Tuesday, July 16, 2013

CQ, CQ ... ?

In the sorting out process that follows a death in the family, bits and pieces float up. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes sad. How and when they strike can be triggered by almost anything.

My father was an amateur (ham) radio operator. The "ham" is a pejorative term going back to "ham-handed," applied to bad telegraph operators. 

For those of you not old enough to remember a time when there weren't desk-top computers and the internet, amateur radio was the Facebook of its day. People would crank up the wireless in the evening and send messages in Morse code; later, the ability to send and receive voice came along, and they did that. They'd twirl the dials through the frequencies, sending out a "CQ," signal, looking for other radio buffs. 

When long distance telephone calls cost an arm and a leg for three minutes, ham radio operators would cobble together phone patches, and somebody in Louisiana could talk to somebody in India for free, as long as the connection lasted. For years, Daddy ran the Old China Hands phone patch.

"Cee Que," came from a French word, sécurité French being the official language of radio operators back in the day. It was basically a "Hello, anybody there?" invitation to talk. Eventually, the FCC decided you weren't supposed to do that, just cast around for listeners, but the older guys still did it. 

Ham radio was sometimes very powerful, depending on the hit-or-miss atmospheric conditions; one could connect to somebody halfway around the world–but not the next state over. You never knew until you tried.

My father switched to the 2-meter band some years back, erected a seventy-foot tall rotating antenna, and talked to people from all points on the globe. 

His call letters were W5LVX, and he had a map on his office wall showing people to whom he had talked. Every continent, including Antarctica.  

Until his dementia got bad, there was always a radio shack at our house. Many operators had them in their cars–not talking CB, citizens band–and sometime would play games wherein one of them would go somewhere in town and hide, and the others would hunt the rabbit by triangulation and field strength to see who could find him first.

My mother told me that when Daddy got bad, he used to talk in his sleep, and sometimes, he would be on the radio:

"CQ, CQ, this is W5LVX, anybody there? I need somebody to come and help me leave this institution and get home! CQ? Anybody?"

He lived in that house for fifty-two years, but in this case, "home" meant my great-parents farm in Leonard, Oklahoma, a few miles south of Tulsa. I saw the place only once, when I was small, and in what had been my father's room, there was a crystal radio set he'd built, inset into the wall next to his bed. He would have laid there with earphones on in the early 1930's, listening to whatever radio stations he could pick up late at night. The house didn't have electricity in those days, so to boost the signal, he would have had to use a small dry cell battery.

 We have come a long way in communications since then, but W5LVX has signed off, and is, as they say in ham radio circles, silent key ...


Joe said...

Another part of the world that's disappearing. I never got into it, but I had friends in high school that did.

I've tried explaining to my kids what it was like when I could tune up my own car without hooking it up to a computer, or how I rebuilt the carburetor on my '67 Impala. It's sad to see these skills going away.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying not to appear to be an insensitive clod by sticking my nose into a personal area, but the ARRL publishes, essentially, obituaries.

Somewhat akin to sending an obit to the local paper:


Dojo Rat said...

When I was about 6 years old my Dad helped me build a crystal set radio. I could tune in a few stations, we grounded it to a defunct heat radiator and had a wire out the window for an antenna.
Later, I learned morse code and had a keypad linked to my buddy's house next door. It kind of worked.
I still have a bunch of radios that receive short wave, but they are in storage.

Not long ago, I was flipping through a survivalist-type website, and they were talking about how important it was to keep those old 2-way radios. You know, for when the Black Helicopters come. But really, they might be of some use in some catastrophic case...

Dan Gambiera said...

In Ham parlance he has become a "Silent Key"