My Start as a Ham


I suppose my interest in things electrical began when at a very young age I poked a metal hairpin into an electrical outlet. To this day, I vividly remember the amazing flash and bang that resulted! Of course, I wanted to know why that happened. It was a few years more before I learned to read, and found out about electricity.

As time went on and I grew up a bit, I spent many hours after school sitting on the living room floor with my ear glued to the speaker of our Philco console radio. I quickly found out that the whole world lived inside that cabinet, and I wanted to know how that was possible. Many trips to the local library and a few books on electricity and radio supplied by my parents gave me the answer. I wanted into that magic world, and so I set about to earn my Amateur Radio License, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.


It's been some 51 years since I opened that little white envelope from the FCC and read those glorious letters "W5JGV" on the enclosed ticket. At last! My very own Amateur Radio License!

And then I instantly realized that I COULD NOT USE THE LICENSE!!

The call should have read WN5JGV, because I had passed the examination for a Novice Class license.

Oh no! Had the FCC made actually made a mistake? Yes, it was so, and a long distance call to the FCC in Washington quickly assured me that, no, I could not operate until I held in my hand the corrected license reading WN5JGV. I glumly awaited each days mail delivery, and, after what seemed like forever (it was really just two weeks or so) the corrected license arrived in the mail.

Ripping the new license out of the envelope, I breathlessly called one of my high school classmates on the telephone (he already had his call) and I rushed down to my brand new ham shack. I fired up the new Hallicrafters S-38-E receiver that my parents had given me, and warmed up my homebrew 6V6 crystal controlled breadboard (real wood, too!) rig. I quickly threw the huge war surplus solid-copper, double-bladed 100 amp knife switch to the TRANSMIT position and shakily started my first on-the-air QSO with my shiny new war surplus J-38 key. After a few minutes, my friend answered me, and I had my first QSO down in my brand mew ARRL Logbook! Not great DX of course, since it was only about four miles between our stations, but to a brand new wet-behind-the-ears Ham operator, it seemed like the distance between the earth and the moon.


To this day, radio is still absolutely magic for me. To be able to turn on my receiver at 3 AM and watch the tubes slowly awaken, to hear the soft sound of the random noise of the universe fill the loudspeaker, to gently caress the tuning knob and suddenly hear a voice or an orchestra from the other side of the world is still as incredible a thrill to me now as it was the first time I heard it.

And this - this fantastic magic of radio, is accomplished using nothing more complicated than a wonderful magic box with warmly glowing tubes and a piece of wire strung from my bedroom window to the tree by the fence.

de W5JGV Ralph

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