Fast forward a year or so. My brother Dennis, who had started me on this radio kick with that beat-up old receiver, told me he was planning to get his ham license. Around this same time a kid in my class at school (Nic, ex-WB3JGX) got his ticket. I became fascinated by the Tempo One Nic bought, so I decided it was time to get my license. As an incentive to study, for Christmas 1977 my brother gave me a Lafayette HA-146 two-meter transceiver, as well as a copy of From 5 Watts To 1000 Watts. Nic loaned me his code study tapes. By the following February I was ready to take the test.
In early 1978 one had to be given the Novice exam by a General Class or higher licensee. Technician, General, Advanced and Extra exams were administered only at FCC Field Offices. Living in Baltimore I only had to hop on the bus and I could be at the local Field Office in less than an hour. I decided to skip the Novice and go for a Tech license (remember I had that 2-meter rig just begging to be used!) At this time the Technician ticket required the 5-wpm code test (RX only), the Novice written exam, and the General written exam. The code test was first, and I passed. So far, so good. Novice written – aced it! Great! Then came the General written. It was tough, and I…almost passed. Missed it by 1 question. So I asked the office manager, Mrs. Woodlon, if I would receive a Novice license. Her reply was, “NO! We don’t give Novice tests here!” So even though I had passed the requisite tests, I still was not a ham.
I couldn’t miss any more school days to try again, and I didn’t know any General class hams to give me the Novice exam, so I wasn’t sure what to do. One evening I was listening on 2 meters to a local ham affectionately known as the “.52 Repeater” and he happened to give his phone number out to someone. Of course I wrote the number down and called Corky, W3FQN later that evening. I told him I needed someone to give me the Novice test and he gladly volunteered. It seemed like forever waiting for the test papers to arrive from the FCC, but soon enough Corky called to say he had them in hand and could give me the test the following Sunday. I took the test and knew that I had passed, but wouldn’t know for sure until the FCC mailed me either a license or a “Sorry Try Again” letter.I took the test in April, 1978. It was right around the time the FCC changed the call sign structuring so I didn’t know if I would receive a call with a WB3 or KA3 prefix. On Saturday, May 13, 1978, the mailman delivered a shiny new Novice Class Amateur Radio License with MY name on it, and the call sign KA3ALC. I was ecstatic! At 14 years of age I had achieved something I never thought I could. When I tried to call my brother to tell him the news there was no answer. He was probably at work, so I called everyone else I could think of. Later that day my brother called me and said, “Guess what? I got my ham license today!” I said, “Guess what? So did I!” Unbeknownst to each other we had taken our Novice tests 3 days apart! His call was KA3AND (now W4EAL.) Of course I had to rub it in that I got my ticket before him, even though they arrived on the same day.
The Baltimore FCC Field Office gave ham exams 3 days a week: Monday, Thursday and Friday. Dennis suggested we study together the rest of the weekend and try the Technician test the following Monday. I also thought that was a terrific idea, so that’s what we did. My brother and I both passed the Tech, so we were Novices for two whole days. Unfortunately I had to turn in my Novice license when I upgraded (they didn’t return it) and had no way to make a copy of it, so that piece of paper is lost to history. I’ve always regretted that. Upon upgrading the Field Office issued an upgrade certificate so that I could use my new privileges immediately. My “temporary” call sign became KA3ALC ‘interim’ BM (indicating the upgrade was issued at the Baltimore, Maryland Field Office.) No one really liked that particular designator, but that’s what we had to use! As I had summer vacation coming up I decided to keep upgrading, first to General then Advanced. I stopped there because the Extra test intimidated me (even though the Advanced was much more difficult). I stayed an Advanced until 1995 when the Vanity Call sign program was announced. That was my incentive to get my Extra, as I had always wanted a 1x2 call.
I did make one contact as a Novice. At some point prior to taking the test I had acquired a Heathkit SB-401 transmitter and strung up a 40 meter dipole. By the time my Novice ticket arrived I still had not bought a receiver (14 years old, no job, that sort of thing.) I really wanted to get on the air and make a contact. I called my friend Nic on the phone and asked him to turn on his rig and see if he could hear me tuning up my transmitter. He quickly found my signal, so I told him to lay the phone next to the speaker. I proceeded to send a CQ and to my surprise I got a response! My first (and only) Novice QSO was with Don, WB3KUH (SK) who lived all the way on the other side of town! It probably wasn’t a very long QSO, but considering that my receiver was five miles away from my transmitter it certainly was a memorable one!