My over 50
71 Years in Ham Rdio - An American EXPAT Living in Davao
An American EXPAT Living in Davao
My over 58 years in Ham Radio
Links to each section:
(in 4 parts)
It started with 'XYZ'...
Many peoples life story contains some event that years later
you can trace back your current circumstances and relate things
back to the 'start'.
Mine is no different. And I now can say "I wouldn't be doing..."
if it wasn't for 'XYZ'.
My 'XYZ' was and still is Amateur Radio Operating (Ham Radio).
Please do not confuse CB Radio (like the typical over-the-road trucker
uses) with Ham Radio. Ham operators (in the USA) require a license from
the Federal Commnunications Commission that conveys various privledges
depeding on the 'level' of your license. CB operators require no such
All amateur radio operators license examinations contain tests about
'rules and regulations', electronic communications theory, and you must demonstrate
the ability to send and receive Morse coded (dots and dashes) radio
transmissions. The depth of these tests get increasingly more difficult
as the license level increases.
I passed my first FCC test for my Novice level license in 1960 at the age of 14,
and received the federal callsign of KNØKWK, with the 'N' included
to indicate a novice (apprentice) operator. This novice license required
passing the 'rules and regs' and radio theory exams, and required being able
to send and recieve Morse Coded transmissions at a rate of 5 words per minute
(WPM), which sounded like this...
5 WPM CW (code)
which says the call letters of radio station ON4SKY, a station in Belgium.
Novice licesees are limited to one year of operation, then they pass
a higher level of licensing to continue. You are also restricted
as a novice to CW (code) transmissions, no voice is allowed. Also you
limited as to where (in the radio spectrum) you can operate. So, there
is a great interest in progressing to upper levels.
But where does the boy of age 14 get the incentive to go through
all the learning and tests to get licensed? Remember, this was 1960,
way way before personal computers, and the internet. Heck, Bill Gates was
only 5 years old in 1960. Well the answer is a bit of a story in itself.
This house and garage was constructed in the early 1940's at 304 Macalester St., in St. Paul,
Minnesota. It is the house I grew up in and is modeled as it appeared in the 1970's and 1980's.
I have included the ham radio tower and antenna that existed on the buildings roof at that
time. It was the first location of my K0KWK ham radio station in 1960. I have continuously
licensed as an amateur radio for over 52 years. The antennas consisted of a 20-15-10 meter
band tri-band beam. Stacked over that was a 16 meter band mono-baner. At the very top as
a 2 meter band verticle. The overall height of the antennas were 55-65 feet. I hate to
recall how many times as a much younger man I had installed and climbed that tower. I am
now 66 years old, and that was a job for a much younger man. The home (now without the radio
tower) still stands today looking very much a it did when I was a young man.
About 4 blocks south down Macalester St. was Mattocks School, my elementary
school from age 5 to age 12. The building no longer exists, but it
looked like this.
In the rear of Mattocks school is a large (then) playground area, that in
the very cold Minnesota winters, was flooded with water and turned into
an ice skating rink from about November to March each year. I spent hours
skating there as I always was an ice hockey player from a young age.
After my 'graduation' from Mattocks I moved on to Highland Park Junior
High School for my grade's 7 to 9 education. HPJHS looked like this.
At the HPJHS one of the faculty members was a science teacher named
Joe Altobell. Joe was also a long time ham operator whoes call sign was
WØSUU, who became in ham terms a 'Silent Key' (passed away) on May 1, 1993.
He headed a school after hours 'club' dedicated to becomming a ham operator.
I took an interest in ham radio because (at least back then) you often
constructed your own radio equipment. This was long before printed
circuit boards, before integrated circuits, even largly before transistors
used in ham radios. But this was TUBES (remember those 'glass bottles')
in your old TV set? And it was hand wiring, ftom point A to point B.
This was right up my alley because I was a tinkerer anyway.
So through Joe's instruction, and a lot of home study, I learned
Morse code, and practiced and practiced. I remember spending many many
hours listening to my set of 33 1/3 rpm phonograph records (even magentic cassette tapes
weren't invented yet) that contained pre-recorded sessions in Morse code.
And eventually I got my 'code speed' up to the required 5 WPM. The
'Rules and Regs' and the 'radio theory' progressed also. I never 'enjoyed'
the Morse code, but it was required.
But things change with age. Here's a couple of links to articles
in Wikipedia with the latest details...
So by my ninth grade at age 14, I was ready, and took the ham radio examination.
And to my pleasure I passed. Then I waited, and waited until the FCC issued
my new call letters. You never knew what letters you would receive.
After several months the official letter arrived and contained those unique
letters that would be mine and mine only, and a still are to this very day.
And they were KNØKWK. Wow! I couldn't have been happier.
I was already planning on how to obtain my General Class license and make
the 'N' go away in my call sign. But one step at a time.
During the time that passed between my Novice exam,
and the arrival of my actual license containng my call letters, I started
the construction of my 'radio shack', the place where I would house
my operating equipment. I also began the installation of my first
antenna. It was an 80/40 meter wire dipole antenna. It was a wire approximately
sixty feet long, separated into two 30 foot sections. It was joined in the center
by an insulator. The ends of the wires were also insulated. From the antenna center
a coaxial cable was connected to the wires, and this cable was stretched
down from the antennas 30 foot elevation (stretched between trees) into
the radio shack.
I also had to 'aquire' both a radio receiver, and and a radio transmitter.
My first receiver I purchased (with the financial assistance of my Grandfather)
was a Hallicrafters Model SX-110.
The receiver I could start using even before my license arrived.
And I started enjoying hearing not only ham operators, but various radio
signals from the world over. Today, through the internet, you can listen to
radio stations from nearly anywhere. But back then, in 1960, there was no such
thing. You actually had to 'do it yourself'. I loved it!
The radio transmitter was much more of an adventure for a 14 year old.
I decided that I wanted to construct it myself. But rather than starting
from 'scratch', I already knew of the Heathkit company that produced
numerous peices of ham radio equipment in 'kit' form. So I ordered my
first transmitter, a Heathkit DX-40.
It arrived after several weeks in a cardboard box. The construction manuals
assumed that you may be new to the radio construction enterprise, so it
included numerous lessons on how to perform soldering, the proper melting
of tin/lead radio solder required to produce electrical connections. Those
soldering instructions would serve me well throughout my whole life, as electronics
would later become my 'chosen profession'. The contruction manuals were
very well produced, both in step-by-step assembly, and graphically in that the
illustrations of 'how to do it' were excellent. So I proceded very slowly
step by step, with great care that I was following the instructions.
The tranmitter construction was completed before the arrival of my license.
So it would have illegal for me to test the unit without a license. So not
wanting to wait, and also being curious whether my construction was accurrate,
I took the unit over to Joe WØSUU's house to let him evaluate whether
the radio worked.
The first thing he did was take the cabinet cover off to evaluate my
construction techniques. He said, "You did a nice soldering job". I was
more than pleased. Next he connected the transmitter to a 'dummy load',
a metal paint can filled with oil, containing a large set of resistors to
act an place of an actual radio antenna, used for testing purposes. Between
the dummy load and the transmitter he connected his wattmeter, that would
measure any actual radio transmission activity. He then connected his telegraph
key to the unit (remember no voice type transmissions for novices), and plugged
in the unit to the wall power.
After a few minutes of 'warm up', he said
"Well lets see...", and he pressed his telegraph key. The meter on his wattmeter
jumped each time he pressed it. Wow, I thought, it actually worked! Next he
announced "Lets see if we can contact anyone", and hooked the transmitter to his
antenna system. The he used his key and sent, "CQ CQ CQ DE WØSUU WØSUU
WØSUU K" in code meaning this is 'me' looking for anybody that would
like to chat.
He had to repeat the request several times, but after the last time,
another ham station responed. The two of them exchanged their names, signal
reports, and their respective geographic locations. Then after several more
exchanges they wished each other a fond '73' (a 'goodbye and thanks' used because
of the way '73' sounds in code... 'dah-dah-dit-dit-dit' 'dit-dit-dit-dah-dah')
For a 14 year old, who had just completed his first electronics construction
project, and it actually worked... I thought, "Hey, this ham radio stuff is OK!",
or thoughts to that effect. Now even another reason to wait for the postman
to deliver that license letter from the FCC!
Well mustering all the patience I could, and even though it seemed like
it took forever, finally the official letter from the FCC finally arrived.
Opening it I discovered my new call letters. Wow! I thought what a neat
callsign. KNØKWK. Now I couldn't wait to try for my first on-the-air
contact. So first I contacted Joe WØSUU to tell him my license had arrived
and to set up a 'sked' a schedule to meet on the radio bands. He was happy
to agree, and although I never asked, it must have been very satisfying for
him to be the first radio contact for another ham the 'created'. I was of
many other hams he 'created'.
So Joe and I both fired up our equipment and the time we both agreed
upon I stated sending "WØSUU WØSUU WØSUU DE KNØKWK
KNØKWK KNØKWK K", meaning "calling 'joe' this is 'me' ".
We only lived about 1/2 mile from each other so 'hearing' each other was
very easy. Joe responded to my call, Joe gave me signal report, his name, and
his location, which it an 'oficial' contact. Then he wish me a congratulations.
I responded with my similar information. I don't recall the rest of the QSO (the contact)
but I distinctly remember Joe announcing that his QSL card would be on the way
via postal mail.
Of course as a novice you were not to have a VFO, as this ham does,
in the video. As a novice you had to use fixed frequecy crystals that
that plugged into the transmitter. This also meant another novice ham who
might answer your call would very likely not be on the same frequency as you.
A QSL card is the formal way that one ham acknowleges the contact
with another ham by the (then) mailing of 'postcard' sized card
that contains his call letters, location, signal reports etc. Almost all
hams worldwide have a QSL card. Here is an explanation from Wikipedia
regarding QSL cards.
I of course needed to get some QSL cards of my own printed. There was a
ham operator who owned a small print shop that lived in my home town of
St. Paul. So I visited him and ordered 100 cards. They were ready in about
a week, so I returned mine to Joe, having received his QSL a day or two before.
So now I settled down to the daily enjoyment of seeing who I could
contact with my low power, fixed frequency, novice transmitter with
my dipole antenna. You never knew who or where your next contact would
be. But as an incentive to ham operators the ARRL (American Radio Relay
League) offered a certificate to any ham operator who could, by a collection
of QSL cards, prove they had contacted a ham operator in each one of
the 50 US states.
The ARRL, of callsign W1AW derived from its founder, long ago 'Silent Key',
Hirim Percy Maxim, is located in Newington, CT. It acts as the 'rallying cause'
oranization of American hams. Providing certificates for things such WAS
(Worked All States), is one of hundreds of functions it performs.
Who you might be lucky enough to contact depended upon which radio band you chose
to use. As a novice you were very limited in that choice. Also time of day
made significant differencs in 'skip' conditions, or how radio signals
bounced off the earths ionispheric layers. The 7-year cycle of sunspots
from the sun made changes in the ionisphere also. So, yes indeed you never
knew who you might contact. Also it was partly a 'numbers game'. There were many
more hams in the USA than anywhere else. So your chances of a DX (a foreign
country) connection were very small, but never the less highly sought out.
I concentrated on the WAS. At first it was easy because every contact
was from a previously non-worked (contacted) State. And it meant trying
hundreds of times to see who was 'out there'. It was fun to keep a small
USA map that I could color in the states I'd worked. The states surrounding
my location in Upper Midwest Section of the US were not to tough to contact.
Calfornia was also easy because again of the numbers game, there a lot
of hams in California.
I spent hours and hours contacting many many stations, exchanging QSL
cards, and keeping track all the while of states I still needed. Also my
ability to send and receive Morse code was improving all the while.
And all the time I was proceding with my novice contacts I was gradually
also studying the 'radio theory' sections of the next step up the licensing
ladder for the General Class operators license. The General Class also
required a send/receive code speed of 13 WPM. But I didn't have the incentive
yet to haul out the set pre-recorded code practice phonograph records, yet.
So my entire summer vacation between finishing at Highland Park Junior High,
and the start of my 10th grade at my next school, St. Paul Central High
School, was spent contacting as many other hams as I could. I don't exactly
remember, but I believe I had contacted 30 (or so) different states, by the
the September of 1961 rolled around and I was off to Central High.
Your first year in high school. How many of you remember that!
For almost any teen-ager it was an adventure. For me also. At that time
(1961) Highland Park Senior High wasn't even built yet. It would be constructed
right next to the Junior High in 1963. So, I went to St. Paul Central High,
located at the intersection of Lexington Parkway and Marshall Avenue. It was
about a 2 mile walk from my home to the 'Minutemen' high school.
'My' C.H.S looked like this 'then', but it's all modernized now
Of course there are lots of stories regarding high school, but I'll try
to limit them to ham radio and related ones. Besides all the normal studies
a normal high school student is involved in I added studying for my General
Class ham license to the list. Why General Class? As a novice you are limited
in both the 'power' of your station and where you can operate in the radio
spectrum. The General Class removes most of those restrictions that are placed
on the Novice. And of course you become a 'true ham' by the removal of that
'annoying' 'N' from your callsign. But you have to get your 'code speed' up to
13 WPM. As a reminder here is both 5 WPM and 13 WPM code samples.
And the radio theory required was significantly much more difficult.
Back then (1961) transistors were just in their very very early stage
of useage in ham radio equipment, so the radio theory involved almost
exclusively electronics using vacuum tubes. It was a challenge, but a desireable
one for me. My novice license would expire in May of 1961, so there was
a time incentive and a schedule to meet. So the phonograph records of the
code practice were resumed. And lots of studying of theory.
I had also joined the ARRL, so monthly I received their magazine named QST. It contained
lots of ham only information regarding operations, contests, and awards etc.
But it also contained lots of technical articles regarding antennas,
radio construction that was often ground breaking and ahead of its time.
Also were included were sections on 'specialty' operations. Those that
facinated me were articles that involved RTTY (Radio Teletype). Remember
back in the days way before computers newspapers, for example, received a
large portion of their 'national copy' via hard-copy teletype machines.
I enjoyed something about the rythmic sound of the machine operating.
And what the articles in QST were explaining was how you can have you own
machine(s) and do this yourself over the radio. Wow, I thougtht, how neat
was that! Little did realize it was a proficy for me in the making.
Back then you had to make an appointment for some Saturday with the FCC
examination station in St. Paul, and then show up and be ready to take
your examination for the General Class license. The test of your code
speed was first, and if you did not pass, you were done for this attempt.
So, the pressure was on to be ready to pass the code speed test. The FCC
would send 5 minutes of code at 13 WPM. You had to correctly copy at least
one minute of the five to pass. If so, then you moved on to the theory
portion of the test.
I finally decided that I was ready, so I made my Saturday appointment and
very nervously when to the FCC. I was one about 50 others as this FCC office
served about a 5 state area, and back then you had to travel from wherever
you were to get tested. I was fortunate the office happened be in my own home
town. So I waited for the code test with the others. We were all tested
together in a large classroom. They started playing their pre-recorded
code, and we all acknowledged one by one that our headphones were working.
Then the test began. I copied the code as best I could. I felt pretty confident
that I had done well. We each turned in our code sheet and then waited
outside again while the FCC staff checked the results. When completed
they posted a paper with the name of each testee who had passed. My name
was on the list of the passees. I was very pleased. About 35 of us had
passed the code test. Those unfortunately who had failed had to exit and try
again some other time.
We then returned to the classroom for the 'rules and theory' portion of
the test. As I recall this portion of the exam took about 1.5 hours. When
completed we one-by-one returned to waiting for the results to be posted.
I felt I did well and my feelings were confirmed when my name appeared
on the list of those that had passed. Those having passed returned a third
time to the classroom in order to fill out the license application forms
that each ones test results and your own Novice (or Technician) license would
be attatched and sent on to Washington DC for processing. So then we all left,
but feeling well we had passed. Now you waited... and waited... for the new
license to arrive.