Seventy years ago on October 7, 1952, the FCC assigned a new call sign to a 17 year old. But it really started before then back about 1948 when he was 13. He was into model airplanes and Lionel electric trains. He got one train for Christmas and later bought another from a friend for $20. He sold both to another friend for $20 about 10 years later. In good condition, they are probably worth hundreds or more now.
There was a little house in the back yard about 10 x 15 feet and about 2 feet above the ground that in which baby chickens had been raised a few years earlier. Later it was cleaned and became a small boys hobby house with the trains set up and model airplanes built. An oil space heater was used to keep warm in the winter. Also the old Philco floor Model 37 radio made around 1936 was put in the hobby house after his dad bought a table model radio. He remembers listening to the Philco with his dad on the afternoon of December 7, 1941 to reports that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by surprise. He was slightly taller than the radio when he was 6 years old.
The Philco had short wave bands up to 18 Mc (for the newbie’s, it’s 18 MHz now) and he listened mostly to the hams in North Carolina on 75 meter phone. A few years later his cousin took him to a hamfest in Charlotte and he met some of them at the hamfest before he got his license. They were like celebrities to him. The closest hams were 30 miles away from his home and he didn’t know any of them. He only knew 2 hams and they were
over 150 miles away. One was a cousin who always encouraged him to
get his license. He first heard about and saw his station in 1939 when he
was 4 years old. That must have been when he decided he want a radio
station like that. He started learning to copy the code at around age 15 or
so. He knew the code when he was in the Boy Scouts and used flags for
communications. Of course it was line of sight.
In 1952 he really got serious. He finally got nerve enough to write Al Parker, W4BAW, who lived about 30 miles away and asked if he could visit him. Al wrote a post card right back and said to come on Sunday afternoon. He still has the post card. He had been listening to Al on 75 meter AM for a year or so. Al lived above a hardware store in town and was a mail carrier. Al showed off his station that included a surplus BC-610 transmitter that was used in World War II. He demonstrated it by contacting a station in Raleigh and the young boy spoke on Amateur Radio for his first time. A few years, later the young boy became good friends with the ham in Raleigh that he spoke to.
He bought a set of 36 78 rpm records that had 72 lessons, including how to send and receive. He was a Civil Air Patrol cadet and saw a set of the records they were using for training. It covered from the beginning to 20 wpm including lessons with QRM, static, etc. You listened to them 3 times to copy 3 different tones at 10, 13 and 18 wpm. He also used his cousin’s Instructograph
W4QI 1939 Station
for a couple of weeks that used paper tapes. Also, in the late spring of 1952, his dad ordered him a Hallicrafters SX-71 receiver shown on page 134 of the 1952 Allied Radio catalog in Chicago. The SX-71 was $199.50 and matching R-46 speaker was $19.95. They were shipped in by way of Railway Express. He listened to the W1AW code sessions many nights.
When he copied about 7 wpm, on August 15, 1952 he went to Norfolk to the FCC office and was the only candidate for their weekly Friday session to take Amateur Radio exams. He was going for the Novice and Technician exams. His 17th birthday was a couple of weeks earlier. He practiced drawing the schematics on the day before he went to Norfolk and would take a stab at the Technician exam having studied the questions for a couple of weeks. First you had to pass the code test that was given by FCC examiner, Mr. Bennett. After finishing the receive test, he told the candidate that he almost passed so he would give him another try. This time he printed as fast as he could. Again he was told he almost passed. Mr. Bennett told him the write in cursive if he could do it faster and he would give him a third try. This time he passed the code receive test. It looks like he copied 1 minute out of 15 minutes he was sent instead of the usual 1 minute out of 5. If you failed an exam, you had to wait 30 days before you could try again. He had no trouble passing the sending test. After that he took the Novice and Technician exams. He expected to pass the Novice but had no idea he could pass the Technician which was the same as the General exam. BTW, he never printed when copying the code since that day, always cursive.
He had gone to Norfolk with his mom and dad who was making a business trip. He went out in the hallway waiting for his mom and dad after he finished the exams. About the time they came, Mr. Bennett came out of the office and told him he had passed. The candidate said, “Both test”? Mr. Bennett said, “Yes, you passed Novice and Technician”. Boy, was he thrilled because the Technician was good for 5 years and the Novice expired in 1 year. Since the Technician and General exam were the same, all he had to do for the General was to pass the 13 wpm code test at a later date. Now for the long wait to receive his Novice and Technician call signs. When he got his license, he joined the ARRL and also subscribed to CQ Magazine.
About 8 weeks later 70 years ago, a letter from the FCC arrived. He received his 2 licenses with the Novice and Technician call signs dated October 7, 1952. He had a license, but he did not have a transmitter to get on the air. Since his dad was helping with the costs, he was looking for something with minimum prices. Back to the Allied Radio catalog. On page 138 was a Harvey Wells TBS-50 watt AM/CW transmitter that covered 80 through 2 meters for $137.50 and matching power supply for $39.50. It was a small transmitter, only 8x8x12 inches.
Searching QST and CQ magazines, he found a used TBS-50 and power supply for $100 in like new condition at World Radio Labs in Council Bluffs, IA. It was $100 for both so an order was put in for them. They
arrived by Railway Express on December 24, 1952 on the last train to ever go to the small town. The train tracks and communication lines removal started a few days later.
His Novice Station in July 1953 CQ Magazine.
The next day, December 25, 1952, the transmitter was installed and hooked up to an 80 meter folded dipole made of 300 ohm TV twin lead. He had a source from his dad’s appliance store that also sold TVs. Very nervous, he went on the air and called CQ at 2:45 PM EST on the Novice band at 3723 kc. This was the first entry in the ARRL logbook that cost 50 cents. In 2022, they cost $9.95, about a 20 times increase! In 1952, all transmissions that included a station and CQ transmissions were required to be entered. By the time the young boy got on the air, his CW speed had dropped to about 3 wpm. Five minutes later, WN4YHI was called for 2 minutes. He had 599 signal but he didn’t come back. Using crystal control, you had to
tune around to hear a station calling since his crystal was probably on a different frequency. Called CQ 2 more times but no luck. At 3:30 PM, called WN4YHI again and he came back with a strong 599 signal. It scared the young boy so much, he felt like going out his second story window to the roof and jumping! His code copying was so slow, they sent their names and QTH quite a number of times. WN4YHI had no trouble copying and he could copy faster. Finally he got his name and QTH, George in Fremont, NC. The fact that the QSO lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes can attest to the poor CW by the new ham with his first Amateur Radio contact. The log has15 entries on December 25, 1952 and 8 of them were calling CQ. He called 4 other stations that day but weak signals and QRM killed the contacts.
He got on the air the next day and made one contact, WN1WRQ, in Connecticut that lasted 20 minutes. Interesting that the second station contacted was in Hartford County, the home county of W1AW. His first TVI complaint was whem his mom call upstairs. “Stop messing up the TV!” The Harvey Wells must have been a good TV transmitter because it had no TV interference shielding since it was designed in the late 1940s before TV became popular. The closest TV station in 1952 was WTAR-TV on channel 4 in Norfolk, about 110 miles away. It was always a snowy picture and at times faded out completely. The TV antenna was two 4 elements stacked up about 40 feet on top of the 2 story house strapped to the chimney. It lasted until October 1954 when Hurricane Hazel crashed it to the ground along with the chimney. That antenna was not replaced because a new TV station came on the air about 40 miles away a few months earlier. It carried some shows from all four networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and the DuMont TV Network.
The 17 year old boy, still in high school, was making contacts regularly on the 80 and 40 meter Novice bands. Someone had given him a crystal that would put his transmitter on 40 meters but it was just below the Novice band. With a little research in some Amateur Radio books and magazines, he saw he could use very fine sandpaper to grind the crystal to make it work on a little higher frequency. After a few tries, he had the transmitter well inside the 40 meter Novice band.
Also while he was on the Novice band, he built a VFO so he would be ready for the phone band and not have to have a bunch of crystals. It was a lot of money if you had to buy very many of them. The construction project details were on page 46 of the July 1952 QST, titled “Simple VFO Construction for the 75-Meter ‘Phone Band”. It used 2 tubes, a 6AG7 for the VFO and 6L6 for the amplifier. He added a vernier tuning dial to the front that cost $1.47.
Now you can find one for about $45.
In late February, 1954, his code speed was higher and using the records and
W1AW, he found that he could copy 13 wpm. He was ready to go to Norfolk again and get that General Class license. So off to Norfolk to take the exam. But when he was given the exam, he was so nervous, he didn’t even come close to passing. Disappointed, it was back on the Novice bands and more practice. About 6 weeks later he was copying 18 wpm. Back to Norfolk on April 10, 1953 and the 13 wpm was very easy. He hoped he could get the license that day since there was no written exam to clear the FCC in DC. He was told it would be a couple of months before he got the license. The next day on April 11, his Dad called from the store and said he had a letter from the Norfolk FCC office. He rushed over to the store and saw that Mr. Bennett had signed the license and mailed it. Bet you can’t get a letter from Norfolk to NC overnight now! After 241 stations contacted using his Novice call sign, he could now use his General call sign.
When he got home, he pulled the crystal out and plugged the homebrew VFO into the crystal slot and tuned the transmitter to the 75 meter phone band. He wanted to make his first phone contact with Ross, W4NOV, a Baptist minister in Apex. He had been listening to Ross for months. He heard Ross on the air on 75 meters and nervously he was called and he came right back. The QSO started at 4:21 PM and lasted 34 minutes. His QSL card was received about 4 days later.
On the side of the card that had the 2 one cent stamps, he wrote the following, “I am quite happy to be your first 75m contact. Many tnx for the call – and tnx a million for the report on my new dipole. You made me feel mighty good. By all means stop and see me if
you pass this way. I would like very much to meet U in person. Call me
often on 75m. 73s, Ross”. We ended up having 49 QSOs over the years. The ‘in person’ meeting never happened.
His high school teachers were amazed that he could go home and talk to other hams all over the USA and other countries.
Oh, BTW. The two call signs assigned by the FCC on October 7, 1952 were WN4YDY and W4YDY .