I had no real Elmer (someone to show one the ropes) in my early years of radio. After experimenting with CB radio in the early seventies, I decided to pursue a ham ticket when I entered the eighth grade. My Novice test was administred by volunteers who worked at the local Westinghouse R&D center Pittsburgh.
My coveted ticket (Amateur Radio License) arrived from the FCC in December 1976. I was on the air with a Heathkit HW-7 transceiver (3 watts output, about half the power of a 1970's-era Christmas tree light bulb) and a piece of wire nailed to my neighbor's house for an antenna. It took a month of calling people fruitlessly before I made my first Ham Radio QSO with WA1ZXJ, Evelyn Petitti on January 19, 1977. We used CW (Morse Code) on 7.121 MHz, in what was then the 40 meter Novice band. Novices were only permitted to use CW, and it would be some time before I had a phone rig. I eventually learned to tune CW signals properly, and I started making more contacts. I remember making nightly QSOs with Don Aiello WB3CCG, who lived in the next neighborhood over, about 3 miles away. It was great fun. We would hammer away on our little morse code keys way into the night, much to our parent's chagrin. Don has since passed away, his key gone silent.
In 1980, I moved to Nashville, TN to attend college. Radio took a back seat for several years as life intervened. I was basically inactive from 1980-1988. Although I kept a limited station ready for action, I very rarely got on the air. In the late 1980's I started to get back into the hobby. I caught the DX bug, which is chasing far away countries (DX) on short wave (HF) bands. It wasn't long before I was hunting for a good site for a home; preferably high on a hilltop or ridgetop, with appropriate real estate for an effective tower and antenna installation. I found that site in October 1991, and then began building the ham radio station that I had dreamed of since I was a child. I was chasing lots of DX and enjoying CW operation on the HF bands.
One cold winter evening in January 1993 as I was tuning across the 160 meter CW band, I stumbled upon a CW contest in full bloom. I started working folks one right after another, and I enjoyed the operating experience a great deal. All fifty states were contacted in a single operating session on the 160 meter CW band -- more than I had worked during a decade of casual operating! The following year I entered the contest full-time, and I submitted a score. My call sign at that time was WR3O. It wasn't long before I was being contacted by other Contesters, and receiving invititations to participate in more operating events.
In 1994, WA6KUI (now WO4O) extended an invitation to join the brand-new Tennessee Contest Group. That seemingly innocuous telephone call was a major turning point in my ham radio life. The TCG turned out to be a great bunch of folks, with room for both the novice and the A1 operator. These guys had more enthusiasm than any ham radio operators I'd ever met. Plus, their knowledge of antennas, propagation, and operating technique was impressive to say the least. Contest operators continue to teach me how to get the most out of my station. Most of my ham radio operating these days is focused around operating contests and chasing DX. Few things in life compare with the camaraderie of my fellow contesters.
Beginning with the March/April 2008 issue of the National Contest Journal, I began writing a column called "Contesting 101." The column was directed at folks getting started in contest operating, and those trying to improve their scores. Three years later, I accepted the offer from Al Dewey K0AD to become the next NCJ Editor. You can learn more about NCJ at this link. I invite your questions regarding contest operating. We hams are a curious breed. Lucky I am, to have found this wonderful hobby. See you on the air!
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