Rick Swain, KK8O
(formerly KN8AIT, 1961)
Prior to the many changes made by the Federal Communications Commission in the past years that turned all FCC license testing to Volunteer Examination Coordinators, the exam system as a little different. Here is one Amateur Radio Operators experience in taking those exams.
It was April 1961, 6:30 PM, on a Tuesday. I was on my way to the North Electric Tech Training building in down town Galion, Ohio across the street from the City Building. The company had sponsored Explorer Post 320 here in Galion and had given us a room of our own to hold our meetings and work on projects in the building.
There was also a room up one flight of stairs used as a classroom. As I walked through the down town area, I clutched an unopened 8 X 10 envelope I had received from the FCC, for you see, sealed inside was an FCC form 610 and a Novice class examination. I let my mind wonder a little as I walked (yes, kids walked in those days), back about three months when Mr. Bill Kealy started teaching the Novice (No Voice as some called it) class. He was very patient with the five of us in the class, making sure to answer all questions and drilling the International Morse Code in to our skulls of mush.
I let my mind wonder back a little further about two years or so to the day when I first heard W8DQY on the 75-meter band. I was listening to short waves our old family Phillco radio that was being stored in my sister's room because our TV was now where the radio used to be. Several days after I heard him, I discovered that there were many Ham Radio Operators living in Galion and could not figure why no one ever told me about this. While listening to the radio several days after my discovery I had heard W8CCX, W8VYH and even a ham from Mansfield several miles away. WOW, I was hooked!
Back to reality, I was now just about a block from the building and my mind returned to that day as I began to question my ability to copy the code. You see if I did not copy 25 characters in a row, I would never know what was inside the 8X10 envelope for, you see a person had to pass the code test first before taking the written. In my mind I reviewed the last several days, remembering that I had been coping almost 10 words per minute on Sid Emmons' code tape machine. The very same machine he had used just a few months before!
Well, here I am, now entering the door of the Tech Training Center. I said hi to Sid, K8ZES, Denny Popa, K8QMC Homer Nigh, K8RLY, Roger Blashfield, (can't remember his call) Charlie Walker, Richard Shelquest and Bill Aplas. As I started the long climb up the stairs Bill Kealy came in the door with all of his books and a code practice oscillator. WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW! I was beckoned back down to the meeting room for a short Explorer Post business meeting that lasted about 20 minutes. My mind was not on the business. I was creating code in my head and going over every electronic and radio fact I had ever been taught. Finally, Sid (the Post Advisor) said "Ok everybody keep it down tonight, we have one taking a Novice test upstairs and we don't need the extra noise."
I started back up to the second floor with all my stuff. FCC envelope, pad of paper, three pencils and a pen. Oh yes, a $3.00 slide rule I had purchased from one of the teachers at the Junior High School. Bill took the envelope from me, set up the equipment and asked if I were ready to begin. I said yes, and he told me to come to where he was sitting and adjusted the oscillator to the pitch and volume I liked. I went back to my seat, took out all my pencils and my pen, put them on the table in front of me and waited for him to start.
Bill said in a solemn tone," Ready? Here we go". "Dit dit dit dah, dit dit dit dah, dit dit dit dah" .......... he sent three "Vs" and we were off! For the next five minutes he had my entire undivided attention. I heard nothing else in the room; unless you count my heart pounding away and even that gave way to the 800-cycle cw note my ears were hearing. Slowly I marked the letters down on my paper and after what seamed to be an eternity it all stopped. Bill said, "Ok give me your paper", and when I got up to walk to him I noticed for the first time that I had an audience. Behind me a few feet away were Roger, Denny and Homer who had already passed their General exam. I suddenly got a little embarrassed.
As Bill graded my CW receiving test I looked at the other boys and wondered what they would say if I failed. Bill broke the silence by saying, "Ok, sit down and send this to me", as he handed me a piece of paper that had several words written on it. You see, the test was only one third of the way finished. Back then you not only had to pass a CW receiving test but sending as well. Now if he didn't like the way I sent code, I was done. I would never know the contents of the envelope that the FCC sent to me. I sent about 10 complete words at over 10 words per minute and he told me to stop. "What did I do wrong?" I said. "Nothing, you just have sent enough", he replied.
It was at that point that the guys in the back said something for the first time. "All right! Way to go" and "awe he just gave it to you" I heard them say. I got a big smile on my face as Bill handed me the written test papers, saying, "Read the instructions, mark the answer sheet and when you are finished give all your papers to me." "You other guys go back down to the other room". It took about 20 minutes for me to answer all the questions on the written test, and I did as Bill had told me, giving him all of my papers. He had me sign the form 610, stuffed it in a different envelope, sealed it and said to me, " Drop this off at the post office on your way home". "You will hear from the FCC in about six weeks".
SIX WEEKS! HOW WOULD I EVER SURVIVE? Wasn't he going to tell me if I passed? So I asked him. He said that he was only permitted to tell me that my code was ok". "The written was up to the FCC and it would be a violation of the rules for him to tell me anything". Well!!!!!! I thought all my worries would be over tonight. As everybody knows by now I did pass the exam and was issued the call sign KN8AIT that arrived in my mailbox in June of that year. The summer was spent mostly in my bedroom sending and receiving Morse code all hours of the day and night, but that is another story. Look for the next installment "A Long Six Weeks" or "All Things in Due Time".
ALL THINGS IN DUE TIME
This is the second part of the story " The Day of My Test" and is written in a story-telling fashion.
We have all heard the saying, "a watched pot never boils" and as April 1961 came and went after I was examined for the Novice class license, I can assure you that is true. After about two weeks of waiting I would run home from school every day to check the mail for something from the FCC.
In 1961 when you took a test from a volunteer examiner, there was no sure way of knowing if you passed the written exam until they (the FCC) told you that you did. When they did, you would know by receiving a license in the mail and if not, you received a failure notice that was in the same size envelope as the license. There was no checking the FCC web site every day to see if your application had been processed. (No home computers).
May went by in much the same way as did April only I was getting home a little faster because of all the running. I did, however need to have some radio equipment at my house in order to operate on the air and had no money, no job and as I saw it no hope. That is when one of my boyhood heroes came to my aid. Fred Clinger, now WA8KJJ who back then was just Fred, suggested that I (we) build a transmitter. He had a little shop behind his house on Primrose Street that he would allow Richard Shellquist, Bill Apals and yours truly to hang around in hopes that some of the totally astounding knowledge he had would rub off on us.
Well anyway, Fred told me that if I gathered the parts, he would help me build a small crystal controlled CW transmitter that would get me on the air. Somehow, between the four of us (mostly Fred) we came up with enough parts to build a single 6L6 ten to twenty watt transmitter for 80 and 40 meters. It was built and tested in one evening. With the transmitter out of the way the receiver was next.
When not at Fred's house I was visiting Sid, K8ZES. Sid told me about a new ham in town by the name of Bob Zurker who was working for North Electric. He had some older equipment that he was not going to use anymore and maybe he would let me have some of it cheep. CHEEP! CHEEP! What was cheep? I met Bob about three days later and as luck would have it, he was living out South of town in a new development called Ketterman Estates, right next door to my Uncle. WOW, is that lucky or what? Bob had a converted BC-453 (WW2 aircraft receiver with receiving converter and AC power supply) on 80, 40, and 15 meters that he was willing to part with CHEEP. WHAT THE HECK IS CHEEP?
I found out. Cheep back then when you were a 16-year-old poor kid from Galion, Ohio's South end is $5.00. I borrowed $5.00 from my mother on a promise that I would mow as many lawns as necessary to pay her back starting 10 minutes after she gave me the money. I now have a receiver. Antenna is next. No problem. George Reahl, W8DQY gave me an old power transformer to remove the wire and use it for a dipole. Sid gave me 100 ft. of coax I think was donated by North Electric and Lafayette Radio had some good ceramic insulators for 15 cents each mail order. Now I have a radio station that would do. Not only would it do, it was constructed out of the true spirit of Ham Radio.
During the month of May (as it was spring) I discovered a nice looking 15 year old girl living on Grand Street (about a block and a half from me) and was smitten. If she had not paid any attention to me I would not have given her a second thought. But, she did and for a few weeks, it was true love (the puppy type). The school year ended. Now with nothing to do but wait, SHE got most of my attention during the day.
I did, however run home about 2:00 PM to check for my long lost Novice License. Now we were in to June and I had all but resigned to the fact that I had failed the written exam and would have to test again. On June 12, 1961 however, Andy Anderson (the mailman) handed me a three by five inch envelope from the Federal Communications Commission, Washington 25 D.C. He said to me "Is this the one you have been waiting for"? I smiled at him and said "yessssss"! I carefully opened it and found the license inside. I had been licensed since June 7th and did not know it. What is my call sign, WHAT IS MY CALL SIGN? K N 8 A I T. Huh?
I ran over to Denny Popa's (K8QMC) house on Orange Street in about two minutes. As I arrived not even out of breath I was telling him that I got it and he was telling me to slow down, he didn't understand me. "My license, I got it in the mail today", I told him again. He said, "let me see it". "Why this isn't any good, come with me" he said and started for George Reahl's (W8DQY) house (next door) "Hay George" Denny said, "Rick got a useless license in the mail today". George looked at it and proclaimed as I was standing there trembling now, "that's right, no good" and handed it back to me. " You have to sign it before you can operate" George finally said to me with a laugh.
I went back home and signed the license, turned on my transmitter for the first time and made my first "CQ" on 80 meters. But that took place right after George dubbed me KN8 Always In Trouble. Oh, that girl! She got lost among all the "dits and dahas" that went into space from my room that summer. The contacts I made and all the excitement even when W1AW called me can not be put into words. You must experience it yourself and most of you have.
73, DX es 30 DE KK8O