I was glad to see a lot of comments about the first installment of this blog. Most of the commenters noted that indeed, ham radio got them started. A very unique opportunity to pay it forward is coming up on the weekend of October 15-16. Mark your calendars. I’ll explain why a bit further down.
My interest in radio actually came from involvement with Boy Scouts. The January 1965 issue of Boys Life (the Scout magazine) included a one-page article on how to build a crystal radio for emergency communications. I was astounded…a radio that could be built from essentially junk – a toilet-paper tube with wire wrapped around it, a long wire for an antenna, a galena crystal (that was the hard part to get, but my Dad somehow tracked one down), and a wooden board to put it on. I built one, and fortunately, I lived in a suburban area with lots of strong AM stations, and the thing worked.
I looked in the library for more info on these things and built several more versions as I obtained more parts, including germanium diodes to replace the galena crystal. One day, I heard a station that clearly was NOT in the Boston area on one of my crystal sets…it was a short-wave broadcast from the Voice of America in Greenville, NC. I have no idea what frequency my receiver was tuning, but learning that there were frequency bands other than the AM radio band was an eye-opener. I talked my parents into buying me a shortwave receive for Christmas that year, and the rest is history.
So what’s the big deal about the weekend in October?
That’s the annual Boy Scout “Jamboree-on-the-Air” (JOTA). Somewhere around 500,000 scouts around the world will find themselves in front of radios talking to other scouts. I’ve set up demonstration stations at local and regional scout events on that weekend in past years, and I am sure that I sparked some interest in radio that has led to some of the scouts getting interested in this electronics stuff. I recall one year, just as I was getting ready to pack it all up and head home from the campground, one young scout came back for another shot at talking on the radio. I found a JOTA station on St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic, and let this youngster talk to the scouts there. When I showed him on the map where the St. Helena was, his eyes got bigger and bigger. He was definitely hooked.
Earlier that day one of the parents, a non-engineer, came over to our station and watched us talk to some stations in Europe. Then he asked me how we were connected to the Internet. I told him we had no Internet connection, just a piece of wire in the trees for an antenna, and our signals were bouncing off the ionosphere. He couldn’t understand it, no matter how much I tried. But the kids got it…it’s magic (with a reasonable scientific explanation, of course, but still magic)!
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