One of the great things about Field Day are the stories. Every year, I add a story or two to my repertoire. This year is no exception.
Story #1 starts about 1:30 pm on Saturday. I was at my post at the public information table/GOTA station. We had been ready to rock and roll for at least a half hour, so a group of us were just sitting around chewing the fat when Stuart and his mother strolled up to the table.
Her son was a little on the shy side, so his mother explained that Stuart had seen a listing of our Field Day site on the Internet and had asked her to bring him out to see us. She mentioned that Stuart had been listening to ham radio operators on his little Yaesu handheld scanner for several years and was very excited to actually meet some ham radio operators and see ham radio in action.
Not only that, she said that he had taught himself Morse Code. A kid after my own heart! I quickly volunteered to give them a tour of our Field Day site. First, I showed him our VHF/UHF station, and he seemed really impressed with the five single-band radios.
Next, I took him into the 40m phone station. I asked how fast he could copy Morse Code, and he said 30 words per minute. I cranked the receiver down into the CW portion of the band, and sure enough, he could copy anything that I tuned in.
At this point, it was still only 1:45 pm, so I told him, “Let’s go over to one of the CW stations, and we’ll see if we can make a contact.” We marched over to the CW #2 station, and after getting clearance from the station captain, I tuned around for a clear frequency, then called CQ. Immediately, N5VV, replied.
At this point, Stuart was so excited, he was shaking a little bit. Since the contest was just about ready to start, I kept the contact short, but that didn’t matter. Stuart had finally gotten to see ham radio in action.
Stuart’s mother then inquired about taking the test. I explained that our Volunteer Examiners give the test every second Saturday of the month and gave her the URL of our website. She said that Stuart had been studying and was ready to take the test.
Unfortunately, they had to leave at that point. I told Stuart’s mother that we’d be there through 2pm Sunday and to come back any time. She said that they’d definitely be back the next day.
Stuart Makes His First Contact
Stuart and his mother returned about 1:30 pm on Sunday. He wanted to see the VHF/UHF station again, so that was our first stop. He took a couple of photos of the setup, and then I suggested we go over to the GOTA station. When we first got there, someone was at the mike, but shortly afterwards, they got up, and Stuart and I took the controls.
When we first sat down, I made a few contacts using my call to show him how to use the paddle. I noted that holding the levers down produces a series of dits or dahs, and that by tapping the other lever while holding down the first, you can produce a dit between dahs or a dah between dits.
Then, I asked him if he’d like to try it. He said yes, so just to see how it would go, I tuned up to above 7100 kHz. There was no activity up there, so I set the keyer speed to 15 wpm and told him to send my callsign a few times. He reached over with his left hand and sent it perfectly. Now, remember, this is someone who’d never touched a paddle of any kind before. Not only that, he even sent the K (dah-di-dah) iambically! That is to say that he held the dah paddle while tapping the dit paddle to slip in a dit between the two dahs.
Then, I asked if he’d like to make some contacts. He said yes, so I said, “Let’s switch seats.” We switched seats, and I said, “OK, tune around a little and find a strong station calling CQ.” We found K2ZR, and I coached him a little on how to reply. “Now, remember,” I said, “we’re going to use the W8PGW callsign.” When I gave him the nod to send, he reached over with his RIGHT hand and sent W8PGW perfectly! When K2ZR replied with our call and the exchange, I coached him to reply with “4A MI.” Not only did he do that, but he slipped in a “R” to denote that we’d copied the exchange. When K2ZR replied with a “TU,” I showed him how to log the contact.
That’s all the coaching I needed to do. After the first contact, I said, “OK. Now, tune around for another station calling CQ, and we’ll make another contact.” He was off to the races. As soon as he made a contact, he jumped up to type it into the log. His arms weren’t long enough to reach the computer from where he was seated.
When we started, the keyer speed was set to 15 wpm. After a couple of contacts, I asked if he might want to send faster. When he said OK, I bumped it up to 18 wpm. After a few QSOs with only a couple of mistakes, he asked if we could go faster, so I set it at 20 wpm. Again, only a couple of mistakes, so we bumped it up to 22 wpm. There, he started making more mistakes, but let me repeat, he never touched any kind of key before in his life. I have no doubt that with a little practice, he could easily do 30 wpm.
Overall, he made 12 contacts in the 21 minutes he operated the station. Not a bad rate for someone who’d never sent a character of Morse Code in his life, don’t you think?
As it turns out, Stuart can’t take the test in July, but his mother said that they would definitely do it in August. He has even picked out a vanity callsign. The kid is going to make a great ham radio operator. I can’t wait to get him in the operator’s seat next Field Day.