My interest in radio began early although I can’t say I remember much about radios until I vividly recall trying to find the Russian Sputnik satellite on our broadcast radio (pictured) in 1957. Of course my patient endevours were bound to fail as Sputnik broadcast somewhere around 20.007MHz (http://www.amsat.org), well beyond the capabilities of the simple AM broadcast only radio I was using.
Apparently however, my mother had discovered me a couple of years earlier at about age 7, out in the garden using flowers as radio knobs, tweaking them backwards and forwards, making high pitched squealing noises and concentrating intently on getting just the right sounds. I must have been watching and listening to the shortwave radio my grandfather had but I don’t remember that far back. My grandfather had bought a new radio in about 1938/39 and my father used to recount coming home from school on the train and seeing the newly erected poles for the antenna and instantly recognising that there was now a radio in the house. It was quite an event from all accounts and these stories must have started me down the radio path.
At about that time I used to go to the Pukerau School on the bus each day and past the home of ZL4IM. I was always fascinated by a small building in the garden surrounded by wires and what was I now realise, a 3 element 15 metre Yagi. My father knew John as I think they had gone to school together but he could not tell me much about what John was up to in his garden. Years later John became a good friend and mentor and he is still on the bands, as far as I know.
A year or two later, about 1959, I raised a calf and sold it, using the profit to buy a blue Bell Colt radio (which I still have). This was a magical device for me. To be able to tune around and listen to voices and music coming from all over New Zealand, well, it was a real contact with the world for a small country boy who was by himself most of the time. Then I discovered that later in the evenings the Australian broadcast stations could start to be heard. Australia! Imagine that! I was quite excited but my interest was not understood by my school mates who, I think, thought it was a bit odd to try and listen to Australia when the New Zealand stations were clearer and had the programs that they all followed. However I didn’t give up and started to hear foreign languages.. the Pacific Islands could be heard as well! I strung up wires around my room and out through the window and each time things improved. This was real school-boy stuff.. I had no idea of what I was actually doing but just experimenting. Then came the night I could hear an American broadcast station! Now this was really starting to get me interested! It turned out to be “Radio Sacramento” but a little Google research now tells me it could have one a number of stations and I can’t remember the call. It was quite strong and very clear.. away from any NZ stations and I was able to listen quite comfortably to it for a couple of hours, until the Australian stations started to intrude as propagation shifted and sunrise came to California.
Well, for some reason, my interest waned after that. Starting High School, new friends, new interests and the pressures of becoming a teenager I guess! However a few years later when I was quite sick with some ‘flu or other I was forced to stay indoors for a week or two. Somehow I had acquired an old 1930’s or 1940’s radio that had shortwave bands on it and I started listening around and experimenting with bits of wire and probably a book or two from the library. I don’t really recall.. but this time I started pulling the radio to bits to see what made it tick, fixing things I broke trying to “improve” it and gradually starting understand a little about things like shortwave broadcast stations, frequencies, static and eventually AM amateur radio and CW. SSB was a mystery for a few weeks but I started to resolve that (literally and figuratively) with the use of another radio close by acting as a BFO. It was all hit and miss but the more I discovered the more I played around.
Eventually, in 1969, my mother comes into the story again as she arranged for me to go along to the local ham radio club which, as luck would have it, was being held at John ZL4IM’s place just down the road. I was a bit awestruck by the assembled group but there was a younger guy, just a year or two older than me that was at the local branch meeting for the first time as well. Trevor (ex ZL3ABZ) was from Ashburton and had recently moved to Gore to work for a local radio and TV business (SK Roy ZL4JL). Well, Trevor took me under his wing and within a year or so I was well on my way. I sat the examinations for my amateur radio licence in 1970 then studied Morse Code for a few more months until in July 1971 I finally had my full licence! That’s when I discovered that I really did not know very much about radio at all!