My Dad took me to one of his ham friends A.W. Greeson W4AGD to take the Novice exam. A.W. said, "First we're going to do a little practice session so you'll feel comfortable before taking the actual exam." He broke out his key and oscillator and started sending at 5 WPM. After awhile he stopped and told me to let him see what I had copied. He checked and then said "You passed"...that "practice session" was actually the real test!
Unfortunately I no longer have my actual Novice License but believe I received it sometime in late July or early August 1957. My Dad's vicarious interest helped because he bought a Hammarlund HQ-100 receiver and Johnson Ranger and we set it up in my bedroom. We put up a folded dipole for 40 meters and I was off to the races with my first CQ on August 15. After a few weeks of working 40, my buddy Sam KN4RBV convinced me to try 15. I loaded up the folded dipole on 15 and made my first QSO with Sam on August 31. Meanwhile the sun was getting ready to explode with sunspots and make 15 meters propagate like never before (or since!).
On September 10, G8DI (see QSL above) answered my CQ for my very first DX QSO and I was absolutely hooked (for the rest of my life it turns out). Working the USA on 40 meters no longer gave me any thrill and my log shows virtually no activity on 40 after that one QSO! I originally had 2 crystals in my Ranger (21.108 and 21.150) but eventually added a few more (21.118 and 21.103...living dangerously close to the 21.100 edge!). The Ranger only held 2 crystals at a time so I added "handles" with electrical tape to pull them quickly when needed. Although the Ranger was capable of 90 watts input and had a VFO, I never ran more than the 75 watt input limit and never used the VFO. I had great respect for the all-seeing eyes of the FCC in those days and wouldn't consider doing anything to jeopardize my license.
On September 27 my Dad brought home a brand new Collins 75A-4 which I think cost about $600 in 1957 (a small fortune then). Suddenly my log entries were showing frequency resolution to the nearest kilocycle (this was before anybody used Hertz). I continued to CQ a lot without many answers but Dad had even bigger plans. He started building a dedicated shack above our garage and also designed a home brew mast that could be rotated with an armstrong worm gear drive from inside the new shack. He added a chain drive to an ARRL Great Circle Map with a big metal arrow to indicate direction (this can be seen in the November 1958 QST photo). On top of the ~50' mast he mounted a Telrex TB-7E (no traps) which had 2 active elements on both 20m and 15m with 3 on 10m. On October 30 I called my first CQ using it and actually began to get replies! With excellent equipment, a good antenna and sunspots that caused the Solar Flux to surge toward a peak of ~380 in December (versus ~65 today), the rest is history.
I learned a lot about propagation from one of my Elmers, Stan Johnson W4ZH. Stan was our local high school physics teacher and he taught me about many things including long path propagation. He also helped me convert from my straight key to a Vibroplex Lightning Bug. Stan was the only person I knew who had a full-size 3 element Telrex Yagi for 40m in 1958. His son Stan Jr. K4GMT was a promising baseball player and as part of his big league signing bonus Stan got a 75A-4, KWS-1 and a Telrex Christmas Tree of Yagis. Another Elmer was Tex Price.
W4GXB who was on the Honor Roll and had a Collins 75A-4, KW-1 and another Telrex Christmas Tree (3 elements on 10, 3 on 15 and 4 on 20) mounted on a telephone pole. One of my biggest thrills was operating Tex's station in late August of 1958 after I got my General. Another expedition to Clipperton Island was coming up and Tex had asked me to work it for him while he was away on vacation. Imagine the thrill for a 13 year old, walking the mile to Tex's garage shack on a dark Friday night, firing up his KW-1 and jumping into the biggest pileup I've ever heard! I worked FO8AT for Tex, signed his log as required by the FCC, and then worked it again for myself! Looking back at my card I see my QSO was at 0635z which was 1:35 AM local time. I still remember quietly sneaking back into bed at home, a very tired but contented 13 year old.
I had almost 70 countries worked by early March 1958 and Stan W4ZH suggested I try to make DXCC before getting my General. Since I had just failed the General theory test in February, I decided to take his advice. That turned out to be excellent advice because conditions in March and April were spectacular. My QSL sent to Dick KB6BJ on Canton Island (later returned to me courtesy of Fred K3ZO) shows that I had 108 worked and 52 confirmed when I worked him on April 25. Working backwards in my log, I believe that means I worked #100 around April 19. Getting QSLs was a major problem for me and our W4 bureau manager (W4HYW) seemed to operate on his own (very slow) timetable. I remember finally getting a big envelope from the bureau sometime in July which put me over the magic 100 confirmed mark. I immediately submitted my application with 102 QSLs and was awarded DXCC #3717 on August 8,1958. ARRL sent Lew McCoy W1ICP down to document the event for QSTand the Greensboro Radio Club held a dinner to celebrate the occasion. I later submitted additional cards (to 114 total) and received a 110 DXCC endorsement sticker dated July 20, 1959. My grand total for countries worked as a Novice was 125 (including 3 probable pirates) but I only confirmed 115 total and never bothered chasing more QSLs after I got the 110 endorsement. I was on to greener DX pastures with my General license and eventually made DXCC Honor Roll while still a teen-ager in 1964.
There were several others who were actively chasing DX in that 57-58 season including my friend Tony KN5LMJ (now W4OI), Tony KN0LTB, and a few others. Jim K6SXA was also a real motivator because he kept telling me KN6ZBV was breathing down my neck. As it turned out, I think he was fibbing just to keep me focused! None of the above were ever awarded DXCC but I believe there were 3 other Novices who eventually made it in later years.
There was really a lot of luck to my making DXCC. I just happened along at the right time for the spectacular conditions of Solar Cycle 19 and was very fortunate to have a father who was so supportive. One great outcome of this was that Dad became inspired to get his own license (K4FPA) about 18 months after me and we used ham radio to keep in close touch the next 25 years until he passed away in 1982.
What a great hobby this was and still is!
73, Bill W4ZV