Fast forward to my senior year of high school: 1979/1980 school year. One of my friends had some kind of ham radio publication on the school bus. I asked about it and he told me he was a ham. He had just gotten his ticket and was elmered by our high school guidance councilor Joe Plesich, W8DYF. I couldn’t believe this was going on and I didn’t know about it and wasn’t a part of it. The next day I went to Joe’s office and asked about it. Turned out there were several other kids interested who were practicing CW during lunch time. I immediately got involved. Joe kept a straight key and a practice oscillator in his office and we practiced our CW for a few weeks until we had it down. I think he had to send in a form to the FCC that we had passed our CW and then they sent him the theory written test but I am not sure how it worked exactly. After passing the CW test I studied a book someone loaned me that was put out by Radio Shack. It was a very basic, easy to understand book geared towards the novice exam. I had some incentive to study hard because my dad told me that if I actually followed through and became a ham, he would buy me a radio. This was highly unusual for him and is testimony to what he thought about ham radio. As a kid, I never had the fad toys, clothes, bike, whatever. But when I became a ham, I was rewarded with a brand new transceiver. I ended up not having any problem with the theory test and the wait began to receive my ticket in the mail.
My dad made good on his promise and bought me a Ten Tec Century 21 based on advice given to him by Joe, W8DYF. I missed out on the tube gear, the drifting receivers, the crystals…………..My dad and I assembled an antenna tuner. I wound a coil on a shampoo bottle and had a kite stick glued to the bottle to hold the turns up so I could tap them. The whole thing was mounted on a board and worked FB. My first antenna was an end fed wire. My first key was a Nye Viking Master Key that I still have and have used on the air within the last week.
Eventually I received the callsign: KA8FFL. It was near the end of 1979 but I don’t remember the month.
I honestly don’t remember my first contact. I was scared to death going on the air in the beginning. I even remember having someone come back to my CQ and I shut the radio off in a panic. But, after the first few days, I remember having a lot of fun on the air. The bands were wide open. 10 meters was great. I still have all the QSL cards I ever received and can look at them and remember the contacts made as a novice.
The next step was Joe inviting me to the local radio club meetings. I was welcomed with open arms. This seems to be the thing I remember most about being a novice was the radio club meetings. I don’t think any activity later on in life was as fun as those meetings. A number of the guys I met there are friends today. Those guys included us in all the activities. Field day being one. I still tell stories about my first field day. They even came to our houses and picked us young hams up and drove us to hamfests. And the hamfests were incredible. I would have maybe $50 that I got from washing dishes in the hospital kitchen and would scour those fests in pure ecstasy. I drooled over everything there. I dreamed of owning everything there. Some guys from the club even took us to the Dayton Hamvention. We rode in the back of a pickup truck all the way there and slept on the floor of their hotel room. Those were definitely some of the best times of my life. I have gone to Dayton the last couple years with some of those same guys from that club, even though I live on the other side of the country: including Joe, W8DYF who I have remained in contact with to this day (I called him today). I think that one part of the enjoyment from radio club was that it was the first time I associated with grown men and was treated as an equal. In ham radio, you aren’t a kid, you are a fellow ham.
Yeah, I upgraded, yeah I bought better/more gear. Yeah, I got on other bands and modes. But those days were the best days of my ham life.
FWIW: Before I moved out of the house, I had saved enough from my minimum wage job to have a Ten Tec Omni D (which was a high end rig at that time) and a Heathkit SB-200 amp. You can see where my priorities were ?. I can remember asking my girlfriend out and then after picking her up, asking her if she would mind sitting on the couch for a few minutes while I made a contact or two. The relationship never went anywhere as strange as that may seem.
I started out at the local community college studying electronics but never finished. I have never done anything professionally with radio or electronics. Ended up as a firefighter: which I don’t regret in the least. Yes I have operated mobile from a moving fire truck, yes I have raised a 90 foot aerial ladder and used it to support a dipole in the parking lot of the station, yes I have worked many contacts from the parking lots of fire stations on weekends including satellite contacts. But don’t tell anybody, I was supposed to be at work.