How Low Can You Go...

The past four years have brought many changes to the dynamic of our family which precluded my spending so much time as an Amateur CW operator.  So, the gear got packed away into dust catching boxes in closets.  They have been relocated, pushed around, and survived a move to the edge of the world; a remote corner of southeast Kansas. Happily these years have been a good time for our family; a time to get closer and live out the last remnants of our children's young lives before adulthood swallows them up forever.  The sacrifice of other things during this time was more than worth it.  However, each time I have come across the boxes guarding my gear I have felt that sting; that sense and pang that lives in the lightning of a radio operators heart.  An electromagnetic desire to get out my radio and listen up for that relic tune morse which is still alive and well on the continuous wave pouring like a gated explosion of water into the either; a flood of cacophony from the many sky hooks scattered abroad.  Recently I got into my paper records from the time I spent operating CW.  A rush of experiences that I will forever relish came washing over me and renewed my interest in the pantheon of radio operating skill; A1A.

I suppose I could carry on about my box of contact cards but that would never do.  For me it is not the contacts that are the real prize of QRP and CW.  It was the odd rarely related experiences that happened along the way.  There was the day I first operated directly under the sun with no shade.  While I was working a contact, my telegraph speed key suddenly started sending an endless string of dashes on it's own.  The very close contact gap and the expansion of the brass & steel spring in the heat of the direct sunlight caused my key to develop a perfectly balanced recursive bounce.  It was as embarrassing as it was irritating.  I quickly attempted to end the contact in a clumsy disjointed manner the best I could.  There were the endless antenna forms I came up with inside our apartment attached to the walls, the ceiling, and in countless other ways.  Some of these antennas made astonishing contacts.  There was the time i had all my gear on my back and had a terrible bike crash on the way to the park.  Getting eaten by mosquitoes, dogs running through my antenna support lines, trying to explain to astonished passers by what morse code is.  There's more.  I once set up in a parking lot by a small tree which I used to support my antenna to work a QRP sprint.  Before I could get my gear taken down, I got blocked in by a sudden rush of young college students arriving to attend a nearby party or get together.  There were storms and rain.  There were days when the bands where absolutely silent; devoid of radio life.  Days of sunburn or even blue frozen fingers.  You name it, I probably experienced it.  All of it served to give me one of the greatest times with radio I have ever had.  Moreover, every claim about CW and QRP, was for me, validated completely.  There is one experience however that absolutely set the realities of QRP and CW into my mind like concrete.

My late friend Bart Lawson, a fantastic teacher, avid CW and QRP operator would have a brief QSO with me every morning.  Those sessions were great and what a privilege.  Bart was also an accomplished fox hunter which is no small skill for any operator.  We would try to use different bands, power levels, and other QRP related tactics.  Bart and I were both followers of a facet of QRP where operators try to make contacts with extremely low power; like stupid low.  He taught me a lot and was the reason I earned several 1K miles per watt awards.  How low can you go and how far can you get is the trick and the skill to learn.  One morning I will never forget, Bart and I finished up a brief rag chew on 15 meters and then signed off.  I had been using a folded vertical T antenna I made and which I had packed inside the closet of our half in ground apartment.  Why?  I am not sure.  I love antenna work.  It is a geek thing.  After our QSO I was messing around trying to refold the upper T section when I distinctly heard a very clear carrier on my tuned frequency.  Not super strong but quite clear.  A few dots, and a long dash and then pow, I heard W0IIT.  What?  Bart?  If I remember I may have tried to answer back but got no response so I called him on the telephone.  Surprised at the revelation that he had been heard, he chuckled and stammered out the statement that he had been checking his QRP transmitter into a dummy load.   This may seem trite to some ops but the situation was that he lived several miles from my home, was inside his house, and I was on a folded antenna inside a basement apartment.  For me it was a pretty cool experience and a big time validation of QRP and CW both.  Amazing....

I still believe the most fun in HAM radio lives in morse code and CW but thats just me.  What ever mode and band you choose to use and what ever equipment you operate on, make sure you operate in the true spirit of radio and relish every second you live on the air.  Live and learn and light up the either with intelligence...

Amen, 73's D Keath NØWKZ

Half wave tuner that actually worked perfect through all the bands from 80M to 10M


One of my radio bags with bird poop!



Little speed key I built from a kit


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