Amateur Radio and Me

I’ve always steered clear of social networking pages. Never could understand why anyone would want to publish loads of information about their personal life to the world. When I returned to the airwaves after an extensive absence and discovered www.QRZ.com. It became quite apparent that a new dimension had been added to my QSOs! With my computer up and running next to the rig, I could learn more about the guy or gal at the other end of the key. So in the spirit of exchange, I decided I would get onboard and reciprocate.

www.QRZ.com and similar methods of accessing other hams’ personal pages certainly can enhance the depth and quality of a good “ragchew”. For me, the “ragchew” has been my favorite aspect of operating. In fact, I’m a member of the original Rag Chewers’ Club:

I was born in  Middletown, New York. I became interested in electronics because my Dad had some Popular Electronics magazines laying around the house and they had a shortwave listeners ‘club’ where one could register for a listener’s callsign. I was given WPE2KSU. It was magical to listen to far away stations on Dad’s old RCA Victor combination phonograph and AM/FM/SW receiver with the kind of booming audio that only tubes could produce. I spent many a night in front of that glass dial, lit by a couple of softly glowing #47 pilot lights, dreaming about those places whose romantic names were etched into the glass – Bombay, Vietnam, Ankara, Paris, London…

It was a natural progression toward ham radio. In a nutshell: Dad’s receiver died one day.  I took it apart so I could test the tubes. Went down to Larkin’s soda fountain where the big tube tester was. Discovered that the counterman, Ray, was into electronics as a hobby. He gave me a book on crystal radios . I built a crystal radio. It worked!   Dad bought me a 500 milliwatt, 27 megacycle Knight-Kit walkie-talkie kit. I built it. It worked. I was hooked!
Ray, the counterman at Larkin's, was not a ham. He was what was referred to as an "audiophile" back then: someone interested in the newly emerging stereophonic world. But he knew his basic electronics and for the price of a cherry coke and french fries after school, Ray was more than happy to talk shop. One day, my Aunt Rose came down for a visit from Syracuse and brought me an AC/DC Arvin radio, just a simple broadcast band receiver with tubes like the 35W4 and 50C5. Dad had a Pilot FM Tuner in the basement which he no longer wanted and he gave it to me for parts. Other than a couple of missing tubes, there was nothing wrong with it. I connected an old pair of 2000 ohm military surplus headphones to it and listened to WVNJ-FM in New Jersey every night. Ray suggested that I wire it up to use the Arvin radio's amplifier. He drew me a schematic and explained it to me. Pretty much just a capacitor and a connection to the grid of the audio output tube from the Pilot Tuner as I recall.
Now these were the 'good ole days' before the curtain of irrational fear descended upon the parents of America. At least this is my opinion. I remember fearing that the Russians would drop atomic bombs on us and we'd all be killed in an instant and I feared the big dog one street over. I do not recall being threatened by any human predators, poison in the Halloween candy, terrorism, horrible diseases, and I certainly do not recall being over-parented. I lived in a time when a youngster could grow, experiment, and learn by experience. If a kid showed up in school with a bump from falling out of a tree while putting up his antenna, the cops and Social Services were not called in to investigate the parents' child-raising suitability.
So I got to open up radios with 'lethal voltages' -- got shocked a few times, figured out how and why, and made it my business to not get shocked the same way twice. I "survived" successfully mating the Pilot Tuner to the Arvin, moved on to fixing relatives' TVs once Ray explained where the 30,000 volts were and how to ground out all the filter caps, and began to develop the beginnings of confidence in my abilities.
Electronics was my whole world back then. Capacitors, resistors, power transformers, switches, neon bulbs, tube sockets, variable capacitors, #47 pilot lamps, RF chokes - stuff I could rip out of discarded equipment and fill my first 'junk box' with. Stuff that I could hold in my hand, connect together, and build something electronic from. Didn't need no stinkin' video games...all I needed was my Lafayette Electronics Volt-Ohm-Meter donated to me by Ray the Counterman.
Exposure to Cub Scouting brought Boys LIfe magazine into our house. I was really excited to read about the adventures of young ham operators who always managed to save the day. It was a regular column that appeared but I cannot recall the details or the names of the heroes. Of course, Hallicrafters made sure they placed their ads in close proximity. Man, I'd just lie in bed and imagine owning one of those beautiful Hallicrafters receivers. I wanted to become a ham radio operator because Boys Life claimed people my age actually could study and earn a Novice License. There were no hams in my family and no hams in my neighborhood. My dad had little electronics knowledge but he supported me 100% in my quest. He and mom scraped together enough money to buy me a National NC-60 General Coverage superhet receiver. It was a start. It covered 550 kilogcycles all the way to 30 megacycles, far beyond the narrow Shortwave bands on Dad's RCA Victor. My new NC-60 had one other thing - a very important thing: it had a BFO (Beat Frequency Oscillator) which made it possible to copy code which was a requirement for the Novice class amateur radio license back then.
It was left to me to figure out how to proceed...
Below is my National NC-60. Aunt Rose's gift - the Arvin radio - is sitting on top of it and Dad's old Pilot FM tuner is to the left. I believe the portion of a certificate showing is my old Popular Electronics Shortwave Listeners Club membership certificate assigning me WPE2KSU. It sure was a big deal 'way back then!
 
Here I am with my Remco Civil Defense Center, a very popular item during the Cold War period. Almost as popular as bomb shelters! This is 1955 which makes me six years old. If you double click on the image you will see my left hand resting on the "telegraph key". A sure sign of things to come! That television set to my left is a Fada model and there is a humongous magnifying glass over the front of it. Little did I know that a few years later, that RCA/Victor AM/FM/Shortwave/Phonograph console on which the television is sitting would introduce me to the wonders of shortwave radio and change my life.