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Author Topic: What's Old is New Again--Even Me!!  (Read 5963 times)
WB2JJV
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« on: April 04, 2012, 07:42:58 AM »

On June 4, 1964 I passed my General Class exam which, at the time, required demonstrating proficiency in receiving and sending 13 words per minute.  Dad took me into New York City to the FCC examiner's office where, under the watchful eye of Mr. Finkelstein, a legend at the time, a roomful of anxious candidates dutifully transcribed the taped code message onto a cheap, government-issued yellow pad, and sweated it out as Mr. F walked up and down the rows of desks, each one fitted with a straight key, showing us where to start sending as he proferred a scrap of the New York Times under a sheet of glass (I guess because we were all sweating so heavily the glass ikept the dripping sweat from smearing the type!).  The night before I had copied 21 WPM on my Ameco phonograph records so I knew that 13 would be a piece of cake.  I operated CW exclusively (being a tongue-tied nerdy type) at the bottom of 40 meters until college when I drifted away and made the first real mistake of giving away some of my gear.  

Fast forward--about two years ago I drifted into the ham gear section of E-bay and it was like time-travel.  I was re-hooked, and now I had money!!!!  I carefully reconstructed my vintage station, with a few pieces that I had owned and lost, and a few pieces that I always wanted but Dad could never afford.  These were the pieces I drooled over at Lafayette Radio in Syosset where me and my buds would be dropped off at store opening, and just hung around the ham shack all day twirling knobs and arguing about the relative  merits of the HQ-170 and the SX-117.  You guys know what I'm talking about!!

Finally the moment of truth-I had been contemplating a bug, again, my Lafayette Japanese-made coffin bug was the bug of choice for the poor kids, but a Vibroplex was in order at the venerable age of 62!!!  Talking to Scott Robbins one day at Vibroplex he tells me they have a left-handed Original Deluxe, primo condition, dated the year I passed my Novice exam (1963) and I am in love.  Finally, a key that I can operate and it's not upside down!!  Of course every time I sit down I have to send a string of V's just to reorient my head on the dit-dah sides of it, but it is an absolute joy.

And interestingly, my code speed is better than it was 50 years ago, and I can now copy in my head--so I guess old age has some benefits, I can't remember what I had for breakfast but my code is great.  So I am getting a kick out of reading the letters from folks just learning the code and the protocols, and all the new techniques to learn it, and when I first got my new/old HQ-180A I tuned down to the bottom of 40m, my old stomping ground and it was like nothing changed and I was back in ninth grade hunched over the table in my folks basement.  

It's a real testament to the art of sending and receiving Morse code that so many of us are discovering and re-discovering this incredbly simple, but effective means of communications.  I'm glad to still be a part of it and I'm glad there are still other to talk with.

73
David
« Last Edit: April 04, 2012, 08:32:12 AM by WB2JJV » Logged
K8AXW
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« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2012, 08:22:20 AM »

David:  That was a very well written and enjoyable story.  I congratulate you on finding your way back and the renewed joy of ham radio.  Especially CW. 

I read some of the forums here on eHam 2 or 3 times a day, especially the CW forum and I get so damn tired of the whining about the easiest way to learn CW, if it's worth it, etc.

I've tried my best to explain that learning CW is sometimes very difficult for many people and what is good for one isn't for another. 

I've tried to explain that there is no "easy" way.  It always takes determination, patience and perseverance. 

I've also tried to explain that learning CW is to be an enjoyable experience, not something that is to be taken like bad medicine and I've tried to explain that once one learns CW the world that it opens is incredible and once learned it is seldom forgotten. It's worth the effort.
You're a perfect example of what I've been saying David.

And this whining and search for the 'magic bullet' goes on.   Angry
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AE4RV
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« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2012, 09:23:50 AM »

David:  That was a very well written and enjoyable story.  I congratulate you on finding your way back and the renewed joy of ham radio.  Especially CW. 

I've also tried to explain that learning CW is to be an enjoyable experience, not something that is to be taken like bad medicine and I've tried to explain that once one learns CW the world that it opens is incredible and once learned it is seldom forgotten. It's worth the effort.
You're a perfect example of what I've been saying David.


I like your bad medicine analogy. I'm primarily a CW op, but I'm not angry at the dropping of the Morse requirements. Now, instead of a bitter pill to swallow, it is an interesting choice. A choice that a surprising amount of people are making.

And, thanks for sharing, David.
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KE3WD
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« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2012, 10:29:34 AM »

I'm agreed on the subject - David puts down some mighty fine writing here. 

73
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KE6EE
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« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2012, 09:27:44 PM »

A nice reminiscence for sure! My history is quite similar but I was taking that General Class 13 wpm test a few years earlier in 1957 at the FCC office in downtown San Francisco. My great purchase in those days was a Lionel brand new WWII surplus bug which cost, I think, $5. Still, $5 was real money in those days.

Two years ago I bought a shortwave receiver and realized that my Morse Code skills were still largely intact! And you can spend real money on bugs and other keys these days.

One thing about the old days that won't come again was the sound of Russian hams on CW. From my house in San Francisco I had a direct connection on 15 meters to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Russia. We seldom give Tone reports other than 9s these days but I had many QSOs with Russian stations whose Tone was seldom above a 1. Thus I knew that they could never catch up with us during the Cold War.
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PA0BLAH
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« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2012, 05:39:46 AM »


 I carefully reconstructed my vintage station, with a few pieces that I had owned and lost, and a few pieces that I always wanted but Dad could never afford.  These were the pieces I drooled over at Lafayette Radio in Syosset where me and my buds would be dropped off at store opening, and just hung around the ham shack all day twirling knobs and arguing about the relative  merits of the HQ-170 and the SX-117.  You guys know what I'm talking about!!

As I understand now, I understand where you are talking about, at that time already where the newbees BUYING complete equipment, not able or motivated to build something theirself from a schematic diagram. Hence it is not a miracle, that nowadays those guys are very proud on soldering a kit together. They experience that as  very rewarding, as said here recently,  to assemble a kit that was first - before marketing - assembled by a group of hired mentally handicapped guys, in order to be sure the possible most stupid guy could do it, and  - after marketing of the kit - not complain. Proud on soldering together, without having any idea how it works. Really ridiculous. May be for an 11 years old youngster the first step, but they never ever make one step further, except BUYING complete equipment.

Ham radio is degraded to appliance operating.

Now they have the money they did not have when 12 years old, to buy additional stuff. How come? Exporting sub prime loans?



One thing about the old days that won't come again was the sound of Russian hams on CW. From my house in San Francisco I had a direct connection on 15 meters to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Russia. We seldom give Tone reports other than 9s these days but I had many QSOs with Russian stations whose Tone was seldom above a 1. Thus I knew that they could never catch up with us during the Cold War.

Those UA stations were all club stations, I suppose you had to be member of an (the only) political party, in order to become eligible to be a member , and they build their stations with raw rectified power from the mains supply and the final amplifier was also the VFO.

But when we look at character building and part of that :perseverance, their Morse code ability is far outperforming the USA , so count your blessings.

73 Bob

« Last Edit: April 05, 2012, 05:55:14 AM by PA0BLAH » Logged
WB2JJV
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« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2012, 06:28:00 AM »

Bob--

An interesting observation regarding purchasing gear, but I gotta tell ya that many of my ham buddies from the early/mid-60's built their own equipment and several of them, including me, went on to become graduate electrical engineers.  Buying entry-level equiment was the fastest way to get on the air, but after some time, a lot of us ended up scrounging parts, borrowing chassis punches and building from scratch or modifiying the plentiful supply of WWII surplus gear that was available at the time on "Radio Row" (Cortland and Canal Streets in lower Manhattan-before the World Trade Center was built).  I put a good deal of effort into building the power supply and modulator to put a T-19/ARC-5 "command set" on the air.  I was amazed to still see them on e-bay and I may just get one for old time's sake.

Seems like there are still a lot of folks either building or restoring, but from my perspective, it has gotten a lot more complicated.  Oh, for the old days of drilling, filing and punching a chassis, installing the sockets and doing the point-point wiring. 

Thanks for your thoughts,
David
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2012, 08:08:39 AM »

Quote
Oh, for the old days of drilling, filing and punching a chassis, installing the sockets and doing the point-point wiring.

It is still doable, I am in the process of doing it right now!

My station will start off with a 2-tube "Novice special" crystal-controlled TX built from ARRL's "How to Become a Radio Amateur" from the 1960s and a "Novice Q5er" RX based on the BC-453 with a two-tube converter based on the Stoner design from CQ magazine in the mid 50s. I have collected most of the needed parts. Yes, including the Bud chassis and the chassis punches, as well as the terminal strips and hookup wire for point-to-point, plus real throwback items like ancient shielded ANT/RF coils for the RX converter and Air Dux inductors for the TX. Many of these parts are still in their original packaging, which is really weird! Am currently installing my workshop, including building a custom workbench and restoring some old test equipment (VTVM, grid-dip meter and oscilloscope, all from the 1950s). I have no illusions that my homebrew station will have stellar performance, but you have to start somewhere. I'll be ecstatic if I can get a QSO with a ham in another state, let alone DX! If this initial experiment is successful, I will then be tackling some more ambitious "vintage" construction projects.

It is *very, very* time consuming but that is part of the fun, there isn't any of that instant gratification you get with off the shelf equipment and I think this is the very definition of a real "hobby" although if you get your kicks from doing contests with modern gear, that's lovely too; the breadth of interests in ham radio is one of the things that makes it such a great hobby. If I ever stop having fun, I will "graduate" to building solid state gear I suppose. For some reason the idea of buying ready made equipment doesn't interest me even though it would be much faster and probably cheaper too (once you take into account the expense of all the tools and test equipment, plus setting up a proper workshop). Look for me finally to get on the air sometime this summer, if the schedule holds and my CW is up to scratch by then!

I greatly enjoyed WB2JJV/David's story and am looking forward to a parallel experience. I am British and was at school in England when I passed the ham test in 1971. My family spent a year in Washington DC, right around the time of the moon landings, and I used to pester my dad to drive me to the local Heathkit store where I would just sort of walk around and drool for an hour or so. I actually built a kit receiver (Heathkit HR-10B) and also an AM transmitter entirely from scratch (for 160 meters only, which was the only HF band open to British novices at the time if you didn't have Morse) but then the teenage years intervened and I lost interest. Never got on the air! So my first QSO is coming up, and it will be CW at about 5 watts output!

73 DE Martin, KB1WSY
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WB2JJV
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« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2012, 08:15:32 AM »

Martin--

I can still smell the burning plastic as I plunged the hot knife into the air-dux coils, praying that I counted the turns correctly.  OK, so was that the Heathkit store in Rockville, Maryland?  The building is still there but the store is long gone.  We may have passed each other and never known it!
Regards,
David
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2012, 09:04:16 AM »

Quote
was that the Heathkit store in Rockville, Maryland?

David, I have no idea. I was 12 years old and didn't care where my dad was driving me, I just knew it was the Heathkit store. It had amazing things, not just ham radio gear but complete theater-style electronic organ kits, gigantic color TVs in big wooden cabinets (America was the first time I had seen color TV) and big "self service" tube testers so you could bring your tubes in for checking. We lived in DC proper, I can still remember the home address because I used to write to my parents from boarding school in Europe: 3240 38th Street NW, Washington DC 20016. I still have the U.S. "first day cover" envelope that my mother sent me after the first moon landing. The drive to the store was perhaps 20 minutes but my memory on that is pretty vague! At that age I cared only about space travel and radio, with roughly equal degrees of fanaticism. My parents spent a year in America but I was only there for the school vacations so my memories are pretty distant at this point, except for the radio stuff which is still vivid!

73 DE Martin, KB1WSY
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K8AXW
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« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2012, 10:06:07 AM »

Quote
One thing about the old days that won't come again was the sound of Russian hams on CW. From my house in San Francisco I had a direct connection on 15 meters to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Russia. We seldom give Tone reports other than 9s these days but I had many QSOs with Russian stations whose Tone was seldom above a 1. Thus I knew that they could never catch up with us during the Cold War.

A bit of history.... Back in the 50's at the height of the Cold War, the Russian stations were not allowed to work American forces.  However, I always gave them a call when I heard them call CQ.  Quite often there would be a very long pause and then I would get a very quick signal report and nothing more.

I eventually learned that during this time the Russian hams all worked from club stations.  The reason why they often had bad CW notes was because of the scarcity of radio parts.  They were forced to improvise and scrounge at a level that we in the US never experienced since the days right after the spark transmitters.

I have had total admiration for the Russian hams during this time.  They managed to get on the air under the most difficult circumstances.

The Russian military on the other hand had some pretty nice gear.  Scarcity wasn't a problem for them. 
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K4AHO
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« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2012, 12:01:11 PM »

Sorry to bring this up...   But I looked you up on Eham and QRZ.com hoping to see a picture of your retro ham station.  Kinda in my era as well...   No Joy... Didn't find you in either databases  or the FCC database. I looked at your member profile and searched on your name, Again, No Joy...    On the Internet the call WB2KJV (Leon Quinn) pops up when I search for WB2JJV...  I am baffled by the misdirection. I have held my license for 55+ years and wouldn't think of hiding my identity, here or anywhere else.  Maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. Sure would like to understand...

I look forward to contacting you on the air and Ragchewing about CW, retirement, QRP and old radios...   I am not up to to 25 wpm yet but I am working on it...

73

Jim
K4AHO
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WB2JJV
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« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2012, 03:02:09 PM »

Jim,
 
Apologies, no malice intended.  Unfortunately in the process of raising the kids and working, my license lapsed but not my enthusiasm.  I am in the process of retaking my exam with the intent of recovering my call letters in the near future now that I will be retiring.  I guess I just jumped the gun in the anticipation department.  I hope you will forgive me....still want to see a picture.....?

David
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K4AHO
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« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2012, 06:39:05 AM »

No Problem David, and thank you for your timely response...  My apologies for being so nosy...   When I make a QSO on CW with someone I hope that it represents a potential friendship, so I look these folks up on QRZ.com and the Internet. I have really discovered some interesting folks that way...   People I am proud to have worked on CW.

Pardon my enthusiasm but I am a third generation CW Hound. My GrandDad was a Railroad telegrapher, My Dad was licensed since he was a teenager and flew as a Radio Operator in  Naval Torpedo Bombers in WWII. Sadly I am afraid it stops with me, My Grandsons show no interest, too much exposure to cellphones and Laptops...

Keep us posted as to your progress. We will be looking for you on 40 CW. Yes, I would enjoy the pictures...

73

Jim
K4AHO
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WB0FDJ
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« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2012, 09:07:34 PM »

Thank you for sharing this. Funny how we don't really forget the code.

When I was kid in junior high I was tuning around on an elderly console radio we had in the house that had "shortwave". I ran across some CW. My uncle (who raised me) walked into the room, listened, then whipped out a pen and started copying on the back on some old envelope. I remember looking at him as if he had suddenly grown horns and flew away. He matter of factly informed me that he had qualified as a high speed CW operator before shipping out in WWII. Hadn't copied a letter in, what, 22 years and he just wanted to see if he could still do it! I still remember asking him, "Ok, how do I learn this stuff?" Now 47 yrs later I'm the one copying on the back of envelopes.

DOC WB0FDJ 73
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