10-4 Good Buddy
I started in ham radio when I was in high school. I’m originally from a neighborhood called Ridgewood that straddles the Brooklyn Queens border in New York City. At about the height of the CB craze in 1979, I became interested in CB. My Mom helped me get a Lafayette base radio and a Radio Shack 5/8 wave vertical antenna. I put that on top of the apartment building whereI lived in Queens. In the summer of 1980, we moved to Clearwater, Florida. I brought my CB and my antenna along in the move and good thing as the antenna was going to come in handy sooner than I thought. Beyond the various happenings of a know-it-all 15 year old New Yorker—which could not be a more arrogant or obnixious combination—I did not do much with the CB or antenna. I started at Dunedin High School in 1980 and a few weeks into classes, I heard an announcement on the PA stating that an Amateur Radio class was going to be help after school. I had heard of amateur radio (the barber in my neighborhood at home was a ham), but I presumed one had to be 18 to become involved. When I went to the first meeting, I quickly found out that there were no ager restrictions. With that newfound knowledge, I started learning code and theory for the Novice test. Marion Shields, W4AFC and Paul Bostrom, KI4FI conducted the class along with the high school dean, John MacDonald (K4BR, ex-WD4COL).
Kill the Big Bum
When Marion first taught the code, the way it was done back then was to send the code characters slowly. As the novice test required only 5 wpm copying ability, I suppose the idea was to just do everything slowly. The other thing added were these little mnemonic devices. An example is the letter Y. This is made up on – . – – or dash, dot, dash, dash. In order to remember this, I vividly recall Marion sending the Y with the code key and repeating “Kill the Big Bum—ok, maybe it was bug. There is nothing wrong with the mnemonic, but when one sends and receives code at faster speeds–I can copy solidly at 25wpm nowadays—the picture of a CW operator standing over the cold corpse of a bum/bug sort of slows me down. It took quite a while to get past the remembering of that mnemonic. By the way, I know code is not required anymore, but if you do choose to learn it for fun, use the Farnsworth method. That is where the characters are sent at 18 wpm but the spacing is slower. Then as you improve your speed, you just decrease the spaces between characters. Learning the way I did, I had to relearn the code using the Farnsworth method before I could pass my 13wpm.
In October of 1980, I passed the Novice exam. The CW test was the hard part. The theory test was really easy. After receiving my novice ticket, I then needed to operate. The high school had a radio club with some equipment. They had a Ten-Tec Century 21 CW Transceiver along wth some tube-based EICO radio. I was able to operate this but having a station at home was what I really wanted. Remember that CB 5/8 wave vertical antenna? Well, CB operates on what is called the 11 meter band (around 27 Mhz). The amateur radio 10 meter Novice-class band operates at 28.1 to 28.2 Mhz. It only requires reducing the length of the CB antenna a little bit to make it resonant on the 10, band. We were going to make a dipole but Paul BOstrom saw in my garage I had this aluminum,. He asked what that was and we immediately repurposed the CB antenna (I was not about to go back to CB anyway). We had the antenna up in an afternoon. But, now what to use as a radio. I forget when we actually put the antenna up but I know the club loaned me the Century 21 radio. I used that radio for 100s of contacts. As an aside, when the club dissolved years later, I asked Paul if I could buy the Century 21. He agreed and I have that radio on my shelf I keep around for nostalgia. I operate it once in awhile too. Compared to my Elecraft K3 it is an awful radio, but it is still fun.
More to come…