Tom Wilson, K7FA
(formerly WV6KVS, 1959)
In 1959, I was first licensed as WV6KXS (now K7FA). Events that led me to become a licensed novice occurred years before with the combined influence of my father and of "Elmers":
|Escondido High School Club - Front Row - John Schweer (WV6HOW), Bob Crews (K6LKD, now K1VA), A. Ripingill, Herb Hitney, Alan Dawson (WV6IDK), David Coleman, John Rogers, Tom Wilson (WV6KXS, now K7FA), Roger Arnold, Thomas Dixon (WV6ZMN, now N6GV), Ricky Rieck (WV6EII - SK) are shown together on steps near the Escondido High radio club station (W6IAC).
Other significant alumni (some honorary) not shown are Charley Oakes (W6UQF - SK), Del Harper (K6UMI - SK), Frank Jereb (W6AWD - SK), Carl Hartshorn (WV6DNX), John Blodgett (WV6ILW), and Robert Renison (WV6QJF, now WA6QJF).
As a child in Southern California, I showed an interest in cowboys (like many young boys). As a young man, my father spent several years "Punching Cattle" in West Texas. He understood how hard that line of work was for him, and he became rather alarmed at my interest. To divert my attention into a technical field, he purchased a basic electronics course, introduced me to a HAM, took me to a military-surplus store located in Pasadena, CA and purchased an airborne-type VHF Receiver/transmitter (SCR-522, 100-156 Mhz, 8 watts, complete with 24 volt DC dynamotor). There were a few details that had been overlooked: power source / supply, out-of-band operation, lack of appropriate crystals, and the fact that I nearly dropped out of the Boy Scouts because I could not satisfactorily master the Morse code.
I was thankful that my piano lessons were discontinued when we moved to another town. Meanwhile, I re-discovered girls, and about two years later revealed to a school classmate, Bob (then K6LKD, now K1VA) that I had an old Atwater-Kent antique receiver with model E2 speaker. He had no interest. But when I told him that the time signal from WWV could be clearly heard by placing a length of hook-up wire near the I.F. stage of the SCR-522, He was obviously impressed, and my classmate quickly urged me to join him in this exciting hobby by becoming a licensed HAM.
Gordon Fellows (W6FVA - SK) who resided in the Twin Oaks area of San Marcos, CA provided my first technical HAM literature, including an old ARRL Handbook, which I used extensively.
While a novice (and beyond), an "Elmer" of significant influence was my High-School Chemistry and Geometry teacher, Marvin O. Van Note (K6LTE). This mild-mannered teacher provided instruction, suggestions, inspiration, and the opportunity to operate the Escondido High School club station (W6IAC). There is little doubt of his positive impact which resulted in strong participation by many students; a few are shown in the group photo above.
Subsequent to obtaining my Novice "ticket", there are a few notable memories of my first hesitant (if not frightening) CW contacts (after building a two-band two tube crystal-controlled transmitter/ regenerative receiver kit). I received another sort of "ticket" (wish that I had kept that notice) from the FCC. It was a notice printed on pink paper, received in the U.S. Mail, that my harmonic had been heard by an "Official Monitoring Station" in San Diego; furthermore I was obligated to take measures to prevent out-of-band operation, and respond to the official notice.
Thereafter, I was more careful about the quality of my transmitted signal. The unavoidable exception came just 1-1/2 years later (I had upgraded to General Class). While operating 75-meter AM phone during a Sunday evening, the owner of the hardware store (a.k.a., San Marcos Feed & Supply), Jim Mc Aleese, (who lived about a mile away from me) left the power switch to his organ in the on position. He reported that while eating an early dinner, he recognized my voice coming from his organ; therefore, I ". . . must have something wrong with my equipment".
Due to my limited reference material (ancient), a 130-foot Windom was chosen for my first HF antenna. Nowadays the popularity of the Windom antenna is returning, with modifications that include a balun and coaxial feed line. Support for my antenna was provided at 80 foot (as high as I dared shinny up the slick trunk of a 120 foot Eucalyptus tree). My parents incorrectly believed that I had successfully used a bow-and-arrow to launch a line into the tree. Support on the opposite end was a 20 foot tilt-up section of 2-inch steel pipe, supported by a concrete base. Coil springs from a half dozen discarded automotive-hoods were linked together like beads on a string to absorb strain during windy conditions. Despite these precautions, an occasional "Santa Ana Wind" would deflect the tree enough to break the antenna. The off-center open-wire feeder line was routed into my bedroom right on top of the wooden window sill. Simple . . . No drilling . . . just throw the line out the window when it rains! There was no concern regarding RF radiation exposure in those days, simply the awareness that if your skin came in contact with the feed-line (while transmitting) a painful burning sensation would be felt.
Mint-condition military surplus receivers and transmitters were available for much less than $10; and a Surplus Radio Conversion Manual enabled me to substitute a power supply for the 24 volt dynamotor and add crystal-control to the transmitters. My collection of ARC-5's included 2 transmitters and 2 receivers that covered the needs for the 80 and 40 meter novice bands. Later, another ARC-5 receiver was acquired to increase selectivity. Its frequency range was below the AM broadcast band, and it had an 85 Khz I.F. By cascading the I.F. output of the first receiver into the input of this ARC-5 beacon receiver, amazing selectivity was obtained.
I constructed an audible code oscillator, and somehow I was able to purchase a brand-new Vibroplex "Bug" (original standard gray base). Hours were spent adjusting the Bug while trying to closely imitate code sequences heard on the air. Increasing my code speed from 5 w.p.m. to 13 w.p.m. was a daunting task. During that period of learning, I appreciate the tolerance and patience shown by my fellow HAMs for my poor "FIST". I remember those NOVICE days, and nowadays return the favor whenever I hear someone struggling.
CW traffic nets were conducted at speeds much greater than I could copy, but they could be relied upon to provide propagation conditions, based upon received signal strength. One of my favorite non-HAM stations was the U.S. Naval Station located in San Francisco with the callsign "NPG" on 4015 Khz.
My Novice Days occurred days during the "Cold War" with Russia (The Soviet Union), where we lived under threat of nuclear attack. "Emergency Readiness Drills" were conducted at school, where we were required to seek shelter or (if all else fails) simply crawl beneath our desk. To prepare at home, my mother canned fruit, meat (yes, meat) and other items. She began storing the boxes of this canned food in the recently hand-dug basement beneath our house. Basements are rare in Southern California where I'm pretty certain most homes have concrete slab floors. HAMs were required to immediately cease radio transmissions during an attack. To insure compliance, an automated device ("CONELRAD Alert Box") was used to turn off our amateur radio transmitter during such an event. The box either detected the presence of an RF carrier or decoded a designated tone from either an internal or external tunable AM-Broadcast Receiver and thereby activated a relay to control AC power. In my case, the AM-Broadcast Station monitored was "Clear Channel Station", KFI (640 Khz), located near Los Angeles, CA. http://everything2.com/title/CONELRAD
One of my Novice 40 meter contacts was with another ham about my age, also named Bob (then WA6QQQ, now W6VR) who lived about 12 miles away in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. About 20 years later, we met again while working together to evaluate the radiation pattern for one of our club's (SANDRA) 2-meter hill-top repeaters (147.150 on Stephensen Peak at 6150 Ft. in the Laguna Mountains). Only then did we I realize that we both grew up in the same area, and a few times during our youth we had QSO's. Currently he is president of "Communications General Corporation" (also publishes "CGC Communicator Newsletter"), and his father (Faust) owned companies that produced many types of 2-way radios, including the 2-meter and 6-meter "Gonset Communicator" (affectionately known as the "Gooney Bird" or "Gooney Box") which is an AM Transmitter/Receiver. Although few NOVICES could afford such fine equipment in the 1950's, most of us in that era do remember the popular grey box with the prominent green tuning eye on the front panel. Our High School Club Station (then W6IAC) had the 2-meter version, and it was very popular.
As a Novice, I was eager to learn the HAM Jargon, and I found it most interesting listening to an HF AM Phone Net on 3975 Khz. The net had a long name ("Veterans of Foreign Wars Golden Bear Amateur Radio Net"). Currently, this net still in existence with a shortened name: "GBN". A couple of long-winded HAMs often dominated the frequency before, during and after the net: Frank C. Champlin, (W6PFF - SK) in Rosemead, CA and Dan Peterson, (W6KMJ - SK) in Long Beach, CA. Commonplace phrases heard were: "Brazilian Swamp Water" (coffee), and "Wait One Underpass" (mobile antenna arc-over danger while beneath an under-crossing). Discussions varied from technical to procedural. (i.e., "Never feed a balanced antenna with an unbalanced line.", and "Do not speak, unless called upon.") Curious it was (and most entertaining) listening to a few HAMs who controlled those airways.
On VHF/UHF an entirely different circle of friends were found. Some HAMs from San Fernando Valley / Sun Valley (Los Angeles County, CA) relocated to San Diego County, and influenced my thinking and introduced me to the use of repeaters: Dean Hovey (K6KUT), his younger brother Don, together with Jerry Gastil (K6DYD, of "DR0NK" W6JAM fame). I believe Dean supplied parts to build my first hand-held "walkie-talkie". It consisted of two acorn tubes (955 and/or 957), and "A" and "B" batteries (plate and filament power) housed in a home-made Aluminum case. A slide switch controlled transmit / receive operation. Because of the hand-wound air-dielectric tank circuit coils were attached directly to tube sockets that were supported by thin flat-stock Aluminum (used to create the case), ordinary handling would temporarily deform it, and the mechanical instability resulted in both frequency instability and microphonics (transformed the mechanical vibrations into RF modulation). A strong 2-meter AM signal resulted in surprisingly good receiver audio. However (as received on a real receiver), the resultant RF output from the transmitter appeared to simultaneously contain AM and FM components.
Frequently, I walked or (rode my bicycle) about one mile to visit the HAM living closest to me: Robert Kittinger (K6UBF - SK 12/65), who had relocated from Chicago, IL to northern San Diego County. At the time, there were no known recording studios in the City of San Diego. Accordingly, very interesting people would travel about 30 miles north to our rural farming community (San Marcos) to sing and record music at his recording studio. One such group of musicians that I encountered, ("Rosie & the Originals") were not much older than myself. They recorded "Angel Baby", and later I was astonished to discover that Rosie Hamlin's song rose to 4th or 5th on the top 40. Reportedly, John Lennon later recorded a version of the same song.
Besides the recording studio (a portion of a concrete block building, that contained separate living quarters), there were two other buildings on his Bent Avenue property. One contained a complete electro-platting shop with many foul-smelling vats of liquid chemicals, and another large steel building outfitted as a "Pressing Plant". It was there that "Kitt" (he preferred that nickname) taught me how to press records. Multiple-sequential steps required careful time management that included: Inserting raw material into a heating fixture in order to pre-warm it. While the vinyl material softened, inserting the printed center song labels, and pressing the contents (The press resembled a waffle iron, with nickel-platted copper masters inside). Next, the excess material from the perimeter was trimmed, and finally the completed 45 r.p.m. record was placed inside a pre-printed jacket. Then, the same-fast-paced sequence was repeated. Each of these production steps was timed and inter-related. If any delay in any of the individual steps occurred, the result was like a piece of burned toast! I visualized myself as a juggler.
On the north side of the record "Pressing Plant" was parked his Navion (a sturdy-looking 4-seater aircraft with sliding canopy and tricycle gear that resembled parts taken from a P-51 Mustang). On occasion, I would see "Kitt" taxiing his Navion down Bent Avenue for a takeoff from nearby "McCormick Field". Besides the interesting recording and record pressing aspects, "Kitt" had a son named Russell, and a daughter of interest named Sandra who sometimes would tutor me in chemistry. Meanwhile, "Kitt" introduced me to his collection of military surplus radios. When questioned why his surplus radios weighed so much more than the ones I had, he explained that unlike the light-weight airborne versions at my house, his radios were manufactured for use by the U.S. Navy, and they wanted to insure that the equipment would go down with the ship it was ever sunk. "Kitt" repeatedly intrigued me with stories of DX on 10 meters that he experienced during a particularly good part of the sun spot cycle. Words of the 10-year cyclic promise, gave me additional reason for further study to upgrade from Novice to General Class.
73, Tom - K7FA
(formerly: WV6KXS, WA6REK, AJ6L, N7NNJ, K7AAJ)