Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How it all begins.

A gentleman, Fred AC8ED recently posted to QRP-L about his "First week as a "real" QRPer". It is always interesting to me to read how folks get their starts in things, why they do this, how they came about to be such an avid ..... whatever.

It makes me ponder how we all, as a Ham community, got our start. What EXACTLY is our fascination with radio? Why didn't we become coin collectors, or stamp collectors, or butterfly collectors, or model railroad enthusiasts, or 1,000 other "whatevers". Some of also are those other things, of course; but I think the majority of us would list radio as our first and foremost passion. And I think we all get a kick out of reading how our fellow Amateurs got their start. How did you get yours?

For me, it all started at a young age, in the early 60s. I was given a crystal radio as a gift. It was in the shape of a pen (fountain pen). You would hook the alligator clip to ground (I always used the metal "finger stopper" on our old rotary telephone) and you would put the earphone in your ear. Then you would slide the pen "tip" in and out to tune stations. I remember WOR and WMCA and WABC and WCBS coming in loud and clear - we lived only 35 miles from NYC.

I was also hooked on playing around with the radio portion of my parent's old Victrola. It had that green "Magic Eye" tuning device; and I remember listening to police calls and shortwave broadcasts. I loved tuning the bands with it and making that heterodyne "squeal".

From there I got my first AM/FM "transistor radio" when I was nine. It had a telescoping antenna, which I thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I would have hours of fun tuning those "in between" stations to see how far away I could listen. I loved playing with old radios that people were ready to throw out. I would play with the inductors and potentiometers, to try and get the reception louder and clearer, if I could. Their trash was my treasure.

Of course, serious SWLing came next, along with a little dabbling with CB came and went in the mid 70s. The silliness and unruliness of CB quickly turned me off; but the fascination with SWLing remained. Real "Amateur Radio" with its structure and discipline was what I craved and in 1978, I finally earned my ticket and reached my goal.

But again, why the fascination with radio in the first place? Many reasons, I guess. It satisfies my urge to tinker, it satisfies my craving for science. It satisfies my desire to use my hands to build things. It allows me to talk to people all over the world without depending on a telephone or cellphone. It fulfills my sense of adventure, taking a small radio and a portable antenna out into the Great Outdoors to see just who I can make contact with. Radio continues to feed my sense of wonder.

Over 50 years later, radio is still magic and over 30 years later, Amateur Radio is still the best!

72 de Larry W2LJ


  1. Larry,

    Read your blog almost daily, it's a great read.

    I inadvertently made a QRP contact with the Cayman Is. the other day. I had turned the power down to do something to the radio forgot to turn it up and called the station on 17 meters. He gave me a 579, I gave him a 599. As I was sending I realized that the power meter on the radio showed no power out. I checked the external power meter and viola 5 watts. This was to a 5 band HEX beam at 40 ft. at the end of 160ft of 9913 so real power out was probably half that at the antenna.

    Rich, WD3C@aol.com

  2. Hi Larry, I think my radio interest is a bit similar. I build my first radio when I was about 8 years old, (together with my mom) It was fascinating. I play with all kind of radio's, indeed the oldies with tubes. And when we are infected with the radio virus we never recover from it. It's a wonderful hobby. 73 Paul

  3. Interesting post, Larry.

    For me, it was the magic or sense of mystery at being able to communicate with someone far away without wires. That boggled my mind, even if the communication was only one way, as in SWL with my grandparent's old Zenith Transoceanic.

    Morse Code amplified that sense of mystery...to send a series of pulsed RF across an ocean and have it heard and understood by someone of a different culture was amazing to me even as a kid. All these years later, it still is interesting stuff to ponder.