"You’re a WHAT?"
"I'm a Ham Radio Operator" he said, and that was the beginning of a wonderful career and hobby.
One Spring day in 1951 near Canton Ohio, riding my bike with my brother I spotted this HUGH antenna, and at 15 years of age, I just KNEW it was NOT a TV antenna. My brother was not interested, but I was drawn to that funny but large antenna. (a 3 or 4 element 10 meter beam I would find out later.) When Nelson, W8EAR got home from work, he showed me first his station inside. It stood nearly to the ceiling, or so I thought, housed in a 6 foot rack. Lights and dials, switches and meters….something right out of a SciFi movie, but I was glued to it. Then with Mom's permission we took a short ride to a small hill and after he carefully aligned his "mobile" against a power line metal tower, he began talking to this guy "somewhere". It was crystal clear communications, and as we sat in the car overlooking North Industry (suburb of Canton) Nelson said "Ask him where he's located" as he put the microphone in my hand. I asked and the reply made my hair bristle with electric energy. "I live in Los Angeles" he said. From Ohio to California, was like the distance to Mars or beyond to me, and at that moment I KNEW what ever a Ham was, I wanted to be one too.
Still on my bike, I left Nelsons home with a code practice oscillator, some book on learning the code, the famous "How to Become a Ham Radio Operator" book, and of all the most wonderful books you could ever read, was the ARRL Amateur Radio Hand Book. In reading the handbook, I discovered (and understood) FINALLY why adding a battery to a crystal radio set I built as a Boy Scout made it stop working. (diode theory and forward and reverse biasing, but you know that, right?) The theory from that manual was absorbed like a sponge. The code was a bit more difficult and the straw was broken with both my own Mom, AND my girlfriend at the time, knowing it better than I did. I resolved to do better and by November of that same year Mom drove me to Cleveland to take the Novice test at an FCC testing center. I was nervous being in a room of maybe 30 to 50 other applicants, especially as a 15 year old, but they accepted me and made me feel at home and wished me good luck. When I passed the code, they all cheered me, and that felt really good. Even "prospective hams" are great. Then the written test but it was easy compared to that code.
In those days you didn’t know if you passed the written test or not, and had to wait for grading, and the return mail. That mail would either be your "ticket" or, heaven forbid, the failure notice. From November of 1951 it took 3 long and grueling MONTHS until the day it arrived in the mail. How excited was I. Well, it’s a couple of miles from home to the post office, and I always rode my bike. When I got home THIS time I was so excited Mom asked me a question. "Where's your bike?" In my excitement, I RAN all the way home, without the bike.
My first rig came right out of the "How to Become a Ham" book, built on wooden stilts, a 6V6 crystal oscillator. I had to buy the crystal, but the local ham club donated a "ton" of electronic parts to me for building. (don’t all clubs do this anyway?) After building, up went the 80 meter dipole but they forgot to tell me Bell Wire "Stretches" and each morning my dipole was longer than the day before. Finally, it stretched its limit and came apart but the club donated the "right kind" of wire and I was "on the air". For Christmas of 1951, Mom and Dad purchased a Hallicrafters S-38B receiver for me. (I had to "earn it" however, better school grades and chores around the house) In 51 it sold for $49.50 I think. I still have one on hand although not my original which became my son's receiver when he got his ticket. (N2MCG) Mainly on 80 CW I made hundreds of contacts and everyone of them was exciting. The FIRST however, was special, and I was so nervous I almost forgot the code entirely. I was shaking but after a few minutes it became "old hat" and the QSO's piled up. By the end of 52, thanks to the ARRL Handbook and its theory, I was actually making modifications to equipment, including the S-38B and a BC-459 40 meter rig given to me by the club. If you ever used one, you know it "chirped" bad, but I modified it and got rid of the chirp. When the club found out what I did, I was asked to modify 2 more which I did. Each mod became a learning experience. I loved to build.
When SSB was introduced, I owned and built a Heath Cheyenne and Comanche, and built my own SSB interface for them, after making some mods to the rig. Now I could use CW, AM and SSB. WOW!
Electronics became my ambition so I studied with my buddy Dick Williams and we took our First Class Radiotelephone license test at age 17, AND PASSED, two of the youngest ever to hold such a ticket. At the FCC examining center in Cleveland, the class of about 15 waited to find out if we passed, and when it was announced that "we did", they applauded us. That felt very special.
In the Navy later, my ham radio experiences came into play almost on a daily basis. My CW had improved by then and I was "licensed" in the Navy to use a "bug". (yes, you had to have a license to use one) My experiences with electronics gave me permission as a Radioman (RM) to work directly with the Electronic Technicians. (ET's) When SSB was introduced to the Navy, (I was on the carrier USS Saratoga, CVA-60 at the time) they sent me to SSB school in Norfolk. I was the only one in the class who was familiar with SSB so I became the "instructor" for that very first school. What an honor. The officer who assigned me as instructor asked me "are you a ham by any chance". You can guess my answer. During my Navy Days I met Tom, K9CJM, and we have become lifetime friends ever since.
After the Navy (and many experiences related to radio and ham operations) I joined the Technical Material Corp, a competitor to the Collins Radio Co. Again, my ham experiences came in handy developing a series of 10KW low and band pass filters for transmitters used aboard ships for the Apollo Moon mission. What an honor that was. Later after changing jobs, I got involved with Applied Research Labs in California and worked on RF units for ICP (Inductively Coupled Plasma) which can analyze liquids using an RF source (ranging from 750 to 5 KW). I worked directly with Henry Radio who produced many of our RF generators or amplifiers. And all of this I owe to Ham Radio, a stepping stone to a life time of adventure and achievements.
Call signs include WN8JIA and W8JIA in Canton, Ohio. W3ZHJ near Pittsburgh, PA, W1CQL in Stamford, CT, and finally WA6AZN for the last nearly 30 years. I'm still active on HF, both CW and SSB 160 thru 10, and currently (end of 2006) serve as the President of the Lee DeForest ARC of Hemet, California, www.homestead.com/leedeforest and begin my 5th term as such in 2007. I've had the opportunity to watch Ham radio grow from vacuum tubes to transistors and Integrated Circuits, and from 80 meter well into the GHz, the advent of SSB, SSTV, Data communications, Satellites and repeaters. HT's that went from the size of two cigarette cartons to something you can hold in the palm of your hand. Has this been exciting to be a part of? You betcha! Thank you Ham Radio, and the Novice ticket that got me started, and to ALL the wonderful hams in the world who never realize that they are all "Elmers" of one kind or another. I've never met such a dedicated group of friendly people in my life, although the Scouts in America come pretty close. Keep on Hamming!