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My husband was a HAM radio operator. There. I’ve said it. I’m fairly certain this qualifies him to belong to some secret, card-carrying universal order of geeks, but it’s not the kind of thing you go around mentioning at cocktail parties. Not that there’s anything wrong with it … but it’s a little like confessing you were born on Mars.

After thirty-some years of living with a HAM radio operator I still don’t know very much about it except to say that this basement hobby gave real meaning to the words “Man Cave” long before I’d ever heard anyone mutter the term. I learned shortly after I met my husband that he was a HAM radio enthusiast, in fact, the first time I met his parents I couldn’t help noticing the very tall tower parked in their back yard. Apparently the appreciation for Morse Code was inherited from his father. I’m not sure who got bitten by the airwaves bug first; father or son, but they shared their interest and enthusiasm for all things HAM for more than two decades.

We have the black and white pictorial proof that back in the mid 70′s Aldo and Pop belonged to a grassroots HAM radio club. During the summer members honed their craft by setting up and running field events where they could practice real life situations. For these events the men and boys would assemble at someone’s house, pile into a few cars then caravan out to the edge of a remote field where they would set up a makeshift relay station. They used generators for their source of power. I’m not exactly sure what else their agenda involved except to practice emergency preparedness and (judging by the pictures) the adults enjoyed the occasional alcoholic beverage and the kids consumed a lot of junk food and played cards. Good times! I do know that many of the folks who became involved in HAM radio became lifelong friends, both locally and around the globe.

I never got a HAM radio license. Oh, there was plenty of jovial teasing and encouragement to do so, but Morse Code is a type of foreign language and memorization isn’t my strong suit. Instead, I preferred to observe and, as technology progressed, listen in (eavesdrop) on the conversation. Long before cell phones were readily available my in-laws traveled to Europe. They went to visit family, but they also planned to visit with a HAM radio friend. Today, I suppose this would be the modern equivalent of meeting someone you’ve met and conversed with on the Internet prior to web cams and digital photography. Before my in-laws left we arranged a specific  time and date to rendezvous via the HAM radio. I can still remember how exciting it was to be able to talk to them (at no cost!) in real time from across the ocean! Obviously today’s inexpensive cell service, Skype and the Internet has put a dent in the thrill of going live over the airwaves.

I also know any time there was a major world event we had cutting edge information about it long before the general public. We knew well in advance when the 1990 Gulf War (Desert Storm) began, and we got inside updates that the public never got. The same happened when weather disasters happened in remote parts of the world. Sometimes it was exciting to be privy to this news, but other times it was a bit daunting. HAM radio operators are to this day still ready, willing and able to use the airwaves for  emergency broadcasts. It’s pretty neat to know these folks are dedicated to keeping the world informed.

Years ago we used to belong to a local HAM radio club. We never went to the meetings, but twice a year we’d get a big envelope stuffed with a dozen or so CQ cards. CQ cards are personal “calling cards” from the individuals you’ve made radio contact with. Not everyone had them, but I guess in the HAM radio heyday CQ cards were pretty common. So you would contact someone and they would send their CQ card to your regional headquarters. Or something like that. It was kind of like collecting stamps from all over the world. Usually the cards had a picture of the operator and their tower or gear on the front along with their call handle. Yeah, how corny is that? But back then it was cool to see who was using what equipment.

I remember on clear winter nights the airwaves were usually very strong. Our tower is (I think) an 80 meter dipole. That’s geek-speak for a medium-sized residential tower. There used to be a motor on the top that rotated the large antennae, but over the years it’s stopped turning. It was quite an event the day the tower went up. It took several men to manipulate the guy wires and scaffolding and we still have the climbing belt they wore when they hooked all the electrical lines to the top. I’ve climbed about halfway up (beltless), but I’ve never been all the way up to the top. I bet the view is nice!

The down side to having a large tower in your back yard is that it often presents a challenge when trying to take certain photos. Normally I don’t shoot much in that direction, but sometimes I wish I could without having to navigate around an unsightly tower. Oh, and we used to have some pretty strong filters on the tower or we would pick up or cut into phone and television transmissions in our neighborhood! I know there are people who consider themselves technology geeks, but back in the 60′s and 70′s HAM radio was the ultimate geek calling card. I know HAM radio hobbyists have become a bit of a dinosaur, but its fun look back at those days and remember being a part of it.

6 responses

  1. The photo is awesome. I envy Your antenna!!!

    I am not Ham radio operator, but when I was young, I listened to distant short wave radio stations. I was so called DX-listener. I made reports to them and got a QSL card. If I remember correct, I captured 78 states. Many times I was not asleep during nights, when I listened to small radio stations coming in from South America. Oh boy, those were the days!

    Once I listened to radio programs coming from the future! How it is possible? Well, when in New Year I listened to some stations from Australia and they had New Year and in my country we still waited for it! :)

    Your post was awesome. Thank You.

    December 8, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    • I always thought getting those cards was pretty exciting! I think I erroneously called them CQ cards when they are in fact probably QSL cards. Just goes to show how little the finer details rubbed off on me! I also remember listening to the radio on New Years eve and other holidays. It was such a fun way to stay in touch with people around the world! Glad this brought back some fond memories!

      December 8, 2011 at 2:34 PM

  2. Haha, now I feel alien, thanks a lot :)

    Then again, I like being a ham operator. When I was a boy, these radio waves were magical. I just had to know more about the technology behind them. The hobby never ruled my life — dogs are way more important, for example — but once bitten by the radio bug, you’re contaminated for life.


    December 8, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    • I hope you realize I was just teasing! I have a lot of respect for the amount of specialized knowledge required to be good at this hobby. Clearly I was cranially limited or I would have learned code and tinkered with it myself. I do have another funny antidote about it though. Whenever we watched a movie that had a scene with Morse Code in it you could always tell who the HAM radio operators were because they’d automatically start translating the code for everyone else watching! It is pretty addictive, as I witnessed by my father-in-law, husband and a few of their HAM radio friends. We have one friend who literally bought his house based on it’s suitability for his radio tower! :) You have a great website … feel free to post a link to it from here if you like!

      December 8, 2011 at 2:43 PM

  3. Of course I knew you were teasing, and I love your writing style! As you love photography and animals too, you might enjoy my photography more than ham radio related stuff. If you don’t, just delete my comment!



    December 8, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    • Great stuff, Hans! Thanks for the link!

      December 8, 2011 at 4:48 PM

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