My father is a retired career Army officer, so I spent my childhood moving around the US every two to three years. He was born in New York City and grew up there. My mother was born and raised in Griffin, GA; her family goes back more than 150 years in that area. Almost all of my mother’s side of the family live southwest of Atlanta, including my parents and my sister and her family.
So how did I become an amateur?
In 1975 my father was stationed at Fort Monmouth, NJ and we lived on post. During the summer of 1975, the US Army Signal School (which has since moved) offered the Common Basic Electronics Training (COBET) class to dependents (military speak for Army Brats…). The class taught electronics theory, soldering, troubleshooting, and repair.
At the end of the course, we made a field trip to the MARS station, where we watched as a soldier ran phone patches with Germany- I was hooked. I started hanging out at the MARS station; the soldiers there taught me to operate the Collins KWM-2A and S-Line equipment, to operate the R390 receivers and T368 transmitter for RTTY, to handle traffic on voice and RTTY, to run phone patches, and to run MARS nets as the NCS.
I studied for the Technician license which consisted of the General class written examination and a 5wpm code test. In early January 1977, one of the soldiers from the MARS station drove me to the Philadelphia FCC office to take my test. I’ve forgotten whether the written test or the code test was given first, but I certainly remember the code test. The FCC examiner tried to get me to take the 13wpm test, but I knew I couldn’t pass it. I copied the 5wpm text and anxiously awaited the results. The examiner called me up to the large desk in the front and told me I had passed the receive portion; it was now time to take the sending test…
I nervously took the straight key and began to send the text from the printed sheet. I had only sent a few words when the examiner stopped me. Thoughts raced through my head that I had passed the written exam and the Morse receiving test, only to fail the sending test – the easiest part. To my relief, the examiner told me that I passed and proceeded to teach me the proper way to hold the key and send.
A little while later, all of the soldiers at the MARS station were reassigned and the station was turned over to the post recreation administrator. I was 15 years old and given the key to the station. I ran it after school and during breaks; I would often run dozens of phone patches in the afternoon with MARS stations in Germany.
My father retired and we moved to Fort Wayne, IN where he had a position in international marketing for a military radio manufacturer. For Christmas of 1977, I received a brand new Kenwood TS-520S; subsequent birthdays and Christmases would bring all of the accessories. I saved money from odd jobs and earned enough to buy a base and four sections of TV tower. I also bought a Radio Shack 3 element CB beam and converted it to 10 meters; later I bought a second and made a wide-spaced 5 element 10 meter beam on a 30′ boom. Needless to say, I was very active on 10 meters and in collecting 10-10 certificates.
After getting my code speed up to 13wpm, I took the test when the FCC visited Fort Wayne and upgraded to General. I added wire antennas for the rest of the bands, including 160. By happenstance, I met a couple of amateurs in Michigan that were also in High School on 160 and we had a regular sked for several years.
In 1980 the company my father was working for moved to Tampa, FL, so our family moved to Palm Harbor. I began college that fall at the University of Florida. At the first meeting of the Gator Amateur Radio Club (GARC – W4DFU), a new electrical engineering grad student, WA9YNE (now K9VA) was elected President, AA4FL, a dental student, was elected either Secretary or Treasurer, and I was elected Vice President. AA4FL, who has his dental practice located outside of Gainesville, and I became life long friends from our years at UF; Jay now serves as the Faculty Advisor for GARC.
At that time, W4DFU was located in the Electrical Engineering Building which was located adjacent to the Communications School with the studios for WRUF. WA9YNE and I decided to enter the 1980 Phone Sweepstakes contest as a multi op, single radio. As it turned out, WRUF’s mixing console picked up our signal on 15 meters rather well, resulting in our being given an edict of radio silence. Shortly after that, we were told that we had to move out of the EE building as they needed the space; coincidence I’m sure.
AA4FL found a nice room on the top floor of the Dental School tower that only had some telephone and electrical wiring in it. If you’re familiar with the Shands complex at UF, the Dental School is in the 11 story tower on the west end. Somehow, Jay managed to convince the administration and the building maintenance personnel to let us move the station there and put our antennas on the roof. They let us drill holes in the walls of the elevator houses on the roof, one at each end about 200′ apart, to mount a forty foot HF tower on one end and a 30′ VHF tower on the other. Looking back, I can’t believe they let us do it!
We had a TH6DXX on the 40′ tower, putting it about 160′ AGL. The VHF tower had VHF and UHF circularly polarized antennas for satellite work (remember the Russian robots?) and a six meter beam. A Hustler 5BTV and a fan dipole for 80/75 rounded out the antennas. (We may have had a 160 dipole, but I can’t recall for certain.)
We operated a lot of contests from the new station (no more RFI to WRUF) and did a lot of DXing. W4DFU is still in that same location, getting ready to celebrate 30 years there.
While at UF, I upgraded to Advanced class and also worked part time repairing radios at Radio Telephone Company of Gainesville. During my Sophomore year, I served as the GARC Secretary/Treasurer; during my junior year, I served as President.
After deciding to enter law enforcement, I changed my major to Criminal Justice. I did my senior year at the University of South Florida in Tampa; UF didn’t have a Criminal Justice program at that time.
Knowledge and skills learned through amateur radio would be the foundation upon which my law enforcement career was built- a specialization in electronic surveillance and high tech investigations.