Ross Hull was born in Australia in 1902. Trained as an architect, Hull had a keen interest in the rapidly developing field of wireless communication. His moment in time was perfect for the age in which he was born. He had a leading role in experiments demonstrating the value of short wavelengths for long-haul communications. He was the first in Australia to relay programs received from “overseas” and became a vice president of the Wireless Institute of Australia in 1923.
A few years later, and having abandoned architecture, Hull hung out his shingle as a “consulting radio engineer” and was soon elected Federal Secretary of the Wireless Institute and the Australian Radio Relay League.
His pioneering work led to the earliest wireless communication between the United States and Australia. In 1927 he traveled to the US to begin working with the headquarters staff at the ARRL — assisting with the production of QST Magazine. Soon he assumed the role of director of the ARRL Experimental Laboratory.
1928 was a critical one for amateur radio. Representatives from the principal nations of the world had assembled in Washington during the last months of 1927 and drawn up an international treaty regulating all of radio’s shortwave branches. When the negotiations and the compromises were concluded the international regulations finally adopted imposed new standards and restrictions more severe than those which had grown up haphazardly under domestic regulation. These new rules were to go into effect on January 1, 1929. American amateurs had just one year to get ready.
Foreseeing the necessity for developing new equipment and methods to meet the problems imposed by the new regulations, the ARRL inaugurated a special Technical Development Program. Hull was chosen to head that program. With a small group of assistants he plunged into the problem of compressing years of technical research into a few short months.
The brilliant success of the Technical Development Program was one of the epochal achievements of amateur radio. Hull’s studies over that period revolutionized the entire technique of the amateur game. Exploring every phase of amateur equipment, he analyzed weaknesses, established new requirements and devised electrical or mechanical modifications to meet those requirements.
In 1929 he returned to Australia and became the technical editor of Wireless Weekly in Sydney. But the lure of American life had got under his skin, and a year and a half later he was back in the United States, this time permanently, under the quota.
Almost immediately his interest turned to the ultra-short waves or ultra-high frequencies, then radio’s newest frontier. For some years this field had been lying fallow; it was ripe for an abundant harvest. Popularization of the ultra-high frequencies by showing amateurs the fun to be had with local contacts both at home and from portable and mobile stations was one of Hull’s outstanding accomplishments.
Of considerable note for our age, Hull pioneered the field of radio controlled models and was first to build, and fly a remote controlled glider. The technology that flies drones on the battlefield and over the homeland began with the work of Ross A. Hull.
Late in 1937 his interest was attracted by television which had by then been successfully achieved in commercial laboratories. In earlier years he had been rather sharply critical of the television “industry,” particularly of the stock-selling and promotional schemes surrounding much of it. He knew that the stage of its development prior to 1937 did not warrant the claims that were being made. But when electronic television showed itself as a practical actuality, he became intrigued by the possibilities of its application in amateur work.
On September 13, 1938, following a small dinner party at his home, Hull left his guests to their coffee and retired to his laboratory to setup his receiving equipment in order that he might show them television pictures about to be transmitted from New York. Wearing a pair of headphones connected to the sound-channel receiver, he reached over a high-voltage transformer in the experimental power supply on the floor in order to insert a plug into a wall socket. As he withdrew his hand it came in contact with the high-tension lead to the forty-four-hundred-volt transformer. Current from the transformer passed through his body. He fell, his hand still touching the high-voltage lead, the headphones completing the electrical circuit to ground.
Death had been instantaneous. The career of Ross A. Hull, premier amateur experimenter, had ended on the firing line of a new frontier.