(formerly K4VOW, 1958)
My Novice history actually began with the Boy Scouts where we had to learn Morse code to qualify for the rank of 2nd class. I quickly picked up the code and before long was teaching Morse code to the other scouts as well as giving the code tests. By age 12, I had discovered “Carl and Jerry” and “The Novice Column” in Popular Electronics, and I couldn’t wait for the next issue to arrive at the school library so I could devour each article. Also from Popular Electronics, I had ordered a “Radio Amateur License Manual” and had quickly memorized the questions and answers for the Novice exam to the point that if a question number was given, I could repeat the question and answer. There was one problem though. I had no idea where or how to take the Novice test even though I was ready to go at age 12.
In the meantime, I had set up a T-model Ford spark coil driven by my Lionel train transformer and connected to a short outdoor antenna. I could send Morse code messages to a fellow scout up the street who had a short wave receiver tuned to ANY frequency. After I completed a transmission, I’d haul the T-model coil up to his house so he could transmit a reply. We had only one AM broadcast station in town and no television, and no one ever complained about hearing us. By the time I was 14, Dad read in the paper that a local ham radio club was starting, and anyone interested should phone one of the 3 people listed. One of them was Ben Stowers, W4BXP, who went to our church. I got Dad to call him, and he told Dad to bring “the boy” by his lumber company he owned along with his two brothers. The next day after Dad closed his store, we stopped by the lumber company. Ben asked me if I knew anything about ham radio, and I pulled out my now ragged, worn License Manual. Then, he asked if I’d studied it. I said I had, so he then started to ask one of the questions. As soon as he mentioned the question number, I blurted out the question and answer. Then, he asked me about the code, and I told him I knew it. So, he asked me to read out the code for “License Manual” printed across the front of the manual. As soon as I finished, he then said, “Why aren’t you a ham,” and I told him I didn’t know how or where to take the test. He then turned to the very front of the License Manual that gave instructions on ordering the test from the FCC. Of course, I’d never read that section as I had skipped straight to the questions. He told me to order the test, call him when it arrived, and he could give me the test at his place. In a couple of weeks on a Saturday afternoon, I rode my bicycle out to his house just outside of town and took the exam. Ben also told me that the ham club, the Roane County Amateur Radio Club in Tennessee, was having their initial meeting in a few weeks, and if I’d get Dad to bring me out to his place, he would then bring me home after the club. As luck would have it, my license arrived the very night I was headed to the 1st club meeting.
Once I got the license in hand with the call sign of KN4VOW, then I started thinking about how to get a station. I had already bought and built a Heathkit AR-3 receiver a couple of years earlier using money from my paper route. Probably with Divine Intervention, a neighbor up the street had given me a tennis net, and I ran into another man at the park who mentioned that if he had his own tennis net, he and friends could play anytime even after the park workers had put the nets away for the night. So, it was a simple matter to price out a BC-459 transmitter from Fair Radio Sales to establish the price for the net. The deal was sealed, and another ham across town converted the BC-459 to crystal control. Another ham gave me an old chassis with a transformer and some other parts, so I managed to build a power supply that would deliver 25 watts input to the BC-459 getting 10 or 12 watts out. Putting up a 40 meter dipole and obtaining a knife-blade T/R switch from the hardware store had me on the air using my three crystals from JAN; 7170 KHz, 7175 KHz, and 7182 KHz. Unfortunately, 3 months of my 12 month license had elapsed by the time I got the completed station on the air.
After 6 months of on-the-air operation, I took my Technician test so I could maintain my call sign, K4VOW, and check into the local 6 meter net, and in another 6 months hitched a ride with a local ham to Knoxville, the nearest quarterly examination point, (I was still too young to drive) to take my General test.
To say the least, the hams I worked became my mentors. Those hams in Alabama, Texas, Florida, and California were building rockets, missiles, and satellites, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. They told me how to prepare myself for a career in those fields and essentially became my school counselors. It was a very exciting time for ham radio operators with the launching of satellites, putting man in orbit, and, of course, leading up to the lunar man landings. Ham radio was the entry path from a low tech area as a teenager to two degrees in Electrical Engineering and employment with such firms as Collins Radio Company, Stanford Research Institute, and others performing RF and microwave design, communication systems design and analysis, and radar design and analysis.