By David Bartholomew, AD7DB

The Early Days

When I was growing up, I often followed in the shadow of my big brother John.

He and I received Olson crystal radio kits one Christmas, which my dad assembled for us. He ran a long wire from our bedroom way out north into a large walnut tree and we could each connect our radios to it and listen. I could only remember getting two stations on it (KMPC 710 and KGIL 1260) but John says he could pick out 3 or 4. Maybe he had a better diode.

Some time later on my parents gave me a transistor radio for my birthday. Now I could listen to lots of stations. At night, it could pick up many many more. I listened to San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque, and lots of stations in smaller cities, like Casper Wyoming, or Lexington Nebraska. It was interesting to hear the DJ or announcer saying something like, "Currently outside, it's twelve degrees." (We sure didn't get that cold in Los Angeles!) I thought it was really neat how you could pick up all those other stations only at night. I learned about the ionosphere and fading effects. Some stations stayed in solid, like KCBS, but KSL, KOA and KOB would fade in and out every few minutes. KTWO in Casper might be OK for 10 minutes at a time, playing country music, but then it would fade out for 10 minutes at a time, too!

On another Christmas, I received some real radios: a pair of Juliette brand walkie-talkies. They operated on CB Channel 9 and were real loud with the hissing AM coming out. They picked up other people (John said they were "Ham Operators"), mysterious tones which I learned years later had been medical pagers for doctors, and various kids in the neighborhood. I think they even ran a full half watt out, far more than the 250 mW or less that the later kids' CB radios did before they went to 49 MHz years later.

Why were these radios crystalled for Channel 9? This was around 1966, and I think it was before they decided that the kids should be on Channel 14 and Channel 9 was to be for emergencies. I think the truckers had been using Channel 10, but due to its close proximity with Channel 9, they eventually went to Channel 19. Back in those days, the CBers would actually identify with callsigns and use proper radio procedures. (It took years for CB to degrade to the condition depicted in movies like Smokey and the Bandit and Citizens Band. Many old-time hams will say it happened when the FCC took 11 Meters away from the hams and created CB in the first place.)

One of my new walkie-talkies got broken the first day. Big Brother John, acting just like Marshall Thompson on Daktari, said, "Over and Out!" and tried to zing shut the long telecoping antenna, with the palm of one hand pushing straight down from the end of the antenna. He promptly bent it in half and broke it right off. The fiend!

On a summer vacation, we went to my grandfather's ranch, which was 50 miles from the nearest town, way out in the middle of Central Utah. I tried my walkie-talkie out there and of course picked up nothing but hissing static (the radio had no squelch control, it was just set wide open).

My dad suggested, "Take it over to the barbed-wire fence, touch the antenna to it; I'd bet you'd have a real good antenna." So I went over and did so. Faintly through the hissing, I could hear music! Obviously from some not-so-local radio station, the nearest one had to be in Delta. I still don't know how my little CB radio could have picked it up.

The radios worked well out there (even the one with the broken antenna) and we used them while playing in the cedar trees (which are actually junipers, but everyone there calls them cedars) west of the ranch house, or hiking around the ranch itself.

I still had one of them working for years and would fool around with it a lot. One day, I was on the sidewalk near my house with it, and a kid I'd never met came up to talk to me. He was very interested in my radio.

His name was Peter Van Roy. He had just moved into the neighborhood, and we hit it off right away. He was into electronics (as was I, but I think he was far better at it) and we built various things together and had lots of fun. We remained good friends for years until his family moved back to Belgium around 1974 or so. But we maintained contacts over the years. Peter's married and living in France, last I heard from him. (Here's a link to his web page if you want to see what he looks like. He hasn't changed much in 25 years!)

A guy named Billy Rose lived in the area. He had an old National 100A shortwave receiver, and had done some repair work on it. He was moving to Hawaii and couldn't take along a lot of his old stuff so he gave me that old radio! It was made in the 1930's and he told me it had served for decades in a highway patrol station someplace. It was a big thing, it had lots of ancient tubes and old wiring inside with cloth insulation. To change bands, you had to rotate a large knob which physically moved a platform full of components underneath it. The dial was calibrated in "megacycles"; the needle was supposed to jump outward on the dial to the currently selected band, but that feature was out of order. The BFO was broken too.

Yet my brothers and I listened to that thing for hours nearly every day. We'd pick up hams on 75, 40, 20 and 15 meters, but all we could make out was "waa-waa-WAA-waa" because they were on single sideband. Fortunately, thanks to a tip from some of those old ham magazines, a simple transistor radio's local oscillator at close range would serve as a "Poor Man's BFO" (as the title said) and this worked pretty well for us. We also listened to many shortwave broadcasts from powerhouses like HCJB, the Voice of America, and WWV.

Among other things, I read various books. One that was particularly influential was The Mad Scientists' Club by Bertrand R. Brinley. (It's back in print; I recently got a hardcover edition of it which will now proudly grace my ham shack!)

I also had a neighbor, Mr. Kenny Stickle, who lived through the block. He was a ham, but I didn't get over there to see his equipment. My brother John did though.

I was a Teenage CB'er

John graduated high school in 1975 and before long was working at a local Radio Shack store. He was able to obtain a lot of junked equipment, including CB radios, which were gaining much popularity at the time. I used one of his radios, a Radio Shack Navajo transceiver, to shoot my mouth off enough to get some local CBers mad enough to try to find out where this loudmouth nuisance kid on Channel 22 lived. Fortunately for me, they got it into their heads that I had to be using a beam antenna; they got this impression because of my trying to use a problematic tape recorder. I was using it to disguise my voice like Alvin and the Chipmunks. They heard the clunkings and other noises and decided I was working a rotator control. So they searched the neighborhood for any place with a tower (luckily my house didn't have one) and they never caught me. But I could sure recognize them driving around, stopping, continuing, stopping, as they tried to track me down. So I mellowed way down and stopped all that, because sooner or later they'd have caught up with me. I already knew who some of them were and where they lived.

In late 1976, something happened to change my directions.

The Hams Went Fishing for CB'ers and I Got Hooked

The San Fernando Valley Radio Club did a presentation about ham radio, and especially invited CB radio users to attend. It was introduced by this nice lady named Mary Ed Killitz, WA6EJP. (Her husband Fred WB6EJG owned a paint store a few doors down from the Radio Shack that John worked at, at the Ralph's plaza at Saticoy and Louise in West Van Nuys. The story I recall, which John now denies happened quite that way, was that John went in there in all innocence to ask about the incredible "CB antenna" on the roof of the building and was soon set straight. It was ham radio, and that's how we found out about that special presentation that was coming up.)

The MC for the evening was a guy named Johnny Grant, WB6MJV. Yep, the honorary Mayor of Hollywood, and a staple of KTLA's TV programming. Yet he told us the first time he got in front of a ham radio mike he was "scared to death!"

They talked all about ham radio and all the different things you could do with it, and why it blew the doors off plain old 5-watt CB radio. They demonstrated FM and repeaters, and slow scan TV, and lots of other stuff. And there was this kindly old guy named Merle Gould WA6KUS who told us how easy it would be to pass the Morse code: he taught us a couple of letters right there to prove it. (Sadly, Merle passed away just a few months later.)

It was a wonderful evening. I attended their free ham radio classes, which were held one evening a week at a local school, and studied to get my ham license. And I left CB radio behind, never to return.

I think John got his ham license about that time, and became WB6SAN.

I remember the last class sessions in early 1977, where we took our written tests and the code tests. There was a sending test as well as receiving test in those days, and they were all administered by the same radio club people who gave the classes. This was nearly the same as the VEC program today, except that the Novice class was the only one where they could do this. (For all other license tests or upgrades, you had to go to the FCC offices which were at the infamous address of 3711 Long Beach Blvd, #501, in Long Beach CA. Many hams will tell you what a thrill it was to have to go there for ham testing.)

I still remember one of the guys there helping me fill out the FCC form that night. The club sent everyone's forms in. And then came a long long wait (a couple of months back in those days) to see what callsign I would get.

The usual joke was that you'd know soonest, not from the FCC, but from the advertisements you'd get in the mail from such outfits as "The Little Print Shop" (a QSL card printer) which somehow knew your callsign before you did! A couple of days later, the official FCC envelope would arrive.

Dave WB6WKB, at a convention in October 2000 Mine worked out the official way, though. One day when I got home from school, there was The Letter from the FCC waiting for me! I had been issued the call of WB6WKB. And I would keep that same callsign for the next 24 years.

I was a Teenage Novice

(That sounds like the title of a bad movie, huh?) I didn't do much with my Novice license for a number of years after I got it. I only had HF CW privileges with it back then, so my ticket just gathered dust on the wall. At least it was no longer a 1-year nonrenewable license, so I was able to renew by mail every few years.

In 1985, my ham radio interests got rekindled when I saw a live demo of this newfangled mode called packet radio. Actually it wasn't all that new; it had been around since the late 70's, but it was starting to get popular around the mid 1980's. As soon as I saw what you could do with it, I knew I had to work to get my Technician license so I could join in.

At that time, going from Novice to Tech meant passing the General class written exam, but no code test. (To go on to General from Tech, you only needed to pass a 13-WPM code test. Then the Advanced ticket after that would require one more written test, and to go to Extra, there would be both another written test and a 20-WPM code test.) So I studied for several months, and in the early part of 1986 I went to a local VE group and passed my exam and upgraded from Novice to Technician.

My Technician Years

Through the rest of the 80's and 90's I held a Technician class license, or Tech Plus as they later came to be known. I did packet for a lot of that time, and was active on various FM repeaters. I served with the Los Angeles County DCS and participated in many emergency drills and exercises, including some real exercises following the Whittier and Northridge earthquakes and the L.A. riots.

The Paper General

The FCC surprised me and everyone when they changed the rules and eliminated the higher speed code requirements. This allowed those hams who had held Technician licenses prior to 1987 to upgrade to General Class by filling out some forms and paying the nominal fee at a VE session.

I waited several months after the April 15 2000 kickoff (to avoid the crowds and allow the VEs to get it down to a science) and then did my upgrade. At first I was a bit apprehensive that it was just a 'paper upgrade', but the VEs assured me that my General ticket was just as good as anyone else's.

On to Extra Class

Among the various changes in 2000 was a restructure of the license classes. There's no Advanced Class to upgrade to anymore, though they will still exist for those who have them and don't upgrade further.

After my upgrade to General, I bought a study guide for Extra Class. I studied it steadily for 2½ months. And I went in and passed that 50 question written exam, and now I have my Extra Class ticket.

I do not believe there is such a thing as a "Welfare Extra." The material was tough and the test was not easy. But I applied myself to the task, took lots of online practice exams and I passed it the first time I went for real.

The FCC made my Extra ticket official on January 29th 2001. Right away, hardly missing a day to file, I applied for a vanity callsign change so I could get a shorter callsign with my initials. AD7DB 18 days later, on February 17th, I had my new callsign, AD7DB, one I expect to keep from here on out.

At this point, it's time to have some fun with these new privileges. See you on the air!

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(You liked that music? It's "Up on the Roof", kind of appropriate for a ham page, huh!)

Dave Bartholomew
Copyright © 2001 David G. Bartholomew, AD7DB.
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