Reminiscences

Yesterday evening, I was home alone, sitting in the living room, and outside it was nasty … almost dark, a chilly drizzle, foggy … nasty! As so often happens in circumstances like that, my mind drifted back to earlier times … reminiscing about friends no longer with us.

For some reason, my mind dredged up Max DeHenseler, HB9RS. Max passed away in 2014 after a 50-year “career” in ham radio. He was 80 when he left us.

Max, HB9RS

First licensed at twelve, he went on to make a name for himself in ham radio circles. Look him up on QRZ.com as HB9RS for a full description of his activities and honors. He operated all over the world, thanks to his job at the United Nations as their Chief Cartographer. He was instrumental in establishing 4U1UN, the United Nations HQ station.

I first ran into Max on the air when he was ET3RS in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was living in the Seychelles Islands, operating as VQ9D. Almost every day, Max could be found on the air, and we sort of made it a habit to listen out for each other and chat about the things that hams chat about 🙂 . It was usually a pleasant interlude from the huge pileups we both used to generate. Being fairly close (geographically), we could override the QRM. Max left ET3-land eventually, and returned to UN HQ at New York.

Max’s QSL Card at ET3RS

One year, George, VQ9GP and I flew back to the US on vacation at the same time and Max graciously invited us to stop by UN HQ in New York City for a reunion and tour. George and I showed up and we had a great time and a great tour.

Unfortunately, that was the last time I saw Max … our paths just never crossed again. That happens a lot in our hobby. We’re so far-flung and distant from each other, we develop friendships without ever meeting physically.

Max was such a gentleman and great ham, I consider myself privileged to not only have been his friend, but to actually have met him. I wasn’t disappointed when that happened. He was the same great guy on the air or in person.

73 de Dick N4BC

Good Times …

This past weekend was a holiday weekend … Martin Luther King Day … and offered lots of opportunities for operating. Several contests tempted me, but alas, family obligations were the rule for the weekend.

I did run into a ham buddy, though, and, as usually happens, we talked about radio … equipment, antennas, operating … it really caused me to shift into “old-timer mode” and start reminiscing about times past. Being a reasonably recent operator (5-10 years now), he asked about my most enjoyable time operating. I would have to say it’s a tossup between the times I was in the Seychelles Islands and when I was in the Chagos Islands.

Both were thoroughly enjoyable. Neither were short-term operations … both were extended stay. I lived in both places for years, working on USAF contracts … first as a Precision Measurement Equipment Lab Tech and then as a Quality Assurance Supervisor. What made them so enjoyable were the friendships I made there … both hams and others … some of which have endured.

Both venues allowed for a LOT of operating time! Once you’ve done the beaches, the local entertainment spots, and so forth, you find yourself with lots of time on your hands … perfect for our hobby. I was pretty much on the air every day during my time in the Indian Ocean. And … it was at the height of a legendary sunspot cycle … solid SSB QSOs to the States daily with 5 watts was common.

In the Seychelles (first as VQ9D and then S79D), my primary mode was SSB, but I did also operate some CW. Lots of wonderful friends made worldwide, especially on SEANET in the afternoons, but the local hams were really special. It was a wonderful, friendly bunch of locals, and we all got together at any excuse to swap stories and just have a good time. I can’t name all of them, but Di, VQ9DC, John, Di’s husband (whose call I can’t remember, sorry), Bill, VQ9BP, Carl, VQ9R, Ron, VQ9M, George, VQ9GP, Bob, VQ9B … these pop to the top of my memory queue. There were many others, of course … either permanent of transient.

I did make a significant side trip while in the Seychelles … a DXPedition to Desroches Island in the Amirantes. It was a separate DXCC country … part of the British Indian Ocean Territory … before Seychelles independence, and a day-and-a-half boat trip from the main island, Mahe, where I lived. Myself, VQ9BP, VQ9M, and VQ9DC set off and spent a week there, operating pretty much around the clock on SSB and CW. What a wonderful experience!

I left the Seychelles and moved to the island of Diego Garcia, in the Chagos Archipelago, south of India and Sri Lanka. This was a joint British-American naval base and was a major staging point for B-52s during Desert Storm, when I was there. I was there to help open a brand new satellite tracking station for the Air Force. There was even less leisure activity, but there was a base-sponsored Amateur Radio Club. There was a core of really good CW operators there … mostly Merchant Marine radiomen (back before satellites, the bulk of ship-to-shore communications was CW) and US Navy CTs, who listened to CW a lot! I remember Dale, VQ9QM (now a SK), Joe, VQ9JT, and Rob, VQ9YA … they all shamed me into becoming an almost exclusive CW operator!! I did operate other modes there, too … I remember doing RTTY and even dabbled in 6 Meter SSB to Japan and satellite ops. We had a TH6 at 100 feet, and could use up to 400 watts, so we were heard on HF pretty well.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and I moved back to the USA in 1993 to begin a new phase of my life. I know the “good old days” always look rosier in retrospect, but those WERE some of the best days of my life (until I met my wife, of course … better put that in there 😀 Love you, Dear!! )

73 de Dick N4BC

Legacies

I received a wonderful email this past weekend from the great nephew of the previous holder of my callsign. He had read my Bio on QRZ and wrote to let me know a bit of the history of his great uncle Leach Lonzo Lea Jr, now a Silent Key. I had done some cursory research on the internet, but that only yielded superficial facts … his name, his former address … stuff like that.

” My uncle was Leach Lonzo Lea Jr. He obtained his license after serving in WWII, he told me he had to travel to Atlanta GA and sit in front of FCC examiners to take his test. Uncle Jr. used his GI Bill and went to the University of Tennessee and received his degree in Electronics. He then spent a career with the Tennessee Valley Authority as a  two way radio technician. One of his hobbies, in the 1950’s, was radio control airplanes. He built the radio equipment as he liked to build everything. Remember I mentioned the Heathkit equipment? Anyway, I wanted to share a little about the life of the man that had your call sign prior to you. “ This is an excerpt from the email from his great nephew, Derek Lea N3WKM.

Derek points out in his email that it was his great uncle that really kindled his lifelong interest in radio and electronics. I think we all have an “Uncle Jr.” somewhere in our past. This is not a hobby where most of us just woke up one day and decided to be a ham. Somewhere … somebody or something planted the spark that piqued your curiosity. This hobby of ham radio is all about mentoring … or Elmering, if you prefer. It’s about passing on knowledge and helping each other, and that’s what keeps it great!

Thanks to Derek, I now have a much better sense of the history of my callsign. I’ll continue to try to honor that legacy by staying active and trying to be a “good” ham.

73 & Happy Holidays de Dick N4BC

FT8 Roundup

This weekend I dabbled in the FT8 Roundup. I was on the air when I had some free time, and made a total of 70 QSOs … not even a big effort, but it was interesting.

When the contest first started, there was lots of confusion, especially about operating frequencies. The normal frequencies were not used … special ranges of frequencies were specified. Also, there were several settings that had to be changed in the software itself, and that confused some. The instructions were well-written, and I had no problems at all.

Contest action!

To do things right, it was necessary to go into the files and create backups and then delete specific files. I was leery of that, but I followed the instructions to the letter … no problems were noted when restoring everything afterwards. I even worked another ten stations afterwards to make sure everything was copacetic (HA! Look that one up!).

SO … everything is back to normal, all the contacts are uploaded to LOTW, ClubLog, eQSL, and QRZ, and I’m already seeing some confirmations, minutes after the contest.

Have you been a ham long enough to remember contests back in the “Dark Ages”? Submitting a log then was a real trial … dupe sheets, deciphering handscribbled logs, counting multipliers, computing scores on your fingers and toes, snail mail submission … like I said, the “Dark Ages”. Soooooo much easier now!

Of course, my mouse quit working during all of this. “Must be the battery,” says I. I replace the battery … still bad. Look all over the house for a spare mouse. Finally, a light went on … I tried another AA battery … success! The first replacement was no good. I need to turn in my Technician badge!

Hope you had a good ham weekend. I had thought about pulling out my manual tuner and making some contacts in the 160-meter contest, but I was busy enough with what I was doing. There’re never enough hours in the weekend, are there?

The next few weeks leading up to the holidays are going to be hectic … banquets, dinners, parties, concerts … all sorts of things to keep me busy. But, I’ll still do radio when I have a chance!

73 and Happy Holidays de Dick N4BC

A Bit of Nostalgia

Good Morning, everyone!

I was just looking at my QSO confirmation rates … not too bad, actually. With the advent of electronic QSLing, the percentages are really pretty high, I think.

I track QSLing on two sites, primarily … Logbook Of TheWorld and QRZ. I also upload to EQsl and ClubLog, but seldom visit. I do that mostly for others. On LOTW my confirmation rate is a bit over 66% and on QRZ.com, it’s a whopping 76%.

Obviously, for the “biggie” awards (ARRL and CQ), the LOTW logbook is the major one, but just look at those percentages. I don’t have any numbers, but I guarantee you that I never approached that before electronic QSLing … maybe when I was rare DX, but not as a lowly US ham. 

Looking back on it, as a DX station with US managers, I was pretty isolated from the confirmation part of the hobby. I really didn’t care about that aspect of hamming. I just had a blast operating. Without the burden of LOTS of cards arriving in my mailbox, I was continually on the air when I was free. That being said, I still got a LOT of QSLs sent directly to my overseas mailbox … mostly foreign hams and HUGE stacks of bureau cards. I remember getting an entire mailbag of VQ9 (Seychelles) cards one time from the Russian Bureau at Box 99, Moscow (I was the VQ9 bureau). They got answered, but it took time.

Nowadays, it’s a lot cheaper. Essentially free. Back in the “good ole days”, all QSLs went either via the bureau or direct. With the cost of postage now, it’s just not a viable method for most hams.

Times change and we just have to change to keep up. I think LOTW was a great idea, and I’ve never had any problem, either setting up an account or using it, but I DO miss all the paper QSLs. Sigh … times change for sure.

73 de Dick N4BC