by Brad Rodriguez, VE3RHJ

I don't remember how I first got hooked on electronics. As a child in the U.S., I loved science, and I particularly loved science experiments with batteries and magnets and such. I soon acquired the Lafayette and Allied Radio catalogs, and began ordering books and parts by mail. My first clear memory is of my first transistor project -- a photocell relay -- which I took to show my fourth-grade class.

As my projects became more sophisticated, so did my library, and eventually I was prompted to mail-order a copy of the 1970 Radio Amateur's Handbook. I think it was this, plus meeting some friends of my father's who were CB enthusiasts, which sparked my interest in shortwave radio. I started with a no-name 5-band shortwave radio from the local hardware store...then an 8-bander...then a Realistic DX-150, my first "real" communications receiver. But listening wasn't enough for me...I wanted to get on the air!

Informed of these aspirations, my grandfather gave me an Instructograph code machine for Christmas (still a proud possession!). I began struggling with the 5 wpm code requirement, alternating between the Instructograph and LP records from Ameco. In those days, the exam had to be written at an FCC office, a few hundred miles away -- which meant I could only write the exam when we went to visit my grandparents.

For a year I agonized over the Morse Code. In those days, the U.S. Novice class licence was limited to CW and 75 watts. Theory was a snap, so I resolved to go straight for my Technician class licence, which had the same 5 wpm code requirement but gave full privileges above 50 MHz. (Rather like today's Canadian Basic licence, except that I could run a full kilowatt.) Even so, it took three trips to that intimidating FCC office before I passed the 5 wpm exam in 1972.

It was the wrong time and place to be a Technician. 2 metre FM did not yet exist, and I was at least a hundred miles from a city of any size. I knew no other hams. My only source of information was the Handbook, which in those days carried advertisements in the back. I chose my first rig from those ads; an Ameco TX-62 transmitter, which seemed the ideal rig for 6 and 2 metres. I built VHF receiving converters from International Crystal modules. I upgraded to a Realistic AX-190 receiver. Alas, my logbook remained empty.

The breakthrough came in mid-1972, when I enrolled in a two-week summer engineering camp at a nearby university. I met a friend with similar interests, and while wandering the campus, we stumbled by accident into the amateur radio club. None were Technician-class, so we were allowed to use the 6 metre AM rig they scorned. I quickly met some other Techs in the city, and I learned about the local amateur radio dealer. When I returned home, I had new Tecraft 6- and 2-metre converters, and a weekly schedule with another high-school student.

Ironically, I could hear his SSB signal but he couldn't hear my AM signal, so I had to send my half of our conversations in CW...until I upgraded to the same rig he had (a Gonset Sidewinder). Then a 100 watt amplifier. Then a kilowatt. Then an 8-element 6 metre beam. I left the rig on constantly, hoping to catch the rare sporadic-E openings. I was hooked.

The next year I enrolled in that same university, and became an active member of the radio club. Being surrounded by General-class amateurs working Europe every day was too much for me; I buckled down and practiced the code until I finally passed the 13 wpm exam. My first HF rig (selected from QST this time) was the Kenwood Twins, and oh, was I proud to set them up in a spare corner of the club's "shack!"

Some people are never satisfied...after a few years of happy HF operation, I was bitten by the QRP bug. I sold the Kenwoods and bought an original Ten-Tec Argonaut. Alas, I learned the hard way that QRP requires a good antenna -- and a random wire out of the dorm room window doesn't qualify. About this time I became a computer hobbyist, so my amateur career went "on hold" for a few years.

It had a brief revival after I got my first job, and a co-worker sold me his Drake B-line for a ridiculously low price. I worked occasional DX with this rig, but I still didn't have the room for a proper antenna. My back yard was smaller than some people's gardens, and I'd had disappointing experiences with verticals. (Since then my faith in vertical antennas has been restored.)

It took getting married and moving to a farm in Canada to fully revive my interest in ham radio. My wife bought me a modern solid-state rig as a gift, and I promptly strung an all-band GD-9 Windom antenna, using my U.S. call "portable VE3." With some intensive code practice, I passed the 15 wpm exam; fortunately my U.S. experience counted toward the then-necessary 250 QSOs. For the first time in my life, I had all privileges on all bands!

Now, after twenty-five years of hamming, I'm a confirmed nostalgia junkie. I still own the original Argonaut, the Drake twins, and (incredibly) the 6 metre Tecraft converter. Occasionally I see a bit of my past offered for sale; that's how I acquired a replacement AX-190, TX-62, and Kenwood twins. Someday I'll duplicate my original station. When I do, listen for me calling CQ on 6-metre CW...unless, of course, I find a used Gonset Sidewinder for sale.