Communication often was different, difficult, and costly.
But not for some. Not for ham radio operators. They could communicate amongst themselves with relative ease, and it didn’t cost a dime. Unless, of course, you counted the investment in equipment and the electricity used to run it.
Doesn’t it sound like fun? My dad and I thought so when I was in high school. The idea came easily. Getting on the air was a bit trickier.
I’m not up on current ham trends, but I suspect most if not all employ voice communication, you know, where you actually speak your messages.
In 1950 there were two choices, voice and Morse code. There was plenty of the former, but no shortage of operators used the latter. And the equipment for Morse was less expensive.
So it was an easy and economical choice to go the Morse code route, and I’m glad we did. But where would we get the necessary apparatus? In New York City, obviously. On Canal Street, the Mecca of electronic paraphernalia. We made a foray one Saturday. I had no idea how to find what was needed, but my dad did, and we took our previously owned prizes home, bursting with excitement.
We needed an antenna. I can’t remember for sure what it was, but I am positive about what it wasn’t. It was not an Eiffel tower sprouting to the heavens from our roof as is often seen these days. It most probably was a wire strung around the house and perhaps fed through a window. Whatever it was, it worked!
Equipment installed, antenna poised. Ready to go? Not even close!
Hurdle 1: Learn how to receive and transmit Morse code with a specified minimum proficiency.
Hurdle 2: Pass an exam given by the federal government demonstrating that proficiency as well as knowledge of basic electronics.
To tackle the first of these problems we tuned in, with our brand new used equipment, to a station that broadcast code for the express purpose of letting would be operators practice. It was okay to listen, but not to transmit. My dad and I both worked hard and eventually we became comfortable with our ability.
Next was the study of a book with I’m sure a creative title such as “Preparing for the Ham Operator Exam.” I learned later my dad was afraid I’d pass and he wouldn’t. The odds of that happening were miniscule. He actually understood the material while I, well, let’s not go there.
The day of the exam finally came and we traveled to New York City to take it. I don’t recall how long we waited for the results, but eventually the mail arrived with the license. We both used the same call letters, W2ATR. And this is what I was to be known by to any contacts in the ham world.
And contacts there were. From various spots around the country. One day I had one I couldn’t believe. With someone from California! I couldn’t wait for my dad to come home from work so I could tell him.
For that contact especially, but really for all, it was nice to have some sort of recognition it had occurred. And that’s what QSL cards were and still are all about. Most operators bought a stack, and I was no different. I can’t remember all the information on it, but it undoubtedly included my name and address. And for sure W2ATR was plastered in large colored font across the entire card. They were about 3 by 5 inches. Upon completion of a contact, one of the operators would request the sharing of QSLs. Almost always the other agreed, and each would mail his card to the other. I collected quite a stack.
After my dad died and I left for college, my interest in ham radio evaporated. W2ATR now belongs to an operator in New York.
But the memory of the shared experience with my father has lasted a lifetime.