Taking the Test at the FCC’s Los Angeles, California Office
Ray and I were driven to the Los Angeles FCC office from Orange County during the early morning of July 2, 1951, the first day Novice tests were given. Four of us were in the car. We were first in line at the FCC office. All of us passed both tests with relative ease and without too much nervousness, thanks to our substantial preparation and adequate radio backgrounds. We were licensed as WN6NIB (myself), WN6NIC (Ray, now N6MY), WN6NKQ (Bob Lineau Jr., W7BD before becoming an SK about eight years ago), and WN6NHR (Bob Lineau Sr., our driver who became a SK in the 1950’s).
The First Thee Days of Novice Station Operation
I received my Novice ticket in the mail on July 27, 1951 and fired up my 80 meter station in Santa Ana that evening. With Ray entering data into my log look, I pounded out numerous CQ’s. No response for several hours! Not many hams on the Novice portion of the band on that Friday night! Then, we heard a station calling mine at about 11:30 p.m. Oops! Gross panic struck! My mind blanked -- most probably caused by fatigue associated with the late hour, my adolescence, and lack of any previous on-the-air experience. Result: We looked at each other, and I immediately shut down the station! Full Stop! It worked: the panic/fear immediately vanished! However, my first potential QSO was an unequivocal outstanding disaster!
The next day I fired up the station’s rig and was able to connect with WN6NFU and WN6MME. The day after that, I connected with WN6NIC, W6SEV, WN6NPH, W6IZS, WN6NGX, WN6MUJ, WN6NEA, and W6EYN. Arguably, I was now a legitimate Novice ham operator!
The Station Equipment Configuration
My initial Novice station consisted of: (1) a Hallicrafters S-40B receiver financed by mowing neighborhood lawns, (2) a 25-watt-input Hallicrafters crystal-controlled HT-17 transmitter [featuring a 6V6 oscillator, 807 power amplifier, and 5Y3 rectifier], and (3) a sub-modest 80-foot random wire antenna elevated to a non-impressive height of about 15 feet.
Selected Additional Early Novice Operating Experiences: Some Bad, Many Good
Operating in the 80 meter Novice band in 1951 was frequently -- not always -- substantially different than operating in today’s HF ham radio world. Here are some of my anecdotal experiences:
- After sending out a long CQ, I had to be ready to tune the entire Novice band portion -- 3700 kHz through 3750 kHz -- in order to quickly determine if a station was responding to my CQ. The FCC then required Novices to use crystal controlled transmitters, and my transmitter was therefore confined to 3727 kHz. Today, VFO-enabled transceivers eliminate much (not all) of this searching/tuning inconvenience after calling a CQ.
- Transmitters for Novice operation in 1951 deployed tubes in their final stage, often in tandem with a relatively simple and inexpensive built-in Pi-section antenna matching network. It was therefore often relatively easy and inexpensive to deploy cheap random-length wire antennas with these tube-centric transmitters.
- Ham radio transmitters and nearby TV receivers in 1951 frequently represented a prescription for harmful/debilitating TVI. My Hallicrafters HT-17 (product issuance in June 1947) was indeed a culprit. It had essentially no TVI shielding. My neighbors turned out to be good proactive-feedback TVI reporters! I resolved this issue by operating mostly in the afternoons after high school or late at night by using self-imposed “quiet hours.”
- In addition to TVI, my other “bad” Novice operating issue was occasionally getting “RF-zapped” by touching the transmitter case or metal parts on the Morse code key. At that time, I did not know that an appropriate-length counterpoise wire on the ground working “against” my random-wire antenna could reduce the RF-zapping problem. I did have a good electrical ground rod connection to earth, but RF was attracted more to me than to the ground!
- Early Novice band operation certainly provided me with many, many subsequent satisfactions. I made new friends (some for 60 years and still counting); gained emotional support and still-worthwhile technical knowledge from many thoughtful and generous experienced hams (for example, members of the Orange County Amateur Radio Club [O.C.A.R.C.]) now located in Tustin, California), and effectively advanced my code speed sufficiently to achieve the General Class license, W6NIB, received seven months after receiving the Novice ticket. I continually attribute my ongoing career as a corporate planning consultant in digital wireless communications and media to my exciting early Novice ham radio experiences in Southern California.
After Our Novice (and other Class) Experiences: Giving Back
Fully realizing I have been so generously helped by many Elmers since being first licensed by the FCC 60 years ago, I proactively suggest an “Elmer surge” to help the radio fraternity recruit and retain many new Technician and General Class licensees by: (1) encouraging them to pursue and acquire their licenses; (2) helping them select, acquire, and configure their first radio station set-ups; (3) helping them successfully complete their first “scary” QSO’s if necessary; and (4) checking in with them during their first couple of months of operation to lend a hand if they have encountered issues which may discourage their continued participation in- and future contributions to- ham radio.
Much more “giving back” will be required by the ham radio community in order to effectively compete for new people who are required to replenish and sustain its ranks. How rough is this competition? And where does it come from? Competition is already ubiquitous. Several billion people throughout the world now use radio-enabled equipment such as regular/feature cell phones, smart phones, tablet computers, and Wi-Fi enabled laptops and numerous other wireless Internet-connected devices.
Therefore, much more “energy” must be applied to “Elmering” ASAP to meet this very real and increasing competitive threat to ham radio. Otherwise, satisfaction-enabling ham radio spectrum will disappear over time.
Kenneth (“Ken”) Taylor, K7NIB (ex, WN6NIB, W6NIB, KV6T, etc.)