WPE Monitor Registration Program
From HF Underground
The WPE Monitor Registration Program, run by the staff of Popular Electronics, from the late 1950s to 1970.
The WR0 program
The WR0 monitor registration program was launched sometime in the 1950s by a DXer named Joe P. Morris of Cleveland, OH. Moris offered to DXers individual callsign-like identifiers, starting with WR0. The applicant had to be U.S. residnet and an active interest in DXing. It seems that the use of these callsign-like identifiers was approved by the FCC.(1) Initially Morris used to send a simple strip of paper with notification of the "callsign", which was later replaced by better looking printed certificates. The cost of WR0 registration, if any, is unknown.
PE takes over
When the SWL callsigns became popular, they imposed a high workload on Morris. By 1959, he realized he couldn't keep up with the number of applications he was receiving. Tom Kneitel, a writer for Popular Electronics, approached the magazine about sponsoring a program to replace Morris'. The publishers agreed and in 1959, Popular Electronics began their own WPE Monitor Registration program.
An application form for the WPE program appeared in April 1959 issue of Popular Electronics.
The first batch of certificates were black and green and were signed by Editor Oliver Read and WPE Program Director Tom Kneitel. The suffixes were issued in alphabetical order, from WPE1AA through WPEØZZ. The certificates also featured the DXer's name, city and state, and date of issue. By July 1959 over 10000 certificates had been issued, so all suffixes were exhausted, forcing Kneitel to issue suffixes with 3 letters, from WPE1AAA to WPE0ZZZ.
WPE under Hank Bennett (1961-1970)
Cancellation of the WPE program (1970)
John Herkimer (to be deleted)
If you were a shortwave listener in the 1960s, you probably had a "WPE" callsign. For many of us, getting that "Certificate of Registration" from Popular Electronics was as an important hobby milestone.
While those calls will always be associated with the magazine and its longtime shortwave editor, Hank Bennett, the origin of the program goes back to the 1950s and a fellow by the name of Joe P. Morris. Not much is known about Morris. He lived in Cleveland, Ohio, and at some point in the second half of the 1950s began offering DXers individual "WR0" callsigns (supposedly with FCC approval). There were no special requirements. According to an item in the June 1958 Popular Electronics shortwave column ("Short-Wave Report"), the applicant only had to be a U.S. resident and "have an active interest in DX'ing." Some listeners remember receiving a strip of paper with the callsign written in by hand while others received a printed certificate from Morris. There is some question, too, as to the cost for a Morris' "WR0" callsign. The PE news item stated the cost of was 20¢ but at least one listener thinks it was only 10¢. Regardless, even though the calls carried no special privileges, many DXers of the day got their start as a "WR0."
There was little in the way of an official announcement when the PE program began. A registration application, with some brief explanatory text, appeared in the April 1959 issue. The table of contents showed "Short-Wave Monitor Registration" under the "Amateur and SWL" category. It was a simple form and required only some basic information (name, address, equipment, etc.) along with a 10¢ processing fee.
The first "Short Wave Monitor" certificates were black and green and featured the signatures of Oliver Read (Editor) and Tom Kneitel (Director of Monitor Station Registration). Each certificate displayed a pre-printed 2-letter call in black ink, in alphabetical order from WPE1AA through WPEØZZ. The listener's name, city and state, and date of issue were typewritten on each certificate as they were issued.
In the months that immediately followed, PE proclaimed the program a huge success. In May 1959, 3,000 "WPE" callsigns had been issued. By the June issue it was 5,000 and in July--just one month later--it was over 10,000. In December, all applicants were required to provide a self-addressed stamped envelope to expedite application processing. The initial printing of certificates had been depleted and new registrants were now receiving 3-letter calls imprinted from a rubber-like hand stamp (although one recipient claims his call was written in by hand).
For the first few years of the program, it was rarely mentioned in the "Short-Wave Report" column edited by Hank Bennett. This suggested that the program was being handled separately by PE and that Bennett and his shortwave column had no involvement. However, that was about to change. The magazine staff was working extraordinary hours to satisfy the demand for "WPE" calls. In a 1991 interview, Hank Bennett recalled that the magazine's management was not happy with the costs associated with the long hours Kneitel and his staff devoted to processing applications. To prevent the magazine from abandoning the program, Bennett offered to take it over with assistance from his wife, Amelia. Applications sent to PE's New York address would be forwarded to Bennett in Cherry Hill, NJ for processing and mailing.
With the administrative change in place, the revamped callsign program was featured in Bennett's August 1961 column along with a photo of the new certificate design. Holders of older-styled certificates were encouraged to exchange them for new ones. Interestingly, the sample certificate displayed in the article shows the signatures of Oliver P. Ferrell (Editor) and Julian M. Sienkiewicz (Director of Monitor Station Registration). It is unclear whether Sienkiewicz, who was the magazine's Managing Editor, handled the program for a time between Kneitel and Bennett, or if the certificate was simply a prototype created during the program's transition. The certificates that have survived from this period show Bennett's signature alongside Ferrell's. (see "Postcript" below)
The magazine also introduced an awards program whereby listeners could submit totals for number of countries/stations/states verified. Recipients were given adhesive seals which they could affix to the bottom of their new WPE certificates.
The practice of listeners exchanging personalized QSL cards ("card swapping") also gained popularity through much of the 1960s. Listeners had their WPE calls printed on QSL cards (similar in appearance to ham cards) and would exchange these with other listeners. The Newark News Radio Club even had a monthly column devoted to this phase of the hobby.
Throughout the years that followed, the monitor application appeared periodically in the back pages of PE. A few of the requirements changed over time, including the price (up to 50¢ by 1965). A SASE was no longer needed but the applicant was now required to have verified at least 5 radio stations including one from outside U.S. borders.
- Hank Bennet: "Short-Wave Report", Popular Electronics, June 1958, page 82.
- John Herkimer: "The "WPE" Monitor Registration Program"
- Joseph (Joe) M Tyburczy, W1GFH: "Were you a WPE?"
- Dale D Holloway K4EQ, WPE8ETW: "Were you a Popular Electronics Short-Wave Monitor?"