Ham wise, I already had a mark against me: the world’s worst call. I challenge you to come up with a worse call on CW OR phone than WN1HBX . Try it: Washington November 1 Herbert Backer X-ray . Unreal. DX can make 3 Q’s by the time I finish blurting that out. The novice station was originally a Hallicrafters SX-110 rx and WRL Globetrotter TX. Both were used and broken. Finally ended up after 3 iterations with a huge used Hammarlund HQ-Whatzis and an Eico 720.
My antennas were experiments. Which, given my present notoriety, must have been pretty predictive. I would do things like run aluminum foil under the dipole to improve ground; shoot my brother’s archery arrows into the trees to get height (thereby ruining his expensive set); climb my neighbor’s tree and get pecked at by a nesting robin. I at least felt the antenna was the part of my station that I could control and was not pre-broken. Nearly 50 years later I’ve either built or used most of the world’s largest or most exotic antennas, and invented more than a few myself.
There was no romance of the airwaves at WN1HBX. I would call CQ for hours on end on 80M. No answers (probably why 80M and 160M are my least favorite today). My best dX was Quebec. I managed to get about a 6 QSL’s from 4 or 5 states. It truly was discouraging.
But my elmer, K1IMP, had s superstation. One day he put me in front of his NCX-5 and then went to make some phone calls. What I heard was magical. I must have heard twenty countries in just a few minutes on 20M SSB. This…THIS! … This was what I wanted to be and do. It was a life defining moment. It gelled my stubbornness and gumption. It taught me to turn around disappointment and failure into defining my own success and going after it. Pretty cool for an eleven year old. I am old now, and I do all those things that looked like fads (almost) 50 years ago with personal expertise and experience. They were portals to new worlds that became my worlds.I still think back to those days with vividness and with some surprising fondness. Ham radio still sheds surprises on me—some bad, most good, but it forms a continuous thread of betterment, enabled by a Novice license.