Eric Guth, 4Z1UG:
QSO Today Episode 324 Keith Schlottman KR7RK.
This episode of QSO Today is sponsored by ICOM America, makers of the finest HF, VHF and UHF transceivers and accessories for the radio amateur, reminding you to check out their new IC 705 all band portable transceiver now shipping. My thanks to ICOM America for their continued support of the QSO Today podcast.
Welcome to the QSO Today podcast. I'm Eric Guth, 4Z1UG your host. We have begun to prepare for the next QSO Today virtual ham Expo coming March 2021. Since it is virtual, it will not be canceled for any reason. We have already put out the call for speakers and exhibitors. If you'd like to apply to speak in our auditorium and have an activity workshop or panel discussion idea that you'd like to see in the Expo, please send me a message by applying on the ham Expo speakers webpage. I will put a link into this week's show notes page. If you attended last time, and your favorite ham radio vendors were not in our exhibit hall, call them and remind them that there is not a more cost efficient way to speak to the ham radio public then through the Expo.
Keith Schlottman KR7RK is not only a mountain goat, but he is a super sloth. Terms like this are not endearing. However, if you're a SOTA activator or chaser, then you know how important these terms are to SOTA operators. KR7RK tells his ham radio story in this QSO Today. KR7RK this is Eric 4Z1UG. Are you there Keith?
4Z1UG this is KR7RK, Eric, good to talk with you this morning.
Eric: Good morning, Keith. Thanks for joining me on the QSO Today podcast. Can we start at the beginning of your ham radio story? When and how did it start for you?
Keith: Well, I think probably the earliest start for me was being exposed to my Uncle John, who lived in West Hartford, Connecticut. He had a station in my grandparent’s home. And although he no longer lived in the home, his station was still up in the attic, in West Hartford, Connecticut. And I wish I knew more about his ham radio story. Unfortunately, I know very little about it. But I remember as a young child, I was one of four boys and our cousins. There were four cousins and we'd often get together in Connecticut and play in the attic and pretend we were operating the radio and he had quite a bit of old tube equipment and fantastic QSL cards hanging on the wall from exotic foreign countries. And I think that probably sparked my earliest interest in amateur radio is seeing what my Uncle John had accomplished in his ham radio life. And as I was growing up, I played a lot with walkie talkies, with friends of mine locally and I would go to garage sales and buy radios and tear them apart and try to put them back together. And I repaired a television set for my family at one point and my grandfather had a shortwave radio that somehow made it into my hands and I would listen late in the evening and it was a tube type radio and got warm and smelled wonderful and I would tune around and listen to shortwave stations from around the world and even amateur radio operators I still have logs that I kept reception logs from those days where I would write down the call signs of amateurs talking to each other on 80 meters for example. And it was just very exciting and mysterious and wonderful to me and so that's kind of my earliest days in it. And then when the CB radio craze hit in the mid 70s. I got involved with that pretty actively. My father got us a call sign, at that time the Federal Communications Commission issued call signs to CB radio operators in our call sign which was good for the entire family. Or I still remember it was a KAOC22901. They (the CB calls) had four letters followed by four numbers callsign format for CB operators. And I did things like I built a little shack in my bedroom and I would stay up late at night talking to people around the neighborhood on CB radio and just had a lot of fun with that. But unfortunately, I never got involved with amateur radio as a child. I wanted to. And I didn't know anybody to really take me down the path of getting licensed and teaching me more of what I needed to know. There was a ham operator about a mile away. And one time my friend Dan and I got on our bicycles and rode down to his house and knocked on his door to see if he would help us out. And unfortunately, he wasn't very friendly and kind of turned us away. And, you know, we were just kids, and he didn't want to have much to do with us. So that was sort of a missed opportunity, I think. And in the end, I never got my amateur radio license really until after college. And I had started my career and, and found a little bit more time and decided to get back involved. And so I got licensed in 1992. I looked up some information about a local, there was a police an auxiliary, Auxiliary Police Force, in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. And I got trained by them. And in one of the guys there kind of led me into my ham radio. His name was Bill, whiskey five ice cold vodka was his callsign. And Bill kind of set me on the path and got me licensed. And ever since then, it's just been a wonderful journey.
Eric: Well, I can see from your website, and I'll put a link to that in the show notes page, that you've actually had a very busy journey from 1992, one of the reasons that we're speaking that your guests on the QSO Today podcast is that you were also a speaker at the QSO Today virtual ham Expo, I wanted to make sure that the listeners had a chance to get to know all of the speakers at the Expo and you're one of the few that I hadn't interviewed already. Welcome to the QSO Today podcast, and welcome to ham radio, even though it was much later. Interestingly enough, it seems to me that if you were in Hartford, Connecticut, that you weren't far from the ARRL and yet there wasn't any knowledge of the ARRL
Keith: That is correct, Eric, I, you know, I, I'm sure my Uncle John must have known of them and been involved in some way. And I've actually thought about contacting, I know that it overall has a service that they provide to members where they will search through old call books and try to gather information because unfortunately, I don't even remember my Uncle John's callsign. You know, those QSL cards are long, long gone. But I would assume that, you know, he probably had friends that were active, or maybe he himself was active. And I'm a big fan of the ARRL. And so it would be interesting to know if he had been involved and you know, learn some things from some of the early members of ARRL pool.
Eric: You're such a big fan is my understanding that you're a life member of the ARRL.
Keith: Yes, yeah, I actually became a life member in the, I think in the mid 90s. And I'm, you know, I'm proud of that fact. And I continue to support them. You know, even though I don't have to pay as a life membership. You don't pay annual membership dues. I still support them annually anyway, because I just feel like they're so critical to the continuation of amateur radio, at least in the United States and probably worldwide at some level. I think you're right, absolutely. I am also a member of the ARRL even from here (Israel), because I think that they have a very loud voice and that voice is worldwide.
Eric: Okay, so let's go along kind of like the same way that we would go as if you had started as a kid because in fact, you kind of started as a kid. Were you interested in pursuing an electronic career?
Keith: Well, yes, I was. And I think I got distracted by astronomy, which has many parallels to amateur radio. At that time, in my teenage years, I became very interested in astronomy and in fact, I went to two university courses. The last couple of summers of my high school, I went to Kansas University and University of Iowa for astronomy and physics programs. And that maybe distracted me a little bit away from amateur radio. But yes, I just, I was always fascinated with anything radio, anything electronic and I you know, I remember when I was younger, my parents gave me a Radio Shack kit. Radio Shack used to sell these, you know, 50 in one or 65 and one or 120 in one and you could have these little springs and you would clip wires and make different projects and the manuals would walk you through the projects. And I just, I can't even imagine the number of hours I spent building all the little things and just a lot of fun. In fact, the kit actually had a Morse code key built right into the kit that I had anyway. And I wish things were like that were still available for kids, because it really sparks your imagination.
Eric: You know what I think there are, there are those spring kits or something like that on eBay. I see them every once in a while before Radio Shack closed, they actually had a nice kind of hobby center with buttons and knobs and stuff like that, and a place for actually building like Arduino projects. So I actually use something like that for myself to do some breadboarding. So there's still kind of some stuff out there. Let me ask you, are you a physicist now? Or did you pursue the sciences as a career?
Keith: Well, no, you know, surprisingly, I didn't pursue a science career, I actually came, I moved to Tucson, in 1982, to go into the astronomy program. In Arizona, the University of Arizona is probably the premiere astronomy campus and, and unfortunately, I, you know, I kind of moved away from upstate New York and my brothers were all older than me and I, I made some bad decisions and probably got distracted by other things in life. And so I fell away from the science aspect of things, and I went into business. And I ended up becoming, getting an accounting degree. And so to this day, I run a tax practice and financial planning practice, and, and it's been successful. It's not that I don't enjoy it. In some ways, maybe, I suppose it's a positive thing, because it's allowed me to keep astronomy and amateur radio as a hobby, and, and not a job. And I know sometimes when, when things that you love become your job, they stopped being as fun. And so I tried to tell myself that maybe it was actually a blessing. But no, when I went into college, I actually fairly quickly changed over to the business side of things. And I did go back to the University of Arizona in the early 2000s. And kind of during my, you know, working full time, I also took courses in both astronomy and physics and double majored for several years and, and made it up to, to pretty much towards the very end of a bachelor's, double major in astronomy and physics. I kind of realized that to move forward as a career would have required moving around and going to graduate schools and other locations. And I really wasn't interested in you know, in my mid 30s, or late 30s, moving and taking my family and moving to a different city and, and abandoning the business that I had grown. So I made a decision to just, just leave that again, as you know, its wonderful knowledge, the pursuit of knowledge doesn't always have to be in order to make money. Sometimes it's just to have fun and enjoy.
Eric: You're in a good job in terms of the two certainties are death and taxes. If you're not an undertaker, then I guess, you know, being a tax preparer has a lot of job security.
Keith: Yes, and it has enabled me and you know, I've tied it into amateur radio. By, you know, for example, being the treasurer for 1010 International, which I'd love to talk about 1010 if we have time, but and I've also with numerous clubs, I've helped them obtain the 501c(3) status, which is the charitable organization status designation that the IRS gives here in the United States. We're just helping them be more formal with their nonprofit status. And as you know, I found that many clubs don't really… they have good intentions, but they don't understand the regulations and there's risks to operating a club where there's money coming in and going out and if you don't follow the rules exactly the way the IRS wants, you can find yourself in a little bit of trouble. So it's enabled me to, you know, my career skills have enabled me to help clubs and I feel good about helping out in that way.
Eric: It's my understanding that in my memory that Arizona has an amazing sky for astronomy. You also have an observatory out there near Tucson, right.
Keith: So I did. I no longer have that. I in fact, I actually had two observatories in my backyard and I, I did a lot of Astro imaging with CCD cameras and I, you know, really enjoyed the electronic side of setting up telescope gear and, and automating it and I would sometimes just allow the telescopes to go all night long on a script and image different areas. I miss having those observatories but I moved out of that particular home and the home I'm in now, I don't have an observatory yet and I'm not sure I ever won't be allowed to because of the homeowners association but yes, I did that for quite a while I had observatories in the backyard.
Eric: What was the first rig once you got your license in 1992?
Keith: Well, the real first rig I suppose was a little handheld that wasn't a Linko handheld but I actually was on a trip over to Southern California and I went to June's Electronics which was advertising in the back of QST magazine I guess and I ended up buying an ICOM 735 HF rig and a Butternut vertical and that was what I set up in my in my house in New Mexico at the time. And you know, I remember when I bought it the my wife wasn't too pleased about spending the money but you know, I said well, this is this rig covers everything it does all those bands and, and the antenna does all these bands and so really, it's you know, I won't ever need to buy another radio and little did I know when you're in this hobby, it's a never ending flow for radios but it was a it was a great, great rig and served me well for many years.
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Eric: This is a good time to talk about 1010 because it seems to me that you've been involved with 1010 for quite a while. And I saw on your website, you have a lot of awards from 1010. So what is 1010 International? And what role have you been playing in it?
Keith: Yeah, well, of course, you know, when I first got my license, my first license was a novice and then very quickly, I got a technician and, and, and those for novice and technician in the States, your HF phone privileges really are limited to 10 meters. And of course, you know, it takes a while to learn Morse code. And so I quickly got involved on 10 meters and at that time 10 meters was fairly active and somebody sent me, I had a contact with somebody and I wish I remembered his call but out of the blue I got a magazine from him and he said here's a copy of the 1010 International News. You know, take a look. And I highly recommend joining the, the organization and I looked and I said, Wow, this is really, really something. I printed the 32 page newsletter, no advertising all about 10 meters and activities and, and so I joined right away and when you join 10 meters, you get a unique number. So my number that I was assigned was 63324. And, it quickly got involved because they have QSO parties, and everybody's very friendly on the QSO parties and just had a great time on 10 meters. I also think I upgraded in the ARRL 10 meter contest.
Keith: And I actually ended up winning New Mexico as a rookie. So it was kind of fun. And, and so I think my, you know, early experience was primarily with 10 meters. In fact, one of my most favorite memories from those days was, was I was just calling CQ, and somebody came back and I was talking to him and he said, Oh, my, you know, I'm in Hilton, New York, and I said, Hilton New York, that's where I grew up. And that's a really small town and not a lot, you know, what his name was, he says, I'm Dave and I said, Oh my gosh, you know, by any chance we were you and the CB radio and was your handle white lightning. And he said yes. And it turned out it was my, you know, my, one of my best friends on CB radio from right down the street. And he knew me as Buccaneer and I knew him as white lightning and, and, you know, just to connect randomly on 10 meters. And here he was using a magnetic antenna on his garage. And I was, you know, sitting there in New Mexico, it was really exciting. So it got me really interested in 10 meters. And they were looking for a new treasurer at the time, in around 1994. And, and so I emailed them, and I said, you know him a fairly new ham, you know, a couple years, but I, at that time I was a CPA, I'm not actively working as a CPA anymore. I'm working as an enrolled agent now. But I said, I have the skills. And if you're interested in talking about maybe your treasurer, I'd be happy to try to help you out. And that was it, I got on board and, to this day, I still, I still serve as the treasurer of 1010 International net, in a wonderful organization to be a member of really friendly people. And we are now up to about 78,000 members worldwide, although of course, many have become silent keys over the years. And, then of course, some people don't pay their dues ongoing, but each, everybody who joins has issued a unique membership number. And it's all about promoting 10 meters and the use of that band. Some people say it's, you know, to protect the band from being reallocated, like the CB radio 11 meter band was taken away from amateur operators and, and so if you find that often times, if 10 meters sounds kind of dead, but you're tuned around during a QSO party, suddenly there's activity and you know, we continue, whether it's the sunspot cycle is high or low, we continue to go. And I can tell you that every single month, there's new members, brand new members joining 1010. And so that tells me that there is activity out there, there's plenty of activity out there, I personally make 10 meter contacts, just, you know, regularly all year long, including some DX. And sometimes it's better than others. Sometimes it's easier, but it never stops. And I really enjoy it and I would encourage any ham to join 1010, even if your only objective is to get the number, so that you can exchange it with somebody who might be looking for awards or contest points. But also, more importantly, maybe is just to, you know, just support the band and support the hobby. And it's a very cheap bar with our membership, you can join for $10. So it's not, it's not a high cost organization at all.
Eric: Keith, do you think the fact that you spent all that time on 10 meters? Do you think it's worthwhile to go in really deep on a band, like choose one band and spend a year on it? Do you think as a result of that you actually know, how it works, how it propagates, what its idiosyncrasies are and would you recommend that to someone else?
Keith: That is such a great point. I'm glad you brought it up. Because yes, the answer is definitely yes, you learn, I can kind of tell you what seasons are going to be more productive for me on 10 meters than others. You learn about things like sporadic E, and, and you learn a lot about the sunspot cycle and the effect it has, you learn what time of day might be more productive. And if you just without a doubt, when you really make an effort to understand a particular band, you will learn so much more about that band. I'm far from being only 10 meters, you know, I hope the fact that I'm 1010 treasure and such a fan of 10 meters doesn't mean that that's my only band. In fact, by far, the majority of my contacts in my log are probably 20 meters. And I operate every band from 160 through all the way up to like, you know, 23 centimeters, every band is a good, fun band to learn. But you know, it's not a bad idea, I think to pick one or two to kind of focus on help you understand a little bit more about propagation a little bit more about equipment, and what type of equipment, you know, with, for example, what's the difference between a vertical versus horizontal, and how's that going to affect you know, the range that you have, or the noise level that you're experiencing, and so on. And, and that's not always the same from band to band. So I'm a big fan. In fact, you know, an example of my going all in on 10 meters is that I'm very active in summits on the air. And so I, for several years, made a really strong effort to make 10 meter contacts whenever I activated, and on average, I activate probably on average a couple of times a week. And so in pretty much every single activation, if I try, I'm able to make 10 meter contacts. And as a result of that, I became the first person in the world to get the mountain goat status on 10 meters only. To get mountain goat status, you have to earn a certain number of points, and you only earn points if you make at least four contacts on a specific band. So you know, and I'm proud of the fact I suppose, but also I'm, I like to say, you know what, it shouldn't have been me that, that got that because someone's on the air has been around for a long, long time. And there's really no reason that I should be able to earn the first in the world during the low spot of the sunspot cycle. Other than the fact that people aren't trying to, to use it, and people aren't, you know, maybe it's not the easiest band, but it's kind of like, kind of like QRP, maybe if you really enjoy trying to make lots of contacts using one watt, you're, you're limiting yourself and you're challenging yourself. And it's, it's rewarding to achieve something under conditions where you've challenged yourself. And so if 10 meters seems more challenging than 20 meters, you know, maybe that's, maybe that's the very reason you should try it.
Eric: And what's the SOTA rig on 10 meters?
Keith: The rig I use for almost all of my SOTA activations is an Elecraft KX2. And the antenna that I use is an off center fed dipole that I push up on a mast and inevitably, it's in an inverted v configuration, rather than a horizontal dipole just because of the push up the center of the mast and string out the size of the dipole and they kind of sloped downward.
Eric: And you say you do a couple of activations a week. Now an activation means that you're actually hiking to a hilltop.
Keith: Yes, yeah, in almost every case, you're hiking, there are some there are some mountains. And this is somewhat geographically determined as well. But there are some that you can drive to the top and under SOTA rules. If you do drive to the top, you have to at least walk away from your vehicle, you know, a reasonable distance. They don't want somebody just driving up and operating out of their mobile station, but I really enjoy the hiking aspect of it. There again, there's a challenge to that, some of the summits can be really quite difficult to reach the top of and so there's a fulfillment that you get from hiking up to the top and then setting up a portable station and knowing that you know, in some cases, you're the first person that's ever set up a station at the top of these summits and it's just it's a lot of fun to combine the outdoors and the hiking and setting up as well as the fact that it allows me to operate kind of unfettered because in the homeowners association, you know, I'm unable to set up a tower and or even a small vertical antenna in the backyard, they will they don't allow it and so part of the whole SOTA is the freedom of being allowed to set up.
Eric: Hey, this is Eric for just another short break. One of my favorite ham radio podcasts is the Ham Radio Workbench podcast hosted by George KJ6VU, my guests in Episode 232. And Jeremy KF7IJZ, George and Jeremy take a biweekly deep dive into their favorite ham radio workbench projects, and the technologies that fascinate them. If you want to be a ham radio builder, or just be inspired, click on the link in this week's show notes page.
Eric: It's been 20 years since I lived in America. And I don't remember homeowners associations being so pervasive, forgive the question, but why do hams move into HOA areas? Is it because that's all there is now?
Keith: Well, that is partly if you want to buy a new home, or a newer home, which you might define as within the last 20 years. You're, at least in Arizona, or probably in California, and you're almost there's almost no way you can do that without going into an HOA unless you're, you know, unless you have the means to purchase property and have a custom home constructed somewhere, which the average person does not. And then on top of that, there's often times you know, and this is this applies, in my case, my YL wants to live in a nice community. And I understand that, you know, I would be okay living in an older home, out in the desert somewhere and putting up a tower, but she wouldn't. And so I have to compromise. And I think it's important to compromise in your personal relationships, you have to find the balance and so yeah, that's the reason for choosing an HOA you might say in some ways, it's not a choice. But there's always always a choice. But in some ways, it's also accommodating the desires of your spouse or your family or even you know, maybe some people need to be closer to medical services.
Eric: Right, But what you're saying is that home builders in the last 20 years or so have built tracts of homes that are somehow controlled by homeowners associations.
Keith: That's absolutely true. Yeah, and sadly, I've looked at many HOA, covenants and restrictions and documents. And it's extremely common for them to specifically say no transmitting antennas are allowed. So it's not just a matter of you can put up a noxious antenna in the view of your neighbor, but it's also they just, you know, there might be a fear of RF radiation, or they might just feel like, you know, the best way to prevent an unknown is to blanket you know, restrict everything. But unfortunately, they, the HOA, can be very, very restrictive. So in my case at my home, I've put up a strong dipole in my attic, which is really not very good, because there's also metal ductwork in the attic and the attics not long enough to really accommodate a full dipole and so on. I've tried many options, I've tried a magnetic loop inside the room upstairs.
Keith: I've tried to use a buddy pole inside. But you know, at the end of the day, unless you can get an antenna outside and high up. It's not gonna not going to function very well. So by far the vast majority of my operating are, you know, except for SOTA. But when I'm chasing other people or chasing DX or just rag chewing, it's almost always from my vehicle. Because so far I haven't been restricted from putting up an antenna on the car. It's not very, not very effective, but like I'm here in my office right now and, and my car's out in the parking lot and it has the antenna and as I want to go use the radio, for example, maybe I see a spot for somebody activating on a SOTA summit and I want to work them and I can run out to my car and fire up the rig there and make a contact.
Eric: And how does that work in the summer?
Keith: Well, it's pretty awful in the summer because of course, you know, we reach, we can easily reach 110 degrees here in the summer and your car inside the car probably gets up to 130 or something. And so it can be a very sweaty experience, sometimes making that contact or capturing that DX country that you really needed. It's worth suffering a little bit.
Eric: Now you're a SOTA super sloth. What does that mean super sloth?
Keith: Sloth is somebody who is a chaser who, you know, you're not the one hiking up to the top of the mountain, but you're, you're the one making contact with those people. And so, you chase and once you reach 1000 points, you are considered a Shack Sloth. And then when you reach 10,000 points, you're a Super Sloth and then after that, they don't really name it anymore. But there's guys out there who have got well over 100,000 points. And there's certain people that show up every activation pretty much they're always there chasing and it's a wonderful way to feel like you get to know him and, and sometimes you do get to know him, you meet a medic, you know, I've met some of them at Dayton and other places. And so it's a lot of fun.
Eric: Now, do you have a lesson learned from being a SOTA operator? Not only being a super sloth 10,000 point chaser, but also a mountain goat? I mean, it looks like you've played it from both sides. Do you have a lesson you've learned from SOTA?
Keith: That's an interesting question. I think my life lesson from SOTA is that if you really love something, make time to do it. And it's not always convenient. Or you know, maybe you got to go and sweat in the car or, or maybe you have to put your legs through some, some pain to hike to the top of a mountain that you really want to reach the top of or something. But if you really love something, you make the time to do it. And, and have fun and do it for the fun. And you know, you're not trying to impress anybody you're not trying to… No, it's like it's fun to earn the points and earn the awards. But I think my, my life lesson is to just really enjoy it.
Sometimes you just want to, sometimes people will get into SOTA and really focus on earning the points or just getting up there and making enough contacts to make the points and I love to just go and sit on the top of the hill for three, four or five hours and operate, make lots of contacts and take it slow and look around and enjoy the scenery and I think SOTA has helped me kind of find a little more peace in a crazy world. Maybe that's my life lesson
Eric: Has your SOTA operation changed under the Covid 19 pandemic?
Keith: It has somewhat because with the pandemic going on, first off, you're always subject and SOTA to mountain tops being closed for various reasons that can you know, the fires that we've been experiencing here have also resulted in many shutdowns of summits that are some of in some cases very popular summits right here in Tucson. There's a couple of 9000 foot summits that are shut down right now, because of a fire that we had, you know, six months ago and those are very popular because you can drive most of the way to them. So you kind of learn to accept that you can’t always go where you want to go. But I think with the COVID situation. There's been some additional restrictions put on here and here in Arizona, they didn't actually close down like and say that you have to stay within so many meters of your house. So I was able to continue activating. But there were certain areas that did get shut down because the Forest Service for example, shut down and they just would close the area because of that shut down. And I think that's probably the biggest impact it had. I do think on a different level. It has encouraged some people to get outside and there's more hiking and biking. You know, it's even in the news, we're seeing stories about, you know, hiking trails are overcrowded. And I have, I tend to like to hike where there's not a lot of people and sometimes there's no trail. But I do know that, you know, many of them are popular. Hiking areas have been overcrowded. And you have to be very cautious, of course, hiking in those areas. There's one, one small summit here in Tucson we call an urban summit. It's really got a paved road all the way up to the top. And it's a popular place for people in Tucson to just go and walk in. Right now, I wouldn't want to go there, because there's just too much too much risk involved with going to a place like that when it's a very crowded summit. So yeah, I think it's, it has affected a little bit just like in so many areas of life.
Eric: What's your favorite operating mode when you operate SOTA?
Keith: By far it's, it's CW, I really, really have learned to enjoy Morse code. And SOTA has been a big part of that I was, I used a lot of Morse code in my DX chasing years. So I already knew it, but sort of has kind of taken it to a new level. And it does, you know, the conditions have not been optimal. And so Morse code for sure gets out better than phone. And so it's allowed me to make more contacts, which is something I really enjoyed doing, making lots of contacts. And so I by far, I would say Morse code. But that doesn't mean I don't bring a microphone along every time and I do make some phone contacts, but I generally, I generally am more reactive on the phone. I don't call CQ. Very often on sideband.
Eric: How did you build up your code speed?
Keith: Well, I learned code originally back when I got my novice to good using Gordon Wes cassette tapes at that time. And you know, his method of teaching code was kind of like I still remember some of that. And you know, the letter V is for victory. And, like, did it?
I encourage people when you're learning code to use some kind of a code learning course, but the real way that you learn code is to just throw yourself into the fray. You have to be a little uncomfortable, and you're going to miss stuff, for sure. But I've never met a ham yet who is so unfriendly that if you're missing, they aren't going to slow down and repeat if you need it, or, you know, sometimes you just it doesn't really matter that much if you did miss a little bit. So I think the initial learning with Gordon was tapes. But the true learning, I think is just simply on the air experience…
Eric: …the novice experience, essentially…
Eric: …the novice experience made a lot of great CW operators.
Keith: Yes, and I hear a lot of your guests talk about, you know, getting licensed as a novice back in the 50s, or 60s, maybe, and all they could do was code and, you know, whether that was an equipment restriction or licensing restriction and, and in a way, I'm a little, you know, I, I envy that because when I got licensed, it was a little too easy maybe to use phone, and it kind of differed. And I actually missed, when I first got licensed, you know, to be an extra class, you had to do 20 words a minute. And I got up to 13 and did my general but, I never actually made the effort to get up to 20 and get my extra class until they removed the requirement. And then at that point, I'm better than 20 words a minute now. But at that point, I wasn't really ready for it. And so I kind of regret that I didn't study a little harder and learn it a little better. And maybe you know, sometimes if that was all, that's all you can do. It kind of forces you to learn.
Eric: Yeah, in a way. It's a little embarrassing to have an extra class license and not have 20 words a minute or even 10 words a minute code speed anymore. Maybe that'll be what gets me on CW.
Keith: Yeah, I have a friend who teases me. He calls me a no code extra and as I did learn the code, but not up to 20 and nowadays, I think I'm okay with around 25 words a minute. I don't know if I'll ever get any faster than that.
Eric: But that's actually a pretty good rate. I myself, I must say, I'm admitting to the audience here that one of the fears I have about getting on CW and not having been on CW in almost 50 years that I have this extra class license and I would sound like a novice. So I guess I have to get over that fear and just get on the air.
Keith: Yeah. I would encourage you, if you know if that's something you're struggling with, just recognize that nobody cares. It's truly every, you know, any CW operator is thrilled to have somebody else trying to be a CW operator. And, and so, you know, if anything, they're gonna, they're gonna actually appreciate that you're making an effort to increase your speed. And I also think the CW Ops program is fantastic. I didn't personally go through it. But you know, some of my good friends are CWOps teachers and, and I'm a member of CWOps, I actually became a member, right when they formed the club that was invited to join, so I have a very low membership number. But I think that that program is outstanding. So that if the only problem there is getting into their classes, I know they're usually backed up. And so you have to sign up way in advance and, and it takes a commitment, you have to really spend the time, but it's well worth it.
Eric: I think it's kind of amazing that they're backed up that CW has become one of the more popular modes even after it's no longer required. What are you doing on APRS? I saw on your website that you actually are active on APRS and I keep asking the APRS question episode after episode because it always surprises me that people are still using APRS How are you using APRS?
Keith: Well, So now, really the only use I'm I occasionally use it with the handheld and when I'm hiking, if I'm in an area that I think we'll reach a digipeater I might use tracking. The main thing I ever used it for was tracking, long ago. I used extensively for tracking and I remember going through periods like there was a palm a APRS app, with,if you remember, the Palm Pilot. And there was a guy that wrote a really nice little app that you could, you could track with the palm. There was a guy one year at Dayton selling these old DOS based monitors things that were an all in one computer, big box. And he was blowing them out for 80 bucks apiece. And they were sold like hotcakes that year. And a lot of us ran those things in our vehicles for a long time. They had really, really rudimentary maps and then eventually, I got a Davis weather station and I used APRS to tie into the citizen’s weather network and beacon out weather conditions. And that actually was quite, quite good. And unfortunately, since I've moved away that station is no longer in, in service. But it was actually really nice… In fact, when one day one of my neighbors came up to me and I had never even spoken to the neighbor. And she said, Oh, hey, I love weather station reporting. I check it every morning to see and I know, I was kind of taken aback. I said How did you even know I was doing that?'' But I guess there was a search thing for the neighborhood. You know, find it. And so I do think APRS has great value. And primarily in my world it has been for tracking. I've also used it in some public service events where maybe like there's a bike race out in the desert, and they want to send rovers around and kind of track where the rover is. So they know if there's a situation they'll know who's closest to the situation. I think APRS is a pretty good mode. And I would encourage people it's not dead by any means. It's just another way to take advantage of some amateur radio technology.
Eric: You mentioned your YL or your ex YL while earlier. What kind of impact has amateur radio had on your family life?
Keith: Well, so I've actually remarried and my current YL, while I love her dearly and expect her to be my permanent wife. She's not licensed at all and she doesn't… You know, over the years, she's kind of grown more comfortable with me being active in amateur radio and more accepting of it. At first she really didn't like maybe even a little bit jealous of the time that I spent doing it. My sons I have three sons, three boys, Ryan, Bradley and Jason and they all got licensed around age 12 or 13. Ryan and Brad are both technicians and Jason as a general class and all three of them have gone to so many ham fests. And conventions and field days. Even Dayton Hamvention. And so they've all been exposed in a big way to amateur radio and been involved. Jason actually does go when he can. He goes hiking with me, and he'll activate SOTA summits. So he's probably the most active. But he's also a junior in college and, and really has to focus most of his energies on his coursework. And so, you know, it's somewhat limited. And the other two also hike with me, and sometimes I get them on the air, but it's kind of rare.
Eric: So they don't carry around the family handheld, you guys don't have a repeater in town that you hang out on?
Keith: No, no, we don't, especially now that cell phones are so convenient. But you know, when I can, and I always think back to the fact that, you know, hey, I didn't, I went through phases. And it wasn't until I kind of had the freedom of being an adult that I really was able to immerse myself in amateur radio. So I never know, when the seed that's planted is gonna grow much more rapidly. But at least at this point, you know, they actually know a lot about amateur radio, and they don't… They're not passionate about it, but they like it, and they see its value. I think, you know, one thing about amateur radio, a lot of us who are active hams like to think that we're influencing our family, and we get excited when the family gets licensed, and so on. But it has to be balanced, because sometimes it does conflict with family and, you know, it costs money, it costs time, and you have to find that balance. And, and I feel like that's, that's something that maybe I haven't always been perfect with. And, but I try to keep in the back of my mind is, if there's times you know, maybe I want to go do something I want to go to a ham fest or a club meeting. And I and I forgo that because I think it might be more important to spend time with my wife or something like that. But it has been, you know, my dad, who is now a silent key, but my dad got licensed about 20 years ago, I think it was and he really did that for me. And we did set up beam antennas pointing at each other's houses and, and got on the air a lot of nights and talked and that was fun. My oldest brother, his license actually has expired. But when I was a kid, my oldest brother went to Ecuador, for I think it was two, a year maybe and the only way he could communicate with the family was through a phone patch. And so he would get a hold of somebody on HF radio in New York and that that guy would call our house and patch through and we get to talk to my brother, who was in Ecuador, you know, very scratchy and poor communication. But at that time, the cost of a long distance call from Ecuador, if it was even available was completely prohibitive. And he was out in the bush anyway. So that was kind of an exciting use of amateur radio for the family that I'll never forget about.
Eric: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing amateur radio now?
Keith: You know, there's a lot of challenges I think HOAs which we've already discussed. But I also think sadly, I think society is changing. I think there's just so much zero tolerance of those things that we don't like or that we fear, and I think that has extended into ham radio and, and, you know, whereas people might have in the past long ago might have said, Oh yeah, my neighbor's a ham radio operator, you know, they're available if there's an emergency or something. Now, it's like, well, I don't like the way your antenna looks, and I don't want it there. And I don't have any tolerance for that. And I just think that you know, even though in many ways, there's a push to try to be more liberal of people's differences at the same time, there's this complete, I'll tolerate your differences as long as they don't bother me. And it's it that troubles me and I think amateur radio is in danger of, you know, of being negatively impacted by people that see no value in it. It's not doing anything for me, and therefore why should I, you know, allow it to even be?
Eric: Right amateur radio is a microaggression.
Keith: Yeah, and I think, you know, it's great that we're continuing to license so many people and I try to be very positive. So you ask the challenge, and I'm giving you something that I see as a negative, but, but I'm not, you know, overwhelmingly afraid of the future of amateur radio. But I do think there's, you know, there's a change in society that is not working in our favor. I also think there's zero acceptance of risk. And, you know, the truth is that some of the things that we do in amateur radio can be somewhat risky, you can have towers fall, you can have electrocution, or RF burns, or whatever it is. And, you know, RF safety is something that, perhaps, isn't completely understood. And, but at the same time for technology to advance and for the human race to advance, there's always need, you know, we need to have some acceptance of risk, and people have to take some of these chances to go forward and discover new things and ultimately discover ways to make new things safer. And you can't get there if you don't accept any risk. But I think there's such a, such a zero acceptance of risk that now it's like, well, you know, you see this, you see neighbors saying, well, I want that tower down, because I don't want all that radiation coming in my house, you know, and it's hard to overcome that. So I think, though, that, to me, is the biggest challenge.
Eric: The way you're talking, it kind of reminds me that I think our parent’s generation let us do a lot of stuff. That was risky.
Eric: My father would come home from work, and I was like, seven years old, and I'm on the roof. And he didn't look up there. And he said, what are you doing out there? I want to pull this wire across the roof, Okay, well, just don't fall off. Okay? That doesn't seem to happen anymore. Right?
Keith: You're so right. And unfortunately, now, if a situation like that happened, they might even get a visit from the authorities, like the parents or parents are being neglectful, you know, and, yeah, it's so you, there's just, it's an interesting dilemma.
Eric: And these are interesting times, what advice would you give to new or returning hams to the hobby?
Keith: Well, I think, um, you know, one of my most important pieces of advice is just be creative. Find ways to fit amateur radio into your life without sacrificing personal relationships or, or other things and, and there's certainly ways to do that, amateur radio is so broad, there's so many opportunities and ways to do things. And, you know, I think doing something every day would be another piece of it. If you really want to enjoy amateur radio, part of the enjoyment is learning and you learn by doing and so just, you know, if even if all you're doing is watching a YouTube video on how to do something, or, you know, tightening the coax connectors or practicing your soldering, or, you know, tuning around and listening for 15 minutes, just finding that time to do something every day is so important, you know, one of the ways I've solved that, again, is to put my amateur radio station in my car and I can, as I'm commuting to work, I can listen or you know, it gives me a creative way to operate the radio without offending somebody in HOA. So I think that those are kind of the main, and then lastly, I would say, my advice is support clubs support the American radio relay League, or the radio amateurs of Canada or whoever, whoever the National Society in your area is. And you may not like everything they do.
Keith: But you know, they're so important to the continuation of the hobby, and especially as governments pull back from, from regulating things and, you know, giving up on taking care of things or it's so important to have those national societies as well as the local clubs. And, you know, supporting 1010 International net or supporting Summits On The Air or whoever, you know, whoever you find is, is part of what you enjoy about the hobby. My advice is to support them and it'll come back may not come back in a direct way, but it'll come back to the hobby.
Eric: So Keith, I want to thank you so much for joining me on the QSO Today podcast just for the listeners. Keith was a speaker at the QSO Today virtual ham Expo and if you go over to the expo site and push on the button to go to speakers speaker's page, if you use Ctrl F and type in Keith Schlottman, or put in KR7RK, you'll find him and his expert talk on SOTA and being a super sloth. He demonstrates how to be a great SOTA operator, a chaser and an activator. And you'll find it over there. Keith, thanks so much for joining me on the QSO Today podcast.
Keith: Eric, I just want to say thank you for this podcast. I've been a listener now since near the beginning. And it's what you're doing is a phenomenal service to amateur radio in documenting stories and sharing information. And I just really, really appreciate finding (you. I just want to) encourage everybody to listen to, you know, as many of your podcasts as they can. And also thank you for the putting together the virtual Expo which in this year of shutdowns was so refreshing to have a way to learn more about amateur radio and hear from some friends and, and just it was a really, really wonderful thing that you put together and not only put it together, but put it together for free for everybody and what an incredible value that was. So thank you, and thanks for the time today. I really appreciate it. Thank you, 73.
Eric: Thank you 73.
That concludes this episode of QSO Today, I hope that you enjoyed this QSO with Keith, please be sure to check out the show notes that include links and information about the topics that we discussed, go to www.QSOToday.com and put in KR7RK in the search box at the top of the page.
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Until next time, this is Eric 4Z1UG. 73.
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Transcription by W3TTT