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Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal

from Bob Houf, K7ZB on December 12, 2018
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Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the “Wow!” Signal
Or, “My friend, the Ohio State Professor, Dr John Kraus, W8JK”

Bob Houf
September 8, 2018

Antenna enthusiasts will recognize the call sign W8JK as the inventor of the classic array known as the W8JK flat-top beam. The antenna has unique characteristics that make it popular today and the interested ham can search the internet to find an almost overwhelming number of references for this design.

If you’re truly an old timer, you would know it as the ‘8JK flat-top beam antenna, originally described in the March and June (1937) issues of Radio Magazine and further discussed by Kraus in his QST article in the June, 1982 issue.

After spending 6 years in the Submarine Service of the US Navy I returned to school in pursuit of my Electrical Engineering degree at The Ohio State University. I had been an amateur radio operator as a 13-year-old teenager in 1963 and now it was the mid-1970’s and I was finally achieving my goal of obtaining my BSEE.

The first years went by at Ohio State and I began taking the core EE courses which included two semesters of Electromagnetics – starting with static charges, progressing through Maxwell’s Equations and on to antenna theory.

I was privileged to have as my instructor Dr John Kraus, W8JK, a distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Director of the OSU Radio Observatory known as “Big Ear”. Dr Kraus had authored several text books on Electromagnetics and Antennas and his books were translated (sometimes illegally, as was done in the Soviet Union) in languages for use all over the world.

I had Dr Kraus for Electromagnetics for both courses and found him to be a very personable, if world-renowned expert in the subject matter.

His exams were always the most thoughtful and insightful of all the EE courses I took at Ohio State – he tested to see if you understood the core concepts he taught – each was an open book exam and if you did not understand the principles of the subject you stood little chance of doing well.

Now I had heard of the ‘8JK beam antenna some years earlier and one day in the second semester of Electromagnetics it finally dawned on me that, indeed, my professor must be the very same W8JK who invented the antenna.

So, I came up to Dr Kraus after one lecture on antennas and told him I was a ham and asked if he was the real W8JK – and the inventor of the array.

He was delighted I recognized his work – he had not made it known to our class that he was a ham – and said, yes, he was one and the same.

With that encouragement I went back to our little one room apartment in married student housing and began to really study his textbook analysis of the W8JK array.

I was rewarded for my effort when I discovered on the Final Exam for the course that Spring, that for one of the questions Dr Kraus had us analyze his W8JK antenna design!

A nice relationship was developed during that Junior year of school with Dr Kraus and when I discovered that he was the Director of the Ohio State Radio Observatory I went up to the top floor of the Caldwell Lab Engineering Building and spoke with Bob Dixon, W8ERD, the Assistant Director, about the possibility of becoming involved with the Observatory.

A very good friend of mine and fellow EE student, Mike Mraz, N6MZ (of DXpedition fame) was also interested in working in some capacity at the Radio Observatory so we both were encouraged to speak to Dr Kraus and he created a work-study project for us in our Senior year of school, working at the Radio Observatory just north of Columbus in Delaware, Ohio.

Mike took the lead with my assistance and we designed and developed a 50-channel active filter for the receiver for use in the sky scan of the heavenly sphere that was underway at the Radio Observatory.

Our filter was put into service in Spring of 1977 and was part of the receiver system that copied the famous “Wow! Signal” which has baffled the scientific community for decades. It was a narrow-band emission from a certain region of space that may have been from an intelligent source.

Whether that is true or not has been the subject of intense debate since August of 1977 when it was received. All one has to do is search the internet for the “Wow! Signal” and you can find articles, videos, analyses and debate which have raged nonstop for over 40 years. There have even been T-shirts made with the famous 6EQUJ5 signal strength report in the original computer printout for the Wow! signal…

During our Senior year of school, Dr Kraus invited Mike and I and our significant others to his home for dinner and a discussion of his research. He was a gracious host along with his lovely wife Alice and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

As members of the Electrical Engineering Honorary, Eta Kappa Nu, Dr Kraus hosted a picnic for us at his estate north of Columbus.

The small pond on his property was full of largemouth bass and I wangled permission from Dr Kraus to come out and fish for them when I had spare time.

On one of my visits to his home he showed me his radio shack and introduced me to his technique for determining if an HF band was open to a certain part of the world.

He would point his W8JK beam in the desired direction and send a single ‘dit’ and pause to listen – if he heard a delayed dit come back he knew the band was open for that frequency and azimuth since the ‘8JK beam has a bi-directional radiation pattern.

As a result of that visit and conversation I received my only QSL card from W8JK and for the frequency of the contact he paused, looked up at the ceiling and said, “Well, this was a person-to-person QSO so I guess the frequency must be in the visible light spectrum!” and he wrote 680nm for the wavelength of our QSO.

As the years passed I was able to occasionally keep up with Dr Kraus by letter and made one final visit to see him after his retirement.

He was as busy and productive in his retirement years as he was when he taught and did research at Ohio State.

I recall seeing him leaving the campus one day after the last class in the afternoon and he looked at me and said, “Now the second day begins!”.

73 and RIP, Dr Kraus.

Member Comments:
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Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by VK6HP on December 12, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Bob, thank you for posting this. It's a great read and an interesting insight into a few aspects of the life of one of the greats of electromagnetics and radio astronomy. As a student the various Kraus textbooks and research papers were often my starting point, and they remained first to hand during my life as an active researcher, teacher and consultant and, eventually, as a professor of radio astronomy engineering myself. John Kraus had exactly the right mix of well-thought-out theory and "can do" implementation spirit and, even today, his work stands as an inspiration for its rigor and clarity. Many hams would benefit greatly from dipping into his material; there are countless afronts to physics that would never get a toe-hold with a better reading of Kraus.

One of my own links with the radio astronomy past involved lunchtime chats with Grote Reber while I was a radio astronomy student in Tasmania. By that stage Grote was quite elderly but always made a point of mentioning that cooking for himself was a chore and, naturally, I offered my finest toasted cheese sandwiches to relieve the burden. Like you with your conversations with John Kraus, I came out well in front!

73, and thanks again,
Peter (VK6HP).

Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by NU8U on December 12, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Bob: A very interesting dissertation about W8JK. I was a
EE student at the University of Michigan during the time
Dr. Kraus was at Ohio State. While I didn't know John I
felt that I knew him; for this reason. W8JK's father was a professor of Romance Languages at U of M.
I worked part time at Purchase Radio in Ann Arbor(Roy Purchase was W8RP) and Roy knew John before John left for
OSU and Roy also knew John's father.
So here was my connection: Weekly, Prof Kraus dropped in
at Purchase Radio to let use know just what his son was up to. I was W8WOJ and those were wonderful times.
My friend W8DKA(sk) had an 8JK beam in Ypsilanti, Mi and
was called a couple times to climb the tower to inspect
W8DKA's antenna. Thanks for bringing back memories.
73 Don NU8U ex W8WOJ

Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by NC5P on December 12, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
His text book, "Electromagnetics" was used for both EMAG 1 and EMAG 2 courses while I attended New Mexico State University. I found the textbook easier and clearer to understand than other texts I had seen. I ended up getting very good grades in both courses and I attribute part of that to the book. I went on to take Microwaves and Radar my senior year. Though my career path took a different direction, I believe that knowledge still went for good as I settled in power supplies and work with magnetics all the time. I even received a patent on an LED driver using a planar transformer. That theory also has enriched my amateur radio experience.
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by AA7LX on December 13, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Reading this history was a step back into time for, I followed Dr. Kraus through the Media and his published works. I also had a chance to be employed working on Kitt Peak National Observatory-- operating the NRAO Radio Telescope and previously, while employed in the UofA Astronomy Department having come into contact with Grote Reber when he made a visit to Steward Observatory on the UofA campus. Thank You, for the look into the past. These individuals made history doing what they enjoyed and building their experiences into the future... '73, AA7LX
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by KA3NXN on December 13, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you so much for this awesome write up. I'm always looking for stuff like this to read about my favorite subject, antennas. I'm an EE grad from a rival university, Penn State but am a bit younger than you guys. I didn't graduate till 88. I just found Dr Kraus's book on Radio Astronomy and purchased it from Amazon. This is my kind of reading.

Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by AJ4SN on December 13, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for posting. I really enjoyed it.

Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by VE3WGO on December 14, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
W8JK also developed the Helical beam antenna, as first described in the first volume of his extremely famous book "Antennas". I have experimented with several helices, and they are very interesting antennas to work with. They have become very popular over the years, and many satellites and some uhf data links use them.

K7ZB, thanks for sharing your very interesting story!
RE: Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signa  
by K9MHZ on December 16, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
A good read.
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by K6WWA on December 17, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you so much for your memories of Dr. Kraus. I too had the pleasure of studying with him in one of his last graduate seminars at OSU in 1989. He was Emeritus, but came back to teach a seminar in radio astronomy (at the prodding of a number of ElectroScience Lab students!). Since I had started OSU with the express hope of getting into the dual degree program he started (astronomy and EE), I knew I had to take that seminar, and I was not disappointed. (OSU dropped the dual degree program a couple of years before I got far enough in my BSEE to start it.)

He always had some new idea to pursue, and I loved discussing them with him. He was always open, caring and wise, and a true inventor. I feel very fortunate to have known him.

God speed Dr. John Kraus!

And thank you again, Bob, for remembering him!

Bill Allen
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by AA9KK on December 17, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Based on two 2017 articles the mystery of the Wow! signal may have been solved. (Spoiler alert: Two comets.)

That being said, no reason to stop looking now!
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by M0KNT on December 18, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for posting this. I spent three months as a British research assistant under Professor Kraus and Dr Robert Dixon at the Elec Eng Department of OSU and I look back with pleasure on the time I was there in the summer of 1967. It was only later that I came to realize that Dr Kraus was a radio amateur of distinction. Ken M0KNT
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by KK0DJ on December 20, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Great post fellow bubblehead. You and I spent time below the waves in a like era. Mine was 1970-1977. USS Haddo (SSN604) RM2(SS) KK0DJ!
RE: Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signa  
by K7ZB on December 21, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks! SSB(N)617 Gold Crew MT1(SS)DV
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by KI4ZUQ on December 22, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Marvelous article! Inspiring since Dr. Kraus was the real deal and actually worked in his field as well as being able to produce something practical for others. His approach to engineering exams was gifted as well. All practical engineers will consult several works to properly execute a project. Understanding the principle is key to continued success. I am envious you were able to attend his presentations and absorb his wisdom.
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by W3ICM on December 28, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent thread with great posts.

I'm from Ohio, but I didn't go to OSU.
I have a BSEE from IIT (Illinois Inst of Technology).

I would have liked to have had profs who were hams, and understood some of the practical things that hams did, such as running 52-ohm coax to a half-wave dipole.

Those of you who had Kraus as a professor, I presume that some of you went to grad school and on to great careers. I'm curious about your careers after the OSU experience.


Fred, W3ICM
RE: Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signa  
by KB3BF on January 16, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Dr. Kraus was a major antenna researcher at OSU and a lot of DOD research funding followed him.

During a dinner hosted by OSU in the 1980s, Dr Kraus addressed the audience by recalling in his earlier university days that he once asked Hansen (Hansen-Woodyard antenna) if he had tried to shorten the wire dipole by spiralling the arms. A rather short tempered Hansen replied to the point by saying "Young man I have done everything imaginable to the dipole, and if it worked it was published".

Not deterred by the reply, John worked on spiralling the arms of the wire dipole by varying the spiral diameter. Dr. Kraus eventually discovered new end-fire modes that lead to the VHF/UHF spiral antenna. Not sure if he ever heard back from Hansen again.

Dr. Kraus commented that he was inspired by Hansen's negative reply. He further added: Never believe a statement that it can't be done unless it can be proven so.
Electromagnetics, the W8JK Antenna, and the 'Wow!' Signal  
by WB5WPA on February 1, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Any reason JK failed on the small loop Rr number? That is, his equation for the Radiation resistance of a .1 Lambda diameter loop is notably off ...
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