Inspired by the Morse code thread…

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,150
I wrote what intended to be a short post in reply to @WBahn as quoted below. The post was not short, and was certainly off-topic, so I moved it here. Reminiscing about Morse code and early days of my amateur radio life feels odd. At this point it seems so long ago—technologically. Things have changed so much since then.

For example my first handheld was (actually, is since I still have it) a Yaesu FT-209RH, their innovative and second µP-based radio. The first was a battery eater and neat but not so good. The FT-209 was much better, and featured two µPs (Intel 4004, 4-bit). The other salient difference between the FT-209 and later radios is ruggedness. The FT-209RH… wasn’t. I had to repair many battery packs smashed by accidental drops. Over the years the radios got more and more rugged and today’s Yaesu models are tanks.

The guy that I first started learning electronics from could send/receive at 80 WPM (using a speed key). I think the world record is about twice this. He said that he didn't hear dits and dahs, but rather was simply hearing a conversation the same way that we don't hear individual phonemes or syllables, or really even individual words, but rather we hear a conversation. It makes sense, but it still seems foreign to me. I got so that I could send at about 20 WPM, but copying at even 13 WPM was a real struggle. I think the best I ever did over a standard length test message was 8 WPM. At 13 WPM I would get the first fourth or so of it and then get hopelessly lost.
I have a (long lost) friend (who gave me my Novice exam way back when that was a thing) who was a code prodigy. He had to learn to type to keep up with his copy. He was very fond of 80s Russians who were among the very best CW operators.

Informally, he was at or greater than the various world records. I wrote a program for the TRS-80 Model 100 to send code (I used it for practice to get my 5WPM). I could set the sending speed, and I started with 75WPM which was no challenge at all. I increased it to 100WPM—still no problem. Eventually, I got up to about 180WPM and he could still copy. My program couldn’t reliability go faster.

He signed up for a study at MIT looking at morse code reception via tactile sensing and after the first session he became the subject of a study focused on how he could receive morse code at the rates he was capable of. They did all sorts of testing and variants. Not strictly a study of the kind he first signed up for, but I guess they needed to collect data about such and outlier.

I got my Technician ticket at the MIT VEC and my friend, who at ~35 years old was already a member of the QCWC (Quarter Century Wireless Club) had also been a General class holder for nearly all that time. I told he he should upgrade while I took the test. Not being a technical person, he felt the Advanced exam was over his head but I kept bugging him about how he should be a higher class licensee—and finally he decided to try.

His strategy was to literally memorize the entire question pool! When we arrived he first sat for the additional code (Extra class) endorsement, because you could and it would apply later if you sat for the written exam. As you might guess it was a cakewalk—perfect copy. The examiners were floored, they said they’d never seen anyone get a perfect copy.

The Advanced class exam went off without a hitch—I think he might have missed one question. Encouraged, he memorized the Extra pool and ent back the next month after 25 years of General going to Extra in two months. Much less spectacularly, I based the Technician exam for the upgrade. Morse was and is not my forte. 13WPM was too much for me, the fight to become competent at that speed would have been a losing battle.

One more thing about my friend (unnamed for privacy reasons). The rig he’d had from the beginning (for just about all 25 years) as the venerable Yaesu FT-101E. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a classic tube radio, from 10-160m and input of 260W SSB, 180W CW and 80W AM on all bands. Really a very nice rig.

One of the things that bugged me to no end was that for all the time he’d left the protective plastic on the front panel! One of the corners had lifted just a little and dust had accumulated there which made its presence even more obvious. When I asked him about why he’d never taken it off, he told me, “I’m leaving it on so when I sell it I can get more money”. This was just so counter to my own thinking I couldn’t reconcile it. I told him, “that would reduce my enjoyment of the radio while I owned it” but he had no sympathy for this.

Fast forward to about six months after he’d upgraded. A couple of months after he received his shiny 1x2 call he told me that he had a Mosley TA-33 Junior trapped, three-element HF Yagi-Uda which he believed was in the basement of a house he’d lived in 10 years earlier with roommates, and that he intended to retrieve. He wanted my help getting it on his roof to replace the random longwire and 20m home-hacked sloper he’d been operating with.

I told him, “sure, but 10 years ago? Do you really expect it to still be there?”. He said it would be, he just knew it, and he’d contact an old roommate, or the landlord—or someone—to get access. He worked in real estate so I suppose he could get the owner’s number…

This was a thing about my friend, he would operate on the idea that things would just work out and somehow they did*. I wasn’t too sanguine about the chances the beam would be 1. Where he expected, 2. Accessible to his 10-years-later self, and 3. Complete even if 1 & 2 panned out.

Well, cutting to the chase, a week later he called me and asked me when I could help get the recovered antenna up on the roof of his 100+ year old fisherman’s shack situated on Boston Harbor. His plan was to use a chimney mount! This was… not the most appropriate thing I’d heard of, but I told him I would help.

I worked out how to assemble and match the TA-33, all parts miraculously being on hand. The two of use climbed onto the steep roof with this antenna and its ~25ft long elements and ~12ft boom, on a perhaps not “windy” but definitely not calm day. To say it was a dodgy operation would be stepping on the soft pedal. It was downright scary. I had earlier attached the 100 year old chimney mount with it’s three stainless steel straps (this in a place where wind storms were a thing) and mounted the rotor.

With a lot of hair-raising shifting back and forth, the mast found its home in the rotor and after tightening various nuts, was “solidly” mounted. Amazingly, the antenna stayed up there, through more than one high-wind storm, for the next few years until he moved away.

Well, the antenna upgrade whet his appetite and he decided it was time to upgrade the FT-101E. His wife wasn’t so sure the money was being well spent, but somehow it didn’t stop him from dropping a couple of grand on the latest and greatest Yaesu base station HF all-band offering of the day, the FT-1000. This thing was a monster, partly because it sported a built-in power supply and automatic antenna tuner.

To help pay for this new wonder of RF and digital electronics, he sold his FT-101E. First removing the manufacturing film he the sold it for about $150 more than others because “it was in mint condition”. The was about a 33% premium if I recall correctly. In the end his plan worked, but then somehow, it seemed, all of his plans “worked” even if by rights they shouldn’t have.

* Like trying to “time” his submission for a call upgrade from his 1x3 General call to the 2x1 Extra so that he’d get his initials as the 1x1 part (Nx1x). It happened that the 1 land pool had just gotten into the right block for that (he was constantly watching issuance and waited a considerable time for the application until it would get him that call).

So, a certain day, he decided it was the right time and he mailed the application off to Gettysburg where the processing happened. Right away he regretted it, saying he’d mistimed it and it wasn’t going to work. He got so nervous he called the department in Gettysburg that dealt with issuing calls and begged the nice-but-nervous lady to shift his application in the queue so it would work.

She was very unhappy about the potential appearance of impropriety since there was no functioning vanity call program at the time and assignment was officially “random”. She told him she couldn’t possibly do that and it would simply be issued in the order that fell out. Devastated, he hung up—and called me. “I blew it, now I will never get the call. She’ll make sure I don’t get it!” I reassured him that I didn’t think it would have any effect and she’d be sure to follow the rules one way of the other. I don’t know how much comfort this brought him.

Fast forward a few weeks, and my phone rings (for real, it had a bell in it), it’s my friend, quite happy—“I got the call!”. To this day I am not sure if it was random or the call lady found him sympathetic and actually did make sure he was processed in the right slot. Considering how unlikely his scheme for “timing” the submission seemed to be to succeed, maybe his panic ensured its success by removing the largest part of chance and getting the application in so it was available to “fix”.
 
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SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
5,040
It's been a long time since I put on a set of tree climbing spurs to top out a tall pine tree to mount a set of 3 element 10M beams on. Ecological Tower! Or hang the balun of a 40M-80M trap dipole from a tall pine trees limb. Down here on the coast is where they harvest the big pines for powerline poles so I was just bypassing the cutting and doping for insect protection. One call I've never forgotten was a guy in New Zealand who responded to my 10M code CQ by sideband! Turns out the frequency for him was a voice band. So, I sent code and switched to sideband to listen. I actually heard and talked to him again a couple of months later. still have his QSL card giving me a 339 RST from my old 100W HW-101 pinned to my cork board. From Coastal Georgia that was pretty much the other side of the world. Worked a lot of Europe and North America so a call from New Zealand was very unusual.
 

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,150
It's been a long time since I put on a set of tree climbing spurs to top out a tall pine tree to mount a set of 3 element 10M beams on. Ecological Tower! Or hang the balun of a 40M-80M trap dipole from a tall pine trees limb. Down here on the coast is where they harvest the big pines for powerline poles so I was just bypassing the cutting and doping for insect protection. One call I've never forgotten was a guy in New Zealand who responded to my 10M code CQ by sideband! Turns out the frequency for him was a voice band. So, I sent code and switched to sideband to listen. I actually heard and talked to him again a couple of months later. still have his QSL card giving me a 339 RST from my old 100W HW-101 pinned to my cork board. From Coastal Georgia that was pretty much the other side of the world. Worked a lot of Europe and North America so a call from New Zealand was very unusual.
The Heathkit "Hot Water 101"—memories.
 

MaxHeadRoom

Joined Jul 18, 2013
28,686
Worked a lot of Europe and North America so a call from New Zealand was very unusual.
In the forces in Libya, we had a ham set up, and we were one of only two QSL sources we knew of for the country at that time,
It used to get Very Busy. Especially from USA.
I still remember our call sign to this day.!
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
5,040
Can't recall ever getting a QSO from continental Africa but did get some from the Canary Islands. Heard a lot of Spanish language traffic and broke in a few times in English and got a few calls from our territory in Puerto Rica and a few others from the Carribean countries. One of the old timers I worked with had a QSL card from back in the 40's during WWII (or soon after) from a General (can't remember who) that was on a B-17 bomber flying in the Pacific Ocean. It's never been too uncommon for Hams in the military to spend some time using their military gear to make a few calls. And then there is MARS, Military Auxiliary Radio Service, started in 1925 and still keeping military (and other government folks like the ones in Antartica) in touch with the folks back home when they are out of cell phone range.
 
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