Adventures in Ham Radio

A couple lifetimes ago, while attending high school in Stockton, CA, I had a vague notion I wanted to learn something about ham radio. It's been so long ago I don't even know who I ran into that opened the door... ??? I managed to stumble upon someone that knew someone that had a friend that knew a secret password and the next thing I knew I was in a class to train for a Novice ticket. About fall of 1955 I believe. I recall the name of the Elmer as Norm but not the names of the other students save one: a blind fellow-student at Stockton High named Larry Scadden (he was KN6HWT and apparently is now KH6LS in Hawaii). I managed to get thru the class including learning the code at 5 wpm and was assigned KN6LHN (the phonetic our Elmer jokingly tossed out was Larry Hates Norm which is how I happen to remember the 2 names).

I found a used receiver, a Halicrafter ($30), and bought a new transmitter, a Globe Scout ($75). Someone in the class told me about an antenna called a Mutt & Jeff (probably a folded-J) that was in the then-current issue of QST. I bought some open ladder line, some coax plus a few parts at the same place I bought the receiver. With some help from my dad (who knew nothing about amateur radio but had been a lineman for Bell of Nevada at one time), the antenna got up and KN6LHN was on the air. Unfortunately, the antenna only knew how to talk to one place: I was forever only going to work Los Angeles from my QTH in Stockton... about 350 miles. As I remember I had only one crystal which was for 80-m.

The timing wasn't very good for my intro to ham radio. It was near the time to graduate from high school, followed by 6 months active duty in the Marine Corp Reserve, then on to college. With other things taking priority I never upgraded before the 1-year license expired. Novice tickets weren't permanent and if you didn't upgrade, they expired forever. The only way to get a license then was to go for the General and I wasn't ready to copy 12 wpm CW. So ended my brief tour in ham radio. My folks sold my equipment for me since I needed $$$ for college more than I needed a boat anchor for a keepsake.

When Celia & I decided to go cruising (2001-2005), we realized that communication with folks ashore was going to be a challenge. Thanks to that early ham radio license in the mid-'50s I knew that a mobile ham radio station could serve as a way to keep in touch. Also, in the mid-1990s I crewed on Puffin on the return trip from Hawaii to San Francisco and saw first hand how helpful ham radio could be to a cruiser.

So we did some digging on the internet which led us in October 2001 to Chula Vista, CA and the weekend cruiser's seminar with Gordon West, WB6NOA. Without a doubt, Gordo is the most incredible teacher I've ever met. He took us from no license to General class amateurs in one weekend... including code.

There was more to it than that, of course. Gordo sent us boxes of study material including books, practice tests & code practice tapes. We had to go thru it all in the 6 weeks preceding the class. It was not too hard for me since I'd had a license before and had worked in electronics design. Celia struggled, however, especially with the code... her masters degree in early childhood education didn't exactly prepare her for the world of amateur radio! But she was tenacious and pounded her way thru it to become KG4PQW; I was KG4PQV. When we moved to New Mexico, we both got vanity call signs: Celia is K5CMB and I was W5BAB. In October of 2004 I upgraded to Extra class and asked for another vanity call sign. Now I'm NM5B.

When we were afloat, we used the very versatile Icom M710RT SSB radio for most of our comm needs. Since we had both a marine SSB license and our amateur radio licenses, we could operate in both the marine bands and the amateur radio bands. Our most extensive use by far was the PACTOR digital modes as implemented by Winlink 2000 and SailMail (a subscription version of Winlink for the marine bands). When we sold the boat, we lost access to the marine bands.

After we were in Santa Fe full time, our initial shore-based station was a Yaesu FT1000MP MkV and a FluidMotion SteppIR vertical (40- thru 6-m) plus 3 Isotron single band antennas (160-/80-/60-m). We sold the FT1000 and I built an Elecraft K2 QRP rig, then later added a used Elecraft K2/100.

More recently I ordered an Elecraft K3 which was delivered on Christmas Eve of December 2007. In May 2008 the old SteppIR will be replaced with the newer SteppIR MkIII which tunes 80-m thru 6-m which means the 60- & 80-m Isotrons can away. In their place I've installed a horizontally polarized 6-m antenna from KU4AB which will alternate use with the vertically polarized antenna that the SteppIR provides. Unless I can find a suitable place for the 160-m Isotron, I'll give up that band.

Our latest addition is an ACOM 1000 linear amp which covers 160- thru 6-m. The combo of the ACOM 1000 and the Elecraft K3 was proven exhaustively by VP6DX DXpedition (180,000 QSOs), so I feel pretty comfortable it will be a good choice.