Buddy Brannan, KB5ELV, 1987
To tell you the truth, I've been running into ham radio my whole life, from the age of five. Of course, it didn't hold any real significance then, but I remember walking around the New Mexico School For the Visually Handicapped as a five-year-old with a mobility instructor and finding myself in a room with radio noises. When I asked what it was, I was told that it was the "ham radio club" or something. In typical five-year-old fashion, I just said, "Oh", and went on.
A few years later, at a different school in Arizona, I found a book about ham radio. Being something of a casual AM DX'er, even though I didn't know that that's what I was, when I saw a book about radio, and being something of a bookworm as well, I picked it up. Oh wow--I can have a radio station! Uh, wait. You can't play music on it? What good is it, then, I thought (in typical nine-year-old fashion).
Well, again, I met some high school aged hams, who told me they had call letters and what they were, and I didn't think much of that, either. Well, I mean I didn't give it much thought. OK, fast forward again.
I was 10 and we'd just moved from Arizona to Texas, and I was starting public school after going to schools for the blind a while. A few days after I started the new school, I met a fellow who was a travel teacher...that's one of those guys that teaches blind people to use their canes and cross streets and things like that...they're actually called "orientation and mobility teachers". After he oriented me to my new school, he drove me home. On the way, we called my mom and dad to tell them we were coming, which he explained we were doing with his ham radio. (Hey, there it was again...I thought, Oh, I've heard of that. Isn't that cool?) Then I didn't think about it anymore again.
Finally, I guess it was time, because in the Texas School For the blind library, (I was taking piano lessons there), I found it. It was a book called "How To Become A Radio Amateur". Oh, hey, I've heard of that, I thought, and checked it out. That was maybe April of 1987, maybe March, and I was 13 or 14. I read through the book and I didn't
understand any of it. What was a B battery? Meter bands. Filaments and cathodes and...goodness me! I did understand that it sure sounded like an awful lot of fun, and that's about it, so I decided to get a ham radio license. So I got everything I could find about it, all of which was outdated, but I read it all anyway. Tune In the World (from 1976). The Basic Book of Ham Radio. A book to learn the code.
Somehow, my old mobility instructor (I had a different one now) found out I was interested in ham radio and called me up and offered to help. Thanks to Steve, (then N6DJL, then KG5BR, now KW5V), in the most exemplary elmering tradition, lent me a receiver to listen to the bands. He took me to field day. He got me to understand that learning code out of a book would just make it harder, and had, since I had my rhythm all wrong. Once I got that straightened out, the code came very easily.
He also took me to meet another blind ham (Joe, WV5X, recently a silent key), who showed me a bug and let me talk on his HF radio. Every opportunity he got, he'd expose me to more ham radio, helped me update my ham radio knowledge so that I knew about the new Novice rules, and quizzed me on everything, including making sure that my code sounded OK out of the code practice buzzer and straight key (which he also
I must have checked out that original 1950 copy of "How To Become" four or five times in the next couple years. When books disappeared one day and that one was among them, I felt as though I'd lost a friend. I wish they'd told me they were throwing out books, I'd've gladly given that one a home. (If anyone ever runs across one, let me know. Fat chance, I know, especially a braille one.)
In September of 1987, after six months of listening and studying and practicing, I was ready for my test. Steve took me to another fellow's home, and they administered my Novice. I passed the code 100%, and then I passed the theory by the skin of my teeth...like 80%.
Of course, when my ticket came on Saturday, October 24th (at about 5:15 in the afternoon), I couldn't wait to use it! Unfortunately, I had no station yet. My first contacts were made at Steve's QTH, on his rig, two weeks later. November 7th, I made my first QSO's, which I'd been practicing (no kidding) constantly. Nervous, cold, sweaty palms, the whole bit, but my first contacts were cw. I see that Bob, KA1JDG, let his ticket expire, but he was my first QSO! Followed by WA9YMI (who changed his call to--something...), then some 10-meter SSB, a 40-meter cw QSO, and home. I worked my first contest at KG5BR as well.
I got my station up and on the air, again thanks to Steve, in January. A pair of Drake twins was my first station--I'm sure I'd be the envy of a Novice of 15 years previous! Wow, what a sweet rig. Even though the USB filter on the R4B wasn't quite right and I had to listen to USB on the wide AM filter, what a sweet rig that was! I used it to place first (or was it second? for the South Texas Section during the 1988 Novice Roundup. Doing NR was one positive side effect of failing Tech and General theory in january 1988. Since I accidentally got them in the wrong order, I was able to fail them both by one question each.
I was, however, a 20 WPM Novice, as I accidentally passed that test for the first time--only four months after I passed my Novice! I used that rig to explore 10 meter SSB and 15 meter cw. Even long after I passed my General, the 15-meter Novice band was magic to me and continued to be my favorite haunt for several years. It was in the 15-meter Novice band that I got the worst signal report I ever had (a 219 from JH1WIX), not to mention some of my first dx. It must've been because of that first QSO. Thanks, Bob!
My days as a Novice ended in February of 1988, but that first couple months was loads of fun! In spite of my best efforts to hate it, I absolutely loved the code and spent most of my time in the cw bands, especially 15 meters. Even though most of my time as a Novice was spent off the air, that first QSO, and then that first month as a Novice with my own station, really were a lot of fun. Everyone I met was friendly and welcoming, and every QSO was a new thrill. Now, 19 years later, ham radio's still great fun, and it's made my life so much richer. No, it hasn't given me a career in broadcasting or electronics, but it's been a friend and companion on trips across the
country. It helped me keep my sanity in Ukraine when we were adopting our daughter, and it introduced me to interesting and engaging folk when on a cultural exchange to Germany in college. Besides, it introduced me to the fun of cw. And it all started with a really old book that I didn't understand...and a ham radio learner's permit.
Please visit Buddy's page: http://buddy.brannan.name