[W5SFA] Ham Story

Roger Klein rwklein at katyweb.net
Mon Jul 13 09:34:30 CDT 2020

Nice story, posted by N6KR, one of the Elecraft founders:


Jul 12    <https://groups.io/g/Elecraft-KX/message/66816> #66816  


I have a friend about my age who got into amateur radio only a few years
ago. Like many of us, he was enthusiastic about the technology. Intrigued
with DX. 

I showed him my station; we talked endlessly about gear. Later, I helped him
put up a simple wire antenna.

Then, when his license arrived, he dove straight into FT8 and didn't look
back. Within days, he'd worked all states, then DXCC. He'd bag a few rare
ones over a light lunch, then pat his laptop on the back and congratulate
his software app for its near-mythical ability to extract weak signals out
of noise. 

Within weeks, he'd mastered everything there was to know about this glorious
new hobby. 

Point. Click.

In this new world order, those of us who took the longer, slower path to
ionospheric enlightenment -- and who still occasionally enjoy making waves
by hand -- often fail to explain why. 

I had failed to explain it to my friend. Even as hints of his boredom crept
in, creating an opening, the best argument I'd made for trying CW was that
he could do it without a computer. Coming in a weak second was the notion
that CW was the original digital mode. For obvious reasons, I didn't bother
with the classic argument about CW's signal-to-noise advantage over SSB. 

I had all but given up. 

Then, in a moment of delayed clarity, I decided on a different approach. I
invited him to a weekday brunch. A bit of an escape. He willingly took the

On the appointed day, arriving at his workplace, I bypassed the lobby's
glistening elevators and climbed the four flights of stairs to his office. I
insisted we take the stairs down, too. 

"Why?" he asked. "And how'd you get up here so fast?" 

I pointed out that I always chose stairs, when possible. That's why I wasn't
out of breath. We hustled down, jockeying for position, and emerged on the
ground floor invigorated by the effort.

"So, where are we going?" he asked. We'd been to every overrated
twenty-dollar burger venue at least twice.

I replied that we'd be going someplace we'd never tried. My kitchen. 

When we arrived, I put him to work chopping onions and broccoli and
squeezing oranges while I whipped eggs into a froth and grated Swiss cheese.
We ate our omelettes outside, in full sun and a cool breeze. 

"What's for desert?" he asked. "Isn't there a frozen yogurt place a
two-minute drive from here?"

I had something else in mind. Back in the kitchen, I handed him a water
bottle, then strapped on a small pack I'd prepared earlier. 

We walked a mile or so through my neighborhood, admiring the houses' varied
architecture, ending up (as planned) at a local park festooned with
blackberry bushes. The most accessible branches had been picked clean, but
with teamwork and persistence we were able to gather several large handfuls
of fat, ripe berries, which we devoured on the spot. 

We'd been poked and scratched but didn't care. 

"Doesn't brunch usually end with champagne?" he wondered aloud, admiring his

Not this time. I pulled out two bottles of craft beer that I'd obtained from
a neighbor in trade for repairing his ancient home stereo. Carlos had spent
years crafting an American pilsner to die for, sweating every detail,
including iconic, hand-painted labels. 

My friend accepted the bottle, then tried in vain to remove the cap. Not a

"Opener?" he said. 

I handed him a small pocket knife, an antique without specialty blades. He
soon discovered it could not be used to remove the cap directly. He looked
at me with a bemused expression, no doubt wondering what I had up my sleeve
this time. 

I pointed out that we were surrounded by white oaks, a species known for its
hard wood. He got the message, smiled, and began hunting. Within seconds
he'd collected a small fallen branch. I watched as he used the knife to
fashion a few inches of it into a passable bottle opener. We popped the
caps, toasted his new-found skill, and traded stories of our misspent

"Oh, one more thing," I said.

I pulled a KX2 out of my pack, along with two lengths of wire. Of course he
knew everything there was to know about Elecraft, and me, so he wasn't
surprised when I also pulled out the rig's attachable keyer paddle. We threw
one wire in the closest tree and laid the other on the ground.

He didn't have to ask whether I'd brought a laptop.

We listened to CW signals up and down 20 meters, which was open to Europe at
the time. As he tuned in each station, I copied for him using pencil and
paper. He'd learned Morse code, but only at very slow speeds. 

After making a contact, I set the internal keyer speed to 10 words per
minute and dialed power output to zero, for practice purposes, then showed
him how to use the paddle. He smiled as he got the hang of it. Sending the
full alphabet was a challenge, but he got there. The KX2 decoded and
displayed his keying, providing confirmation. 

We'd blown through his allotted lunch break by a factor of three, so it was
time to go. We coiled up the antenna wires, packed up, and walked back. As I
drove him back to his employer, we made plans to get together again for a
weekend hike.

I could have just dropped him off, but we went back into the lobby together.
Out of habit, he stopped in front of the elevator. Then he looked up.

"OK," he said. "I get it. This CW thing. It's slow, it's hard to do well,
and it takes years of practice."

"Like hunting for your own food, or carving your own tools," I added.

"Or cooking from scratch. Or brewing your own beer. Building your own radio.
And you use more of your senses. Not just your eyes, but your ears. Your
sense of touch."

I nodded. Listening. Feeling. That was the radio I'd grown up with.

"Of course it's harder to work DX with CW than with FT8," I reminded him,
playing devil's advocate.

"Is that what matters, though?" he asked. 

A longer discussion for another day.

"Your call," I said.

He gripped my shoulder and smiled, then reached toward the elevator's
glowing, ivory colored button, framed by polished brass. 

The path most taken. 

Point. Click.

"On second thought," he said, "I'll take the stairs."

* * *





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