Dennis Drew, W7RVR
(Formerly WN6RVR, 1972)
As a deputy sheriff, I was familiar with our emergency police radios in our squad cars. But, I didn't really become aware of a radio service that could be used by citizens until I was invited to participate in a jeep run with other four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. They had CB radios, and I thought it almost magical how they used them to coordinate the jeep run up the Rubicon River in California, and even call for medical assistance when one driver was injured.
So, when a local ham club advertised amateur radio classes at a public school, it really peaked my interest. But upon attending the orientation meeting, I was discouraged hearing about the Morse Code requirement. I thought that would stop me, because of my past experience with it. A decade earlier, in the US Navy, I was told I had "passed" the required Morse Code prerequisite, but I couldn't understand how that was possible when I clearly had to count dots and dashes for each character and often got them wrong. I prayed no sailor's life would ever depend upon my correctly interpreting a message in that hard-to-decipher code. Luckily, that never happened.
Ironically, one of the instructors in the ham class, Bill, whose call sign I have since forgotten, was a retired US Navy chief petty officer. He took me and another student aside and told us to forget trying to count the parts of each character; and, instead, to completely bypass the brain. For example, he said when we hear di-dah, don't think or visualize it, just write down the letter A. He continued this method for the entire alphabet, numbers and punctuation marks. In those days one had to write down CW conversations in order to pass the FCC test.
Bill also had me change my block-letter printing style to a faster, cursive style. To this day, the only time I use that cursive style is when copying CW by hand. He then had me trade my lead pencil for a faster ballpoint pen. He told me to practice a lot.
I was a deputy sheriff at the rank of Inspector, and in charge of the Sheriff's Planning and Research Bureau. It allowed me to spend lunch hours in my personal car to practice the code. I had a straight key secured to a short piece of two-by-four board. To keep from drawing attention, I kept the windows rolled up to reduce the noise from the code practice oscillator. I lost some weight doing this over the many weeks, as the outside temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and much hotter inside the air-tight car. But, I gradually gained confidence sending CW. I practiced receiving it at home with a tape recorder.
The testing day finally arrived and I was thrilled when told I had passed both the written theory part and the Morse Code part. A few weeks later my license arrived with my new call sign of WN6RVR.
I couldn't wait to set up my station. I installed a ground-mounted vertical, but misjudged the amount of coax cable needed. It was short about 10 feet, so I had to slide a card table to the window, which just barely allowed the coax to reach the radio.
WN6RVR was on the air, and it was heaven, in more ways than one. I lived directly across the street from a large church. One Sunday I received a knock at the door. It was a church member who was also a ham. He informed me that my CW broadcasting was creating RFI to their big church pipe organ. He told me he could copy my side of the QSO perfectly through the organ's pipes, but that it was interfering with the church service. I solved that problem by never again operating when the church building was occupied.
Being able to only afford two crystals for each of the four bands we novices were allowed to operate meant I had to listen up and down the band for someone answering my CQs. My transmitter was a Drake 2NT and receiver a Drake 2C. I had been married about ten years and now my wife complained about being a "ham widow" since I was spending almost every available minute on the air. My preferred mode continued to be CW.
I don't remember if we could renew a one-year novice license in those days, or if they were good for two years. But, at the end of two years I had worked all the states. I even received a WAS award from the ARRL with the endorsement of worked all states, while licensed as a Novice. This was one of my proudest achievements.
After passing the General and then the Advanced (I passed the 20 WPM CW part of the Extra exam, but failed the written part), I got my two elderly parents interested in amateur radio. They enrolled in a class taught by Armond Noble, Publisher of WorldRadio magazine. With his expertise and great teaching skills, they quickly became WN6AOJ and WN6AOL and, with Armond's continued guidance, soon passed their General exams.
My ham parents joined me in a program I had just started with the sheriff's department using local hams who had been trained by the district attorney's office in observation and courtroom testifying. In all, there were about 150 hams who volunteered to spend their night hours on stakeout in high crime areas reporting their observations via radio to me in an unmarked sheriff�s vehicle. During the first year we arrested 100 serious felony offenders, and when the hams testified in court as to what they saw, we ended up with a 100% conviction rate. I was ecstatic. But after a year of volunteering my evening hours to this program, having already worked my regular 8-hour day shifts, I requested that a permanent and paid deputy be assigned to replace me. That program has continued successfully, and recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
My call signs went from WN6RVR to WA6RVR. Then, thanks to the FCC vanity program, to W6RVR; and, upon moving to Nevada, W7RVR. I have extremely fond memories of my amateur radio background, and all the helpful and friendly hams I have met over the decades. And, to think it all started with a novice ticket in 1972.
Dennis Drew, W7RVR