Letting My Geek Out At Harold’s

The operator was ending a conversation with another station. As soon as I heard the .— .- (JA) I knew he was in Japan.

I had dinner with my friend Harold tonight. We went for Italian food in Cheshire. Mmmmm, pizza!

Thank you if you were one of the folks who came by to say hello and wish me well. You were not disturbing me. I appreciate your concern and support more than you’ll ever know. As a bonus Harold now thinks I’m more important than I really am!

Harold and I are old ham radio buddies. He is the chief operating officer of the ARRL, the nation’s major ham radio organization. Both of us were licensed ham operators while we were teenagers.

On the way back from dinner I stopped at his house where we turned on his ‘rig.’ This is not your uncle’s ham radio!

Harold’s Icom transceiver is connected to his computer which in turn is connected to real time ham radio info on the Intenet. The radio’s front panel is loaded with dials and buttons. Its readouts are all digital. It’s all very sophisticated though I was interested in playing with ham radio at its simplest.

“Can I operate a little CW,” I asked?

CW means continuous wave. It’s just another way of saying Morse Code.

When I was active on the ham bands that’s what I enjoyed the most: Morse. In the pre-Internet days I’d sit wearing headphones in a darkened room through the night. The radio in use was one I built on my own. Three watts, less power than the bulb in your refrigerator, was enough to take my signal around the world. I spoke to well over 100 countries with that little rig running on D-cells.

Harold flipped a few switches and relays chattered as his antenna tuner looked for the optimum settings to transfer maximum power from his radio to a wire antenna above the house. I spun the dial and listened on the 18 mHz band. There wasn’t much action. We’re near the bottom of the sunspot cycle which doesn’t favor long distance communications.

I honed in on a weak signal transmitting dits and dahs around 17 or 18 words per minute. The operator was ending a conversation with another station. As soon as I heard the .- – – .- (JA) I knew he was in Japan.

Very little Morse is sent with the up-and-down “brass pounder” key you’ve seen in the movies. More sophisticated electronic keyers are used.

I put my left thumb and forefinger on the back-to-back horizontal paddles of a handcrafted Begali Pearl key on Harold’s desk and squeezed rhythmically sending my callsign twice.

I used to be good at this. Not now. My code’s sloppy. I sent K1GF twice then the letter “K.” He answered.

On the other end was Tom. We traded locations and signal reports, not much more. I’m not even sure Tom speaks English. Looking online later I saw Tom was short for a traditional sounding Japanese name.

Our conversation took just a minute to two. It didn’t make a difference. There is something very satisfying and elegant in operating via Morse Code. There’s a sense of accomplishment that’s tough to explain.

Morse is totally archaic! There are no longer any commercial applications which use it. CW has been relegated to hobbyists who keep it alive only because time and ease rate second to tradition and elegance.

13 thoughts on “Letting My Geek Out At Harold’s”

  1. Still miss you Geoff and will for a very long time……the weather is just not the same without you….on ANY station!!!!!!

  2. Geoff that is pretty cool, I remember my brother and I playing around with walkie talkies when we were little and trying to use Morse code, but I didn’t know they were still around on such a big scale!

  3. Have you ever read “One Second After”? An old fashioned ham radio would be an excellent choice to have or the knowledge of how to build one for that matter. I think some things are totally lost with the fast advance of today’s electronics. Your post is an example.

  4. Geoff, I beg to differ with you on “There are no longer any commercial applications which use it.” We use Morse Code (International Code) all the time in aviation. Visual Omnidirectional Ranges (VOR’s) and other radio navigation aids are identified by code. Sophisticated aviation radios read the Code automatically but many of our radios require us to listen to the three letter VOR identifier through our headsets. It is important to identify every VOR station when you are going to use it for navigation to insure you have the correct VOR station and because the lack of a three letter code means it is not reliable or not in service. VOR’s are located around the country and at some airports. Here are some examples: Sikorsky Memorial Airport BDR (-… -.. .-.), Tweed New Haven Airport HVN (…. …- -.), Madison, Connecticut MAD (– .- -..).

  5. I just plain miss you,you are very much missed in my house!!! For my weather i just watch the weather channel or CNN Hallmark or History Channel no more Channell 8!!!

  6. My uncle is a ham radio operator in Gales Ferry. He still bemoans the loss of Morse code. He keeps in practice so he can be prepared for an emergency when it becomes the best form of communication again!

  7. Oh, how I miss the days of ham radio. Kept my license up to date, but never got any more ham gear after I moved here to CT from Kansas City.

    73’s de N0FQY/1.

  8. So glad you two got together. Echo Papa United is still burned into my daughters’ and my memories. Along with the soothing dit-dotting of code late at night and the reminiscing of Field Day. Miss you both (and Big John) and that great pizza in Cheshire.

  9. W1IWM DE K1MJL—-My kids still remember my brother and I talking on 2 meters. I missed getting the General due to the 15 wpm. My brother was 35 wpm and didn’t write anything down. He would sit there for hours and dit and dah to someone in Europe. I had wished I coulda gotten my speed up. I am inactive now. I just couldn’t get into it after my brother died.

  10. Great story. Ham radio is how my parents found me. In the late 70s my father was an avid user and communicated with people all over the world. My parents had been trying to adopt for years and were having a very difficult time in the states. He was discussing it over the waves and connected with a woman in Cali, Colombia. Long story short, they were able to adopt me from an orphanage in Cali and it all started with the ham radio. I know you are into photo taking so I’ll add this little tid-bit. There is a picture that was taken that came out as a double exposure it is me as an infant in a crib with an imprint of the giant antenna that is in our back yard. It is a neat little photo, that says everything.

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