One of the Dumbest Things I’ve Ever Done in Ham Radio

Mark, W8MP, and I often argue about what’s dumber—his county hunting or my collecting QSL cards from stations whose call signs spell words. It’s one of those arguments that will never be won. When you get right down to it, they’re both pretty dumb.

Well, Wednesday morning, I got a call from my friend, Mark, W8MP. He asked, “Hey, want to do something really dumb tonight?” When I asked what he had in mind, he replied, “Well, one of my county hunter friends, Tim, W8JJ (he’s the guy looking nervous in the black cap below), claims to have confirmed all 3,077 counties. He needs at least two General Class (or higher) hams to check his QSL cards and sign off on his application for the USA-CA award sponsored by CQ magazine. I guarantee that this will be one of the dumbest things that you ever do in ham radio. I also guarantee that it will be a lot of fun.”

Checking Tim's Cards

Tim, W8JJ (left) sweats bullets as Clark, N8CBW (middle), points out a possible problem to me (right).

With a recommendation like that, how could I refuse? Mark said that he’d also invited Clark, N8CBW, another nut, errrrrr I mean county hunter, and that he was going to prepare dinner for us.

After a fine salmon dinner with some very chewy noodles (that Mark claims his son, KD8EEH insisted that he make), we cleared the table, and Tim got out his box of cards. Mark then explained how we should proceed. I was kind of curious about this, as it’s clearly impossible to check all 3,077 QSOs in a single evening.

Basically, what the two checkers are supposed to do is to check random contacts until they are satisfied that the applicant does indeed have a QSL from all 3,077 counties. To select the contacts, you might choose counties where you lived, or counties that you have visited. I hit on the idea of having Tim produced the confirmations of all 16 counties in Massachusetts. Clark, who is more familiar with which counties are the most difficult to confirm, asked Tim to produce cards from some rare counties in Colorado and Hawaii.

Above all, though, the idea is to give the applicant as much grief as possible during the process.

Mark came up with the idea of calling several county hunters that he had phone numbers for and asking them to verify in their logs some of the QSOs that Tim was claiming. He first phoned Jim, N9JF, and we asked him about a 44 report that he’d given Tim seven years ago. He wasn’t near his logbook, but he said that he did remember that contact and even rattled off the county (Wahkiakum, WA)!

Next, Mark phoned Guff, KS5A, who confirmed a contact, but was off by almost seven minutes. A long discussion ensued regarding the details of how a mobile logs contacts while out driving. In the end, we accepted the seven-minute discrepancy.

Finally, Mark phoned Larry, W0QE, to confirm a few of the MRCs that Tim had from him. (MRCs are records of multiple contacts. Using them instead of QSL cards makes the process of managing all these QSLs a lot easier.) Mark joked that it looked like one of the MRCs had a forged signature. Larry replied that all of his MRCs are stamped.

“Aha,” Clark exclaimed, “this MRC doesn’t have a stamp!”

I don’t know what was going through Tim’s mind at this point, but it probably wasn’t good. Larry then explained that he probably sent out that MRC before he got the stamp. When we confirmed those dates, I think Tim breathed a little easier.

In the end, Clark and I signed off on Tim’s application. And, even though Mark and I joke about how dumb this activity is, it’s really only a joke. In my mind, it’s quite an achievement. It takes a lot of persistence, too. It took Tim nearly ten years to do it.

Another cool thing about the county hunting sub-culture is the camaraderie amongst the county hunters. It’s the nature of the beast that you’ll be contacting many of them multiple times, and it’s inevitable that you’ll make friends with many of them.

As we were leaving, Tim said, “My wife asked me the other day if I could get now get rid of all my radios since I’ve talked to everybody.” She obviously doesn’t understand this ham radio sub-culture. Tim’s only just begun.


  1. Well….it is dumb. But sometimes the dumber the funner. All kidding aside, I think this is great! Although I’m not a big card collector, many hams are and it’s a fun part of the hobby. Sounds confusing doesn’t it? Only a Ham can understand it…
    Congratulations and thanks for sharing a great story.

  2. Thanks for the nice write up. I knew you were having fun… Tim actually made an interesting comment to me the next day when he said that what interested him most was that here were 4 hams having a great time without ever turning on (or even having) a radio. That is what ham radio is all about.

  3. Hey… Guess what? I was playing around in the WA State QSO Party last night. Can you guess the last county I worked? Wahkiakum, of course!

  4. Thanks for publishing this story Dan and for donating your time to audit my cards. I had a wonderful time and I’m now waiting for CQ Magazine to except my official application for the worked all US counties award. Once approved, I will be issued a sequential number to forever mark this event in time. It’s kind of neat to accomplish something that only 1202 people on planet Earth have been crazy enough to endure.

  5. Paul WB2ABD says:

    Glad you didn’t call me. Those old logs are buried in 48 yrs. of ham radio ephemera. Hey I need a 2X2 call in Washtenaw, along with 30m, too.

  6. Clark N8CBW says:

    As I said many times during the marathon Saturday, “if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”

  7. He got his USA-CA Number today. Way to go Tim. Chris & I hope to hear you on the second time around… I also need some Masters Gold Counties…So get your BINGO done !!

    WAY TO GO !!!

  8. Ronny, KC5EES says:

    What an amazing achievement. Congratulations to Tim on doing what most of us can only dream. I’m sure he enjoyed the good humor that you demonstrated while you checked his cards. Ham radio is about a lot more than the radio. This demonstrates that very well. Thanks for sharing.


    Ronny, KC5EES
    Austin, TX

  9. Patrick, KØCTU says:

    Being in Zero land, spelling words with your call sign is easy since the FCC doesn’t slash the zeroes on our license. They turn out looking like the letter “O”. A few years ago I was trying to decide on a vanity call and discovered that KBØOM was available, but someone jumped on it before I did. I also have a friend that used to have the call KB3ER. He said it looked like K-Beer.

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