Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ham and Eggs Radio - Pt. I - "In The Beginning..."

So I'm a geek. I've been known to walk around with a radio on my hip or in my hand. Why? Cuz I love radio. How much do I love it? Well, I've been playing with radio since the CB days in the late 70's! Ever since the FCC ditched the licenses for Citizens Band when I was a kid, I payed on the radio. I had the toy 49 MHz walkies with the little morse code button. I even had a toy radio that I remember to this day!

It was a little CB reciever from a show I used to get into when I was a little kid. The show was called "Moving On", and it was about a couple of truck drivers that would help people in trouble in their driving around the country doing their truck driver thing. And they used the CB a lot! And I thought that was the coolest thing! Talking on a radio! So one Christmas, Santa brought me this little CB radio with a built in antenna. It was a 23 channel one and it had the "Moving On" Logo with a big rig on it. And it worked I could hear channels 1 through 23! It was awesome! Then I tried to get on the air with it! But for some reason they could never hear me. That was ok wioth me though, it worked on batteries and I could take it anywhere in the neighborhood! I was in heaven.

It was in and out of my toy box for a year and one day I finally got curious as to what a radio looked like on the inside. So I got a screw driver and removed all the screws, carefully putting them down in a place where I wouldn't lose them. One by one till I could open the case. And low and behold I saw a fascinating world! Transistors, capactiors, diodes, resistors. It was like a Micronauts world! (Remember them?!) I was hooked and that was the end of it. But back in those days, the internet was still for the universities and military. Doing whatever advanced research they did back then.

Then I discovered why no one would hear me! The damn mic cable wasn't even attached! It went into the chasis and was then tied in a knot!There wasn't even any wires to the mic! DAMN THEM!!!! DAMN THEM ALL TO HELL! Well, I was 6 or something at the time, so I didn't really say that. It was more like "Aw poop!". But you get the general idea of my emotional state then.

So a later, we're visiting a friend of the family. And he's got a CB!! Woo Hoo! And SWAT was on the TV!! Man, I was in heaven! So I asked if I could play with the radio, and he said sure. And that's when I fired up his little CB and started calling "Breaker! Breaker!". I learned the "lingo" from the TV "show". I don;t rememebr much of what happened after that other then talking to a lady. I remember her being nice and patient with me. But I enjoyed it.

I then vowed I would have a radio of my own that worked! But mom and dad were dead set against it. I guess that whole mythos about people on the CB being jerks and hoodlums. Well, I did meet my share in my CB days. But soon I was just using friends radio in their parent's car now and again. Like after school in junior high I would hop on the air from my best friend Bronson's father's truck. Talk for a bit till his dad was ready to go home from the union office. And that was basically how I stayed on the air all thourgh Jr. High.

When I got to high school, I wasn't on much. School took up a lot of my time as well as girls in my senior year. Biut after that, when I was working, I managed to get my hands on some radio equipment and hooked it up in the car and home. I met some interesting people I must say. Let's just say, I wouldn't leave my wallet out around them.

But a few years off and on of CB took it's toll on me. Back in high school I had decided to get my ham radio license. I knew nothing of the Amatuer radio service and wanted to find out more! So I hit the local library and found a few books on the subject. I read and learned how it all worked. Around that time, I was graduating from high school, was on the CB and Radio Shack was starting to distribute the Gordon West study books for getting your amateur radio license. So I saved up, and bought one and started to study. At that time I was working at my parish as a maintence worker and had my first car, a 1976 Dodge Dart. I bought it off one of my co workers. It ran great! I could do what I wanted when I wanted. Freedom! I put in my CB and was off! But CB was starting to get kinda stupid for me then. I had been reading about ham radio and knew more about it. People on the air said that hams were stuck up and snobby. Well, the ones that I had talked to locally were nothing like that. They were helpful and answered all kinds of questions. But me being me, said nothing and made no real judgements.

So I continued to study my handbook and listening to my code tapes. Back then, it was required to take a 5 word per minute morse code receive test, as well as a 30 question written one. So I studied and when I felt I was ready, I called the president of the local ham club, Gary, K2RKW, and he called his friend Otto, who's call escapes me right now... And another gentleman got a bunch of propective ham together and we all showed up at Johnstown High School for a testing session. I was pretty nervous because I wanted to get my license real bad. I took the test and they don't tell you how you did right away. But I was no nervous about my test, that I ended up throwing up later!

While I waited the 4 to 6 weeks for my license to come, I bought a radio. My HTX-100 from Radio Shack. I paid about $300 for it. It would only do 10 meters and only pout out about 25 watts of power and could only do Upper Sideband and CW (Morse code). But it was mine and I loved to just listen to it. At that time, the sunspot cycle was pretty high, so I heard a lot of DX (long distance) stations. Surinam was one that always boomed in! France, Germany, the UK, even South Africa and Saudi Arabia! Wow! I was soo itching to get on! Then finally, my license arrived. Back then, the FCC did everything by mail. No websites or phone systems. You had to wait! And you couldn't pick your callsign. You got what you got and you liked it! You could only change it when you upgraded t the next class of license. I ripped open the letter from the FCC to see what my callsign was. I hoped it was a good one. I whipped the paper out of the envelope and looked.. There it was! My callsign! My first callsign!


"Whoa!!!" I thought.. "That's an awsome callsign!". I loved it! I was so proud of myself. I rushed down stairs and fired up my HTX-100. For weeks I waited to push that tranmit button and now I could! I found a frequency that was quiet and made my first call! HOLY SHIT! FRANCE!!! France came back to me! It was awesome! I had been listening to QSOs (Morse code shorthand for a conversation) for weeks and knew what to say. It was awesome. My first ham radio contact! Sadly I don't have the logs from back then, as the FCC didn't really require them anymore. Nor do I have the QSL card (A postcard stations exchange to confirm a 2 way contact) from my first contact either. But that is ok. It's still a great memory and the start of a cool hobby.

Soon after I got fed up with some of the hijinx on CB. Ham radio seemed more to my liking. Most of the rumors of how hams acted were false. I was one of them now and I didn't act that way. I wasn't into yelling at people on the air and lockig down a channel because I didn't like what they had to say. Yeah, that can happen on ham radio, but justice is dealt out by the FCC, not by going to someone's house and smashing their shit up or clipping their feedlines. So I literally smashed my old CB radio and haven't been on the CB for quite some time.

I've listened in and heard people I haven't talked to in a long time, but I really don;t have any interest in keying up on CB. It's just not as fun as amateur radio. I can do without the constant noise from 30,000 people all talking at the same time on a world wide HF band. Even at night sometimes it was bad. I don't miss CB at all, and probably never will. Name another hobby that can talk directly to the astronauts on the space station or the shuttle directly? Damn few if any!

And so that is my humble beginnings in amateur radio.


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