In high school, I was very interested in science and electronics and seemed to always be wondering how things worked. I remember having an electronics kit which allowed me to create a crystal radio. That was my first introduction to radio. It would be many years before I looked into it again...
By the early 80's, I had left college and started working in electronics and enjoyed it, but wanted to know more. I was given an opportunity to work in the relatively new field of commercial computers. Although I had taken a programming class in high school (on a Wang 2200!), I hadn't thought about it or touched one since then. I jumped at the opportunity and before you know it, I was living and working in NYC in the financial services industry in Information Technology. I loved it and I learned a lot. I always wanted to know more and that drive helped me to succeed.
Fast forward to the early 2000's and my interest in amateur radio was piqued again (I don't remember what started it, it was always in the back of my mind). I attended a couple of sessions with an area radio club and participated in setup for that club on Field Day, but I never got to actually see a radio operate. There seemed to be a lot of heated discussions in that particular club and the friction turned me off...In spite of having bought all of the books to get my license and learn about radio, I set it aside for another day.
I moved to Redding in 2010, out into the country - lots of woods and trees, which I love. The first winter season was a bear - tons of snow (I've got 2 4x4s thank goodness) but everything held together. It wasn't until late 2011 when the SHTF and I was without power for a week. No lights, no water (I had some stored, luckily) and worst of all - no communications. I didn't know what was going on and it made me realize that if I wanted to continue to live in the country, I needed some other way to communicate that would be reliable, no matter what. Amateur radio came back to mind, and I pulled out the books and started to refresh my memory.
I reached out in early 2012 to a local club I found online and was contacted by Jim R. (KD1YV) who suggested I look into CARA as they offered classes and one was starting up in April. I didn't attend CARA meetings (I wasn't sure at the time that I really wanted to go into another club) but I did get contacted by Harlan (W1QH) who confirmed my membership in the class. I was all set to go.
The class was a lot of fun and I learned a lot and enjoyed myself immensely. The classroom sessions frequently discussed additional materials and it was great having experience Hams come in to talk about how they used radio and what got them started. I remember in one of the first classes, Harlan mentioned that 'some people' do take all three license exams and get their Amateur Extra license in one shot. Something in my head went 'click' and I decided that I would give it my best, but keep my mouth shut about it, just in case ;-).
When class was done, I continued to study. I had been studying nightly for a few weeks, but I really didn't feel confident yet. My history in electronics helped me a little, but when I got to the Extra materials it was way over my head. I spent hours studying, researching online and taking the tests - I must have taken them all together over a hundred times. Math and I don't get along, but I had even broke down and got a calculator which allowed me to calculate phase angles, resonant frequencies and such - and I memorized most of the equations. A few days before the test, I took some time off from work and basically studied. Even the morning of the license exam, I got up early and studied for hours. The tests came, the rest was history. I walked out of that session with my Amateur Extra and my brain felt like a soggy noodle, but I was pretty happy that I achieved what I had set my sights on and for Harlan (W1QH) giving me the inspiration.
Since then, I've done a lot of reading and exploring. I've got a radio co-hort now with Anthony (KB1YNB) - we took the class together and have spend many hours on learning about radios, making our own 20m antenna, learning how to use that danged PowerPole crimper (he's much better at it than I am) and just sharing information and ideas. My experience with computers has lead me in the direction of digital modes, and I've hooked up with Sander (W1SOP) to learn some more and exchange messages and do some testing and I hope to do more.
As far as operating, I've done a fair amount of HF and spent a great deal of time just listening and learning. My first rig was an Icom 756PROIII which Dan (W1QK) and Harlan (W1QH) helped me test. I've set myself up at home with 2 G5RV antennas at 90 degree angles and a discone antenna that covers the higher frequencies. I've got 7+ trees in my yard setup with galvanized pulley tackle and dacron rope so I can change things out as time goes on. I've talked with a few people around the world and have slowly picked up a few contacts for my log. With digital, I'm running FLDIGI and Chirp under Ubuntu and with VirtualBox I've got Ham Radio Deluxe, RMS Express, QForms, AirMail. I just sent my first e-mail via radio a few weeks ago - something I want to do more of soon.
I became a member of CARA soon after getting my license and found that there is a unique camaraderie amongst the members - people really go out of their way to help each other and everybody gets along well - something I really enjoy. I also volunteered to manage the CARA website, something from my computing knowledge that I can share with and give back to other members. I periodically participate in the weekly CARA net conducted by Bill (N1TIW) - it's great to stay in touch with people and learn some new things outside of the regular monthly meetings. I also attended Boxboro with Harlan (W1QH) and met a bunch of CARA members up there (as well as bought a bunch of goodies for my setup at home).
As far as my original reasons for getting into Ham Radio? Recently, we had another storm which dumped 2' of snow in my area. While the power didn't go out, I was safe and kept in touch at home, listening to the SkyWarn nets conducted by Roger (NG1R) and hearing other members give reports. I feel connected and I'm really enjoying myself - I've gotten much more out of Ham Radio and CARA than I ever expected - Thanks to everyone for making my experience so enjoyable.
If you're a newbie or even unlicensed, don't hesitate - It's definitely worth the effort.
73 - AB1RJ