K5LAD - 50+ Years
of Ham Radio Memories
My First Receiver - Heath AR-3 -
I'm reminded of my experience with the AR-3 which was my first receiver and also the first
kit I'd ever built. The year was 1957 and I was a new novice and anxious to get on the air
and at least listen to some hams.
First time kit-builders sometimes are guilty of skimming over the instructions in order to
get to the main project and see it work. I didn't know about trimming the leads on
components so all mine were full lead length, just like the day they were manufactured.
I quickly hurried past any cautions and soldered it all together. Amazingly, it lit up and
even would receive something, although now I don't remember what I heard. Perhaps it was
only noise from the speaker, but it was something. My very first kit and it worked. I was
The book suggested that I take it to a ham friend to do the alignment and I knew just the
guy, Tommy - W5CFF. He was a member of our small amateur radio club and also worked for
the telephone company. Best of all, he had lots of really good test equipment and offered
to do the alignment for me. I remember the anticipation as I watch him with my wonderful
receiver on his bench as he set about to line it all up. The frown on his face worried me
a bit but he continued to work on it.
Finally, he put the tools down and said, "Jim, I can't get it to hold still long
enough for me to align." I asked him why and he told me long lead lengths caused it
to be unstable. I didn't know a lot about radios then but that didn't sound good.
I said, "What can I do to fix it?" He said, "Well, if it were mine, I'd
unsolder everything and start again." He carefully showed me how to use minimum
lengths on the components and even showed me how he lined them up so they were going the
same direction. He told me that didn't make it work any better but just looked nicer when
others viewed my handi-work.
I've never forgotten his excellent advice. I took my spidery-looking AR-3 back home and
removed all the soldered-in pieces. I then took my time and rebuilt my receiver kit, but
this time, like it was supposed to be. Not surprisingly, it took me quite a bit longer to
build it the second time but it sounded, and looked, so much better.
I took it back to Tommy to realign and this time it was solid as a rock....... at least as
solid as an AR-3 could be. I used it for several years and it was a great receiver. I
would love to have it back now since it still has a special place in my early ham years
----------- Added August 4, 2005
Nice to Have Friends in High Places - (1957)
Back in my early ham days, the only place see and buy new and used ham equipment
and electronics parts was Radio, Inc. in Tulsa. They had a separate room off to the
south end of the building which was the ham part of the store. Radio, Inc. made
their primary living from selling parts to local businesses and manufacturers and not the
casual walk-in customer. I was not the only younger person to notice how the
employees went out of their way to ignore younger customers. I'll admit that I
didn't have much money to spend during most of my visits but a ham friend of mine who had
a paper route and always had money to spend on ham equipment, was also totally ignored by
the "salesmen" (notice I use that term loosely).
One of the local hams from our radio club, Stephus Neely - W5YJZ, worked for
the U.S. Corps of Engineers and was an almost daily customer at Radio, Inc. as he was
always building some beautiful piece of equipment for them. I loved to see the ham
equipment he built as he was a Master craftsman. All the "salesmen" at
Radio, Inc. knew him and knew he was a big customer.
One day I had gone to Radio, Inc. to buy some items. I don't recall
what it was but it was a fair-sized purchase but I was unable to get any of their counter
"help" to wait on me. I suppose I had tried to get their attention and
their help for more than a half hour but I had been totally unsuccessfully. Just
then, Mr. Neely came in for his nearly-daily visits to pick up components. I talked
with him for a couple of minutes, then he said, "what are you doing here?"
I told him that I wanted to buy some things but couldn't get anyone to wait on me.
He stepped away, caught the attention of one of the "salesmen," and said,
"when you finish there, take care of my friend Jim here."
"Yes, sir," he said, and I quickly had someone offering to help me.
I later saw Neely at a club meeting and thanked him for his help. He just
grinned really big, because he knew how they treated young hams. That day it was
reinforced for me that it's not what you know but WHO you know.
One additional note: Years later, when I owned a ham store and was in
direct competition with Radio, Inc., I remembered my early days as a young ham in the
radio store, and tried to NEVER treat my younger customers like I had been treated.
The Birthday Hole - (1961)
How many people do you know why have received a hole in the ground for their birthday? I
did. In those early ham days, I never did have access to any towers, poles, or other nice
antenna support structures. There were a couple of old trees in the yard but I was never
very impressed with their abilities to be a good antenna support. They were all I
had, however, so I did what I could with what I had.
After I went away to college, my mother talked to the local electrical
utility company about obtaining an old wooden electrical power pole they were discarding.
They told her that they would give her the old pole, free, and would even bring by the
equipment to set the pole in the ground but she would have to have the hole dug.
She contracted with someone to dig the proper depth hole and the power
company brought by a 35-40 foot pole and set it.
When I came home from college one week-end following my birthday I found a beautiful
wooden antenna support in the back yard
. complete with a ribbon and bow
around it. The only cost had been the digging so I actually received a hole in the ground
for my birthday. I thought it was a pretty super gift. I wish I could tell you that
I was able to fill it with massive rotators and aluminum antennas but, alas, I was
no longer spending much time at that house and I didn't get a lot of service from it.
Still, I thought it was one of the best gifts I'd ever received.
RTTY Experiences - (1960s)
I too enjoyed the clanking walk back through memory lane. My original TTY machine was a
model 15 I had received from Army MARS but I later found a model 19 keyboard and a model
19 case. The difference between the model 15 and 19 was the ability to cut a tape.
The model 19 keyboard looked like the 15 but had a tape cutting unit on the left
side of the keys. The tape was about 5/8" wide and was yellow oiled paper about
twice the thickness of a piece of paper. The tapes cut were chadless which means the
holes punched through the tape were complete and would fall out the bottom. Tapes
with chads were not cut completely through the tape and would leave a little lid for each
Baudot TTY, or 5 level code, could cut as many as 6 holes for each character
across the tape. Five of the holes were to help determine what character to read
with a 6th, smaller feed hole near the center of the tape. The advantage of tapes
with chads was that there was less mess to clean up since the holes were not punched all
the way through. The disadvantage was that it was difficult to wind up a tape you
wanted to save since the lids (chads) would catch on each other. You soon learned to
wind a tape in a figure 8 on a couple of fingers. The advantage of the chadless
tapes was, much easier to wind up in a roll to save, but the disadvantage was the
collection of miniature yellow paper circles which were punched from the tape. If
the collection box happened to fall, you would have thousands........... no............
millions of little yellow paper circles which quickly placed themselves in where they
could least be ever found.
With a tape puncher you could type answers to a question that was printing
out on the printer. If the other station was a slow typist, you could have a nice
long answer tape to put on the reader to answer him back. While your tape was
playing to him you could just sit back and watch what you had typed onto the tape puncher.
I was running that MARS model 19 at home, back in the 60s, and the thing I
remember, with a smile, is talking with someone on 80 meter RTTY who was also running tape
and trying to keep up with cutting a tape at my keyboard while the station I was talking
to was answering. You couldn't see what you were typing, while cutting the tape, so you
had to guess at your errors and try to blindly correct them. It was always a blessing when
the other station did not have tape and was a slow typist since I could finally stay
(almost) caught up.
It was also great fun to talk to someone who had "picture tapes"
which allowed a picture to be printed, line by line, on your printer using only letters,
numbers, and punctuation marks to create the form and shadows of the subject. Some
pictures were very detailed and impressive and printed out at 60 WPM. There were
some stations who had picture tapes which took so long to run that their tape reader had
to pause every 10 minutes, identify their station on CW as per the FCC regulations, then
continue on with the picture tape.
Ah, the memories.............
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