By Denny Oestreich KO4IBL
Thanks to everyone who helped and encouraged me to get my Extra license. You all contributed to my success. It was quite a trip and I had a lot of help and fun. I thought I would relate how I studied and my testing experience so you can refer to anyone who asked you how to do it. This is the way I did it.
In August of 1964 I started my first class in Electronics School in Madison, Wisconsin. Among the careers the school taught was a path in radio or television as an engineer responsible for the operation and maintenance of the highly technical radio/television transmitters. That all sounded like an interesting career challenge. We were taught electronics theory including radio and television circuits and even the latest of innovations at that time called transistor theory. Among the required courses was a Radio Telephone License course. The class led you through the requirements to take the beginning tests for a First Class Radiotelephone License. I took the first two tests but did not follow up to obtain the First Class License. The license has always been an unfinished life objective. I moved ahead through my career in telephone switching, software design and testing. During my career I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at night school. I was retired after 46 years and immediately started completing some unfinished life objectives. Things I picked back up after retirement included: a family ancestry study, finishing my senior high school reading list, reading many Shakespeare plays, reading the bible from Genesis to Revelations, restoring a couple antique cars, doing some traveling, and finally, finishing up the radio license.
I decided that instead of getting a General Radiotelephone Operators License (GROL) it would be more useful and fun for me to get a HAM license. In August of 2020 I contacted a friend and former fellow employee, Rolf Anderson K8SL, a known HAM, and asked how to get started. He made several good suggestions and advised me to join the Raleigh Area Radio Society (RARS). From RARS I made some other great contacts. Among my first Elmers was Chuck Littlewood K4HF who suggested I get some books and “study”. He also suggested if I studied hard enough, I could take the Technician level test being given outside at the Raleigh HamFest in October 2020. Imagine, testing outdoors.
I obtained the ARRL Technician Level 1 License Manual from Amazon. I studied the manual and took the ARRL Technician Practice questions and answers online. I scheduled my Ham test through Mark Gibson of the Five County Volunteer Examiner Team (FCVET). Then on October 3, 2020 I sat outside at the HamFest where I took the HAM tests. I passed my Technician Level test. Hurray! They also asked if I wanted to take the General Test at that same time. I agreed, and that was a humbling experience. I failed the General test, but knew I needed to get the General Manual and study more.
I received my Technician License and call sign, KO4IBL, 3 days later. I then bought the ubiquitous Baofeng UV-RTP for $30 and was on the air if I could stand near a window in our house. After a short time, I realized this would not work well without an antenna. So, I purchased a $30 copper tube J-Pole antenna. It worked perfectly in our attic for 70cm and 2-meter local simplex and repeater operations. To gain confidence I worked up my courage and joined in a few NETS. I also tried Simplex with fellow new HAM, Bill Auld NC4WCA. I learned to listen to what the experienced HAMs say and do. From this experience, I learned that a good thing to remember and practice is your own call sign.
My next goal was to get my General License in December of 2020. Again, I purchased the ARRL General Class License Manual. (Remember to get the spiral bound edition because you will wear out the paper bound edition in no time.) Then I studied more. I read the manual and familiarized myself with the questions and answers as I went through each chapter subject by subject. Then I retook the online practice tests chapter by chapter. Finally, I studied the complete General License questions and “re-studied” each one I got wrong. By December outside testing would have been uncomfortable. However, the FCVET had fortunately procured a facility near Wake Tech at 2813 Banks Road in Raleigh to administer Tests. The facility they have for testing really works well. On December 8, 2020 I took my General License Test along with several people testing. I passed. Hurray again!
After the General Test I was encouraged to purchase an ICOM 7300 Radio and tried building 10- and 20-meter dipole antennas in my attic. The antennas did not work very well. I moved them outside and they worked much better. Glen Clary, NC4NC, suggested I purchase a long wire Antenna. After putting a mast on our chimney and casting a line over two tree limbs I got the antenna “up at 50 feet” and it works well enough to listen and occasionally get into a QSO. However, I am finding if you want to compete with the big dogs in a pile up, you need to be patient and it helps if someday you have a plan to get an amplifier and maybe an antenna with a directional capability that can be rotated.
My next challenge was to get my Extra License. So, I ordered the spiral bound Extra Manual and studied and studied. I learned there are 619 possible Extra questions. I used the same study technique to become familiar with every question. I learned from experience with the Technician and General tests that the question you are not sure of will be on the test. There are 50 questions on the Extra Test. I took the 50-question practice test online 18 times until I could get 96% or better. I also learned that some answers slipped out of my mind. I would answer them correctly on one practice test and then get the wrong the next day. I schedule the Extra Test through Mark Gibson and FCVET. On March 6, 2021, I again went the FCVET facility to take the Extra exam. I passed the Extra Test. Hurray the third time.
Next up for me is to learn CW. I will have to study hard for this because I do not pick up languages that easily. I also look forward to QSOs with many of you HAMs and trying some DX.
I want to thank all my Elmers and many others for helping and encouraging me through the license process. I also wish to express my appreciation to the Five County VE Team for their dedication to our hobby and for sponsoring and organizing HAM Testing.
I could not have done it alone.