Radio Amateurs are often interested in the stories of fellow ‘hams’; how they got started in amateur radio, what impact did it have on their lives, who were their mentors etc. Often such accounts bring a wry smile of recognition amongst those who are of a like mind, particularly those that were smitten by the radio bug at an early age.
So here goes.
First radio memories I can date fairly well to the age of seven. I’m not able to recollect how it started but I remember a happy afternoon with my grandfather’s old valve radio where I had taken it apart, removing the chassis, the valves, and enjoyed the remaining time tapping all the other components with the screwdriver – not knowing anything about anything, but somehow knowing that there was magic inside that amazing box with all the funny colour resistors and the waxy capacitors.
That was before I developed a penchant for the “Understanding Science” publication by Sampson Lowe. A weekly (or monthly?) publication that had binders and would make a kind of science encyclopedia once the collection built up.
I remember very well reading eagerly everything that related to wires, electrons, valves etc. It was very detailed and had complete valve circuits in it although no component values. Being taught how to use a public library from an early age, I would also soak up electronics books, of which I understood only a little and I somehow learnt about the existence of amateur radio and home built transmitters.
The next door neighbout worked for a telephone manufacturer and one day, to my delight, he turned up with two brand new rotary dial telephones. An early success was connecting them together to make a working intercom. All with the aid of Understanding Science where there was an article explaining how carbon microphones and earpieces in telephone worked. It doesn’t seem so much nowadays, but remember this was totally self taught without any help from the adults.
Next was the crystal radio and a 40ft wire antenna from the bedroom window down to the clothes pole at the end of the garden. That was the moment when, if there had been any doubt before, I became totally and utterly passionate about the magic of radio.
When I was ten, for family entertainment my father bought a Grundig Yacht Boy N210. This had all the short wave bands and I was the one in the family that spent hour after hour combing the bands looking to see what I could find – including the local Top Band AM crew one of whom was Cyril G4ABM who sadly passed away in 2017.
I wasn’t allowed to enroll on an RAE course at the local college (too young!) but it wouldn’t have helped anyway because I wasn’t old enough to sit the exam nor get a licence.
My first mentor was Harry, G3YNB who lived a mile away from me and who had a 20m Cubical Quad on a mast in his small suburban garden. I remember going past it on the bus every day to school, marvelling at how this antenna dwarfed the house that it was attached to !
One day I got off the bus early and plucked up courage to knock on the door – not knowing who or what to expect. Memories are faded but I was obviously made welcome and eventually would spend long evenings in Harry’s shack – totally agog when he would spin the beam, telling me 20m should be opening up to america any moment. Wow, here is a man talking to a real live american complete with the drawl and ‘peculiar’ way of speaking – all right in front of me! His station was almost entirely Heathkit with a large Heathkit amplifier that kept the shack in the unheated house nice and warm in winter. I was about 12 or 13 at the time. How things have changed since then. I think Harry became silent key in the 70s but I would love to hear from anyone that knew him.
As an amusing aside, I just googled Harry and as you might expect, there is not much from that era but there is a Royal Signals magazine where the editor is saying to Harry they hope he has settled in at his new Stockton-on-Tees QTH and that his QRP SSB activities are working out OK. An innocuous comment, but from what I knew of Harry it was obviously an “in” joke as I think if there was one word unlikeley to be in his vocabulary, it would be QRP.
Took my RAE at the first opportunity and was licenced in 1976 with the callsign G8LVR – one of the new class “B” licencees. First TXCVR was an ex gas board AM PYE Cambridge (from a stock of tens of them in Harry’s shed!) which I modded for FM. Single crystal on 145.8Mhz but that’s all you needed. Through the magic of VHF I got to know other radio amateurs and found out about the GPO Radio Club that met in the Marton Road telephone exchange in Middlesbrough.
Fast forward 40 years and looking back I can truly say that the passion for Electronics and Amateur radio shaped my career and kept me one step ahead. Where modern day engineers were flummoxed by a problem and wanted to call out the manufacturer, I might turn up as the manager (and remember – managers aren’t supposed to know anything about anything?) whip the oscilloscope out, pop the cabinet open and fix the problem.
Now retired I am a keen CW operator that can be heard on 7.037Mhz most evenings around 18.30pm BST (17.30GMT). Do give me a call if you hear me. Since retirement I have a new lease of electronics life – I have mastered the art of SMD work and have taken advantage of CAD to design PCBs that can be fabricated for very low cost. I am content with my nice little electronics bench with a range of instruments and enjoy designing circuitry, often with simulation software such as LTSpice. I’m an active member of KARS – Kingdom (of Fife) Amateur Radio Society.
Bernie McIntosh, GM4WZG (GM4X) ex G8LVR