Sunday, June 23, 2013

AM DXing, CB radio, and the exposure to Ham Radio

What began as an infatuation with music of the 70's, associated audio equipment, and portable AM radios playing Dodger games, quickly moved into the CB era. My dad purchased a brand new 1972 Toyota Landcruiser (boy do I wish I had that!). In the glove box, he mounted the Lafayette 525 mobile CB rig. His CB license number was KGS8585 (Yes, the FCC issued licenses for CB stations then). I have no idea what type of antenna he had mounted on the Landcruiser, but I remember it was a nice long whip antenna. No wonder it worked so well!
The 525 was a very basic, 23 channel AM CB radio of the time. I spent hours sitting in the Toyota listening, and talking to people all over Southern California. It was an innocent, and new adventure for many youngsters of that era. Unlike today, people were friendly and talkative. It was such a cool thing.....talking to strangers without a telephone! I remember my grandmother taking the time to sit with me in the Toyota, and experience the radio that I was so excited about. She did her best, but struggled to adapt to the new technology.

I was infatuated with the idea of talking to people as far away as possible. It was around this time that I had gone to a friends house. His neighbor was a ham operator. There was a huge tower with a yagi antenna on it outside his home. I was invited into his home to see the station. It was a wall of Hammarlund and Hallicrafters gear. The guy had drawers full of QSL cards he had accumulated. He tuned the radio to a ship in distress somewhere in the antarctic. I was beside myself. I couldn't imagine anything more interesting than that!

My parents were on their way to divorce. My dad relocated to Big Bear Lake California, and eventually I made the decision to live with him. Still in love with radio, he bought me a Pace CB-76 base station, and a 5/8 wave ground plane antenna.

This radio was located in an outdoor shed at the home dad was renting at Big Bear Lake Ca. My step-sister and I fought over airtime. She was not nearly as interested as I was in radio, so I was largely in control of the radio station. Besides, all she wanted to do was try to find cute guys. I adopted the "handle" of " Funky Chicken". Yeah, I know. I even had my handle stenciled onto the back of a pullover sweatshirt. It was a magical time. I remember CB radio friends, with the handles "Big Bear Boozer" and "CB Kid". There were CB clubs with member numbers, and I was proud to announce my club affiliation numbers when I did my station ID. I remember that the big thing was to add a "power mic" to the station. I went to the local electronics store (yes we had them in those days) to purchase a Turner + 2 hand mic.

All the guys said that my signal was much better than with the stock mic. I was SO proud of that microphone! All the while, I had been listening to AM radio at night. I loved to hear the stations coming in from all over the country, and had begun to keep a log of stations that I was hearing. My love for radio was all about hearing signals from as far away as I could. Dad took us camping in the desert, and I would take a portable AM radio and connect it to a long copper wire on the ground (BOG)! From the tent, I would log stations even further away than I was able to log from home. Things were starting to get serious. While registering for my freshman year of high school, I was forced to choose an elective. Being late in the game, I was left with the class that nobody else wanted....electronics. That class changed everything. The instructor was Gary Moran, W6RAG. When I mentioned to him my love of radio, he quickly invited me to see the Big Bear Lake High School club Ham station, WA6OBA. After school, me and a few others went into the back of the classroom, where Mr. Moran opened up a large cabinet to reveal a couple of old Hammarlund radios. He turned them on, got on 15 meters, and worked a station in New Hampshire. I was beside myself. At that point, I didn't even know about SSB on 11 meters. I was very happy to have worked Victorville, a scant 30 miles away, on my AM base station! The idea that someone could talk across the country was stunning to me. Mr. Moran made us an offer; He said "you can come into this back room for each class period, and study for your amateur radio novice license. If you pass the novice test, you will get an automatic "A" in the class." Well, that was a no brainer! I spent my class time learning theory, and CW. I practiced with my code oscillator (that I built) at home, and studied the Radio Shack study guide "from 5 watts to 1000 watts". While we studied, we even built a basic 10 watt CW transmitter. When it came time to take the test, I passed. I was awarded the FCC Novice license, with the call sign WD6HFC. I hooked up the 10 watt transmitter that I built, to a wire stretched out of my 2nd story window. Based on the recommendation of Mr. Moran, I talked my dad into buying me a Drake 2b receiver, with the 2bq speaker. 

This radio was magic at my fingertips! I listened to hams and shortwave stations all over the globe. Needless to say, the CB did not last long. I quickly started making contacts on the Novice CW bands. At that time, a Novice could only use CW, and Mr. Moran hooked me up with a better transmitter. It was some sort of old WW2 Navy surplus radio with a home made power supply. It was probably in the neighborhood of 75 watts. I was talking to people all over the united states via CW, as a freshman in high school. It was amazing.

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