Operating the MARS station onboard LHD-2 Essex.

I was in the control tower at Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, one night back in 1994 when a vehicle called on the VHF FM frequency to cross the airfield.  I was heating up some left-over pizza (I worked part-time delivering for Domino’s) so instead of walking all the way across the tower to key up the desk mic, I grabbed the back-up HT from the drop charger on top of the microwave and cleared the vehicle across the runways.

When I unkeyed I heard a CW identifier followed by “this is the WZ1J repeater.”  Somebody had programmed the last channel of the HT to the ham radio repeater and had forgotten to switch it back to our airfield vehicle channel.

I threw out my callsign (WA6NSE at the time) and started a QSO with a local ham.  I few minutes went by when I remembered the poor guy in the vehicle on the airfield was patiently waiting.   I hurried over to the desk mic, cleared him across, and went back to chatting on the HT.

A few minutes went by when someone called me out. “Hey, I just looked up your callsign and it’s not in the book.”  I didn’t have a current Callbook but I had managed to keep my original license in my wallet.  Wouldn’t you know it…my callsign was expired!  I apologized, and returned the HT to the drop charger.  The guys must have realized I was still listening because they replied with the information for the next club test session.

QRA:  What is the name (or callsign) of your station?

In my youth, I “helped” my grandfather build his Heathkit SB-101.  By help, I mean I grabbed components out of the bins as he built the rig.  At the same time I was studying, practicing CW, and learning how to operate by watching my grandfather.

One evening he took me to a club meeting and announced that I would be testing for General.  I was surprised when I passed because I thought I’d been learning CW at 5 WPM for the Novice test.  Turns out he had been teaching me at 20 WPM.

Fast-forward to my evening in the control tower and I was once again bitten by the amateur radio bug.  I brushed up on the rules and went to the test session.  I passed the written through General but failed the Morse code.  Horribly.  Turns out CW is not like riding a bike.  It’s a VERY perishable skill.  I ended up with a No-Code Technician license, which was fine with me because I really just wanted to get back on the HT in the tower.

Later that year I made a trip to HRO in New Hampshire and bought my first radio, a Kenwood TM-241 VHF mobile rig.  I think it only had 20 memory channels!

I’ve had several radios since then.  I still have a Kenwood TM-261 (which replaced the 241) but I’ll never forget installing my first ham radio in my 1992 Honda Civic!

I’ve been using my grandfather’s old Heathkit rig on and off for several years while shopping for my first HF radio.  I (re-)upgraded to General in December of 2022 and bought a Yaesu FTDX10 a few weeks later.