My name is Joe Fischer and I have an amateur radio license with the call sign AA8TA. Not easy to say? I got that call sign because I did not care about how easy it was to say on voice modes but I did care about how easy it was to send by Morse code.
Long ago, as kid, I was interested in science and outer space stuff. Electricity and electronics also really got my interest for some reason. Who knows why for the son of a farmer and housewife/school teacher.
My grandparents had an old, large (by our standards) radio in their garage that I was always staring at, wondering about all the stuff inside of it. Eventually, they and my parents let me bring it home so I could study it in more detail. All those cylindrical things and glass tubes and other mysterious stuff – I had to learn more. I spent a lot of the time at the local library, subscribed to a few magazines and then started rounding up other old radios and televisions and tearing them apart.
I also tried building various things with the salvaged components I harvested. Since much of this stuff was vacuum tube based, I quickly developed some immunity to electrical shocks and constantly had burns on my skin from soldering slip-ups.
Still as a kid, I got into shortwave radio, something that was much different then than now. Every country in the world had a shortwave presence and I became a DXer. I had a pretty good collection of QSL cards, which probably disappeared when I left for college. Several of those cards came from countries that were not on friendly terms with the U.S. I do not know what my parents thought about those letters coming in the mail and whether any government agencies might have noticed. Years later I got security clearances and those things never came up.
About halfway through high school, I was wandering about the Allen County Fair in Lima, Ohio, and came upon a tent with some local hams. Whatever was said, I ended up in a Novice license class which led to my first amateur radio license – WN8TDO. I remember driving to those classes and that the fair was around the end of summer. By researching old call books, results of the Novice Roundup, that the ARRL used to do, and asking other hams who had call signs similar to mine, I think I got my license near the end of 1974.
Since I had a receiver from years of shortwave radio listening, I’m pretty sure that I went to the Findlay (Ohio) Hamfest and got a used Heathkit transmitter. Somehow or another, I hooked that and the receiver to a long wire I had going out my bedroom window. SWR – what in the world was that?
Back in those days, one would get a small packet of sample QSL cards from a print shop in Texas with one’s new call sign. Then a week or so later, the official paper from Gettysburg, PA, would arrive. When that happened, I sat down with all the courage a 17-year-old could muster and called CQ. Some unfortunate ham responded and I froze up. I could not copy a single character of his call sign despite how hard he tried. In less than an hour, my ham radio career was pretty much over. It did not take too long for a lot of my first ham radio station to vanish.
Morse code/CW was clearly a non-starter but to make voice contacts I would have to pass a 13 word-per-minute (WPM) test at an FCC office. My first attempt failed but I did copy enough to get credit for 5 WPM. Back then, the Technician and General class license written exams were identical so I took and passed that test and earned a technician license (WB8TDO). Sometime after that (who knows exactly when) I passed the 13 WPM test and the Advanced written and earned an Advanced license, which I held for about 35 years. And never made a single HF contact.
Now I was on 2 meter repeaters, which were very active then. My first 2 meter radio was a Heathkit rig that used crystals and allowed for six channels, I think. I had a bunch of crystals in my parts stash.
It became time to head off to college and ham radio faded and faded until my activities consisted of renewing my license and nothing else. That was the state of things through college: career, marriage, kids and so on for 35 years.
Sometime around 2010, I think, I heard that the FCC eliminated the Morse code test, which was great news to me. Many years before that, I had been continuing to work on Morse code and was around 20 WPM but never felt comfortable taking the Extra class exam. After the Morse code test went away, I briefly studied to upgrade to Extra but abandoned it.
In January, 2014, I was sitting at work with snow flying outside the window. For some reason, I was suddenly struck with the idea that I should get back into, or just get into, ham radio. By now, not only was the Morse code test long gone, so were the trips to FCC offices to take the tests. So I studied for the Extra exam, shoveled snow and studied. I was also moved to change my call sign from WB8TDO to W8JPF. In February, I drove to a take the Extra test from a club that offered volunteer exam (VE) sessions and aced the test.
Then came assembling a station and getting on the air. My first HF contact in about 40 years was amazing. HF operating was so fun, how I missed this for so long was beyond me. 2014 was the ARRL’s centennial celebration and, we were at a sunspot peak and there were always contacts to be made.
I’ll wrap up 2014 by saying how much fun ham radio had been and wanting to look for more. There are a few chapters to my ham radio life, the early, mostly repeater part, the dark, no activity period, the initial “what fun” period and, finally, the grown up, reinvention of myself as a ham radio operator. That last part is what I am currently in and the CW period will be covered in another post.