wa5cmi

Biography

I was first licensed WN5CMI in May, 1962, at the age of 14. I became WA5CMI the next year when I upgraded to General. I have held an Extra Class license since 1973. I have enjoyed many aspects of ham radio. Below is my story of my ham radio life. It's not very exciting, but you are here and if you want to endure it, have a go:

Pre-Ham Radio Days

My first experience with electronics was watching a DC motor running that my oldest brother made in electric shop in junior high school. I was nine years old, and I marveled at this machine - a work of art I might add. With each project he brought home, I found myself more and more fascinated with this thing called electricity. The coup de grace was his last project: a crystal radio. Wow! I could hear radio stations on a radio that used no batteries. I began to ask my brother all kinds of questions about electronics until he could no longer answer them. Soon afterward, with no one to teach or even encourage me, my interest was "put on hold." Three years later my older brother (a year ahead of me in school) was in the same electric shop and made the same projects as our oldest brother. I was 12 then, and my interest was revitalized. The next year I would be taking electric shop for sure! Soon afterward I was there! Funny story: When I was 12 and in the seventh grade, I made crystal radios that fit in a small aspirin tin. Some of you are too young to remember them, but I sold them to my classmates on the basketball courts (outside) before school for $1.00 each. Before the prinicpal put a halt to my business on school grounds, I had cleared over $20.

Getting a License

My eigth-grade shop teacher was Lyle Baker, K5QJT. He has taught electronics to hundreds of boys and girls. I'll never forget the first day of class, when he brought to school a picture of his ham radio station. It consisted of a Johnson Viking Valiant, a Hammarlund HQ-150 (He owned that receiver when he died. See the picture below.), and the TA-33jr three band yagi. When I saw that picture, I was hooked! He asked if anyone was interested in becoming a ham, to stay after class. I was the only one. He told me I would have to learn the Morse code to five words per minute and take a simple 20 question test that he would administer.

Lyle Baker K5QJT at age 93. He lived over 99 years.

I learned the code and was up to the 5 wpm in two weeks, at which time I took the test. I copied his Morse code solidly, and I will never forget the text:

"This Morse code test is for a boy named Mike. He will make a very good ham radio operator."

That was in February, 1962, and I was 13 years old. By the time the written test arrived from the FCC, I had turned 14. Even though my license did not arrive until June, the validation date was May 22, 1962 as WN5CMI. Boy, was I excited.

Before my license arrived, I listened to the ham bands on my grandmother's Arvin short wave radio. Most amateur's in those days used AM as their primary phone mode, but SSB was making inroads. And to copy it and CW signals I needed a BFO, something the Arvin did not have. Knowing that the intermediate frequency of the Arvin was 455 kHz, I could use the local oscillator of another radio that used the same IF to beat against the Arvin IF. My 12th birthday present was a Montgomery Ward 14 transistor broadcast radio, and it did the job. (Back in those days it was important to know how many transistors - and diodes - a receiver had. ha ha) With the transistor radio sitting directly on top of the Arvin, I would tune in the desired station and then slowly tune the transistor radio until I got the correct beat note. This is, to say the least, not the best way to copy SSB or even CW, but it worked.

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Novice Days

The most active I have ever been in ham radio was during the time I was a Novice. After passing my test, I had to have some sort of station. I got a little monetary support from my folks; they were raising four kids and had a mortgage. I didn't have a job, but I did mow a few lawns that spring and earned enough to buy a transmitter (~$25). My dad said he would contribute an amount equal to whatever I could muster, and that would buy an inexpensive receiver. I remember ordering used Heathkits: an AT-1 transmitter and an AR-3 receiver from World Radio Laboratories - WRL. I received the transmitter, but the receiver had already been sold. So we headed downtown (Dallas) to Amateur Electronics on Ross Ave. and bought a Hallicrafters S-38. It was a step up from the Arvin in that it had a BFO, but it was only a small step. One thing about that receiver, it was not very stable, but it was as broad as a barn door. ha ha I could hear almost the entire novice band (7.150-7.200 MHz) at once on it! That was good, however, in one way in that most novices had one, maybe two, crystals (Novices were not allowed to use VFOs), and after calling CQ, one had to tune the entire Novice band for a possible reply. I could hear almost any strong station in the band calling me back without tuning much!

Heathkit AT-1 and Hallicrafter S-38

Novice QSL printed by WRL

Ah! Those were the days. During the summer of '62, I had nothing to do but play on the radio, and I did, from sunup to well into the night, day after day. My operating skills improved from a shaky newbee to a seasoned operator. I guess "Mr. Baker" was right. I was hopelessly hooked on ham radio. I worked my CW speed up to around 25 wpm after borrowing a friend's Vibroplex bug. Now I was ready for my general...

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Upgrading to Phone Privileges

At the end of that summer, I decided to take my test for the General Class license. I had no problem with the code, but my technical knowledge was not what I thought it was. I passed the CW but failed the written. Undeterred I set out to bone up for the test I had not taken seriously the first time. Some time in the early part of 1963 I tried again and made it. It was a good thing, because in those days the Novice Class license was only good for one year and was non-renewable. Also, every time you retested, you had to re-take the code!

Having earned some money by helping a buddy with his paper route, I had enough to buy a phone transmitter. I had my Dad drive me down to Amateur Electronics where I bought an "as-is" DX-100 for $100. Of course, when I got home and tried it out, no workey. At that time I did not quite have the technical skill to fix that transmitter, but that same buddy who loaned me the bug did. The problem was in the final amplifier, and for $20 more, I had a working transmitter (pretty cheap parts and labor even in those days). I still operated CW but not nearly as much as I had the summer before. I was having a blast on AM phone. Even in 1963, AM was still used in most of the available phone space on each band. I remember on 40 meters, where I operated almost exclusively, the "sidewinders" hung out from 7.200 to 7.225 MHz, and the AM ops took up the rest of the 100 kHz that was alloted to phone then. Note: In those days, before Incentive Licensing, a General Class license had the same privileges as the Extra does today.

I loved operating phone. Even though I was a "kid" with a "WA" prefix, the old-timers let me play with them. (As is the same today, whenever a new prefix came out, older ops tended to look down their noses at it: W to K, K to WA, WA to WB, etc.) I loved the roundtables I would get into, as well as one-on-one QSOs. One operator I used to talk to quite often was Glen-W5 Big Windy Voice out of Artesia, NM. What a signal that homebrew kilowatt put out! Life was grand in my early years of ham radio.

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The High School Years

Long about my sophomore year in high school I made a discovery: GIRLS! Studies in high school were never a concern of mine, much to my parent's chagrin. This was a critical time in my ham radio life. Many of my "novice-to-general" buddies had let their license expire, two of note are WA5CMK, Ralph, and WA5BSF, Danny. Danny was my age, but Ralph was a couple of years older than me and had a job and a car. The three of us used to run around a lot visiting at each other's QTH and going to the ham stores down on Ross Avenue: Amateur Electronics and Crabtree's. I remember one day Ralph called and he informed me he had just bought a homebrew "full-gallon" transmitter. Man! I was soooooo jealous. I hurried over there and saw this six-foot rack: power supply in the bottom, modulator in the middle, and the RF deck on top. This was my first close up of a large transmitter and seeing mercury-vapor rectifiers in action. I don't remember what the tube compliment of the rig was, but it sounded oh so good, especially five miles away at my house.

But I digress. At Bryan Adams High School (absolutely no relation to the singer, who had never been heard of in 1964), WA5MET, Paul (now SK), WA5JPY, Larry, and myself started its first ham radio club. We had a station there at one time and several members, but, alas, my interest did wane as I was more interested in girls and playing my guitar in bands - yes, I took up playing it about the same time as I got my Novice license.

One of the best things to happen to me in high school was to meet my future bride, a little blonde cutie by the name of Barbi.

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University of Texas and Tech School

Suddenly graduation day was upon me, which meant that I had to either get a full-time job or go to school. My family was big on education. My father had a BS in math degree and a law degree, my mother a BS, my oldest brother has a history degree and a degree from Yale Divinity School, my older brother has a Master of Computer Science, and my little sister a history degree. All of my siblings did well in high school academically; I brought up the rear.

I did have, however, a high enough score on my SAT (higher than all the other siblings!) to enter the University of Texas at that time - I could not have come close to being accepted with today's requirements. So off to the university I went. This was 1966. I studied pre-engineering my freshman year, wanting to get a degree in Electrical Engineering. After my first year, the university thought it would be a good idea if maybe I sat out and tried again in another year (a euphemism for saying I flunked out). So my days at UT were cut a tad short, but I had become better friends with Barbi. I was in a couple of classes with her and I worked as a bussboy in the dorm in which she stayed.

That summer (1967), I received in the mail a brochure for a technical school that was a part of the extension service of Texas A&M University - The Institute of Electronic Science. Oh man, my blood was orange, so how could I even consider going to our maroon rival? But I liked what I read and my father encouraged me to go down and look it over. The school was located at the old Bryan Air Force Base just outside of Bryan, Texas on highway 121. It wasn't much to look at, but the staff seemed quite competent and it would only take 18 months to get a Certificate of Electronics Technology. With me to school, I took my Multi-Elmac AF-67 and Hallicrafters SX-140 (I still operated amplitude modulation, not SSB). The main Texas A&M campus is actually in College Station, Texas. The two towns are adjacent. The AFB is about 10 miles from the main campus.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time there where I got a good foundation in electronics. I was in Class Six, which was the first one to be dedicated to transistor theory only, no tubes unfortunately, and I made fairly good grades. Maybe I was finally starting to grow up. During my time there in 1968, I upgraded to Advanced Class. That was the first year of Incentive Licensing - some say the beginning of the end for ham radio - a policy the ARRL had urged the FCC to take to encourage hams to upgrade to higher grade licenses and thereby learn more electronics and radio theory. But with test Q and A memorization starting to become in vogue, I'm not sure the intended result ever happened. Anyway with Incentive Licensing, I lost privileges with my General Class license, and to get most of them back I did what many others did; I upgraded.

One other thing of note occurred during and after spring break of '68. I had worked the last two summers at the Dr. Pepper plant in Dallas. During my two-week spring vacation, I got a job there working for $2.00/hour - minimum wage at that time was $1.50/hr - for services rendered (so the boss wouldn't have to pay Federal and FICA taxes). With the $160 I earned, I bought from Heathkit an HW-22A SingleBander.

I remember so well the Sunday night I returned back to school after picking it up at home. I had planned to take my time assembling it, but my room mate had a different idea and he was damn persistent. He wanted to build it that night! We did. It took us about four hours. I had already built a power supply in anticipation of its arrival. So we hooked it up, turned it on, and "BLEWY!" We had a nice little arc. Man I was discouraged. The next morning I took it to my shop instructor, Otis Cogburn a ham. He asked if I had cleaned off the solder flux on the circuit board, to which I replied, "uh, no." We gave it a good cleaning with toluene, turned it on, and yes! it worked. This was my first SSB rig. I never went back to AM until almost 30 years later!

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Marriage and Family

The last few months of 1968 saw my going to Austin more and more to visit Barbi. Oh yes, I had a car. In anticipation of my getting a full-time job, my Dad set me up with a brand new 1968, diamond blue Mustang, with a 289 V-8. I put nearly 13,000 miles on it BEFORE we were married! Dad paid for the first six months of the loan, and I took over the payments when I got my job. My Dad has always been a good, kind-hearted soul. (Dad died in 2009 at the age of 91.)

Anyway, in November of '68, Barbi and I started dating. It was a short step from close friendship to love, and we were engaged January 3, 1969.

I graduated from IES in February 1969 and started working for Varo Industries. I was a test and research technician for them, but the job was not very challenging as their products were semiconductor bridge rectifiers! I worked for them about six months and then in August went to work for Texas Instruments. Oh, and Barbi and I got married that month - on the same weekend Woodstock occurred.

Early 1969
My 1968 Mustang

I loved working at TI, first as a test and repair tech on military airborne radar and ending up in the Central Research Lab.

In the meantime, Barbi and I had two big fine baby boys (each weighed 9 pounds-plus at birth): John David and Mark. I could go on and on about my boys, but will spare the reader. I am so proud of them both.

In 1973, I decided it was time to upgrade to Extra. Actually, I had been prodded and goaded into it by W5VYY, John, who was a fellow technician at TI. He had his Extra class and would always call me the "lowly Advanced." On a trip to Chilicothe, MO to see my nephew baptised, I boned up on both the CW and theory. Barbi would ask me questions from the question pool and I would try to get them right. Back then you still had to go down to the FCC office in the Federal building in Dallas to take the test. I got what someone recently called an "Extra Heavy," as opposed to the "extra light" version of today. Back then I had to copy a solid one minute of code at 20 wpm sitting in front of the examiner - no 10 question multiple guess test then! I received my Extra in September, 1973, and I am still proud of that accomplishment. The FCC doesn't issue the large certificate any more. You did, however, have to to ask for it.

1973 Extra Class

Back at Texas Instruments: I got a first-rate electronics education there, like no place I have ever worked since. And I was beginning to think that maybe I could finally get that BS in Electrical Engineering. At age 30, I decided it was time to either "fish or cut bait" about school. I had taken a weather class at one of the Dallas County Community Colleges, scoring a perfect 100 for the course. With my self-confidence high, I signed up to take history and civics and from there I was off and running. I was able to transfer some credits from UT and from an later attempt at college when the JD was a baby. I went to school from January of 1979 straight through to finishing in August of 1983. I took most of my "general Ed" classes at the junior college and my engineering classes at the University of Texas Arlington. Even though I was working as an engineer long before I received that degree, now I had the paper I always wanted.

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Back to Ham Radio

During that almost five-year span that I was working on my degree, ham radio was on the back burner. But in 1984 we built a new house and within a year I had my ham station running again. For the next 10 years enjoyed DXing and using the newly emerging digital modes. I built a big 3-1000 linear amp in '88 to give me a little push over the pileups.

In 1991, I suffered my first of two heart attacks and had a double by-pass. I guess Barbi was so thankful that I lived, later that year she bought me a brand new FT-990 with mic, speaker and computer interface. I still have that rig, even though it is occupying the shelf at the moment. It has given way to my old boat anchors.

In the mid-90s, DXing had begun to lose its allure. I got really tired of the frequency cops and other "toilet ticks" (I like that term, Tony!) who interefere as much as possible with DX stations trying to give QSOs. I got tired of other aspects of the hobby. I was getting tired of being excluded from groups who "owned" a particular frequency. Oh, they will give you the obligatory signal report, but then go on with their sniping one another, using VOX of course.

You know, I earnestly believe that the voice-operated relay has caused the whole aura of ham radio to change, that and the general hostility people have for one another now. Before VOX was widely used, even in SSB rountables (they were just they same as AM ones), there was none of this "firing a shot off" without thought. Just listen on 75 and 20 meters. But I digress again! These are thoughts for another page. In the mid 90s, I guess I was ready for a change in the hobby or else I was going to get out of it.

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Boat anchors and Amplitude Modulation 1996

OK, so how did I get into old boat anchors and amplitude modulation?

While browsing the internet one day I stumbled onto a site similar to this one touting the virtues of AM. Immediately my mind started running back the clock to those days in the sixties, using my DX-100 and enjoying my fresh new hobby. We all have our nostalgic moments, don't we? As we look back into our past, our minds have a tendency to blank out the not-so-good times and remember the good ones. At least mine does. What a wonderful time in my life that was, those warm summer days when I could hop out of bed and start playing on my ham radio. At the time, I had little to worry about. Then the hobby had many gentlemen operators, at least from my perspective. There was no sniping at one another, belching, cussing, bad language, cliquishness, intentional interference, or mean-spiritness that is so prevalent on the bands today.

Note: If you are one of types that perpetuate this kind of activity, take a step back right now and think about what you are doing to this hobby. Take a long look at yourself; think about it, please.

Still browsing the internet about AM, I saw that there are small portions on the major bands that are considered windows for AM. That evening I tuned the AM window on 75 meters. Sure enough, there were a couple of roundtables going on. The next morning before leaving for work, I took another listen and heard some mighty strong signals on 3880 kHz. One was Otis-K5SWK. I soon discoverd that he and his group were there every morning. My appetite had been wetted and I soon became hooked. As I got deeper into it I decided I would find a plate-modulated transmitter in the 100-watt class and jump into the fun. I had a DX-100 in mind but found that the Heathkit Apache was more obtainable, and I landed one. As time went on, I bought all kinds of old receivers and transmitters. I was hooked. I was hooked on the old equipment; I was hooked the roundtables; I was hooked on the considerate operating style of those in the roundtables.

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DX or AM, Why not Both?

More coming ...

WA5CMI Biography Page