Fred Jensen, K6DGW
(formerly KN6DGW, 1953)
My neighbor Paul and I got interested in Morse Code when we were about 11. He had two code buzzers with a brass plate on them depicting the code. We scrounged some wire from the trash out back of the local TV repair shop, ran it along the back fence and into our bedrooms, and learned to converse [sort of] in code. We had no idea of the proper element lengths so "F", instead of being "di di daaah dit," was "dot dot dash dot."
We met Art Lux, W6RMK [see my bio on QRZ.com for that story], and he began to teach us "real" Morse. Suddenly, the letters had a beat to them. We read Popular Mechanics a lot [we were in the nerd group at school], and Paul showed me one day that we could make a radio receiver out of a razor blade, a lead pencil, a coil of wire, and headphones. We followed the directions, ran some of our surplus wire outside into a tree, and sure enough, we heard the local AM station weakly in the phones.
Reasoning that if we made the coil bigger, the station would get louder, we were disappointed when it disappeared entirely and was replaced with a weak steady tone in which we finally detected what sounded like an "N" very faintly in the background. Time to go see Art, who explained that - "Winding more wire onto the coil affected the frequency, not the volume; and we were hearing the four-course radio range east of the runway at what is now LAX [there was only one runway then]." And he explained that the pilots were flying so the "A" from one side overlapped the "N" from the other and they heard a steady tone. This accounted for the fact that there was a steady stream of fairly low flying airplanes over our neighborhood.
Art taught us the code, coached us from the ARRL License Manual, and drove us down to the FCC in downtown Los Angeles, where two petrified 13yr. olds managed to somehow pass the code test before a very stern looking FCC Inspector, and then the written exam. We had each taken 6 sharpened pencils in case we broke one. 6 weeks later, our tickets arrived the same day ... KN6DGW for me and KN6EIU for Paul, we never figured out why they were so far apart alphabetically. Mike, the neighbor on the other side of our house joined us a couple of weeks later as KN6EWA.
The three of us shared a station for awhile, and for each of us, our first CW QSO was on 40m with Art, and our second was with his son Paul, then W6CZA, home from college for the holidays. As DX goes, they were 3.6 city blocks. As we were finishing middle school, a number of the nerds at school got interested and starting high school, we had a group of maybe a dozen kids on the air. Another Mike and his brother Barrie became KN6ICS and KN6ICQ respectively. Glenn became KN6LOP, and DJ was KN6HXX. We built transmitters, and when they didn't work, we'd put them in my little brother's Radio Flyer and drag them over to Art, who would patiently help us fix them. I still have my first logbooks, I found them in a box not long ago while looking for some photos in the closet. My handwriting sucked then and still does [I'm left handed but they made everyone learn to write right handed in school -- and it marked me for life :-)]. My Novice experience is exceedingly clear in my mind, even though it was 50+ years ago. Every QSO was a new and challenging event. The walls of my bedroom were plastered with QSL's, most from the So. Cal. area. "DX" for me then was another state, and "Rare DX" was something east of the Rockies. We were on the upswing of Cycle 19 and we all thought this is how it would be ... forever. And I clearly remember learning not to pull the metal 6L6 out of the transmitter with your fingers right after you'd been on the air. My most expensive purchase as a Novice was a very proletarian looking WW2 J-36 bug built by Lionel that I paid $15 for at Surplus Sam's on Pico Blvd in Los Angeles. I graduated to ARC-5 receivers [a big step up from the Philco console AM-SW radio my grandma gave me], and ARC-5 transmitters after I could be trusted to use a VFO correctly.
Being male kids, we immediately got into a code speed competition, so 13 WPM was no big deal, but Art again tutored us again from the license manual and most of us had our Generals in 6-9 months. AM phone beckoned of course, and we managed to modulate our rigs in some very creative ways, none of us having much money. About the middle of high school, I was tiring of AM and going back to CW, when the service period was up and I went down and got my Extra [I was 16 and could drive, but the trip to downtown LA was a white-knuckle event for me and Mom who accompanied me]. I also ended up with 2nd Telegraph out of that trip, which led to a relief operator job at a coastal marine station in my senior year.
I got the CM operator job through my Elmer, Art who was good friends with the Chief OP. I was a few days shy of 16 when I did my first shift, and yes, the OT's [all in their 30's and 40's] knew how the kid got the job, and as I expected, were fairly rough with me. My first shift was to be "over the shoulder" training. I assumed that meant He would be operating and I would watch over his shoulder with cans on. It was sort of like that, except I was operating and he was watching over my shoulder. Every time I made a mistake ... which was pretty much any time I touched the key or the mill ... he'd box me on my head or shoulders and "explain" what I'd done wrong. You could do that to kids in those days. I spent my initial shifts, until I learned the ropes, with sore shoulders and a headache.
All the OT's had shiny Vibroplexes in velvet-lined boxes, and I told you what my bug was. Based on its appearance, it could have been used on Iwo Jima, and I took some grief from the OT's about it. About half way through that year, I and my buddies each built what I think might have been the predecessor of the TO-Keyer. 10 or 11 dual-triodes, a relay to key the transmitter, and they weighed about a brick or so. We modified our bugs to operate them, paddles hadn't been invented yet.
I took mine to work, and was roundly abused for resorting to such a "crutch." Many shipboard RO's then were actually employees of the marine radio companies, and my crew must have gotten word to some of our guys because I began to get a lot of QSD's from them.
Near the end of that year, the guy I usually ate my lunch with asked me if I'd leave it with him until my next watch, and I did. I had to plead to get it back, and 3 of the OT's commissioned my friends to build them each one. So much for QSD :-)Strangely, I grew to like these guys and really wanted to be accepted, and on my last shift, they pulled out a little cake with one candle, and after we finished the logs and turned it over to the next watch, the CO made a little ceremony taking my ticket down and filling in the service record on the back, I cut the cake, and I think I achieved my goal. I would be gone to college in a week, 17 in two, and my 2nd Telegraph finally lapsed for lack of service. I was marginally active in college [a weekly 40m CW sked with my buddies], got back on the air in Alaska as KL7ETK on my first USAF assignment, and was off the air altogether during the 3 1/2+ years I was in SE Asia [my license expired a year after I got to Vietnam, but the FCC graciously extended it until I finally did come home]. While serving in the two Vietnams and Laos, our commander would occasionally give us "respite missions" in Thailand which was paradise in the mid 60's especially since there was no combat. One of those was a 40-day job to convoy a bunch of heavy troposcatter equipment to Korat in the middle of the country, install it, and turn it over to the local comm squadron. While arranging for fuel at the MAAG in Bangkok, I ran into a Col who I knew and who was a ham and he asked me if I'd like a license to operate while we were there. I became HS1FJ for about 4 weeks, and used our spare KWM-2A. The photo is my HB keyer. I borrowed the Vibroplex from him.Despite nearly 4 years off the air in SE Asia in the 60's, that service must have permanently burned the code into my head because my record copy code speed when I finally got home was still close to 30 WPM. I was WA5SNP in the late 60's when I was assigned to NASA in Houston working on Apollo.
Ham radio has been a real pal for me over the years, and the Novice license got me into the hobby. I wonder if I'd have done it without that entry-level license. I retired in 2000, got into HF contesting, and am about as active now as I was as a Novice when I'd do my homework as soon as I got home so I could get on 40 and 80 CW after dinner when the bands opened. Art passed away several years ago, and W6RMK is now held by his grandson Jim. Mike is K6EWA, lives in AZ, and last renewed in 2006, although I've never run into him on the air. I ran into Paul, K6EIU in Vietnam, he was in the Coast Guard at the time. I lost track of him after that and his call is not active now. Mike and brother Barrie both live in So. Cal and their calls are active, DJ's license lapsed and his call now issued to someone else, and Glenn, K6LOP passed away 20 years ago or so.
The Novice license was an era in ham radio. It probably triggered the single largest influx of young people into the hobby ever and ever since. We and the FCC have tinkered with the license structure over the years since the Novice many times. Nothing has succeeded like that 1-yr, rock-bound, 75 watt CW license succeeded.