My Ham Radio History

Putting it in writing for the first time — How I got started in ham radio.

My parents passed long ago, back in the 70s, and regrettably many of my friends from those early days are now silent keys. I thought it would be fitting to put all of this in writing before it is lost to history. Though I plan to be around for quite a while, I am the last in the line of Bryant’s. And you know what they say — once something is on the World Wide Web — it’s there forever. This is not an ego thing with me — my ham radio beginnings were very humble. I was surrounded by some really great friends who helped me so much in those early days. I intend to thank and list them as best I can at the end of this post.

Mid 1958-1960: I began my radio “career” as an SWL at age 11 from my home in Bell Gardens, California (a Los Angeles suburb, 12 miles southeast of downtown). My parents had an old Zenith floor-standing console radio in our dining room. One day I noticed it also had SWL bands on it. Didn’t know what an SWL band was, but I began tuning around anyway. Even with no external antenna, I heard transmissions from afar. I became hooked instantly. A few months later my father found an old Hammarlund general coverage receiver for sale for cheap in the classified ads section of our local newspaper. It was a model BC-779B manufactured for the U.S. Signal Corps. Bulky — weighed a ton — but worked just fine connected to a random wire hanging outside my bedroom window.

September 30, 1960: Ham Radio begins for real! I was sooooo excited when my ticket arrived in the mail! The FCC issued me the Novice call sign WV6OHJ. With a 40m windom antenna running just under the eve of my bedroom roof to a tree in the backyard approximately 15 feet high, the Hammarlund mentioned above and a HeathKit DX-20 that I built, my ham radio operations officially kicked off. 40m CW was to be my home for the next few months. I made a lot of stateside contacts in that tiny portion of 40CW which was dedicated to novices. Achieved W.A.S. as I recall. There was a handful of DX stations that would frequent our section of 40. My first DX contact was with an Australian. I will amend this post with his call sign and name when I can find his QSL card. I have huge storage boxes full of old QSL cards. Will take a bit of time to find that particular QSL. After that first DX contact — I wasn’t hooked on DX. I was obsessed. Period.

October 1960 – August 1966. From my earliest DX contacts on 40m Novice CW, DXing coursed through my veins. I was obsessed. I became a General Class ham in early 1961 with the call sign WA6OHJ. Terrible phonetically, but back then you used what you were issued. No other options. For those early years my station morphed as follows:

Hammarlund BC-779B
Heathkit DX-20
40m windom at 15 ft.

Hammarlund BC-779B
E.F. Johnson Viking II
40m windom at 15 ft.

Hammarlund BC-779B
Gonset GSB-100
Hy-Gain Thunderbird tribander, Tri-ex 54 ft. crank-up tower

Collins S-Line 32S-1/75S-1
Collins 30L-1
Hy-Gain Thunderbird tribander 10-15-20m, Tri-ex 54 ft. crank-up tower

Collins S-Line 32S-3/75S-3
Henry 2K or Henry 2KD-3 or homebrew (2) 4-1000 driven by the Collins 30L-1
4 el. homebrew 20m monobander on 30 ft. boom, Tri-ex 54 ft. crank-up tower
Mosley 3 el. 15m yagi at 30 ft.
Hy-Gain 2 el. 40 yagi at 66 ft. (mounted about the 20m monobander)

The last station configuration, above, is where I maxed out. After all, the Bell Gardens home was on a 50 ft. x 150 ft. lot. next to the L.A. river bed along which massive high power lines traversed the landscape — creating ungodly power line noise nearly daily.

During major DX contests in the early 60s, you would typically find me at one of the big-gun multi-multi’s in southern California such as:

  • W6RW, my first contest experience came from Roger Mace’s awesome mountain-top QTH in Hollywood, CA. He took a chance on a kid — guess it worked. We turned in some great scores and I was invited back over and over again.
  • W6VSS (K6UA), I may have been the youngest op ever to work contests for Dale
  • K6SEN (K0RF)

In August of 1966 — though I was cheerfully enrolled in college — back then it was known as California State University at Los Angeles — I was drafted into the U.S. Army. I went to my local draft board to complain because I held a 2-S student deferment, but the board scoffed at my contentions. Rather than fight the draft, I decided to enter the Army. I would return to school after the Army.

I was QRT for the next three years. Upon getting back to civilian life in 1969, I didn’t have time to return to ham radio. I went back to school and was working full time at the Hyatt House Hotel in Commerce, California, to generate some spending money. In 1971 I married and that was a further setback to getting on the air again.

Hyatt transferred me to the Dallas (Texas) Hyatt House in late 1974. It was not unless 1976 that I divorced purchased a home in Texas — out in the country — destined for big antennas and towers, but that never came to fruition. My life had changed a lot since my DX craziness/obsession in the early 60s.

In 1976 I did briefly come back on the air with my Collins and Henry gear as KB5OA. I erected a long-boom 10m yagi and placed it on a chimney mount with an old Ham-M rotor. The yagi was about 20ft high. 10m was in pretty good shape that year and with 2KW I worked a lot of DX. As I recall, I was only on for the summer through winter. Then went QRT again. I changed employers and began a lot of business travel. No time for ham radio.

I remarried in 1981. Guess what? No time for ham radio. My wife passed away 20 years later. Eight years after her passing I retired and remarried again. In 2009 we moved from Texas to Northern Arizona, high up in the mountains.

By 2014, fueled by the cold mountain winters, I decided to give ham radio a try again. We live on a mountain plateau and it can be hard to get around in winter. It’s best to stay at home. Plenty of time on my hands. Regrettably I had let my extra class license expire decades prior so I had to relicense. I started out as a Technican on 2 meters in early 2014. A few months later I became a General and made a tiny investment into HF gear to see if the ham radio spark was still there. My station became:

  • Used Icom IC-718 purchased from an estate sale for $200.
  • Erected a G5RV Jr. from a flag pole attached to the house to a tree. Height, a whopping 18 ft.
  • Added an LDG IT-100 autotuner to the IC-718.

This is where my station still stands because I have a conflict with another hobby. I am obsessed with motorcycles too. My current love (and my wife’s) is motorcycle touring across the country. Our ride is a BMW R1200RT touring bike with all the bells and whistles. I do have the land necessary up here in the mountains for towers, yagis and long wires. I will get to it eventually. I will make more progress with that this winter when my riding days wind down due to the cold and treacherous weather.

Going back to my early days I would like to mention those who helped me get started and from whom I learned so much. My most sincere and profound thanks to all of those who helped me so much back in the old days — mentors, idols and friends:

K6MQG (now N6RW), W6VSS (K6UA), K6EVR, W6VPH, W6DD, K6SEN (K0RF), Herb Koch K6???, W6VKC, WA6PNS, WA4PXP, K4TWF (original call sign holder of this call sign — not current holder), W6REH, W6BAF and his daughter,Cheri, WA6ZZK, W6RW, W6YY (original call sign holder of this call sign — not current holder) and W6AM. This list will be expanded when I can peruse old operating logs. I don’t want to forget anyone.