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.