Tim Madden, KI4TG
(Formerly WN2CGX, 1975; KB4JRP, 1984)
I was a very distracted eighth-grader that sat in the back of the school room reading books about Tom Swift and Hardee Boys. My math teacher just let me sit back there, reading and day dreaming out the window. Out the window was a military transmitter site with lots of towers and antennas. It was alright with her, since I never disrupted the class and she had her hands full with some trouble makers up in the front. One day a new student joined our class, having moved from Culpepper, VA.
Doug's soft southern accent must have made him sound to our teacher as a country bumpkin that could never do math, so she put him in the back row with me and ignored us both for several days. Eventually the teacher saw us sharing Tom Swift books and marched down the aisle with a pair of Math Workbooks. "Do every problem in these books and turn them in when you are done!"
Doug and I took to the challenge. We discovered that the back of the book had the answer to every third question. It was our plan to split out the even and the odd questions. We would compare with the answers and share when we had them right. Our parents got wise to use doing homework over the phone, so we were again challenged to find a way to collaborate. Enter the Lafayette 150 in 1 project kits. Doug had an electronics trainer kit that included simple radio circuits. I convinced my parents that I needed the same. We used portable short-wave receivers and outside antennas to hear each other's kits. Soon enough we had built better transmitters and were sending CW across town. Morse Code was taught to us as Boy Scouts. We had tried a hardwired telegraph made from unwinding a door bell transformer, but that was too fragile to make it down the block from one house to another.
One of the scout leaders cleaned out his basement and produced for us the 1945 Amateur Radio Handbook. Being some 30 years old at the time, it was our only view into the world of Amateur Radio. I built the 6V6/6V6/6L6transmitter strip with a crystal, oscillator, buffer, and power amplifier. It used a 5Y3GT rectifier. The power supply was a transformer from an old black and white television, assembled with the tube socket and other parts in a Bud chassis box. I still have it today. The transmitter was built bread board style on a wooden shelf from a set of encyclopedias. It was a real hazard. It got the attention of Amateur Radio Operators in town.
My Novice Story starts out with a very dedicated High School teacher, Dr. Jim Lawlor, WA2GYB, now KB2NZ, that took on a dozen or so students in an after school Amateur Radio class at Ocean Township High School, NJ. We used the drafting room in our school and studied code, theory, and regulations. We took the code test as small group practice sessions. After copying what was being sent, Jim would take our papers and look them over. Sometimes that meant getting a rapid fire set of the characters we were stumbling over. Other times it was returned with, "OK, you pass." As we passed code, we took the written in groups.
Since the applications were sent in batches, we got sets of consecutive callsigns. I remember one group getting WN2BZN, and WN2BZO. I got WN2CGX and Bruce got WN2CGY. Later, my callsign got changed to WB2CGX. Contacts from home were made using a Globe Scout transmitter and a Globe Deluxe VFO. The receiver was a Hammerlund HQ-145. These old beasts needed several hours to settle down once they were turned on, so I built a power latching circuit into an AM Clock Radio. This turned all the rigs on at 2:00PM so that they were warmed up when I got home from school.
The WN2BZ- guys built Heathkit CW rigs. They had lots of trouble getting them working, but with help from Jim and each other we got them all on the air.
I did not have Heathkit, but several of the others in my group did build them. Tom Reu, WN2BZN built one in his basement. There were several typical new builder errors that took us some time to iron out. The basement had a very low ceiling and we literally knocked heads from time to time. One day we realized that the filter capacitor bleeder resistors were connected to the wrong terminals. This was only after we each got shocked and immediately banged our heads on the ceiling!
Tom's basement QTH served us very well. It was a corner that originally started out as a coal bin. Cleaned up and painted this room held a built in "L" shaped table with bright lighting. We had two office chairs and plenty of room to spread out the parts of the kit and look at the schematics.
Jim eventually took Tom's rig and got it working in fine shape over one weekend. Tom used a multi-band vertical out near the back fence with a long run of buried coax.
Ron had inverted vee antennas from 80 and 40 meters. Tom had a Hustler 6BTV. Bruce had a used Eico with matching transmitter and receiver.
Back when, Novice licenses could not be renewed. When that changed, our local group had started making pledges not to renew, but to upgrade. I suspect that most of the young novices are no longer active. My license lapsed when I was away at college.
Years later I took a renewed interest in radio. I retook Novice from Bill, KC4VQ, while working with him at Collins. Armed with the new KB4JRP callsign, I set up a shack in Florida with a Yaesu FT-101ZD. Working code every day after work lead to lots of QSLs and enough speed to upgrade to Advanced at the next Hamfest. That was the first VE exam session held Melbourne.
I have kept the KI4TG callsign from that upgrade ever since. So I have had Novice, twice, and under three callsigns. Novice has gone away. Then I had Advanced. Advanced has gone away. Now I have Extra. I hope that can stick around, but I constantly cringe at the people who call us Extra-Lite without the 20wpm code. I am a member of that gap that has Extra with 13wpm code!
73, Tim KI4TG