(Formerly WD5CCV, 1977)
While, I was first licensed in 1977 at the age of 14, my interest in radio goes back much further. My earliest curiosity was generated by the ever so strange 'Donald Duck' and 'Charlie Brown's teacher' sounds emanating from my brother's room. My brother had built his own Knight-kit receiver and erected a tower with inverted vees, but alas, he had started too late and girls came along before he could accomplish the Morse code and acquire his ticket. Being that he was a teenager and I was about five, the ages where I wanted into everything he was doing and he wanted none of it, my curiosity remained unsatisfied.
In my pre-teen years I was fascinated still with communications of the wireless sort. I remember long discussions with my uncle as he explained the intricacies of why I couldn't build my own radar, and why I couldn't talk back to those guys in 'the Buckeye State' that I heard when I touched my walkie talkie antenna to my brother's tower. (We won't go into how I used to call endlessly to jets flying overhead on said walkie-talkie.) Later on, we moved and not only did I acquire an old tube type shortwave radio, but we were now conveniently located just a bicycle ride away from a Radio Shack store. My days were spent with writing down entries in my official Short Wave Listeners Logbook, and deciding which P-Box kit I could afford next with my allowance. (Did I mention my 100-in-one project kit, which I used to construct an AM broadcast transmitter and tuned to the frequency of the radio/loudspeaker system at school, and consequently got into trouble for making my own announcements and requests to the office? No? Well, let's not mention that, shall we?)
But then, HO!, what is this? My next door neighbor, Mr. Lambert had a genuine CB radio! He was gracious enough to even let me talk on it! At last!!! Transmission!! I was finally sending my own signals far out into the airwaves. I would even stay at Mr. Lambert's house for such a long period of time when I came over, that he became gracious enough to insist that I take it with me, and just BORROW IT FOR AWHILE... It wasn't long after that, I had a CB radio of my own (perhaps to keep peace in the neighborhood), and I learned the art of radiospeak. Skipping over many details, I'll jump to saying that after one of my chums talked me into acquiring an amplifier just like the one his father had, CB no longer held any challenge for me. Ah, but salvation was on the horizon, for I owned a copy of the amateur radio study guide, "From 5 watts to 1000!"
I received my license in March 1977, after a most anxious wait. In those days, your elmer gave you the morse code exam and then sent in a 610 form to request a written test. When it came, you took it and he watched over your shoulder, but he couldn't grade it! So it wasn't just waiting to see what call letters you would get, but waiting to see if you even PASSED! Finally it came. The carbon copy, type through, tear tab & hold thumb here envelope said it all -- I HAD PASSED!
But wait, open it, silly... there it was, my very own call letters: WD5CCV.
It wasn't long before I had a borrowed HW-8 to tryout with my amplifier. Oh, insert your typical first contact stories here, but highlight it with my first DX contact. A KZ5 station from the former U.S. Canal Zone in Panama. I was operating at the time from the laundry room of the boarding school I attended. I was ecstatic! My first DX! But right in the middle of the QSO, CLICK-CLICK, CLICK-CLICK... the power in the building kept turning on & off. I couldn't understand it! Seemed it happened every time I tried to transmit... Turns out the guy in the boiler room (where the electric box was) didn't care much for morse code signals coming over his FM radio all day long and had finally tired of it... Well, so much for my first RFI problem!
Eventually, I sold the amplifier and my mother ordered an HW-101 from Heathkit for me. Mic, watt meter, phone patch, the works! In the mean time, I only had my little HW-8... 'not many contacts' I figured, but was I ever wrong. I made quite a few QSOs with just a simple dipole, and I especially enjoyed going out in the backyard with a battery and operating from there. The HW-101 finally came and I got it running of course... Well, er, ah, the local technician did. That is, after I managed to complete the circuit from the radio to the power supply with my body, while the 800 & 300 volt lines were shorted. It flipped me over backwards in my chair, knocked my glasses into the closet, and prompted a "Box it up!" from my mom... Oh, well, the folly of youth.
The HW-8 would not be my last adventure with QRP... after the 101 I was still in a building mood, and a QST article caught my eye. All about the Tuna Tin Too; a 350 mw, 40 meter transmitter built on a PC board mounted on a tuna can. Well, I had to admit the tuna can was novel, but PC boards? Too much work. A visit to Radio Shack later, I proceeded to mount a terminal strip onto one of the back terminal connectors of my J-38 code key and monkey wire the parts onto it. I wrapped magnet wire around the legs of a crystal, saturated it with solder, and tacked it to the terminal strip in order to fashion a socket... It was a mess to behold... but it worked! I managed a 459 from New York, a 559 from Oklahoma, and then a 599 from a station in Texas! The latter even called me liar when I told him I was running less than half a watt... QRP was not as 'accepted' in those days.
I may have actually gotten my General ticket by this point, but still very much a 'neophyte', I tried to build my own quad once out of bamboo... only I slightly underestimated the weight! I constructed it in the yard, laid out a 30 foot mast and rotor, hooked it all together, and THEN asked my elmers for help! (I hear you chuckling, but wait for the punchline.) They weren't sure about this but they obliged me. We all three proceeded to lift this thing up to our shoulders and my plan was to walk it up vertical. When the pole in my hands was getting close to about 80 degrees, I looked over my shoulder to see how the quad was doing... it was still on the GROUND! Oh well, maybe McDonalds needs another arch...
In later years, I very much enjoyed helping new hams get their license by giving the Novice exam under the 'two General class' examination rules. My favorite story was the time we examined a girl with severe test anxiety during my time as a member of a university ham radio club. Before readily available computers, my partner and I had developed a system to randomize the written exams by pasting individual questions to 3 by 5 index cards. Then you selected cards from the appropriate groupings, laid them out on the copy machine and hit the print button. We told this girl we wanted to use her as a guinea pig to test our new system... just a trial run. What we didn't tell her was that we were doing everything by the book and we were going to count it as a real exam.
We did the exam reverse of the customary procedure. We gave her the written exam first, since we had pretended it was what we were 'trying out'. Once done and graded (with an easily passing score) we asked her if she would indulge us a bit further and try out the new code setup in the club room. Back then, there was no requirement as to code copy content, the examinee could copy a solid minute of whatever was sent. So even when she completely solid copied the text: "If you copy enough of this text, you pass the exam." She didn't get it. So we had her sign her written test and morse copy sheet and she says, "What, so you can officially record how miserably I failed?!!!" It STILL had dawned on her... So we pulled out her previously filled in 610 form, signed and dated the examiners portion, and handed it to her...
"Just sign and date here," we told her, "Then we'll send it in to get your license." Recognition of what we had done set in, her eyes lit up and the squeal she let out is one that surely is recorded on government instruments somewhere... Not to mention all the bouncing around and hugging she did for the next 20 minutes.
The Novice ticket was more than just a beginner's level ham license... it was an introduction to not only the technical and operating aspects of the hobby, but also the fraternity of ham radio. It allowed the entrant a chance to connect with and in many cases 'bond' with established members of the hobby. To this day, I still consider my elmer, Tony WB5BTZ, that administered my novice exam, a father figure and someone who gave me memories I will forever cherish. Endlessly CQing for and chatting with anyone from his home 'berg' of Long Island, New York and getting the bejeebers shocked out of me by the 350 volts across the contacts of his J-38 code key from the tube grid of his old Swan 350...
Yes, I for one miss the Novice license... I am happy, though, that it is still celebrated.
(Excerpted and adapted from an article submitted to AR QRP newsletter, circa 1999)