Thornhill learns new hobby

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I guess that means I’m not old yet, so that’s a plus. I

managed to learn a new trick or three, and voila, I have yet another new hobby.

It all started when I decided to get certified as a storm spotter. I did all of my research, took my test and now I’m a little red-verified dot on the spotter map. While registering, I noticed that there was a space for my radio callsign (if any), and most of the other spotters did indeed have a callsign. Now, I’m not a stranger to amateur radio. My brother has been tinkering with radios since about the time I was born, and some of my earliest memories are of the Heathkit radios on his desk and the antenna off the back porch that I was never supposed to touch. Then my friend Marcy mentioned that a Ham (amateur radio operator) could really help the county out in emergencies. Well sure, I thought. Why not? It could be fun, driving around looking for rotation in the clouds, transmitting my location and sightings in real time over the radio waves. I bought a study guide for the Technician level test and jumped right in.

Or I didn’t. I’m not kidding, people, the first read through that book was like trying to read War and Peace in Russian. It was full of a bunch of things that I never thought I wanted to know, with a bunch of rules and safety stuff mixed in. Yuck. I finally had to get a grip on myself and figure out that if I wanted that cool mobile radio, I was going to have to absorb this stuff whether I liked it or not.

Oddly enough, after about the third turn through the book, armed with a highlighter and some online practice tests, I started understanding some of the whats and the whys. I’ve always loved science but tended more towards biology and chemistry than electronics and physics, but hey, it was working. Istarted scoring better and better on the practice tests and scheduled my test for the Hamfest in Wichita on Oct. 1. My big brother (who is also my Elmer—that’s a mentor to us Hams) suggested that if I was understanding the Technician level material well enough, I could study for the General level test too. After all, on test day, you can always take the next test up and see how you do. “Why not?” I thought and ordered the General study guide.

Friends, you all know how easy it is to get cocky. That Tech study guide was teeny, about 8×5 and under a hundred pages. The General manual showed up the size of a phone book (at least for a small city). Yikes.

By now, if you know me, you know that the quickest way to get me to do something is tell me I can’t. I’ll do it twice and take pictures. The sheer magnitude of the tome felt like a challenge, so I dove into it too.

This time, it took a little longer, but I got through it and started scoring about 85% on my practice tests.

I still had about a month to go before test day. “You could go ahead and study for Extra,” said my brother. “I’ll even test with you.” (He’s been an Advanced class for so long, they discontinued new

applicants. Now it’s just Technician, General, and Extra. Advanced was just under Extra.) “Why not,” I said, and ordered the study guide.

This one didn’t look so daunting until I started reading. It wasn’t large, but it packed a punch. I spent hours everyday reading, highlighting and quizzing. My brain turned to mush, reconstituted itself, then reverted to mush several times. Slowly but surely, the material began to sink in, and I discovered a newfound talent for inventing mnemonic devices. There would be fifty questions on this one (instead of thirty-five like the others), but there wasn’t any more room for error. I knew I was ready when the practice tests for Extra started hitting the 90% mark.

Test day dawned bright and beautiful. We all went into a side room, received our tests, and began. I had joked with Darling Hubby that if they’d just use the questions I knew the answers to, it would be a breeze. Lo and behold, it looked like they’d done just that! I whipped through the Technician test and raised my hand for the General. This one was a little tougher, but I still felt pretty confident. The hardest part was not second-guessing myself on some of the answers. With a deep breath, I raised my hand for the Extra. I almost laughed in relief. I knew this stuff! When they told me I passed all three, I grinned from ear to ear. (Big Bro passed too, by the way.)

Soon enough, I procured a well-used HF rig and a mobile rig as well. After a few days, my callsign came through (AE0SH), and Big Bro helped me rig a dipole antenna in my front yard. I made my first contacts, and I’m definitely hooked. I can even knit at the same time. There’s still so much to learn, but I guess since I’m not old yet, there’s time.

May you always find something new and fascinating to learn—after all, why not? You’re not old as long as you’re learning!

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