Saturday, October 6, 2012

20 Years in Amateur Radio

Today marks another milestone in my radio life. It was 20 years ago today that I was issued my FCC Technician Class license. I was lucky to get one of the last one-by-three calls. I have kept this call (NØUIH) through upgrades to General and Extra Class licenses.

My Amateur Radio journey began in the mid-1970s, when I was a child of eight years old. A cousin on my mother's side of the family, Jim Marshall (WAØQEV), got his license sometime in the mid-1960s. He kept a Heathkit HF rig in his vehicle, so he could take his hobby on the road. He also kept another Heathkit HF rig at his place of residence, which was then in Rogersville, MO (east of Springfield). He also became a Citizens' Band operator, with the handle of Alligator Man. I was Alligator Boy at first, but after experimenting with other handles, finally settled on Alligator Junior. That led to my purchasing a Midland 13-863 23-channel CB base radio, and, later on, a Radio Shack three-channel CB handheld transceiver. Some of my fellow Hams also took to calling it "The Chicken Band". His phrase when he calls CQ still resonates: "What say ya?", said in his distinct Texas style.

In 1983, I had my first eyeball QSO with Vernon Jackson (WAØRCR). His shack was located on Charbonier Road in Florissant at the time. With his 375-watt AM transmitter, tuned to 1860 kHz, he blasted into my QTH (which was then on Lamplight Lane) like KMOX 1120 did. I even heard him on the image frequency of 950 kHz. I also talked to some of his fellow Hams with him supervising the operating process. At this point, I had been DXing the broadcast bands for two years, and was moving into DXing the Hams as a shortwave listener. I also had a few Hams living close by, like Mike Moore (WDØEFP), the late Bill Bottomley (WØKZX, SK) and Tom Vogel (WAØKGU, now WAØTV). During the four years I spent in Georgia (1988-92), I heard plenty of Hams on the HF bands. I also had a Ham who lived a few miles from where my shack was (on the Cobb-Cherokee County line). In 1991, I visited Bob Lipscomb (K4RKP) in his shack in Kennesaw. I relayed his check-in to the Gateway 160 Meter Net by phone to Vern Jackson. Bob signed my QSL letters for WAFS 920 Atlanta (now WGKA), one for Woodstock and the other for a reception at Hazelwood. Just before returning to the St. Louis area, I decided to try for the entry level Technician Class license, which didn't require proficiency in the Morse Code. I passed the Element 2 exam at the Zero Beaters Hamfest in Washington, MO, followed by the Element 3B at the St. Charles County Hamfest.

For the next 13 years, much of my activity had been on VHF in FM mode. My main rig for the first 10 years was a Realistic HTX-202 2-meter handheld transceiver. I added a Mirage B-34-G linear amplifier in 2001, replacing the HTX-202 with an ICOM IC-T2H Sport handheld in 2002. I worked a little DX before getting an MFJ-9402 2-meter VHF SSB rig in 2005. That kindled my interest in working DX on VHF. The first night I had it, there was a tropospheric enhancement opening into the Southeast and Mid-South. I worked stations in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as southern Illinois and southern Missouri. In 2006, I entered the ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes, and won in the Missouri section award in the single operator, high power category on 2 Meters. That fall, I purchased a 6 meter station from John Verser (NØTOP) in Kirkwood. The station included a Kenwood TS-60, a halo antenna (which I later donated to St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club for its Field Day operations) and an MFJ-906 antenna tuner. I added a Cushcraft three-element beam in January 2007, in time to win the Missouri section, single operator, low power category on 6 meters, in the 2007 edition of the January VHF Sweepstakes.  This has given me many hours of enjoyment on many a summer day and night. 

The mastery of Morse Code was always a sore spot for me. It wasn't until the fall of 2006 that I was motivated to learn the Morse Code. I was able to set up some tutoring sessions on the Morse Code with Dr. Andy Lozowski (WØPH), a professor in the School of Engineering at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I mastered the copying of 12 Morse Code characters by the time the code requirement was eliminated for General and Extra Class exams in February 2007. In June of that year, I passed the exam to upgrade from a General Class to a Technician Class license. It took two tries to get both the initial no-code Tech license and the upgrade to General. Despite the upgrade, I still stuck to VHF, earning the nickname "Mr. Six Meters" from the Secretary of the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club, Cliff Rozar (KCØSDV).

My operations expanded in January 2010 with the purchase of an ICOM IC-745 HF transceiver from one of the members of the Boeing Employees' Amateur Radio Society, Dave (K2DP). That's when I really began working the DX. I switched an MFJ-1778 G5RV antenna, which I had been using for shortwave listening since 1997, to working the HF bands. I built a dipole for shortwave listening. As of October 1, 2012, I have 61 countries confirmed, along with over 170 grid squares on 6 meters.

Who knows what the next 20 years will hold? Only God knows. But, I'll be looking forward to many more years of great contacts on the Amateur Radio bands.

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