Friday, January 2, 2009

Ham Radio

You’ll have to bear with me on this subject. I’m not sure I remember enough to write about it. This goes back over 50 years, to my first contact with Amateur Radio, more commonly called, “Ham Radio”. And, it’s been thirty years since I’ve had an Amateur Radio License. That means that I cannot comment on the current status of the “hobby”, as I was able to do with Cell Phones.

And, since I’m relying solely on my memory, I might be mistaken in some of the facts I write. My former associate at WEEC, Missionary Ken Anderson, now living in Florida, is going to be asked to confirm/deny some of my facts. He is STILL a Ham operator. By the time you read this on my “Blog”, Ken will have already read it.

My first contact was from John Burger, a fellow classmate of mine in High School in Mechanicsburg, OH. My guess is that he got me interested in it about 1946 or ‘47. In addition, my previously mentioned “New Guinea Tent Mate” Glen Grewell also encouraged me. Glen was a Ham for 66 years when he died at age 83, according to his daughter Marty Stover.

John got his Ham license right after the war, and he then “worked on” me, Bob Schetter and Ron Phillips there in town. Eventually, all three of us got licenses. They all lasted longer than I. Later, I’ll explain why I quit. I now remember some call signs: John Burger - W8CVM. Bob Schetter - W8HOW. Ron Phillips - W8HNY. They’re all three deceased now, sadly. I officiated at Bob’s funeral, and had prayer with Ron just before he died. John died in Florida. (Of course, someone else now has all of these call letters, including mine - two in Ohio, and one in Illinois.)

In order to get a “license”, you had to study the test material - and, learn Morse Code. (Though I would now be slow to “copy” the Code, I can still recite each letter pretty quickly.) The exam was given in Detroit, and I finally got my “ticket”, with the call letters: W8EOW.

Well, now that I have a license, what do I do? I “could” go out and buy a commercial ham radio set. Dollars!!! Right! No way.

In those days, a “true” Ham built his own set, using a Morse Code key. Voice communication came later - with the commercial sets.

So, from someplace, I got a “schematic diagram” of a Low Power transmitter. It had ONE tube, and a “key”. I built it.

One of the big costs was for a power supply. Besides AC filament voltage for the tube(s), you had to have from 50 to 500 volts of DC. Where to get these two power sources? Hmmm.

We had a “Hi FI” (so to speak) console radio in our house, that also played 78RPM records. Why not use that power? Sure. It only took maybe 4 or 5 wires to run from the HI FI to the “bread board” transmitter I built from some schematic I found in a Ham magazine.

The little “bread board”, maybe 12 inches square, had the wiring I needed for the “Tube socket” which would create the power.

I got the “board”, wires, and “tube socket”, and wired them up. What to use for a tube? Why not the 6L6 audio power amplifier tube in the HI FI? Sure! (Oh,,,,I now remember - the tube in the HI FI was a 6V6, not quite as powerful as the other. I BOUGHT a 6L6 and used it.)

I got an old base of an “octal” tube, wired it up to fit the tube base in the HI FI, took the tube from the HI FI and inserted it into the bread board, and I was in business. I got maybe 10 or 12 watts of power.


Had to have an antenna.

Since I was going to operate on the “80 Meter band” I had to have a wire nearly 135 feet long, to get the tube to “load up” on those frequencies. Ken reminds me that this was a “half wave length”.

My fellow Ham friends joined me in stringing a long wire from our upstairs unused bedroom, all the way to the back of our lot. (Using insulators at both ends, of course.) I connected a feeder wire from the “transmitter” out the window, to the “antenna”. I was in business!

Then, I had to have a receiver to listen to any answers I might get from my transmissions. I found a “second hand” short wave radio, that would cover 80 meters. I can ALMOST remember the make and model of that used receiver, but not yet. The terms “RCA” and “125” stick in my memory. I don’t know.

As excited as I could be, I hooked up the antenna; pulled the tube out of the radio and put it in the “transmitter“; plugged in the “socket” for power; turned on the radio, and then the Short Wave Receiver.

Scanning the 80 meter band, I heard some weak signals in Morse Code. When I heard someone call, in code: “CQ, This is (call letters)” (CQ - dah-di-dah-dit, dah dah di dah) (Are you impressed?) (CQ means: “Hey guys. Contact me. I want to gab.") I then tapped out that set of call letters, followed by mine, and waited. Not right away, but after some time (coupla hours?), I finally got an answer from a ham station in Canada. (To be expected - my antenna ran east and west. Canada was on the broad side.) Didn’t converse too long. Too excited.

Ya know what? I WAS A HAM!

I just now talked to Ken Anderson, and he made some suggestions which I adopted. I don’t mean to imply that Ken thereby now endorses all the facts I posit. Both of us wondered, though, how I generated the 80 meter frequency for the transmitter, since I distinctly remember only one tube. Maybe there was a crystal in the kit. Really, I didn’t know what I was doing, other than following the schematic instructions. Wonder of wonders, it DID work!

I may think of some of the experiences later, but I should say that when we moved to Chicago in 1954, I received the call W9KAX. Had some activity there, but not much.

Then, in 1965, we moved to Springfield, and I got the call W8GQJ. By that time, my activities at church and WEEC, along with family activities, kept me from much action on the Ham front.

In those days, you got a license for 5 years, and then had to apply for renewal, while confirming that you had been actively operating. I hadn’t been, so I asked a friend at a Radio Shop in Springfield what I should do. “Simple”, he said. “Just lie, and say that you HAVE been operating. No problem. They won’t check your log.”


Now, I’m not particularly a “paragon of virtue”, but I thought and prayed about that for weeks - and I just could NOT do it.

So, my Ham experience has ended, and other activities have taken its place.

Psalms 51:6 “…Thou desirest truth in the inward parts.”



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