My First-Ever QSO -- 50 Years After Passing Ham Test

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by G3EDM, Aug 27, 2021.

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  1. G3EDM

    G3EDM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Trouble is, a fair number of my xtals are genuine FT-243. Now, even they are acting up. I won't run through the list of possible fixes here yet again. Except to say that those unusually high voltages on the oscillator plate and on the screen of the PA are a source of concern to me, and that is one of the things I will be focusing on.

    Edited to add: You know that RST suffix "X" for "characteristic of crystal control"? It really sounded beautiful for a while, on the "good" xtals. Until it didn't....

    73 de Martin, G3EDM
  2. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I think it is time to build the "65 Watts" transmitter.
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  3. W7UUU

    W7UUU Principal Moderator Lifetime Member 133 Administrator Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    I was thinking the same thing :)

    G3EDM likes this.
  4. SM0AOM

    SM0AOM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Your problem looks like some form of instability, perhaps a parasitic oscillation.
    Also, there is a possibility that the receiver is involved in the problem.
    A clue is that all crystals sound equally bad.

    The "Boosted Pierce" is a quite temperamental circuit, with its multiple feedback paths, so
    there are many possibilities for it to "take off".

    It is for a reason that the "grid-plate" oscillator is recommended for Novice transmitters.
    Easy on the crystal current, and keys well. Also, the frequency multiplying action
    in the plate circuit is better than most.

    G3EDM and N2EY like this.
  5. G3EDM

    G3EDM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Friends, so was I, believe me :).

    However: I could have simply jumped there in the first place, seven years ago, when I built this @?!% W1TS transmitter instead. In fact, simultaneously with building that TX, I built the coils for the 65-watt TX. Plus, collected most of the parts for that major dB-booster ("65 Watts at Low Cost") that will be my next TX.

    Can you think of any logical reason to have persisted in building a Novice rig: both TX and, especially, RX? I can't. But in the peculiar case of yours truly, I've been wanting to build that little rig since I was 12.

    You could argue that I have made my point, with a dozen QSOs on that rig, even in today's arguably harder RF environment.

    I will readily concede that the receiver is, not exactly a lost cause (a dozen QSOs!), but an extremely limiting factor.

    The transmitter: well, the problems with the Boosted Pierce are well-known. There are putative solutions. Whether they will work in my case, we will soon find out. Won't take too long.

    BTW I could probably have continued on-air with what I have, un-modified. I now know for a fact that some of my QSOs were completed with some truly terrible crystals, especially the one that resonates at 7030.5 (to start with!) and then goes on an ascending scale, chirping and yooping all the way. The log shows that I concluded three QSOs with that rock, and only on the third QSO (with GM3ZMA) did the other ham raise the issue of my signal -- in this case, extreme drift, necessitating constant use of RIT on the other end.

    But continuing to inflict this sub-standard signal would not be in line with the ham ethic of caring about your own signal and doing your best to optimise and improve it.

    Off to the village Garden Show!!

    73 de Martin, G3EDM
  6. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    A few words about what the "typical Novice" started out with, back-when....

    Regenerative receivers were the cat's pajamas in the 1920s, and reached their peak in the 1930s with sets such as the Rationalized Autodyne and the National SW-3.

    But, after WW2, they became more and more of a novelty item, at least in the USA, driven by several factors:

    1) The Great Depression and WW2 were over, and most of the USA was in a time of growth and prosperity from VJ Day to the 1970s.

    2) Progress in electronics during and after WW2 resulted in reduced prices and easier mass production.

    3) Kits and WW2 surplus made homebrewing less necessary and less financially attractive.

    4) Rapid growth in US amateur radio, plus the Novice license (introduced 1951) caused manufacturers and dealers to sell all sorts of gear aimed at the newcomer.

    I got started in 1967, and by then very few Novices were using regenerative receivers and/or ultrasimple transmitters. The typical Novice station of those times, and for many years before and some time after, consisted of a superhet receiver and MOPA transmitter - often used.

    Looking at my old Fair Radio and Allied catalogs, it's clear that a BC-454 "Command Set" receiver, with power supply and other modifications, could be assembled for about $35-40 back then - including postage if all parts were mail-ordered. If one could scrounge some parts, the cost could be greatly reduced. Similarly, transmitters like the Heathkit DX-20 and Eico 723 could be had for the same price or less.

    My first non-homebrew receiver was a Heathkit AR-2, which was basically an AA5 with transformer power supply, short-wave coils and a BFO. My first non-homebrew transmitter was a Heathkit DX-20 - 50 watts input!

    Then I discovered surplus....

    This doesn't mean nobody used simpler gear, just that those who did were few and far between. Some magazine articles were widely duplicated; most weren't. Why build a 6C4/5763 when one could build the 65 Watts rig for the same money?

    And then came the Heathkit HW-16, which was a Novice's dream. Almost everything a Novice needed and nothing else, for just under $100. There was even a matching VFO for when one upgraded.


    Unfortunately, while we can still build gear that is authentic right back to the 1920s, we can't re-create certain things:

    - The Novice subbands were a focal point of slow-speed CW activity, both for Novices and Generals/Conditionals/Advanceds/Extras.

    - Putting up a simple but effective antenna for 80/40 CW wasn't a major undertaking for most newcomers.

    - Since crystal control was mandatory for Novices, everyone learned to tune around after a CQ, listening for replies off-frequency.

    - Items such as FT-243 crystals, decent straight keys, headphones, etc., were common and inexpensive.

    But it's not 1968 any more.

    73 de Jim, N2EY
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  7. G3EDM

    G3EDM Ham Member QRZ Page

    On further reflection: My best chance of getting back on the air relatively soon is to patch up the equipment that I have. I do understand those saying, very reasonably, that I should just move on. But if (and admittedly it's a big "if") some semblance of a decent signal can be restored, I'd like to go on flogging this horse for a while. If the equine turns out to be dead, sure, I'll move on to better things.

    Do remember that the 65-watt TX is also xtal-controlled. With that option, none of the drawbacks of operating with xtal control are solved, but with any luck I get (a) a major dB boost and (b) a stable oscillator. For sure, the QSO rate would still climb substantially because people could hear my CQs.

    Yes I will build the VFO, of course, but that is yet another (actually) major project if it is to be done successfully. It may look simple, but I get the general impression that pulling it off (a stable analogue VFO) is an exacting task.

    73 de Martin, G3EDM
  8. SM0AOM

    SM0AOM Ham Member QRZ Page

    I would like to comment on Jim's views about Novices from my European perspective.
    Compared to how the entry-level licencing was handled here, the American Novice was something
    of an anomaly. A somewhat simpler exam, higher power, but on the other hand the non-renewable one year term.

    But I have gotten the impression that the Novice system created a quite high amateur density, at least in more densely populated areas, and foremost, all were crystal controlled within two or three relatively narrow frequency bands. Stations you wanted to work were comparatively easy to locate and raise.

    Compare this to the much lower density in, for example, the Nordic countries.

    I have somewhat "foggy" own memories of the early-70s about the Morse activity by Novices on 80 and 40 m, but from old QSL:s and logs it could be deduced that a few operating hours on a week-end usually netted 8-12 QSO:s, starting on 4om mid-day and moving down to 80 m in the evening and night. If the operating evenings were followed by a school-day, parents had a very dim view of staying up until "real DX" could be worked on 8o and 40 m.

    Most contacts were to the east and south, with SM6 and 7, OH2, DM, SP, UA1 to UA3, YU and LZ as quite common "catches" after darkness on 80 m. On 4o m in daylight OZ, and the occasional PA0 and G could be caught. But 3500-3600 and 7000 to 7050 could sometimes be literally "filled to the brim" with traffic. Pity the "poor sod" that had an unselective receiver...

    During my first Novice year, I went through a number of receivers, starting with a borrowed AR-88, after this a brief interlude with an Hammarlund Super-Pro and a GEC BRT-400 which also were lent, until a spring and early summer filled with various "fund-raising activities" made it possible to purchase a Drake R-4B at SM7TE in Southern Sweden. Going from the quite fast tuning rate and the "crummy" single-crystal filters of the earlier receivers to the much better skirt selectivity and passband tuning of the Drake became some kind of a "revelation".

    The other ten or so early 7o's Novices at my local club operated various forms of receivers, the Trio 9R-59 or ER-202 were quite common among those that had an broadcast SWL background, two had HRO:s and AR-88s. An R-1155 was found in one "shack" which I visited, together with the Yaesu FR-50:s which had a very good "bang for buck" reputation.

    One Novice that I knew operated a home-built 7-tube receiver built around the Danish Torotor coil pack.

    Properly applied, the Prahn and Torotor coil packs could create quite good receivers, many years ago I got a 13-tube double super built around the Torotor system at an SK auction. It used three 2nd IF stages at 110 kc with a Q-multiplier in the first.

    This receiver had the narrowest CW IF filter passband I had encountered before SDR:s became more common. A slow tuning rate and a lot of "feel" had to be used, but when properly adjusted even medium strength Morse signals got a certain "code practice oscillator sound".

    In the "rear mirror", the better radio conditions and antennas, lower man-made noise levels and that most amateurs actually listened around their own frequency after a CQ call made also low-power crystal controlled operations reasonably enjoyable. I would not trade the nearly two years spent before I came of age for the Class B or "Intermediate" licence, as they were very educational and really taught us to listen.

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  9. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    The US Novice was one year from 1951 until 1967. Then it was two years for a time, then became five years renewable in the 1970s.

    The term and renewability changes happened because there was a high dropout rate.

    In 1967, when I was a Novice, all we had on HF was 50 kHz of 80, 50 kHz of 40, and 150 kHz of 15. All CW, 75 watts input, crystal control only. Most Novice gear wasn't all that great on 15, so the vast majority of operation was 80 and 40, although some amazing stuff was done on 15. (There was a Novice who earned DXCC in 1958 - KN4RID. He came from a ham family, and the setup used was a Collins 75A-4 receiver, a Johnson Ranger running the full 75 watt limit, and a 3 element Yagi. Being at or near the peak of Cycle 19 didn't hurt either).

    The 40 meter Novice segment back than was 7150-7200, which meant megawatt EU SWBC was all over the place. So Novices generally used 40 as a daytime band (when propagation across the pond was poor) and 80 as the evening band, although there were of course exceptions.

    IIRC the number of Novices was surprisingly low back then because of the 1 year/2 year term - only about 20,000. But with so little bandspace, it didn't take many Novices to fill up the band, particularly since most weren't using top-line receivers.

    As for density, perhaps the best indicator is to draw circles of various radii and see how much population is covered. On the US coasts, or near the big Midwestern cities, a circle of 300 miles encompassed a LOT of hams!

    Most US Novices could only dream of such gear!

    I spent only about 6 months as a Novice. But upgrading didn't mean magically getting better gear.

    I don't know if US noise levels were better or worse then. I do know that in 1967 nobody could imagine that, in America, you wouldn't be allowed to put an antenna on a property you owned.

    The BIG problem we faced with RFI was TVI/BCI - our signals being picked up by TV sets, BC radios, hi-fi sets, even telephones, because the manufacturers didn't bother to make them RF-immune. A few cents of parts for a high-pass filter was too much to ask of a TV manufacturer.

    73 de Jim, N2EY
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  10. SM0AOM

    SM0AOM Ham Member QRZ Page

    The system with minimum ages, 14 for the Class C or Novice, 16 for the Class B or "Intermediate" and 18 for the Class A or "Advanced" coupled to an at least 2-year experience requirement as a Class B, except if a commercial certificate or equivalent military exam was passed, made
    progression somewhat slower, but tended to select those which showed a real interest.

    Annual fees, a lot of monitoring activities and a real threat of re-examination if the regulator for one reason or another felt that an amateur had not "self-trained" enough to warrant continued access to spectrum also kept the amateur population in general "on their toes".

    Somewhere I have seen the exact distribution between those that had gone the way to Class A via Class C and Class B, compared to those that went directly to Class A via commercial or military exams during the 50s/60s, and from memory it was about 2:1. So a majority of amateurs here who had "DX-bands" privileges had at least 3 years experience, and the other had earned the First Class Radiotelegraph or its military equivalent.

    This was a result of a quite seriously aimed principle resulting in "incentive licencing" intended to create a corps of well qualified conscript operators.

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