Thursday, 18 February 2016

How I got in to radio - Tom Watson WZ8Q

Tom L Watson 15706 Stoney Fork Dr Houston, TX 77084 USA

When I was eight years old, my parents let me stay up past midnight to watch the original 1931 Boris Karloff Frankenstein movie on TV with my cousin, Marla. Marla was a couple of years older than me and the monster didn’t faze her much, but it scared the bejesus out of me. But even more spellbinding was the electrical storm with giant sparks flying everywhere that brought the monster to life.

Dad had seen that movie in the theater when he was a kid and when I described the electrical display he disappeared to his workshop for a minute and returned, handing me an old Model-T Ford ignition coil and a couple of 6-volt lantern batteries. The coil consisted of a small wooden box with two terminals on one side for the low-voltage DC input, two terminals on another side for the gazillion-volt output and a buzzer on top that interrupted current to the primary windings. This thing would jump sparks a good half inch. It was wonderful. I discovered that I could use it to set toilet paper on fire, light florescent tubes, make a small-scale Jacob's ladder, and I even tried to resurrect several dead bugs like Victor Frankenstein enlivened his creation, but I didn’t get as much as a twitch out of any of them.

While conducting these little experiments, however, I did notice that as sparks jumped the gap, I could hear them on any AM radio in the house. It didn't matter what station the radio was tuned to, I could still hear the sparks all up and down the AM broadcast band. What a powerful instrument this spark coil was! Of course I didn’t realize at the time that what I was doing had been illegal for 30 years. But one thing led to another and as I learned more, I became hooked on the mysteries of electricity and the science and history of radio.

A few years later, in high school, I worked as a disk jockey on a local radio station and continued that occupation through college and through my first month of marriage. Funny thing about being married: all of a sudden weenies and Fritos every night don’t cut it anymore. I had to find a better source of income, so I went to work for an oil company in a much less entertaining job, but for considerably more money. Money wins out when you’re married.
In 1980, I got the radio itch again and got a novice license. A friend of a friend gave me an old Heathkit DX-35 transmitter that someone had tried to modify for 6 meters. I never did get that thing to work. Along the way I got busy again with work and the novice license eventually expired.

Finally, in 2011, during a bout of unemployment, I passed the three amateur exams. Until I retire, though, I can't really justify a big HF transceiver, which is where my interest lies. I did acquire a $50 Baofeng UV-82 2m/70cm handheld and have had some fun with that. Even without operating, I've found plenty of interesting things to do. Ham fests, lectures, books and tons of online material on antennas, basic theory and endless other avenues. Ham radio covers a lot of territory.

In summary, I owe my lifelong fascination with electricity and radio to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Nikola Tesla, my dad, and to a bunch of creative folks in Hollywood., 713-444-9155

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