Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Novice Rig Round - Up!

A Short Explanation of Novice Rig Round-Up.  

Well . . . maybe not so short. Many years ago, a hang-glider enthusiast and I were talking about his gliding experiences.  "What was your most thrilling ride?" I asked.  "Oh! My first ten feet off the ground." He continued on to relate that since then, his goal has been more or less, to recapture the thrill  that first ten feet.  That's what we are doing with Novice Rig Round-up.  Recapturing the magic and thrill of our own "first ten feet".

For many of us, that "first ten feet off the ground" was accomplished with a war surplus tube, a block of wood, a boy scout telegraph key and dad's shortwave receiver, or home made regenerative handbook "Novice Receiver", and a lot of bailing wire strung in the trees.  For others of us, it was when we fired up that Heathkit that took about two weeks to screw, bolt, and solder together, possibly, then after a spell of trouble-shooting to find that missing solder joint.  Finally, it worked! Finally it lit up! And then the Magic happened.

Some of us were Novices in another era, where the crystal was no longer requisite, and plate input power climbed to two hundred watts.  That was my era, 1977.  Nonetheless,  novices like me, with chronically limited budgets, continued to build our rigs from what we could find, swap, or get at the Milsurp store. Our receivers may have been a fifty-dollar SP-600, practically given away at the local hamfest as our upper classmen were doing everything they could to dump their "Boat Anchors" (a term that was originally a pejorative),  in favour of the new transceivers coming from out of Japan, the Yaesus and the Trio Kenwoods.  Or this upstart company out of Tennessee, Tennessee Technical, or "Ten Tec".  Despite the cast-off ancient 1950s tonnage considered "junk" by most, he Magic was no less amazing. 

Just as an aside, I had a hard time selling my friend's Hammarlund HQ-180, new, still with the box, for seventy-five dollars because I couldn't find the manual.  This was 1980!  My 1978 Novice Stations sported an HQ-140/ Speaker, mint, a Johnson Ranger, a KW matchbox, a custom rack with fold out table.  It was sold to my by WN4TJZ who just upgraded to General.  I bought it all for fifty bucks. It was really too much for this simpleton.  I sold it all again for fifty bucks. That was the world of 1970s Ham Radio!  But I digress....

Still, some experienced their "first ten feet off the ground" with a Kenwood TS-520, now a classic in equal standing with any National or Hallicrafter.  Or a kind member of the Fox Tango club may have made an early model FT-101 available to them.  Or a Tempo One may have turned up courtesy a local CBer! All these rigs are somebody's first rig, and enabled there "first ten feet off the ground".

Novice Rig Round Up celebrates all these things.  It celebrates and focuses on the recollection of our first Novice Steps.  It seeks to conjure back what was the awe and mystery of Radio that each of us experienced in our earliest days in Radio.  It celebrates those simpler technologies and simpler approaches that made it all possible. Whether a DX-60B or an Icom 760, the commonality lies with YOU, the Novice, moreso than the rig.   

Indeed, the classic so-named "Novice Rig" is Iconic.  As such, when referring to a  "Novice Rig", it is those crystal  controlled transmitters specially built for the Novice, 1950 - 1975 that we use for event scoring purposes. Included are those rigs such as the Johnson Ranger, which had provision for Novice operation.  But there are other Novice Classics as well.  Like the Kenwood TS-520.  The Ten Tec Century 21.  The Tempo One, all legal for use by novices after 1975.

As novices, we were obviously "code-only", which we think appeals to the simple dynamic of NRR.  As  such we have many SKCC and FISTS members among us.

At this point we do not have formal membership, only participation in the one event we sponsor, from which we get our name Novice Rig Round-Up.

A Little Background:
Novice Rig Round-Up began as a conversation had between myself (WD4NKA) and Bry (AF4K).  Both of us are SKCC members, and having just participated in one of the Week End Sprints (WES), we talked about how well my DSB-100 and his Knight Kit did, and how much fun it might have been to have some sort of WES just for us back when we were Novices!  The conversation roamed far and wide, touching on Boat Anchors, vintage keys, SKCC and FIST, minimalist rigs that we used to build as Novices, and how exciting these old rigs were, how magic they seemed.  

So, where did that magic go?  What happened to all that excitement?  Why have these incredible specimens of 1940s, 50s and 60s become "Old Hat"?  Was it because the mystery had gone away as we came to learn and understand more?  Or was it because some quantum change occurred to make it go away?  No, not really.  Forty meters is pretty much still forty meters, only instead of a Russian Woodpecker or the Diathermy machines causing QRM, we have re-allocated digital signals in what used to be the Novice Sandbox.  But there is still room, there are still folks on the air, there is still propagation, even when the bands are supposedly 'dead'.

Maybe it's because we so increased the level of our personal technology that those simpler times, along with those simpler rigs, just . . . got buried in the "stuff".  Maybe it's because we just "moved on".  Or both. 

Well, maybe it's time to "move back"!  At least, for a while.

We concluded that just maybe one of the keys to that "Novice Magic" lie in the non-complication of our Radio World.  Although there are several large groups and organizations that focus on old rigs, like the AWA or dozens of Boat Anchor groups and AM groups, no one seemed to focus on the simple Novice technologies such as the HT-40 or the DX-60 or the "Novice Specials", those project rigs that populated the Handbooks of the 1950s.  Wouldn't it be great to get a bunch of these rigs on the air, kick back, and do some Novice-style slow-code with each other?  Just to relax and remember?  To recall those clear winter nights when you just knew your inverted vee would get your 50 watt signal into KL7 land on 80m via the Ether?  To recall when a regular conversation could qualify you for the Rag Chewer's Club?  

Bry and I decided to find if there might be shared interest in this concept.  Why not plan an event to celebrate our first rigs, whatever that might be?  We knew that "Novice Rig" could mean a xtal homebrew 6V6G rig and Regen, all the way up to a TS-580, or more.  "Novice Era" spanned about forty years with three or four major regulatory changes, and then there were technology changes, so just what constitutes a "Novice Rig" could be anything from the 1930s, up well into the 1990s!  Therefore, for such an event, it wouldn't do to place limits on who could operate or what sort of rig they could use.  However, this being an event, and since the term "Novice Rig" applies, in the main, to those rigs designed specifically for the Novice Class License as it was for many years, for Event purposes we thought it might be fun to have a simple scoring system just to tally, if for no other reason than just sheer operator curiosity, just how many Classic Novice Rigs one might have managed to contact during what would come to be a week long event.  Ergo the tradition we now have of scoring based on the rig you contact.  For Event purposes, higher scores are awarded for certain types of rigs dating to the "xtal/ 75 watt" novice era.  Higher scores if your correspondent is operating via xtal control, or/ and is under a certain power level.

Since we chose to try out a Novice Centric event using an easy, non aggressive contest approach, I thought it might do to offer a Certificate of  Participation as well.  Since our focus is on participation, and not tallying up huge score numbers, I wanted to make these certificates reflect this.  I own a Letterpress Shop, so why not make these certificates a hand-printed affair to reflect the "hands-on nature" of early Classic Novice operation?  So, I printed our first awards in the same manner, and on the same type of paper that Ivy League Colleges employ for their Degree / Diploma documents.  A very high end paper, metal dies, linseed oil based inks, and the ancient iron platen press.   Each Certificate carries the same level of work that I employ for my clients who pay to the tune of about twenty bucks for such impressions.  It would be worth the effort and material cost investment . . . if others shared the enthusiasm.

We put the word out on SKCC and the various Yahoo Groups Bry and myself were party to.  We set up a FaceBook page to help communicate our vision and to share it.  Bry put up a web-site to post necessary information.   We set a date for the second week of February, 2015.  We put it all out there, both on the Web and on the air.  And indeed, we did find quite a number of hams who quite latched onto the idea.  Soon, before we knew it, our FaceBook page crossed the 500-member mark.  Discussion was prolific.  Lots of web activity.  Lot's of "buy in".

The first NRR event seemed quite successful, although nowhere near 500 people participated, but we did have enough participation during the week to encourage a furtherance, a continuance to this effort.  The FB page continued to grow.  Awareness was beginning to mount.  Rigs were being restored or built in anticipation of NRR 2016. 

This past February, NRR 2016 came . . . and went.  We are still counting the logs sent in as I write this.  I have the certificates ready to label for the participant.  We have much needed and appreciated volunteers to help, it's not just Bry and Myself now (whew!).  Participation during NRR was robust,  we are soon to find out if more log books were sent in than last year.  We are growing.  Lot's of folks are engaged and talking about NRR on the air and on the Web.  Perhaps more than just a few Hams enjoy getting their Novice On, and Recapturing the Magic of those more simple days, with the more simple, yet very classic . . . at least to us . . . Novice Rigs.  Whatever rig that may be!

de -gary // wd4nka.  NRR co-founder and itinerant letterpress printer.