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W9XC's Story

I'm an Amateur Radio ("Ham") operator. I was first licensed as a Novice Class ham in New Jersey in 1965, with the callsign WN2RPQ. By Summer 1966 I had upgraded to General class, and my callsign upgraded too, to WB2RPQ. (I've verified this in the Summer 1966 Callbook, which I guess qualifies me for the QCWA or even the OOTC!) In those days there were Morse Code requirements for the Novice and General class licenses (5 WPM and 13 WPM respectively). I believe I got my Novice license by taking the exam through a fellow local Ham. But for higher level classes you had to travel to take the test at an official FCC examination office - which in my case meant a trip on the bus to New York City, quite an adventure as I recall. For those exams you really had to know practical circuit theory, because you had to actually draw circuit diagrams and design things.

My favorite operating mode was (and is) CW. For Christmas in 1965 Santa gave me my dream present: a Knight Kit T-150A transmitter kit, with a 6146B final. I spent the whole Christimas school holiday down in the basement putting it together. (NB: current EHam reviews for this transmitter are scathing, and in retrospect I have to agree. But it was fun at the time.) I also had a Hammarlund HQ-100A receiver, and an Eico Grid-Dip meter built from a kit. As I recall, I had two antennas. We had a big lot, and my dad actually put up a 20 foot mast made of iron pipe way out in the corner of the front yard, with a concrete footing, guy wires, turnbuckles, and all. To this was attached one end of a dipole - this may have been my 80 meter antenna. I recall it was made of Copperweld wire, was coax-fed, and was probably 20 feet or so off the ground. I also had a 40/15 meter inverted Vee on the roof, with its center hanging off the TV antenna mast that was mounted to our chimney. This Vee may have been a folded dipole, and I'm certain it was fed with 300 ohm twinlead, if not made from twinlead.

My license and callsign lapsed after a period of inattention, but in 1975 I got interested again. By this time I had moved to Massachusetts, and I was a student at UMass/Amherst. I studied up, again both theory and 13 WPM code, and got my Advanced Class license with the new callsign WA1WGF (also verified in via the Callbook). I know I continued to use the HQ-100A receiver, but I don't recall the transmitter or antenna system I used while at UMass.

Later, WA1WGF also lapsed, and I pretty much forgot about ham radio in any serious sense for quite a few years. I stored my equipment in various places and evidently disposed of most of it. Both the T-150A and my trusty old HQ-100A have disappeared into the mists of history, and I do miss the receiver.

I never really lost interest in radio and especially tube-type gear; I was building and experimenting with tube-type guitar amps, and beginning to accumulate and work on boatanchor equipment. When my son, a Boy Scout, took a class for the Radio merit badge a few years ago, I went along on the required visit to a local ham radio station. Seeing the three antennas on the roof got me excited again about being licensed. When the instructor turned on his rig (I think it was a Yaesu FT-857D), and tuned around, signals were easy to see on its small orange bandscope. I could hear some CW, and found that even after years I could still copy at least some of it. I was hooked again. I even went out into my stored memorabilia and dug out my old J-38 style key (like this one).

More study, alot of listening, a couple of exams, and a vanity callsign application later and I'm now relicensed as W9XC, Amateur Extra class. I still favor HF/CW and have given up the J-38 in favor of single-lever paddles, for example a Begali Simplex Mono and an N0SA single lever. (Larry is no longer making paddles, which is really unfortunate. His keys are fantastic.) For straight key work I have a nice Navy Flameproof like this one, and a Begali Spark.

I've been collecting, refurbishing, and putting on the air some boatanchor receivers and AM/CW rigs: Drake 2B, Heathkit DX-60B/HG-10B, Drake 2-NT, Heathkit DX-20, Johnson Adventurer and Ranger I/II, and Eico 720 for a few examples. I just love the experience of bringing tube gear back to life and using it on the air. I also like showing off this beautiful and historic gear and its operation to people new to Ham Radio - especially young folks like my son's fellow Boy Scouts. (In 2010 I taught the old Signaling Merit Badge, which was temporarily reactivated for the year-long "100th Anniversary of Scouting" celebration, and involves Scouts in learning morse code!)

In the way of somewhat more modern gear, I have Kenwood and Icom transceivers, some with crystal filters, DSPs, and the whole bit, still mostly used on CW (TS-930SAT, TS-940SAT, IC-7000). My main HF gear is now a K3/P3 combo, a KX3 at lower power/portable, and most recently a Flex 6500. The Flex 6000s are a work in progress (being software-defined, the development of more complete and functional software is the key). However, these already are incredible rigs, and the receivers are not to be believed.

I transmit via several experimental 'temporary' (yeaaaaahhhh, sure) antennas. My main antenna at present is a kind of weirdly routed 90ft OCF doublet in a Vee configuration up about 55' at the apex with a 70' counterpoise going out in the other direction. I tune it with an LDG Z11-Pro2 tuner or with the K3/KX3 tuner. It tunes and gets out very well on 80-10M.

I have another ~70 ft OCF wire (practically end-fed) out of my bedroom window and up over a roof (another Vee) with a ~15 ft counterpoise. I sometimes erect a 40M delta loop (see the Projects and Events sections of this site). I also have a Buddipole that I've used on several trips, and a 16' MFJ whip that I put on my minivan (as the ground system). The whip-on-the-van works really well. I park my van, quick-connect the whip, tune it up with my FG-01 analyzer (great device), and I'm all over the world with my KX3.

Over the next few months I hope to be erecting a 110 ft 'real' sloping doublet up about 50' and fed with homebrew ladderline to another SGC tuner, with coax back to the shack. I also have planned a reasonably-sized vertically-oriented "skywire loop" antenna of about 250 feet or so, strung around between the roof corners and trees and fed with an SGC tuner right in one corner - basically like a more random version of my Delta Loop. It's been alot of work sinking ground rods, wiring in lightning protection, routing the ladder-line, building masts onto the house, etc. etc.

For low power/portable ops, I originally explored portable/QRP with an Elecraft K-1 (marvelous receiver with very good filters; Tx 7 watts max). Now I have a KX3 (fantastic) but can't make myself give up the K1. I can work all over the world with these low-powered rigs, and in fact for me QRO is really 60-80 watts. One of my early QRP thrills was working HA8RM (Hungary) with the K1 on 40 meter CW with 5 watts, from New Hampshire using a 100 foot twinlead-fed OCF doublet.

I'm an enthusiastic member of the ARRL and the Twin City Amateur Radio Club (TCARC). Hope to catch you on the air!