OLD TIMER RECALLS HAM RADIO
By Norris Chambers
By Norris Chambers
It didn’t take him long to listen to all the chatter he needed and he came back down as puzzled as I was. We talked it over a little and decided that they were communicating in telegraph code instead of plain language. The school’s encyclopedia gave a version of Morse code and explained how it was used for communication. A dot and a dash was the letter “A”. A dash and three dots was “B” etc. Every letter, number and punctuation mark had a dot and dash code signal. There was a slight pause between letters and a longer pause between words.
The science teacher gave us a little more information. You could use a Model T ignition coil for a buzzer. A short contact with a key or switch was a dot and a longer contact was a dash.. The key was just a switch that you operated with your finger. He also told us that the radio waves emitted by the buzzing of the high voltage coil were radiated and with an antenna could be received for several miles by a radio receiver. This type of transmission was called “spark gap” transmission.
We had plenty of Model T ignition coils and our ingenuity found no problem in making a couple of hand operated spring loaded switches that served as keys. Radio receivers were scarce in the area but we had built simple crystal radios previously and they worked with a telephone receiver. With a short antenna connected to the high voltage output of the coil and the ground side connected to a metal stake driven in the ground we were surprised to find that we could send signals for several miles using a six volt car battery.
We began to send messages immediately and before long we had learned the whole alphabet and were picking up a little speed.
At this time we did not know about Ham Radio and that we needed a license to transmit. We did hear a few complaints from the few who had radios. The code was received at all frequencies and could not be tuned out. After the novelty wore off we found other projects and more or less ignored the code communication.
During the war
The school’s intent was to teach the recruits code and radio
theory that would enable them to pass the FCC radio telegraph
operator’s test and become a licensed operator on a ship. The FCC
required that the applicant be able to receive and send code at 16 words
a minute and pass a written exam on basic electronics and FCC rules and
regulations. The Maritime Service required us to receive and type 25
words a minute before taking the FCC exam. The curriculum also continued
the basic training and gun practice. The school was rough but we were
allowed to go into
After the war I took the FCC test for my Ham radio license. The requirement at that time was for only 13 words per minute on code and a written test on electronics and FCC regulations. I breezed through that test and became a licensed amateur radio operator. My station call was W5LTZ In the early fifties it was customary for the ham operator to build his own transmitter and use a commercial receiver. I built a 500 watt transmitter and began conversations with other amateur operators around the world. Sometimes we communicated in code and sometimes in just plain talk. It was an interesting hobby. Most of the hams exchanged what were called QSL cards after a contact. These verified the conversation.
During this time I also acquired an FCC experimental license, KK2XAD and a first class radio telephone license that qualified me to operate commercial radio and television transmitters.
Ham radio operators in the early days operated mostly for fun but modern operators perform many useful and necessary duties. In any disaster or emergency situation they provide communication facilities. During any weather-related emergency you will hear them stationed in different areas giving exact details of the storm.
After several years of participating in this worthwhile practice I got so many irons in the fire that I had to withdraw a few. Regrettably the ham radio activity was one of them.
Anyone who is now interested in becoming a ham can do that without having to learn code. I highly recommend it as a fun thing and a worthwhile contribution to the community!