The Early Years
I always had a deep interest in science and technology as a kid. In high school, I aggressively pursued my interest in electronics. I dabbled in CB radio before it became the huge craze of the 1970s. When that happened, I abandoned it and never looked back. This did give me the early seeds of interest in amateur radio, however.
I enrolled in the electronics program at the Carbon County Vo-Tech school in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. My teacher was Al Breiner, W3TI. Al was a die-hard ham and he took several of us under his wing as our "Elmer" (amateur radio mentor). He taught us a lot about electronics, radio and the rules, and administered the Novice license exam to a few of us. I passed! I received my call KA3AFZ in 1977. My original license has long been missing, so I don't know the exact date. Al passed away in early 2009 at the age of 88. He lived a long and fruitful life in amateur radio and made a big difference in so many of us. I thank Al for getting me started with all of this!
After graduating high school, I spent the summer working the typical teenager summer job, but I spent my spare time assembling the new Heathkit HW-101 I bought with the money I received from my graduation party (Mom and Dad kicked in the extra bucks I needed!). I had a LOT of fun building it and then listening to all the action. I didn't transmit with it until 1992, but that's later in the story.
I upgraded to Technician and received the call N3BDA in 1979. I didn't make a single on-air QSO as KA3AFZ and only some 2m FM QSOs during this early phase of N3BDA. Once real life kicked into gear, ham radio took a back seat. I kept my license active and made the very sporadic 2m QSO, but the fire inside was just dormant, not dead.
In 1991, my wife and I bought a new home in a nice, sparsely populated development in the woods outside of Palmerton, PA. After we moved in, I noticed that on every approach to the development, we went uphill. I got thinking about the possibilities for radio. I needed some topographic maps!
This was before the Internet and Google Earth (one of my favorite toys), so you had to go to the local outdoor adventure shop where the hard-core hikers, bikers, campers, and other hardy types went to shop. I bought the right USGS quadrangle map and there it was, a beautiful hilltop QTH and my place was smack on top of it! It was time to resurrect the ham radio passion inside!
Over the next two years, I slowly got back into the swing of things. I strung up an 80m dipole in the trees at all of 30 feet high and fed it with ladder line to my old Dentron antenna tuner. I dusted off the HW-101 and fried a resistor a few days later. I never discovered the root cause, but I replaced it and it was fine ever since. I had to learn the code all over again, so it was a long time before I finally mustered the courage to make my first HF QSO.
On December 16, 1992, I heard N1MFX calling CQ on 80m, with a nice S-L-O-W speed. It was just the right speed for this slow-poke. My fingers nervously gripped the bargain straight key and I tapped out dahdit didididahdah dahdididit dahdidit didah. I was so nervous that my legs went all tingly on me. Then ... oh no! He heard me and was returning to me! I nearly went into cardiac arrest! We exchanged the usual pleasantries and ten minutes later I had to sign off because I nearly couldn't breathe from the nerves. About 15 years after getting licensed, I finally made my first HF QSO!
This near-traumatic experience REALLY got my blood pumping. I couldn't wait to tell my wife, who was happy that I did something that got me so excited, but she couldn't possibly understand the true magnitude. Neither of us had any clue as to what it meant to BOTH of us!
That launched me into an obsession that now totals over 51,000 QSOs! I slowly gained the confidence to make more CW QSOs and I started working some 10m phone from the Allentown Works club station WA3TUW where I worked at AT&T Microelectronics in Allentown, PA. The station is now K3ME and the company went through numerous changes to Lucent Technologies in 1996, then Agere Systems in 1999, and then acquired by LSI in 2007. I worked my first DX on 10m from the club station. It quickly became one of the best perks of the job!
I upgraded to Advanced in November, 1993 in a VE test session held at the WA3TUW club station. I made my first Advanced Class QSO about 10 minutes later on 15m! After more fun with my new privileges, I went for Extra Class. Having spent my entire life since my teenage years immersed in technology, I passed the written test with flying colors. For whatever reason, the code gave me trouble. I just couldn't crack that 20 WPM barrier! After (I think four attempts), I finally earned my Extra in April, 1994. By this point, I was deeply bitten by the DX bug and Field Day had piqued my interest in contesting.
In September of that year, I purchased my first modern transceiver, an Icom IC-736. Fifteen minutes after I got it home, it was on the air, still using my pitiful 80m dipole. I entered the CQWW DX SSB contest that year. With such a setup, I didn't do well. My score was 119,040 points, a rather inept showing, but it was 119,040 points more than I had ever scored in a contest before! I couldn't believe how many new DXCC entities I picked up in a single weekend! I was totally hooked on contesting ever since.
I became close friends with Jim Berger K3II throughout all this growth in the 1990s, as well as MANY others, of course. Jim quickly developed into my mentor and one of my best friends. He took me under his wing and taught me so many valuable lessons about contesting, station design, operating techniques, and too many life lessons to mention. It turns out, I am one of a long list of K3II prodigies who are great today because of Jim's guidance! I started operating multi-operator contests at Jim's outstanding station. His antenna farm, power output, and station flexibility made me hungry to replicate some of these characteristics at my own QTH.
The dipole was now a handicap. If I wanted to do better in contests, I needed real antennas. In late-2005, I started building my tower and I bought three Force-12 monobanders to top it off, one 4-element each for 10m, 15m, and 20m. It took a long time because I could only dedicate precious spare time and then shut down for winter. In the spring of 1996, I finally hoisted up the 20m beam to finish the job. It was done, and boy did it perform!! Two days later, I took my first lightning hit! Thankfully, I had Polyphaser lightning arrestors on the feedlines (the rigs were unplugged), but the rotator controller suffered some easily repaired damage.
While this was nowhere near the fire power of the K3II station, it performed extremely well. The hilltop location and new hardware would often outperform other stations with high power (I still had no amplifier, so I was only running 100 watts). Still, I needed to make that move to join the big guns. I purchased an Acom 2000A auto-everything amplifier in 1999 in the very first wave of these amplifiers to hit US shores.
The new power turned K3PP into a formidable force in DX pileups and contests. It was now rare for me to do battle on the high bands (low band antennas are still sub-optimal). I could usually jump in and leave victorious after just one or two calls. 1999 was the year when K3PP was transformed from just a nice hilltop to a powerhouse.
That October, I hosted the Carbon Amateur Radio Club for my first (and so far only) multi-multi. It was the club's 50th anniversary and we put W3HA on the air as the bonus station in the Pennsylvania QSO Party. It was the highest score then recorded in the history of the contest and still ranks #3 (many of the same team topped it the next year at K3II). I also entered the CQWW DX SSB contest as a high-power SOA entrant, the first time ever, and the contesting community took notice.
Over the next few years, I did a lot of contests, even cracking into the venerable Top Ten a few times. It was a great period in my radio life. Then, a new job began to take its toll. 2002 was the last great year for K3PP, with nearly 8000 QSOs completed that year. The shift in 2003 was devastating to this activity, dropping to less than 100 QSOs for each of the next three years. The demands of a rapidly expanding professional life allowed little time for radio or much of anything else.
I'm trying to get a life back again, but professional commitments, especially an unrelenting travel schedule, are making this difficult. Still, I managed to log several hundred QSOs in 2007, sparking the rebirth of K3PP. I had some very nice contests in 2008, cracking into the Top Ten once again. So far, 2009 is shaping up fairly well. Work, exacerbated by the worst propagation anyone can remember is an impediment, but slowly, I'm struggling to return to the glory days. So far, so good!
Other Notable Events in the Radio Life of K3PP
I received my current call in the first wave of vanity applications in October 1996. K3PP was my fifth choice, but, in hindsight, I now realize it's better than one through four. The top four were more sentimental, while this one is more practical. You can imagine some of the phonetics my so-called friends gave me. I like "Pizza! Pizza!", but my very good buddy K3II gave me "Porta-Potty" and it seems to have stuck. The repetitive pattern of didahdahdit didahdahdit on CW and "PAPA PAPA" on phone seems to cut through the pileups.
In 1998, K3II and K3PH sponsored my membership into the Frankford Radio Club (FRC), the most respected and feared organized body in contesting. This gang is certainly a top-notch bunch, boasting legends like W3GM (SK), W3BGN, N3RS, K3WW, W2GD/P40W, and of course, the great K3II, to name just a few. Joining FRC is always a rite of passage and it has been a great asset to my growing ambitions.
I am active on all bands from 160 meters through 70cm. In addition to contesting and DX, I like to dabble with just about anything in radio. I tinkered with packet radio during its brief but intense popularity and I'm now playing more with HF digital modes. I served for three terms (1994, 1995, and 1996) as President of the Carbon Amateur Radio Club a local, general interest club in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. I'm also a life member of the American Radio Relay League.
To pay for this expensive obsession, I am an industry analyst for a company called Forrester Research and now wrapping up my THIRTIETH year in the information technology field! It's hard to believe I've been at this for so long! You can see more about my professional life at www.glennodonnell.com.