This post is the first in a series entitled, “In Their Own Words” by volunteers in the Eastern Massachusetts ARRL field organization. This month’s column is authored by EMA Assistant SM Phil Temples, K9HI. For a more factual ham biography, you can read about Phil on the EMA ARRL web site, or at <http://www.qrz.com/db/k9hi>.
started with an interest in radio at the tender age of thirteen years old. I’m sure that radio was just as magical to me as the Internet is to today’s youths. I was happy to take apart one of the family’s radios and poke at the main tuning coil with a screwdriver, just as a youth of today might be equally fascinated with replacing a motherboard in a computer, or playing a game on an X-Box.
(Note, I said “taking apart.” I never put the radio back together again. And in retribution, the bloody thing gave me a good shock when I left the metal chassis plugged in and lying on the wet basement floor! I learned at an early age to respect 110v AC!)
I was fascinated with AM broadcast band DXing prior to discovering ham radio. I found that if I placed my trusty RCA portable receiver next to the AC mains coming into the house, it completely overloaded the receiver, causing it to receive out-of-band signals—namely, HF coastal marine stations. These powerful stations sent high-speed Morse code traffic to ships on the Great Lakes. They were stations like WBL and WAY. Now, as you know, an AM broadcast receiver does not contain a beat frequency oscillator. So, as you might imagine, the Morse I copied was certainly not a pure tone–nor was it steady in frequency. And, the signals had a wicked 60 Hz buzz mixed in. But I was 13 years young and I didn’t know any better. I was up for a good challenge. I sat there in my lawn chair, hour after hour, day after day in the hot summer sun trying to catch a letter here; a number there. Mostly, I copied down the dot-dash patterns and, later, I looked up their meaning in my old Radio Amateurs Handbook. You could not believe my excitement when I was able to piece together several words in a row!
Now, anyone who has ever taught Morse code will tell you that this is exactly NOT THE WAY to learn it. But I was young, and had no mentor (at that time) to tell me otherwise. At thirteen, you have infinite patience and finite wisdom. Later, my best friend, Bill and I would enroll in an actual ham radio class sponsored by the local radio club, where we both learned how to copy Morse the “right” way. I have to admit—listening to code tapes didn’t have the same allure as receiving those drifting, distorted signals on my AM radio!
I’ve met many incredible people in ham radio over the past 40 years, and have had many memorable events and occasions indelibly etched in my mind.
I’ll never forget going to my Elmer’s house to get on the radio as a newly-licensed Novice. (I owned no equipment yet, but my Elmer, WB9AKG quickly rectified that situation.) Jim watched proudly as I called CQ on 40 meters and was answered by K4FSB in Kentucky. My hand was shaking so badly, I could barely send my name and QTH. Jim had to coach me as to what I should say next! I recall surviving that contact and going on to make many more with my crystal-controlled Heathkit DX-40 transmitter and Hammarlund HQ-160 receiver; and later, a Yaesu FTDX-560 transceiver.
I’ll forever be thankful for acquiring my operating skills early by participating in Navy-Marine Corps MARS, and the National Traffic System. Both taught me the importance of on-air procedure and Net operation. And I have fond memories of the old ARRL Communications Department or CD Parties. I cut my teeth on “CQ CD” and later, graduated to Sweepstakes and later, ARRL DX competitions.
As young college-age hams, my wife and I were shown amazing hospitality one day in an unfamiliar city by a ham with whom we struck up a conversation on a 2-meter repeater. He met us at the bus station, and proceeded to give us a tour of his work QTH—and, had lunch with us before our scheduled departure. At the time, I’m sure that it seemed like a small gesture on his part. But that small gesture meant an awful lot to Ariel and me. It left us with a positive, lasting impression of this gentleman and the city he lived in. When you put forth a little extra effort to be friendly and courteous, those on the receiving end might just treasure it for a lifetime!
Speaking of Elmers—I’ve tried to remember and honor the good deeds my Elmer performed by performing good deeds in turn. I’ve had the genuine fortune to attend and participate in numerous Handi-ham radio camps over the past decade. There, amateurs of all different abilities and backgrounds come together for a weeklong fellowship to learn and live together. It may sound cliché to say this, but I have received far more than I’ve given. It’s true! Anyone who has ever volunteered to teach a ham license class, or volunteer to lead a scouting event or participate in a public service event knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Once, I volunteered to tutor an elderly gentleman in Morse code. He wanted very badly to learn the five words per minute code to pass the exam, but the man (I’ll call him “Don”) had suffered a stroke that greatly affected his short-term memory.
“Would you work with Don a few hours a day?” asked the leader.
“Sure,” I replied.
Don and I drilled each afternoon using various techniques: a code tape, sending with a code practice oscillator—even “di-dah’ing” by voice. I’ve learned that variety is good. And sometimes, unconventional techniques work even when more proven methods fail. Don was trying his best; but he would learn a letter, only to forget it a few minutes later. I kept encouraging Don, telling him that he was doing a great job, and not to worry about the results. He thanked me. Don was genuinely happy and upbeat during the sessions. He never expressed regret or anger at the hand he’d been dealt.
At the end of the week, when the exams were administered, Don–not surprisingly–failed the Morse code exam. I remember him coming to give me the news. He wore a big smile on his face. He walked up to me and gave me a bear hug and said, “God bless you.” It was one of the most inspiring moments I’ve ever had in Amateur Radio and as a human being.
Many other events over the years stand out as special moments for me during my Amateur Radio career:
– The Indiana University radio club was given free run of the IU football stadium and press box to operate K9IU at Field Day.
– One morning, while shaving in my bathroom and listening on my handi-talkie, I heard Owen Garriott, W5LFL, the first astronaut-ham.
– I recall how excited I was (and how I nearly fainted) during my first Novice DX contact with Wake Island using 20 watts into a random wire antenna on 40 meters.
– What a great honor it was to have a casual 2-meter QSO once with Jean Shepherd, K2ORS who happened to be visiting in Harvard Square.
– While vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my wife and I were asked by the local Sheriff’s department in Cape Hatteras not to evacuate during a hurricane but instead, to set up HF communications at the local National Weather Service station. (What happened after the emergency was priceless. We were basically “adopted” by the entire community.)
I’m sure that all of us, regardless of our tenure in this great hobby, can identify events in the hobby that have enriched our lives. I’m not as old, or as experienced as many of my colleagues in the local ham community. Nor have I achieved many of their outstanding accomplishments. But I do know this: when all is said and done, it’s not about the accolades or awards that are bestowed upon us; or the toys or ham gear with which we surround ourselves. It’s not how many countries we work or the influence we exert over a group or club. Rather, Amateur Radio is all about reaching out and touching others. It always has been, and it always will. And although our hobby-service may change drastically in the future, so long was we value human connectedness I’m confident that ham radio will never die, or fall out of style.