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It's summer and time to daydream a little.
Last week I reminisced about my short-wave listening days and how I wanted to learn more about radio.
There were lots of distractions during high school. The homework, the social activities, the extracurricular activities - all of it took a lot of time, so there was plenty to compete with radio and electronics. I'd say that camera club won out. I spent a lot of time learning how to take pictures, develop the film, and print black and white photos using chemicals in the darkroom. I even built my own home darkroom and got quite good at photography. I joined the staff on the high school newspaper. One good thing about photography was that it had sort of a built-in balance to it. I didn't spend all my time cooped up in the darkroom because I loved to get out and take pictures. That meant lots of hiking and biking. Although I always kept up my short-wave listening, it wasn't until I started university that I started to think more seriously about ham radio and participating in actually being on the air instead of only listening.
"Let's get our ham radio licenses", I suggested to my long-time childhood buddy Alan.
But Alan was interested in other things, so I struck out on my own to learn more. ARRL had a study guide, and I found a local ham - the father of one of my high school friends - who would administer the Novice exam. I bought a code course on an LP record - the technology of the day. I wish I still had it! Anyway, the less structured college schedule allowed me more time to spend studying the Morse code so that I would be able to pass the 5 word per minute exam. I started out by learning the easy letters and numbers and just added a letter or punctuation character regularly as I continued my studies. When I knew all of the necessary characters, I worked on actual words and groups of letters and numbers, and then short sentences. The problem with the LP record code course was that it was easy to guess what was coming next. You can only get so much on an LP, and it wasn't enough material to prevent you from memorizing it after you heard the same thing over and over.
Nonetheless, I finally got good enough to take the exam, which I passed on the first try. My Elmer, the fellow who had administered the exam, loaned me something much better for code study: an Instructograph. This mechanical device had an electric motor to move a paper tape from one reel to another across a head that allowed contacts to be closed and a sound produced when a hole on the paper tape passed through. It looked a little like a reel to reel tape recorder. I considered myself pretty lucky to have the Instructograph, since it was obviously an expensive, highly specialized learning tool. It came with several paper tapes, which pretty much took care of the memorization problem I had with the LP record. You could adjust the speed, beginning slowly enough to copy, then challenging yourself by upping the speed to the point where you had to concentrate and really work to pull out the characters, words, and numbers. It was perfect for pushing my code speed up to the requisite 13 words per minute that I would need for General.
Back then - in 1967 - it was necessary to study your code and do so diligently. The Novice license was good for only one year. It was never intended to be anything but a "learner's permit" on the way to the regular license, which was the General Class. The Instructograph worked great, and because it had headphones I didn't disturb other family members. The license with my assigned callsign WN0TDA, came in the mail and I was ready to get on the air.
I should mention that I went to college locally so I was able to live at home, and my parents were supportive of my ham radio hobby. I had lots of room on our city lot for antennas and could easily get wire antennas up for 80 through 10 meters. Not only that, but there was a local radio club and the university had its own radio club. Before I was even licensed, I'd found a brand-new Lafayette Radio short-wave receiver. It did cover the ham bands, so I hunted up a used Knight-Kit T-60 transmitter to pair up with it to make a station. The code key was a straight key that I had been also using for code practice. One thing that new hams seldom think about today is how you will switch the antenna between the receiver and the transmitter. Almost all of us have "transceivers" that incorporate the transmitter and receiver functions in one unit. Transceivers have automatic antenna switching, so when you key the transmit function by sending code, the antenna is switched to the transmit side of the transceiver and the receive function is muted. But back then, almost everyone had separate transmitters and receivers and you needed some way to switch the antenna between them. If you had the money, you could buy a Dow-Key relay to add to the feedline, and it would switch automatically between the transmitter and receiver. I was a poor college student and couldn't afford extravagances like an antenna relay. Off to the hardware store I went, and the closest one was Sears. I still remember the startled and worried look the nice lady clerk gave me when I asked for a "knife switch" in the electrical department.
"I think those are illegal", she said, eyeing me like I was a young hoodlum in the making instead of the skinny bespectacled nerd that I was.
Obviously she thought I wanted to buy a switchblade knife. But another clerk knew what I needed, and I went home with a double pole double throw knife switch, which was perfect for manually switching the antenna feedline from the receiver to the transmitter.
To be continued...
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator