My start in radio was pretty conventional. If you have ever read So You Want To Be A Ham, the conventional entry in amateur radio comes after being a short-wave listener (SWL). You encounter other hams talking on the air, and eventually discover you can do more than just listen. Up until the widespread adoption of SSB, this was perhaps the most popular technique for discovering amateur radio.
I got started through my brother Ben (now NJ8J). Ben is five years older than I, and my mother always joked that I wanted to do everything he did. (And she was surprised when I often could) Christmas 1969 found us with our grandparents, and my Uncle Frank didn't know what to give us boys. He ended up getting Ben a Radio Shack Science Fair Globe Patrol receiver. This was a three transistor regenerative receiver, with AM broadcast and short wave bands. Frank, Ben and Dad built it, and my Grandfather had to step in and troubleshoot it (one reverse connected diode was enough to keep it from working).
Unfortunately for Frank, that was to be his last Christmas, he die tragically in April 1970, just short of age 25. But that little radio started something for both of us. Next Christmas, our parents bought us each Heathkit short-wave radios. Ben received a GR-64, and I a GR-81. We quickly became avid radio listeners.
The GR-81 wasn't that great on short-wave, so I initially concentrated a lot of AM broadcast DXing. (Best DX was WOAI in San Antonio, TX from Fairmont, WV) Ben took to listening to more short-wave broadcast, and he quickly found the ham bands as well. Ben had learned morse code in scouts, so he was "reading the mail" on the CW bands as well.
I had tried to learn morse, and about age 14, I had convinced myself that I was just one of those people who were incapable of mastering it. Then something amazing happened. Ben got his Novice license in February 1975. Of course, I always had to do everything he did, so naturally, I started to learn the code again. I bought and built a Heathkit HR-10B, and I began to practice by listening to W1AW and the Novice bands. By November 1975, I passed my Novice license, and was WN8WOY.
Getting licensed was one trick, actually getting on the air was another. By this time, I had realised that the HR-10B was not a great receiver for CW work -- the IF response was just too wide. Using money from my paper route, I bought a used Heathkit SB-301. The difference between the two receivers was amazing. You really could listen to just one signal -- especially after I bought the 400 Hz CW crystal filter.
The SB-301 kinda broke my budget for a few months, so it wasn't until June 1976 that I could afford a transmitter, in the form of a used Heathkit SB-401. Thus, I had the matching pair of Heathkit SB-series twins. Novices were no longer limited to crystal control, so the SB-401 wasn't a bad choice.
One problem being a Novice in those days -- you were limited to 75 watts power input to the final amplifier. The SB-401 could do about 180 watts, so I removed one tube and operated that way. During that summer, the FCC changed the rules to allow Novices up to 200 watts PEP output. Of course, I didn't find out about this until the fall. The FCC also decide to drop the distinctive Novice callsigns, so in the fall of 1976, I was now WB8WOY.
The summer of 1976, I did a fair amount of operating -- a handful of contacts every day. Mostly 40m, some 80m, and a few 15m. My antenna at first was a 40m inverted-V that was mounted on standoffs just underneath the eves of the house. The ends were within about a couple of feet of the ground, so this antenna really didn't work well. I also build a small L-network tuner for the long-wire I used for SWLing for use on 80m. It didn't work well, either.
The Novice bands in the 1970s and even 80s were very different from today. Today, most evenings you could tune the CW bands and fail to hear more than a few CW QSOs, and none of them at slow speed. (Of course, if there's a contest or DXpedition active on a weekend, you'll hear lots of activity) Then, the Novice bands were a hotbed of activity, with slow speed QSOs going on all the time, every day.
In a year and a half on the air, before my Novice license expired, I made about 210 QSOs. That experience made a lasting impression on me. When I got my General class license in the summer of 1979, I often found myself operating in the Novice bands.