My Start in Ham Radio
I was first licensed in 1994. I’ve kept my original call, N1SNB.
I have to say I am, and always have been, fascinated with the magic of radio. My dad had an old Bearcat scanner that I listened to 2m repeaters and weather broadcasts on. I started riding my bike to RadioShack, where I discovered shortwave radios, and then ham radio licensing guides. They knew me well there, as I’d ride my bike to the store and buy all sorts of components, coax, wire and basically everything under the sun.
To do this day, I still enjoy shortwave listening. However, it should be noted that reputable international broadcasters are on the decline. On any given evening, the most likely SW broadcasters a casual listener will hear are religious programs: China Radio International, Voice of Vietnam, Voice of Russia, and Radio Havana Cuba. Hardly diverse or objective viewpoints. It’s still fun, though, and many big, credible broadcasters are still on the air. Though folks have been predicting the demise of shortwave radio for many years, they’ve been wrong and will continue to be wrong into the foreseeable future. For instance, Alex Jones, a popular American blogger, conspiracy theorist, and host of Info Wars, syndicates his program on shortwave radio stations around the country.
It was as a shortwave listener that I had my first brush with the tough realities of the world. In 1993 (I was 13 years old at the time), as a school project, I presented on shortwave listening at my school. One of the audience members was a Catholic priest from Rwanda. He asked me if I could record Radio Kigali for him on shortwave. I don’t remember the details, but I know I produced a tape for him of one of the station’s evening broadcasts. I don’t remember the details because it was casual and wasn’t really important at the time. Fast-forward a year —1994. The priest called me at home. Adults calling 14-year-olds is always a strange experience. He was very upset and talking quickly. Something was happening in Rwanda. He wanted me to try to listen again and record the broadcast if possible. He told me he was worried about his family. I tried to make another recording but couldn’t tune the station again. I called him and gave him the bad news. At the time, I didn’t really grasp what was going in Rwanda or how desperate he was. I don’t remember the priest’s name, but I can still see his face from the presentation. I know he ended up going back to Rwanda, but again, I don’t know any more. The episode has fueled a life-long interest in sub-Saharan Africa and Rwanda in particular — not to mention my continued interested in radio for nearly 20 years.
I passed my first technician exam and became a ham in June 1994. It was a truly wonderful time. I was just 14 years old. I knew absolutely no one in the hobby at the time, but I loved radios, radio kits, and listening to baseball on the radio. In 1996 the FCC issued me the callsign N1SNB. Out of a sense of identity and nostalgia, I’ve kept that callsign all this time. I’ve looked at Vanity callsigns in the past but could never pull the trigger.
That being said, I know nothing about the technology that actually makes this all work. I feel like Tom Cruise’s character in the NASCAR movie Days of Thunder when Cruise, a rookie driver, confides in Robert Duvall — his cagey, older racing chief — that he, Cruise, just drives the cars and has no idea about what makes them actually work. I drive radios.