With the one year limit on Novice licenses, Bill went down to the local FCC office and soon was able to drop the "N" from his callsign and became K5 "Ugly Fat Ape", or-this being the dawn of the Space Age-"Unidentified Flying Astronaut". I still remembered when he upgraded his Heathkit DX-20 with an outboard modulator, a Knight-Kit VFO, and an Astatic JT-30 microphone. Man, what a station!
It wasn't long before I knew at least two letters of Morse: "C" and "Q". We lived in the upstairs of a duplex and had to "buzz in" visitors. Pretty much the entire family developed a habit of sending CQ on the door buzzer!
Within a few years my brother had left for college and the Navy, and had pretty well gotten out of ham radio. But, he left behind his "new" Hammalund HQ-150 receiver, which was to become a key part of my own ham station a few years later. Even before I got my ticket though, I spent hours tuning the dial of that big receiver, exploring the various bleeps and bloops and odd-sounding foreign broadcasts. If I wasn't hooked at 5, I sure was by age 11!
But, it would take a few more years before I could get my own license. When I was 14, I wrote a letter to the Greater New Orleans Amateur Radio Club asking if anyone could give me my Novice test. I had read and re-read and dog-eared the ARRL License Manual; I didn't really understand some of the more technical stuff, but considered myself ready to take the plunge. A club member, Elwin Phillips (formerly WA5DXA, now KD5WY), agreed to be my Elmer and soon I was on the streetcar heading for the sumptuous W5UK, then located atop one of New Orleans' newest skyscrapers.
To be honest, I don't remember anything about the test, but I do remember the interminable agony of waiting for my ticket to arrive! Almost every day I would phone home from Junior High to see if there was mail for me. After about six weeks of this torture, my mother told me that, indeed, there was something from the Federal Communications Commission. "Open it!" I begged, and I learned that I now was assigned the callsign WN5WJZ!
So, in October of 1968, I became a ham. Since Novices still had 2 meter voice privileges, I loved to go to the club station and get on the old .34/.94 repeater. This was the heart of the era of Incentive Licensing though, and after a month my phone privileges went away. A disappointment perhaps, but it wasn't long before I had put together my own station, consisting of a second hand DX-60A and my brother's old HQ-150. With a 40 meter dipole hanging about 12 feet off the ground between our apartment and a big metal shed, it's amazing I could ever make contact, but I did! I used a separate 100 foot long wire for receiving, which obviated the need for a T/R relay or switch. I could pump out my massive (75 watt input power) signal and overload my receiver at the same time!
As many others have recalled, this was the age of crystal control, so the standard procedure was to call on whatever frequency you had a "rock" for, and tune across the dial listening for a response. I think my best DX was from New Orleans to Houston, but I made several feverish QSOs with fellow Novices around town (all evidence of my antenna's "cloud warmer" status)! I remember rushing home from school to fire up the rig and tapping out endless 5 wpm CQs, then straining to hear my callsign through the crushing QRM of fellow rockbound Novices transmitting on top of one another. It was absolute magic!
But, the DX-60A developed power supply problems, and I developed a crush on a tall girl in my English class, so...while I kept listening, I didn't do a whole lot of transmitting. The Novice ticket had become a two-year, non-renewable license, so again I turned to the Greater New Orleans Amateur Radio Club to upgrade to Technician and hold my callsign. Soon I was no longer WN5WJZ, but now had a prestigious "WA" call.
High School romance, a bunch of friends with CB radios, then college and the campus radio station all conspired to divert my attention from ham radio. That magic-first experienced as a wide-eyed 5 year old, then as a gawky 14 year old-never went away, though. It would be a few years before I would get back into Amateur Radio in a big way and upgrade through ranks, but the magic nonetheless continued.
In 1997 I finally upgraded to Extra and agonized over whether to get a snappy 1X2 callsign. I hated to abandon my old "WJZ" call, but I had gotten bitten by the DX bug, and on phone or CW K5IQ is a lot quicker than WA5WJZ, so...I retired my old callsign.
Nonetheless, like almost everyone else who went through the experience, I have great fondness for those painful, laborious, split-frequency Novice QSOs and the gawkily filled out "Little Print Shop" QSLs that inevitably followed. Even if I "work ‘em all" and become one of the high muckity-mucks of the DXCC Honor Roll, I don't think any contact will be as special as the time I worked "Joe in Houston" on 40 meter CW. I made contact with another state with my radio station!
Ah, to be a Novice!