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Early Days in the Hobby

from Doug, K8DK on August 2, 2012
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My dad was a radio technician. He had a radio shack (Quonset hut) on our property in New Baltimore, MI. He repaired televisions and radios in the late 1940 and early 1950’s. With no formal training, he learned to repaire quipment on his own. I was very young 5 or 6 years old when I watched him repair radios and televisions. It was interesting to me and he taught me how to test tubes and I became the unofficial tube tester. I would pull the tubes from the piece of equipment, clean them, look up the tube numbers on the charts and found the correct socket to set them into the tube tester The tube testers we used looked so complicated to me but soon I learned how to set the different toggle switches and set the correct voltages to properly test them. If they tested ok, I would install them back into the piece of equipment. If it was bad, I pulled new tube from the inventory or added them to the list to order new ones to replenish the inventory. My dad would test the rest of the circuits for other failed parts such as resistors and capacitors, and transformers. He also checked forbad solder connections. He always returned the equipment repaired in good running order. This was my dad’s way of supplementing his income because this was his part time job.

This experience of working in the repair shop got me started in electronics and interested in Amateur Radio. I was about 15 when a tornado came through Chesterfield Township. One day after the cleanup started I was peddling my bike on Callens Road near the military housing project north of Cotton Road. Since my dad was into electronics he also had a CB radio and I used to talk to amen by the name of Arnold Gottschalk, call sign 19W9224. He also held an amateur call sign of WA8TPE. Arnold told me he was a carpenter working for Selfridge Field and was working at this military housing project that was being repaired from the tornado. Arnold befriended me and we became lifetime friends. He and I used to trade, buy and sell amateur radio equipment. It is sad but Arnold is now a silent key. I have many great memories of him. Many hams in the area knew him. He loved talking about finding amateur radio gear at garage sales. He had an expert eye for finding the deal.

Arnold then introduced me to a friend of his by the name of Ken Traster, K8CQI. Ken lived in Utica and was in the Air Force at Selfridge AFB. Ken would invite me to his home every Saturday morning where I had the opportunity to operate his station as a third party (Ken was the control operator) using 40 meter AM phone. Ken had a Central Electronics Transmitter and a Collins Receiver. What really interested me at the time was Ken’s ability to use Morse code with his homebrew keyer and his paddle. He also at times used a straight key with expertise. Ken in turn introduced me to others in the area. Saturday mornings became a regular time when 4 or 5 others would gather to operate the equipment and contact other stations on 40 meters. Another friend, nick- name Fats, had a Heathkit Station that he built a DX60 transmitter and aHR-10 matching receiver. Fats also had a DX100 transmitter with a SB-10sideband adapter and a Hammarlund receiver as a second station. We would go back and forth between the two houses on Saturdays. It was a great time and it was exciting listening for other stations and making contacts. Ken and others taught me how to set up a station, tune a transmitter; zero beat a receiver and learned the technique of soldering. At this point I decided I wanted my license too.

I started by learning Morse code. Months before I was licensed I bought the Ameco Code record album, 33-1/3 size. I started to learn the code using the code album but I set the record player at 78-RPM speed (in error of course and not knowing any better). I learned the code at a much faster speed then most people. I didn’t realize at the time what I was doing because I kept complaining to my parents this is so hard to learn because it sounded so fast. They didn’t really check what I was doing so they just said keep at it, everyone else learns it like that and you can to. So I did. I was the fastest novice on the band. I learned the code at about 25-35 wpm. Good thing I didn’t know any better. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Being young and naive at the time gave me an advantage over so many other novices. The only problem I had was finding someone to talk to me in the novice band at those speeds. So I learned to slow down. I made hundreds of contacts over the next several months and was having a lot of fun doing it too.

Back then a General Class operator could administer a novice test. Ken requested a novice exam from the FCC. I remember it seemed like it took forever to receive the test in the mail. I studied for the exam for a month or so and was ready when Ken received the test. There were four of us that took the exam. It took about three months waiting for my ticket to arrive. If you didn’t get a letter from the FCC in about a month you probably passed. I knew others who failed and were notified by letter within 30 days. If you didn’t pass your test you had to wait 30 days after receiving your failure letter before taking the exam again. I didn’t hear from them so I thought my chances sounded pretty good that I passed. Well as I said three months went by and I received my novice call, WN8QHS in April 1965. The four of us all passed, we now had new call signs of, WN8QHS, QHT, QHU and QHV.

I had little money to work with and so I started saving and my parents helped me buy my first station. It was a Hallicrafters Receiver SX-99, a Knight Kit T-150 transmitter and a Dow Key relay. I also bought a paddle from the Lafayette Radio catalog and Ken helped me build my first homebrew project, a tube type keyer. The transmitter had a VFO but I was rock bound (crystal controlled) and could only use crystals in the novice bands and no more than 75watts. My first antenna was a multi-band dipole for 40 and 15 meters. This was good because I only had two crystals for 40 meters. I could use the crystal for7.125 MHz on 40 meters and the 7.050 crystal on 15 meters because its third harmonic put me in the 15-meter band at 21.150 MHz. I made my first DX contact on 15 meters by working XE2SO in Mexico. I still have his QSL card. He sent me his QSL direct and I remember the day I received it in the mail. I was excited to make that first DX contact. I now have 254 countries confirmed. I chase DX on a periodic basis and track them using DxBase software on my computer.

The next couple projects I built were a Heathkit Twoer and a 160-meter transmitter. The Twoer was a 2-meter AM transceiver. A novice had 2-meterphone privileges during those years. I also built a 160 mobile transmitter from the ARRL handbook and with Ken’s help we detuned my AM radio in the dashboard of my car (1954 Ford Station Wagon Woody). Working 160 AM phone gave me the opportunity to meet others in the area. We didn’t have 2-meter FM repeaters back then.

I wanted my General ticket. In less than a year from getting my novice license I upgraded to General and my new call sign was changed toWA8QHS. During those years the Novice license was good for one year and you couldn’t renew it. So it was upgrade or out of amateur radio. It did however take two bus rides from New Baltimore to the Federal Building in Detroit to pass the test. I didn’t drive yet, so I went by bus. I failed at my first attempt. It was very disappointing. I passed the Code but not the theory. You didn’t get credit for passing the code in those days.

The next trip, you had to pass the code again. The code was easy for me at 13 Wpm. I just had to get passed the written theory. The theory at that time was far more advanced electronics questions then on today’s exam. An example would be to draw a Hartley or Pierce Oscillator circuit? Many other circuits had to be identified or drawn. I felt lucky to pass it on my second attempt. You also had to sit in a hard wood chair in the front of the room, in front of everyone to send and receive the code at 13 wpm while everyone sat there listening to your code expertise. It was intimidating at best, especially if you are only 15 years old. One of the examiners was Ed W8BX. Ed is now a silent key. For many years Ed and I had coffee and spoke over the air. He was a great guy who knew a lot about electronics and Amateur Radio.

Now I have been licensed 47 years and I am still having fun. Over those 47 years I have tried every mode. I have used AM, FM, SSB, CW, Radio Teletype, Fast Scan TV, Moon bounce, Satellites all the different data modes also fast and slow scan TV. I had towers, a tri band beam, satellite antennas, elevation and azimuth rotors, lots and lots of different pieces of radio transceivers, and separate transmitters and receivers and all types of station accessories. I have incorporated computers and their related ham radio software programs to my station. I am still an avid short wave and scanner listener. My short wave callsign was WPE8IKB. I received that call sign certificate in December of 1963from Popular Electronics.

Do a search in Google just using that call sign WPE8IKB and you will see a photo of my novice station from 1965. Over the years I had the opportunity to talk to, Barry Goldwater, Ronnie Millsap, and Arthur Godfrey. I talked to Russian Cosmonauts and Owen Garriot an American Astronaut thousands of miles above the earth in the space.

This hobby has brought me the study of history, I have learned a lot about geography, space exploration, theory of electronics, and the hobby has made me a good listener when it comes to DX. I have learned how little power and such a small antenna can bring fun and excitement to the hobby.

Member Comments:
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Early Days in the Hobby  
by KA4KOE on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Great article! I remember taking my general and advanced exams down at FCC office in the Federal Building, downtown Savannah; not far at all where some scenes were filmed for Forest Gump.

The administrator for the FCC was a nice lady with the sweetest voice. She looked like Elizabeth Taylor (a very young one)....I still remember her picking up the phone..." F C C " (dripping with sweetness).

Early Days in the Hobby  
by KB2DHG on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
A nice story one of many that has inspired us all. Yes, this is a fantastic time honored hobby. Even though todays tech is so advanced, to me there is nothing more rewarding than transmitting a signal and receiving a responce via wireless. MORE OVER using primitave means to do so... My story shares some of the same as yours and I too have fond memories of my early years of MY HAM RADIO HOBBY!
Early Days in the Hobby  
by WA8IUR on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
WOW, almost an identicle story for me in 1962.My dad was also a ham. Great story. Thanks, Tim WA8IUR
Early Days in the Hobby  
by WA8IUR on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Doug, I still have those records.I wonder what they sound like now. Tim WA8IUR
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by AD4U on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Nobody in my family was a HAM. I got interested in the early 1960's because a neighbor had wires and bamboo supports all over his yard. I cautiously knocked on the door and he invited me in and showed me his HAM shack. As they say, the rest is history.

I still remember my first contact and I still have his QSL. I still remember my first DX, Canada. I still have my original novice station, which I often use. It was a Drake 2B receiver and a Drake 2NT transmitter. In the past 6 years of casual operation on 40 meter CW (crystal control) and 50 watts I have worked 293 countries with my old novice station.

Somehow in my mind, HAM radio was just more fun way back then.

Dick AD4U
Early Days in the Hobby  
by KB1WSY on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Ameco is alive and well. It is part of a company called Mile High Technologies and I actually bought the Morse course from them a few months ago, although now of course it is on a CD. I also bought a K4 key and an OCM-2 code oscillator kit. A picture of the course box and related items that I bought is here (copy and paste into your browser):

I am learning Morse more or less from scratch, having been licensed for the first time 6 months ago. The Ameco course was a struggle, so bravo to those who used it successfully many years ago! In the end I am finding the more "modern" Koch method better for me -- I say "modern" because the Koch method dates to the 1930s but only became well known relatively recently.

The K4 key and code oscillator are great; the key (which came with a heavy metal base) is good enough that I am planning to use it as my primary straight key when I finish building my homebrew transmitter based on a 1961 ARRL design.

Your article was a lot of fun, thanks for sharing the memories!!
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K1FPV on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article! It brings back memories of myself, building a crystal radio as a boy scout project and occasionally hearing a ham override the AM stations I was listening to. Later got interested in shortwave listening. Saved my money from my paper route to buy a KnightKit Span Master. Then got into serious Shortwave listening. In those days, every serious shortwave listener got Popular Electronics and got a call sign. Mine was WPE1EJL. Finally saved enough money and bought The Amateur CallBook!

I heard the local ham again only on my Span Master along with the station he was working. I sent him a ShortWave QSL requesting his. The phone rang a few days later and it was him. He said if I wanted his QSL, I'd have to go get it! Well, I did and was in awe at his station. I WAS HOOKED! WPE1EJL became KN1FPV and later K1FPV as I had 1 year to upgrade or you were out of the hobby.

Thanks for the ride down memory lane!
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by N9AOP on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Nice trip down memory lane. I remember going to the FCC office in Chicago for my general exam. In the mid 70's they required that you receive code but not send.
After the exam, the proctor asked if anyone wanted to send even though it was not required. Three of us did and he said that we would have passed if it were required. Back then in the afternoon when school was out the novice bands were wall to wall CW. Back then when you took the exam you sort of had to know how the circuits worked and not just know the answers.
Art, N9AOP
Early Days in the Hobby  
by W5DQ on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Great trip down memory lane. While I am a little younger than you and only been a ham for a short 36 years (this upcoming Aug 18th), I share many of the same experiences. My dad, who's call I now have after he passed over the log), was an electronics tech in the US Navy. I learned alot of my early electronics from him in his 'CB repair' business he started after retiring in 1974. I got my Novice license in 1976 and still have my first QSL card, although not a DX contact. I remember my first QSO like it was this morning. There I sat, my Elmer (a high school buddy a yr older and still a good friend) sitting next to me, I called CQ as best my shaking hand could do. A 'Ø' station came back to me and I sat there staring at this speaker with some 'noise' coming out of it. I HAD FORGOT THE CODE MOMENTAIRLY :o He resent his call and my Elmer had to elbow me back to reality. I completed the QSO and sat there in utter amazement that I had actually 'talked' to another ham. Many QSOs have entered the logbook since then, in almost every mode like you too.

Dad was licensed back in the early 60's as WN4FEU/WA4FEU holding both Novice and Tech at the same time. He got relicensed right after I got my ticket and we used to sked on 80M during my college years to avoid long distance phone tolls that I didn't have as a starving college student in the late 70's.

Thanks for the story. It was great.

Gene W5DQ
ex-WN5UZU (Novice 1976-78)
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by W5ESE on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Good article; some of your experiences were similar to mine.

Scott W5ESE
ex-WN5RMQ (1976)
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by K8QV on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Ah, nostalgia. I miss the old days, too.

Amateur radio used to be a much better hobby - at least it took no effort to attract capable and curious people - but today the typical introduction to the hobby is a store bought little black box and a repeater somewhere in town. Maybe a hand held radio and an orange vest. Sure, it's a brave, new Digital World with a thousand varieties of digital messaging available, but unfortunately ham radio is no longer on the leading edge of technology, but the trailing one. The complexity of cutting edge technology has put it beyond the reach of the typical ham.

And I didn't even mention CW!!!
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K5MF on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Well written and a nostalgic article.

I just lost my dad and have been doing some thinking. Our childhood memories are almost always our fondest. I guess it is because we were so excited about life and learning and had little else to worry about then. Most of us long for the good ole days or believe we may have been born one or two generations too late. I mean, who wouldn't want to be a part of the Greatest Generation, right?

But I have come to realize that the good ole days are simply the perceptions we formed as youngsters. Yes things are different today than they were but one day these will be the good ole days for many, or will they?

You and many of us have obviously benefited by the outreach of another ham. Your story reflects that greatly. So I have a question for you and every ham:

What are you doing now to make these the good ole days for today's children?

We find it very easy to criticize today's young folks. But adults have been doing that since the beginning of time. But how many of today's hams would take the time to track down a youngster and invite him/her into his shack as the character in this story did?

If you want to relive the good ole days, IMO the best avenue to do so is through a child of today.

73, and tnx!

RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by W5DQ on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
AE5QB writes "What are you doing now to make these the good ole days for today's children?"

Good point. Personally I try to Elmer anyone who asks for the assistance. I have mentioned before about our clubs efforts holding Tech and General classes, from which we are starting to see positive growth in our local ham population. A few of these are kids but not near as many as you would have seen years ago, which is a shame. I think of the young kids who got involved in ham radio at a tender age and went on to develop some of the latest cutting edge technology you referred to. The effort to reach kids these days is much harder than it was just a few years ago due to the growth of technology which really allows so much more to be done with ham radio if one just digs into it and learns how. The latest (and older standardized) digital modes should be a magnet to the techno-kids of today but they simply see a bunch of old farts talking using SSB, RTTY or CW and get turned off. We as a community need to figure out how to present ham radio in a modern techno-saavy way that appeals to the younger crowds.

Gene W5DQ
Early Days in the Hobby  
by ZL1BBW on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Yep, they were the days. My early exposure to Wireless, always prefered that term. Was from my Dad, ex TeleMech REME, Home built TV in 1952ish 60ft tower in back yard to get TV from Crystal Palace nr London, we were in Brighton.

Then...... learning Russian for RF Gain etc from the front of a 19 set that glowed in the dark on our Trawler, illegal, but better than nothing.

The rest I will tell another day.

been licensed since late 60's so done a bit of time, both professionaly in maritime Communications and as a Radio Amateur.
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by W0DLR on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Very nice article.

I still wish we had Allied Radio, Heathkit, BA in Kansas City, and Lafayette Radio. Those catalogs were like a message from god when they arrived. Hallicrafters and Johnson equipment was as valuable as a new Corvette to me in 1965.

Oh for those days again.
Early Days in the Hobby  
by AI2IA on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Early Days in the Hobby  
by AC2JD on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the history lesson - - -really enjoyed your article. 73 Rich
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by N8XI on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Excellant post!
Change the Detroit FCC examiner to Dick Cotton, W8DX and it would be pretty much the same here.
Also had a Popular Electronics WPE call...etc.
The ham that gave me my novice test was Ed Killingbeck, W8JDZ not far from my Jr High School in Romulus MI.
He had a 250W CW/AM Transmitter that was originally at Michigan State University and a Hallicrafters SX-71...


73, Rick - N8XI

RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by K8DK on August 2, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the link and the comment on my article.

Doug K8DK
Early Days in the Hobby  
by N1LWK on August 3, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Another great old time story!! For me, my life changed in the summer of 1975. I was 16 years old and the family tv broke down. After a few days of listening to a short wave radio that was kept in the barn, I ran across a group of AMer's. My dad came into the barn and explained to me that I was hearing a group of Ham Radio Operators. He asked if that was something I would be interested. When I said yes, a phone call was made to a friend of his and we were off.

When school started that fall, I soon learned that there was a Ham Radio Club. I had a very hard time learning the morse code but enjoyed the Radio Shack book, "From 5 To A 1,000 Watts". The following year I signed up for electronic classes and took an after school job working at a tv repair shop. Like you, the first thing I did upon entering the shop was to test tubes.

I later became a Novice, but let my license laps. In the late 80's I got back into ham radio and the rest is history. As I write this, I wonder what direction in life, career choice or types of hobbies I would be into. For me, ham radio is the best hobby in the world.

Again, great story.

73....Ken, N1LWL
Early Days in the Hobby  
by WA8HHH on August 3, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I remember it well. My good friend and classmate, Jay, WA8CAL (now VY1JA), got me through the Novice and Tech trials. I was licensed Novice & Tech in 1962, I guess, and more than a decade later sat for the General Class exam at the Detroit Field Office. You sat there and didn't have a friend in the house; it was intimidating. I'd sat through a preparatory class done by Barker, W8QGE and he gave us all a tip: He said to ask to take the Advanced Class test after you finished your General since that way they'd have to grade the General test on the spot to see if you were qualified - had to hold a General license to take the Advanced test. That's what I did and walked out knowing I'd passed the General for sure. I was at the Dayton Hamvention later that year when I found out that I'd passed the Advanced as well. Those were the best of times even with equipment that nobody would even look at today. I 'graduated' from a Knight Kit Ocean Hopper and 6AQ5 cigar box Novice rig to a sophisticated Lafayette HE-45b received as a high school graduation gift in 1963. I'm sure that 47 years from now somebody will be strolling down Memory Lane just as you have - and prompted me to do. I'd sure like to read some of those words!
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by G3RZP on August 3, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
My father was G8ON, licenced funnily enough on the day my brother was born in 1937. He started in WW2 as a 'secret listener' for the Radio Security service, in addition to his daytime job. Conscripted into the RAF in 1942, he taught radio theory to RAF signals officers and wireless operators, as they were called. Invalided out in 1944, he went back to his job as a civil servant and to the RSS. I was born in May 1947 and went to my first FD in June 1948. I learnt to read from the RSGB Bulletin, and the bug bit. Took the exam on my 14th birthday in 1961 and was dilatory in getting the code speed , but was licenced at the end of April 1963. Built a tx and had fun, then joined The Marconi Co as an apprentice in 64, spending the first year full time at the college in Colchester where the call was G3OCQ and the guy in charge was G3FIJ. Moved around departments at Marconi, ending in the marine development group working for G3GHU: the group chief was G4PC. After that, became a development engineer at a number of companies between 1969 and 1979, when I joined Plessey Semiconductors as a Principal Applications Engineer - because the manager was G4CLF and he wanted a technically inclined amateur as an engineer. Outlasted him and 18 other managers through various company name changes until being laid off in 2011. In 1976, I met a 16 year old YL at the Cray Valley Radio Society in south east London: she had (and still has) the call G4FNC and we've been married for 29 years this September.

On the way, in 1983, I somehow got involved with RSGB, and served on the Technical and Publications committee as a member and as Chairman, additionally on the HF committee, and then became involved as Director for the South West of England, and President in 1993. As President, I got an invitation to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, which was very pleasant; also had a meeting with Prince Philip, who is the Patron for the RGSB. I also did an official visit to ARRL Hq: rank has its privileges, as I took in 315 QSL cards, and they processed the DXCC application while I was there, and K1ZZ presented the certificate. Work had seen me getting involved from 1991 with CEPT and ETSI committees and acting as a consultant on amateur radio to the UK Administration at ITU Task Group 1/5. This led to me being asked become an IARU Technical Consultant, and I've been representing IARU at various ITU meetings since - currently at Study Group 1 and its Working Parties. Two of my three nominees for Senior Membership of the IEEE were ARRL/IARU people - W4RA and W4RI.

I have managed to get 5BDXCC, but need one country for the #1 Honor Roll - KP1, Navassa.

So in 49 years of ham radio, I guess I've got a lot out of it. I like to think I've put a lot in, though.

RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by AE7UT on August 3, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the article and your wonderful memories.

It makes me wonder what new hams will write about five decades from now. I'm a new ham that was interested in the same things about 40 years ago but took another path. No I'm 50 and just starting out. I think the future of ham radio is great because of it's endless possibilities. Ars longa, vita brevis!

Early Days in the Hobby  
by KF4HR on August 3, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Ah the good ol' days!

Today's scenario... just a tad different:

1. Study the exact questions and [memorize) answers
2. Learn CW? No need
3. Pass written test (big surprise)
4. Buy radio and pre-built antenna on-line or at candy store
5. Install antenna, connect to radio
6. Plug in radio
7. Talk
Early Days in the Hobby  
by WA2NTW on August 3, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for the walk down memory lane. I am celebrating my 40th year in ham radio by upgrading to Extra. I too agree it is time to give back to the hobby and will now be a VE.
I was inspired by the folks in my local PAL radio club since no one in my family was a ham. I wanted to work in broadcast and heard it was a good way to learn about radio. As it turned out we had a ham who worked for the famed WABC radio 660. The transmitter was a few miles away and I had the pleasure of going out to see a real broadcast station. I too was hooked but never was interested in HF and have spent many years on repeaters and simplex FM. I have enjoyed putting repeaters and antennae up to serve a lot of NY/NJ.
Now semi retired in FL I will be spending my time in EMCOMM as it has been a love of mine for years.
Thanks again for sharing your story with the rest of the community!
Early Days in the Hobby  
by G6HVY on August 3, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I realised a couple of months ago that I've been licensed for 30 years. Bit of a shocker, that. I still feel that as a G6 I'm a raw prawn compared to the G8s, G4s (and G3s!) that were by far the largest contingent when I first got on the air... don't hear many of them now, sadly.

My life and the hobby have been intricately mingled over those three decades, and now's not the time to go into all that. Many high and low points - including deeply offending the RSGB, I'll leave it to others to decide whether that was a high or a low - but the thrill of hearing my callsign come back at me over the air through the static as contact is made is as powerful now as ever.

Guess I'm hooked.

Early Days in the Hobby  
by KG4NEL on August 3, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I've only been in ham radio for 10 years (that long already - yikes!), and I'm still under 30; but I think the same things that attracted people in the '20s are still attracting them today. Doesn't matter what modes are in use, what the testing requirements are, whether or not the ops wear freshly-starched shirts and ties on the air.

It's radio for radio's sake - not a competitor to the Internet, smartphones or whatever else comes along. I got hooked because I was fascinated by the idea of communicating with someone across the country with absolutely no infrastructure between us but the ionosphere. A DIY alternative to what we take for granted nowadays.

Whatever the topic, I think there's always going to be a subculture of people that want to tear into it, find out how it works, and co-opt it for their own use. Those people have always been there, and I don't think we're going away ;)
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K2TF on August 4, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Although I didn't earn my novice ticket until the summer of 1978, I can really relate to your expercience. I enjoyed really your article, thanks!
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K7LZR on August 4, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for sharing your memories. I always love reading articles such as this. Makes me reflect on my own 34 years in the hobby :).
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by K2WH on August 4, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Just remember, a cell phone, Ipad and "I" whatever are all just 2 way radios. Same technology only in a smaller box.

RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by WA8MEA on August 4, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Did you note all of the hams here that are in the 40-49 year range? That had to be the heyday of ham radio.

I've been at it for over 41 years. The first station I ever operated my dad bought because he wanted to give ham radio a try, even though it was me that showed the real interest in hamming. The station was a DX60A and Hammarlund HQ-180.

I didn't like the idea of "borrowing" my dad's fancy station (Even though he never used it. Too busy with work.) So I took my lawn mowing money and bought an Ameco AC-1 and an Allied Knight-Kit Star Roamer so I could call the station my very own. I had more fun with that set-up than any other! I recall one summer; it seemed the only state I could contact on 40 meters was Iowa. It was Iowa every dang afternoon, all summer vacation!

Tune up of the AC-1 was a cinch using one of my mom's 7 watt bathroom night light bulbs I took from the bathroom drawer.

I finally got the gumption to locate and buy an AC-1 a few months ago. What a blast! Like being a kid again. I really don't want another Star Roamer to go with it. I recall upgrading to a Heathkit that had a rechargeable battery and telescopic antenna shortly after getting the Star Roamer. I just don't remember the model. That might be a good receiver to go with my "new" AC-1.

As Bob Hope would sing...."Thanks for the Memories"....

73, Bill
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by ZL1BBW on August 4, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Re The age group. That is nicest thing anybody has said for a long time. The other day I got asked if I had my Gold Card, no not a credit card, but the GC for the over 65's. Only got a few more months to wait though.
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by G3RZP on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I think he was referring to the length of time in ham radio, not the age of the respondants. Sorry to shatter your illusions!
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by G0VKT on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
A great article which made me think. My inspiration was Jack King G4EMC. He lived over the road from my parents when I was a few years old in the mid 70s. His shack was in an outhouse in the back garden. I was fascinated by the sounds coming from it and I remember it packed with radio equipment. It was a memeory that later got me into the hobby. When I got licensed you had to be 14 or 15 if I remember. Jack was one of my mentors.

I think there is something about old equipment. Big, full of valves and a certain smell. Modern kit is just not the same! But, then I also drive an old Land Rover that can be fixed with a hammer and a few spanners!
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K1CJS on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Yes, nice article. I was also introduced to electronics back in the early 60s. However, my dad (who did fix TVs and installed antennas never wanted to get a ham ticket, and told me that it's a waste of time since it wouldn't put bread on the table.

It took me some years, but I did get my ticket. The only thing missed was I never won my father's approval for what I was doing with ham radio. I still wouldn't trade it for any other hobby, though.
Early Days in the Hobby  
by KA1PPV on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!

Great piece! Thanks for sharing your history. I also have a lot of fond memories from that time.

RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by W8JI on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
It seems like many of us started the same way. Broadcast radios got us interested.

My start is here:

It's remarkably similar to others from that time period.

73 Tom
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K0DCH on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article, Doug. I got my novice back in 1958. I remember waiting for (months?) a long time for my ticket to arrive as well. Things were different then (not necessarily better.) Radio is still a fun hobby with new things to try.


Dave K0DCH
Early Days in the Hobby  
by N8DV on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Hello Doug, nice to hear from you. It's been a long time. Great article. What an exceptional career in amateur radio. Hope to talk with you on the air. 73
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by W3DCB on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the trip down memory lane! It was already the early-70s when I took the Novice, General and Advanced Ticket exams. At that time, they were already multiple choice questions, (except for the code which was still straight copy without error for 60 consecutive seconds or was it 3 minutes...can't remember exactly anymore) but we too had to identify and descriminate between a Culpits Oscilator vs. a Hartley, etc., and be able to explain the workings of transmitters, receivers, and in the Advanced & Estra Ticket exams, there were questions on Television Transmission and Reception theory...Never got to take the Extra Theory exam at the time. I got so nervous when I took the 20 WPM code test twice that I failed under the pressure of exam circumstances and the whole mileu of the FCC testing rooms...I remember the intimidation of having to take the test in NYC at the Houston Street Field Office. The Novice test was taken at school with the advisor of our junior school Radio Club, WB2SRJ, Doug Smith, K2KMX. I, too, had a good number of "Elmers" to help me at 13 years of age when I got my first ticket, WN2MJB, later to become WB2MJB. There was a whole group of us who "hung out" with Mr Dooug Smith who also advised for the school CCTV system in which we would produce & broadcast a morning news "show" to the student body. We would come in during the summer and work with our beloved Mr. Smith for hours at a time installing wiring, amplifiers, and TV cable for this purpose. There was a Lafayette and a Radio Shack near the school...not so near that you would make a frequent parts-run without a bicycle...It wasn't in walking distance. But, we would make this parts-run on our bikes somestimes multiple times in a day during the hot summer...Somehow, we didn't notice the heat. Four or five of us boys had a blast during those summer days...Later in the day, after running cables and getting full of dust & dirt and replacing fiber-glass drop-ceiling tiles, we would operate our Heath SB-102 that we put together as a club...Of course there were LOTS of cold solder joints that had to be found and fixed, the product of inexperienced junior high school hands soldering our first real radio project. We only had two dipoles, one for 80m and one for 40m which of course also worked on 15m. We never really ever had good antenna system up and working, but we sure tried to make contacts as we would pass around the mic calling CQ from Mr. Smith's class room where he taught 7th grade math. Later, when I and the gang were in 8th grade he was promoted to Vice Principal and he had a revolt on his hands! As I said above, we were a group of 4 or 5 boys, all of us without a father...We did not want to share our beloved Mr. Smith with the rest of the school. A nice lady-teacher who had worked with the morning TV news group took over the TV "club" and the ham station was moved to her classroom. She tried very hard, but she was no Mr. Smith. Our beloved Mr. Smith still remained our radio club advisor. The school administration had to come down hard on us boys to keep us from "hanging out" in the office of the new Vice Principal. We did not let go without a fight or at least acting very disagreeable. Even Mr. Smith had to set us straight regarding his new responsibilities, although he still tried to make himself available to us after & before school. Because of our "work" together, both Mr. Smith and the lady teacher, Mrs. Trautwein, fought for us each to get a full high school credit related to our involvement with the radio club and TV "club." After moving on to high school I kept coming back for radio club to help mentor the new batch. I kept returning even after graduating from college, although the radio club was no longer meeting. We had developed a very deep and close friendship. I had also become very close with his father, K2CY, who also mentored me in all sorts of ham radio activities. However, I would ride my bike to his home in Babylon, NY, from Bay Shore, not so much to operate his radio equipment, but more for his company and to listen to his stories about ham radio and broadcast radio for hours at a time. My first receiver was a Halicrafters SX-101 which I purchased at an electronics surplus store located on Main Street in Bay Shore, Long Island. It was owned by an old ham who never seemed to part with much of his surplus stock, but I sure had fun hanging out at his store playing with the old receivers and gear, most of it surplus military. Those were good times...
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K0RGR on August 5, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Yep a lot of that sounds really familiar. My dad was W9YDW in 1934, and W6VPV after the war.

My Knight Kit was a T-60 and it was the third Novice rig I used. Most of my Early Novice career, I was running 15 watts from a military surplus rig that was originally designed to be used by airmen who landed behind enemy lines. The T-60 was a Christmas present and actually served several young Novices. I think it's still in the family somewhere.

Everybody had a Two'er. I wish everybody had something similar today. You never knew who would answer a CQ on 2 meter AM back then, because everybody had a rig, and the Two'er receiver was so broad you could monitor half the band at a time.

Yes, I used the AMeco code record, too, but at 33 1/3.
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by AA4PB on August 6, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
In the late 1950's:

1) Study license manual.
2) Learn code.
3) Travel to FCC office to take code and written tests.
4) Get old 6V AM car radio from friend who owned TV shop.
5) Remove vibrator and add transformer to power car radio from 120VAC.
6) Purchase Gonset 10M converter for $10 from local ham.
7) Rewind coils to change converter to 6M.
8) Make and put up a dipole antenna.
9) Start listening to 6M. Try to make it home from school early enough to catch the almost daily band opening.
10) Borrow a Latine transmitter from local ham in order to get on the air.
11) Eventually build a 6M transmitter from scratch using mostly parts taken from old TV sets.
12) Build a 3-el Yagi and save enough money to purchase a used TV antenna rotor. Talk dad into letting me put it on the garage roof. Old house roof and chimney were always off limits.
13) Convince dad (with help of friend owning TV shop) that RFI on channel 2 was not going to permanently damage the TV set.
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by N9GZ on August 6, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I to remember the FCC office in the Federal Building in downtown Chicago. There was this nice quiet older lady and a tall red haired man that didn't take any crap from anyone. The headphones for the code test were uncomfortable. I think it was on the 22nd or 23 floor of the building. Being a farm boy and not used to Chicago and big city traffic, I was wore out before the test began just getting there. My elmer, KN9T, took me for my general exam and I passed. I was so excited I could hardly stand it and still remember the feeling to this day. Thanks for sharing your story.
Early Days in the Hobby  
by WB1FFI on August 6, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
My Elmer was an 85 year old ham who I luckily located living across the street in Brighton, MA. Calling him and asking his advice made his and his daughter's day. He had not been on the air for years. He was my volunteer examiner and I was so excited to show him my station.
I got my General after going to the old Customs House in Boston (now a Marriott Hotel) and sitting in those uncomfortable chairs and struggling to listen to the code at 13 wpm.
My advanced ticket was obtained in Syracuse with a class of volunteer examiners.
Again, great story and nice to read everyone's memories.
73, Barry WB1FFI
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by K9MHZ on August 6, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
AA4PB...very similar, but remember the 40/80 meter 1 or 2 tube receive converters that guys built and put in their cars on AM? They worked right from the 12 VDC and actually did a nice job.

This should get some eye-rolling......I actually miss hanging out at Radio Shack and Allied Radio when I was a kid. Hams would congregate there and exchange ideas on stuff to build, and there was a ton of stuff in their inventories to sift through . Definitely not the hipster Rufus places of today.

RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by 2E0OZI on August 7, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
How it was in 2009;

1. Find radio club and sign up to 8 week course. 2 hours once a week plus study in between - one was expected to KNOW stuff in preparation for next week.

2. Pass practical assessments (about 8 in all) - Morse appreciation, tuning an antenna, HF QSO ettiquette, ditto for VHF. Plus a few other bits and pieces.

3. Take 25 question multiple choice exam - pass mark was about 70% IIRC.

4. Pass exam. Apply to OFTCOM for a call.

5. Get call M6OZI about a week later.

So thats how it is in the UK. :-)
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by AA4PB on August 7, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Aaron's Electronic Surplus on the east side of Detroit. 3 floors of surplus with hardly a walk-way between the rows. J38 keys kept in 55 gal drums. ARC5 transmitters and receivers, $10 each, brand new, still sealed in original government packing.

You could easily spend the whole day there.
Early Days in the Hobby  
by WD9FUM on August 7, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I always enjoy reading about how fellow hams got into the hobby.

Radio Shack? You've got questions... we've got blank stares.
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by 2E0OZI on August 7, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Ultimately WD it was all the fault of my grandparents radiogramme! Record player (16/33/78) AM and SW reciever all in a lovely wooden cabinet. I noticed on the large plate glass dial it had "Moscow", "Amsterdam" "Berlin" etc etc...and the frequencies looked odd. Mr grandfather explained you turned the knob to SW1,2 or 3 and turned it to there and you would hear voices from those cities, at night. I tried that, and DID hear all sorts of voices from BBC, VOA, DW etc. That was it, I was hooked. :-) Next I got dads old portable with SW and used to listen to it by the bed while reading a book when other kids were sound asleep.
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by AA4PB on August 8, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Radio Shack Story: I used to go into the local RS store on a regular basis. One day I called and asked if they had a "7401 IC". The answer was "no, we don't carry ICs". I said "if you are standing at the counter, look at the wall behind you". Answer was "oh, you mean a chip - yes we have those".

You can guess the response when I walked into another electronic supplier and asked if they had or knew where I could get a vibrator for an old car radio.
Early Days in the Hobby  
by WD9FUM on August 8, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I applied for a job at RS when I was laid off. 30 years as a ham radio operator and electronics hobbyist and a degree in management. Do you think they hired me? Wonder what would happen if they actually hired people who know what they're doing?
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by KC4IWI on August 8, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Great article and excellent point TOM!

RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by K9MHZ on August 8, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
>>>>by WD9FUM
I always enjoy reading about how fellow hams got into the hobby.
Radio Shack? You've got questions... we've got blank stares.<<<<

FUM.....I was referring to Radio Shack many years ago. I thought it was obvious.

Early Days in the Hobby  
by WD9FUM on August 8, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
MHZ - Gotcha. I remember going to Allied Radio once as a kid on the West Side. Thought I'd died and gone to Heaven!
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by KD7AWG on August 9, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
In New York City the site of the FCC testing office, until the mid-1970’s, was the Federal Building at 641 Washington Street. It was an imposing red brick building near the Hudson River piers in Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The FCC testing office had large windows that were arched with a view of the Hudson and New Jersey.

As you walked in, there was a desk for the applicants to fill in their forms; the examiner’s desk was on the right behind the large window with the Hudson River view. The examiner was named Finkelstein.

He looked like the archetypical aging civil servant with wire rimmed glasses and a hawkish gaze. To his right on a small table was a World War II surplus TG-34 keyer that sent the code.

The TG-34 resembled a 16 MM sound projector, had two large reels, and a paper tape with a black line that would move allowing a light to shine on a gas photocell, thus sending the code.

In back of the TG-34 and its table, to the right of Finkelstein’s desk, was the exam room which was seen through a glass window. There were several rows of wooden desks and wooden chairs with headphones on several rows and a large window facing the river.

Finkelstein would look at your answer sheet checking off each right or wrong answer. I can remember him shaking his head “no” and saying “failed” and me walking out of the office. With only a 3rd Class Radiotelephone License, instead of the 2nd Class ‘Phone I needed to get a promised job paying two dollars per hour which was very good money in the early 1960’s.

I came back a month later (you could only retake the test after a 30-day waiting period) and passed and got the two-dollar-per hour job.

Fast forward to the early 1980’s! Finkelstein was gone; replaced by Debbie.

The office was now at 201 Varick Street, also in lower Manhattan. I gave Debbie my ID and papers; went into the windowed room, froze, and promptly failed the 13WPM code test. I went home dejected and listened to another month of W1AW’s code practice transmissions on a Sony 2001 (?) receiver.

A month later I returned and passed the code and promptly was issued an “interim” General license.

I walked over to Barry Electronics (about a 15 minute walk) and bought an Advanced Class study book, came back in two weeks and passed the Advanced which was only a “theory” test.
RE: Early Days in the Hobby  
by WA9ZOH on August 12, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I also received my novice in the middle 60's. It was WN9JEI. I also built the Knight Kit Span Master and the funny thing about it was when listening to CW. I used a dipole and when the wind blew, the beat tone would go up and down along with the flexing of the trees. The other problem was when a local ham would go on the air each morning, he would completely blanket the band and I had no idea what his frequency was because of that. I would call cq and listen for my call back to determine where on the band dial indicator I should be listening. My transmitter was a DX-60. Way later I bought a used T-150 and at times it would have a slight chirp and the VFO had a hum that even the best Ham was unable to fix.
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K2JX on September 4, 2012 Mail this to a friend!

Nice trip back ! Thanks.
I started my Ham career in the early 70's, tests taken at 201 Varick Street NYC, in the summer, no air conditioning. Huge windows opened to vent the exam room. Took the General, Advanced, Extra, 2nd Class Radiotelephone,Marine radiotelephone & CW with Radar endorsement. Sent code with a straight key to Miss Rogers, who COULD copy CW, no fooling around with this lady ! She copied 20 wpm text & numbers required for the Extra and Marine tickets like a pro.

Andy, W2QUT, I think that was his call administered the written exams all of them. What a great guy,if you failed by ONE, he'd hand you back the exam to try again to pass not telling you which question you missed. When I took my Advanced, a whole class of USCG Midshipman were taking the 3rd Class Marine R/T exam. About 25 men in all, everyone of them FAILED ! See you next month Gentlemen said Miss Rogers.

Those were the days of rules and regulations strickly followed, which gave equal opportunity to all test takers and licensee's. Funny, but we all survived that second or third trip to Varick St. to re-take an exam.
The extra trip was soon forgotten when the words "you passed" were spoken ! It's easier now to get licensed but I think it was better then sitting in front of the FCC examiner.

Equipment and antennas, home brewed and bought I've had my share, bought a Vic-20 to use in my station over the howls and nays of local Ham buddies who said computers will RUIN Ham radio, tell that to Flex radio ! It's been and still is a great hobby the one which gave me 25 years in law enforcement radio. Now retired I just wish the bands were better !

73/de K2JX
Early Days in the Hobby  
by K7NSW on September 9, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
1961 high school sophmore. Passed Novice. Built Heathkit AR-3 receiver and DX-20 transmitter. No Elmer to help me, on my own. End-fed long wire with tv ribbon wire soldered directly into PL-259. Did not know anything better - no antenna tuner. Got rf burns off transmitter knob set screws. SWR must have been awful but did make local contacts. Later switched to a coax fed dipole and life was better. Sold AR-3 rcvr and bought Electrovoice 4350A dual conversion rcvr. Was a wonderful up-grade. Time off for college and grad school. Bought Ten-Tec Century 21 with inverted vees up 40 feet for 40 and 80 meters cw. QSK was great - thought I had died and gone to Heaven!! Thank you Ten-Tec. Now have Omni 7 with big tall GAP 45 foot vertical for 160 - 80 - 40 - 20 meters cw. A very good basic station. T-T Centurion amp helps when band condxs are awful. Love those two 3-500 bottles that glow in the dark. Great to look at with lights on low. Ham radio has been a wonderful activity for me through the years.
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