Like most fellas who got their start in ham radio in the 50's, I was introduced to the hobby by the Boy Scouts. When I was about 8 years old I built a crystal set in order to get my Radio merit badge. Mom got me a toilet tissue cardboard roll, the scoutmaster (a ham) supplied the wire and a cat whisker and surplus WW II headphones. I strung up an aerial with 2 coke bottles as insulators. We lived in Hawaii at the time and I could pick up an AM station in Honolulu 12 miles away. I was hooked, it was magic…radio waves traveled through the air. You couldn't see them, but you could hear them. Wow!
From there we moved to Washington DC and I bought a Knightkit Space Spanner. It was a cheap little regenerative receiver, but I could listen to shortwave and the ham bands for the first time. I heard HCJB in Quito and Voice of America and I began to learn about propagation and DX. Turns out my dad's boss was a ham, so one afternoon we went over to his house and got on 10 meters. We talked to a guy in Anchorage who was on his lunch break. Boy, this was really neat… the hook set a little deeper. Then it was off to Birmingham, AL as my dad was transferred again. It was time for a real receiver. Somebody told me about the Hallicrafters S-38D and it sounded like the ultimate radio. I didn't have any money at the time and my only asset was 1909S VDB penny. I took it to a coin shop and sold it for $30, just enough to buy the S-38D. The next week I saw my penny for sale in the coin shop for $75. That was my first introduction to the concept of wholesale vs. retail!
I was about 13 now and met a neighbor ham, Jimmy Wilson, W4RKS and he helped me study for my novice exam. Lem Bryant, W4EOH gave me the novice test, an old WW II 80m 20watt transmitter and a Vibroplex bug. (I just cleaned up that bug recently and found that it was made in 1923. Thank you, Lem!) With an 80m dipole, I discovered the joy of 2-way communication. My first contact was with a guy in Gadsden, AL, about 65 miles away. He answered my CQ and I remember when he called me, I ran around the house shouting "Somebody's calling me!!!!" Mom finally said "Well, why don't you answer him?" I am sure I told him my name ten times!
I learned that my little 20 watts would go a long way. I remember having a map of the US on the wall and when I would work a new state, I would color it in. I was having trouble getting past Kansas or Iowa, so I tried setting the alarm for 3am and trying my CQs on 3514 in the middle of the night. My brother, with whom I shared a room, was not happy about any of this. He was sure I was nuts! The morning a W6 answered my CQ and I yelled at the top of my lungs …whoopee!…he really got mad. To this day, he still doesn't understand.
My code speed went up quickly and I sat for the General exam three months later. It was given in a government building downtown and it was a big day for a young kid. At that point, I had worked 33 states and Canada. Before my General ticket arrived, I mowed yards to get money for my brand new Heath Kit DX 40 and I built it and a plumbers delight 2 element, 15m beam, right out of the handbook. Now I was really big time and ready to work the world. I continued to be amazed that you could actually talk to somebody in New Zealand or Brazil or England and not have any wires between you. It was even more magical now! I worked about 40 countries and began to look at the world map and stick pins in the countries I had contacted. Suddenly, I realized that radio waves also crossed international borders. I shook with nervousness when I talked to my first Russian ham. He didn't seem like such a bad guy! The hook was set deeper and deeper!
About two years after I was licensed, my dad got word that he was being transferred again, this time to Okinawa. Whoa Nellie! Maybe I could get a license over there and operate. I wondered what it would be like to be the DX for a change. Well, my getting on the air was delayed six months (as was my driving the family car), due to a confrontation my dad and I had on the trip over. Someday I would learn to keep my mouth shut!
When the time came, I was ready with a new Knightkit R-100 receiver, my trusty DX40 and a cubical quad that a departing ham gave me.
My QTH at Naha Airbase, Okinawa
The picture of me below was in the QST, the magazine of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in September, 1961. I was "hot stuff":
It was great being the DX. I regularly had pileups of JAs calling me and I even began to learn some Japanese language. I was studying Spanish in High School at the same time and even today I still mix up my words. When the UA0s would call me they all had deep, bassy voices and sounded like a bear, a Russian bear. They seemed nice enough, but were really loud and scary. When we had openings to the US, I always tried to work into Birmingham and some of my buddies. My good friend Mike, W4ALA (then K4UPL) and I had many skeds but never hooked up. While in Asia, I heard my first 9V, 9M2, DU, 4S7, VU, UM, UJ8 etc… and they were loud! The pileups were fun and I really enjoyed giving a new country to so many people. That is a great feeling and one I still enjoy today, some 40+ years later.
In 1962, I was off to college. I said goodbye to my family and flew 36 hours to California and took a bus to Auburn, AL to enroll in Electrical Engineering at Auburn University. EE seemed like a natural choice as I already knew how to solder (I stole that line from friend Chaz, W4GKF). I figured I might even skip my freshman year. Unfortunately I collided with calculus -- and calculus won. I met Mary in my sophomore year and we are still together today. I was off the air in those days and I really don't know if Mary knew I was a ham. For sure she didn't know I was a ham-oholic. From Auburn, I went to the US Air Force Navigator school and about half way through, we got married. She went to work shortly thereafter and with her first paycheck we bought a Hallicrafter SR 150 transceiver. That should have been a tipoff.
I worked about 200 countries from Sacramento as a /6 and got out of the service in April 1972. We moved to Atlanta where we have been ever since. About 1973 I joined the SEDXC (Southeastern DX Club) and found comfort with other DX-minded individuals. It was kinda like an AA meeting. "Hi, my name is Bob and I am a DXer".
My dxpedition/contesting career began in 1979. Several of the club members were contacted by Kit Carson, VP2KC, an elderly man who split his time between his home in Indiana and a 13 acre estate in St. Kitts. He wanted us to build a contest station and set a new CQWW Phone World record. Several of us went down in the spring of 1979 and began building the station. (see photo). In October, 22 of us, mostly SEDXC members went to St. Kitts and blew the record away. (see photo)
Watch this space; more to come!