My Experience as an Amateur Radio Operator

At the encouragement of my mom in her attempt to find me a hobby, I began taking weekly beginner ham radio classes during the summer. They were taught in Portage by K9GSC (now K9EN) and included radio theory, rules and regulations, and Morse Code. After passing the exams several weeks before, I went to the mailbox and found the envelope containing my newly issued FCC call.  Hands shaking, I sliced it open and, ...hmmm.... lots of dots and dashes to send when working Morse Code!  But the code was "my friend," the waiting was over, and I was excited and couldn't wait to get on the air.  Licensed as WB9YXY in the fall of 1976 (at age fourteen), my amateur radio hobby - or should I say "obsession" began.

Armed with my "CW-only" (code-only) Novice license, a gift of a new Yaesu FT301D purchased by my mom & dad, and a 40/80M dipole (wire antenna) strung from our TV tower, I was ready to make contacts around the world.  My first QSO (contact) was at night on 40M with WB6EQG in California. After only a few months I upgraded to General class so I would be allowed microphone privileges and also be granted more operating frequencies.  In early 1977 I began operating on 20M with my new license and it was at this time when I made my first "real" DX contact with F8TQ in France!  Now I was really hooked, and a little over a year later a 70 foot tower was raised and a shiny, big, rotatable TH6DXX beam antenna crowned the top.  As time went on, I really loved going to the mailbox each day to see if there were any QSL cards (confirmation of contacts by post card) or any new countries to add to my collection.  If there were, it would inspire me to go to the rig and listen for even more DX.  To think, I could make contact with someone as my signal would travel all the way around the world...at the speed of light......without wires!!

Splitting time between CW & SSB, I enjoyed climbing the DXCC ladder. Once I even came down with the infamous 'DX Flu' which kept me from going to school. Wouldn't you know, on that particular day, a CE9 from the very rare South Shetland Islands "just happened" to be on for his weekly schedule with friends in his circle, and I "just happened" to be there!  What a coincidence!!

After rather uneventful license upgrades to Advanced and Extra, over the next several years I continued to rack up my overall country count.  Today with over 350 countries confirmed, I have "worked them all."  As time went on, I gradually migrated to the low frequency bands.  I found their characteristics to be challenging and interesting, and challenging.  (Did I mention the low bands were challenging?)  Along the way, I've also acquired 5BDXCC & 5BWAZ, needing only two more zones on 80M to complete 5BWAZ. 

As interest grew in low band operating, I began chasing countries on 160M and eventually earned DXCC on Top Band as well. Presently, I have over 230 countries and 35 zones confirmed on 160 and it is one of my favorite bands. There is nothing more exciting or memorable than hearing A45XR, FT5XO, or K7C as they rock your speaker with unbelievably loud signals. There is also nothing more captivating than hearing UA9NN or 'MC in your headset as they rise above the background noise at their sunrise or sunset. Also, nothing beats hearing and working a new G, OE, or DL station that you haven't heard or logged on Top Band before. Sure, you've worked those countries many times in the past...not rare, but still fun. Especially when they're in quantity, like when the band is open and the northern Europeans get propagation! Probably my most memorable and exciting on 160 however, was with VK0SJ on Macquarie Island ... in the days before DX Cluster spotting! Sojo was calling CQ and practically begging for contacts that morning as the sun was rising here!

As the Middle East is one of the parts of the world that I enjoy communicating with the most, it was through the Arabian Knights Net that I met and became good friends with Salah, N4HCW. He was originally from Jordan but was studying engineering in Atlanta. Occasionally Salah would return to Amman to visit his family and get on the air as JY5SK. Through Salah, in 1986 I had the opportunity to visit Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. That year, I traveled back with Salah and with his help obtained a Jordanian license via the RJRAS. (Even though we tried, unfortunately an A61 license was not granted from the authorities in Dubai.) Almost immediately after being granted operating permission I was on the air as JY8XY.  Since then I have been fortunate enough to go back to Jordan in '95, '96, and 1997. These were all personal trips with the primary interest of visiting my 'second family' and close friends over there. Of course, there was always time to operate the radio though too! After handing out so many JY contacts, I eventually received QSL cards from well over 100 countries and qualified for a DXCC award from there as well.

My most memorable contact ever though, was with King Hussein, JY1 in 1989. I had just finished Christmas eve dinner with my family and decided to check out the band conditions. I was so excited when I tuned across the familiar low deep voice of His Majesty, and I started shaking when he came back to my call...WHAT A CHRISTMAS PRESENT!! The King was a little surprised when I spoke a few words of Arabic! He recognized the dialect I was using and was curious as to how I had learned it! : )

In late 1996 when the FCC decided to implement the vanity callsign system, I decided to give up my original call and apply for a new 1X2. I actually didn't apply right away when the gates were opened as my old call was sentimental to me and so many radio friends had come to know me by it through the years. After a telephone conversation with Ken, K4ZW in Virginia however, he convinced me to go for it. (Thanks Ken!!)  As indicated, the only choice on the application was to be one that was still related to my old identity, yet shorter and easier to convey on CW. In January of 1997, luckily that single choice was still available and I had a 'rebirth' and was issued the callsign W9XY.

After a very short break around 1999-2000 with intermittent operating time for getting married, building a house, raising a tower & antennas, etc, I am again very active on HF working as much DX as possible. Looking ahead, I hope to go back to Jordan and perhaps Egypt sometime. I'd like to keep the guys at the incoming QSL bureau busy with JY8 cards again too!

Speaking of my wife (now ex-wife), before we were married I told her that if she accepted me she would have to accept (translate: "put up with") my hobby as well. I'm very lucky that she agreed and was so supportive of it during our 15 years together. Actually when we first started dating, a small test came along.  One night we went out and I asked to cut things short. Not because things weren't going well, but because there was some rare low-band DXpedition that was going to be on that evening! (Can't remember which one.) Anyway, I told her I had to get back home in time to listen for it!  I also wanted to catch the European sunrise opening on 160 because it was very good the night before! (Funny, but true story!)  Anyway, she survived that test and we moved forward.

Besides Jordan, most recent travel with operating capabilities has included the Dominican Republic (W9XY/HI7), Sweden (SM/W9XY), Hungary (HA/W9XY), and The Bahamas (C6AXY). (See other web pages.)  In the past, and although I didn't operate from any of these, I've also visited Ireland (Dublin), Scotland (Edinburgh), Jamaica (Negril), and Mexico (Playa del Carmen).  As short side trips, you can also add visits to England (London), Austria (Vienna), and British Columbia, Canada (Victoria) to the list.

Currently my antenna system consists of a KT36XA (6 el tri-band yagi) at 83 feet (25M), with a Cushcraft 2el 40M yagi above it at 95 feet (29M). For 80 & 160 I currently use inverted vees. Though I enjoy working both CW and SSB, I've been clocked at copying high speed code in my head at speeds of nearly 60 (yes, that is six-zero) words per minute.

Now, 40 years later, I still have the same feeling as I did when I first started this hobby. Contacting far away places without using wires is so amazing, exciting, and, challenging at times. When I first put my fingers to the key in the mid-70's, little did I think that this pastime would affect my life so much. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to make and meet so many friends and see so many places all over the world. If your callsign does not appear in my logbook somewhere yet, I sincerely hope that one day it will.

73! Bob, W9XY