A personal milestone and a look back

35 years ago on November 4, 1983 a somewhat nondescript government envelope arrived in the mail box.  It was from the FCC and was the fulfillment of a dream.  It was a Novice class amateur radio license issued in my name and it bore the callsign of KA0RNY.  Here is a scan of that document.

At that time the term of the license was for five years.  When I upgraded to Technician in early 1985, the term was ten years as it is for currently issued amateur radio licenses in the United States.

Now, a look back.

In early 1981 I was getting ready to graduate from high school “mid-term” as I had enough credits to graduate and would be working on the farm.  However, the diploma would not be issued until May at commencement exercises!  I was taking a required English class and needed to do a report by the end of the term.  Normally, I did these reports on some aspect of dairy farming, but something made me decide that another report on dairy cows was not going to happen!

I recall going to the school library looking for ideas.  Exactly why amateur radio came across to me as a possible topic, I’ll never know at this point.  Yet, I drew on what scant information I could find and possibly something I had at home as I had been quite interested in two-way radio what with the CB boom of the ’70s and seeing various businesses using two-way radio.

To spare everyone of reading the longhand writing of a 17 year old, I have transcribed the report for your viewing pleasure.

Nathan Bargmann

Jan 6, 1981

Amateur Radio

Amateur radio is enjoyed around the world by more than 750,000 amateur radio operators, or hams.  Hams are self-trained and self-supported, and can use their radios only for personal enjoyment or in time of emergency.

They perform public service in many areas, such as helping a doctor in South Africa talk to doctors in Chicago about a very important medical case, or carry messages from an overseas soldier to his family in the States.  They experiment with space communications through amateur-built and financed space satellites, they set up emergency communications after disasters and the like.

There are about 275,000 amateur radio operators in the US who are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, in one of the five classes–Novice, Technician, General, Advanced and Amateur Extra.  A rigid test over the International Morse Code and radio theory must be taken before a would-be ham can get his license and the test must be taken every year thereafter.

Greater privileges are granted with each new license class, i.e. Novices may communicate only in Morse Code and are limited to 75 Watts power in 4 frequency bands.  Any of the 4 other license classes may use voice transmission and up to 1000 Watts of power in any of the following modes–code (CW), standard amplitude modulated voice (AM), the newer single sideband suppressed carrier voice (SSB), frequency modulation (FM), radio teletype (RTTY), facsimile, television, or even pulse transmissions, which are related to radar.  An Amateur Extra licensee may use all of the above modes in 16 different frequency bands ranging from 1.8 – 24,250 Megahertz (MHz or million cycles per second) plus several above 48,000 MHz.

Hams are governed by Part 97 of the Rules and Regulations of the FCC.  Unlike most radio services hams do not need to use “FCC type accepted” equipment which means hams are permitted to build their own transmitter-receiver (transceiver) radios and their own antennas.  Recently, though, companies have been designing and building ready-to-operate equipment for ham use, this idea has been catching on because it means more dependable communications.

The freedom that is given to hams has enabled them to pioneer in different areas of radio technology.  Short wave radio was one such advancement, other discoveries were made such as being able to reach much farther than the horizon, and it was even found that you could beam a signal to the moon, have it bounce off the moon’s surface and send it back to earth.  This enables hams to talk to hams on the other side of the world.

Hams come from all walks of life so it is not surprising that almost 50% of the hams today are employed in some part of the electronics industry.  The hams have their own associations to which they belong (just like every other special interest group) which ties them together and informs them of any important discoveries that an amateur may have made, such as when they discovered that they could talk on the short waves.  The American Radio Relay League, founded in 1914, is a nonprofit organization with headquarters at 225 Main Street, Newington, Conn. 06111.  It publishes “QST” magazine (QST is code for “calling all radio amateurs”) each month, Radio Amateur’s Handbook annually and 13 other publications covering various aspects of the hobby ranging from beginner material to complex subjects.  The League has about 110,000 members and serves as a spokesman for hams in regulatory matters, presents technical developments to hams, organizes contests for hams’ enjoyment, and organizes emergency communications training.  The League is also headquarters for the International Amateur Radio Union composed of some 85 similar national radio societies.

Reading through this for the first time in nearly 38 years I am struck by how many things I got right despite a few glaring things I got wrong such as the need to take the exams each year and the number of hams at 275,000 which was probably somewhat higher in 1981 after the CB boom.  In my defense I had scant resources and they were likely dated.  I doubt my “resource” encompassed more than a few hours as the assignment was probably given right after school returned from Christmas vacation.  Regardless, I had told the story a number of times of this report and now I have found it after all of these years.  One thing I have noted about this particular report is that I obtained the address of ARRL and that served as the springboard into my avocation of amateur radio the past 35 years.

Incidentally, I received an A on the paper!

About Nate Bargmann

An amateur radio operator, vintage motorcycle enthusiast, and all around tinkerer interested in too many things to focus on one for very long. When I'm typing here, it's likely that I should be doing something else.
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