While recalling my Novice days in the 1970s for the 3 part post recently appearing here, my recent reboot of my novice equipment, and thinking about the current new ham experience, I had a thought. More hams should acquire and operate a novice type station. Whether you were a novice once, or are a more recent ham, you might be surprised how fun it might be.
There is tons of vintage ham gear for sale. On eBay, QRZ.com, and in hundreds of hamfest flea markets that occur all around the country. Some hams have tons of old gear, and often it needs to be sold off for various reasons. Is this equipment outdated, needs maintenance, or restoring? Probably, but this just adds to the fun (usually).
Many new hams start off these days with a $35 Baofeng HT. And that is where it ends for many. But there is no reason newer hams can’t buy some vintage equipment and have a experience similar to what a novice had in the 50s, 60s or 70s. The biggest deterrent for some people would likely be that the mode would be usually CW. There is a reason that for tens of thousands of hams CW is their favorite mode. Why not get in on the fun? You might find that CW could be your favorite mode.
Obviously, the novice license is no more (except for a small numbered of grandfathered ones), but one could replicate the novice experience by learning the code, finding some restorable equipment at a hamfest, and getting on the air.
Once the code is learned, finding some nice vintage equipment will just add to the enjoyment. You could start with a 1970s transceiver, but I’d go for some typical novice equipment from the day. Hallicrafters, Hammarlund, Heathkit, Drake, Eico, Knight-Kit, National, E.F. Johnson, Ameco and many others. Most all of these are discreet components and all hand-wired, maybe a few PCBs here and there. They are usually easy to work on. It kind of forces you to learn some things about how radios work, especially ones based on vacuum tube technology.
Todays equipment is far advanced, with all kinds of bells and whistles, loads of menu settings, and a warranty. In terms of relative cost, equipment today is actually cheaper in most cases. But if you like the idea of working on your equipment, understanding how it works, and having some impact on making it work, that is more likely to happen with some older gear.
These were sold very cheap maybe 20 years ago, but demand has risen since then, but you can still find deals. Prices tend to be better at hamfests, but on eBay you will pay top dollar. Still, a fraction of a current transceiver.
Yes, solid state projects and kits can be found today that can duplicate the experience, and I certainly would encourage that, but working on and operating vintage equipment is just another of the many facets of ham radio.
There are a lot of groups promoting CW use, slow speed groups, straight key use, and others. The Straight Key Century Club or SKCC. There is a Novice Rig Roundup group, harkening back to the popular ARRL Novice Roundup operating event back in the day. They promote activity with this old gear. You can find other CW related groups on web sites, just search around. Set some goals, Worked All States on CW. Increase your speed. I wouldn’t say learning CW is easy, but I taught myself the code using an ARRL book, a Heathkit code practice oscillator and a mostly plastic key, and a receiver for listening to ARRL Code practice. Then I had to take a test in front of a experienced ham or drive to Buffalo to a FCC office and copy at least 1 straight minute out of 5 minutes correctly. Today there are DVDs, websites, PC programs, smart phone apps, and Zoom practice sessions with mentors (see https://longislandcwclub.org). You don’t have to be perfect, just good enough to get going, then the skill will come. No tests required, just your own confidence.