Staten Island, New York
We moved to Staten Island, N.Y. (34 Colonial Court) when I was in the 8th grade (P.S. 45) and I spent long hours listening to hams and foreign broadcast stations on the old Silvertone console radio in our living room. We had had that radio for as long as I can remember. One day my dad suggested I check at the local hardware store for a job - he thought the owner could use some part time help. I did so and was hired at Forest Hardware Store. It was many years later before I realized that my dad had prearranged that job. Sid Miller, a retired electronics engineer, owned the store. He helped me modify that old Silvertone with bandspread and improved sensitivity and better audio. I learned a good deal of "hands on" electronics from him. He set up a small radio & TV repair shop in the store and he and I would together talk about what the repair problem might be, and then he would show me how to replace the part(s) needed and then we would retest the unit. I was still doing model railroading (HO gauge) and there was an article in Model Railroader Magazine on how to build a “High Frequency RF Lighting System”. This system would allow the lights on the train (engine headlight and caboose and passenger cars, etc.) to remain at normal brightness regardless of the speed of the train, or even if the train was stopped. It worked great! That was my first real electronics project. At home I would listen to the hams on the Silvertone and I really got the "bug" to get a ham license. But I knew no hams to help me. I dug out those 33-1/3 rpm Morse Code records many times and worked with them, but with limited success. My best buddy, Dave Winrock (now KA2LGX), and I collected old newspapers and sold them at the salvage yard. We each bought a used Hammerlund HQ129x via an ad in QST magazine. A ham on Long Island responded to my ad and my dad drove us over to look at it, and I bought it. I don’t remember his call but I do remember being very impressed with his station and wishing he lived closer so he could help me get my license. That Hammerlund was a BIG improvement over the old Silvertone. This would have been about 1957.
Curtis High School
When I was a freshman at Curtis High School, my Spanish teacher, Mr. Presto, was a ham and we had “sort of” a ham radio club. I say “sort of” because we never did much but meet once in a while and talk. He did encourage us to work on code and such. At one time there been a good active club at the school. I remember one time Mr. Presto took us up in one of the towers of the old main building. There were some old dusty remains of what was once a pretty good ham station up there. I think it was Mr. Presto who recommended an HQ129x and an ad in QST to find one.
My dad was an Army officer and he received transfer orders to Oakland California. One day, as we were preparing to move to California, he noticed an article in the newspaper telling about a ham radio “Field Day” station that was going to be in Silver Lakes Park about 5 miles from our house there on Staten Island. He volunteered to drive me there which he did. This was my first REAL meeting and contact with any local hams - and they really took me in! In no time I was logging contacts and even doing some on the air voice contacts. I ended up calling my parents and informing them I was spending the night and could dad bring me a sleeping bag! That was my first Field Day - I was to enjoy many more of them in the years to come. That Field Day experience gave me the incentive I needed!
Berkeley, California and KN6QNZ
We moved to the Bay Area of California (959 Tulare Ave, Berkeley) a few weeks later and then I REALLY hit the code records! At church I met Andy Strebel (he was to become WV6HNT, then WA6HNT, then WA7DEC, and is now KF7QW) and we quickly discovered we both wanted to get ham licenses. We worked together and the code came better. It turned out the young man my sister was dating was a General Class and he offered to administer my Novice test!
I was issued KN6QNZ in February of 1958 (I was 17 years old)! I bought and put together a Heathkit DX-40 transmitter that together with my HQ129x made a great Novice station. I got on the air on 80, 40 and 15 meters CW. I mean I was on the air - about night and day! I never got on 2-meter phone. 2 Meter phone was an option back then for Novice class, but I was determined to get my code speed up - that was my priority. Back then you could only obtain a Novice License ONE time and it was only good for ONE year! If you did not get your code speed up to 13wpm for a General upgrade, the only thing you could do is go for a Technician and be "forever" banned to VHF and up. That and the fact that I was REALLY enjoying CW! I still LOVE CW. I have never been “cut out” for high speed CW. I have never been able to copy words. I copy letters. I enjoy 13 to 15 WPM the most and I love to teach CW. I am a firm believer that CW should remain a requirement for a ham license. I am NOT happy with the new FCC rules!
Just a couple interesting things about my call: KN6QNZ. California was the first call area to “run out” of “W” and “K”, one by 2 and 3 calls (like W6AA through K6ZZZ).”A” and “N” (prefix) calls were reserved for military, aviation and government use back then. This was just prior to starting the WA6 series calls and the FCC “cleaned house” - that is, they reissued all the available old available calls first. - K6QNZ was a “reissued” call. One month after I received my call they started the WA6 (WV6 for Novice) series. The other thing is that there are fewer “Q” calls than any other letter of the alphabet. That is because the FCC does not issue official International “Q” signal calls - like K6QRZ or W8QTH! However while “QNZ” is a “Q” signal. It is not an “official” international “Q” signal - it is one of a series of “net” “Q” signals, and it means, “Please zero beat net control station”. To me it is a little different. It’s dumb, but I like it and so I have kept it.
Berkeley High School
There were a number of us teens who had ham licenses at Berkeley High. Mr. Amdahl was the electronics shop teacher and advisor for the school ham radio club (I was president my senior year). He was a ham (WA6BZO) and he helped us a lot. One thing that he did that helped us was that he gave us who were hams the opportunity to help teach the other students about electronics and coach them on construction of simple projects. We were like teacher's aids. Many of us were active in the Richmond Radio Club and some of the adult hams there helped us “kids” a lot - Elmer’s they were, and I learned a lot from them! Stan Bell (K6ESZ - Easy Sliding Zipper - now deceased) spent a LOT of time helping us build, modify and repair equipment. Steve Partin (K6MOG, now W5IHV) also helped a lot.
In my senior year of Berkeley High School, I got a job at another hardware store. Berkeley Hardware owned by Charles Judy. This was a rather large hardware store in downtown Berkeley with a number of departments. I worked in the “Model Railroad Department” - a store within the store. Both Sid Miller (from Staten Island) and Charles Judy were big positive influences in my life. Both with very solid with high and good business ethics. I learned a lot from them.
Without my really knowing it my Morse Code proficiency went up fast. It was in July of that same year, when I was on CW with a ham in southern California and he asked when I was going to go for my General. I responded that when I could copy a solid 13 WPM, I planned to do so, and that I been studying and was ready for the written test. He responded with a question as to how fast I thought we were communicating at right then? I had not realized my code speed gone up that much - heck, I was just having fun! We were sending and receiving at over 15 WPM then! I checked myself on W1AW that night and I skipped work the very next Friday (that was the day the FCC in San Francisco gave Amateur exams). And “sat” for my General Class Amateur License.
K6QNZ & Mobile
I passed my General on July 11, 1958 and received it on August 28th (yes it took 6 weeks to get your upgrade then - and you could NOT operate the upgrade until you had the “ticket” in your hand)! I was then K6QNZ. By that time I could almost copy 20 wpm - but back then you could not upgrade to Extra - the next class up - until you had a General for at least one year. Easy Sliding Zipper designed and helped me build a rather simple AM crystal controlled mobile rig to go into my 1941 Dodge which I had bought for $75 from my uncle in southern California. I bought a used Gonsett “Super Six” converter for the receiver. What more could any 18 year old teenager want? I had a General Class ham license and a mobile rig in my own 18-year-old car with a 75-meter whip on the back and my own call letter license plates (I still have those plates on the wall)! It worked and it worked well (I still have that rig). One of our favorite activities was the Richmond Radio Club transmitter hunts. I can't count the number of times my old 6 volt Dodge had to have a jump start out in a cow pasture after transmitting for half an hour or forty five minutes! Those tubes and a dynamotor ran the battery down pretty fast!
SOS At Midnight
One other interesting positive influence to me, was one you might not expect! I have always liked to read and somehow got a copy of “SOS At Midnight” by Walker A. Tompkins, K6ATX. This book is a novel about a teen-age high school student (Tommy Rockford - K6ATX) with a General Class ham license. Ham radio is the theme of the book as he first identifies a smuggler's boat, and then gets kidnapped and then rescued, by way of ham radio. I REALLY identified with this “hero”! Tompkins originally wrote three books in the Tommy Rockford series. Then before he passed away a number of years ago he wrote three more and upgraded the original three into the “solid state” era. These are still excellent books and I recommend them to anyone - especially young "wannabe" hams. All six books are available from the American Radio Relay League ARRL.
Hamming The Bay Area
It was at a Richmond Radio Club meeting that I first heard about “repeaters”. As I recall some members of the Mount Diablo Amateur Radio Club came and did a program about the 2-meter repeater they had installed. I remember the biggest problem was the FCC! The FCC required them to tape record all conversations over the repeater and then every day they had to listen to the tape and enter everything into a set of logbooks for the repeater.
Bill Parkinson (K6OSO) was sort of the “leader” of us Berkeley High hams - he had a General and could copy about 200 words per minute! At least it seemed that way to us! One day, he was not in school. The next day, I asked him if he were sick and he told me he had gone over to San Francisco and taken his 2nd class Commercial Radiotelephone License - I didn't even know what that was, but I couldn't let him get the best of me! So I went down to the local electronics store and bought a study guide and started studying for my Commercial License. A couple of months later, I took and passed my 2nd Class Radiotelephone! I didn't know what I would use it for at that time, but I was not going to let “OSO” get away with that!
3995 kc (yes, that was before the term “hertz” was brought into use) was “our” frequency - the East Bay Mobile frequency. That was before repeaters on 2 meters and by far most local hamming was done on HF - 80 meters. As I look back over my old logbook there are many calls that bring back fond memories in addition to those that I have mentioned above. K6OKS (Jim), WA6AFF (Jim Wuertel), K6TYF (Jack), K6CUH (Toni), K6JHV (Bob), W6WKB (Vance), K6MOG (Steve, now W5IHV), W6OUE (George), W6PZE (Marve), W6PS (Steve), K7OAD (Bob), K6YKT (Cam, now W4LIX), W6HBF (John), and WA6JKB (George). This is hardly a complete list but these guys are the ones that come to mind.
About this time, I sold my old 1941 Dodge and bought a 1954 Chevrolet and moved my mobile rig into it. Now I had really arrived! And at about twice the gas mileage too! That old Dodge with the “Fluid Drive” really burned the gas!
El Cerrito, California
My dad passed away in 1961, and my mother bought and moved into a house in El Cerrito - just north of Berkeley. I bought a Hygain Hytower vertical antenna from K6JHV and put it up behind our house there on Ramona Ave. By this time, I had graduated from Berkeley High and was attending Oakland Community College. W6HBF, John, helped me to design a new HF mobile rig, which I built. It was a big improvement over the old crystal controlled rig I had built in 1958. By this time SSB was coming in. I remember the first SSB station I ever heard - it was Steve Partin (K6MOG). Mr. Amdahl had a Heathkit TX-1 (Apache) transmitter that he sold me. That was a major upgrade of my base station. I added a Single Sideband Slicer (Heathkit) to my Apache and I was on sideband. I converted the “tool shed” behind the house into a “ham shack”.
After a couple of years at Oakland City College (some part time) I enrolled at BYU in Provo Utah. I operated 75 meter mobile my first year there. The following spring I sold my car to go visit my sister and her husband in Western Samoa. The next school year, I set up my old mobile rig as a base station in my off campus apartment in Provo. We did have a ham radio club at BYU and I got to do some hamming on the club station (W7OHR). As a club we also provided communications for some events - “Y” day for example. We had some “Benton Harbor Lunch Boxes” (Heathkit 2-meter FM portable rigs) we used for these events. I was president of the BYU Amateur Radio Club for one year.
The summer after my first year at BYU, I was looking for a summer job in my field of machine design and drafting and I just happened to see a job opening for a 1st or 2nd class radiotelephone licensee - it said "must be willing to travel". It took me a moment to realize that was me! Two days later, I flew out to Astoria Oregon to work for Offshore Navigation. I operated a land mobile shoran radio station for that summer. It was an excellent summer job - I worked for them the next summer also and made it through college financially because of it! All because I had gotten that Commercial Radio license back in high school. Working for Offshore Navigation was a great experience. I learned a lot of electronics but more important they put a LOT of responsibility on their employees and I feel that helped me to learn responsibility and gain self esteem. Basically they issued me a 4WD pickup with a camper and loaded with radio & shoran equipment and generators and I spent the summer, alone, operating the mobile station from mountain tops along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts. It was like a summer long Field Day! I often "worked" 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. We had lots of time to read while "on the job" - you had to stay right with the station when it was on the air but if all was working well, there was nothing much to do. I studied for my 1st class radiotelephone license and passed it in Salt Lake City the next fall. The pay was good and there was not much opportunity to spend much of it. It was a perfect ham radio college student summer job!
I had mentioned to my dad many times before he passed away that I would like a sports car. Practical old dad always talked me out of it! The next summer I found and bought a 1957 MGA Roadster. First thing, I installed my mobile rig - it was a tight fit, especially for my passenger, but I was mobile again (believe it or not - I still have that car - it is 53 years old now)! School took a lot of my time - that and dating! I was married for my senior year at BYU and as graduation came up I was sending out applications to many companies who might want a “Machine Design & Drafting” guy with two minors - one in math and one in electronics.
Heath Company and Icky Green Vegetables
I always liked smaller towns and businesses and as such I wondered about Heath Company in Benton Harbor Michigan. I had built lots of electronic kits and especially liked Heathkit. I sent an application and they were interested. After a plane flight there for a personal interview, I was hired. I and my wife moved to Benton Harbor (Fairplane Area), Michigan sending our “stuff” in a moving van and driving the MGA mobile rig. I worked for Heath for three years as an electronics engineer. Those were good times for Heath but even then I predicted there were problems to come as it was being bought and sold and loosing it’s small company status. I worked in the Instrumentation Division - designing power supplies, signal generators and multimeters. I upgraded to the “S” line Heath ham equipment and was active in the heath employees ham club. It was at this time that the FCC introduced incentive licensing and so as not to loose too many of my General privileges, I went over to Chicago and upgraded to Advanced Class. I taught CW classes for the local club but had not used any CW over 5 or 6 WPM for many years and so did not feel my CW was anywhere good enough for an Extra Class - I figured that “someday” I would do that upgrade. I decided to keep my K6QNZ primary call sign and was issued an additional station license - W8IGV - Icky Green Vegetables!
The Golden Anvil
I had always felt the ultimate goal was to be self-employed and having come to like the South Haven area, just north of Benton Harbor, I left Heath, moved to South Haven and opened a hobby shop - The Golden Anvil. We sold all the usual hobby and craft items but we naturally did a lot of model railroading and electronics. I even hooked up with a few wholesale suppliers of ham equipment (Kenwood and Regency) and sold those and many ARRL publications in the store. When Radio Shack was trying to expand their network of dealers, we added that to the store (Radio Shack Dealer #H034). We got a local club going (Black River Amateur Radio Club) and put up a repeater with an autopatch. We did license classes and really built up hamming in that area. When one of our great young hams, Al Fiddelman (WA8???) was killed in an auto accident, his family donated his station to the club and so we bought an old travel trailer and after gutting it, made it into a Memorial Emergency Radio Station in his honor. It was not long after that, that a major tornado dropped down just east of South Haven and traveled east towards and into Kalamazoo wrecking havoc all along the way. That emergency station was a godsend. We operated it twenty-four hours a day for a week until traditional communications were reestablished in the area.
Along with the Golden Anvil hobby/electronics shop we operated a fried chicken business (The Coop), a canoe rental business, and a video arcade (we also had Western Union for a few years). The chicken business was the most profitable of our endeavors. At home I operated the Heath station I had put together along with an 80 and 40-meter dipole and a tri band beam on a 50-foot tower (actually the tower part of the old “Hygain Hytower”). I had a number of 2 meter mobile rigs - mostly Regency since I could buy them wholesale. This was still pretty much the crystal controlled days on 2 meters, but synthesis was coming. My first synthesized 2-meter rig was the Icom IC22A handheld that I still have for secondary use. I still use an old Regency HR2ms on our autopatch here in Montana (crystals work fine for that!). Since I could now buy Kenwood at wholesale I tried a few Kenwood HF rigs.
Back to K6QNZ
When my next renewal time came up for my ham license, I did not realize the Federal Candy Company (FCC) had changed some rules. They would not let me have both call signs and so I had to let one go. I actually decided to keep the W8IGV but due to a mix-up in paperwork, I ended up with K6QNZ. It had been a hard decision to make and so I left it that way - I did not plan to remain in Michigan forever but I KNEW I would never return to California either! The local guys never really knew me as K6QNZ and were surprised when I switched to that call - but back to the “Quite Nice Zombie” it was.
We had purchased a number of properties in South Haven and had a few businesses going. Since most of our family lived west (mostly Utah and California) we did feel we wanted to move west some day. One day someone wanted the arcade (we called it King's Castle) more than we did. We banked that money and decided to sell out everything. It took a couple of years but we did it. The Bitterroot Valley of Montana
After a number of exploratory trips west I found the Bitterroot Valley of Montana just by accident. I had also gotten into horseback ridding in Michigan and wanted a place that I could pursue that interest more. We moved “lock, stock, and barrel” to Montana. The “stock” included 4 horses. After moving to Montana, I started hearing about The Grubstake Restaurant. It was not open to the public at that time but when I talked to people and mentioned I had been in the food business, they would bring up The Grubstake. I think the “natives” hoped someone would buy it and reopen it. I contacted the owner, very unaware of just what it was. It was winter and he took me up to see it in his snow cat. It was love at first sight – even buried in five feet of snow!
To make this story have an end somewhere, we bought it, then divorced, and so I now live here at The Grubstake. I, along with many others, got a ham club going here (The Bitterroot Amateur Radio Club). When one of our great old hams, Clairice Goodman, died a few years ago, the club took on her call - W7FTX. It comes with the territory, when a ham owns property 2000 feet above the valley floor, that our club repeater (146.72-) is located up here, along with the autopatch (147.57), and the digipeater for packet (along with 4 cellular telephone companies and 3 FM radio stations and a wireless cable TV system and a wireless Internet company).
Extra Class & K7QNZ
A few years ago, I decided that “someday” was here! I got back on the air on CW and started loving it again! I got a computer program to help and without too much time going by, felt I could again copy 20 WPM. I took and passed my Extra Class License. It was soon after that, the vanity call system was put into being and I applied for and was issued K7QNZ, thereby having a call that is correct for my call area and yet sort of still having the same old call.
A number of years ago, I sold the Kenwood HF rig and bought an Icom IC735 that I now use as a base station. I use an Icom 706 mobile when I take winter trips with HamStick mobile whips for 75, 40, 20, and 10 meters. At home I use a G5RV antenna At home I am most likely to be on CW but do use the mike once in a while! I try to check in on the Montana Traffic Net (3.910 kHz 0030 Zulu) as often as I can year round. The two main cars I drive have the same 2-meter mobile units - Kenwood TM-261A’s. It is so nice to have the same rig in each car - that way my old feeble mind does not have to deal with two different ways of programming and using them! I have played with packet some but am not active with it now. There are other phases of ham radio, like satellites, which I keep saying I would like to play with but have not done so yet! So now you know the rest of the story!
If you are ever in our valley, you will usually find me monitoring 146.72-. Give me a call and come up and visit. If it is winter, and The Grubstake is closed, I will come down and get you on a snowmobile and give you a tour – if I am not in Hawaii! If it is summer, how about a horseback ride – yes, I do some horseback mobile?
Richard Kingdon K7QNZ