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My first ham radio station

my first ham radio station and license

1967 was Canada’s Centennial Year. Like many other Canadians, I visited Expo 67 in Montreal, and undertook a personal Centennial project. My project was to build my first ham radio station.

As a high school student, I was old enough to get a summer job. This meant I could earn money to pay for my first ham radio station. Most new hams start with a receiver. For me, this was an old AR-77 communications receiver, shown above at center right, made by RCA. Actually, mine was a variant called the GR-10. It was manufactured by RCA during WWII for use by the Royal Canadian Air Force. This surplus gear was provided at a reasonable cost by a local ham who wanted to support my adventures. According to Fred Osterman of Universal Radio, RCA built many receivers for military use during the war, and most were provided to England and Russia under the lend-lease program. The GR-10 was a 10 tube receiver, manufactured between 1940-1943. It weighed 49 pounds.

The AR-77 was a general communications receiver. This was great because I could use it for shortwave and ham band listening. If you are interested, you can view the manual here. The big knob and dial on the left side was for tuning the frequency, and the big knob and dial on the right was for band spread or fine tuning. Prior to the 1970’s, most receivers used this sort of arrangement. Calibration was approximate and at best, you could read your tuned frequency to the nearest 5 kHz. Controls included volume, gain, B.F.O. and noise limited. On the left side there were controls for a crystal phasing filter. This let you adjust the bandwidth to wide for AM, medium for SSB or narrow for CW (Morse code.) Selectivity and sensitivity were actually pretty good. This was a great choice for my first ham radio station.  The original price was $139. This would be equivalent to about $2,000 today, which would buy you a pretty good communications receiver or two.

Next, the transmitter. I was thrilled to buy a Johnson Viking Ranger (lower right) at a Winnipeg Amateur Radio Club auction that spring. You can see one in action here. It put out around 50 watts of power using the venerable 6146 tube. (This family of power tubes was probably the most popular transmitting tube for many years, and you can still buy them today.) It was manufactured between 1954-1961 and weighed 45 pounds and sold for around $3000 in today’s dollars.

Time to actually use my first ham radio station

Now that the station was ready, the license was a must. With a bit of studying and practice, my first amateur radio license was issued in August, 1967. As I recall, the test included sending and receiving Morse code at 10 words per minute, a written test about regulations, and an interview that required explaining basic radio circuits to the examiner.

My first ham radio station was not very successful. Most of my contacts were in North America. But, I wanted to talk to the world. Why did so few people answer my calls? Simple. I had a lousy antenna. At the time, my parents were renting rooms on the second floor of a small house. I could not put up an outside antenna. Also, I did not know much about antennas. So the antenna for my first ham radio station was a small wire dipole taped to the ceiling in my bedroom. Also, it was bent around the room to make it fit. This antenna did a poor job transmitting my signal. But it did a great job of interfering with our television set as well as the landlord’s, whose rabbit ears were just a few feet away. My hobby was not appreciated very much.

But I had my license and I was on the air. We also had a ham radio club station at high school with a real outdoor antenna. Everyone has to start somewhere. So, my first ham radio station prepared me for the future of the hobby.

P.S. You might have noticed the March 1968 endorsement on the top left corner of my original license above. Canadian hams back then were only allowed to use Morse code until they achieved some on-air experience. After six months, you could take your log book to the examiner. If it showed you hade been sufficiently active, you obtained an “endorsement” will allowed you some limited voice activities. To get full use of voice communications, you had to get your Advanced Amateur license, which I did the following year.


  1. Mary Lou says:

    Hi John, My father passed away and left me an RCA AR-77 identical to the one shown above. I need to take it on a flight to a family friend but need to decrease the weight by taking off the hinged cover. Do you have any idea how to get the cover off of it? Is it a pin I have to hammer out of the hinge? Thanks for any suggestion! Mary Lou

    • John VE6EY says:

      Hi Mary Lou, thanks for asking. Boy, it has been 48 years since I had that receiver. Two ideas. First, wrap it in bubble wrap and ship it separately in sturdy cardboard box. Every time I have tried to take radio equipment in luggage it has been damaged. Second, if you insist on the luggage approach, it should be straightforward to remove the chassis from the case. Basically you have to remove the knobs and some screws. If you download the AR77 manual (http://www.radiomuseum.co.uk/RCA%20AR-77%20Manual%202.pdf) you will find the instructions for removing the chassis on page 7 under RACK PANEL MOUNTING OF RECEIVER. Hope this helps.

      • Mary Lou says:

        Thank you John, I will give it a try tonight! My dad was a shortwave radio operator in WWII-he was only 18 years old. I’m not sure where he got this from but it’s been around a very long time.

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