Another Guest Posting by my Friend Paul AE5JU
Many thanks to Paul for taking the time to pass on his experiences, sharing with us all!
The Best Part of Ham Radio
by Paul – AE5JU
Steve has asked me to write a bit about my experience in becoming an amateur radio licensee… a ham. One facet of this hobby has been the skills I have acquired, and of course that is important. And there is so much more to learn out there. But the really important thing about this has been the many great people I’ve met.
Of course, my first QSO with my good friend, mentor, and “Elmer”, Steve K9ZW is important to me, but that same day I had another interesting experience. My first few QSO’s that day had been with Steve and a few other hams I knew locally. I had been listening to shortwave for some time, including the ham bands, with an Icom R75 receiver so I knew a little about contests. There was a fellow calling CQ for my state. I figured I’d help him out and just happened to slip through the pileup. He replied with my call. After exchanging name, location, signal reports, he asked (oh, how could he tell?), “Is this your first QSO?” I replied, “Oh, heck no! This is my sixth!”
Now he could have just given a quick “73” and continued with the pileup, but things were very quiet suddenly as he took time explaining contests, how they worked, the jargon, etc. The other hams waited patiently as the experienced ham “showed the ropes” to the newbie (me). He could have made another 10 or 20 contacts for his contest log in the time he spent with me, I’m sure. And in the end he warmly welcomed me to ham radio, said 73, and was back to the pileup. When I grow up to be a real ham I want to be just like him.
Another day I held an informal solitary “Field Day” in the city park. It was the end of January, and a beautiful sunny day here along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. I had set up my radio, a homebrew portable antenna, and battery power, totally “off the grid”. I had a few odd looks from passersby, a few asked what I was doing. And though city police drove by and looked, not one was curious as to what I was doing.
I spoke to one fellow in upper state New York who used to live down here and worked for one of the larger TV stations. We had a great 30 minute QSO, 5-9 both ways, and discussed how the area was recovering after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He missed the great seafood and was craving a good oyster Po-boy (that’s like a big “submarine” or “hoagy” sandwich for you Yankees). And we discussed stereo gear, too.
Another fellow was doing the same thing I was, having a leisurely afternoon, same radio I had, his portable antenna, while sitting in a lawn chair on the sandy beach on Assateague Island off the coast of Maryland. Assateague Island is famous for its wild horses, possibly arriving from a wrecked Spanish galleon several centuries ago. I’ve learned a lot of interesting geography and history since being licensed as a ham.
And Cubans! The Cubans LOVE to talk on the radio! Especially PSK31… one of my favorite modes. I can generally make a contact with a Cuban any time of the day or night. One interesting fellow, Professor Arnie Coro, CO2KK, and I had a very nice contact. He described his very simple digital interface made by gluing a 2″ speaker to one end of a piece of 2″ pvc pipe, and inserting a computer microphone element into the other end, floating in foam rubber. This gives not only isolation from room noise, but also protection from ground loops. One of these going each way and you have PSK31! Then later I remembered the name… Arnie Coro! THE Arnie Coro that does the Radio Havana show “DX’er’s Unlimited”. You’ve probably seen some of his articles on the “broomstick antenna” and others for Short Wave Listeners. More recently I saw that Arnie was coordinating emergency relief for Haiti.
I had been exchanging some emails about antennas and other odds and ends with a new ham in the ham radio subforum of an outdoors forum I frequent. After a number of emails I found that not only did he work and live nearby, but we literally shared the same back fence at work. The next day after work I drove around the corner and found him at his place of employment, and we had a nice chat for a few minutes. We had to cut it off, he had to go back to work, but still, what a cooincidence.
I work offshore, an engineering type job aboard drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. I landed on the heliport of a rig recently, and was greeted by the rig’s safety officer who introduced himself to me by his call sign… hah! Another fellow I work with told him I was a ham, and… well, you just never know where you will meet up with other hams, do you?
On another rig my office was shared with the communications equipment. They were in the midst of updating the phone/internet gear, and the technician that was doing that was a ham, too. He gave me a great lesson on how to install N connectors, and some other tips.
I’ve known Steve K9ZW for quite some time as we are both saxophonists. Naturally, when I became interested in ham radio again (was really interested as a teenager, but no cash to pursue it), I went to Steve for advice. But since then I’ve run into many others. Gary K5GLS, our ARRL Louisiana Section Manager, is also a saxophonist.
Other hams have been checking out my QRZ page and asking about “the big sax”. This happens so often that for PSK31, I have had to make a “macro” about it. When asked, I clicked the macro button for that reply, and first thing I knew, PILEUP!!! Saxophonists and other musicians from all over the US were lined up. By the time I finally waded through all of that four hours had passed. I went in the house and my wife asked, “What are you smiling about?”
And I’ve just gained new friends from all over. As a “SWL’er” (Short Wave Listener) I heard a guy say, “Q – R – Zed?”. Hmmm, QRZ, what does that mean? I did a google search and found the list of Q-signals, and found that means, “Who are you?” or “Come back with that call sign again?” But also it is a popular ham website where you can look up hams by their call signs. (eHam.net and others have similar call sign lookups)
I had begun listening to a regional net, the HiFivers Net (“the friendly bunch”), http://www.hifivers.net, which meet on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings on or about 3.908 Mhz. The official net starting time is 8:30 pm local time (Central), but “early bird checkins” begin at 7:30. These guys sounded like a load of fun, so I emailed one of the Net Controls, Charles N5YHQ, and asked, “I’m studying to be licensed. When that happens, how would I go about joining the Hifivers Net?” Charles answered, “When you hear us asking for check ins just say your call, and the Net Control will recognize you. But remember, a Tech can’t talk on 80 meters. You have to be at least a General to be legal to use phone on that band.”
I didn’t need any more encouragement than that. I emailed back, “Well, I suppose I’ll just have to study harder.” I did, passing the Tech, General, and Extra in one sitting. Had Charles not said that I would have just studied for the Tech and perhaps lost momentum somewhere in there. I buckled down on the study guides, found a test location – a hamfest three hours drive away – and in October of 2008 was licensed as an Extra. I had to go offshore for a few weeks shortly after, but in early November I made my first checkin with the HiFivers Net.
And Charles and I have become good friends! I recently was able to meet him face to face at a hamfest in his area. “The next time you come to town you aren’t staying at any hotel. You tell me when you will be here, and if I’m not around I’ll mail you a key. You can stay at my house any time,” he said.
Well, if I do that I had better bring him some good South Louisiana seafood, right?
And in the past 18 months my email account address book has at least tripled in size.
All in all, I have fun every time I turn on the radio. And the last year and a half, since making my first contact on the air with Steve, has been a real blast!
Paul – AE5JU