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Snow, beer and hams

October 1, 2012

There always has to be a first time for everything and last night through early this morning was our first snow fall. As you can see it was really only a touch of white to the now barren landscape. But like someone knocking on your door it was there to let you know that soon white will be the dominant color of our landscape….only much, much deeper. As if the snow was not enough of a notice it came with an overnight temperature of a cool 29^, also announcing the promise of things to come. I have for some reason always liked the cold and snow of Alaska’s far North. It may be the sound of the snow crunching under your boot almost like walking on a box of spilled rice crispies. Or a silence so absolute that when you stand outside at -20 and watch the Northern lights dance overhead you can almost hear the crackle of the million of volts of electricity discharged in that display. Whatever the reason I will open the door, of my mind, and enjoy the winter ahead no matter what it brings.

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Having been exposed to some infamous tale gate parties at Eagles games in Philadelphia, and some even wilder bachelor parties, not to mention the many Friday nights when in the Army our company had a weekend pass and spent it in a bar in Mexico… We have nothing on how they have a beer party in Germany. There during the month of October they rate their success by the thousands of liters of beer consumed. Yes it is Oktoberfest time in Germany and I took a virtual tour of the party. Needless to say these people take there drinking seriously. Click here and check out the pictures of this years Oktoberfest.

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Below is my August 2012 article published in QST magazine, a publication by the ARRL, the (American Radio Relay League). I know the majority of the readers here are not hams, (amateur radio operators), but I thought some of you may find it interesting why I and many hundreds of thousands of other people around the world are drawn to amateur radio.

The gray light of the sub-arctic winter fell across the face of the tuner as I looked up and watched the needle settle. I live in a small 20×32 foot cabin literally on the edge of nowhere. But here in my loft lovingly called my shack I felt truly at home. Daily I would repeat the process of tuning and listening for a signal that somewhere someone was calling, and at times pondering the question why.

What is the nature of a amateur radio operator, a Ham? What drives us to spend hours a day week after week turning that knob that (may) connect us with a total stranger somewhere in the world? It is hard enough in these days of cell phones, tweets, Facebook, instant messaging and texting to explain to others the allure of amateur radio. When stopped in a parking lot and asked about the number and size of the antennas sprouting like a wheat field on your car, it usually takes only a minute to have most questionnaires blank faced and wishing they had just taken there groceries home without stopping to ask. Other times having neighbors stop by and question why I would want to have a windmill in my back yard. This while I was raising my new antenna tower, would bring a similar response and a ‘why bother’ shrug of there shoulder. It’s at times like these I sometimes re-examine my love of the avocation of amateur radio.

My personal story is a long time, 56 years, in coming. Many fateful steps proceeded my first QSO and for that story we will leave to another time. Suffice it to say I found myself in a remote cabin in Alaska, a 160 mile roundtrip to town, where I would be able to call my children. My son, KB3DVS, was on me constantly to get my license so we could talk on a more regular basis. It took 6 years of his visiting and the constant reminder that if I had a license I could talk to him anytime and besides he said you need it for emergencies.

His gentle prodding moved me to study and finally pass the first two exam pools and get on the air. I had earlier in my life tried to balance raising two children, work and keeping my wife happy with studying for the code test with no success. Here by myself in the wilderness is was still hard to absorb the code but it eventually came. My first contact, with my son in Philadelphia, came on August 6th 2002 and from my log I see on this first contact we could barely hear each other with signal reports of 3/3. But the very next day we had exchanged reports of 5/5 and had our first great QSO.

This was done on my end with a simple wire and a second hand Ten-Tec radio running on battery power. With that contact I was hooked. No more spending hours at a time on a snow covered icy road. I just went into my loft and reached out and usually if not my son, someone was always there. Of course, at first, I got the bug of chasing down WAS and WAC, but soon found that this was not the driving force that had me returning day after day to the shack. It was the (magic?) I felt when a contact was made and a good conversation ensued.

So back to the question at hand what is the nature of an amateur radio operator? I believe it is as varied as the number of operators. By it very nature is it the exchange of a communication between two operators. It is the how of the contact that is so varied. Weather it be CW, SSB or digital it is still that same exchange of information. But one’s interest could lye in SSB or digital formats on normal frequencies or one may want to try and bounce that signal off a satellite, meteor shower or for that matter the moon. Others might have a passion for emergency communications, contesting, QSO parties, IOTA, DXpedition’s or field day operations. Still others focus on certain bands they feel offer them a challenge weather it be 6 or 160 meters.

As for myself, and I am sure more than a few others, it is the act itself of turning the dial and exploring the bands. I live in isolation by choice but two or three times a day I climb up to my shack and reach out to the world. Never knowing what the conditions will be or if I will be able to copy someone. But there is no better feeling than that of finding someone out there who is a kindred spirit and having a great conversation.

Knowing later while writing the entry into the log that there are many more just like that one waiting to here the words CQ CQ CQ

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