Next year, let’s do a “maker” Field Day

A couple of minutes ago, I got an e-mail from John, KD8MKE, who wrote:

I had this crazy idea that you could use a quad copter to hold up a dipole antenna AND power the quad from the ground (to save the battery weight).  Ed pointed out that the cable would weigh quite a bit, which is a good point.  Modern quads are remarkably steady when they are in loiter mode.

I wondered if you had heard of someone doing something like this at a Field day?  Seems like it would be handy if you didn’t have a tree or other structure to use as a peak.

I replied:

I haven’t heard about the use of copters for actually supporting the antennas, but there has been talk about using them for getting ropes into trees.

In the past, people have used balloons to support vertical antennas. With a vertical, you’d need only support the wire itself, not the feedline. A 160m vertical would be about 133 ft. long. How far up can these things go? How long do you think they would stay in the air?

I thought about this for a bit, and it occurred to me that next year we should do a Maker Field Day. The idea would be to incorporate as many “maker” projects as we can think of into it. Copters are a big maker thing, so that certainly qualifies. Another idea that I had for a maker ham radio project is to use 3D printing to make a “cootie key” or a paddle.

What are some others?

Field Day 2014: Smaller, but funner

This year, the two local clubs, ARROW and the University of Michigan ARC, once again joined forces to do Field Day. It was smaller than Field Days we’ve done in the past—we were 2A this year instead of 4A or 5A—but it was a lot of fun, nonetheless.

Our club banner hanging on the public information tent at the entrance to our Field Day site.

Our club banner hanging on the public information tent at the entrance to our Field Day site.

For a while there, it almost looked as though Field Day wasn’t going to get off the ground. One of the reasons was that we had to find a new venue. For some reason, which I never quite understood, and to be honest, didn’t want to get too involved in, our old venue didn’t want us back.

An alternate site was suggested, and seemed like a good idea, until someone pointed out the controversial nature of the conservative political views of the owner, the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization. After some heated debate on the club mailing list, this choice was nixed.

Finally, someone suggested the Ann Arbor Airport. In addition to hangars and runways for the local general aviation crowd, it’s home to a couple of soccer fields, and since the soccer season is over here, they were available for our use.

The administrators were at first somewhat hesitant to give their permission, thinking that our operations might cause interference to the airport’s radio communications. Dave, N8SBE, this year’s Field Day coordinator, allayed their fears, however, by working with their technical people. They sent Dave a spreadsheet that they use for evaluating the possibility that a radio system will cause interference to their radio system.

Dave took that spreadsheet, and by plugging in numbers from the data sheets of the radios that we were planning to use and making some assumptions regarding the antenna layouts, he was able to show them that interference wasn’t going to be a problem. He even went so far as to make some spurious emission measurements on the IC-746PRO that we used for the GOTA station. Overall, it was quite an interesting exercise, worthy of its own blog post.

2A, plus GOTA
We operated 2A, with one SSB station, one CW station, and the GOTA station. Going to 2A, instead of trying to operate 4A, meant that we could man each of the stations continuously for the entire 24 hours.

The CW was captained by Tim KT8K. The other operators included Stuart W8SRC, Arun W8ARU, and yours truly. I’m not sure if we set a club record or not, but we easily surpassed 1,000 QSOs.

The SSB station captain was Jim, WD8RWI. I won’t try to list all of the operators that worked that station, but stalwarts included Jameson, KD8PIJ, our lone University of Michigan ARC participant and Mark, W8FSA. I think that they made over 600 QSOs this year.

That's me on the right coaching the first of eight newcomers in the GOTA station.

That’s me on the right coaching the first of eight newcomers in the GOTA station.
Photo: Dinesh, AB3DC.

I captained the GOTA station. While we only managed about 30 QSOs this year, I was quite happy with the turnout. I was able to get eight newbies on the air, including one fellow who showed up Sunday morning. After making a couple of contacts, he said that he had to try to get his son to come out and try it.

It took some cajoling, but eventually he did. The son wasn’t quite so thrilled as the father, though, once he got in front of the radio, and he shortly took off to walk their dog. The father stuck with it right up until 2 pm. I even got him to call CQ FD and run a frequency. We weren’t real successful doing this, but we did manage to get one station to reply to our CQ.

Burgers and hotdogs
The food was handled this year by John, WA8TON. He did a fine job, serving up hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch and dinners and bagels, donuts and coffee for breakfast on Sunday. For dinner on Saturday, we asked everyone to bring a salad or dessert, and that worked out pretty well, too. Certainly no one left hungry.

I’ve left out a lot, but there aren’t really any stories that stand out like in year’s past. We didn’t get a hotshot kid CW operator to show up like we did five years ago, nor did I run over any laptops like I did seven years ago. It was just a lot of fun.

Field Day media hits

Here are some Field Day “media hits,” i.e. coverage of Field Day from different media around the country as reported on the ARRL Public Relations mailing list.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Radio operators can be a big help in a serious emergency. This weekend, HAM radio operators showed just how much of an impact they can have when disaster strikes. The Austin Amateur Radio club held a field day this weekend at the Central Texas American Red Cross, training people how to get emergency messages out when cell phones are down and power is out.

WISCONSIN RAPIDS (WSAW) Wisconsin Rapids HAMS are ready to prove, once again, they’re prepared for a national emergency. Today, the Amateur Radio Relay League sponsored the annual U.S. and Canada Amateur Radio Field Day Contest.

When all else fails, we rely on ham radio. “Amateur radio operators don’t need an infrastructure because we have antennas,” said Mary Joseph, a member of the Ak-Sar-Ben Amateur Radio Club. “If everyone picks up the phone at the same time, the cell towers are overwhelmed and you cannot communicate, but we can.” Joseph and her husband, Pat, were among about 25 club members participating Sunday in the annual American Radio Relay League Field Day. They joined thousands of ham radio enthusiasts all across North America in attempting to contact as many other operators as possible.

What are you doing for Field Day?

2014_Field_Day_Logo_333_X_220My club here in Ann Arbor, ARROW, is still debating what to do about Field Day. We are unable to return to the site it was held at last year, so the organizers are still looking for a site. In addition, they have been talking about downsizing from 4A or 5A to 2A or 3A. I don’t think that decision’s been made yet, either.

That prompted me to ask my Twitter followers what they’re doing. Here’s what they had to say:

@NR4CB: My club sets up in a field adjacent to a city municipal building. I’ll visit them for a while during the event.

@imabug: @NR4CB and i’ll be playing FD with my club from the USS Yorktown in the #chs harbour

@waltham845: Trying to get myself to the top a mountain pass do some qrp. barring that qrp out in the field both battery powered hopefully.

@NS0D: I will be a CW operator for the combined FD operation at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, MO, using call WW1USA

@W1MSW: @HampdenCountyRA 4 towers, 2 tribndrs, 2 40m monobndrs, 3plexrs, networked stns, N1MM & a whole lot of fun!

@jmurphy7411: Taking part in Formidable Footprint ex w/COARES R1D1. Better to train 4 an exp event than HV fun in a contest

@VA3QV: be operating a 1B station (FT 817 qrp and an end fed wire with 12ah battery and solar panel) somewhere TBD from the Ottawa area

@twintiermedia: Spending it with KB3EIB, his 10 yr old son KD2EVP, his unlicensed son, and our dogs in the woods in Allegany County NY QRPing

@M0PZT: May be out /P on the Sunday to make a racket across the pond. Not sure about this QRP stuff though!

@KD8SRF suggested that we hold it in an Ann Arbor municipal park. The guys looked into that, and not only does the city want money to let us do that, they’re not keen on people staying overnight in the parks.

@KD8SRF then suggested: “If you wanted to go all in, might I suggest Belle isle. State police everywhere. They allow after dark special event. It’s cleaned up.” Belle Isle is the jewel of the Detroit park system. It really used to be fabulous, and the city of Detroit, which has been going through some “restructuring,” has now allowed the state of Michigan to take it over and operate it as a state park.

I actually like this idea a lot, but this is an idea for next year, I think. I would want to make it a SE Michigan event and invite hams from all over the region to participate, not just hams from any one club. Maybe I can even get KD8SRF to help organize this.

So, I’ll put it to you now. What are you doing for Field Day?

Field Day 2013: A low-key, high-Q affair

This year, Field Day was a low-key affair. One of the reasons for this—and I hate to admit this—is that I just wasn’t motivated to put all that much effort into it. So, when Tim, KT8K, suggested a two-man operation, I thought I’d give it a try.

We swapped several e-mails, trying to figure out how exactly to approach this. For example, one question was where to do this, his house or mine? Since Tim’s house is higher up than mine, and he has a better crop of antennas, we decided to do it at his house.

The next question was whether or not we’d run QRP (class 1B) or a more conventional class 1E. To run 1E, Tim would have to get his generator up and running. To operate class 1B QRP, we’d have to find some batteries and figure out a way to charge them with alternative power. (This year, the rules were changed so that to the the 5x multiplier for QRP contacts, you have to use some kind of alternative power.)

Even as late as Friday, we weren’t sure what source of power we were going to use. One of Tim’s co-workers volunteered to see if he could get the generator running. I took the small solar panel that Tim had and tried to charge a gel-cell with it.

I had no success with the small solar panel. If I’d been more motivated, and had thought twice about this, I could have probably found a more suitable solar panel. Indeed, after describing my travails, someone did volunteer a solar panel for next year, should we want it. This year, it was not to be, though.

Fortunately, Tim had more success with the generator. His co-worker cleaned out the gummy generator, and Saturday morning, Tim re-assembled it. The thing ran like a charm, and we were class 1E.

fd-2013-at-kt8k-450x360One order of business for me Saturday morning was to get acquainted with Tim’s Orion. That’s me above getting set up and finding my way around the rig’s controls.

The Orion is waaaay more transceiver than I’m used to operating. For one thing, it has two receivers. It’s a little quirky, too. Tim noted, for example, that the RIT never did work. After Tim’s instructions, I hooked up my Begali Simplex and Winkeyer, and racked up a bunch of QSOs. I was good to go.

For the first five hours, we swapped in and out every hour to hour and a half. About 7pm, I headed home for dinner, and to get some sleep. I returned about 2am to take the night shift, while Tim hit the sack. When he got up around 7:30, he once again took the controls, while I sacked out on his couch for a couple of hours. After that, we switched in and out again.

Overall, we made about 870 QSOs. While that’s pretty good, it was a little bit unsatisfying. We thought that we’d do better. We never really found the sweet spot, though. That is to say, we rarely found a frequency that we could run for very long.

Overall, though, it was a lot of fun, and I learned something about operating a radio with two receivers and the value of having two antennas that you can switch between while operating. It is kind of amazing, but with one antenna, a band can seem dead, while with another, it’s much more lively. Switching between Tim’s inverted vee and his vertical dipole allowed us to choose the better antenna for the operating conditions.

Next year, if we do this again, we really need to do more planning. If we had done a few more things beforehand, instead of just operating, we could have improved both our number of QSOs and our overall score, I think. These include:

  • Make a more concerted effort to charge a set of batteries with solar power. Like I noted above, we’ve already identified a beefier solar panel that we could use.
  • Do a little antenna work to improve the antennas. While the antennas we had worked well, Tim also had a loop antenna that had recently incurred some damage. If we could have gotten that up a little higher, that could have proved a valuable asset.
  • Invite more operators. In addition to Tim and I, Joe, N8OY, stopped over to operate some. He operated for a couple of hours or so, and made about 100 contacts. We would have been fresher, if we’d invited some other guys to join us. Might have had even more fun, too!
  • Work on some of the other bonus point opportunities. We didn’t even copy the fricking ARRL bulletin, for example.

Field Day Report

Field Day 2012I was holding off on reporting on my Field Day activities this year because I thought I would do a comprehensive report on the entire Field Day. Well, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, so here’s a report on the operating activities.

Unlike last year, I  operated with ARROW, our club here in Ann Arbor, MI. I was the main operator of the 40m CW station. We had 866 total QSOs. I made 540, KD8LWR had 197, N8OY made 109, and N8SBE pounded out 19. Here are the top runs as reported by N1MM:

  • 2012-06-23 1806 – 1849Z,    7022 kHz, 51 Qs, 70.5/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-23 1903 – 2245Z,    7021 kHz, 214 Qs, 58.1/hr KD8LWR
  • 2012-06-23 2245 – 2311Z,    7021 kHz, 25 Qs, 59.4/hr KD8LWR
  • 2012-06-23 2313 – 0040Z,    7017 kHz, 87 Qs, 60.1/hr KD8LWR
  • 2012-06-24 0051 – 0124Z,    7013 kHz, 37 Qs, 66.5/hr KD8LWR
  • 2012-06-24 0633 – 0655Z,    7023 kHz, 17 Qs, 46.6/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-24 0705 – 0909Z,    7035 kHz, 102 Qs, 49.4/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-24 0923 – 0938Z,    7023 kHz, 12 Qs, 49.2/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-24 0946 – 1033Z,    7036 kHz, 35 Qs, 44.8/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-24 1103 – 1211Z,    7030 kHz, 53 Qs, 47.0/hr N8OY

These are the top runs that included more than 10 QSOs.  I don’t know if you can ask it to give you 10-min. or 1-hr. rates, but that would have been interesting to see.

Unfortunately, this station did not operate for about three hours from 11:30pm – 2:30am, when I got back to the FD site. Next year, we’re going to have to find more CW ops and schedule better. It might have been possible to hit 1,000 Qs if it had been operated all 24 hours.

A Downsized Field Day

It seems like everyone (except for maybe Google) is downsizing these days. With that in mind, I thought that I’d downsize my Field Day. Instead of participating in the large 5A ARROW Field Day operation, the guys that hang around WA2HOM, our club station at the Hands-On Museum, decided to set up a much smaller operation.

Our first idea was to set up outside the museum. That seemed like it was going to work out until Quentin, KD8IPF, informed me that he couldn’t attend, as his wife was going to be out of town, and he needed to take care of his kids. I was concerned that without Quentin that we wouldn’t have enough operators to have two people there at all times.

Then, Quentin volunteered his backyard. This turned out to be a great venue. He has a fairly large, with a couple of big trees. Not only that, he lives next door to his mother-in-law, and she’s volunteered her trees as antenna supports. You gotta love a mother-in-law like that!

One of the advantages of downsizing is that you don’t have to spend so much time setting up. Instead of setting up antennas for five HF stations, a GOTA station, and a VHF/UHF station, all we had to do was set up antennas for our two HF stations. And, since we planned on using Quentin’s already-installed, multi-band dipole, we only really had one antenna to worry about.

That being the case, we decided that we really didn’t need to start setting up until noon on Saturday. Jim, K8ELR, and I actually arrived about 11:30 am, and that proved to be more than enough time. Jim brought with him a 40m dipole and a 30m, end-fed half-wave antenna, while I brought my BuddiStick. We quickly decided to put up the 40m dipole, and by 1pm, we were already on the air.

A Tale of Two Antennas
Of course, it wasn’t really as simple as all that. When we started operating, the two stations interfered with one another something terrible. So much so that my KX-1 was even causing Quentin’s LDG autotuner to retune itself when I transmitted.

The problem was that the 40m dipole and the multi-band dipole were running nearly parallel to one another. I should have known that this would occur, having been involved with more than a few Field Days by now, but it never even crossed my mind.

Fortunately, the solution was relatively simple. All we had to do was to take down the multi-band dipole and hang it from two different trees, one of them in the adjoining yard. After we did this, the two antennas were nearly perpendicular to one another, and the interference just went away. The phone station could not hear my little peanut whistle signal at all, and while I could hear the phone station transmit, it really didn’t affect my ability to make contacts.

I really didn’t think that this was going to work, but Ovide, K8EV, was quite confident that it would. I was the one that ate crow.

Did You Really Use a KX-1?
So, I can hear a lot of you asking, “Did you really use a KX-1 for Field Day?” Yes, I did. Our original idea was to run all QRP. The thinking behind this is that if you run all QRP, then you get 5 points for each QSO.

The other reason for doing this is so that we could run off batteries. Quentin had access to two, 66 Ahr batteries, and we’d planned to use these two batteries as our power source. I figured that with the 12V gel cell that I have for my KX-1, that would be plenty of power.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Quentin and Ovide were just not having any luck making any contact at 5W—and consequently not having much fun—so they decided to increase power. That blew our QRP multiplier, but what the heck, it multiplied our fun factor.

Plenty of Power
As it turned out, just one battery provided plenty of power for the phone station, even at 100W. Granted the station was off the air from about midnight Saturday through 9 am Sunday morning, but there was apparently plenty of juice to power that station throughout the entire 24 hours.

Likewise, my little gel cell provided enough power for the KX-1 over the 12 hours that I had it on the air, and I’d guess that the charge would have been good for the entire 24 hours. I have yet to run down that battery so low that it failed to power the radio.

What Did We Learn?
We learned several things from this Field Day:

  1. A downsized Field Day can be as much or more fun than a full-blown operation. Without a big crowd vying for just a few positions, everyone got a chance to operate. Plus, setup and teardown times were a lot shorter.
  2. You still have to pay attention to your antennas. If we’d done a little more planning and thinking about our antennas, we would have avoided the interference we experienced and possibly even been able to run QRP on phone.
    How, you might ask? Well, if I’d thought about rigging up some kind of wire beam or a Moxon beam for the phone station, they may have been able to run QRP and still make contacts. This is certainly something to think about for next year.
  3. The batteries worked great. Not only did they provide enough power for a 100W rig for more than 12  hours, they were quiet. The noise of a gas-powered generator can really get on your nerves over the course of a Field Day.
  4. While I probably wouldn’t want to run the KX-1 in a big DX contest, it worked pretty well for Field Day. I made more than 160 QSOs with it in about 12 hours of contesting.

So, What About Next Year?
Since it’s never too early to plan for next year’s Field Day, we’re already kicking around a few ideas:

  1. Find a campground to have Field Day at next year. The upside is that the scenery might be nicer. The downside is that we might not have the nice antenna supports, errrr trees, that Quentin has in his backyard.
  2. Be more competitive. Joe, N8OY, came by late Saturday evening, and racked up a bunch of points for us on 20m CW. He suggested that we organize some of the local hot-shot CW operators around here and set up a real competitive operation. The upside is that scoring a lot of points is fun. The downside is that being competitive excludes the less-experienced operators.

One thing is for sure. Running a smaller Field Day event in no way diminishes it as the “quintessential” amateur radio event. We still enjoyed all the camaraderie as well as all the technical aspects of  Field Day. Now, I can’t wait until next year.

Field Day Story #2: CW Fun and Inspiration

This story is from Lloyd, K3ESE, via the qrp-l.org mailing list:

I haven’t been on the air much of late; busy sailing my little sloop, playing the viola I bought with the proceeds of most of my ham-pelf, parenting my three lively and lovely children, fishing, doing yardwork, doing work-work…you get the picture.

But this past FD, I found myself once again driving to where the local club had set up, to offer my services as a CW op, which are generally well-received. This time was no different; they set me up with a Kenwood 570 @ 20 times the reasonable amount of power any sane person would want, and I set to work. Had a lot of fun for a few hours.

There I met the new club president, a ham who’s been licensed for only six-eight years or so, who got his General ticket as a no-coder.

BUT!

He LOVES CW. He was working a straight key at about 18 wpm when I got there, said paddles were too much of a challenge, but that he learned code to get on HF when he was still a Tech. There was an old chrome Bencher paddle there, which I adjusted as well as I could – and then I sent some test code to try it out, a CQ at about 25 wpm. He was very quiet, and I said, “See? you need to do this – what would you have to do with your entire arm to get these results, and how about the fact that I’m just moving one finger and one thumb, ever so slightly?”

He got it! He’ll be going there – and so will his wife, a newly-licensed Tech, and I offered to provide whatever elmering I can. It was heartwarming to this old CW hand to be around these folks who didn’t care that CW was “dead,” and who so obviously “get it!”

73/88 & cheers!

LL/K3ESE

FD PR

One of the purposes of Field Day is to get some PR for ham radio. As usual, Public Information Officers (PIOs) all across the country worked hard at getting us some attention from media and government. Here are some links:

Governors Show Support for Amateur Radio as ARRL Field Day Approaches
Governors across the United States have shown their support for Amateur Radio, with many proclaiming Amateur Radio Week in their states. Coinciding with ARRL Field Day, these proclamations show citizens that these states value the contributions made by radio amateurs.

A radio dish at Stanford is powerful enough to bounce signals off the moon, a tricky endeavor.
A radio dish at Stanford is powerful enough to bounce signals off the moon, a tricky endeavor.

A Ham Radio Weekend for Talking to the Moon
In a worldwide event, amateur radio operators will talk to each other by bouncing their messages off the craggy face of the moon.

Amateur radio operators sharpen emergency skills
For 24 straight hours on Saturday and Sunday, local ham radio operators are putting their skills on display by communicating with others across the nation under basic emergency type conditions.

Ham operators hone their skills in nationwide radio event
The veteran CBS audio engineer was hunched over a ham radio for hours yesterday, beating out regular rhythms on a Morse code transmitter, trying to help his team win a contest that was more about practice than taking home a trophy.

PRC Radio Club hosts Field Day
HENLEYFIELD — The Pearl River County Amateur Radio Club hosted their annual field day event over the weekend demonstrating their abilities …

Ham radio operators communicate with world
Belen At 17 years old, Phil Shaw of Tierra Grande already has a sprawling network of contacts around the world. Shaw isn’t your typical teenager who is always on his cell phone texting his friends, or on the Internet using Facebook or MySpace to contact his “network.” He’s one of many amateur radio operators, also known as hams, who participated in this year’s National Field Day for Amateur Radio on Saturday.

Ham radio comes to Riverfront Park for a day
For 24 hours at Riverfront Park in River Grove, the gazebo, which normally hosts concerts, resembled an electronics sale. People sat at wood picnic benches speaking into microphones, adjusting dials and writing down codes.

There are many, many more. Go to Google News and search for ‘Field Day.’ You’ll find lots of good PR for ham radio. Thanks to all the PIOs out there that worked so hard to get us in the news.

K0GQ–Raytown Amateur Radio Club–on Fox4 Kansas City
A compilation of various short TV spots on Fox4 News, Kansas City.

Field Day 2009: Stuart Makes His First Contact

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.