Tom Morgan, AF4HL
(formerly WN4JKS, 1966; WB4JKS, KF4RIO, KU4LB)
To be perfectly honest, I really believe that it was and ad for Heathkit in an old comic book or magazine that got me interested in ham radio. I was a bored 13 year old kid, and there were other things that had caught my eye, for sure: a fling with stamp collecting, and I admit to being in lust with the Edmund Scientific Company catalog for quite a while. But when that free Heathkit catalog arrived, it was all over. All those knobs and meters - I couldn't control myself! I managed to contact a local radio club, and I was off to the races.
Elmers back then were still these wondrous beings crammed full of mystic knowledge, although they seemed to be a better supply of them back in '66. One fellow lent me an old Hallicrafters receiver, and another let me use his shack and helped me build my first transmitter - a 75 watt crystal controlled rig for 80 and 40 meters. He had the most wondrous linear - it was the size of a refrigerator, and he had the final behind a glass panel - when it was tuned up and keyed it would light up the whole room.
Studying for the test was certainly different. We did have a study guide for the written exam - called the ARRL Handbook (worked equally well for all license class exams) - no question pools, although we did have some general guidelines as to what we were expected to know. My dad had been a radio operator in the Air Force during the war, and I was able to dig up his 88 rpm code practice albums. And I was able to get my ticket without incident - WN4JKS.
Working CW on the novice bands back then was, well, indescribable. Calling the bands crowded is trifling with words (listen to 40 meter CW on Field Day, and you get the general idea), and there was no such thing as DSP. Sure, some receivers were better than others, but I definitely had one of the others. Being "rock bound" was a real challenge. None of us were blessed with a large pocketful of crystals, so having a weak station QSL with a 599 station only 40Hz or so away was the norm rather than the rule. It was simply glorious!
The club in my home town was active in MARS, and I was able to participate there as well. Back then, they used to issue separate call signs - I was proud to be called NOPUU - any guesses as to why I never forgot that one?
I also had the opportunity to participate in my first Field Day, which was probably the most intense experience that I've ever had. The people I was with were bound and determined to win the contest, and no human frailty would stand in their way. I swore that if I survived it, I'd NEVER do it again. I am now ready to face that slow and painful death, knowing that I've been through far worse in the past.
One of the biggest thrills was finally getting that Heathkit - a HW-100 that I built myself. Honestly, I would do anything to bring those kits back. The world just isn't the same without them. The rig worked beautifully, but I had to upgrade to get it off the dummy load. Remember, as Novices we were rockbound, and capped at 75 watts INPUT power, so I could only play with the receiver.
I kept after my studies and eventually got the opportunity to make the 7 hour trip to the FCC Field Office in Norfolk, VA to try for my General ticket. Well, I passed it, but I didn't care if I ever upgraded again! Folks taking their exams now have no idea how great things are for them - being tested by friendly local hams that are really pulling for them. In 1967 that was NOT the case! The people at the FCC office did not care at all - and the material on the code test was like nothing I had ever heard before - just numbers and letters. I found out after the fact that they used sample commercial ship-to-shore traffic.
Not too long after getting my General ticket was when I started noticing girls, and the ham radio thing fell by the side. It lay there forgotten until I had 7 children, and my oldest (at age 13) got the urge. Well, I had to help him out, and then I couldn't let him get the best of me, and, well - he's AF4HK and I'm AF4HL.