My Ham Radio “Career”

[This is a page full of reminiscences; feel free to ignore or skim!]

I got my Novice ham radio license in March, 1967, just before graduating from high school. Randy Hopper and I took the tests, administered by the Electric Shop teacher.  We both passed.   Randy never mastered Morse code (which was required for all licenses back then) and let his license lapse.  Me, I persisted…

NationalNC-303
National NC-303 Receiver

I borrowed a transmitter and receiver from my Uncle Lyle (he had been using them on Citizen’s Band, but they had been sitting idle for a while).    It was a National NC303 Receiver and a Viking II transmitter.
When I got them home I discovered why he hadn’t been using them; the transmitter wouldn’t transmit.

I dinked around with them for a few months trying to figure out what was wrong.  At that time my troublshooting skills were minimal.  I got impatient, went to Henry Radio in West Los Angeles and bought a used Heathkit DX-40, a low power transmitter.   These were vacuum tube devices so they were big.  I finally got on the air (Morse code only) in August of that year.

This was the summer after high school graduation.   I had a full-time summer
job working for the phon

JohnsonVikingII
Johnson Viking II Transmitter

e company (back then it was Pacific Telephone and Telegraph).   After getting home from work, before even going in the house I’d go out out to the shack (ham radio slang for “The place where all my equipment is”) and turn everything on and let it start warming up (this was all vacuum tube stuff,  remember).

 

After dinner I’d wander out to the shack, put on a pair of headphones and operate until 11 p.m. or later.  I did that every day of the week and as a result my my CW (Morse code) speed built up quickly.  As a result I was able to take the next level test (General class) in December.  Back then you had to go to the FCC office to take ham radio tests so I recall driving to the FCC field office in Long Beach for that test.  I passed it easily, as I’d also been studying radio theory all summer.

 

I continued to operate CW and study more radio theory, and passed the Advanced

HeathkitDX40
Heathkit DX 40 Transmitter

class test a year later, in December of 1968.  (The Advanced class test was theory only).

I kept studying theory, but around that time I discovered girls (OK, I was a late starter..) and my on-air radio time was significantly reduced.  As a result when I took the top ham test in the fall of 1970, I didn’t pass the CW portion (20 words per minute) of the Extra Class test.   Shortly after that I went into the Navy and my ham radio time was more limited.

I continued to operate over the years, and passed the Extra test in 1978, after I’d gotten out of the Navy the year prior.

In between the Advanced and Extra tests, I had gotten exposed to radioteletype while in the Navy.  I got an old teletype machine during my Navy years and got it on the air from Maine, then Virginia, then back home in California.   I operated on RTTY (RadioTeleTYpe) for about a dozen years and those were some of the most fun operating times I’ve had in my ham radio career.   I had many great contacts with ham radio operators all over the world.

Model 15 Teletype

 

 

About that time I had gotten my second computer, a CP/M system with a couple of S100 bus slots on it.   In order to have the computer talk to my teletypes, I designed and built an “interface” card to plug into one of the two S100 slots in the computer.   It took the computer keyboard data (in ASCII) and via the program I wrote (in 8080 assembly language) converted it to 5-level Baudot characters and sent it to the teletype.

S100 prototype card

 

packet
Packet Radio TNC (Terminal Node Controller)

After RTTY I got interested in “packet radio” which used a digital code over VHF FM radios to send data between stations.  I did that for a number of years.

Then I got a bit burnt out on ham radio (more correctly, around some of the politics fighting for channels for the packet radio system), and stayed mostly QRT (ham radio for idle; off the air) for almost 10 years.

I got active again around 2012, operating on another new HF (high frequency) digital mode called PSK31.  With it you can  type  back and for to hams all around the world with just a couple of watts of power and a relatively unsophisticated antenna system.

 

fldigi-640
PSK 31 computer program. Received text with beige background. Transmitted text goes in the blue area. Received signals shown in “waterfall” display below.

Most recently I’ve gotten involved in “digital mesh radio” which is a method of making digital networks over re-purposed wireless access points.   When I talk about it in front of various ham radio clubs I tell them it’s like packet radio only a million times faster.    We’re currently working at building out the local digital mesh network and having fun at that.

The fun never stops with ham radio 🙂

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Last edited 2/25/18