The first scratch…

You know how it is when you buy that new pickup truck and you’re so careful with placing anything into the back for fear of getting that first scratch. 

A few months ago I learned about Keith, G6NHU and his QSO365 project.  I thought to myself what a marvel idea and what a great way to ensure you get on the air more.  Keith’s plan was certainly more than just the hope of making a contact a day.  It was very well organized and he blogged about his progress throughout the year.  Keith successfully completed his goal and did in fact make a QSO each and every day in 2011.  Please visit his blog site to read all about his 2011 QSO 365 project.

I think we all struggle from time to time with staying active on the bands.  I once interviewed Duncan McLaughlin, KU0DM on the practical amateur radio podcast.  You can listen to this two part episode in episode 28 and episode 29.  During the interview, I asked Duncan how he managed to stay active on the air with all the other activities a high school aged young man has competing for his spare time.   His comment was simple.  His goal is to make 5 contacts or QSO’s per week.  This might be completed with a single QSO each day for five days or he might complete 5 QSO’s all in one day.  The point was to at the very least have a goal and stick to it.

Sadly, I have experienced months where I’ve only made a handful of QSO’s and some months where I’ve made none.  I’ve even experienced consecutive months of no QSO’s.  I should note, these consecutive months of no on-air QSO’s had nothing to do with HF band conditions.  It was available time and motivation to create available time.

As an example, the month of January 2011 I failed to make a single QSO.  While I made 157 in February 2011, I experienced zero QSO months in March and April.  I really came out of my shell in August with 69, then 302 in September (Colorado and Texas QSO Parties) and I finished the year strong with over 100 QSO’s each month in October, November and December.  The month of January 2012 is still young and I’ve logged over 100 Q’s.  While it’s not about the quantity or number of QSO’s I make in a given month or year, it really is the quality.  

Back to that first scratch.  Just after I kissed my wife and wished her a Happy New Year (just after midnight), my wife said to me, “Don’t you want to go down to your ham shack and make a first contact of 2012?” My wife is VERY supportive of my amateur radio hobby and everything that goes along with it (this blog, podcast, SOTA adventures etc.)  Of course I said yes, be right back.  I quickly fired up JT65 and the first QSO was in the log for 2012.  Really without trying I found myself making QSO’s on Jan. 2, 3, 4, 5 etc.  I guess you could say I’m trying for a QSO a day in 2012. 

But why do I keep talking about a scratch?  On the evening of 10 January, I didn’t make it down to the shack until after 9 PM local time.  The bands were in horrible shape and I didn’t hear anything on 40 or 80m SSB.  I checked the data modes and still nothing.  I decided my best chance for a QSO was JT65 and I began calling CQ at 5 watts.  Every couple of CQ cycles I increased the power by another 5 watts.  Calling CQ at 10, 15, 20 and even 25 watts….NOTHING heard.  I began to have the feeling you feel just after you get that first scratch in the pickup bed. 

See…when you buy that brand new pickup truck, you do everything in your power to prevent that first scratch.  I mean….just about everything.  Then one day you look and there it is.  As big as Dallas….that first scratch.  From that point on you just simply don’t care.  You haul anything and everything and don’t care if something slides and bangs around. 

I wasn’t ready for the first scratch or the first day with no logged QSO’s.  I turned the power up to 30 watts and sent my JT65 CQ out one more time.  Thank fully, K5DHY in Texas heard me and replied.  A few minutes later the QSO for the day was in the logbook.  Whew….I avoided that first scratch.

So I guess you could say that I’m trying for a QSO a day in 2012.  My rules are simple…have fun.  The day it becomes a chore, I’ll stop.  But right now it is fun and yes I realize I’m not even half way through my first month.  Smile

Rules???  I don’t have any rules set really.   All contacts will be HF.   Most will be made in my shack.  But others will most certainly be from portable operations such as SOTA and other portable/mobile operations.   My calendar day is based on UTC.  Which means in the evenings I’m working towards the next calendar day.  This also sort of provides a safety net in the sense if I hadn’t made that QSO on the evening of the 10th, I could have made attempts the next day as long as I got it in the log before 00:00 UTC. 

We’ll see how things progress and see if I can avoid that first scratch.

Until next time….

73 de KD0BIK 

Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK, is a regular contributor to and writes from Colorado, USA. He is the host of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. Contact him at [email protected].

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