Society. As mentioned elsewhere, the call was activated for the second “Ben White Day” in January 1988, with “Hack” Van Hooser (K4KP) operating and utilizing Ben’s old bug which Hack inherited from Ben.

 This Collins 30W transmitter, used extensively by Benton White through the years, is currently resting quietly on display in the Collins Aerospace Museum, Building 120, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


 1. Later in 1933, Arthur moved his factory from his basement to the Metropolitan Building at 2920 1st Avenue.
 2. Clair was born in 1910, making him just one year younger then art - who was born in 1909.
 3. Benton’s XYL was Harriett Kate (Baumaun) - 1882-1963.
 4. BPL is ARRL’s Brass Pounders’ League.
 5. “Hit and Bounce Net” web site URL: