The IMSAI 8080, Ham Radio and Me

It was 1976, I was newly minted WA2QHN (after passing my General Class Ham Radio test on vacation in Seattle at their FCC Office), and I thought I wanted to be an Electronic Engineer. It all started in Ms. Goodin’s 4th grade class when she taught a series on “The Inventors”. I wanted to be an inventor at age 9 or 10. At age 11, I built my first Heathkit, the SW-717:

My Novice station in Newton, NJ was this receiver, a Hallicrafters HT-40, a Dow Key Relay and a handful of crystals.

Anyway, my father’s good friend and Electronic Engineer, Joe Secundo, visited and plopped an IMSAI 8080 on the kitchen table and after I tried to impress him with my proclamation “I am going to be an Electronic Engineer”. He said “No you are not!” and went on to convince me to instead become a computer programmer. Two years later, I was getting straight A’s in my COBOL, Fortran and Basic classes at the County College of Morris – and after a year transferred to Lock Haven State College in PA. I graduated with a Business Computer Science degree.

My first job was at Kodak in Rochester, NY coding Octal Assembler and Machine Code on PDP-11’s using the Kodak Park OS:

I hated it. It was too abstract – my job was “process control” – to try to track waste in the manufacturing of Instant Print Film. Ironically, I’d love this job now!

I have told this story in my old blog, but after designing and building the u.RAT, things have magically come full circle. Today, designing and building something electronic is the same as designing a system and drawing a block diagram. You assemble a set of boards that have functions, wire them together, and then download code from Github and mash them up to make the set of circuits to do what you want.

My parents bought one of these for me in my 9th birthday…

I am 100% sure that I thought that in the future this would happen. I had “Systems Analysis I” and “Systems Analysis II” classes, and we basically drew block diagrams at the systems level and drew flowcharts at the program level. We even used those plastic templates and drafting paper if I remember right. That’s when I thought “what if the system was a block diagram?”.

Well, that’s exactly how I approached the u.RAT, and 40 years later, my 1970’s era thoughts and predictions just happened  with my first “Maker” project.

4 Comments on “The IMSAI 8080, Ham Radio and Me

  1. I too ended up in the I.T. field, with an Information Science degree in college. Got my amateur radio license in 1992 and upgraded through to Extra by 1993. I’m KD1S. And I see you too are a 2×1 holder.

    That said always interested in electronics – but I’m a Senior Linux Engineer now.


    • Fantastic! I was off the air from 1977 – 2001 then dove into DXCC, and recently got into the Maker world. The Raspberry Pi Zero W blows me away.

      In fact, I’m thinking about using a Raspberry Pi for everything ham related, just because it’s a blast.

      Linux sure does rock!




      • Interestingly my old Pi has an FM transmitter boot card in it. It does transmit. Could be used for Fox Hunt if I got into the 2m band. I also have three radios, a Yaesu VX-7R, a Baofeng B580T and and TYT MD-380 DMR handheld.


  2. Wow, that’s pretty cool. I’m an old ham but a new Maker. I need to look into this!


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