Jim Brown, W5ZIT
(formerly, WN5ZIT, 1953)
I was issued the call sign WN5ZIT (4-29-53) and upgraded to Conditional W5ZIT about 4 or 5 months later. Getting my code speed up from 5 WPM to 13 WPM was the main factor in my upgrade. I progressed to the advanced class and then the extra class after finishing college.
My elmer was Tom W5RLN (SK) and he held court for several of us at the same time. I had several buddies in high school who were interested, but I was the first to get a license. Jon WN5ZKD (SK) was the next to join the ranks, then Horace, WN5ATF (SK) and Hubert (Jon's older brother) WN5ENA (SK). A couple more in the group were Joe WN5GSP and Robert Jacobs whose call I can't remember. The last to join the group was Travis, KN5AVH.
Jon and I had some of the last of the original issue W5 calls. Horace was licensed just a little while later and had the reissue W5ATF. All the rest were reissue calls until Travis got one of the first K5 original issue call signs.
Before Horace (WN5ATF) got his license, he built a CW transmitter that output about 5 watts using a crystal on 3825 that I had loaned him. He loaded it into his bedsprings and called a phone station in Shreveport, about 75 miles away. Since he was not licensed, he used the Texarkana club callsign, W5OZO. The station in Shreveport sent a QSL card to the club, which alerted them to the QSO. Since Horace had used his name during the QSO, two of the club officers came to his house and collected the transmitter (and my crystal). Horace went on to get his novice license a few months later.
To practice the code before I took my novice test, I put my J-38 key in series with the audio output to the speaker of my Hallicrafter SX-28 receiver and would practice sending with the receiver tuned to WWV while it was transmitting a tone. Tom let us send by keying his VFO without the transmitter enabled and listening in his receiver.
My first QSO was with another novice in Corpus Christi Texas. I lived in Texarkana Texas at the time, and I recall that I transmitted to the station in Corpus Christi while my buddy Jon copied his reply, as I was too excited to copy. One other station that I QSOed many times was located in Monet MO, but I don't remember the call (WN0MRC ?). We used to get together almost every afternoon on 40 meters and say HI. Another station I QSOed many times as a novice was a mail carrier in the Idabel OK area. He was not a novice and had a very good fist to demonstrate to us what proper CW sounded like. When novice stations were in a QSO with other novice stations, there was some concern that the CW we used was not what the rest of the world was used to - HI.
My novice transmitter was a 1619 crystal oscillator driving a 1625 final to about 70 watts input. I built it on a couple of 1 X 2 boards spaced far enough apart to mount the tube sockets for the two tubes plus another tube socket for the crystal. My power supply was built on another 1 X 2 chassis spaced apart to mount the rectifier tube, the power transformer, the choke, and the filter capacitor. For all my later building I found a heating duct business that stocked aluminum sheet and I folded my own chassis. I also found that the local newspaper used aluminum sheets to print the paper and I was able to get some large sheets of aluminum from them. Some of my chassis had newsprint on one side - HI.
My antenna was an 80 meter folded dipole strung between two utility poles, one on my Dad's property and one on the neighbors property. Part of the antenna hung across the neighbors yard. I did not use enough spreaders on that antenna and was forever having to untwist one side or the other. I strung my 40 meter dipole between two trees in the back yard.
I remember a trip that Jon WN5ZKD, Joe, WN5GSP and I took over to the Arkansas side of Texarkana sometime in 1953 to see Gene Lamport W5EGY. Gene had a two story two car garage and the upper story was a large open room he used for his hamshack. Across one end of the room stood four open frame racks with AM transmitters for 160, 75, 20, and 10 meters. Each rack contained the exciter, the power supply and modulator for the transmitter. In the center of the room stood his operating desk, with a VFO for the transmitters, a speech amplifier for the modulators, and a receiver.
I'll never forget this setup, and I have never seen a ham station like that since, except in pictures. That was my inspiration as an ideal ham station for all of my amateur radio experience.
My main supplier of parts in those days was the Burstein Applebee company in St Louis. They had a catalog with the front half on white pages and the back half on yellow pages. All the surplus parts were on the yellow pages, and that was my source for tubes (1625s were $0.25 apiece) and crystals as well as many other ceramic coil forms and such that I used in building radios in those days. I had three FT-243 crystals on the 80 meter novice band and three on the 40 meter band. They all started out on the same frequency in each band with the other two ground with tooth paste to a higher frequency. I recall ruining several crystals before getting one moved in frequency that would still oscillate. I think they were four for a dollar, so I soon learned how to move a crystal frequency.
Texarkana was more than 75 miles from Little Rock Arkansas, the nearest FCC office, so the license test for Novice was administered by Tom W5RLN. As soon as we could demonstrate to him that we could send and receive 5 WPM we would send for the test which was delivered to the applicant. We would take the unopened test to Tom and he would open the envelope and administer the test. He would then make out the paperwork and mail the test back to the FCC himself with the affidavit that we had passed the 5 WPM CW requirement and that we had not used any cribs to take the test. It took about eight weeks for the license to return in the mail.
As an interesting aside, when I got ready to take the test for the Conditional license, Tom assured me that I had passed the 13 WPM requirement and said that I could take the test when I thought I could pass the theory. When I was ready, I sent for the test only to find out that Tom was on vacation for two weeks. I only had 10 days to get the test back in the mail to the FCC so I had to find another ham to administer the test. Our local radio store was Lavender Radio, owned by Joe Lavender. I knew he was licensed although I had never heard him on the air and I asked one of his clerks in the radio store to call him and see if he would administer the test. He agreed and I had to demonstrate my 13 WPM sending and receiving to him before he would open the written test and let me take it. You could send back an unopened test with no penalty if you failed the CW exam, but could not re-take the test for 30 days.
Jon (WN5ZKD) and I were operating the novice station at field day in 1953 with the Texarkana club (W5OZO). We were using a transmitter we had built that used plug in final coils for the 6146 and used a switch to close the high voltage transformer center tap to ground to enable the transmitter.
I was listening on the headphones to a station calling CQ that I decided to try to work and turned the switch on that supplied high voltage to the transmitter. Unknown to me, Jon was in the process of changing bands and was pulling the 40 meter tank coil out of the socket. The coil had 600 VDC applied as soon as I turned on the switch and we happened to touch each other during this process. Needless to say, we were both knocked on our behinds, and had a taste in our mouths like we had been chewing on tin cans.
We both recovered and went on to operate some more, but no more on 40 meters, since Jon had wadded up the Barker and Williamson 40 meter final coil he had in his hand when we made the 600 volt connection.
I never did any code practice after getting the novice license. My speed gradually increased over several months on the air until I was proficient enough to handle the 13 WPM speed. I stayed with CW for several years before building my first AM phone rig. By that time I was headed off to college and I built up a Heising modulated 815 rig to take to school in Austin TX. I had decided to major in Electrical Engineering and I graduated from the University of Texas in 1961 with a BSEE. My novice days started me on a very satisfying career in electronics and I am still active in building repeaters from surplus commercial FM radios. My only HF operation is using the digital modes, with Olivia as my preferred operating mode.
73 - Jim W5ZIT