A HISTORY OF N3RO

 Note: click on any of the "green" words for additional.

For each one of us there was a pivitol moment when we were excited by the world of radio.  Mine came when I was 14 years old.  I was on summer vacation and had just discovered an old Atwater Kent radio, covered with dust, almost hidden behind the freezer in our basement.  I asked mom if I could "play" with it and was told that it hadn't worked for 20 years or more.  Mom said I could "tinker" with it, but doubted it would ever work again.  Through the magic of "sheer good luck" I managed to find several broken wires and with the good eyesight of a 14 year old, was able to figure out where the connections needed to be made.  Using my dad's soldering iron I tried my hand at soldering the wires back to where I thought they should go.  I cleaned off 20 years of dust and took each octal tube out and cleaned it off.  ( I am still a "clean" freak today ).  There was no cabinet - just the radio front and chassis with all the tubes exposed.  A really big speaker, with cable, plugged into the back.  With all connections made, I held my breath and turned the radio on.  It was magic !  The old octal tubes slowly came to life and the most beautiful sounds started coming from the big speaker.  The radio stayed in my bedroom for the rest of the summer and I stayed glued to the speaker.  Having a shortwave band, it wasn't long before I heard another teenage ham up the street on 75 meter AM.  He was Pete, WA2BXK.  Pete and I became good friends and soon I was spending all my time in his ham shack calling CQ on his DX-60.  Pete gave me books on electronic theory and I taught myself the Morse Code.  After about a year of "hanging out" at Pete's ham shack . . . Pete arranged for me to take the Novice and Technician exams ( I think he wanted his rig back ! ).  The rest is history . . .  I became WV2WFL ( novice license ) and WA2WFL ( technician ).  Yes, back then, I was given 2 ham tickets with 2 callsigns. 

I had no ham equipment but by joining RACES I was provided a six meter Gonset communicator.  This was a magical box with a big "cyclops" tuning eye right in the middle.  A big transmit "flipper" switch on the front panel made a real snapping sound when flipped down to transmit.  The rig ran about 10 watts AM and with a dipole antenna on the ceiling of my attic bedroom I worked about 20 states with the " Gooney Box ", as the rig was lovingly called.  However, about 6 months later I was informed that RACES needed the Gonset rig to put in the local town police station for a RACES station there.  My dad would drive me to the police station on Tuesday nights so I could operate my first rig in the weekly nets.  But dad realized I needed a rig at home too.

My dad purchased a Lafayette HE-45 6 meter AM crystal controlled rig for me.  I worked at a lumberyard during my summer vacation the following year and saved up enough to purchase a Hallicrafters HT-40 and a 5 element Cushcraft 6 meter beam with rotor.  I was in ham heaven - my neighbors were in TV HELL !   Back in the early 60's TV sets had no selectivity at all and my 6 meter signal would blank out every TV in the neighborhood ( and we only had about 7 or 8 channels at that time ).

This was my ham shack until I went in the Air Force at age 17.  From LEFT to RIGHT ( as best I can remember ): a Hallicrafters S-85 receiver,  a Heathkit 2'er for two meters, the Hallicrafter HT-40 ( 80 thru 6 meters @ 60 watts ) and finally the Lafayette Radio HE-45 6 meter rig sits on top of an Allied Radio general coverage receiver that my dad had put together years before.  I was using the HE-45 as the 6 meter receiver and the Hallicrafters HT-40 was the 6 meter transmitter @ 60 watts AM to my 5 element 6 meter beam.  A TR relay switched the beam between the two rigs: 

The certificate on the bulletin board with the ribbon hanging on the left side was the Navy Cruise award I won at the Regional Science Fair in 1963 for building a simulated LASER audio transmitter.  I was supposed to go on a Navy cruise that summer, however, 1 day after graduation from High School, I was in the US Air Force at Lackland AFB Texas.   After "boot camp" I was sent to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi to become a CW radio operator.  To graduate you had to copy 20 WPM solid and when I did, I went immediately to the FCC and passed my General ham ticket.  I was sent to Misawa, Japan where I spent the remaining 4 years of my Air Force tour as a CW radio operator.  I left the Air Force in 1967 and headed for college under the new GI Bill.  During my tour with the Air Force I saved many of my paychecks for a "dream" station when I returned to civilian life.  And when I hit New York City on my way home, I stopped at Harrison Radio with about $2,000 of 1967 dollars in my pocket!   It was a fun filled shopping trip with " I'll take one of those and one of those and one of those".  I bought so much ham radio equipment that it was sent to my home by rail freight and my dad and I had to go to the rail station to pick up the crates! Below is a picture of the ham station I assembled and operated during my 4 years of college:

Left to Right -  Hammerlund HQ receiver on top of a Gonset GSB-100 ( 80 to 10 meters SSB/CW @ 100 watts ), next was the main rig, a Viking Pacemaker ( 80 - 10 meter SSB/CW @ 100 watts ), a Hallicrafters SX-99 receiver sat on top of my main receiver, a Hallicrafters SX-101A.  To the right on top was my Heathkit Two'er and HE-45 6 meter rigs from my teen years.  They sat on top of a new Clegg  22'er, 2 meter rig @ 10 watts AM which sat on top of a Hammerlund speaker.  The sloping ceiling of my attic bedroom provided a nice spot for world and stateside maps.  The antennas were 6 and 2 meter cushcraft beams, a 40 meter dipole and a rotatable 15 meter dipole. The chair seen in this picture belonged to my great grandfather when he was a telegrapher for the railroad in the early 1900's. Sadly, after I moved away from home for college and my parents retired to Florida, I never saw the chair again.  A vibroplex "lightning" bug sits by the right front of the SX-101A receiver.

At the end of 4 years of college I gave away most all the equipment you see above - free - to the local Boy Scouts.  I was moving to Maryland and was going to rebuild my ham station from scratch.  The Boy Scout leader was a ham radio op and I knew he would put it to good use, giving the local troop their very own ham station and incentive for the boys to become future hams.  With almost NO ham equipment of my own,  I moved to Gaithersburg, MD in  1973 and became WA3UVM and started to build my ham station over again. 

My first purchase was a Regency HR-212 2 meter rig from Melcomm Radio on the Golden Mile in Frederick, MD.  It was a 20 watt FM transceiver and suddenly I was in the new world of repeaters.  Having always been active in ARES and RACES, I looked up the Montgomery RACES group and discovered they were using old Gonset AM rigs from the 50's ( the old Gooney boxes! ).  After speaking with the RACES Director and the Radio Officer, Nelson Griggs,  I received permission to work up a proposal to convert to FM.  I worked up a 15 page document  and was granted a hearing with the Montgomery County board.  The plan I suggested was approved and the EOC sprouted a new FM ham station that I oversaw the licensing of as : WA3YOO.

In 1976 I moved from Gaithersburg to Frederick, MD and became involved with the RACES and ARES operations there.  In 1977 I upgraded to Extra and changed my callsign from WA3UVM to N3RO ( my initials ).  Back then there was NO charge for a special callsign - it was a freebie with the Extra class ticket.  As a "present" to myself for getting the Extra ticket I purchased most of the Kenwood TS-820S lineup, as then it was Kenwood's best.

By the 90's I was the Radio Officer for RACES and the EC for ARES along with being the VEC team captain for the Frederick VEC ARRL team.  Additionally, I was elected President of the Frederick Amateur Radio Club for 3 consecutive years during which time I oversaw the purchase and outfitting of a mobile communications van for the club and the siting/coordination/purchase of a 440 mhz repeater system on 448.425 mhz.  By now I had "rebuilt" my ham shack adding such things as an HF linear amp to the Kenwood TS-820S lineup.  I operated HF mainly on 40 meter CW and SSB with about 500 watts and a 40 meter dipole antenna.  Ragchewing and public service have always been my main interest in ham radio.

Here is a picture of the ham shack that I put together when I got my Extra ticket in 1978:  2 Clegg FM-28 rigs sitting on top of the Kenwood TS-820S.  The matching Kenwood antenna tuner/watt meter and the SM-220 station monitor scope.  A can of "static guard" sits atop the FM radio - no ham shack should be without it!

By the early 90's the N3RO ham shack had grown into an assortment of transmitters, amplifiers and receivers that covered HF to UHF.  The HF station ran 500 watts and the VHF station ran up to 160 watts.  UHF ran 35 watts.  On HF  I worked almost exclusively 40 meter SSB or CW liking mostly "ragchewing" rather than DX'ing.  Below is a picture of the 90's ham shack:

 

By the start of 2000 the radio shack had moved into a new home in the Frederick area.  With a top floor bedroom dedicated to Rick's hobby room,  I decided to share the room space between my ham radio station and my music hobby which included several guitars, amps, mixers, and other electronics.  To conserve space I decided to go "vertical" with my ham station rather than "horizontal" on a desk.  After some searching, I located a sturdy wooden bookshelf unit that became the new N3RO operating position.  I positioned a nice big comfy sofa right next to the radios ( handy for stretching out with long nets ).  All the antennas are in the attic and the RG-213 mil spec coax is routed to the attic from inside the walls so the only thing you see are the radio panels - not tangled masses of coax and wires.  A overview picture is shown below, but for more detail, please look at the Hamshack and Echolink pages on this website.  In 2010, the station below had expanded to an outside LONGWIRE antenna and a 706mark2G transceiver.  The outside antenna also allowed me to reactivate the Kenwood TS-820s and all the matching TS-820s Kenwood equipment.  

 

The "bookshelf" hamstation was fine when I was working just SSB and Echolink, but in 2013 I was drawn back into CW operating and needed a sturdy desktop to manage the key.  By 1/1/2014 I had converted the "bookshelf" system back into a "desktop" arrangement to facilitate my return to CW. 


If you have read the "History" this far I thank you for sharing the journey with me.  In resurrecting many of the old pictures I was remembering many of the good times I've had over 54 years of ham radio.  I didn't mention many memories I have of VHF mountain topping for contests in my teen years, flying as airborne mobile in my dad's airplane with my 6 and 2 meter rigs during the early 60's, operating a KW Collins S-line while in Japan at the Air Force MARS station and others.  Above all, I have the lasting and fond memories of scores of hams who have influenced and shaped my ham radio hobby, many becoming longstanding personal friends.  



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