For the last couple of years, my travel and work schedule have really taken a toll on one of my favorite hobbies. I got my amateur (ham) radio license in 1994 while stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ. Ham radio is kind of like the original geek hobby. Before computers, before cell phones, before video games the techno-geeky crowd congregated around the ham radio hobby.
There’s something pretty special about building a radio from a pile of parts and stringing a couple hundred feet of wire out through some trees and being able to carry on a conversation with people half way across the country or half way around the world. Even though today the vast majority of radios are commercially built and there are as many antenna designs as stars in the sky it seems, the magic of being able to fire up that radio, tune through the frequencies and have the possibility of talking to another ham in a country you’ve never heard before is pretty special.
There are many “sub-hobbies” to ham radio these days–morse code, computer generated digital modes, satellite operation, GPS-enabled radios and more. One of my favorites is referred to as “contesting”. On several weekends throughout the year, hams from all over the world set aside anywhere from 1 to sometimes 48 full hours to devote their energies to trying to see just how many people in different states, countries, continents etc they can talk to and exchange some small bit of information within the allotted time frame.
Today there is a contest called the North American QSO Party (QSO is short for a contact or conversation). Today’s version is a voice contest only. Two weeks ago a friend and I made a combined effort in the morse code version of this particular contest and absolutely had a blast. We didn’t work the entire 12 hours that this contest covers, but only put in about 6.5 hours. In that time, we made 178 contacts in 34 different states and 3 Canadian provinces. By comparison, most of the top echelon morse code contesters can make 100 contacts per hour.
So, if you’re reading this, I’ll be offline from the “inter-tubes” and online riding the airwaves from about 1:00pm CT for maybe as much as 12 hours (depends on how my derriere holds up sitting in that chair that long).
73 (that’s short for talk to you again soon)
Dan – Amateur radio station N4EA