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Letter: Ham Radio, a Gateway to Broadcast Engineering

“As a kid, I was really into music and where did music come from, why, the radio, where else. So I was addicted to AM radio.”

I really appreciated the article from Mark Persons on amateur radio (“Alike, but Not Alike: Broadcast vs. Ham Radio”).

Unfortunately, as Mark mentioned, with cell phones and the internet, the youth of today can’t be bothered with amateur radio and that poses a problem to get new broadcast engineers. As a kid, I was really into music and where did music come from, why, the radio, where else. So I was addicted to AM radio.

While my parents watched television, I sat in a different room listening to radio, DXing the AM dial and the shortwave bands on an old Zenith chassis with its 12-inch electromagnetic speaker and its metal 6F6 output stage that burned the skin off my forearms more than once.

The good thing is that most of the hams at that time used AM so I could listen to them without the luxury of a BFO that the Zenith didn’t have. So after listening for years, I got the old Ameco study guide and a key from Olson Radio and went about getting a novice license in 1961. Had a lot of fun with a homebrew single 6L6 running off an old TV power transformer and 5U4.

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When I got a “real” license I added another 6L6 and a 12AX7 and made an AM rig, wow, a Heizing choke and downward modulation on 40 all the way.

Well, that led to a First Phone license when I turned 16 and wound up as Chief Engineer of a commercial classical station after the Chief passed away on Christmas morning. Sure the transmitter was a lot bigger and a lot more sophisticated than the 6L6 rig but from the years of building ham transmitters, receivers, and antennas, walking into a broadcast station was not a shock (pardon the pun).

I think there are two things that make a great broadcast engineer, one is a background as a ham and second an appreciation for music as it trains your ears to good audio. I still have my ham license and operate regularly as does my wife. The old 6L6s are gone but still operate with some homebrew gear and a Collins S line; no solid-state gear here.

I am pushing 73 now and if I was 10, I would have followed the same path as I did knowing what I know now.

Ron Schacht

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