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Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug

Leo L. Bailey, Jr. (K5AVJ) on December 15, 2000
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Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug

In the fall of 1959, like most 12-year-old kids, I eagerly awaited the Sears & Roebuck Christmas Catalog. My heart was set on a pellet rifle. But then, the next issue of Boy's Life had an article about ham radio & I read & re-read the article & began to dream about shortwave radio.

Soon, I crossed the pellet rifle off of my wishlist & replaced it with the Knight Kit Space Spanner Shortwave Receiver for $18.95. Sure enough, on Christmas morning, I found a box with a kit full of strange parts & an instruction manual. There was a chassis along with tubes, tube sockets, resistors, capacitors, transformers, coils, etc.

Solder? How do you do that? My dad could teach me to drive a nail, mow the yard, or graft a plant, but solder? This is where my Elmers (ham radio tutors) came in.

Mickey Edens, K5QWT (SK), was a high school senior and I was a lowly 7th grader when we first met. My eyes went goo-goo when I saw his Heathkit Apache HF transmitter & matching Mohawk receiver with a 3-element beam & 40' tower outside. His buddy, Rick Hoffmann - K5SBU, was a college student & had a ham rig in his dorm room along with a dipole in the attic.

Mickey advised me on what I needed & armed with a soldering iron, solder, diagonal cutters, needle nose pliers, and a bright light, I begin to work away on the kit checking off the completion boxes as I went.

When the little regenerative radio didn't work upon completion, Mickey & Rick looked at 3-tube chassis and saw where I had solder bridging between tube socket pins like tinsel on a Christmas tree.....this stuff conducts? I thought it was just like glue. Out came the soldering iron and after a little clean up, the tubes lit up & the speaker begin emitting shortwave signals from around the world.

Ahhhh....there was nothing like a winter night & the soft glow of your tube filaments as the electronic circuitry magically plucked the electomagnetic signals from the ionosphere.

(2 more installments to follow......working with my Elmers to pass the Novice class license & building my first transmitter, the DX-40)

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Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by WA8HHH on December 15, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Me, too. And just about the same time. My Knight Kit Ocean Hopper came directly out of the Allied catalog from Chicago. The first transmitter was literally a cigar box rig built on the bottom of a Robt. Burns cigar box, just a one-tube, 6AQ5, crystal oscillator link coupled to a piece of wire for an antenna. Worked whatever harmonic seemed to load best. Those were the days...
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by WD9FJL on December 15, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for a great and nostalgic look at the past, Leo. I had the help of our local minister to build a Heathkit receiver. He seemed to understand why I was always so tired on Sunday morning, I had been up most of Saturday night, wearing headphones and listening to all of those shortwave signals. Like you, I owe a great deal of thanks to those Elmers who helped me get into this great hobby!
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by WD8MGO on December 15, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
I totally agree with the writer of finding his way into Amateur Radio. My parents gave me a Montgomery Ward six transistor AM pocket radio when I was ten.
But, I found out by accident that when that pocket radio was placed againest the steel mast holding our purple martin house it would tune in BBC, VOA and Radio Moscow. Nightly I would take a chair and tune into many shortwave stations with very sharp tuning.
What I needed next was the ultimate for the time period, a multi-band receiver such as the Sears I received for my twelve birthday. Now I could tune into local PSB, CB, AM, AIR BAND and the local amateurs. Now SWLing the world was done nightly with logs kept on all the broadcasts heard including amateurs on AM.

In the late 70s I purchased the Radio Shack HAM RADIO GUIDE( which is still very useful for tube theory and teaching the code). Attending my first hamfest in Lima in 1972 my big purchase for $5 was a clean Bud code oscillator and military surplus J-37 straight key. As with other writers I would go down stairs in my section with my multi-band and practice my sending
and receiving of the code with my Ameco Code Album.
The day arrived when I was ready to take my exam from John Laws K8GEU who was my encouragment. John had worked the world from his station wagon with the Swan tri-bander and mobile whips. I passed the 5WPM CW test with flying colors as well as the theory.

The big wait! June 1977 my license arrived and I couldn' wait to get on the air with my Multi-Elmac transmitter and receiver. When we moved my parents purchased a Hallicrafters SR-160 and my dad and I put up a 40m dipole and to me that was the best finally calling CQ DE WD8MGO and finally having great conversations. Because of my SWLing and Amateur Radio many of my history and geography courses in high school were far more interesting. Even today SWLing is my way of promoting amateur radio because the individual interested can decide for themselves if they want to get licensed or just continue SWLing.
Now with FRS and URS I hope to get my niece and nephews their own radios this Christmas.
SWLing and Amateur Radio,
A great combination.
Fred Lehman
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by N5LB on December 16, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
A neighbor, who was a boater, bought one of the first transistorized short wave receivers in 1965 for the boat. Out of curiosity, I tuned across the bands, hearing BBC, Radio Moscow, and some strange sounding noises like donald duck. I continually returned to the neighbors to listen to shortwave radio until Christmas when my parents gave me a Hallicrafters S-108 (from Sears of course). I was up half the night searching for new ones and acquiring QSL cards from all sorts of exotic broadcasters. With the S-108, I finally was able to understand the 'donald duck' noises, so when introduced to a ham, via Civil Air Patrol, who eventually became my Elmer (K5GFB (SK)) the bug bit hard upon seeing his NC300/Viking 2/Thunderbolt and 80ft tower. So at 16, in 1966 I became WN5ORM. Been active ever since with breaks for marriage, kids etc.

Why not do it all over again !  
Anonymous post on December 16, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Anyone interested in reliving such experiences may be interested in the following links:

Tube AM & Shortwave Receiver kits

Tube ham radio Tx, Rx and Txcvr kits

Crystal Sets

Have Fun !
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by K4ISV on December 16, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
YES! I agree, it was 1959 and the Space Spanner. My friend, of the same age, purchased the Ocean Hopper... plug in coils! Many nights spent listening the Voice of the Andes, Radio Moscow, BBC, etc. Seems like a live time ago or yesterday. So after a license and a contact with a wire strung from my window... 10ft was DL6IA... how could anyone contact someone so far away with 75 watts??

What a thrill the 40 plus years have been... sure hope someone else has the same fun...

teriffic hobby and thanks for bringing me back to ground zero
RE: Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by KG6AMW on December 17, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
I remember it like it was yesterday. My addiction started with a crystal set in the 50's. Later it turned to transistor shortwave radios, AM/FM telefunken tube radio and then finally used ham gear for listening purposes in the 60's. My addiction got so bad, I even got into kits (Heathkit and Lafayette?). I remember soldering late into the night while listening to VOA and ham operators in Australia. What finally saved me was girls, college and work. However, it started again in 1999 which resulted in a general ticket in April of 2000. Oh cursed habit will thou ever leave me. The wife says if don't stop nailing the checking account for $50-$60 every two weeks, she's going to put me into counseling. Ok, Ok, I won't buy anything until late January. Hey, the yaesu mike sure looks good.
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by W2RBA on December 17, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Yes, I, too, can remember those halcyon days or yore! I started being interested, lord knows for what reason, in a crystal kit and not having enough money to buy I scrounged the few parts needed and bought a cat's whisker crystal and voila - it worked! I guess my father noticed this budding love of radio and when I was 10 bought me a Lafayette 3 tube (50C5, 35W4 and a 12AU7 -- guess how it heated the filaments)regenerative receiver kit, complete with wooden case. He helped me learn to solder and we spent many nights with the construction of that kit...and it worked! I would tune around for hours when one day I stumbled across some hams on 75 phone (AM, of course) and just listened. I soon was fascinated (go figure, people of 75 phone did it!) and I was all fired up to get a ham license...but I didn't know anyone who could help...well, I won a boy scout (troop 535) contest for selling the most boxes of candy and bought myself a little battery-operated tape recorder onto which I would make code tapes and then store them away until I had forgetton them and then try to "decode" them. It worked and managed to instill in me a love of CW forever.

My father met a ham at the place where he worked and this gentleman (whose call I forget, alas) administered the novice exam for me. After that nervous episode was over, he gave me an old Hallicrafters S-38E which was my first receiver for cw (yeah, I know, it was a broad as a barn). I built a Lafayette transmitter (KT-390, I beleive) much like the Eico 720. It was all downhill (er, uphill?) from there and love of radio has stayed with me for 34 years.

Thanks for bringing back the memories!

Joe, W2RBA
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by W0NMB on December 17, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Really enjoyed your article
I go back to 1947,a senior in small Central Illinois High School----found old book in library--then got a BC 348Q surplus receiver--then found my elmer,W9ALU,studied code for hours and in July.1949 passed general at 13 wpm in Cgo FCC office---almost fainted when was told I passed the code---then 4 weeks later got my ticket---W9HVV-- almost fainted again

But what great memories and thanks for reviving them

and really owe my career to ham radio Thanks
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by K4TBN on December 17, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
I dreamed of owning a Knight Star Roamer. It never happened, but did end up with a NC98.
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by W5KAP on December 18, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Boy, does this bring back memories. I got started when I won a radio at my Dad's Company Picnic. I took it home and spent the evenings "DXing" on the AM bands. Got to know all the big AM stations across the US. God, I hate QSB to this day hi hi. Dad had a Zenith short wave set downstairs and I graduated to using it. Blew through CB in the early 60's (very few folks to talk to in Chicago even then). Did'nt get my Novice ticket until 78 as the Air Force kept me moving. It has been a wonderful hobby since then. I can still hear WFAA, WOAI etc on those cold winter evenings!!

73 de Kenn W5KAP
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by KC4IWO on December 18, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
I can remember way back when I was around 9 years old with some old surplus receiver on a table near my bed. I would put a piece of black tape over the s-meter so when my dad would come by to check to see if I was asleep would think that the radio was off and I was fast asleep. Little did he know I had a speaker under the pillow and would spend the next hour or two tunning in hams around the world as they carried on with there QSO's. To this day there is still a receiver of some type sitting at the bed side still running all night long.
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by W5KJ on December 18, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Ah yes, about that time or a few years later really wanted a Star Roamer but
the folks finding something they thought was more educational got me one of the
electronics experimenters kits - which turned out to be a lot of fun...eventually
got an R55 for rx and despite that handicap went on to get my novice.....Greg W5KJ

Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by EI5EM on December 19, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
I remember in the 1950s how my dad (now 91) used to send in musical requests for me to some of the foreign shortwave broadcast stations. We would listen in and be thrilled if our request was played or letter read. Programme schedules and information leaflets from these stations were a great addition to world geography lessons. In those pre-SSB days we would then on a Sunday morning listen to the local EI ham net and this really got me interested in our wonderful hobby.
The first SW receiver I built was a single valve (tube) regenerative kit. It had Denco plugin coils for band changing. the kit was called the HAC (Hear All Continents). Thoughts of the hours of pleasure I derived from that receiver bring back many pleasant memories.
When I started working I bought an Yaesu FRG7 and some time later was bitten by the CB bug in the mid 1970s. This prompted me to go for the ham ticket. I was licenced in 1980. My first transceiver was the Yaesu FT101ZD. My main interest now is in CW especially QRP. I operate a homebrew station and mainly QSO on 30 and 40 metres. You can visit my website at

73 de Tony (EI5EM)
Star Roamer es Ameco AC-1  
by K7FD on December 20, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Started in early 1966 as SWL...WPE7COH...using a gray and white Zenith AM Table Radio for BCBDX'ing and a Knightkit Star Roamer for HF. My father, a Navy signalman but not a ham, taught me the code for my novice. Received WN7IHO in '67 and hit the airwaves w/ the AC-1...then upgraded to the Heathkit DX60 and HR10B 'twins'. I miss the Zenith...either the BCB were a lot better then or that was one heck of a receiver...listened to WHAS, WSM, WCCO, and others without breaking a sweat. Anyway, ham radio kept me out of trouble all through high school...Dad and Mom always knew where I was...hamming in my bedroom!

73 John K7FD
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by WB8JKR on December 20, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
What great memories! I satrted as a shortwave listener
back in 1968 at the age of 11 with a Graymark 503 receiver that my dad built for me, in 1969 I graduated
to a Heathkit GR-64 receiver that I had saved up for by drying dishes for my mom and cutting grass, it took about 8 months to save up for that $39.95 receiver!
Then I built my first transmitter using a 50C5 tube and it was built on a piece of wood for the chassis, I still have it, it was a article in the March 1968 issue of Electronics Illustrated by W5LET called the
"Bare-Essentials ham transmitter" it put out about 6 watts of really amusing RF. In March of 1971 I got my Novice license and dumped my hard earned money earned as a pin chaser at a local bowling alley ($30.00 a week)
into a KnightKit T-60 and a Hallicrafters SX-101A, I
was in the BIG TIME now !!!! I could go on, and on, and on....... Greatest hobby in the world!
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by W0LSD on December 20, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Wow, did that hit home. 1958 and I was 13 years old. A Knight Kit Space Spanner was the radio. I still have it. I don't think I even checked off the boxes, just wired it like the diagram! Graduated to Heathkit and Halicrafters! Those were the days when something simple like that meant a lot. I'm sure those days are long gone! Too bad...
73 Ken
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by K1IR on December 21, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
The lesson here is that every ham who feels that warm, nostalgic feeling resulting from the kindness and devotion of an Elmer has an OBLIGATION to do the same for the next generation.

Make those feelings productive; be an Elmer for a youngster in your community.

73, Jim K1IR
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by 4X1KS on December 22, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
What a nice topic for an article!

For me ham radio had a detour. When I was 11 years old, my next door neighbor, Jim Miller, sk (callsign unknown) got his ticket at about age 35. I used to go over and check out his Yaesu rig, and I tried to start learning code. For some reason, boyscouts, sports, and other things took me away from working for my ticket.

Fast Forward 21 years. Now married and living in Memphis, TN, when I got a visit from someone overseas who brought his Sony SW-55 Portable. I asked him "what's that?"

One thing led to another, and I got my own shortwave receiver. I also got a copy of a shortwave listening guide. This little book has just one page about amateur radio, but it caught my eye. I found out about the great amateur radio store in Memphis, and soon started studying for my Tech + ticket. A few months later I upgraded to Extra, and was happy as a lark with my Kenwood rig and G5RV all-bander.

Along the way, I met my great VHF/UHF elmer, Bob Barbee W4AMI, sk. The Memphis hams made coming into amateur radio a pleasure. It is the warmth of quality of hams at places like Memphis Amateur Electronics, and hams at clubs like the Delta Amateur Radio Club, that make becoming a ham a great experience.

Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by K5AVJ on December 25, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks to all of you who have read my article & provided the "posts." The 2 subsequent portions of the story will be posted soon so that you can read the rest of the story.

Following my graduation from high school, I studied electrical engineering & graduated in 1970 from Texas A&I. I have been employed now for 30 years with a local electric utility.

Just suppose I'd gotten that pellet rifle instead of the "Space Spanner" receiver. Wonder what I'd be doing now.
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by N1KGY on December 29, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
As a kid, I was fascinated by electronics. I got a GE short wave receiver when I was about 8, from a cousin who was a ham. When I heard people talking to each other on it, I wanted to join in! Soon my wish list was filled with radio kits and a soldering iron. It took years, and a detour through the Army, before I got around to earning my ham ticket.
My first rig was an old Gonsett G-76. I would listen to W1AW's code practice sessions, with one hand on the dial to correct for the receiver drift. I was practicing for my test, wondering how I would ever pass the 5 wpm for a novice ticket. Several of my friends were waiting to see if there was to be a no-code technician license, because they didn't want to learn the code, but I wanted the HF privileges and was going to do whatever it took to get them! I couldn't have done it without my cousin Dave, who inspired and funded my early interest in radio and building, and my friend Randy, who taught me how to design and build homebrew tube gear. Thanks to you both!
Ten years and a major license upgrade later, I still love 40 and 80 meters, and now I've added 160 to the list. I couldn't have asked for a better hobby, then or now. I have learned more about people and technology 'playing' with radio than I would have ever imagined. Homebrewed boatanchors are my favorites, and my wife and I just moved 'out to the country' (I now have room for an antenna farm) so listen for me on 160 AM sometime soon.
God bless and 73 de n1kgy
Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by AF4K on January 12, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Perhaps others who enjoyed this article would like to see the Knight Kit Bulleton Board! Knight users chat there and exchange ideas, rigs, manuals, parts etc.

It's found at:

73 & enjoy!

Brian, AF4K

Bitten by the Ham Radio Bug  
by WB4YAL on March 26, 2004 Mail this to a friend!

Thanks for the nostalgia and the fond memories you brought back for me. I too "grew up" with ham radio.
Although it does not hold the child-like fascination for me now, I still remember with pride all of the friends I met along the way.

I guess with computers and the internet, the end of an era has been set into motion. My kids never became hams and I am not very active anymore myself.

Thanks again,

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