In the Beginning

It’s been a lifelong adventure. And after all these many years, ham radio still makes me smile

I got started with radio when I was 13. A neighborhood friend and I would spend evenings competing to see which of us could log the most distant AM broadcast stations. That led to the discovery of White’s Radio Log, a publication  handy for identifying broadcast stations, and it included advertisements that opened the door to a world of radio adventure.

Before long, I had a subscription to Popular Electronics and started building all sorts of odd things that either lit up, made noise, or detected RF. When they didn’t smoke. I built several crystal radios and soon began digging around the library for more advanced crystal detector designs.

At some point I bought an old Hallicrafters SX-140 receiver. The guy who sold it to me told me it “worked great”. It didn’t. Wouldn’t even turn on. But I repaired it myself — with a little help from the electronics instructor at school. That was one sweet receiver. I used to fall asleep at night listening to the exotic sounds of shortwave stations half a world away.

In 1974 I discovered CQ Magazine on the periodical rack at the bookstore and poured over it for weeks trying to decipher this thing called amateur radio. I found a local radio club and attended one monthly meeting thinking I could get some help getting a license. I was sixteen and everyone else was a hundred years old and the entire meeting was highly contentious with a lot of arguing and gnashing of teeth.

I gave up on getting help from the club and contacted the American Radio Relay League. Yeah, that’s what they called themselves back then. They sent me a “welcome” letter with the suggestion that I contact that same angry club I had previously endured.

The following school year I learned that the print shop teacher, Robert LeMasters, WA9NZQ was an active and kindly amateur operator. We became friends and spent many lunch hours together talking about radio. He got me up to speed and soon I felt ready for the Novice test, but Bob was a Technician and couldn’t administer it.

That’s when fate stepped in.

My best friend in high school was dating a young lady whose father was a ham with a General ticket and he gave me the code and written tests. Now as it turned out, his daughter also had a best friend, and her and my friend wanted us all to double-date. They set us up on a blind date and thirty-seven years and four children later, I think it’s going to stick!

Armed with my Novice ticket (WD9GCT) I started building a station. Heathkit HW-16 with an HG-10B VFO. I installed a dipole alongside my Mom and Dad’s house, within inches of a power line, drilled a big hole in the windowsill of my bedroom for the feed-line, and got on the air.

I’m still not certain why my Dad didn’t kill me.

My first contact was with a ham in Florida (I still have that QSL card). I was active nightly and soon had even had arranged a weekly sked with a Canadian operator, a schedule we maintained until I went off to college.

After a year, I upgraded to Technician and had a new call, N9AVG.

In those days the General test was taken in front of an FCC examiner who traveled to Indianapolis, the closest testing place for me, a couple times each year.

The 13wpm code test was a cinch. I’d been using CW exclusively for more than a year and 13wpm was just loafing. More than thirty of us gathered in a large room at the courthouse where they had set up a record player, of all things, with a built-in speaker. The CW test was copy only, and the sounds of Morse bounced off the walls and tall ceiling of the room.

They sent five minutes of text and I had to copy one solid minute perfectly to pass. I did pass the test, but was a bundle of nerves and flop sweat by the time I walked out of the courthouse that day.

Married, raising a family and advancing a career, ham radio has been along for the ride wherever we roamed. Over the years I upgraded to Advanced, then Extra and chose the vanity call sign that I hold now, KE9V. I’ve held every class license available to me through the years and have never taken an extended break from the hobby.

Ham radio scratches some itch I have to communicate and explore the technology of radio. Participation has given me a career in engineering, life-long friendships, and has furthered my education. It has endlessly fascinated and frustrated me, and even introduced me to my wife.

It’s been a lifelong adventure. And after all these many years, ham radio still makes me smile.

Author: Jeff Davis


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