It is hard to place a finger on the calendar and say
"This is when it happened", but the process must have one single
point at which you can say "This IS when it happened." For me
it was a Christmas, long, long ago in
Naturally there was some assembly required. Once we got home with Christmas over and things were settling down, Dad helped me to put it together. That's when I first learned about how to use a soldering iron. I learned a bunch of other things then as well. How to identify different components, what they did, understanding a simple schematic diagram and so forth.
Another big challange was putting up an antenna. We ran a wire from the eave of the house out north across the yard and way up into a walnut tree. Dad did all of this as it was years before I was able to climb that high into the tree. We had a lead-in wire that went through the window, and another wire that connected to a water pipe outside. And there it was...it was magic! Without batteries I could hear the stations. There were probably five or so that I could get clearly. One of those became my favorite and I listened to it for years afterwards. I still do, when I am in that area.
For a long time I would disconnect the radio from the antenna when not listening to it because I thought it would wear it out or something. (Well, it seemed sensible at the time!) There were many nights that I would listen to the radio as I was going to sleep. One night, predictably, I fell asleep with the earphone still in place. It was the night just before the Vernal Equinox, the beginning of spring. I had the most amazing dream, spurred by the conversation on the radio station. I was in this great adventure, and someone kept saying that soon it would be spring, and somehow it seemed so wonderful! The fact that I still remember this one dream so many years later may help give you an idea of its impact.
Mornings were interesting because there was a morning show which began at . "Sweet Dick" Whittington on KGIL 1260 had all sorts of goofy things that he would do. One of the best had to be the marriage of Barbie and Ken. Somehow he decided that since they weren't married, all those Barbie and Ken dolls were "living in sin" and something had to be done about it. So he got together a group of people, proxies for Barbie and Ken (each holding the appropriate doll), witnesses, a minister and the various well-wishers, photographers and such, and had a wedding. I got copies of the wedding photos by writing into the station, and I still have them...somewhere!
Radio continued to facinate me, and I read every book on electricity, electronics, radio or whatever in the school library (a small one...it was an elementary school after all...) and then started in on the visiting bookmobile from the city library. That was where I was introduced to Alfred E. Morgan and his series of books. The Boys First Book of Radio and Electronics, Second Book, Third Book and so forth. There were five or six of them, all told. That is probably when I was first introduced to ham radio... that and this old guy who lived next to my Great-Grandparents house.
Now to me, he was ancient...although to think about it he probably wasn't a whole lot older than I am now. He was a ham and he had antennas on his house and truck, and I found out that he had a LOT of equipment in the back of his house. He talked to people everywhere! I got to see his station once, and he showed me a little bit about it. I asked for a QSL card one Halloween instead of candy...and I still remember the surprised look on his face. Can YOU imagine some kid asking for one of those today? But he went into the back and came out with it. And I still have it. WB6PZZ, Kenneth Stickle. He was Kenny to my Dad and always, without exception, MR. STICKLE to me. By this time, the year was 1968.
I had wanted to get into ham radio myself, but Dad sort of nixed the idea. He didn't want me to fill the back of the house up with old gear, run the power bill up and so forth. This continued through Junior and Senior High School, and it was in College when I finally had the ability to do what I wanted (mostly because I could pay for it myself) that I got my ham license. A local radio club, The San Fernando Valley Amateur Radio Club, conducted classes. The classes were free, but you had to buy your own book. The main instructor was Merle Gould, WA6KUS (silent key now) and he was really a character! One thing that he did not have was a boring class! I studied hard and took my Novice test from him. Not an overly difficult test, as you may recall. Five wpm receiving, which was sent for five minutes and you had to have SOLID copy for at least one of those minutes. There was a sending test, but I only had to send long enough for them to see that I could handle a key. And there was a written test. Again, not too hard. I passed all of these and was holding vigil by the mailbox waiting for my new license to arrive. It was a long wait.
There were changes going on with amateur radio licensing at that time. The FCC was no longer issuing distinctive novice callsigns, so instead of a WN6___, my new license read WB6SAN. Wow! SAN... that's pretty good for code, eh? ... ._ _. it has a nice rythym, don't you think? One of the officers in the club, WB6T__ (call suppressed to protect the guilty) asked me what my brand new callsign was. I told him proudly, and he got really upset with me! I found out later that the FCC had gone back to "fill in" some missing spaces and thus I got a callsign earlier in the sequence than this fellow, and he had been licensed for years! To hear his side of it, you'd have thought that I somehow did it on purpose!
Of course, I had no transmitter, only a receiver at that time, so I couldn't get onto the air right away. But that changed. Gear began to accumulate...great stuff to me, boat anchors to the folks who watched me lug them away. I even managed to get some of it onto the air. Meanwhile I was studying for the General Class written. I thought I had it down pretty well, and although my code wasn't up to speed, I went down to the FCC office in Long Beach, CA to take the exam. These were held on two Saturdays a month, as I recall. When I got down there and looked for a place to park, I was amazed to see cars and trucks with every sort of antenna on them. Call plates too...and a big crowd in the waiting room. I could tell which guys were there for a code test because many of them had their own keys or bugs along for them to use in the sending portion of the test. I filled out my application form, turned it in and waited.
The first to be called were those taking code tests. The twenty wpm test was first, and I can still remember the grim look some of those guys had as they went in. The thirteen wpm test was next, and then the written exams. I didn't sit for the code exam that day, taking the written only. This got me out of there with a Technician class license. All amateur privileges, 50 MHz. and up. Nothing below. I didn't pursue my code speed, although I should have at the time.
Instead, I fell in with the VHF crowd, and was involved it that for years. My first VHF rig was shared with my brother David, who had received the callsign of WB6WKB. The radio was a Kenwood TR-7200A, two-meter, crystal control, 10 watt output. We had a pretty good time with it. I got an antenna installed on my car and one evening out front of the house we fired it all up.
I had been told in my license class that we were supposed to identify each and every time we transmitted. I am afraid that I took this a little too seriously. Yep...each and every time I said ANYTHING, I gave my callsign. It got to be a little funny...and the others in the roundtable were kidding me about it. One fellow came in saying "This is the FCC...you are forbidden to identify!" This got a good laugh out of the bunch. But at least I learned that once every ten minutes and at the END of your series of transmissions was all that was required. Of course, there were others lessons that followed.
I suppose that there are others that have similar stories, but we all have
radio as a common heritage. Our reasons for getting involved were all
different, our interests in radio certainly were. I found that I enjoyed
operating from remote locations, and later combined this interest with packet
radio. I got to be pretty good at taking the equipment to some
mountaintop, setting it up and getting it to work! I could tell some
tales about that, and perhaps in another story I will!
If you have comments about this story, I'd be happy to hear from you!