Author Archive

Self-serving post…but not entirely

Yes, I am trying to sell books. I admit that right up front. That is how I feed my family and pay for Ham gear!

But I also have another purpose in the two new Amateur Radio books I have just published. I continually meet folks who either have considered joining the Ham Radio ranks but simply never followed through. And others who did all the work to get a license, maybe bought a two-meter HT, but never really went any farther in getting the most from our wonderful hobby.

OK, I realize what we all love so much is not everybody’s cup of tea. But I also believe that many who never develop into active Hams drop by the wayside because of four basic roadblocks…real or perceived. (And I am NOT including trepidation about passing the license exam. Anyone too timid to try the test probably wouldn’t take the next steps anyway.)

They are:

1) Putting together a station that would offer a complete and satisfying on-air experience.

2) Putting up an outside antenna.

3) Knowing what to say and do once on the air that would not get them ridiculed.

4) The jargon that has developed over the first century of Ham Radio’s existence.

In my new book, GET ON THE AIR…NOW!, I try to give practical, realistic advice on each of these stumbling blocks. I hope I have been successful because I want to see our hobby continue to grow and prosper.

Get on the Air NOW

One way I tackled obstacle #4–the one about jargon and gobbledygook–was to include in the book a complete Amateur Radio dictionary. As I compiled that section, I came up with far more terms than I expected–more than 1400 terms, 1600 definitions, and hundreds of web links–so I decided to not only make the dictionary a part of GET ON THE AIR…NOW! but publish it as a separate stand-alone book. It is cleverly titled THE AMATEUR RADIO DICTIONARY and is, I am confidently claiming, the most complete ham radio glossary ever compiled.

Amateur Radio Dictionary

You can see info on both books at The books are available wherever books are sold and in all e-book formats as well as in paperback.

But please consider my thoughts on those four hurdles that I believe keep many prospective Hams on the sidelines. If you agree, jump in and become a mentor, advise newcomers (or old-timers who never get on the air) on overcoming them, and help our wonderful hobby to continue to grow as we dive head-foremost into its second century.


Don N4KC

March Issue of American Legion Magazine to Feature Amateur Radio

Hobby to get exposure to publication’s 2.3 million readers

The March 2015 edition of American Legion Magazine will include a feature article about the hobby of amateur radio. Written by best-selling author Don Keith N4KC, the article will tell readers of the publication how ham radio remains exciting, important, and relevant, even after one-hundred years of existence and so much technological change. It will also remind American Legion members about their organization’s own club—The American Legion Amateur Radio Club or TALARC—as well as how its members can get their licenses, establish club stations at more of the 14,000 posts around the country, and more. The Legion has an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security for assistance during emergencies and the article talks about how amateur radio meshes well with that effort.

American Legion Magazine is distributed to the veterans’ organization’s 2.3 million members as well as through other outlets. TALARC now has more than 2,000 members. Regular on-air nets are held for Legion members who are also hams. The club station, K9TAL at American Legion Headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, also hosts regular operating events.

To learn more about how the American Legion is integrating amateur radio into its organization and for its members, visit

The author of the article, Don Keith N4KC, is a best-selling writer with more than two dozen books published. His submarine thriller, FIRING POINT, co-written with former submarine captain George Wallace, is now in production as a major motion picture under the title HUNTER KILLER. He has written extensively about World War II history, submarines, college athletics, NASCAR racing, and broadcasting, including WIZARD OF THE WIND, a novel with a key character who is a ham. His next book, THE SHIP THAT WOULDN’T DIE, will be published by Penguin/NAL in April 2015. It tells the true story of a remarkable event during the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. Don has also published a book on his favorite hobby. RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO explains to newcomers and old-timers alike how the hobby is even more dynamic today than when it was first introduced a century ago. All Don’s books are available wherever books are sold.

Don is an ARRL member, an Extra-class licensee, and has been a ham since 1961. He is very active on the air and operates most modes and bands. For more info on Don Keith N4KC visit or

Fire rekindled

When I first heard about the ARRL’s centennial operation, I was mildly curious but hardly enthused. As most know, the League is sponsoring a year-long operating event in which ops in all 50 states will be on the air a week at a time, signing W1AW/X, where “X” is the call district.

Well, it has been 52 years since I earned WAS, I thought. So I decided to see if I could work each W1AW/X state for a new certificate.

Then I decided to work each state several times each just to be sure I was “in the log.”

And as the first round neared the end (each state will be on the air for a full week at least twice during 2014, usually two states each week), I thought to myself, “Self, why don’t you see if you can work them on all modes?” I need practice in pile-up and contest operating on the digital modes and especially RTTY.



Suddenly, this little centennial thing has become a lot of fun and a thrilling challenge! I’ve heard other guys say the same thing. I’m way down the list on total QSOs (3000-ish somewhere) and just cracked the top 15 in my state, mostly due to my late and lackadaisical start. But now I spend far more time than I should chasing W1AW.

I have a new book due at the publisher’s, have just started a new ham radio book, have a 10-month grandson I want to teach the Morse code, I need to be getting ready for the Huntsville, Alabama, Hamfest this weekend, college football season is about to start, and…Wait!…W1AW/1 in Vermont was just spotted on 12-meter PSK31.

Excuse me. I gotta run…


Don N4KC
(Author of the new book RIDING THE SHORTWAVES:

DXpedition means more than “59 TU” to this ham radio operator

Mellish ReefMellish Reef in the Coral Sea

This week I was happy to add to my logbook three contacts with VK9MT.  The well-planned and excellently managed dxpedition was operating from a tiny sliver of coral and sand about 500 miles northeast of the Australian coast, a barely-there island called Mellish Reef.  It was a new one for me (number 306!), and when they had to suddenly cut their time out there short because of threatening weather, I was especially happy I had been able to log them.  Now, as I write this, the exhausted team faces several days of rough sailing, trying to steer clear of the tropical storm that chased them off the reef in the first place.  We wish them godspeed and offer our thanks for their time, effort, and considerable personal investment in placing Mellish on the air for us.

There’s another reason I was so pleased to get a few brief contacts with this particular group and QTH, though.  Mellish Reef is located in the Coral Sea.  In May, 1942, a key naval battle was fought in the immediate vicinity.  The Battle of the Coral Sea actually changed the course of warfare since throughout the battle neither fleet ever laid eyes on the other.  All fighting occurred between airplanes flying off the decks of carriers, something that had never happened before.  The battle also was a tactical victory for the Allies.  It not only stopped the Japanese march to the south toward Australia but it also left the Imperial Navy two carriers short.  They were damaged at the Coral Sea conflict and unavailable for the historic Battle of Midway, a key factor in the first clear-cut Allied victory of WWII.

USS_Neosho_Burning_from Japanese plane


The Allied tanker USS Neosho ablaze after coming under attack in May 1942 in the Coral Sea, near Mellish Reef

I am now writing a book about a little known side story to the Coral Sea battle.  It is the tale of the sinking of two ships, a destroyer and a tanker, which were mistaken by the Japanese as an aircraft carrier and escort, an error that helped the Allies prevail in the battle the next day.  Just over 100 men were left clinging to the listing deck of the hulk of the tanker, awaiting rescue that would not come for four days.  Another nearly 200 men abandoned the ships and ended up adrift on life rafts without food, water or shelter.  By the time the rafts were found nine days later, only four of the men were still alive and two of them soon died.  It is an amazing story of human perseverance and bravery, but also one about how what happens in war is so often determined by error, coincidence, and sheer luck.  How many of those men might have survived if they had somehow found their way to Mellish Reef?

As an author, I look for human stories everywhere.  For certain, when I work a fellow ham anywhere–around the corner or on the other side of the globe, engaging in a rag chew or in a quick “59 TU” contact–I am always interested in what Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.”  What is it like there?  What else happened there?  What does the OM do for a living?  What stories is he willing to share?

Remember when brave and resourceful ops put South Sudan on the air before most in the USA even knew a country with that name had been hatched?  I was recently thrilled to work the dxpedition FT5ZM on Amsterdam Island.  Now that part of the world is at the top of the headlines with the Malaysian passenger jet search.

Tonight, as the guys who worked so hard to give us a QSO from remote Mellish Reef continue their rough ride to what we all hope will be a safe return home, I can’t help but think of the other stories that have played out down there in that roiling, dun-colored sea.


Don Keith N4KC

As I ponder the CME aftermath…

Guess my ears are too old and mummified from all those years as a broadcast personality (our favored term for “disk jockey”), but all that hiss and sizzle from the CME and local thunderstorms this weekend sent me in a different direction. I did give some guys Alabama for their QSO parties, and I always enjoy doing that. But the band noise, generally yucky conditions, and my continued depression over not working VK9CZ had me doing other stuff I’ve been putting off. And with all that rain, that stuff did not include antenna maintenance or yard work. I’ve successfully postponed that for a few more days.

What it did involve was my next adventure with self-publishing. I make my living writing books and finally got around to doing one on my favorite hobby for the past 52 years…ham radio! RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO ( No big-time publishing house was interested in doing the book. Neither was the ARRL. They say non-technical books don”t sell well for them, and I understand. They’ve been kind enough to sell the book in their online bookstore, so bless them!

Anyway, I went a different route and published the book myself. It has been available for a while in paperback as well as for the Kindle e-book reader. But this weekend…while the bands hissed at me like an audience does a villain…I busied myself getting it formatted and uploaded for every other conceivable e-book reader out there. That includes the Apple iPad, Barnes & Nobles’s Nook, and the free-to-download Adobe Digital Editions reader. Success! After a couple of false starts, of course. Man, the technology around book publishing is changing quickly, just as it is in all media and our wonderful hobby. (By the way, I blog on such stuff at and sometimes here on I also finally got around to designing and setting up a store where I can make available shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs and other items to help people promote our hobby with the message: “I ride the shortwaves. Ask me about amateur radio.”. It’s at

Another bit of good news helped through the CME aftermath, too. I got word from the ARRL that not only will the League be selling my book at Dayton, but they asked me to do some signing events. I look forward to it! Please drop by and say hello if you make the pilgrimage…no purchase necessary!

I’m already going to be hanging around the QRP ARCI “Four Days in May” event on Thursday, May 16. It’s at the Holiday Inn in Fairborn, not far from Wright-Patterson AFB. I’m there with Rich Arland K7SZ, author of the ARRL’s QRP book. Rich has been shoving and pushing me to get deeper into QRP, and I think I may finally be catching the bug. Or maybe it is just the ragweed. I do occasionally turn down the power to 5 watts and see what I can do. The challenge is something of a thrill.

Just not when the A-index is 45!

Don N4KC

That downward “ham radio” trend line

There’s an interesting discussion ongoing on some of the amateur radio blogs (including this one) about how an analysis of the number of searches in Google using the term “ham radio” is trending. No doubt about it, if you simply look at the graph, it shows the hobby I love so much–and that I fully credit for getting me into a career in media–is trending more and more southward:

This could mean a number of things:

— People are getting their info about ham radio in other ways besides searching for that specific term on Google.
— They are searching for info on the hobby using other keywords, such as “amateur radio.”
— Nowadays, people search initially for information on a subject and then, if they find what they seek, they bookmark it/make it a favorite and don’t search anymore on Google.
— As we have gotten more sophisticated in how we use the search engines–often merely using the address bar in our browsers to type in odd terms that more closely match what we are seeking–the big, all-inclusive search terms are not used so often.
— Interest really is declining.

You know what my heart tells me. Licensing backs me up in that belief. We have more licensed amateurs in the country now than ever before in the 100-year history of the hobby. My sense is that the hobby is vibrant and growing, and, before you slap on me me that “rose-colored glasses” brand, be aware that I am pretty good at looking at things such as reliable research data realistically.

On the other hand, I still believe it behooves those of us active in the hobby, those who want to see it continue to grow, expand, and become even more exciting and diverse, to be evangelistic about it. We have to do what we can to recruit potential hams into our little “cult of the airwaves.”

That was one reason I wrote the book RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO. I want people to understand that the hobby can be much more than sitting in a basement sending Morse code or trying futilely to hit repeaters with a handheld and a rubber-ducky antenna. As with most technology, our avocation has dramatically changed, and for the better. It offers so much to younger people who have grown up with cable, satellites, computers, and smart phones. True, those folks might think amateur radio is still what their weird uncle used to do in his back room with all that spittin’ and sparkin’ radio junk. We need to make them more aware of what the hobby is these days. And make sure they know that it absolutely can lead to a career in a technical field, including computers, communications, engineering, meteorology, media and more.

We won’t panic about that trend line. We will continue to do what we should be able to do best: COMMUNICATE!

Don Keith N4KC

OK, OK! I Will Write that Ham Radio Book!

Ever since I began writing articles about my hobby of choice–amateur or “ham” radio–for my ham radio web site and several others, people have been asking me when I was going to do an amateur radio book.  The truth is, I have just been too darn busy to even think of such a thing. And I also knew, in my heart of hearts, that it be would difficult indeed to get any kind of decent book contract for such a niche book.  I presented my idea of a half-fiction/half-nonfiction book to the ARRL and they passed, so that confirmed my feelings. If they had no interest, I doubted anyone else who published books would either.

Fast-forward to July 2012.  Things have changed, both in my personal life and in the wild and woolly world of big-time book publishing.

Riding the Shortwaves: Exploring the Magic of Amateur Radio by Don Keith N4KC

Don Keith N4KC has just published his new book of short stories, articles, advice, and more about ham radio.

First, I retired from my 60-hour-a-week day job back in May.  And as I shuffled through the articles I had in the can, several more I was working on, and a few still in my head, I realized I was closer to a book than I had thought.  And I truly believed I had something that would be different and could find a readership.


Secondly, as I investigated Kindle Direct Publishing at for the re-issue of a couple of my previous now-out-of-print books, I realized that I should absolutely pull the ham radio book together for that outlet–Kindle and some other e-book readers–at least.  Amazon has become a real threat to traditional publishing companies–especially when it comes to e-books–as the old-line publishing houses struggle to figure this newfangled thing out.  At the very least, it gives me the opportunity to make my book available at a very reasonable price to those interested in amateur radio.  No, I don’t make much money at the price I set, even if I actually sell some downloads of the book, but that is not really the object anyway.  As I have said many times, and not totally facetiously, if I wanted to make a fortune writing books, I would write pornography (See FIFTY SHADES OF GREY).

Then, as I considered other options, I realized that Amazon offers a truly unique opportunity for works like this one that allows me to offer the book in a traditional paperback format with minimal investment up front.  Remember, I’m retired, on a fixed income these days!  Amazon’s is a print-on-demand deal, but they seem to have it down to a science.  I ordered some copies as soon as I got the book and cover uploaded and accepted for publication.  The very next day I got the email that they were being shipped that day. Wow!

Again, this was with very little upfront cost and minimal hassle.  Now, the paperback will be available not only via, but through major distributors, for order by libraries, and even in many European markets. We will see how good the print job is, but believe me on this: the major houses don’t necessarily produce the highest quality book any more either.  They have to cut where they can to make a profit and printing, binding, and warehousing is a big drain on them.

Talk about rapid technological change and its effect on society and the media!  Broadcast radio, TV, the Internet and telephone communications are not the only things evolving at a dizzying pace.  Include the anachronistic business of book publishing in that mix, too!

Realistically, will tons of booksellers and all the Barnes & Noble stores order a box full of the books each?  Or will hundreds of thousands of libraries order up a couple dozen copies each?  Of course not.  The big publishers do have sales staff to encourage that sort of thing. But a) no big publishing house was going to do a contract for RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO and b) even if they did, it would be somewhere near the bottom of the sales staff’s sample case, so c) Amazon’s various self-publishing options are perfect for this kind of book.

By the way, if you have any interest in the dynamic and rapidly growing hobby of ham radio–believe me, it ain’t your weird uncle’s past-time any more!–then you may want to stop by and take a look “Inside the Book,” read the description, and maybe buy a copy or two…for yourself or someone you know and want to spark the interest in our amazing hobby.

See, right there in that last sentence, I did more publicity for RIDING THE SHORTWAVES than the big publishers do for most of the books they print up and ship out!


Don Keith N4KC 


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