Mark Nelson AJ2X
(formerly KN8ZHD, 1961)
I'd been interested in what went on inside the radio and TV sets for a long time before we moved to a new town in 1959, Canton, Ohio, but never really had anyone around me that understood my interest or could provide more direction and advice than I could find at the library. Our new neighborhood included a house a couple doors away with a couple of funny antennas on the roof. Before long I met the two brothers who lived there, Skip and Don, both older than me (I was 11), and both Hams. Their basement shack had a wonderful collection of strange radios and other gadgets, many homemade, that allowed them to talk all over the country, and beyond. I was hooked. They introduced me to the guys at the "Twenty over Nine Radio Club," which met in a converted chicken coop on the edge of town, and who further indoctrinated me into the wonders of Ham Radio. I started pestering my parents for subscriptions to Popular Electronics and eventually QST, and for trips to hobby shops, radio stores and Ham Radio events where I could learn still more.
Skip and Don had moved on to girls, sports, and college (though both remain Hams to this day) and had less time and interest in mentoring an annoying newbie. Eventually my dad found another Ham in town, an old-timer with a kindly attitude toward a raw beginner. Marty Cornell, W8PS, became my Elmer. He was probably the first adult I ever addressed by his first name, which I learned is the way of all Hams. Even though his house was a long bike ride across town for me, I made the trip often to learn the code, borrow his old QSTs and just listen to him explain the ins and outs of his simple but effective station. Eventually I felt ready to take the Novice license test, and he agreed to give it to me. I bicycled over, very nervous, and settled down at his kitchen table with our code practice oscillator. He said he'd send me a little practice first to get me warmed up and relaxed before the actual test. For several minutes I carefully copied all the code he sent on his old J38 hand key. Then he declared a break, and I got a glass of water while he checked over my copy. To my surprise, he held out his hand and said, "Congratulations, you passed the code test." After I recovered from the sudden good news, I took the written test, and we sent it to the FCC and waited.
I had a used Hallicrafters S-85 which I'd bought with my paper-route earnings, to replace the clearly-inadequate Philmore 3-tube regenerative receiver which had been the first radio kit I'd ever built and my introduction to Short Wave Listening. The Hallicrafters receiver was the most expensive thing I had ever bought at that point in my life, and pretty much depleted my savings for quite a while. So I looked very carefully at all the available transmitter kits, and listed their features and price on a sheet of notebook paper so I could compare them. I even calculated their cost in dollars/watt - the World Radio Labs Globe Chief was the winner in that category, as I recall. But I eventually selected the Eico 723, a nice modern-looking 60-watt rig, and got my parents to buy it for me, as an early birthday present, along with one or two crystals.
After carefully assembling the kit and soldering everything in place, it was ready to test. I took it over to W8PS for his blessing and on-air test, since I hadn't gotten my ticket yet. We set it up on his kitchen table, and he spread a coil of heavy wire across the floor and into the living room, to act as a dummy load! He looked over my soldering and assembly work with a practiced eye. Then we applied power and turned the function switch from Off to Standby. The filaments lit in all three tubes - so far so good. He moved the function switch to Tune, which applied voltage to the oscillator, and he verified a couple voltages under the chassis. Finally he turned the switch to Transmit. Bang! A small ball of fire and smoke issued from the underside of the chassis, and we were both rocked back in our chairs. I was nearly beside myself with dread, but after the smoke cleared, Marty began to investigate. "Ah-ha!" he pointed to a blackened section of the function switch, and we traced out the wires that attached to the melted remains of the affected terminals. I had accidentally wired the Accessory AC power output to ground, and the function switch contacts, being the weakest point in the circuit, had blown out. We resoldered the offending wire, replaced the main fuse, and the rest of the test went well. The transmitter loaded into the random wire, and was declared ready to put on the air. I cringe a little now, wondering who we interfered with as he showed me how to adjust the tuning and loading controls!
That same transmitter gave me a second lesson a few months later when I decided to "touch up" the final's neutralization. The adjustment was a special high-voltage variable capacitor located next to the final's plate cap. I set the transmitter up on the basement workbench, angled so I could watch the panel meter while still reaching around the back, applied power and gingerly began turning the screwdriver. All was going well, when my knuckle came in contact with the plate cap! The shock knocked me back against the chair behind me and I ended up sitting on the floor. When I recovered, I found the screwdriver halfway across the basement, but decided that the neutralization was good enough, and buttoned up the transmitter cabinet. I had a pretty good burn on that knuckle for weeks afterward. Lesson learned: 600 volts HURTS!
I got my license in the mail about 6 weeks after I mailed in my test (that apparently was the usual wait then), about a month before my 13th birthday. I was now KN8ZHD! The call made for lousy phonetics, but since I was going to be CW-only for a while, it didn't matter much. I was thrilled to be licensed and on the air. I spent the next couple months trying mightily to make contacts, with pretty minimal success. My logbook was filled with unanswered CQs (I dutifully logged EVERY transmission). Finally Marty took pity on me and loaned me his Hammarlund HQ110 receiver to see if I could improve my luck. Boy, did it! Now I could hear those replies which had probably been there all along. The S-85 was evidently pretty "deaf" for CW, but that HQ110 was HOT. I ended up keeping Marty's receiver for the rest of my Novice year, and filling my log with lots of enjoyable and occasionally exciting contacts. I sure hope I thanked him enough for his great sacrifice!