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'Gun-Free Zones' are only gun-free, until somebody brings a gun. - Unknown

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Memory of "Old" Times

Maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this mornin.

For some strange reason, I was recalling my mis-spent youth as an amateur (ham) radio operator. My kids think I was a contemporary of Generals Grant & Lee. To tell the truth, Washington was my contemporary! :>)

I remembered when radio transmitters had a multitude of dials to set, and reset, each time I wanted to change frequency. Back then, I operated within a band of frequencies, not on designated channels. I didn't progress (regress?) to channelized radios until after I was married.

My first receiver was a Hallicrafters S-77 general coverage receiver, covering from about 0.5 Mcs to 30, or so, Mcs. Dad said he bought it when he & mom lived in Colombia for two years - before I was born. He used it to listen Armed Forces Radio Services to pick up stateside news and baseball games. When I was 12 I joined the Boy Scouts and a year or two later became interested in acquiring the Radio Merit Badge. We still had the radio. Usually it sat on the shelf of his bed's headboard. He'd string a random wire antenna out the window.

One of the Radio Merit Badge elective requirements was to obtain a Novice Class FCC license. Some one steered us to the ARRL for study materials.

That Novice license was quite a challenge for this high school freshman. After studying, and studying, and studying and learning the Morse code (5 words per minute), then we had to find somebody to administer the exam. Novice class exams were given only by mail and had to be administered by a General Class licensee or higher.

We didn't know of anyone in our small Texas town of Hebbronville. No one. Dad did find a man, J.J. Bresenham W5UOP (SK), living about 12 miles away in Bruni. JJ was qualified and willing to help. Later, not long before we moved away, we found out there were 4 or more hams in Hebbronville at that time.

The railroad telegrapher, yes, there still was a telegraph office in Hebbronville in '62-63, helped me practise International Morse Code. He had learned the International code in the Air Force. The railroad still used American Morse, developed by Samuel F.B. Morse, and sounders. This gentleman, I do not remember his name, could send, or type out, a message and carry on a conversation simultaneously. I've never been that good! The fingers on his right hand were thickly calloused where he operated both a straight key and and bug as needed.

I received my Novice license in June of 1963 just a couple of weeks, maybe a month, before we were supposed to leave a go to Hallettsville, Texas. At my insistence (whining!) Dad was able to partially install a transmitting antenna. It wasn't complete, so I didn't get to operate from Hebbronville. Mom & Dad bought me my first transmitter, an E.F. Johnson Ranger, often called the Ranger I, since the upgraded Ranger II had recently been introduced.

About a week after we moved into Hallettsville Dad found a local gentleman to install our antenna for us. Rudi Petru K5??? showed how we did have enough pieces to make a working antenna and set us up. It was my 15th birthday. Rudi checked out my station to ensure I hadn't mis-connected or endangered anything and went to his next job. He turned out to be a good friend.

I had the daunting task of establishing my first contact, or QSO, all by myself. Rudi had given advice, but it's still scary to go where no one you know has gone before. I worked, contacted, W4ODR, Memphis Naval Air Station, the next day for the first of thousands of QSOs since.

Novice licensees (no longer available) were allowed medium power of 75 watts (maximum for the highest classes was a 1,000 watts), crystal control (fixed frequency within a small operating band. Higher class licensees could operate anywhere within much larger band spans) and cw-only. CW stands for continuous wave and implies telegraphy. Higher class licensees could use CW, voice and teletype, an early form of digital communications then using noisy electro-mechanical monsters for coding and decoding. Digital teletype was first introduced, to my knowledge, just about the time I got my Novice license.

More hysterical history, later - if you're good! :>)

God Bless Ya'll !

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