Dave Germeyer, W3BJG
(formerly WN3BJG, 1955)
Did you ever think that at the age of 10 or 11, you would look forward to going to a junk yard and spending several hours looking thru piles of (war surplus) residue for some goodies that appealed to you at the time but that you had no worldly need for? That's most likely what got me into Ham Radio. We lived near a very large Air Force base that serviced aircraft during WWII and when the hostilities were over and the base downsized, everything related to the war effort was sold for scrap at ridiculous prices. I mean everything from pieces of aircraft fuselages, gun turrets, tools, electronics, spare parts, leather jackets, furniture and anything else under the sun. No matter what you picked out as something you absolutely had to have, the going price was 10 cents a pound!
These expeditions continued until the mid 50's when I entered the Navy but were picked up again after I returned home. However by that time, the scrap yard business was highly automated and there were few yards left that allowed you to paw thru their goods before they were turned in different piles of materials to be processed.
During these intervening years, I was introduced to crystal sets and bed spring antennas, super-regen and TRF receivers. One year at Christmas, when I was only 10 or 11, I received a radio kit with a real tube (1D8GT) with which I could build several different electronic projects. By the way, I still have that tube! The Boy Scout's magazine Boys Life introduced me to the world of SWL'ing and I got bit by that bug. Spent many hours listening to the short wave radio, attempting to get QSL's (confirmation) from as many short wave stations as possible.
At the time, (late 40's) our family doctor became a Ham, and I was introduced to the world of Ham radio thru him. He was one of my mentors and in fact was the one who gave me my Novice exam. He in turn, introduced me to several other Hams in the area and I was off to the world or Amateur Radio. Made many trip on my bicycle, visiting several Hams around my home town.
Eventually, by the time I was in high School, I decided that Ham radio was for me and I started to practice the code. Built a Heathkit AR-1 receiver and listened to ARRL's W1AW and a private code practice station, W9UIN from the Chicago area.
Before I graduated from high school, I was working at a local Radio & TV shop, learning the ropes, so to speak on repairing radios and TV's. This was before color TV and most stations were on the air only a few hours a day. Eventually, I discovered that one of the local electronic parts delivery men was also interested in Ham Radio and was himself studying and practicing his code. With someone else in the same mode as myself, we became rather close and out of the blue, he offered to sell me a complete Novice rig, complete with power supply and all set to put on the air when I got my ticket. I didn't know anything at all about surplus rigs, just parts and it turned out that what he had to offer was a 2M rig (ok for Novice use) that was a converted SCR-522. As I recall, he wanted about $50 for the complete package and I paid him a little each week when he dropped off supplies for the Radio & TV shop where I was working.
Anticipating the time when I had my ticket, I fabricated a 2M antenna and brought the feedline into the shack and connected to a double pole, double throw knife switch as an antenna change over switch. The other poles of the knife switch were connected to a light bulb as a dummy load.
I would fire up the rig and practice sending code with the knife switch in the dummy load position. Many time I would practice sending CQ, etc., and didn't realize that the RF was leaking across the switch and actually I was transmitting to the world.
Eventually, one of my mentors called me and asked if I knew anyone in the area who had a 2M rig on the air. Seems that several other Hams had heard this clandestine signal and trianglelated it to the town where I was living at the time. I explained what I was doing and he called the other Hams and indicated that he didn't know where the boot leg signals were coming from, but guaranteed that it wouldn't happen again. He was a diplomat as well as a doctor!
Eventually after much practice, I felt I was ready to take the Novice test and sent off for the test. Don't really remember all of the details, but I think my mentor gave me the code test and was the proctor for the written portion. Some where around the same time frame, I also took the Technician class test.
At that time (late 1954) it took quite a while for the test results (and ticket) to come thru and I was at the mail box every day the rural carrier made his delivery, expecting to get that much anticipated envelope. Finally, sometime in February 1955, IT finally arrived and I was ready to go on the air as WN3BJG. I already knew the rig was working so I fully expected to get my first contact that evening but alas, it didn't work out that way. Probably related to my operating procedure, (or lack of it) etc. After another night or so of disappointments, I got my first contact!
Most of my first initial contacts were hams I already knew from other activities such as club meetings, hidden transmitter hunts, and some of whom worked in electronic parts stores.
I didn't have any HF equipment at the time I received my Novice ticket so all of my operating was done on 2M voice (the only Novice band that voice was authorized). I did operate MCW with several other hams that were willing to use this mode to allow me the practice necessary to build up my code speed. At the time, the Novice class was only good for a year and was not renewable so I had my work cut out for me. The one year limitation was a good incentive.
The next code requirement was 13 WPM so I had a lot of practicing to do before I made the trip to Baltimore for the TEST. The evening before I went to Baltimore, I copied the ARRL Code Profiency test run at 15 WPM so I felt pretty confident in passing their code test but I had to overcome the written portion which included both reading and drawing schematics.
Almost all of my Novice activity was on 2M but I did occasionally get on the HF bands with CW although I don't now remember what my transmitter was. I was enjoying my first Hamfests, Field Day, club meetings and hidden transmitter hunts (usually starting at midnight.)
After spending a year on 2M, I was convinced that the VHF bands were for me and my only HF activity was done at various Navy club stations, usually running phone patch traffic.
I passed the General test on the first trip to Baltimore early in 1956, not too long before I entered the Navy and I was now W3BJG ! As I recall, my Technician class license arrived shortly after my General license arrived. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of my Novice license as I think I had to turn it in when I upgraded.
Thru the ensuing years, I did upgrade thru the Advanced Class and now hold the Extra Class license so I have held all the different class of licenses as they were originally defined at the time the Novice class was established.
As a footnote, Ham radio determined my career. Because of my amateur experience, the Navy guaranteed me an electronics school and after my Navy hitch was over, I spent over thirty (30) years in the Quartz Crystal and Oscillator Industry and eventually retired from a small Liberal Arts college where I was in charge of their own CATV system.
Now, being in retirement, I have purchased my first HF rig and I'm in the process of getting an antenna installed and look forward to getting back on the CW bands. Oh, I neglected to mention that I was an Airborne Radio Operator in the Navy-99% CW operation.
Dave Germeyer, W3BJG
P.S.: Note, same call for over 50 years-no need for a vanity call.