A Little History

Note:  In January 2016, I pulled the plug on my West Virginia station after 20 good years, in order to move to Baltimore so that my wife could get frequent treatment at Johns Hopkins hospital.  By mid-summer, W2GD had taken the tower down, and by November, I had sold the tower and virtually everything associated with it.  I’m leaving this up, mainly for its (putative) nostalgia value.  I have yet to put up any transmitting antennas at my new MD QTH, though I’m getting close.  So…

I've been a ham since 1954, when I was in 7th grade.  I recently found my first logbook, and verified that my first contest QSOs were in Sweepstakes, on September 21, 1954.  During my high school years, indulgent parents let me put a 20-meter quad on the roof of their house, but after I went away to college, it soon came down.  I never thought I wouldn't have a real antenna again until 1995!  

The problem was a common one -- the requirements of work and family dictated that we live in a series of places ill-fitted to ham radio.  In Hong Kong, our first foreign service assignment, we lived in an apartment house.  This was before the reciprocal operating agreement with Great Britain was extended to the remaining colonies.  After that, we moved to Seoul, where a ham call was available (HL9TM), but the Embassy apartment building would only accommodate a 20-meter dipole.

In 1968, we moved to Taiwan, only to discover that the operating privileges of the U.S. resident hams had been withdrawn two years earlier.  Since we were there officially, the Embassy tried hard to get operating privileges, but to no avail.

From 1970 to 1972, we lived in a garden apartment in Reston, Virginia, where the only antenna I could manage was a Hustler mobile whip, angled upward at 45 degrees from the railing on our balcony.  A chain-link fence stood 10 feet from the tip of the antenna, and the railing itself was about 5 feet below the mean local ground level.  At a sunspot maximum, it worked surprisingly well.

After a final Taiwan tour (still no operating permission), we came home to stay -- in this case, to a townhouse in Reston, ostensibly with no outside antennas permitted.  That led to a series of stealth antennas, beginning with a wire inverted vee and ending with a full-wave 80-meter loop nested in the trees behind our house, plus a Cushcraft R-5.  Oddly enough, I got caught by the homeowners' association because of the R-5, but they never did catch the loop...

I did a lot of contesting, mostly domestic, with the stealth antennas and relatively low power -- never more than 400 watts.  A number of section wins in SS and a low-power Division win were the high points.  On one business trip in Africa, in the spring of 1977, I carried a transceiver and an 18AVT vertical to Zambia, Malawi and Mauritius.  Only the latter would let me operate (as 3B8DT), but I was happy with my one-weekend DXpedition in the ARRL CW DX Contest (it ran for 2 weekends in each mode then).

In 1977, I joined the Potomac Valley Radio Club, and remain an active member to this day.  

In 1994, shortly before I retired from NASA, we started searching for a farmhouse in the far suburbs of Washington, D.C.  The plan was that we'd spend 18 months looking.  To our surprise, we found our current house on the second weekend.  It has enough land for a respectable tower, and a lot of old-farmhouse charm.

I can't begin to explain just what a treat it is, for once, to have antennas that act like the textbooks say they should, and work well.  I added a linear to my station in 1996 (an old SB-220), and have been rewarded with a top-20 finish in the CQWW CW DX contest, as well as comparably better results in CW SS, the ARRL CW DX Contest and the CW WPX.

Follow this link if you want more info on the station here.