Radio… what an awesome thing!
I’ve had a fascination with radio for years. My first radio memory was playing with that “big weird radio” my mom had in my childhood. I don’t remember the model but I know it was a Grundig similar to the one I found a photo of (image to the right). I can remember scrolling through the dial and listening to strange things from all over the world, but I never dreamed you could actually talk to those people! I also remember waiting for it to warm up and the wonderful glow from those tubes!
All I really knew about amateur radio was that there was someone in our neighborhood when I was a kid that would periodically interfere with out television set and my mother would grumble about “that d*mn ham” down the street. Needless to say, with an opinion like that I certainly wasn’t inclined to explore that hobby!
I had the typical toy walkie-talkies like a lot of kids had, but they were (obviously) limited. However, as a product of the 70s, I was a fan of the TV show “The 6 Million Dollar Man” and I had a lot of the accompanying toys. One of those toys was Steve Austin’s “Backpack Radio” which was an honest-to-goodness working crystal radio. I listened to it for hours, partly from the fascination of receiving a radio signal without any batteries! It sparked my first interest in antennas because it had a little metal alligator clip that you attached to a grounded object for signal. I distinctly remember pressing it in to the soft bark of a eucalyptus tree in the neighborhood and getting great reception.
In high school, a friend of mine and I would play with some CB radios we had. We primarily used them when we went camping to locate each other and chat when one of us was out on a trail. Cell phones weren’t an option back then, and probably wouldn’t have worked out in the areas we would frequent anyway. I remember my friend’s dad being involved with REACT, but I really didn’t know much about it.
Fast-forward a looong time and I’m getting interested again in radio in the 1990s. By now, I’ve talked to the local ham radio club at our state fair year after year and I’m intrigued, but the CW requirement intimidated me enough that it took me quite some time before I finally got a training book and put a radio on my wish list for Christmas. That radio, however, was NOT a great choice for a beginner, but I didn’t know that. It was a DIY kit and I’m pretty sure it was a QRP CW kit as well. I got frustrated and never finished building it, and the training book got put on a shelf. I tried to convince a friend of mine to train and get licensed together, but he didn’t seem interested, and I didn’t pursue it.
Finally, in 2014, I heard about the cheap Chinese radios available and I knew that the CW requirement had been lifted, so I decided that it was time to finally “git ‘r done” I did a bunch of self-study online at HamStudy.org and planned to test for my technician license. When I was regularly passing practice tests online, I contacted a local radio club to schedule a test. A friendly VE told me I could test for multiple licenses at one sitting for no extra fee, and said, “As long as you’re testing for technician, why not take the general test also? It’s a lot of the same kind of material and if you know your technician material well, you should be able to pass the general also.” I quickly decided not to limit myself to just technician, and started to study general courses as well. In December 2014, I passed the technician and general exams in one evening, and decided to take the extra test as well, “just because”. I knew I hadn’t studied or prepared for the Extra test, so I didn’t expect to pass it, but I was pleased to get 26 questions right. (far short of the 37 passing score, but I was encouraged!)
Update as of Christmas 2015:
I was the blessed recipient of a previously-loved Kenwood TS-430S and a 40m dipole, so I’m poking around the airwaves and getting to know the ways of HF.