Tuesday, November 06, 2018

It was 40 years ago this month .........

that I took and successfully passed my Novice exam and earned my license.

I had previously told ya'll how I wanted to become a Ham in high school, but ultimately gave up the quest for a while, as I couldn't learn the Morse Code. In October of 1978, I was reading the weekly Amateur Radio column, "Calling CQ" by Bob McGarvey (sp?) in the Sunday New Brunswick Home News Tribune. In that particular column, Bob announced that there would be an Amateur Radio class conducted once a week at nights, at North Brunswick High School.

I signed up for it and attended, faithfully. Memory fails me as to how long it lasted, but 8 weeks seems to be about right, as we started in September and the exam was in November. The two teachers were excellent and it was their method of teaching and explaining that I follow today when I conduct a Technician class along with Marv K2VHW. The one teacher that I remember in particular for being extra especially helpful was Ed O'Donnel K2YJE (SK). I probably owe the fact that I got licensed to Ed.

The license manual that we used was this one, "Tune In The World With Ham Radio", which I still have in my library today - and actually still refer to it from time to time. It was written in a "Ham Radio for Dummies" kind of style and made all the concepts easy to understand.

Morse Code was learned via the ARRL Morse Code tapes. I really stuck with it this time and for whatever reason, it was far easier for me to learn the Code than when I first tried. Looking back, I think that maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had no visual cues. There were no pre-printed out alphabet/character charts to look at or refer to. I learned simply from what I heard. And maybe, just maybe that was all the difference in the world avoiding the eye-ear-brain sequence and just going with the ear to brain sequence.

On the night of the exam, we were all pretty nervous. The instructors used the now famous "Novice Test Trick". Basically, they began by telling us how that they knew how nervous we were so there was going to be a five minute Morse Code "practice exam" that would allow us to get our our jitters out of the way.. "Just listen to the Code and try and copy along", they told us. This way we'd be more at ease when the actual exam began.

They played the QSO tape and we all copied it. They came around, looked at our chicken scratch copy and smiled and announced, "You all passed!" There was no multiple choice. You copied what you heard and you had to get at least one minute's worth of solid copy. Only then the written test was given. Again, my memory fails me as to how many questions that had on it, although I think there were 35 questions. And my failing memory is also telling me it was a multiple choice test, not fill-in-the-blank.

The big difference back then was that they didn't grade it immediately and you didn't know whether  you failed or passed. The instructors mailed all the exam materials to the FCC and you had to wait for a letter from the Government. In my case, that took about six or seven painstakingly long weeks.

I was at work at the camera store that I was employed at, at the time. It was late afternoon, close to closing time when my Mom called to tell me that the letter from the FCC had arrived. I asked her to open it shutting my eyes and crossing my fingers. "Your call sign is KA2DOH" she told me. "What was that?", I asked. I was so apprehensive about what she was going to tell me that I didn't even hear my call sign correctly!

But I had done it! I was a Ham! I had to build my receiver which was a Heathkit HR-1680, first, before I could get on the air. But get on the air I would - and I'm still there, 40 years later. And at least for me, it's as exciting now as it was back then.

73 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:25 PM

    your post brought back memories as I instantly recognized that cover of 'Tune In The World With Ham Radio'. I was in high school in the late 70s in a small town in northern MN, when I heard about ham radio. I had no idea where to start, but found that very book advertised in the big J.C Penney mail order catalog, of all places.It came with a cassette tape and a US call area map, and I read it all cover to cover.
    My parents knew a ham in town, and got us connected. He eventually gave me my Novice test, in a very similar way. One day I sat at his kitchen table copying code at 5wpm as he sent what he was reading in the newspaper. After awhile he looked at my paper and said "you passed".
    Good memories! This fall marked my 38th year as a ham.
    73 de W0ZF