by Christina Cunningham, KT1NA
Until I met my husband, John, W1AI, my only exposure to ham radio was a brief visit to a ham radio store back in 1974, where the owner said, “Little girl, there's too much math, and you would have to learn Morse code. Just buy a CB radio.”
Jump to 2012, and I find myself engaged to the owner of the HamTestOnline™ website, which helps people pass the FCC ham radio license exams. I wanted to help him with the website, but he says I would have to have a ham radio license first. I'm thinking, “Uh-oh, math and Morse code! Run away!” But we’re engaged, so running is not an option. So I have to tell my then-fiancé that I am completely Lousy (with a capital L) at math and not sure I could learn Morse code. I’m in some real hot water here.
But wait, I’m saved! He explains that the Morse code provision was dropped in 2007 *phew!*, and you can basically skip all of the math-related questions on the exams and still pass the exams *double phew!*. With those obstacles cleared, I decide to go for all three — Tech, General and Extra — at once. He's telling me his courses are that good, so I figure, what the heck, I might as well start at the top rung. For me, I’m also testing his course. Let's see if this website is as good as he says it is!
We picked an exam date 6 weeks out. My first thoughts were “OK, now I’ve stuck my neck out. I hope I can do this!” John wanted to help, but I said, “No, I want to be a regular user, no assisting allowed.” I used an iPad to study for portability.
I started with just the Tech topics turned on. Hey, this is fun! I remember some of the Ohm’s Law, current and voltage stuff from 37 years ago, then I realize I’ve forgotten most of it. But wait! This website is giving me the basics, and when I get it wrong, it’s bringing back those questions a lot sooner than the ones I got right! I’ll be doggoned, it does know me. Just like the slogan. I’m thinking, “Holy mackerel, where was this software when I was in high school trying to learn math?!?”
I got to about 70% on the Tech course, left those topics on and then turned on the General topics. I studied approximately one hour a day Monday thru Friday (I had a full time 40 hour outside job). I studied on weekends too, as much as I could, sometimes 6-8 hours. Busy or not, I had a deadline.
All this time, my exam date was looming. I got to 70% on the General and turned the Extra topics on. When I got to 90% on all three, four days before my exam, I was really confident. My exam was set for a Saturday night, 7:00 pm. I had stayed in Study mode up until this point, but now I took 4 practice exams to be sure I was ready, and then went right back to Study mode!
John drove me to the exam session, and I studied on the iPhone the whole way there. There were a lot of volunteer examiners the in exam room, I’d say as many as there were people testing. I had read about noisy sessions, so I brought my earplugs. I was so glad I did!
John is also a VE, so he signed in as well. Of course, he would not be scoring my tests. I got the Tech exam and was not used to seeing the questions on paper. It was quickly not a big deal, because I could see the answers sticking out on the page in my mind. This might be easy! I finished the Tech with confidence and waited for my score. John was sitting next to the volunteer examiner who scored my exam, and eventually he gave me a big thumbs up!
The examiner congratulated me and asked if I wanted to take the General exam. “Of course!” So same thing, filling in the circles, this one was a bit more challenging, a little more math. I guessed those rather than leaving them blank. Turned it in, waited... waited... agony... and another thumbs up and congratulations!
“Do you want to go for the extra?” the examiner asked. You know I said yes, I’d just spent 62 hours over six weeks studying! Someone asked me if I’d studied, and I said, “Oh yeah.” So. Deep breath, last time, filling in the answers, a little bit tougher than the General.
It seemed to take forever to get the score on this last one. It was all in slow motion from here. John’s thumb went up, the whole room was congratulating me, and John was hugging me all at once. I’d done it!!!!! Woo Hoo!
The room was buzzing, and the examiner who scored my exams said that in twenty years as a volunteer examiner, this was only the second time he'd seen someone pass all three in one session! Then he asked me, “What book did you use,” and I said, “There’s a book? All I used was HamTestOnline!”.
Every VE in that room was gob-smacked at my accomplishment. I remember there were some General-class VE’s there who seemed to think if I could do it, they could too. John let them know that HamTestOnline gives free Extra courses to active VEs who hold General or Advanced class licenses.
What a great night. I passed all three! Now I could use my new Extra license to talk around the world, join my CERT group ham radio team, and work on the website with my fiancé. Also, I was lucky enough to get the vanity call sign I applied for — John said I could get a shorter 1x2 (like his, W1AI), but I really really like mine because it spells my name, so I’m keeping it.
So there you have it, folks. I am living proof that HamTestOnline works! This is a serious case of, “If I can do it, anybody can do it.” It’s so exciting because it opens up a whole new world to a lot of people who might not otherwise be able to pass the exams (raising hand)! I know you can do this. Come on in, the water’s fine!
Christina Cunningham, KT1NA, SK
I am very sad to report that Christina died in October, 2019, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. As many of you know, John is the creator of HamTestOnline™, but Christina was its heart and soul. She transformed our organization with her motto, “Treat every customer like they are your best friend”, and her story inspired thousands of students to do amazing things.
The phrase silent key (SK) is a term of respect for a ham radio operator who has died. It dates back over 100 years to the days of the wired telegraph, and is a play on words. First, it indicates that their Morse code key will never again be heard. Second, the procedural signal SK means “end of contact”, and is only used in the last transmission from a station.
There is another tradition in ham radio, transmitting the call sign of a deceased ham radio operator on the air, where it will propagate forever through space and time. If Christina's warmth touched your life, you might consider giving her a call on your radio (once you have your license!), so that her call sign will go on forever.