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Heathkit Apache TransmitterIn the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, when I was a teenager, building electronic kits from Heathkit was my favorite hobby (see Anyone Remember Heathkits?). During the Heathkit era which lasted from the late 1940’s through the mid 1980’s, it was possible to build a wide range of things from hi-fi/stereo and ham radio to computers, radio control, and home electronics. Heathkits were first marketed by mail-order, with advertisements appearing in electronics and amateur radio publications such as Popular Electronics, Radio Electronics, CQ and QST (the monthly membership journal of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). I eagerly awaited the next issue of these magazines to see if Heath had introduced any new kits. Even more exciting was the arrival of a new Heathkit catalog. The largest kit I ever built was the TX-1 “Apache” Ham Transmitter (see picture above). It had 1,600+ parts in it and I was quite proud to have built it. I kept the Apache for more than 40 years, mostly on a shelf in my basement, but the time finally came in 2013 to put it to rest at the local recycling center.

Terminology (Q Codes)

Although I still have a latent interest Ham Radio, I was most actively involved in this technology as a teenager – chatting with people far away (DXing), experimenting with antenna designs and QRP (operation at reduced power levels), and collecting QSL cards (written verifications in the form of postcards which confirmed contact between other amateur radio operators and myself) from people I talked to on the radio. This was great fun and allowed me to meet people from all walks of life and parts of the world that I had not ever been to.
From the mid ’50s to early ’60s, while living in Salem, New Jersey I was able to collect (and send) hundreds of QSL cards from other operators while making two-way radio contact with distant stations. I initially started collecting these cards in order to participate in the many certificate programs available to amateurs at the time – collecting these cards and saving them was proof that I needed in order to support my claim to the many awards that were available to DXers.
Two examples of QSL cards are shown below. The card on the left is my card which I sent to other ham operators to confirm our contact. It shows my call station which was WA2ECU. The card below it is one I received from an operator in the United Kingdom.

Other than the station codes there are other points worth mentioning about QSL cards.

  • They request the other party send a QSL (card) in return.
  • They have a spot for minimal contact info such as date/time known as QSO.
  • They usually have standard fields for the Receiver used (eg. a DX302), the Antenna used (eg. half wave dipole), the Transmitter used (eg. a GE EF-120), and Remarks.
My QSL Card
My QSL Card (Click to enlarge)
A QSL Card that I received from Middlesex, England
QSL Card from U.K. (Click to enlarge)

☛ An extensive collection of QSL cards I received from other ham enthusiasts may also be viewed in an iCloud shared photo album.

So, Where is Amateur Radio Today?

Ham radio as a hobby for youth may not be as relevant now as technology has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. The good news though is that Ham radio still lives on for many reasons – including HF contest participation (despite degraded propagation conditions), and emergency communication to name just two. There are also more manufacturers bringing out more rigs than ever before; frequency allocations devoted to ham radio cover more spectrum that at any time in history. Some governments have been allocating more frequency bands to hams. In short, the hobby is flourishing.

The Future of Amateur Radio

The birth of amateur radio as a hobby was a function of the growth of radio frequency (RF) technology. The same could be said for Twitter and other social networking relative to the growth of Internet technologies. Young people (we were once young people) are attracted to what is new; this has never changed. Amateur radio will transition as every other hobby eventually does. This isn’t bad — it simply is just the way it is.