RAN Technology

 Posted By: Robert Nickels (ranickels)
Posted: 11/11/2023

Historic 11/11/2023 

My Own Ham Radio Story by W9RAN

Everyone has a story of how they got involved in ham radio - this is mine.  

It started much earlier, including receiving a Knight Kit Span Master shortwave radio for Christmas in about 1963, at age 12.   I'll never forget the night my dad and I finished building it and I wanted to try it out.   It came with a 50 ft. antenna which was still coiled up - but at my insistence we unspooled a few feet and hung the coil of antenna wire from a light fixture and powered the Span Master up.  I could not believe the cacuphony of squeals, hisses, and voices that came forth!    As soon as the antenna was properly stretched out to a tree, I'd spend every available hour with my hand on the Span Master dial (not uncommon when you're trying to tune SSB on a regen!)

Life seems to be a result of random events at times, but often in retrospect we can identify key points in time that changed the course of our lives or careers.    

One of mine was the day I first met Jack Crowdell WAØBOK who lived in the nearby village of Benedict.   In Nebraska at that time, every county was allowed to publish a booklet showing the name of every automobile license plate holder, and that meant all the ham call letter plates were listed in the book.   I didn't know about the Callbook yet, but that enabled me to learn who the hams in the county were.  I didn't know most of them but through my SWLing I had heard WAØBOK on 75 meters, and decided as an active ham he would be the best to advise me, so I wrote a postcard to  him when I was 14.   That was the fall of 1965 and when my dad and I visited his shack the following Saturday afternoon he told us about the Novice classes that had just begun in Seward, Nebraska, taught by the Blue Valley Amateur Radio Club of which he was an active member.  The problem was,  Seward might as well have been on the moon when you're 14 and your transportation is by Schwinn!

My dad knew how serious I was about ham radio, so in return for numerous promises (keeping up my grades, good behavior, chores at home, etc) he offered to dirve me over to the novice classes every Tuesday night - a 60 mile round trip.   After the first week or two my dad said that as long as he was going there, he might as well pay attention and go for his license too.   As a result, in early 1966, I became WNØOHO and and my dad became WAØOHP.    He didn't enjoy CW but did sweat out a few contacts and then passed his Technician license exam, and proudly displayed his WAØOHP licence plate on his car til the day he became a SK at age 90.   It now is proudly displayed in my shack.

 I have the receipt from when we bought my SX-110 receiver while visiting my grandparents near Springfield MO in June of 1965, and I remember  Jack's approval of it for novice use because he had used an SX-99 which is basically the same design.     I wish I knew the name of the shop where we found it -  it was a place that sold radio-tv parts and we stopped only because it was in the phone book and who knew what you might find?   I remember it being in a glass display cabinet in front of the order desk and the price was just a bit more than the Knight Kit R-55 that I had my eye on (lucky me!).    The price was $75 but my dad negotiated them down a bit, and - no sales tax in those days!  I also knew it was a good receiver because I'd seen it on the shortwave radio page in the Monkey Wards catalog.

My dad and I made a trip to WRL in Council Bluffs in November of '65 and bought a "reconditioned"  HT-40 and a few books and accessories in preparation for the coming Novice career.    Anyone who was first licensed in those days remembers the long wait (weeks!) for the actual license to arrive in the mail, so you could go on the air.   That occurred around Febr. 1966 because another WRL receipt included 100 ft. of RG8/U coax ($12.40 and a PL-259 for 39 cents and Blitz Bug lightning arrester for $3.95).   We couldn't have gone on the air before acquiring the coax, which fed a HyGain 80/40 meter trap dipole on a 40 ft. mast my dad welded up from scrap gas pipe from work.  The trials and tribulations of high school quickly faded away once I got home after school and fired up the rig to talk to my teenage ham buddies on 80 meter CW!  

My dad's deal was that  we'd split the cost of the radio equipment 50/50,  which meant I had to keep up my lawn mowing and birthday-money-saving.     I remember being overwhelmed by the number of radios in the WRL "Reconditioned Equipment Dep't" - which I've done my best to recreate in my basement).     An EV 727 "Banana Mic" was purchased months before I got my General, which was probably a reflection of my commitment to a life of CW operating ;-)     I obtained three crystals for 80 and two for 40 courtesy of a five-fer deal from JAN Crystals.  One of the 40 meter rocks was a bit sluggish but I found if I put my fingers around it while sending it would oscillate fine.   I had a free hand so no big deal!   A couple of Heathkit accessories and a homebrewed power and T/R switch box completed the Novice station.   I was proud to be so well equipped!

The next summer before my Novice would have expired in the fall was to be General Class Study Time for me.   My dad again made me a deal - in return for various chores he would rent an Instructograph to help me get my code speed up.   There also was an agreement that I wouldn't just goof around on the novice bands at 8 wpm, which was tempting, but even I understood staying in my comfort zone wouldn't accomplish my goal.  Still,  the first thing I did was slow the Instructograph down to 8 wpm and memorize the first part of the tape.   But, after realizing that cheating wasn't going to get me to my goal -  (I really REALLY wanted to be able to use fone and a VFO!) - so I finally put my nose to the paper tape as it were and practiced an hour or more every day.    That, along with studying the License Manual,  allowed me to pass my General class examination in August 1966 - two months before my 16th birthday.    I lived close enough to Omaha that I had to go and take the General exam in person -  I well remember how cold and intimidating the federal building was - even in August.    The FCC came to Omaha four times a year and I think there would have been time for one more attempt before my 1-year Novice expired - but I passed on the first try!   I could operate an amateur station at the full legal power level before I could legally drive a car on my own!

Some time in the 90s after moving to Illinois and getting interested in boatanchors and remembering those early days, I made arrangements to drive down to visit Jack during one Christmas break trip back to Nebraska.  As the Brits would say,   I was gobsmacked when he sent me a copy of that postcard as you see below, written in my very own scribble.   His introduction to the Blue Valley Amateur Radio Club that nabled me to become a ham was truly a life-changing event for me and I'm very glad I had a chance to tell him how much it meant to me as he became SK a few years later at age 73.   The photo below shows him at a younger age, after a Swan Cygnet had replaced his trademark HW-12 and the personal computer  occupied the spot where the SX-99 once was.   Even today, I can hear his deep voice as if he were in the room with me.  Thank you, Jack.

I must recognize two gentlemen who were responsible for teaching the Novice classes.   Willard "Pete" Peterson, WØDOU, was an engineer at KOLN-TV in nearby Beaver Crossing NE and in addition to teaching the theory classes, he constructed many visual aids to demonstrate electronics principles for the class.  He was also a master homebrewer, having built a SSB transceiver for the club station and many six meter and orther rigs that he would bring to club meetings, which inspired me to begin homebrewing my own gear, which I do still.    The other is Johnny O'Dell, WØZOU, who was a carpenter who taught the code part of the classes.  As a fellow woodworker,  my dad instantly recognized the gauging clamps for a framing square that Johnny attached to his Vibroplex to slow it down to Novice speeds.   What a feeling it was after he collected our papers one night and after a short break announced that we'd all passed our 5WPM test!   

In those pre-vanity callsign days, it was an unusual coincidence that both their calls, and the club station callsign WAØHOU are so similar.

Jack, Johnny and Pete are Silent Keys now but I owe them a lot for the impact they had on my life and career.   They helped me get on the path and the rest of the journey, as they say, is history!  

As I signed that postcard 58 years ago..."Thanks and 73"   Especially to you,  Dad.   As anyone who reads this can tell, the most important person in making my ham radio story a reality was my dad.   If there's a lesson to be learned, it is the importance of parents supporting their childrens dreams and ambitions, whatever they might be.

Bob Nickels W9RAN


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