When I learned that I could "broadcast" my voice all over the world by getting a ham radio license, I was hooked. Dad found a local ham who was around my age and arranged for me to visit his shack. I don't remember all the details, but I do know that the knobs and dials and buttons and lights set the hook firmly and reeled me in.
I could hardly wait to get to high school in the Fall of 1965 so I could join the ham radio club. The teacher who sponsored the club was biology teacher Cecil McGirr, W7UCO, and he had set up a Heathkit DX-100 and Hammarlund HQ-110 in the back room of his biology lab.
I went to the club meetings, studied Morse Code, operated that station (with a control operator present, of course) and studied for the written test. The GR-64 wasn't adequate as a ham band receiver even with the bandspread dial, so Dad helped me buy a used NC-270 receiver. I practiced my sending with a straight key and a code practice oscillator, since in those days you had to prove you could send CW too.
It rained a lot that particular year - pretty odd for Scottsdale, AZ - and to this day, rainy days bring back the warm feelings I had learning code and operating that station in the back of the biology lab.
I nervously took my Novice test in about February of 1966, which was administered by my mentor and now life-long friend, President of the Scottsdale High School Amateur Radio Club, Rick Olsen, WA7CNP (now N6NR). I barely passed the code test. Little did I know that CW would fast become my favorite mode. I learned it because I had to, and kept up with it because I wanted to.
My license showed up on April 26, 1966. I was WN7FIK. Rick brought over a Globe Chief 90 and along with my trusty National NC-270, I was on the air! He was my first contact and would continue to be my first contact every time I upgraded. The rig would only get out on 40, and with only about 50 Watts of *input* power and an inverted vee at 20 feet, I could only work stations within about 800 miles (on a good day -- it WAS the bottom of the sunspot cycle after all). Oh, those heady Novice days!
When Rick told me one day that the club's beam needed a new element, I asked why we couldn't just get one and put it "in". I didn't know what an "element" was, but it sounded like a part that you would stick inside the antenna somewhere to make it work, like the heating coil in an electric stove.
Rockbound with only a few crystals, I spent the first 3 months of my Novice license working almost only Arizona and California stations. It was frustrating, but fun. When a random 5 or 0 or non-Arizona 7 call answered, I was in paradise! It was summer in Phoenix, and with my relegation to the outside un-airconditioned tool shed, it was very hot. I'd come in dripping wet from hours of calling CQ, tuning around the Novice band for an answer and laboriously working one or two stations a night. But oh man was that fun. I still look with fondness at those 35 QSL cards from the first 3 months of my ham life (atill proudly hanging on the shack wall in the order worked, and still in my trusty Tepabco and Lafayette plastic QSL holders). They represent an innocence, an exploration, a zeal and a dogged determination that has defined and enriched my life like nothing before or since.
I knew I had to have a better transmitter, but I couldn't afford much. A Knight-kit T-60 perhaps? Or maybe a Heathkit DX-60? I drooled over both photos for many hours. Then fate stepped in. I bought the 1966 Radio Amateur's Handbook (none of this "ARRL Handbook for Radio Communication" stuff; hmpph!) and started accumulating parts for the "75-120W 6146B Transmitter". The Handbook still opens to that page all by itself. By the start of my sophomore year in high school, I had finished it.
The following month QST had an article on a 2-element 15 Meter beam (by now I knew what an element was!), and I built that too. Finally off of 40M and with 75W input to a beam at 25 feet, and with band conditions slowly improving (albeit in Cycle 20, which was just about as bad as the most recent one), I started working the world. Once in a while my sweaty hands would touch the key terminals and I'd have a "shocking" experience from the cathode-keyed 6146B. The 750V B+ on the 6146B final was also unkind to me once or twice. But I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything!
My Novice term lasted 9 months before I upgraded to General - you had to upgrade within a year or lose your license in those days - and during that time, I had joined two clubs, created another one, built a transmitter and a couple antennas, participated in a Field Day in the mountains away from the Phoenix summer heat, operated 2M AM from a Gonset Communicator during the SS inside the Maricopa County Civil Defense HQ underground bunker, hosted the SHSARC DX Contest from my QTH using a DX-100 brought over by Rick, and worked about 30 states on 40/15CW. I was a renaissance man!
My parents had gotten me that GR-64 to see if they could find something to light my fire and bring me out of my shell, and boy did it work! Who would have thought that these experiences would lead to a 33-year career as an electronics engineer at Hewlett-Packard, followed by creation of The DZ Company (www.dzkit.com), which is doing everything it can to re-create the same Heathkit experience for others that I enjoyed as a young ham.
Brian Wood, W0DZ