Wednesday, June 27, 2012

20 Years as a "Ham" Coming Up

It's amazing how time flies when you're an Amateur Radio operator. On October 6, 2012, I will reach another milestone: 20 years as an Amateur Radio operator.

I've come a long way from my first Technician Class license in 1992, when I did all my activity on a handheld transceiver. My first one was a Realistic HTX-202, since I only had privileges above 50 MHz. I got my first exposure to emergency communications during the Flood of 1993, helping out with communications duty in St. Charles County. It made me realize the value of Amateur Radio in emergencies. I added a five-eighths wave ground plane after the flood. I took part in my first Field Day in 1994 with the Suburban Radio Club (now St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club). While my Amateur Radio activity tailed off in the 1998-2002 time period, I still renewed my license when it expired in 2002. As I was a radio announcer, I thought it would be a great idea to promote Amateur Radio on the air, especially Field Day. The first time I did an interview for Field Day was in 1998 at WFUN-FM 95.5, when I interviewed SRC's then-President, Ed Kimble. In 2000, while I was at WSIE, I interviewed Mike Moore the day before Field Day. From 2002 to 2009, I interviewed numerous people involved with the hobby, including Steve Schmitz, another past SLSRC President, along with Bill Coby, a past President of the Egyptian Radio Club, Rich Morgan from the Lewis and Clark Radio Club, and Steve Wooten, the Emergency Coordinator for St. Louis County (an EC heads up the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service, or ARES, group).

I have to admit, I did struggle to learn the Morse Code. I made an effort to learn the Morse Code during the Fall semester of 2006, with the help of a professor at the SIUE School of Engineering, Dr. Andy Lozowski. I mastered twelve Morse Code characters before the FCC did away with the Morse Code requirements for General and Extra Class licenses in 2007.

As I recall, it took two tries to pass the Technician Class exam. I passed Element 2 of the exam at the Zero Beaters Hamfest in Washington, MO in July 1992, but failed the Element 3B. I passed that element the following month at the St. Charles Hamfest, taking the exam in an auditorium at St. Joseph Hospital. After the Morse Code requirement was dropped for General and Extra, I decided to study for the written General Class exam. It took me two tries in June 2007. I failed on the first attempt at the Cliff Cave branch of the St. Louis County Library in Oakville, MO. The following week, after some extra study, I passed on the second attempt. I decided to make it a priority to get my General Class ticket before the question pool changed on July 1, 2007.

I did something different to study for my Extra Class exam...take a crash course. This was offered through the St. Louis and Suburban Radio club at the National Office of Boys Hope-Girls Hope in Bridgeton, MO. I spent one weekend in May 2012 with the Extra crash course after doing plenty of studying. I studied for one more week after wrapping up the crash course before taking the Extra Class exam on May 22, 2012. Unlike with the first two times, I passed on the first try. Again, I took the exam at the Cliff Cave branch of the St. Louis County Library in Oakville.

The equipment has changed over the years; I used a handheld transceiver exclusively as my main station equipment until 2005, first with a Realistic HTX-202, switching to an ICOM IC-2TH Sport when the HTX-202 blew its transmitter. In 2005, I added an MFJ-9402 2 meter SSB transceiver (which blew in 2009), and worked several new states with the rig (driving a Mirage B-34-G linear amp, which I originally purchased for the ICOM HT in 2003, along with a Diamond five-elemebt beam, vertically polarized) and a second Diamond five-element beam (horizontally polarized). The following year, I added a 6 meter station, with a Kenwood TS-60 (which is NOT for sale!) and a halo (which I later donated to the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club for Field Day operations). The six-meter station was purchased from a fellow Ham in Kirkwood. In January 2007, I added a Cushcraft three-element beam for 6 meters in time for the ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes. I added an HF rig, an ICOM IC-745 purchased at the Winterfest (sponsored by SLSRC) in January 2010. The antenna I use for HF is an MFJ-1778 G5RV antenna, which I purchased new at Winterfest in January 1997 for shortwave listening applications. I built a dipole for SWL use to replace the G5RV in February 2010.

My experience as a shortwave listener, AM and FM broadcast band DXer and TV DXer prepared me for the experiences I have had as an Amateur Radio operator. If anyone asked me who my influences were for Amateur Radio, I would have to credit two people. One is Vern Jackson (WAØRCR) of Wentzville, MO. When he was living in Florissant, he ran the Gateway 160 Meter Net in AM mode from a shack in back of his mother's house. I could hear his station on the image frequency of 950 kHz. After I got the Realistic DX-200 in October 1982, I could also hear Vern on his regular frequency of 1860 kHz. The signal became somewhat weaker after he moved the station to Wentzville. My other influence is on my mother's side of the family. When I was younger, I would occasionally go with my family to the Springfield/Branson area. A second cousin on my mother's side, Jim Marshall (WAØQEV), had an excellent setup when he was living in Rogersville, MO. He even got me hooked on Ctizens' Band radio (his handle was Alligator Man...I was Alligator Boy at first, but after experimenting with several others, I settled on Alligator Junior) back in the 1970s while visiting him in Hollister (near Branson). On a trip to Red Top Mountain State Park, GA in the spring of 1992, I witnessed him operating a Heathkit HF rig with a mobile antenna and a small antenna tuner calling CQ on 75 meters. I've also talked to a few of my fellow DXers on the Amateur bands, such as FM DXer Fred Laun (K3ZO), FM/TV DXer Pat Dyer (WA5IYX), VHF/UHF DXer Peter Baskind (N4LI) and noted AM broadcast band DXer Wayne Heinen (NØPOH).

I'm very fortunate (and proud) to be part of a fraternity that includes country singer Ronnie Milsap, former Oakland Athletics player Joe Rudi (from the World Series champion teams in the early 1970s), rock guitarist Joe Walsh, and audio guru Bob Heil. A radio-related hobby is also a great way to keep a teenager out of did in my case. 

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