Paul Conant, WQ5X
(formerly N5ICK; KA5UHC, 1984)
I worked for Otis Engineering, an oil field supply company, in Carrollton, Texas during the early 1980s. I used to go the library or to a park to read and take a little nap during my lunch hour. One day, while browsing at the Farmer's Brand library, I happened upon some ham radio books. I do not remember what the books were, but at that time they were just what was needed to cause the seeds planted about 25 years earlier to finally germinate and bear fruit. My dad, W5GEH (SK), was an active ham in the 1950s. I had memories of the ham shack that occupied a storage room adjacent to the car port of his first house at 1801 E. Mitchell in Arlington, Texas. I recalled his use of morse code, homemade aluminum chassis mounted with heavy transformers and vacuum tubes, and yagi antennas for 6-meters. Mom even had a call sign, K5HEQ, and they were members of the Arlington Amateur Radio Club. After I became a ham, I ran across a copy of an old directory for the club in a Half Price bookstore with their names in it. Dad had not been active as a ham since our family moved to Richardson, Texas in 1960. His old rigs and books gathered dust in the garage during my years growing up at 604 Brookwood Drive. As boy during the 1960's, I was interested in the schematics and pictures in those old books, but the concepts were always well beyond my comprehension. As I leafed through the books in that library, I sensed for the first time that I could become a ham, too.
Very soon thereafter, I picked up of copy of Tune in the World with Ham Radio at Radio Shack. My lunch hour trips to the park were centered on mastering the content of that book and listening the to code practice tapes narrated by Jean Shepherd. Meanwhile, I started browsing the local ham radio stores: Electronics Center on Ross Avenue in Dallas, Hardin Electronics in Fort Worth, and Texas Towers in Plano. I was intimidated by the prices of the rigs I saw. I found my self drawn to the Heathkit QRP rigs and set for myself the objective of going on the air with a rig I had constructed. I ran across a used Ten-Tec Century 21 at Texas Towers for $150. I mentioned it to my dad who went ahead and bought it for me. I made arrangements to take my novice exam in the north Dallas office of Jim Haynie. Dad presented me with the Century 21 when I got my ticket with the callsign KA5UHC. It was 1984.
I had been married for seven years and our daughter was less than two years old. We were living in our own first house and I was faced with the problem of introducing my bride to my first hobby of our life together and the impact of its accoutrements on the aesthetics of our abode. At length, my rig came to rest on top of the upright piano in our family room. I sat on the piano bench with my Radio Shack straight key situated on the fall board closed over the keys of the old Kimball piano. The feedline for the antenna was routed through the ceiling into the attic. I constructed a 40-meter dipole with 22-guage hook-up wire and attached it to the roof trusses with thumb tacks. The house was 46-feet end-to-end, so I bent the legs of the dipole along the roofline at the extremities of the attic. And you know what? It worked just fine.
Most of my operating was on 40- and 15-meters, and I had a blast. By 1986, I had progressed through General to Extra class. I loved the Century 21 and wouldn't mind having one again. Mine failed very early in the 1990s and I was off the air for the next decade. My short time as a novice cemented my love of CW and low power operating. I returned to the air in 2003(?) with I rig I built myself. The smell of solder smoke is peculiarly satisfying. The joy of getting a kit to work and making contacts with it is even more rewarding.
After 31 years of marriage we are in our third house. It is properly outfitted with a man room. My QRP rig is situated on a small desk next to a second floor window. The inverted-vee is cut for my band of choice, 30-meters, and suspended from the eaves above my window. Next year will mark my 25th year as a ham. Ham radio was my first hobby, but it has been joined by shooting, flying, golf, and a grandson. I am more likely now to pick up my guitar or a laptop computer when I settle into my man room recliner. The little boy is too busy to sit in my lap. Nevertheless, he is forming memories of grandpa's radios, their dials and guages, and the never-to-be-touched Vibroplex and straight key. I regret that there is no longer a novice sub-band into which I can lead him in a few years.
The novice bands were indeed the shallow water of the hobby. My fondest memories were of time spent between 7.1 and 7.15 MHz. Even after becoming and Extra, that's where I gravitated. Sadly, at the close of the 1980s, I seldom found a novice to chew the rag with. It was a real, and a rare, pleasure to QRS and give some joy to an occasional newcomer. It is a pleasure to relive those days via the Novice Historical Society.