(formerly WN9STI, 1966)
Growing up in the Chicago area, my first encounter with ham radio was in the sixth grade when at a “Show and Tell” session one of my classmates, Lee Crocker (later W9OY), started his talk by saying that he wanted to be a ham. I remember all the kids in the class laughing because no one at first understood that he was talking about ham radio. Later I got on the air myself with a pair of Olson Radio Space Phone 100 mw CB walkie-talkies. For Christmas in the seventh grade, I got a Knight-Kit Span Master shortwave receiver that my Dad helped me build. My interest in ham radio grew when I had to learn Morse code to send semaphore for the Boy Scout First Class rank in Troop 601, read the Hardy Boys “The Shortwave Mystery”, and built a cat’s whisker crystal set to hear WNUS at 87th and Kedzie.
But the event that really motivated me to get my Novice license when I was at Olson Radio on 95th Street in Evergreen Park, IL, where I found a book about getting an amateur radio license. The book had a picture of an Ameco AC-1 transmitter that sold for $19.95. I thought to myself, “I can afford that” since I made $20 a month on my paper route. But the next step was to find a ham operator. While I had heard hams on my Span Master, I did not know any. But I did know where there was a house across the street from Brother Rice High School with a big tower and big antennas. So at age thirteen, I walked up to the door, rang the bell, and when a man answered, I asked him if he was a ham. His name was Don De Mik, WA9BYF, and he invited me into his shack. He had a separate room with large console of Motorola radios which amazed me. After explaining about all the gear, he told me that he only had a Technician license so he gave me the name of General Class operator Lee McCollum, WA9NIP (now SK), of the Worth Township Amateur Radio Club.
I obtained a Novice study guide, borrowed 33 RPM code records, and built a buzzer to send CW. The first time Lee came over to my house to give me my Novice test, he flunked me on the code. So it was back to practicing. Two weeks later, he came over and I passed the code and the twenty question Novice written test. While waiting for the license to arrive, my Dad took me over to Green Mill Radio and TV on 111th and Wentworth in Chicago where they sold used ham gear. We bought a Heathkit DX-60 transmitter and a Hammarlund HQ-105TR receiver (which also had a built in CB transmitter). My Dad helped me put up a Mosley ladder-line 15, 40, and 80 meter wire antenna. Through contacts in the club, I picked up a used Heathkit Twoer, 2 meter AM transceiver. My Dad helped me build a five element VHF beam which was fastened to a bracket outside of my bedroom that I could turn via a pole from the window. So I was all set to go.
My ticket with callsign WN9STI, issued on July 29, 1966, arrived on August 5th and I made my first CW QSO with Tim WN9SRW in Wisconsin on 80 meters. I started averaging six CW contacts a day with long intervals of calling CQ. I will never forget one morning about three days after I got on the air when my Mom woke me up. I guess I was sleeping in from my late nights on 80 meters. She told me that I had a postcard and it was my first QSL card from Bill, WN9QNV. I was totally surprised and ended up showing it to everyone I knew.
By August 18th, I had received my ARRL Code Proficiency Certificate for 10 WPM. I also was awarded the Rag Chewers Club Certificate. By the end of August of 1966, I was ready to take my General exam. My Mom went with me on a train to the FCC Office in the Federal Building in downtown Chicago. I will never forget the stern looking government man in the white shirt and tie who gave me the 13 WPM code test and the theory test which I passed. I was elated. The General ticket with my new callsign of WA9STI arrived on September 29, 1966. In January of 1968 at age fifteen, I obtained my Advanced license.
Even though I only operated as WN9STI for less than two months, I had 187 QSOs that filled nine logbook pages. This included one DX station – Canada. I still have all my old logbooks and to this day still use a paper log for HF contacts. I fondly remember that the majority of all my contacts with other WN# Novice stations, on both CW and two meter AM, were all kids my own age in high school. A lot of us who lived near each other on the southwest side of Chicago became friends as we moved up to General. Alas some of those Novice friends who only operated on two meters and never stayed with CW were gone after one year in the old “up or out” era. I remember my made up phonetics “Superior Teenage Intelligence.” I remember my “glow in the dark” radios. I remember tuning up into a light bulb as my first dummy load. I remember my first project from a schematic – a two tube crystal calibrator. I remember poring over Allied, Heathkit, and Lafayette radio catalogs and wondering how and when I could get that gear. I was proud to think at age thirteen before starting high school that I had a license from the United States Government. How many kids at that age could say that?
Just last month in November of 2010 at a swapmeet, I bought a used Vibroplex bug (circa 1953) just like I had when I was a newly minted ham. I will be putting it in operation on Straight Key Night like the old days. Many thanks go to my father Bob Hanley, an electrician, who helped me set up my station and put up antennas. He finally got his license as N9MCL at age 68 in 1991. And thanks to my XYL Karla, KB6LAS, who still puts up with my late night operating.
But always, as I think back to those days 44 years ago as a young Novice, I continue to be fascinated that a radio signal I originate leaves an antenna that I put up and travels through the sky across the country and world into the antenna of a ham at the other end. In spite of being able to do the same with a cell phone today, I put myself in the company of the original text messaging senders: CW operators.
Scott Hanley, WA9STI
Los Angeles, CA