Saturday, August 7

Ham Radio

In one of the first posts on this blog, just over a month ago, I was doing a stream of conscience thing while riffing on an episode of the twilight zone featuring Alien Beatnik Biker Dudes. It is one of my favorite episodes and it has one of the few references in television to Ham Radio aka Amateur Radio, which happens to be one of the hobbies I enjoy. On the same note I like to watch the movie "The Vanishing", because at one point in the background you hear about some alpine stage in the '84 or '85 tour de France playing on the radio. Now I don't speak french with any fluency, but could recognise quite a bit of it as most of the French I do understand is related to cycling terminology, and having followed the race in question I could reverse engineer the rest.

What does this have to do with anything you might ask? Well I checked the mail today and there was a small manilla envelope from the northern Illinois DX association, which meant QSL cards, specifically international QSL's confirming contacts with other stations around the world. And if you want to qualify for any of a variety of awards you need these cards as proof of contact. Personally I'm not that interested in chasing awards, but I get a real kick out of receiving the cards.

Today brought cards from Belgium, Columbia,Germany, the Netherlands, my first from New Zealand, Japan, another one from the Netherlands, Turks and Caicos Islands (carribbean) , one from Cape Verde, S. Vicent island (off the east african coast), Portugal, Sweden, Spain, England, and another from Japan. Just too cool. All of these contacts made from this room with 100 watts fed into a variety of wires I have strung up in the trees around the house. With the sunspot numbers quickly declining, it will be much more difficult to get a signal to Japan and New Zealand, let alone south central asia and the Middle East, India and Australia.

A couple of years ago I had read that part of if not most of the Baltic sea was frozen, later that day I had the opportunity to have a nice chat with a ham in Riga, Latvia and asked him if it was true that one could Ice Skate to Stockholm from there. He said that the icebreakers pretty much made it impossible but admitted that it was one of the colder winters that he could remember in the area. Another time I had a nice long chat with a Ham in Copenhagen, Denmark and found out that the bridge that had been built connecting Denmark to Malmo Sweden was underused, due to the high tolls. I told him that I had visited my Fathers Mothers, Brother in Malmo in '80 and had taken a ferry to visit Copenhagen for a day. So we talked about the Tivoli Gardens (breathtaking) and how impressed I was with Scandinavia.

Most of the international operaters speak excellent English so it is very easy to communicate, and if things get sketchy, there are a lot of shorthand and Q signals that are recognised by everyone. In fact the only operator I made contact with who did not speak English was a Japanese woman operating from an Island off of Costa Rica, who was primarily occupied in contacts with compatriots in Japan, some of these islands can be rare and in fact may not have any native hams. It really depends where you are located. For me the Carribean is like shooting fish in a barrel, but for the Japanese it is rare territory. The Europeans can have their way in the middle east and central asia, India, and Africa. I have only clearly heard 3 stations from India and I was late to the party, because I could hear hundreds of other guys from all over trying to contact these stations. Anyway I hope this gives you a little insight into a really cool hobby. I mean email is cool, telephony is reliable, but firing up a tranciever or separate transmitter and reciever, in your room, firing RF into some homebrew antenna's and making contact through the ether, you just can't beat it.

By the way some Ham Radio Operators that many of you may be familiar with. Barry Goldwater, Curtis Lemay, King Hussein of Jordon, and I recently found out that Walter Conkrite, and former Eagles guitarist, Joe Walsh, are also members of this geeky fraternity.