Big Mac

Photo by Evan-Amos- Wikipedia 

I like 30 meters very much, and have always made some nice contacts on this band. There are many times I find DX here, and I work them when I can, but I’m finding some long slow QSO’s here too. During the early evening hours, I easily work stations in the mid-western states on this band.

I’ve worked WB5QYG in McAlester, Oklahoma a couple of times lately, and did a quick search of his home town. Mc Alester is in what’s known as “Tornado Alley” where severe storms are always a certainty in the summer months. It’s also the home of the  Oklahoma State Penitentiary . –The local people call it “Big Mac” That’s the reason for the first picture in this entry.

Photo by Charles Duggar- Wikipedia 

We have an enormous prison population in this country- more than any other country in the world. Just say’in….those are the facts, and an inordinate number of those are for non-violent crimes. I hope this situation changes because it costs a LOT of money to maintain these places. This is true in all 50 states. West Virginia is no exception, we have more than 7,000 incarcerated in our state.

I wonder how many of these inmates might be interested in radio?  Perhaps a good hobby would have required a better use of idle time and therefore a more productive life, and the decreased need for nationwide prison facilities? If not ham radio, short-wave listening is a good pastime. I know that’s just wishful thinking; but I’m an optimist…..

Too many people today find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many times it’s due to being born in unfortunate places where there’s little opportunity for a decent job, or little opportunity for getting a decent education. Sometimes social obstacles are much too difficult to overcome. The really unfortunate thing about these “casualties of life” is many of them have the intelligence to be productive members of society. To waste a good mind is a terrible thing.

It was Like Speaking to a Ghost.

The last time I saw the USS New Jersey was in 1968. This battleship was in the Tonkin Gulf, along with us, during the Tet Offensive. We used “red lights” to preserve our “night vision” on the signal bridge, and on a clear moonless night, after an hour or so in the dark, I could see like a hungry cat searching for an elusive mouse. If you’re looking closely, you can see a slight curvature of the earth on the horizon at around 10 miles and the protruding masthead light from another ship. The white “bow” and “stern” lights of this large ship were easily visible as soon as they appeared just above the horizon.

It was important to know “who” was in the area at that time, and we had a method of identifying every new “light” on the dark sea. I focused my search light and sent the Morse Code pro-sign equivalent to “halt, identify yourself, or be fired upon” and after a brief pause, they replied “This is the USS New Jersey — fire at will”. I turned to my shipmate and said “wow….I just told the New Jersey to identify herself or I was going to blow her out of the water”. I never forgot that “challenge” even tho it was 46 years ago.

I have many memories from that period of time, some of them not so good, but when I heard the New Jersey (NJ2BB) last weekend, and was finally able to work her again, (in civilian life) it was like speaking to a ghost for me.

Photo by Greg Hume-Wikipedia 

This weekend, I was also able to work several more ships. The most memorial to me was LST-325. I have a personal history with this ship; it was in our home town of Charleston WV last year. The previous year, I found this ship in Marietta Ohio and was able to use their ships radio to work a Coast Guard Museum radio station near Los Angeles California. A few weeks ago I worked one of the LST 325’s crew members (W8AU/M) who was driving along the interstate near Columbus Ohio. It was a long and enjoyable QSO.

Wikipedia Public Domain Image 

The Nuclear Ship Savanna is the first ship of it’s type I’ve worked. I had no idea some cargo ships were nuclear powered? This was a big surprise to me.

I also worked this Canadian warship on the Great Lakes.  

Photo by Rick Cordeiro- Wikipedia 

This was the warship Haida located near Ontario Canada. (a fantastic signal by the way).

I’ve changed my “radio” focus since getting both my DXCC and WAS awards. (QRP at five watts or less of power and indoor stealth wire antennas). I work an occasional DX station with my “new straight key” but get my most joy from  long conversations at a slow 15 wpm speed.

There are several hams that I enjoy talking with very much. I like the “Special Event Stations”, and will continue to work them, but I will be writing about friends and interesting places in the United States for awhile.

My “free time” has become very limited with my father approaching his 93rd birthday, and my five grand kids growing like billy goats. There’s just not enough hours in the day……

Cuban Five Letter Stations

Are there new changes in ham radio from Cuba now? I was under the impression their operators were limited to 10 watts of power and a simple wire antenna. To my surprise when I worked CO8RRM on 40 meters a few evenings ago, he said his power was 50 watts. He sounded great all along the east coast with his vertical dipole antenna.

Perhaps the extra letter in the call-sign is a designation for higher power and extra privileges? This is my first contact with a Cuban station with five letters……

License requirements in Cuba today resemble the challenges of early ham radio in the United States. My congratulations to Rafael from Baracoa, GITMO for his accomplishment and the great signal into West Virginia. Keep up the great work and I’ll be listening for more of those five letter call-signs.

Dayton Hamvention 2014

As difficult as it might seem, this year was my “first” trip to the Dayton Hamvention. No excuses….just sayin; but during my working life at the paint store, I seldom had a weekend “off”, and it’s a six hour (minimum) round tip from Charleston.

Our club member Eric (AC8LJ) needed to make the trip on Friday (up and back) due to work obligations, and asked me to ride along with him. It was a long day, but a very rewarding one.

What caught my eyes while there? —Being a “Morse Code” buff, the popular attractions for me were, of course, QRP radios and “keys”. My mission at the event was to see “first hand” everything to do with this part of the hobby. Needless to say, the vendors I liked were Elecraft, TenTec, and Hendricks. On the “key” side, were Vibroplex, Begali, and Kent.

Before the return trip to Charleston, I had a new “Vibroplex Straight Key” in my knapsack. 
My focus in radio is very narrow, but personally, I found the QRP and CW vendors to be the busiest people at the hamvention and, Morse Code keys are cherished items for us. There’s nothing like the opportunity to actually get the “feel” of a great “quality” key “in your hand”. 
Although I didn’t get the opportunity to chat with a few of the legends in the  Ham Radio hobby, it was wonderful to see them at this event. In this day of the internet, I enjoy watching (and listening) to several ham radio shows on the web. 
Ted Randall (WB8PUM) with “QSO Radio” was broadcasting “live” from the Hamvention, as well as Bob Heil (K9EIDfrom “Ham Nation“. Gordon West (WB6NOA) was also there with all of the great material he’s known for all over the world.

The ARRL was out in full force here with an assortment of information, testing, and forums. I particularly enjoyed talking to the “Boy Scout” group. West Virginia is home of the upcoming “World Jamboree“. Although I couldn’t work them, (after returning home) their “Special Event Station” was a popular attraction.

The Hamvention trip was a success for me. I saw what was interesting to me, although only a small segment of the hobby. A QRP CW operator can never have “too many keys”. My new Vibroplex Straight Key is my “fourth” from this company. One can never have too many keys……

Switzerland on 40 Meters

I’ve worked Switzerland several times previously (10) but usually on the upper bands. I was surprised to hear and work HB9FIR on 40 meters last night. This was my one and only Swiss station on this band. I was happy to work him!

DXCC # 104 Honduras

The New DX Stations just seem to pop up from nowhere. I caught this station (HR5/F2JD) operating from Copan Honduras this afternoon on the 12 meter band. I can’t pull myself away from the chasing these guys even though I’m having some very nice local QSO’s on the 40 meter.

Still haven’t decided on the next goal, but I’m gearing up for my first trip to the Dayton Hamfest this year. I’m really looking forward to looking at new “keys” and QRP gear.

DX # 103 Guam

Much to my surprise, I made my most distant contact ever with the Island of Guam (KH2L) yesterday. I’ve often compared chasing DX, or even regular contacts, with fishing because you never know what you’re going to catch when you throw the line in the water. Obviously, ten meters was very long. I was hearing very few contacts, but after a few brief attempts I was able to predict his listening frequency. This was a fine fish to catch at 7,775 miles.

I was barely 20 years old when I first set foot on this Island in 1968. My “sailing ship” was the USS Corry (DD-817) and we had begun that journey from Norfolk Virginia. We sailed South past Puerto Rico, transited the Panama Canal, stopped at Mazatlan Mexico, and then North to the port of San Diego California where we spent several days.

I was only a “kid” then and very prone to “peer pressure”.

No serious sailor, worth his salt, could be “tattoo free” after leaving San Diego. I was no exception and had my right shoulder etched with a colorful “US Navy Anchor” just before we left for Hawaii. We then set sail for Midway Island, where we re-fueledand then westward again to Guam.

Guam was a very important strategic Island during the second world war. Only hours, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this island was invaded by the Japanese. The islanders were brutally beaten into submission and remained under their control for several years before American forces re-took the island.

Not to “harp” much about war, but in my reading about this island, I found an article about a Japanese soldier who lived in an underground cave there  for 28 years after the war. He was finally discovered by a couple of fishermen, captured, and returned to civilization on January 24th, 1972.

Shoichi Yokoi  is quoted as saying It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned“. After returning to Japan, he was a well know television personality and an advocate of austere living. He died on September 22, 1997 of a heart attack. 

It is also with much embarrassment, the Navy “tattoo” on my right shoulder still glares at me every day. One thing I’ve learned over the years is “there’s NO glory, and NO romance in war”. Perhaps one day, we can all learn to just “get along” and accept our differences with each other. Adolescence is a horrible time of life for everyone. I’m extremely grateful for my maturity these days.

Subscribe FREE to's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

We never share your e-mail address.

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!

  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor