Fall 2006 Issue

Beginner’s Guide

Changing Lives with Radio

By Rich Arland,* W3OSS

Every now and then I take time out to pontificate about the state of our radio hobby. Lately I have been ruminating over the state of our hobby, where we have been and where we are going.

Many of us started out listening to international broadcasts on shortwave. Unfortunately, many of the long-time international broadcasters no longer maintain a presence on the shortwave bands, or if they do, their broadcasting schedules are drastically reduced compared to earlier years. I was deeply saddened recently when I learned of the demise of HCJB’s English language programming. You see, HCJB was the first station I ever heard on international shortwave and from which I received a QSL card. What made this reception report so interesting was the fact that I was using a Heathkit radio that I built in 1961. While I started my shortwave listening hobby when I was only 10 in 1956, using a radio I built myself from a kit opened a whole new facet of the radio hobby for me.

While we ham radio operators have a lot of fun building cutsie little rigs and running around playing radio, we need to look back and review what got us to where we are today. Why did we take the “road to radio” rather than take up some other hobby interest such as stamp collecting or basket weaving? Think about it. Then ask yourself how your life changed due to your involvement in the radio hobby. Have you managed to infect anyone else with the dreaded radio bug? No matter what your answer to that last question, read on, for as a group of active hams within the radio hobby, we have some serious work to do if the future of our hobby is to endure.

Who was your Elmer? Who helped and guided (“Elmered”) you when you first started out in the radio hobby? We’ve all had an Elmer. I had three: George Comstock, W7CJ; Mike Brabb, K7TWS; and his mom, Jessie, K7TWR. These three people were responsible for my first baby steps in the radio hobby, from erecting my first dipole antenna for 80 meters to helping me debug a poorly built Knightkit T-50 transmitter that got me my first (and only) FCC “pink slip” (but that’s another story).

One summer afternoon, George dropped by the house to ask if I wanted to go to Spokane, Washington with him. It was a business trip and he was planning to stop by HCJ Electronics before coming home. Since I had just received my Novice ticket at the tender age of 16, I was excited about seeing the hallowed halls of HCJ Electronics on Sprague Avenue in Spokane.

HCJ Electronics was our local ham emporium. Owned and operated by Ralph Farano, W7HCJ, HCJ Electronics was the place to go for new and used ham gear. There was a bottomless coffee pot along with a Coke™ machine in the display room, and hams from all over the area found their way to HCJ each week. Ralph had much of the latest gear set up to try out. If you decided on a used piece of gear, he could also fire that up on an antenna so you could actually try it out before perhaps purchasing it. HCJ Electronics was Mecca for those of us who live in eastern Washington State.

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