Field Day 2009: Stuart Makes His First Contact

One of the great things about Field Day are the stories. Every year, I add a story or two to my repertoire. This year is no exception.

Story #1 starts about 1:30 pm on Saturday. I was at my post at the public information table/GOTA station. We had been ready to rock and roll for at least a half hour, so a group of us were just sitting around chewing the fat when Stuart and his mother strolled up to the table.

Her son was a little on the shy side, so his mother explained that Stuart had seen a listing of our Field Day site on the Internet and had asked her to bring him out to see us. She mentioned that Stuart had been listening to ham radio operators on his little Yaesu handheld scanner for several years and was very excited to actually meet some ham radio operators and see ham radio in action.

Not only that, she said that he had taught himself Morse Code. A kid after my own heart! I quickly volunteered to give them a tour of our Field Day site. First, I showed him our VHF/UHF station, and he seemed really impressed with the five single-band radios.

Next, I took him into the 40m phone station. I asked how fast he could copy Morse Code, and he said 30 words per minute. I cranked the receiver down into the CW portion of the band, and sure enough, he could copy anything that I tuned in.

At this point, it was still only 1:45 pm, so I told him, “Let’s go over to one of the CW stations, and we’ll see if we can make a contact.” We marched over to the CW #2 station, and after getting clearance from the station captain, I tuned around for a clear frequency, then called CQ. Immediately, N5VV, replied.

At this point, Stuart was so excited, he was shaking a little bit. Since the contest was just about ready to start, I kept the contact short, but that didn’t matter. Stuart had finally gotten to see ham radio in action.

Stuart’s mother then inquired about taking the test. I explained that our Volunteer Examiners give the test every second Saturday of the month and gave her the URL of our website. She said that Stuart had been studying and was ready to take the test.

Unfortunately, they had to leave at that point. I told Stuart’s mother that we’d be there through 2pm Sunday and to come back any time. She said that they’d definitely be back the next day.

Stuart Makes His First Contact
Stuart and his mother returned about 1:30 pm on Sunday. He wanted to see the VHF/UHF station again, so that was our first stop. He took a couple of photos of the setup, and then I suggested we go over to the GOTA station. When we first got there, someone was at the mike, but shortly afterwards, they got up, and Stuart and I took the controls.

When we first sat down, I made a few contacts using my call to show him how to use the paddle. I noted that holding the levers down produces a series of dits or dahs, and that by tapping the other lever while holding down the first, you can produce a dit between dahs or a dah between dits.

Then, I asked him if he’d like to try it. He said yes, so just to see how it would go, I tuned up to above 7100 kHz. There was no activity up there, so I set the keyer speed to 15 wpm and told him to send my callsign a few times. He reached over with his left hand and sent it perfectly. Now, remember, this is someone who’d never touched a paddle of any kind before. Not only that, he even sent the K (dah-di-dah) iambically! That is to say that he held the dah paddle while tapping the dit paddle to slip in a dit between the two dahs.

Then, I asked if he’d like to make some contacts. He said yes, so I said, “Let’s switch seats.” We switched seats, and I said, “OK, tune around a little and find a strong station calling CQ.” We found K2ZR, and I coached him a little on how to reply. “Now, remember,” I said, “we’re going to use the W8PGW callsign.” When I gave him the nod to send, he reached over with his RIGHT hand and sent W8PGW perfectly! When K2ZR replied with our call and the exchange, I coached him to reply with “4A MI.” Not only did he do that, but he slipped in a “R” to denote that we’d copied the exchange. When K2ZR replied with a “TU,” I showed him how to log the contact.

That’s all the coaching I needed to do. After the first contact, I said, “OK. Now, tune around for another station calling CQ, and we’ll make another contact.” He was off to the races. As soon as he made a contact, he jumped up to type it into the log. His arms weren’t long enough to reach the computer from where he was seated.

When we started, the keyer speed was set to 15 wpm. After a couple of contacts, I asked if he might want to send faster. When he said OK, I bumped it up to 18 wpm. After a few QSOs with only a couple of mistakes, he asked if we could go faster, so I set it at 20 wpm. Again, only a couple of mistakes, so we bumped it up to 22 wpm. There, he started making more mistakes, but let me repeat, he never touched any kind of key before in his life. I have no doubt that with a little practice, he could easily do 30 wpm.

Overall, he made 12 contacts in the 21 minutes he operated the station. Not a bad rate for someone who’d never sent a character of Morse Code in his life, don’t you think?

As it turns out, Stuart can’t take the test in July, but his mother said that they would definitely do it in August. He has even picked out a vanity callsign. The kid is going to make a great ham radio operator. I can’t wait to get him in the operator’s seat next Field Day.

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Comments

  1. Fantastic story about the young Stuart ! A CW man for sure !

  2. Roger K9LJB says:

    My hat’s off to Stuart and especially to his mom as well. She sounds like my widowed mom back in the 50s when I showed interest in ham radio. Not only did she take me to visit hams and go to club meetings before I could drive, but she studied with me, including the code and got her novice ticket, too! She understood that parts ordered from Burstein-Applebee, Heathkit and Allied Radio were just fine for Christmas and birthday presents. I hope to hear more about Stuart and his mom.

  3. Very inspiring narrative, nice job!

  4. susan carlson says:

    This is from Stuart’s mom. We are on our way to take him to camp for 2 weeks, so he can’t reply until mid July, but he is eager to send his own email to share his impressions about the day. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the absolute high point of his 13 years thus far. He has talked about little else since we were there. He wants nothing more than to get his license and join your club. He is so happy to meet real people who share his passion for Ham radio. Many, many thanks for all your kindness! Stuart says: di-di-di-dit di-dit.

  5. Gary Parr says:

    Wow! The parent and former teacher in me got misty eyed reading that. If the Field Day accomplished nothing else, it was a huge success because you took the time and had the patience to help Stuart, treat him with respect, and give him a legitimate chance to learn, experience, and succeed. Huge applause to you and a tip of the cap to Stuart for making the most of his interest and this opportunity. It is so cool to read/hear stories such as this.
    Gary

  6. What a great story and inspiration to us all….Not only a new Ham but a CW op!
    I doesn’t get any better than this.

  7. What a wonderful story. Please keep us posted on Stuart’s progress. I look forward to working him on the air some time (though he’ll have to QRS for me!!)

  8. Larry W2LJ says:

    Dan,

    You got my vote for “Best Ham Blog Post of the Year”. Great story! My hat’s off to Stuart for his determination and spirit. My hat is doubly off to you for being one of the best “Ambassadors” this hobby has.

    73 de Larry W2LJ

  9. I got my (full) license without the CW requirement. But this makes me want to go out and learn CW, somehow that’s where the real fun is! I deeply respect these OMs and hope to become one some day.

  10. Dan KB6NU says:

    Maybe what I’ll do is get Stuart to start his own blog or to invite Stuart to contribute to this blog when he feels inspired to do so.

  11. Wow – The kid is good – I hope you take him undur your wing

    If he needs a paddle, I think I can dig one up for him (and I’m NOT a CW guy – but I’m trying. Passed my slow code, and then chickened out)

  12. Steve KB3SII says:

    I’d like to donate an iambic paddle for Stuart when he gets his license. I was licensed at age 10 in 1953 and I still love CW. Let me know where to send it.

  13. Another Stu AF6IT says:

    Gotta love this story- and not just because this kid has a REALLY cool name! :-) I knew I wanted to be a ham when I was probably about 5 or 6. But it unfortunately took me until nearly age 30 to actually get my ticket. Young Stuart seems more determined than I ever was plus has made a point to find a nearly perfect connection. Great job Stuart! And so glad you were there Dan. How rewarding! Mom, thanks for being there for your kid! This is such a wonderful pursuit which will serve your son well in MANY ways throughout his lifetime!

  14. Three cheers for Stuart, self taught! Way back for more years than I care to mention I sat under a tree and taught myself the Morse Code using a portable wind-up code machine with the code being fed through it with paper-tape. Based on that self-taught experience the clandestine O.S.S. sought me out to serve with them during WW2, I only managed to top out at 37 wpm, but it gave me a measure of satisfaction in doing it myself that can’t be compared with any formal instruction. Best 73s to Stuart.

    Howard, N9ZA.

  15. Butch Magee KF5DE says:

    I sure hope you guys got some great photos of Stuart and company for QST. Give me some information and I’ll buy Stuart his first year in ARRL. Great story, so good to hear some good things for a change.

    Butch KF5DE

  16. John - WB8RFB says:

    I didn’t get to work FD this year (first time in ten years) because of a family wedding. This story is what I needed to read to shake off the blues. Way to go, Stewart! Kudos to Susan too for seeing value in what your son wants to do.

    Some of us were eager beavers in our younger years too, but our parents didn’t see the opportunities that lie ahead like you did. This is the finest hobby in the world and I echo AF6IT’s comment that being a ham will open many doors whether it be work related or in creating life-long friendships.

    Well done also to KB6NU. You set a fine example for all of us to emulate.

    73

  17. Rich - KI4FW says:

    This story should end up on the pages of QST. It demonstrates all the ingredients that, for nearly a century, have brought young people into our hobby, and have given them lifelong insights into science and technology: a curious and self-motivated child, a smart and adventurous parent, a ham with mentoring skills, and a welcoming club. I think the hobby has more to offer kids than ever. But I’m not sure the amateur radio community can put all of these ingredients together as well as we once did, and I’m not sure why.

    Congratulations to Stuart, and to the W8PGW gang. 73

  18. Awesome. Just… awesome. Way to go Stuart!

  19. Barry - KS4RT says:

    Congratulations to Stuart and his mom! Stuart’s life has been changed forever! I remember when I first learned about amateur radio at age 16! My elmer talked me out of buying a cb, give me a tour of his ham shack and helped me get my first license back in 1972 as WN4ZQA.

    Dan, KB6NU, your a great elmer. Keep up the great work.

    Mom, there will never be a greater elmer than you! Continue to help Stuart reach for the stars!

    Stuart, my son Matthew, KI4QCX, got his license at age 9, and now at age 12 is still learning CW.
    It would be great if he had someone close to his age to practice. I am sure you and him could set up a regular sked on 40 meters. Maybe it will turn into a young ham net!

    73,
    Barry, KS4RT

  20. Oh my gosh! Is this for real? It sounds like the script to a movie!

    I think Stuart should use a straight key, and (maybe not much) later a bug — it just seems like such a natural thing to him!

    Stuart, if you read this — WOW! Wish I could do things like that!

    Vy 7 3

  21. incredible.

  22. JohnPaul/AB4PP says:

    That was awesome. Even better because he likes the CW. I hope to work him sometime in the near future and I am sure he will be needing a new set of paddles of his own. Sounds like he will be burning up the airways and that is great.
    Stuart if you read this one, Congrats early. I know you will be on the air soon and I will watch to see if anyone posts your new callsign when you get it.

  23. JohnPaul/AB4PP says:

    Waiting to make contact with Stuart for the first time. Great Story.

  24. Mike Sear N7TLL says:

    Dear Dan,
    Thank you representing the Amateur Radio Fraternity in a way that exemplifies the meaning of an Elmer. We only get one chance to make a first impression and I think both you and Stuart accomplished it with positive results. Hiram Maxim would be proud. 73, Mike N7TLL

  25. Ron, from Iowa says:

    Great job Stuart, and KB6NU (Dan ) you are a great elmer for lots of kids and parents also from reading your info on QRZ. Reading all the comments some brought tears to my eyes with old memories when I first became a Ham in 1978. Stuart keep of the great job you have been doing and you will always have fun with this great hobby. It is one of the best things i have ever done and will never regret it.. My youngest daughter is also a ham… Best of 73’s to you all (88’s Mom) Hope to work you sometime on the airways… Good Luck.

    PS. see you in 2010 Field Day…

  26. Cal K4JSI says:

    Great narrative! I sure hope Stuart gets his ticket! And I agree, this should be mentioned in QST! I have a young friend, KB3RGW, who is in her mid-20s. She’s a QRP CW aficionado and operated Field Day at the PVRC W3AO 20A site.
    72/73,
    Cal K4JSI

  27. John/K4WJ says:

    This is an amazing story. Equaly amazing is the fact that Stuart’s mom, Susan, properly typed HI at the end of her message. She typed di-di-di-dit di-dit instead of just dot dot dot dot dot dot or even dit dit dit dit dit dit.

    What an amazing family! Oh, maybe Stuart helped her. Or is she a ham? I could’nt find a callsign for her when I searched the FCC ULS database.

    I wonder how many folks write with both hands, never-the-less send CW with both hands for the first time ever using a paddle? Was Dan set up?

    Am I the only one that smells fish here?

    73..de John/K4WJ

  28. Dan KB6NU says:

    Come on up and see for yourself, if you don’t believe me, John. Stuart’s mother is not a ham, but notice that Stuart’s mother’s message says, “Stuart says…” When Stuart gets his license, we will arrange a sked with you, John, and you can hear for yourself.

  29. Brian, W9IND says:

    Dan,

    Excellent story that sent me on an instant nostalgia trip back to my youth. As a 15-year-old, I was so enthralled with ham radio (despite having no Elmer) that I copied the Morse alphabet out of our family dictionary and listened to maritime CW stations such as WCC on my shortwave radio. That summer I got my first license: WN9ICB.

    I’m writing because I wanted to (1) congratulate Stuart on his first contact, (2) encourage him to get his amateur radio license (doesn’t sound like it’ll take much encouragement), and (3) invite him and his mother to visit the Comm Center of our club, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Amateur Radio Club, during one of our W9IMS special events.

    We’re big on hosting precocious kids with an interest in the hobby, and two of our most popular W9IMS ops during the past couple of years have been Amanda Feriante, AF6YL, and Emily Bishop, WE4MB, who (along with their parents) joined us during Indy 500 week. We have two more special events on our schedule this summer, and we’re only about four and a half hours from Ann Arbor.

    We’ve also started a fun all-YL club with the whimsical name of Chick Factor International (W9YL) in an effort to encourage ladies of all ages to get on the air. Membership is free; “chick” us out at http://www.W9YL.com

    Hopefully, Stuart and Susan will get a chance to see this post; I can be reached at w9ind(-at-)arrl.net

    73 (or, for Stuart, dah-dah-di-di-dit di-di-dit-dah-dah),
    Brian, W9IND

  30. Susan Carlson says:

    One more post from Stuart’s mom (not only am I not a ham – Stuart did tell me how to type “hi” – I’ve never posted to a blog before now). I just had to tell everyone how overwhelmed we’ve been reading these comments, and I cannot wait to share them all with Stuart when he gets home and let him post his own impressions. He’s a unique kid who found and pursued ham radio and morse code all on his own and with great intensity. When Stuart’s younger brother and I were sitting outside the area where he was talking to Dan and the other hams about their equipment etc, his brother looked at me and said, “Mom, finally someone who understands him!” Justin (his brother) read all these posts and said, “It makes me feel fuzzy inside.” I look forward to the day when he is licensed and can communicate with you all via morse code and ham, but nearly as much as I know he does.

  31. Jim W4YA says:

    The guy who suggested that Stuart first use a hand key and then a bug forgot to tell him that he shouldn’t send with both hands, keep his speed below 8 WPM, stay away from contests, don’t get the Extra ticket, and forget about CW because SSB is much more exciting. He also forgot that at age 13 you can do just about anything!!!

    Way to go, Stuart!!!

    73,
    Jim W4YA

  32. Great story!! I can still vividly remember taking the 13 WPM General code test and I even managed to copy the Extra 20WPM that was being given to all taking the EXTRA class code test while I was taking the written exam!! I still have my AMECO 33 1/2 record that I used to practice for my code exam.

    I would like to work this great young Ham to be in the future…on CW of course! Great job!

    73
    WA6LOS

  33. Tony VK3JED says:

    Fantastic story. I wish Stuart all the best in getting his ham ticket, and Dan, congratulations in being the perfect Elmer. I listening to hams in the late 1980s, using a borrowed scanner for VHF/UHF and cobbling 2 shortwave radios together to I could resolve SSB on HF. Unfortunately, by the time I had found out about ham radio and got to studying, I was already in university, which helped my theory, but didn’t do wonders for CW practice. The only benefit CW got was that I was able to write my own Morse practice program (I had no other choice to get practice in), and pass the 5WPM exams. I did work towards the full 10 WPM Morse (as it was here at the time), got the send, missed the receive, and never got another chance to have a shot at the 10WPM.

    Despite that, I have dabbled with CW from time to time, including on satellites. I am another who can (at least with a straight key – bugs will probably always present a challenge for me) send with either hand, and others can’t tell which hand I’m using. I still have to get my receive up to a decent speed, when I have the time.

    Anyway, for Stuart, you have a long and exciting ride ahead. Ham radio is a lot of fun, whatever aspects you choose to participate in, and there’s a lot of fun and friendships to be had. Most of my longer standing friends are hams, as are most of the people I chat to on the Internet on a regular basis. Guess that says something about the hobby. For me, it’s been 20 years so far, and I still feel as though the fun’s just started! :)

  34. When I got home from camp, I was so excited to see all these posts to the story on the blog.

    Field Day was one of the most exciting things of my life! KB6NU and everyone I met were so nice and showed me so many things that I’ve been dying to see! I had so much fun sending CW via a paddle! K2ZR sent me my first QSL card, and some other cool cards too! I can’t wait to do this more often, but first I have to take the Tech test for my license. I hope I pass! I’ll study!

    I love ham radio! I’ve learned everything I know about it online. I’ve been teaching myself morse code. As soon as I can get my license and a call sign (my vanity is N8WTM if I can get it), I hope to contact you all!

    73s to everyone,

    Stuart

    –… …– / -.. . / … – ..- .- .-. – / -. —.. .– – — -..-. …- .- -. .. – -.– / …-.- / . .

  35. Since my vanity call of N8WTM has been already taken, I have decided to pick K8WTM.

    73!

  36. Dear all the posts from the blog,

    I have good news — I passed my test, so I can contact you all!!! I can’t wait to set up an HF station and contact you!!!

    73 and hope to QSO you on 40m or something,

    Stuart, hoping to get my call by Wednesday.

  37. Dear all the posts from the blog,

    I have more good news — I got my call sign! It is KD8LWR! I can’t wait to QSO all of you hams when I get my HF radio!

    73 de KD8LWR

  38. Brian, W9IND says:

    Stuart is officially an OM! His brand-new callsign — for now, at least — is KD8LWR (although he plans to request the vanity call of K8WTM).

    What a great story. Congratulations to Stuart on joining the fraternity.

    As I’ve told him in an e-mail … as a ham, he already has a great number of friends that he can rely on for everything from answering questions to helping him raise an antenna.

    I’ve already invited him and his mom to our special event station, W9IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway Amateur Radio Club). Doesn’t look like he’ll make it in time for our third and final event of the year (end of August), but he may at least get a chance to visit our Indianapolis Comm Center and try his luck with our 100- to 200-foot antennas.

    Let’s make a point of supporting him and other kids who represent the future of our hobby.

    73,
    Brian, W9IND

  39. Chuck Broadwell says:

    As a CW only type for 49 years (and a few years older than Stuart) I had the distinct pleasure of being his 9th qso 3 days after Dan got him set up with the station at home.

    Stuart is indeed a CW natural, and he recognized and corrected his keying errors 100%, far better than many old timers in that respect! He also carried on a good conversation, not the usual boiler plate you hear way too often.

  40. I’m KD0LJO, and I’m 9. My dad is KC9DMQ. I’m in DMRAA ham club in Des Moines IA.

  41. Stuart, KD8LWR says:

    We have similar callsigns! I am KD8LWR, and I’m 14. I have no hams in my family.

  42. Stuart, KD8LWR says:

    P.S. I’m in ARROW (Amateur Radio Repeaters of Washtenaw) club in Ann Arbor, MI. The repeater is 146.960 with a PL of 100 Hz at times. I now have a repeater guide for the area in this blog. Look for “The KD8LWR Repeater Guide”.

  43. Stuart, KD8LWR says:

    P.P.S. The other repeaters of ARROW (off the air now) are 224.380 and 443.500. They also require a PL tone of 100 Hz at times.

  44. This is a story of how I got interested in Amateur Radio entitled A Million Miles Away…At Home.
    In June 2008, while living a normal life in my hometown of Dexter, Michigan, I asked my mom, “Where are the walkie-talkies?” This was my first step towards my successful experience in the hobby of amateur radio. I played with the features of the walkie-talkies we’ve had for years. Then, I found out about the technical aspects of these two-way radios. I learned that a license is required to operate on some channels (General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS), but not for others (Family Radio Service, or FRS). I even talked to other walkie-talkie users in the Dexter area on the FRS channels. Then, for comparison, I bought another set of two-way radios by a different brand through a local store. I played with their technical features, and I noticed that the set I bought was better than what we already had.

    Throughout the summer, I continued to buy more and more radios for my ever growing collection until I had sixteen total radios from four major brands. I could finally recognize which one of the four brands of radios someone was talking on by their “roger beep,” or the tone someone hears at the end of their transmission. I even took a trip to Muskegon with one of my radios and talked to another person from out of town (Shelby Township).

    In November 2008, I became interested in longer range communications. Therefore, I wanted to get a police scanner. My grandpa (who passed away in April of that year) had a scanner for over two decades and always listened in to his local law enforcement frequencies in the northern part of the state. My grandma gave it to me, and I found some police and fire channels in my local area. However, the frequencies I were interested in the most were the amateur (or ham) radio frequencies. The operators (young and old) seemed really nice, and I loved the “repeater” channels and their “courtesy tones.” This is the same thing as a roger beep.

    Repeaters are complex devices that operate on two frequencies instead of one: the input (short-range, or transmit) frequency and the output (long range, or receive) frequency. Walkie-talkies don’t operate on repeaters; however, they can listen to the repeaters that are on the same channels as local GMRS communications. A license is required for both ham radio and GMRS operation, including repeaters. FRS has no repeaters, so the range is limited to two miles. I wanted to listen to and talk to people that were more than two miles away; the repeaters I heard were as far as 50 miles away.

    In December, I started to learn Morse code, because the identifications of the repeaters were in Morse code. I thought they were actual people sending Morse code, but later, I found out that there was an actual part of the ham radio bands dedicated to Morse code operators. I listened intently to their conversations for practice and found out that these were people thousands of miles from my location. This was because I was listening to someone’s Internet radio located somewhere in Europe. I wanted to hear operators in action on a real radio, so I decided to work at getting my ham radio license.

    Meanwhile, in April 2009, I bought my first ham radio. Knowing I was unlicensed, I did not transmit anything. Our family went to Cleveland for a vacation, and I listened to my radio all the way there, during the vacation, and all the way back. I found a lot of repeaters in northern Ohio!

    Back home, I used a computer program to generate practice exams, and, after several tries, I noticed I kept getting most questions wrong. In June 2009, I found out about an event called Field Day, the most popular ham radio operating event of the year. Thousands of clubs across the United States and Canada bring their portable emergency gear in trailers and contact as many stations as possible. I decided to go to a site in Ann Arbor run by a local club called ARROW (Amateur Radio Repeaters of Washtenaw).

    I met my “elmer” (mentor), Dan, KB6NU, and I told him all about how I learned Morse code.

    “How fast can you copy?” Dan asked.

    “About 30 words per minute,” I replied.

    Both Dan and the others around him were surprised and amazed. To prove it, he tuned his radio to the Morse code frequencies, and he found out that I could copy everything that I heard. Impressed, he let me see ham radio in action. He called for any station in Morse code, and somebody from Philadelphia replied. I was excited to actually see someone operate Morse code.

    The next day, Dan taught me how to send Morse code, and, considering I’ve never sent any Morse code in my life, he tuned to a frequency where no one was listening and asked me to send his callsign at 15 words per minute. I sent it perfectly with my left hand.

    “Oh, gosh, you’re good! You’ve never done this before? Do it again!” Dan exclaimed, and I did.

    “You don’t need any more practice; you’re a natural!”

    Then, he asked me to send the club callsign, and I sent it with my right hand perfectly. He was still extremely impressed with my sending! He let me sit in the operator’s chair and contact twelve stations in twenty-one minutes, increasing the speed as I became familiar with the operation. These stations were from the eastern US and Ontario. I used Dan’s callsign for one contact, and the club callsign for the other eleven. The fastest I sent was 25 words per minute, which was my limit at the time. I felt proud of myself that I sent Morse code and logged the contact using their computer system!

    In July, I took another trip to Muskegon, where I found several repeaters to listen to. I could even pick up repeaters across the lake from southeast Wisconsin! I thought that was cool to be able to hear repeaters in Wisconsin and other parts of western Michigan.

    Back home, I continued to study for the exam, and, memorizing Dan’s nationally famous study guide, I found out I received scores of over 95% on the practice exam. I was headed to the testing session on August 8, 2009. After I took the test, I found out that I passed; I was an amateur radio operator for life!

    Three days later, I saw my callsign of KD8LWR on the FCC ULS (Universal Licensing System) Database and told all my family members. The next day, I nervously checked into my first “net,” or weekly on-the-air meeting, on the local repeater. It was the Washtenaw County ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) net that takes place every Wednesday at 8:15pm. It shows support of the local ARES organization.

    After I used my brand-new callsign to check in, the net control said, “Thank you for checking in tonight; nice to meet you, Stuart.”

    I also made my first contact on that same repeater with Jeff, W8SGZ, of Ann Arbor, the next day after that. I felt proud to actually talk to people on the air!

    During the next three months, I made more and more contacts on different local repeaters. I even downloaded “EchoLink,” a system that runs on a computer and links to worldwide repeaters through the Internet. I had a blast talking to other licensed operators around the world; however, that is not exactly radio. I wanted to send Morse code from my home through the actual airwaves.

    A “silent key,” or operator that passed away, of New York, gave me a Morse code sending device called a “paddle.” This paddle was from the 1990s. Dan came to my house and hooked me up with an ’80s radio and a vertical antenna, and hooked the paddle to the radio. With this setup, I can finally send morse code! I spent countless hours over the next few months enjoying this worldwide communication. I even entered other contests, where people try to make as many distant contacts as possible.

    Over the years, I became more and more interested into both Morse code and repeaters, and continued to upgrade my setup to newer radios and sending gear. I increased my sending speed to 40+ words per minute. I experimented with other Internet systems, including IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project) and AllStar. I even took trips to the Czech Republic and England and made many contacts through their repeaters.

    In December 2011, I finally had my own “simplex repeater” on the air! However, it covered only a few miles. This changed on September 9, 2012, when I had an outside antenna for repeater operation. With this antenna, I could use my simplex repeater within a 35-mile radius and talk through repeaters up to 75 miles away! Today, I still have fun with my amazing gear, yet I still play with the walkie-talkies I had back in 2008.

    My future goals are to enter more Morse code contests, get my General Class license for SSB (Single Sideband, or long-distance voice) operation, and create my own “real” repeater. I have come a long way since June 2008, and I hope to reach new and adventurous heights in the wonderful hobby of amateur radio in the many years I have left.

  45. Here is the video of my story:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRj3NmoP-tw&feature=plcp

    73 de KD8LWR

  46. Here is the updated story as of January 2013:

    “Mom, where are the walkie-talkies?”

    “They’re down in the basement, Stuart.”

    It was June 2008, in my hometown of Dexter, Michigan, and I just made my first step towards my successful experience in the hobby of amateur radio. I played with the features of the walkie-talkies we’ve had for years. Then, I found out about the technical aspects of these two-way radios. I learned that a license is required to operate on some channels (General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS), but not for others (Family Radio Service, or FRS). I even talked to other walkie-talkie users in the Dexter area on the FRS channels. Then, for comparison, I bought another set of two-way radios by a different brand through a local store. I played with their technical features, and I noticed that the set I bought was better than what we already had.

    Throughout the summer, I continued to buy more and more radios for my ever growing collection until I had eight total radios, two from each of the four major brands. I could finally recognize which one of the four brands of radios someone was talking on by their “roger beep,” or the tone someone hears at the end of their transmission. I even took a trip to Muskegon with one of my radios and talked to a teenage girl who was also from out of town (Shelby Township).

    “How old are you?” my brother and I asked her.

    “Too old for you!” she replied.

    “I’m 10,” my brother replied.

    I challenged her with, “I’m a very mature 12-year-old.”

    “Oh, I bet, but I’m still too old for you!” she fought back.

    In November 2008, I became bored with this low coverage and interested in longer range communications. Therefore, I wanted to get a police scanner. My grandpa (who passed away in April of that year) had a scanner for over two decades and always listened in to his local law enforcement agencies in the northern part of the state. My grandma gave it to me, and I found some police and fire channels in my local area. However, the frequencies I were interested in the most were the amateur (or ham) radio frequencies. The operators (young and old) seemed really nice, and I loved the “repeater” channels and their “courtesy tones.” This is the same thing as a roger beep.

    The first thing I heard on ham radio was the legal identification of a repeater about ten miles away from me. Considering it identified using the controller’s ’80s sounding synthesized voice, I thought the ID was a classic children’s spelling or letter guessing game. All of a sudden, I heard a second set of letters come from another repeater even farther away than the last one, with a different controller using an extremely similar ’80s sounding synthesized voice. Then, I heard a third set of letters coming from yet another faraway repeater whose controller uses a real human voice that sounds as if it was a modern children’s spelling game, but after the ID it gave the time in military time. I knew then that it wasn’t a children’s spelling game. These three repeaters were all linked together, which means I never changed frequencies.

    Repeaters are complex devices that operate on two frequencies instead of one: the input (short-range, or transmit) frequency and the output (long range, or receive) frequency. They are generally located on tall buildings, towers or mountains, which becomes the location of the retransmitted signal. The user talks on the input frequency using his/her radio, and their short-range signal gets retransmitted through the repeater to the output frequency, increasing the coverage area of the signal.

    Walkie-talkies don’t operate on repeaters; however, they can listen to the repeaters that are on the same channels as local GMRS communications. A license is required for both ham radio and GMRS operation, including repeaters. FRS has no repeaters, so the range is limited to two miles. I wanted to listen to and talk to people that were more than two miles away; the repeaters I heard were as far as 50 miles away.

    The first conversation I heard on a repeater were a few young operators fooling with and testing their radios. This was on the linked repeater that I heard all those IDs on. The frequency I was on was part of a network of over ten linked repeaters throughout mid-Michigan. It sounded like CB radio to me when I started hearing echo effects from the young operators’ transmissions, but that turns out to be someone with one radio transmitting on one repeater, and another radio tuned to a second repeater, both linked to the same network!

    “This is so fun!” exclaimed one of the young operators named Fred, with a callsign of W8FSM.

    In December, I started to learn Morse code, because the legal identifications of the repeaters can also be in Morse code. I thought they were actual people sending Morse code, but later, I found out that there was an actual part of the ham radio bands dedicated to Morse code operators. I listened intently to their conversations for practice and found out that these were people thousands of miles from my location. This was because I was listening to someone’s Internet radio located somewhere in Europe. I wanted to hear operators in action on a real radio, so I decided to work at getting my ham radio license.

    Meanwhile, in April 2009, I bought my first ham radio. Knowing I was unlicensed, I did not transmit anything. Our family went to Cleveland for a vacation, and I listened to my radio all the way there, during the vacation, and all the way back. I found a lot of repeaters (and older guys talking to each other through the repeaters) in northern Ohio!

    Back home, I used a computer program to generate practice exams for my ham radio license, and, after several tries, I noticed I kept getting most questions wrong. In June 2009, I found out about an event called Field Day, the most popular ham radio operating event of the year. Thousands of clubs across the United States and Canada bring their portable emergency gear in trailers and contact as many stations as possible. I decided to go to a site in Ann Arbor run by a local club called the ARROW (Amateur Radio Repeaters of Washtenaw [County]) Communications Association.

    I met my “elmer” (mentor), an older and kid-friendly man named Dan, with a callsign of KB6NU, and I told him all about how I learned Morse code.

    “How fast can you copy?” Dan asked.

    “About 30 words per minute,” I replied.

    Both Dan and the others around him were surprised and amazed. To prove it, he tuned his radio to the Morse code frequencies, and he found out that I could copy everything that I heard. Impressed, he let me see ham radio in action. He called for any station in Morse code, and somebody from Philadelphia replied. I was excited to actually see someone operate Morse code.

    The next day, Dan taught me how to send Morse code, and, considering I’ve never sent any Morse code in my life, he tuned to a frequency where no one was listening and asked me to send his callsign at 15 words per minute. I sent it perfectly with my left hand.

    “Oh, gosh, you’re good! You’ve never done this before? Do it again!” Dan exclaimed, and I did.

    “You don’t need any more practice; you’re a natural!”

    Then, he asked me to send the club callsign, and I sent it with my right hand perfectly. He was still extremely impressed with my sending! He let me sit in the operator’s chair and contact 12 stations in 21 minutes, increasing the speed as I became familiar with the operation. These stations were from the eastern US and Ontario. I used Dan’s callsign for one contact, and the club callsign for the other 11. The fastest I sent was 25 words per minute, which was my limit at the time. I felt proud of myself that I sent Morse code and logged the contact using their computer system!

    In July, I took another trip to Muskegon, where I found several repeaters to listen to. I could even pick up repeaters across the lake from southeast Wisconsin! I thought that was cool to be able to hear repeaters in Wisconsin and other parts of western Michigan.

    Back home, I continued to study for the exam, and, memorizing Dan’s nationally famous study guide, I found out I received scores of over 95% on the practice exam. I was headed to the testing session on August 8, 2009. After I took the test, I found out that I passed; I was an amateur radio operator for life!

    Three days later, I saw my callsign of KD8LWR on the FCC ULS (Universal Licensing System) Database and told all my family members. The next day, I nervously checked into my first “net,” or weekly on-the-air meeting, on the local repeater. It was the Washtenaw County ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) net that takes place every Wednesday at 8:15pm. It shows support of the local ARES organization.

    After I used my brand-new callsign to check in, the net control recognized me and said, “Thank you for checking in tonight; nice to meet you, Stuart.”

    I also made my first contact on that same repeater with another older man named Jeff, with a callsign of W8SGZ, of Ann Arbor, the next day after that. I felt proud to actually talk to people on the air!

    During the next three months, I made more and more contacts on different local repeaters. I even downloaded “EchoLink,” a system that runs on a computer and links to worldwide repeaters through the Internet. I had a blast talking to other licensed operators around the world; however, that is not exactly “real” radio. I wanted to send Morse code from my home through the actual airwaves.

    A “silent key,” or operator that passed away, of New York, gave me a Morse code sending device called a “paddle.” With it came an external device called a “keyer” that controls my sending speed, which was from the 1990s. Dan came to my house and hooked me up with a radio from the ’80s and a vertical antenna, and hooked the paddle and keyer to the radio. With this setup, I can finally send Morse code! I spent countless hours over the next several months enjoying this worldwide communication, contacting stations from countries such as Canada, England, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Germany, Japan and even Australia!

    Over the years, I became more and more interested into both Morse code and repeaters, and I continued to upgrade my setup to newer radios and sending gear. I increased my sending speed to 40+ words per minute. I entered other contests, where people try to make as many distant contacts as possible, including Field Day 2010-2012. I experimented with other Internet systems, including IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project) and AllStar. I took a third trip to Muskegon to make contact with the friendly operators on the area repeaters. I even took trips to Italy, the Czech Republic and England and made many contacts through their repeaters, including a German repeater during the Czech Republic trip.

    In December 2011, I finally had my own “simplex repeater” on the air! However, it covered only a few miles. This changed on September 9, 2012, when I had an outside antenna for repeater operation. With this antenna, I could use my simplex repeater within a 35-mile radius and talk through repeaters up to 75 miles away!

    “Simplex” means direct, person-to-person contact over one frequency. Walkie-talkies use “simplex.” A “simplex repeater” acts like a parrot in which someone transmits a signal as if they’re talking over simplex; then, the signal repeats through the transmitter of the repeater over a wider coverage area than the radio itself, all over only one frequency. This is not the FCC’s definition of a “repeater,” where a signal is transmitted through one frequency and retransmitted simultaneously over another. It was time for me to take my next steps towards real repeater operation.

    After almost a year of having my most advanced radio, that does everything from Morse code operation to simplex repeater operation, I was completely unaware of another mode of repeater operation this radio has. This radio is capable of “cross-band” repeater operation. Unlike a traditional repeater, when someone transmits a signal through a cross-band repeater, the repeater simultaneously transmits the same signal on another band, instead of another frequency on the same band. Regardless, it is still an actual repeater. In November 2012, my cross-band repeater was on the air, and I finally met my goal in creating a true repeater! My next step is to create a traditional repeater that operates on one band.

    On December 28, 2012, I experienced yet another mode of operation: Digital Smart Technologies of Amateur Radio, or D-STAR. With D-STAR, I can talk to people around the world using just a handheld radio and the D-STAR repeater 5.3 miles from me. The repeater automatically links to the Internet, allowing worldwide communication on a handheld radio. But unlike the other Internet systems, D-STAR allows digital modulation of your voice so that scanner listeners and people with regular radios can’t hear your signal. I immediately made contact with people in countries such as Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand with this type of radio. I even made contact with two other young ham radio operators, one a year older than me in Louisiana and one a year younger than me in Massachusetts, using this mode. Today, in 2013, I still have fun with my amazing gear, yet I still play with the walkie-talkies I had back in 2008. My walkie-talkie collection hasn’t ended yet; now, I have 17 total radios from the four major brands.

    My future goals are to enter more Morse code contests, get my General class license for SSB (Single Sideband, or long-distance voice) operation, and create my own traditional repeater. I have come a long way since June 2008, and I hope to reach new and adventurous heights in the wonderful hobby of amateur radio in the many years of life I have left.

  47. Hi all,

    I finally passed my General Class license test! I even took a crack at the Amateur Extra test, and I didn’t pass, but got most of the questions correct. I look forward to hearing you all on the HF bands!

    73 de KD8LWR

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