Ham Radio Nostalgia

Ragchewers Club AwardI was a Novice from June 19th to December 12, 1968.  During that time I made about 700 contacts.   My first operating award was the Rag Chewers' Club Award.  This award, offered by the ARRL, was the first award earned by most novices.  To qualifiy for this award you had to submit proof of a two way CW contact lasting at least 30 minutes.  

The majority of my novice contacts were made on 40 and 15 meters.  The remaining contacts were made on 80 meters using my 40 meter dipole.  In October of 1968 I ventured into downtown Baltimore City to the FCC field office located in the Customs House to take the General exam.  Thirty days later I went back and took the Advanced test.  In those days, you had to go to an FCC field office to take the Technician, General, Advanced, and Extra class exams before an FCC examiner.  If you did not take the exams back-to-back you had to wait 30 days before you could take the test again.  The test consisted of a code test where you copied CW generated from a paper tape machine for 5 minutes using pencil and paper to copy the code.  To pass you had to have one minute of error free copy.  Once you passed the copying porition of the test you were required to send some plain text to the examiner using a hand key at the required speed until he told you to stop.  After successfully completing the code portion of the test, you then took the written test which consisted of  questions with multiple choice answers (some math was involved to calculate some of the answers).  After completing the written exam your answers were checked (by Mrs Wilson in the Baltimore FCC office) and you were told if you passed or failed.

I approached upgrading conservatively, studying for one exam at a time.  I received my General ticket on December 13, 1968 and my Advanced ticket in late January 1969.  After receiving my General ticket I started working 20 meters using the second harmonic of my 40 meter crystals.  While operating on 20 meters I heard more DX in a week than I had heard in six months as a novice and was bitten by the DX bug.  As the passage of time has shown, I would never shake the DX bug.


The photo above left was taken in January 1969.  The photo shows the Eico 720 transmitter, Hammarlund HQ-110A receiver, Eico 722 VFO and a homebrew antenna relay box (on top of the Hammarlund HQ-110A).  After working "rock abound" on 20 meters for a few weeks, I purchased an Eico 722 VFO kit which I promptly built and put on the air.  In those days Novices were limited to crystal controlled transmitters with a maximum DC input power of 75 watts (about 50 watts RF output).  During the time I was a novice I had about a dozen crystals so I could move around the novice bands.  What you see in the picture above is my novice, general, and advanced station which was set up in the basement on a make-shift operating table consisting of an old record player supporting the table top which was an old chalk board.  The photo on the right is yours truly at the controls, circa spring 1969.  By the time this picture was taken I had worked and confirmed some of my first DX contacts on 15 meters and had added a homebrew antenna tuner.  I operated this station through mid 1972.  In July of 1972, after my return home from Scotland, I added a Drake 2B receiver and an Eico 730 plate modulator to the Eico 720 so I could operate AM phone.  In the 70s there was still a fair amount of AM phone activity on the bands.  I operated AM on 40 and 10 meters and became active in the local chapter of the 10-10 International Club which conducted it's nets on AM, then later on AM and SSB.

Kann-Ellert Electronics - Baltimore

First DX Contact

My first DX contact as a Novice was with Brazil, PY5ASN on July 10, 1968.  Ram answered my CQ on 15 meters.  During the QSO I had no idea where he was located, but I did my best to copy the strange callsign and complete the QSO.  I did not find out where he was located until I looked up his call in a callbook at the Kann-Ellert store in Baltimore city several days later.  Kann-Ellert was located on TV Hill under the 1000 foot tall TV tower.  The bus that I rode to and from college made a stop near there.  I would visit Kann-Ellert regularly to buy crystals and drool over the ham gear.  I did not know this at the time, but Charlie Ellert and Mr. Kann were former FCC associates of George Sterling, the original holder of W3DF, the call I would acquire about eight years later.

The QSL cards on the wall in the picture above were my first confirmed DX contacts, PY5ASN, DL5AO, KZ5KZN, and G3CVS, all worked on 15 meters in the Novice band.   During my six months as a Novice I worked 15 countries, all on 15 meters, and 46 states on 40 and 15 meters.  Working DX was a challenge for the "rock-bound" novice.  When you heard a DX station he almost always was not on your crystal frequency, so you would call and hope that he would tune plus and minus his transmit frequency.  The experienced DX operators would do this, but there were many who did not and worked only those on their transmit frequency.  Once in a while I would get lucky and have a DX station answer my CQ, but that did not happen very often.

I graduated from Baltimore Junior College in June of 1969 with an Associate of Arts degree in electronics technology.  Both of my college ham radio buddies moved on to full time jobs after graduation.  I immediately enlisted in the Navy before the Army drafted me for service in Vietnam.  I entered boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois on October 2, 1969.  After 11 weeks of training in frigid Illinois, I completed boot camp about a week before Christmas 1969 and spent the holidays on leave at home.  I had joined the Navy thinking that I could further my education in electronics by attending the Navy's Electronic Technician (ET) School.  I scored very high on the tests given in boot camp but found out that there was more to going to ET school than scoring a 98 out of 100, namely another 2 year commitment to the Navy.  I was unwilling to commit to a 6 year enlistment before I knew if I was going to like 'Navy life.'  When I turned down the 2 year extension, I was offered a rating as a  Communications Technican (CT) with 20 weeks of 'A' school in Pensacola, Florida.  I was probably made this offer because I had scored a 100 percent on the morse code test given in boot camp.  I gladly accepted that offer.

Bootcamp Yearbook Bootcamp at Great Lakes, Illinois The Sailor

In early January 1970, I shipped out to Florida to attend Communications 'A' School at the Navy Communications Training Center (NCTC), Cory Field, in Penscola, Florida.  From early January to early May 1970, I attended school during the day and operated from the base club station WA4ECY during my non-duty hours.  The club station was well equipped, consisting of a Swan 500 transceiver, a Swan KW amplifier, and a Mosley TA-33 on a 70 foot tower.  There were about a dozen active club members.  Shown below are two of the club's QSL cards.  I graduated from 'A' school in early May at the top of my class and was able to pick my first duty station.  I chose RAF Edzell, in northeast Scotland since it was one of the Navy's best duty stations.  After 'A' school I went home for a week of leave before leaving for Scotland.


The entrance to RAF Edzell.

Entrance to RAF Edzell

In mid-May 1970, I shipped out to Scotland for an 18 month tour of duty.  My tour of duty was later extended to 25 months.   The trip overseas was an interesting one.  I rode a bus from Baltimore to McGuire AFB in New Jersey where I boarded a Boeing 707 bound for Germany.  This was my second plane trip, the first being the flight from Baltimore to Chicago for boot camp.  After a short lay over in Germany, we flew to Ayr, Scotland where I took a cab to the train station, a train to Montrose, and finally a taxi to the base.

RAF Edzell, near the village of Edzell was located midway between the larger towns of Montrose and Brechin near the North Sea on the east coast of Scotland.  The base was a World War II Royal Air Force Base that was leased by the Navy.  A communications building surrounded by a wullenweber antenna shown in the photo below right, was located on an air field about a mile from the main part of the base.  This building was where I spent all of my on-duty hours.  The building was manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  We manned rotating watches, working two day watches (7 am to 4 pm), two mid watches (11 pm to 7 am), then two eve watches (4 pm to 11 pm), then taking 80 hours off and then starting the cycle over again.

At first I used a bicycle and the local bus transportation to get around.  There were two busses that stopped at the base each day.  During my off duty time, I would ride into Edzell and up into the nearby mountainside with one of my buddies (non-ham).  For the first six months I used the bus and the bicycle to get around, visitng Edzell, Montrose and Brechin regularly.  In early 1971, I took driving lessons and obtained a British drivers license and started exploring more of the countryside by automobile.  My first car was a 1963 Austin A40 which I purchased from a local bloke.  I visited Edinburgh several times, Glasgow, Inverness, Loch Ness, Aberdeen, Dundee, St. Andrews, Fettercairn, Stonehaven, Brechin, Montrose, Forfar, Perth, and others, the names I no longer remember.  In late 1971, after many miles, the A40 developed mechancial problems so I scrapped it and purchased a second hand Singer Gazelle (not a sewing machine) which was a larger more comfortable car for touring on the Scottish roadways.

My first car, a 1963 Austin A40................................and the Singer Gazelle

Shown below is the entrance to the village of Edzell, about 4 miles by road from the base and the communications building where I worked.

Edzel Arch The communications building

I typical scene along the roadways in the north of Scotland........... and Balmoral Castle.

Typical scene on a Scotish road Balmoral castle

After settling in at RAF Edzell, I applied for a reciprocal license in the summer of 1970 and was issued the callsign GM5ASI.  I made my first contacts as GM5ASI in August 1970.  The photo and accompanying article shown below was published in the base newspaper, The Tartan Log.  I operated regularly from the club station which consisted of a Swan 350, a two element GEM quad on a 30 foot TV tower.  We later (I think it was spring 1971) erected an 80 meter quarter wave vertical which was made from some spare TV tower.  I spent many hours burying 60 quarter wave radials under this antenna to improve its DX performance.  The Drake 2B receiver shown next to the Swan 350 belonged to another club member, Steve, then WA4UAZ, now K4EU.  The Swan receiver was as "broad as a barn door"on CW.  The Drake receiver and vertical allowed me to contact friends back in the U.S. who kept nightly schedules on 80 meter CW.  I worked 80 and 40 meters with the vertical and 20, 15, and 10 meters with the quad.  Most of my on-the-air time was spent on 20 and 15 meters looking for DX and my friends back home.   During my two years in Scotland I was able to work 191 countries and all states.   When conditions were good there were many nights when I stayed up working U.S.stations on 20 meters past local sunrise.  When I was off duty and not chasing DX, I spent most of my free time in Brechin and Montrose.  Brechin had a pub called Jolly's which was a popular hang-out for the Navy guys and local female population.  Brechin had a nice restaurant where you could have a great steak dinner (genuine Angus steak) for about 2 pound,(4+ dollars).

The town of Edzel located about 4 miles from the base and the radio club station equipment.
Edzell Edzell Club Station GM5ASI QSL CArd

The article in the Tartan Log.  I was a friend of the reporter (Tony) who had an interest in amateur radio.

Tartan Log Article GM5ASI

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