I currently hold a General class amateur radio license, callsign: WA5RAY. Shortwave, CB, amateur radio AKA ham radio and pretty much all things radio have been hobbies of mine for quite some time. Way back when I was around 6-7 years old or so, dad bought my brother, Tom, a crystal radio kit for Christmas. My brother opened the box, got his picture taken with it, set it aside and went out and played with the new football he also got for Christmas that year.
I would just love to tell a story that I had put that radio together and when Tom came in we were all huddled around it listening to far away radio broadcasts, but being around just that old with no training about such things, I simply made a mess of that radio and when my brother came back in, it was strung out all over the floor in pieces. I had used some of the main coil as a wire between a chair and the floor for my army men to glide down. Needless to say, that radio never worked, but I kept all the parts and played with them for quite some time.
Something about that little radio kept calling me, but it wasn’t until my dad came home with a Hallicrafters S-38C shortwave radio that it all came together. Nobody could get at that radio without me being right there. I loved that radio. (see my Hallicrafters S-38C Restoration project.)
Back then, in the late 1950’s and 60’s, the cold war was going on. It seemed there were shortwave radio broadcasts everywhere…with broadcast, clandestine and jamming stations everywhere, it was really exciting! I would listen to that little radio, literally, for hours and hours! I remember rolling those dials around and listening to everything. You could easily hear the US station, Voice Of America all over the dial. There was simply a plethora of stations with music and voice in every conceived foreign language known to man. I was amazed by listening to some girl speaking, in English, just a bunch of numbers, no music, no other words, nothing else but numbers. I even remember hearing what sounded like Donald Duck that would make me laugh and laugh. Little did I know that some many years later, I too would be sounding like Donald or maybe even a bit like Daffy on my own sideband transmitter.
When I was around twelve or so, I found myself “finding” neighbors around my area that had funny looking antennas around their houses. Come to find that many of these were ham radio operators. I had two in particular that I enjoyed going over to their houses and they would even let me talk to people on their radios. I remember one of them gave me a tube type six meter converter he built that I could hook up to my shortwave receiver and listen to other hams talking in the 50 megacycle band. Back then kilohertz (kHz) was kilocycle (kc) and megahertz (MHz) was megacycle (MC). Every now and then, I would hear Donald and Daffy, but didn’t have a way to make out what they were saying.
As time went by, I was introduced to CB radio somewhere around 13 or 14 years old. I got many different electronics catalogs but one catalog, Allied Electronics, had a walkie-talkie in it I could afford. So, after saving my allowance for little over a month or so (I only got $2.50 a week), I was finally able to buy a brand spankin’ new Knight-Kit C-100 walkie-talkie kit. It was a 100 milliwatt (one tenth of a watt) walkie-talkie on CB channel 14. Since it was a kit, I had to assemble it. I remember, while I was building it, listening the that new British rock band “The Beatles” as I fed hot solder to the printed circuit board in beat with my sister’s record player. Wow! I could hardly wait to get that thing working. And working I did get it. I found I could hear a lot of people on that new shiny blue radio, but when I pressed the button it’s side to talk, nobody could hear me. I was really frustrated. I finally tried running a wire up on my roof, and down to my window outside of my bedroom and when I touched it to the walkie-talkie antenna, all of a sudden, people could hear me. They would call back and say, “hey there little walkie-talkie.” It was then and there that I was hooked. At that time, I didn’t know exactly why it worked, but all of a sudden I could talk to people and they heard me. Not very good, but they heard me.
Back then CB radio had only 23 channels and you had to have a call sign to use it. In order to get a license, you had to be 18 and pay a fee. At that time, I was just 14 years old. So…I had a mission. I set out to convince my dad to apply for a CB license. I needed him to get it since I was not old enough. He had absolutely no desire to ever talk on the radio, but, after some prodding, he finally agreed to get it. I think it was just to stop my constant nagging, but it did come with one condition, I had to earn the money for the fee myself. And… a radio. With the knowledge that I was about to get access to a real CB call sign, the walkie-talkie simply wasn’t working for me anymore. I JUST HAD TO GET A REAL RADIO. So I saved and saved my money and finally came up with enough money to pay the license fee…and to buy a REAL radio. When all was ready, dad took me to one of the local two-way radio shops I hung around, and we purchased that REAL radio plus, an antenna.
That radio was a General MC-5. It was the coolest CB radio I knew. It had a separate transmit and receive selector, so you could transmit on one channel, and receive on another.You could talk on 6 channels using crystals inserted in the radio, but it also had a front panel external crystal slot where you could transmit on any channel you had a crystal for. It also had a variable dial (VFO) on the receive where you could “tune” and receive the entire CB band. So in essence, you could operate pretty much any channel you wanted. I pretty much stayed on channel eleven, but had 4, 9, 11, 14, 20 and 23 socketed inside the radio. I pretty much kept channel 6 plugged in the front external crystal socket most of the time, but I had several others standing by just in case. But the one thing that that radio had that I absolutely loved the most, that none of my other radios ever had, was a “Turkey” call. Just push down on the spring loaded momentary switch labeled “Tone Signal” in the dead center of the faceplate under the meter and the radio would transmit a warbling sound that sounded somewhat like a turkey. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT!!!
I had other radios such as a Cobra Cam 88 with a D-104 base microphone. It was a really good radio, and out performed the General hands down and I was glad to have it, but I just never had the love for it as I did that old MC-5. Of course the Cobra didn’t have a “turkey call.” Who knows. Maybe that had something to do with it.
As I started to find fellow CBers talking on the radio, I started hanging out more and more at different radio shops or stores. One in particular was a place called Lynn’s CB Shop, and was owned and run by Mr Lynn Mathewson. His radio technician was probably the smartest guy I had ever known, named Merle Sumner. There were some other guys that sort of hung around as they were friends with Merl. Merl, along with some of the other guys, built the first two meter FM ham repeater in Tulsa. And so, my own personal venture into ham radio really began there.
At that time, I started studying to get my ham license. I tried and tried to get the code down. The radio stuff was easy, but throughout my life, I struggled and struggled with the code. I got to where I could send it without a problem. You could ask me what any letter was and I would tell you. “dit-dah” A. But…I just could not hear the code and make any sense of it, other than CQ.
(“_._. _ _ . _”) Somehow I “got” that one. But only if they were together. Give me a C or a Q by themselves or with other letters and I was lost.
Around 1995 or so the FCC dropped the Morse code requirements for the Technician class amateur radio license. As soon as I heard about this I swooped in and got my license. My call sign was KC5UOT and I had a love/hate relationship with it. I loved my license but couldn’t stand my call sign. I was pretty quick to jump on a vanity call as soon as it was available to me and got my WA5RAY call. In 2007, the FCC dropped the code requirement all together and I tested and received my General class license. So far, I haven’t gone on to get my Extra class ticket, but I did buy the study guide, so who knows.
To see a description of my equipment console project, click here.
When I was in Tulsa, my primary areas of interest in ham radio were FM, SSB, Digital (APRS, packet), Space Communications (Shuttle & Space Station) along with Amateur Television or ATV. I share many of those same interests now, but I no longer do the ATV because of antenna limitations due to a covenant restriction in my Home Owners Association (HOA) which I think should be BSR or Builders Stupid Rules. (I bet you thought I meant something else. :)
RADIO ASTRONOMY/SETI: The movie “Contact” sparked an interest I seemed to have had way down inside. Using the Internet, I searched for more information into actually trying to listen for signs of intelligent life beyond what we consider our home, the Earth, Solar System and our own Galaxy. In 1997 I became a member of the SETI League. and the result was that I built my own Radio Astronomy/SETI research Station. Although the dish is no longer in service at my house (HOA won’t allow it) I still have the feed horn and receiver, so… who knows.
NOTE: None of the pictures of the old radios are actual photos of my radios. They are pictures I found of the same models on the Internet.
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