Jeff Wolf, K6JW
(formerly WV6DAL, 1958)
In the spring of 1958, my father decided that I needed a hobby. At the time, I was a skinny, eleven-going-on-twelve year old nerd with no athletic prospects. My father, more than six feet tall, 190lbs, big boned and probably disheartened over the paltry physical attributes of his geeky kid, figured that amateur radio might interest might provide salvation for what he certainly saw as a disappointing situation. I had two adult cousins who were hams, and Dad made sure I was exposed to them. Then, over the summer of my twelfth birthday, he enrolled the two of us in a Novice prep class being given at Valley Electronics, an electronics store in the San Fernando Valley that carried a full complement of amateur gear. We finished the classes in September, took the test, and, shortly thereafter, I became official as WV6DAL. Dad, who received the call WV6CQA, having launched me, immediately lost all interest and disappeared into the woodwork.
My first receiver was a Hallicrafters S-38E, arguably the worst piece of electrical junk ever manufactured and sold as a shortwave receiver capable of amateur use. My first transmitter was a WRL Globe Chief 90A which I built and which worked just fine. Of course, as a Novice, I was limited to crystal control in those days. I managed to come up with one crystal for the Novice portion of 15 meters and one for 40. I used a surplus J-38 key and, for an antenna, a Mosely multiband trap vertical with about 16 radials up on the flat roof over our garage.
I made practically no contacts from my bedroom, thanks to the S-38E.
In the fall, I became a 7th grader in the local junior high school and discovered that there was a school radio club overseen by the electric shop teacher, Mr. Saul. The club station was nicely equipped with a Hallicrafters SX-101, a Johnson Viking Ranger, a triband beam on a small roof tower and, as best I recall, dipole for 40 meters. Totally intimidated by a couple of General Class hotshot 9th graders, I never operated the station during the term of my Novice ticket.
As hams of my vintage well know, the Novice license back then was good only for 12 months and was not renewable. It was up or out. Knowing that there was no way I could get my code speed up to 13 wpm since I was having such rotten luck on the air, I decided to take the Technician exam, which at that time required passing the General Class theory with no new code test. A local ham administered the test to me and…I flunked. I retook it shortly thereafter and passed, my callsign, being upgraded by the FCC to WA6DAL.
Okay, so now this story is no longer quite the story of a Novice but, being barely beyond Novice status in early 1960 and having no more than a handful of QSOs under my belt, I'll relate the rest of the story up to about 1962. That time, for me, was the most memorable part of my early ham career.
In a moment of pure insanity, my father told me that, although he wouldn't stake me to my dream station (full Collins S-Line spread out across a very large desk), he'd be willing to spring for a Heathkit Apache/Mohawk combination if I could pass my General Class exam. Between a set of 78 rpm code practice records and a paper tape surplus CW training machine, I managed get up to a fairly shaky but probably workable 18 wpm.
The FCC in L.A. was downtown, a 30 mile, one hour drive from our house in the northwest San Fernando Valley. Tests were one Wednesday each month. When I told Mom I was ready, she drove me to the test site, where I (and, maybe, 20others) sat for the code exam in front of a very formidable appearing, heavyset woman with a constant scowl. I was totally freaked.
A couple of months later I returned and flunked again. Then, no surprise, completely psyched out, I flunked yet again. At this point, Mom said she was through dragging me downtown for nothing but failure and the accompanying depression, hers and mine.
Completely demoralized, I told myself that I was through. I would never be more than a Tech, stuck on Novice CW and VHF. Someone loaned me a Gonset Communicator II for six meters. I made no contacts with it, the gooney bird eye and I staring at one another in pitiable despair.
Then, Mr. Saul, the electric shop teacher, tried to rally two of my buddies to try for their General. One of the guys had flunked multiple times and one had never taken the exam. Finally, he convinced them to sit for the exam and, after he had arranged a date to drive them downtown, he went to work on me. "C'mon, Jeff. You can do it. I know you can."
"No, Mr. Saul, I can't. I've washed out three times and I'm not going through it again."
"Just come. What harm will it do?"
After a lot more back and forth, I gave in, telling him that I simply wasn't going to study because I knew it was hopeless. And, I didn't study. Didn't do a damn thing. On the morning of the trip to the FCC, I sat in the back of Mr. Saul's car, silent and sullen.
It is amazing what one can accomplish when under absolutely no pressure. Certain that I would fail and, therefore, feeing no stress whatsoever, I copied the five minutes of 13 wpm like a champ and, when the names were called, I was the only one of the three of us who had passed the code. Mr. Saul just smiled.
In those days, you didn't get credit for prior elements passed. Since the Tech theory was the same as the General theory in 1960, I had to repeat the exam for the General Class ticket. While Mr. Saul and my two buddies waited, I wrote the exam and, a couple of weeks later, was notified that I had passed. I was, finally a General.
A month later, the big chrome and yellow ICX delivery truck pulled up in front of my house with my Apache and Mohawk, the radios I built and used through high school and early college, and which I foolishly later sold to buy a stereo for my college dorm room. The story of how a 15 year old kid by himself built two100 lb behemoth boat anchors and got them on the air is a tale of ignorance, stupidity and blind luck in itself, but that takes us far beyond my Novice career, so I guess I'll stop here. That story, though, might just appear in one of the mainstream amateur publications one of these days. Stay tuned.
Editor's Note - Thanks Jeff for being our first WV# novice.The WV# were rare.Many hams, even though who were on the air at the time, have no recollection of WV# novices.Jeff and his fellow 1958 novices in the 6th and 2nd call districts were on the leading end of of this distinct novice prefix.By late-1961 or even 1962, the FCC apparently had enough inventory of WN# prefixes that they stopped issuing WV# and went back to WN#s.