Monthly Archives: June 2017


As I wrote last time, we practiced over the weekend to deal with communications during a major disaster. Dealing with death and major destruction requires a set of skills that, ideally, we’ll never need.

Today, on the other hand, I’m celebrating twenty years of marriage with my wife. Someone I will always need. Between the two of us we have gotten through everything life has sent our way. There have been blessings, especially our children and there have been challenges—like our children’s bedrooms. To which I’m sure every parent can relate.

To quote George Peppard’s character on the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Thanks, baby, for being the glue that made it come together and stay together.

Today Is Field Day

Each year, amateur radio operators around the country simulate establishing communications after a totally devastating storm. They go to a field, park, parking lot, or wherever and starting this morning will set up a high-power communications system able to connect with almost anywhere. Antennas will be strung from trees, power supplied by generators, and in a tent or under the roof of a park shelter will be a number of transceivers, with each connected to a computer, an antenna, and power from a generator, solar cells, portable wind turbine, but not normally the electric grid. At 2:00 PM EDST, they will begin contacting other stations, working around the clock until Sunday, after which everything is removed as though they never had been there.

It’s easy to have confidence in our smartphones, internet, etc., but when disaster strikes, the demand gets so high that the overloaded systems can crash. That’s why Amateur Radio played an important role in Hurricanes Katrina and Matthew, and Superstorm Sandy; when Greensburg, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri were devastated by a tornado.

Today we test our readiness and then try to improve any shortfalls so we can be ready when you need us.


Whether it’s a natural disaster like a storm or an earthquake, an industrial fire or explosion or even a terrorist act, suddenly the ability to reliably communicate becomes a problem. Amateur radio operators provide communication support to the community, often using their own equipment, and always at no cost—that’s why it’s called the amateur radio service.

The largest disaster response by US amateur radio operators was during Hurricane Katrina. More than a thousand ham operators from all over the U.S. converged on the Gulf Coast.

Subsequent Congressional hearings highlighted the Amateur Radio response as one of the few examples of what went right in the disaster relief effort.

There are about 750,000 ham radio operators licensed today in the United States—more than at any other time. Hams can choose which methods of communication appeal to them—voice, television, over 60 computerized data modes, and yes, even Morse code.

With an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in our schools, amateur radio shows what happens when you take STEM out of the classroom and into the real world.

If you are interested in amateur radio or want more information about emergency communications go to,, or send an e-mail to


Amateur radio operators—often called “hams”— pass a test after which they can design, build, and modify their equipment, transmit with up to 1,500 watts (as compared to 4 watts for Citizens Band); and to have access to a wide range of frequencies to communicate across town or across the globe.

The first amateur radio satellite, OSCAR 1 (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) was launched in 1961. Over the years, nearly 100 satellites have been launched by piggybacking them to a commercial satellite launch. Today there are 12 operational amateur radio satellites, many built by students as a class project, including one that was built by students at a grade school.

The International Space Station has two amateur radio stations—one Russian and one American; both are used for recreation and the astronauts schedule contacts with schools throughout the world to help kids get excited about STEM. On occasion, the amateur radio station has acted as a backup to the regular communications equipment. Obviously, many of the astronauts from all countries are licensed ham radio operators.







Interesting Facts about Amateur Radio

  • It’s called “The Amateur Radio Service” because amateur operators cannot be paid for their services.
  • The first radio operators were telegraphers who left their railroad stations and went to sea. Because radios used a spark gap, which could cause a fire, the radio room was a separate structure constructed on the deck of the ship and called the “radio shack.”
  • No one knows why they’re called “hams.” Some believe one of the first amateurs used the call sign “HAM;” others believe professional radio operators used it to show their unhappiness at hobbyists using “their” radio waves.
  • After the sinking of the Titanic, amateur radio operators were directed to monitor for distress calls from ships at sea.
  • Learning Morse code was a requirement for a ham license for many years. Originally it was because telegraphy was the only type of signal ANY radio could send or receive. The requirement continued for decades because ships in distress still sent “S-O-S” by Morse. After the US Coast Guard stopped monitoring for Morse code, the requirement for amateurs to learn the code was removed from license requirements. However, many hams like to work CW (continuous wave—the technical term) because contacts can be made around the world with very little power—as low as a fraction of a watt.
  • Every male with an amateur radio license is referred to as an “old man” or OM, regardless of age.
  • Every female with an amateur radio license is called a “Young Lady” or YL, again, regardless of age.
  • Wives of hams who are not licensed are called XYLs or “ex-young lady.”
  • Husbands of hams who are not licensed have no special title; they just tend to be ignored.
  • When using telegraphy (CW), common expressions often are sent in a special shorthand.
    • Some are abbreviated, such as TNX or TKS for “thanks.”
    • Some numbers have meanings; 73 means “Best regards,” and is often used at the end of a contact the way “Sincerely,” might be used at the end of a letter.
    • Three letter groups, beginning with a Q but without a following U are another form. “QSY?” means, “Shall I change frequency?” Without the question mark it means, “I am changing frequency.” Naturally, these are referred to as Q-Signals.
    • QSL means “I am acknowledging receipt [of your message].” Hams traditionally send a special postcard to stations with whom they’ve made contact; these are called QSL cards.
    • SK, when sent together, means that the station is going to shut down for the day. Deceased hams are referred to as silent (telegraph) keys with their call signs followed by (SK).
  • Guglielmo Marconi made the first transmission across the Atlantic in 1901, and soon individuals were experimenting on their own. By 1912 the United States was licensing amateur radio operators.
  • Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim invented the first portable, fully automatic machine gun. His son, Hiram Percy Maxim was more interested in the goodwill generated by international communications. He founded the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the hobby’s national association.
  • Some of the more interesting techniques include bouncing radio signals off the moon and back to earth or using the aurora borealis to reflect radio waves.
  • Radio waves with short wavelengths, and therefore higher frequencies tend to travel according to line of sight. Longer wavelengths can reflect off the ionosphere, then the earth to make long distance communications possible. The ionosphere changes between day and night, and in conjunction with the eleven-year sunspot cycle. This is one reason why so many different frequencies are needed and used.
  • Amateur Radio has its own patron saint- Saint Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar whose call sign was SP3RN. Early in the Second World War he used his radio to inform the rest of the world as to what the Germans were doing to Poland. He hid refugees (including 2,000 Jews) in his monastery, was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. After three prisoners attempted to escape, the Germans chose 10 at random to be starved to death. One of the men blurted out, “My wife! My children!” and Father Kolbe voluntarily took his place.
  • Many interesting people are, or have been ham radio operators:
    • Walter Cronkite KB2GSD (SK)—newscaster
    • Tim Allen KK6OTD–actor
    • Dick Rutan KB6LQS and Jeana Yeager KB6LWR who made the first non-stop,
      non-refueled aircraft flight around the world.
    • Patty Loveless KD4WUJ—country singer
    • James Lance Bass KG4UYY—’N SYNC pop singer
    • Bob Moog K2AMH(SK)—inventor of the Moog synthesizer
    • Joe Walsh WB6ACU—guitarist with The Eagles
    • Howard Hughes W5CY(SK)—billionaire, aviator
    • Nolan Bushnell W7DUK—inventor and founder of Atari
    • Yuri Gagarin UA1LO(SK)—first man in space
    • David Packard 9DRV(SK)—co-founder of Hewlett Packard
    • Pricilla Presley N6YOS—actress, wife of Elvis Presley
    • Garry Shandling KD6OY (SK)—comedian, actor
    • Plus a long list of astronauts, kings, princes, sheikhs, and heads of states

Manifest Destiny Must Be Nice

Every society has good and bad in its history. Sometimes we want to forget the bad, such as slavery and the Confederacy, but there is a risk. It’s amazing to me that even with eye witness testimony, including perpetrators and victims plus meticulous records from the Nazis, there are those who deny the holocaust ever happened.

Probably the most audacious example, though, is when Europeans forced Native Americans off their land—but we use their words to name cities, rivers, and other features. It’s kind of like, “Get out or we’ll kill you, but to make it up to you, we’ll name this area Ahoskie as a tribute.”

Goodbye to an Old Friend

Long before my time, Theodore and Milton Deutschmann started a business to cater to the new field of wireless—specifically, amateur radio. They called their business Radio Shack.


Why? Ships were among the first to adopt wireless communications, and since early transmitters created a signal by generating a huge spark, there was the risk of starting a fire. To minimize risk, the radio equipment was placed on the main deck, in a separate small building, which came to be called the radio shack.

Ham radio operators (no one knows for sure why they’re called “hams”) tended to call the place where their radio station was located as the radio shack, or ham shack. Amateur radio was shut down during both world wars, but hams returned to the air as soon as it was legal to do so. The end of the Second World War provided an added advantage with huge selection of inexpensively priced military surplus radio equipment.

When I was a youngster, there were a few radio stores around town where you could buy components or tools. However, periodically the mailman would deliver a catalog from Lafayette, Allied, or Olsen Electronics. The Sears Christmas toy catalog couldn’t compete with these for the pure lust they generated. I remember building a set of Knight Kit walkie talkies, purchased from Allied.

In the late 1960s, Allied began opening stores in malls, outcompeting most the other companies, which gradually faded away. Allied purchased Radio Shack, but the combined Allied-Radio Shack was determined to be too monopolistic, and the two companies were split up. Allied became the industrial supplier while Radio Shack stayed as the retailer in the malls. Radio Shack sold things that you couldn’t find elsewhere. The TRS-80 computer was one of the first personal computers. They introduced a pocket-sized computer and one of the first laptops. Radio Shack had a niche market—the nerds—but nerds were paying $2,500 for a radio shack computer before the general population knew personal computers existed.

You could find all the parts to build a stereo from tuner to speaker wire. How about a multimeter and a soldering iron? They sold CB radios, of course, but also some ham radio transceivers. Most everything was manufactured by someone else, but carried one of Radio Shack’s brand names.

If you were working on a project and need a 47 ohm resistor (usual price, 10 cents—Radio Shack price, two dollars) you could drive to the mall on a Sunday and finish your project before dinner, even on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah, their components were overpriced, but the convenience made it worth it.

Then, one fateful day, the brainless
pencilnecks management of Radio Shack decided to sell the same products (e.g., cell phones) that you could buy for less money at Best Buy, WalMart, RiteAid, etc.

I’ve been told by Radio Shack managers that the really profitable part of the store was the parts section with those overpriced resistors, capacitors, and semiconductors. You know, the ones you could buy whenever you needed them? The parts selection went from a large section of wall to a metal cabinet with multiple drawers. I think the cabinet got smaller, but in any case, there were fewer and fewer parts available. Cell phones—no problem. Parts? Sorry.

I hear that Radio Shack is still sort of, kind of, in business, but you couldn’t prove it by me. The last local store is now empty. Like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, you only hear about someone who knows someone whose brother-in-law saw one. It’s too bad—they could have coasted a few more years just on what I spent there.

Write? Right!

Most of my writing time has been allocated to preparing training materials for hurricane season. Amateur radio operators provide the additional communications needed in a disaster or backfill communications systems that have failed. I’ve been teaching classes each month for one to two hours, so that takes time.

I’ve also been working on my story/mini-novellette/novelette or whatever. When I wrote a series of short stories, I could imagine a scenario and know how the cast of characters would react. This is different because I do not yet intimately know the characters. However, it is coming along better than I expected. I’ve always been fascinated by the side plots and unexpected twists and turns in good stories. What started out as a linear story is developing its own twists and turns and is insistent when I need to add a new character.

I hope that once it’s all done, it’s worth reading.