Transcript - Episode 120 - Jim Stafford - W4QO
Eric 4Z1UG: QSO Today Episode 120, Jim Stafford W4QO.
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When you think of an amateur radio operator who is an advocate for a hobby with the public, an expert Elmer who enjoys teaching and bringing new hams and kids into ham radio, then a name that will keep coming up is Jim Stafford, W4QO. Without giving away Jim’s story at the beginning of the podcast, I can only say that Jim has the unusual distinction of receiving 3 major ham radio awards at the Dayton Hamvention in 2010. We touch on this and so much more in this QSO today.
W4QO, this is Eric 4Z1UG, are you there Jim?
Eric 4Z1UG: Jim 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?
Jim W4QO: Okay, well it’s kind of an interesting story I think. It is to me as I recall it, it started in a corn field in South Central Indiana as I guess I was a 13 or 14 year old young guy. We were working on a process of developing or making seed corn or a seed corn company out in the corn fields, and one of my companions was Winfred Wainscot. Winfred never got a license but as we walked down through the corn field, he would tell me about this very cool short wave radio he had and that I should come over and see it.
We all lived down the country and drove Cushman Motor Scooters and things like that. Even though we weren’t legal nobody cared and we ... And I went over to his house one day and saw this really cool radio, a Zenith and there was just a chassis that he had taken out of a Zenith radio and it would shock you if you touched it, the chassis and things like that which was cool.
Eric 4Z1UG: No transformer?
Jim W4QO: Yeah right, something about the AC and all that, and we turned it on and started ... He started dialing in short wave stations and things of that nature. I came home and got to looking at my family’s Sears Silvertone and roll back radio and it had a couple of short wave bands on it that we never got anything on and he said, well no you have to connect a wire to this antenna terminal on the back, an idea then the whole world opened up to me, and that’s where it started. From that point on I somehow, I don’t know how started subscribing to Popular Electronics and heard their story about short wave listening and encouragement on that.
Then they had a section called the Novice Notes or something like that. I got to reading about it, I didn’t know any ham operators, but I read the novice pages in Popular Electronics. I was reading it inside of a physics book or something in high school study hall, and we had all kinds of grades in there, and there was a girl that was two years younger than me said, “What are you doing, you are not studying.” I said, “Well I’m reading this Popular Electronics magazine.” She said, “Oh that’s interesting, my dad is a ham.”
That’s when I ultimately met her father, W9PLO and he became an Elmer. To a certain extent I was studying on my own, and my mother taught me Morse code and we can talk about that, but I got to meet Mel and see his station and was just amazed. I guess he gave me my novice test on, I think about my birthday, on my 16th birthday, but I had already built my transmitter. By then I was committed I was going to do it, and that’s how it all started.
Eric 4Z1UG: So you were 16 years of age, what year was that?
Jim W4QO: 1958, I’m 74.
Eric 4Z1UG: Was that the year of Sputnik?
Jim W4QO: Right around in there, and I know I tried to listen for Sputnik but I think it was a little bit earlier than that. Anyway I couldn’t hear it on my Silvertone family radio although by that time I also had a Zenith, I have so many stories. There was an old floor model beautiful Zenith radio in that study hall, a big study hall in our school, little high school. Nobody ever listened to it, somebody had donated it.
Before I got my license I asked, “What are you going to do with that radio?” They said, “I don’t know, would you like to have it,” and I said, “Well sure.” I took it home and we took it out of this beautiful case and made it look like Winifred’s with just the chassis and the tubes and the speaker, and then we took the big case out to the bonfire and burned it.
Eric 4Z1UG: The big hard wood case?
Jim W4QO: Yeah oh yeah beautiful, I’d give anything almost for it now, but those were the days.
Eric 4Z1UG: What was your first call sign?
Jim W4QO: KN9MAF, of course back then you had to get your ... You’d have to wait 11 or 12 weeks to get your license and I was just chopping at the bit. Like I said I used all the money from seed corn. I made about $70, you only worked about 3 weeks, but I made $70 and that I guess that was the next year or something after I met Winfred, and I spent the whole $70, 64.95 on a Heathkit DX40 and built it, I didn’t even have a license that would be unheard of today. I built it and when my license came I was on the air that day.
Eric 4Z1UG: Do you remember your first contact?
Jim W4QO: Yeah it was Ralph, but I can’t remember quite his call, but his name was Ralph and he was up about 50 miles away on 40 meters, of course they all had crystals on that.
Eric 4Z1UG: So how did that feel, that first contact?
Jim W4QO: Oh it was amazing except a little problem there, I knew that I didn’t have a BFO in either the Silvertone or the Zenith, so somebody said well this farmer about 5 miles away that went to school with my mother, he’s got some short wave radio. So I went down and bought a radio from a fellow named Kermit Money. He went to the barn and I got an Echophone commercial, which is like S-38, there was a tie in there the Hallicrafters, it was like he remembered who bought who or who relies [inaudible 00:07:30], but it’s on the internet, they are very popular with store type things.
I got this from Kermit Money, and I brought at home and it had a BFO switch, but I couldn’t hear much difference. I didn’t know the difference except that it didn’t sound like Mel’s radio which was a BC348, because it didn’t have that nice tone to it, it just went sh, sh, sh like you hear code on AM.
My first 2 contacts were made with that, with no BFO, it was just switching of the noise, but that’s what we did back then, we didn’t know what we were doing, we just coaxed that up and had fun.
Eric 4Z1UG: Did you join a club or anything like that once you were on the air?
Jim W4QO: Well yes our county radio club, I joined that somewhere in there and the Shelby County Amateur Radio Club, still in existence today and also Mel was a teacher in the city school, I was out in the country and he was the metal shop teacher strangely enough. But he was a ham operator and he had a school radio club, and once you were a junior at my school you could drive ... You could get a permit to drive to school, well I guess you had to be 16.
I would drive in on Thursday afternoon after our school, and get there in 10 minutes or so for the school radio club at the high school. I knew all those kids there, and one of my cherished things right now, I always tell people it’s great fun to collect QSLs but the ones you’ll really cherish are the ones from your friends. From Mel I got one of those QSL card holders with all the slots that hold 20 cards. Of all the QSL cards from our radio club back then, all the teenagers, is that cool or what?
Eric 4Z1UG: So you guys would hang out on 40?
Jim W4QO: Well I didn’t work too many, of course there was no 2 meters or anything, but worked a couple of them but we didn’t have ... We were Novices most of us, so we couldn’t talk. We didn’t actually make a lot of contacts but we made a lot of friends.
Eric 4Z1UG: So your novice rig then was this Echophone commercial that looks like an S-38 and the DX40?
Jim W4QO: Yeah, it doesn’t exactly look like an S-38, but the circuitry is the same, and I think Hallicrafters bought their circuit or they bought rights to Hallicrafters circuit, and it was a pre-World War 2 embodiment that was pitched as a nice radio for GIs to take to all these foreign places they were in and listen to voice of America. It’s on the internet, if you look up Echophone commercial, it’s really cool.
Eric 4Z1UG: Sure I will and I’ll try to put a picture of it on the show notes page.
Jim W4QO: That will be good.
Eric 4Z1UG: What kind of antenna did you have and did you get a lot of cooperation from your parents? You said that your mother taught you the Morse code.
Jim W4QO: Yeah I would say that people think she may have worked for the rail road or something, but it’s not quite like that. We were big and I’m still I’m big on the di-dah aspect of the Morse code, and she had a little card that had the letter and the di-dah and while she was washing dishes, we didn’t have a dish washer. While she was washing dishes I would be drying and she would say, what’s the “L” on, I’d say di-dah-dit-dit , then she would say what’s di-dah-dit-dit, I’d say L. She taught me Morse code but she had the card.
Eric 4Z1UG: Interesting, I also learned dit-dah, is that a method? I thought everybody did that if you didn’t’ have a key and you needed to communicate with your friends and more stories.
Jim W4QO: Exactly, no it’s not exactly part of the approach, the method, but it worked for me and it has worked or a lot of people.
Eric 4Z1UG: What’s the current rig that you have now?
Jim W4QO: My main rig is the KX3, Elecraft KX3, because I have reproduced the Heathkit DX40 and after I figured out that the Echophone wasn’t going to cut it, neither my dad nor I, and by the way you commented, my parents were really encouraging. Even though I lived on a farm and was probably destined to be a farmer, once I discovered ham radio, I became totally immersed in electronics and everything electronic, and decided to go into electrical engineering.
They were very supportive and somewhere after about a month, or maybe not even that long I probably made 20 or 30 contacts or something with the radio without a BFO in it and went working. We went to Indianapolis which was about 35 miles away, and we took the Echophone commercial, we went to a place called Grahams Electronics, it was the ham radio store at the time and went in and somehow even though we didn’t have much money, I think I talked to my dad in to taking $100 out of the small amount they’d saved for my college and we bought a Hammarlund HQ100.
I traded the Echophone in on the speaker which was 19.95 or 14.95, and I traded in on that, they took trade-ins at that time and resold it. I ended up with a HQ100 and a DX40, and I’ve reproduced that station in my station in the basement.
Eric 4Z1UG: So you have that now, okay great, and with the KX3 do you have the Pan adaptor and the ...
Jim W4QO: No, of course it comes with the body, the IQ output and you feed it into a computer and you’ve got to pen it up. I don’t use it a whole lot, I don’t use that feature, I do with some ... I’ve done it for some special situations, sometimes I have it on the contest and so on, but I have the KX3, I have the tuner in it, but I don’t have the batteries or anything like that. I do take it out on SOTA and that type of thing.
Eric 4Z1UG: That’s a pretty luxurious QRP rig the KX3?
Jim W4QO: It is and it wasn’t my first one, I think I started with the SW40 from Dave Benson or something like that.
Eric 4Z1UG: But I saw a picture of you in front of ... It looks like you had some really big rigs?
Jim W4QO: I do. One time I run ... That’s another story. One time I ran an SB220 and whatever they ran, had 1000 watts or something, and used to run an amplifier and all that kind of stuff, and I have it still a TS-940 and FT-1000 and a couple of others. But I sold the amp 10 years ago or so, I never used it. I have a couple of big rigs, I almost never use them. I use them mostly; probably the most use they get is when I invite a newbies into operating the contest, something like that. Mostly I use the QRP rigs, I’ve got 6 rig antenna 20, I don’t know QRP rig.
Eric 4Z1UG: So we’ll get into the QRP, because I want to talk to you about it, what’s your favorite operating mode?
Jim W4QO: CW, I like CW.
Eric 4Z1UG: And always have, right?
Jim W4QO: Yeah, I’ve always liked CW; it always seems to me easier to make contacts. I’m not a big rag chewer I do on 2 meters I guess, but I don’t get on the ham bands. I do, I can, I’ll occasionally work a phone contest, but I don’t find it as pleasing as CW.
Eric 4Z1UG: You’ve already alluded to the fact that you were smitten by electronics on ham radio, so it did play a big part on the choices you made for your education and career, where did you go to school after high school?
Jim W4QO: I went to Purdue University, South Indiana. It has the engineering school, I was part of it. Purdue produces more engineers than any other university in the country; I think they graduate about 4,000 EEs in a year or something like that.
Eric 4Z1UG: That’s amazing, is there industry in Indiana that actually drives that...
Jim W4QO: No.
Eric 4Z1UG: Or do Purdue University graduates go elsewhere?
Jim W4QO: They go a lot of places elsewhere, there is a lot of ... A lot of them work in Indiana, but they travel all over and of course Neil Armstrong an all the astronauts are graduates and all those kind of stuff. It’s just over the years; I don’t know why this developed into it. My parents were very supportive with the fact that, they would say, well we thought you should be a farmer but we know there are better things out there, and ham radio led me to that, and it’s worked out well.
Eric 4Z1UG: According to your biography online you began your professional career at the famous Bell Laboratories. As a kid who had an interest in telephones and equipment and I mentioned that earlier before we started, the Bell Labs was like this mythical electronic Disney Land to me. How was it for you, and what was the greatest takeaway from working there?
Jim W4QO: Well it was very good, they also, I became acquainted with them during college and during undergraduate, and I think that probably the thing that actually got me there was they had a graduate study program where they would give fellowships to some number, I don’t know how they decided but it didn’t seem like it was too many, maybe 10 or 20 a year that they would pay for your master’s degree at some very nice universities and give you a stipend while you’re going.
So it was a fellowship program and I was accepted into that before I accepted the offer or they offered that to me, and I think that was the deciding factor for me starting there. It was a very interesting place and very nice in terms of encouragement of your innovation and all those kinds of things, they were very supportive of all that.
On the other hand, and I did enjoy it, but on the other hand as probably is true of many research, well I was born a developer development not the research. They had a research group and a development arm, and I worked on telephone switching systems. As probably happens with a lot of laboratories and things like that, a lot of your ideas that you develop and look really good, don’t really sell, you know what I mean to the customer, because they are too high a price or you can’t deliver exactly what they want, or it’s that whole thing how do you get funding for research and development.
After about 4 more years I saw that a lot of the things that I did just got ... I always say thrown in the waste basket, that’s not really true, they are put in a file cabinet. I said I can work here all my life and not actually do anything, not actually make anything that I could point to and say, look to my grandkids. I did the picture phone or whatever that was hot at the time, that kind of thing, because that started then it failed, and now of course we have it everywhere, but we were 40 years ahead of our time so to speak.
I then sought a position in a telephone operating company and that’s when I came to Southern Bell which serves the South Eastern United States. I went to Florida at that point and built a career over there.
Eric 4Z1UG: What did you do for them?
Jim W4QO: Really good to work with them, I worked in engineering but then got into management and engineering management and really it was more of an applications and implementation engineering kind of thing where again you see I had a thing where I wanted to be able to say, “You see that building over there, we put all the equipment in there, and figured out how to make it work,” that kind of thing. It was a little more tangible.
Eric 4Z1UG: I read online in researching this episode that between 2006 and 2011 you were very active in helping to revive the North Fulton Amateur Radio League whose membership had dwindled down to 20 members, 25 members and were aging out. What were the steps that you took to rebuild this amateur radio club in to a vital and active ham radio club that it is now?
Jim W4QO: Well thank you for that, I had a lot of help okay or at least some help and actually the number of people on the books was 58. I think we had 58 paying members and we were getting ... We didn’t have a meeting, we just went to dinner once a month and sat around and talked. We used to go between 6 to 10 people at the dinner, and the subject was what are we going to do? We had about $1000 in the bank, what are going to do with that? Do we give it to the ARRL or some other club, or if we really just disband and just have dinner once a month but we’re not a club.
Four of us at that dinner said well maybe we got to give it one more shot, and I’ve always kind of been hands on manager or live by example, that kind of thing. I hadn’t been that active in the club. I had been a member for 20 years and been on some, a lot of meetings but some meetings, but as some reason I got on the group of 4 which with Steve Keneto and Walt Warren and Fred Moore, we brought some others, a couple of others like Ian Kahn and we had about 5 or 6 of us that met for a separate dinner and talked about what we could do.
Really we got good advice from Susan Swiderski, AF4FO, she was Georgia section manager. We met with her and she said, “Well if you want to be a club, you should act like a club. Don’t meet where you eat and have a program every month and just act like a club and promote it,” and this kind of thing and so we did. I’m I guess a promoter, so we talked about ways to promote that ham radio. One of the things I was not real keen on was “well let’s contact everybody that used to be in the club, and see if we can get them to come back”.
I was more in the line of let’s see who can find new and constant emphasis on youth which I’m very big on, but I said, well let’s find all kind of people that are just retiring and they’re looking for something to do, and we did. We got some really, really good people that weren’t even hams before or were just getting interested, and we took a lot of interest in those people, and today they have helped build this club back up to over 300 members.
We’re somewhere in the top 10 in the country in terms of size of a normal ... Not normal, a general purpose club, you know we’re not a repeater sort of mountain repeater group or something like that where they get lots of members, or we’re not the DX club where they get members from everywhere or the contest, frankly contest club or something. We’re a general purpose club and we analyzed it. There are only 8 or 10 that are bigger than we are in the country now. We were club of the year the first year they offered that at the Dayton Hamvention which also happens to be 2010.
Eric 4Z1UG: Yeah that was a busy year, one of the things I noticed on looking at your website was the resources, the Elmer resources available for new hams and you even broke it down: if you need help hanging your antenna, if you need help setting up your station. I thought that was like really amazing because when I get questions about how do I get started, how do I get moving, these resources are often not available locally or at least they are not advertised. That was something that you very consciously made an effort to make available to new members?
Jim W4QO: Yes, definitely and as I think about the things you just mentioned, we had the fellow who is our head Elmer I guess you’d call it is a guy named Chuck Catledge AE4CW, talking about the getting older people involved in ham radio I should have said also retreads, we get a lot of retreads. Chuck is a retread; he was a ham in the 60s or something, gave it up for 4 decades, was just coming back and he’s a great asset to the club.
Another one was Mac McCormick who is now W4AX. Mac was the second president after we started really trying to promote ham radio, and Mac was a retread. He’d been a ham when he was a teenager, gotten out of it, joined the army and all those kind of things, became a lieutenant colonel or colonel and was getting back into it and he is a phenomenal manager. You mentioned the website, we have over 1000 pages on the website, and the person who is our webmaster wasn’t even a ham when we were trying to resurrect the club.
He found out about us through a friend, became a ham operator, and is a phenomenal web master. What I think is now about 500 pages of pictures, but that says something too about the pictures we’re taking at our activities over the last 10 or 12 years. Just the name is Bill Cobb K4YJJ and he’s just phenomenal. When we first started we couldn’t even figure out who had the key to change the web page, we had a web page and a web address, we couldn’t figure out who it was, and we had to call around and find people who dropped out.
When we went to change the officers, the listing of the officers on the web page it took us like 3 months to get it changed. Now Bill, you send him an email and this afternoon he‘s already put on the new activity that’s coming up, the Girl Scouts, the Maker Faire, this hamfest or our Hamjam by the way which is coming up a week from Saturday is in our 8th year I believe it is, is phenomenal thing that really Mac really got behind and took it into fruition where we bring 3 speakers into hamjam.info. It’s the full list of all the people we’ve had from the president of the ARRL to Eric Swartz from Elecraft to just on and on, Bob Allphin who was a QSO today.
The guests changed almost instantly by Bill on our website, so we’ve gotten these incredible workers and some put it over, like Fred Moore N4CLA has been our consistent treasurer from the old days to the new days, and he does a phenomenal job. But because we are active and everything he is encouraged, it’s like enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm.
Eric 4Z1UG: Does the North Fulton Amateur Radio League, do you reach out or make alliances with other kinds of clubs like maker groups for example? Are you in for training potential partners that could bring more hams, or maybe interest younger kids in to amateur radio?
Jim W4QO: We do and that’s not an easy thing, it seems to me it’s not easy to do. I guess it’s easy; it’s hard to get enthusiastic about it to a certain extent and get members enthusiastic. But we’re real big supporters of Maker Faire in Atlanta, which draws 10,000 people and we have some ... We’ve won blue ribbons for the best exhibit and hands on staff and all that kind of thing in Maker Faire. We do that though which is interesting, we started 8 years ago or something, we started partnering with other radio clubs.
Atlanta has I don’t know, 15 or more radio clubs in Atlanta, it’s a big place. A circle would be like a 25 mile radius around down town Atlanta, so it’s a pretty big metro area and we have amongst us north side area we have 4 or 5 ham radio clubs that have all started to work together and do things cooperatively like the Maker Faire, hamfests, STEM type stuff and that type of thing. We go to Georgia State Science Teachers Association meetings, expos or whatever they are where everybody is like a big ham fest for science teachers, that kind of thing.
We’re doing this in cooperation with ... We do girl scouts, boy scouts, all this in cooperation with other clubs like the Gwinnett Amateur Radio Society is a big one here in North East Atlanta, and we’re more north of Atlanta, but we have other clubs that join us and big endorsements of our Ham Jam program which is like I said will meet on Saturday on 19th of November, and we’ll have 3 great speakers there, and over $6,000 in raffle prices.
That’s where we make our money for our youth support in or what we call the YUSA program, Youth, education, scholarship and related activities, and all that money that we make from that, all get sent to a special fund that is not used for anything but Youth and STEM education, that type of thing.
Eric 4Z1UG: Can you define what QRP is for the audience? We talk about it a lot in the QSO Today podcast, we’ve had a lot of QRP operators, but I don’t think we’ve ever defined what is QRP.
Jim W4QO: Well it’s somehow misunderstood I think to a certain extent, but it comes from the kernel of idea that you make ... Well that’s the part I don’t understand, but you use low power equipment to make contacts. When you go to low power it has lots of pros to it I guess you’d say. Advantages are first of all there is a big thrill in making a contact with low power, and the lower the power the bigger the thrill to a certain extent and I still get that thrill by the way.
It’s no one has, those crazy people who try to make contact with low power while the other guy does all the work, and to a certain extent that’s true. But we also work each other a lot, so we know how it is to drag contacts out of the noise and all that, because we have the so called QRP watering holes that are used by these somewhat it’s on the air and all that. They are in that same area where we’re doing things with low power and so on.
The thing that’s not understood I think is we get a lot and awful lot of us are tinkerers in the old traditional sense of we build our own radios many times or accessories that go with it, these are all built small, so they can be used outdoors because we like to operate outdoors, it’s easier to carry 8 ounce radio out to operate than it is to carry a 20 or 50 pound radio out. You now can ... If you’re going to go out; you now go, carry it further by back packing and carrying it to mountains and go into national parks and that type of thing.
To top it all up, you don’t have audio and television interference and all those kind of things, so it starts off with a kernel that you’re going to operate with low power, but that leads to tinkering, construction, it’s easier to build a smaller radio than it is to carry an amplifier, it’s less expensive, so you can get into it pretty easily. It is a little bit of an acquired taste, because it’s not as easy to make a contact with low power, but what we found and what we encourage is ... I even have a talk on it called let’s do it again with ... Well I can’t think of the name without … doing it again with more fun.
In other words, okay you worked all the countries in the world, now start out and do it again and I’ve got many people that tell me that QRP revived their interest in ham radio, because they’d already on the honor roll for 20 years and they are setting out waiting on a new one to come along, anew island or something when they could be starting over and doing it all again. We have Lynn W4NL, he got excited about it, he bought Elecraft, put it together, K2 and he’s now got I don’t know 300 countries on a whole bunch of bands at 5 or 10 watts and that kind of thing, pretty cool.
Eric 4Z1UG: I saw a slide in your presentation today that said that you were still making contacts in 2006 at the bottom of that spot cycle. Does it just work or is it the combination?
Jim W4QO: Oh it’s definitely propagation, I mean when people say, well the other guy does all the work. Well first is it work, and the answer is most of the time it’s not because they can hear us just as well as they could ... I mean they can understand us as well as if they’re working with somebody at 100 or 1000 watts because the propagation does the work. It’s a matter of catching the propagation, there is skill involved and that’s why I don’t entirely encourage new people to do QRP because there is skill required, but even so a lot of people do it to start with and have fun with it.
It’s that kind of thing, but I always tell people they ought to get 100 watt rig off of e-ham or something, a used one or something so it could be more of a mainline thing, get the feel for it, develop the skill and the technique, maybe learn more of skill because most of the QRP rigs are more skilled that then you can go down and see how far down you can go. For example myself, I started operating QRP, I just did it one day and I had made a contact and I didn’t think I could do it at 5 watts, and now I’ve been doing stuff at 1 watt or point 9 watts which are called QRPP. I’ve got 120 countries at 1 watt, that kind of thing. You can do it and have a lot of fun, that’s the big thing is just fun
Eric 4Z1UG: I saw a slide presentation that you made about CW, and you say that obviously that’s it’s unnatural for working QRP, but then you warn not to use the Koch method to learn the code. Can you explain your method for teaching and learning the code, and what resources are online to master the code in your way?
Jim W4QO: Well unfortunately it doesn’t have a name like the Koch method, and really I get a little bit of ... It’s a little bit of a misunderstanding. It’s not that I don’t care for the Koch method, it’s not my favorite, but the Koch method is you start with 2 letters at a high rated speed and then you add another letter and of course the first 2 or 3 or 4 are pretty good, and then as you go further it gets harder to add a new letter and that kind of thing.
Maybe as a method, what I don’t care for is the order of the Koch method and AA9PL I believe it is, I don’t have my iPhone with me here, has a program, has a $4.99 program or app on an iPhone that has a feature called the Koch method. It is the Koch method, but he allows you to go in the set up and to change the order. See I always contend I have no back up for this, but I always contend the Koch method was developed by a German psychologist, that part is true by the way to teach German soldiers how to copy 5 letter code groups.
Now that part I made up, but I think it might true, because all the military was using, ours was too, 5 letter code groups where on any given day a Y could be as common as an E, you know what I’m saying?
Eric 4Z1UG: Right.
Jim W4QO: But in ham radio, this is the order of the Koch method, but if you get a program where you can change the order you can change to the ARRL order which comes from their book, how to learn the radio telegraph code or something like that from the 50s which is the order I learned in. It starts off with the easy letters, the most common letters, E being the most common, and you learn that first. By the time you learn half the letters and any that you’re missing to make up your call sign plus your number; you can actually get on the air and make a contact.
That’s what we would like people to do, it’s not just learn the code, we like them to get on the air. Of course the method I like and it doesn’t have a name except maybe the ARRL method or whatever is still using very fast characters like 18 words a minute, individual characters, but instead of sending them at 18 words a minute as the Koch method does but that’s okay if you want to get the order right. Instead of sending the next letter in at 18, one letter at 18 words a minute, the spacing is 18 words a minute, the next letter comes at 18 words a minute we teach the letters at 18 words a minute, but we leave the space afterwards 5 to 7 words a minute.
You have time to figure out what it was without counting the dots and dashes or Dits and Dahs you have time to figure it out, and you learn the first 7 letters which spell the word ESTONIA which is the letters in the ARRL book E-S-T-O-N-I-A, and you learn those first, those are very common letters. Then you learn the next 7 which are DR MULCH, D-R M-U-L-C-H, and by the time you learn those 14 letters, you’ve learned over half the alphabet, and if you learn the number which is easy of your call sign and any letters surrounding those 14, then you could actually get on the air because all you have to really be able to do is send your call sign on the air to identify.
The only thing ... I have a thing on the North Fulton website on CW, and this is all out there and my blog on that is out there, connect to that of the ideas and all those kinds of things. We’ve taught classes on it, we encourage individual what we call CW 101, which is you just do it yourself, there is no magic to it, you got to practice every day and send some as well as receive and get some of the programs and that will let you put the letters in and the words. We have 75 lessons or something on there with the words are keyed to the letters in those groups, group 1, group 2, group 3 and group 4. Anyway I’m a little bit of a soap box there, because I ...
Eric 4Z1UG: No that’s okay.
Jim W4QO: It’s not I don’t like the Koch method, I don’t like the Koch order particularly, but I’m also I got a little different method which I would call it the ARRL method.
Eric 4Z1UG: Okay, do you encourage people learning the code to write the letters as they hear them, and if you write the letters as you hear them as you get better at it, can you start doing it in your head?
Jim W4QO: Oh you can definitely do it in your head, but in the CW ops program teaches, I’m a CW op but I’ve never taken their course, I’ve sat in on a couple of lessons and things, they generally ... The good group, they generally teach you to listen to it and just copy it in your head, they like that method. I’m a little more of writing it down; because that’s the way I learned it, and yeah it takes you about ... Once you get up to 18 words a minute, it gets hard to write it down and it took me about a week to then roll over to just listening to it and writing down the essential stuff and things like that.
Eric 4Z1UG: So you’re not ham stringed by starting by writing the letters down at the slower speeds?
Jim W4QO: No, I don’t see it as a big problem or that there is a plateau. There is a plateau if you learn to count dots and dashes, [dits and dahs, there is a plateau either 10 words a minute or you have to get over the dots and dashes and go to the sounds. If you send the letters at 18 words a minute, you don’t have that plateau even though you’re separating it to give time to process I guess I should say.
Eric 4Z1UG: I often ask in the QSO Today Facebook group, what is your biggest ham radio challenge, and just today I received the replies that said the cost of ham radio equipment is out of their price range. Would you say the hams that perceive that a hobby is expensive and out of reach because it’s expensive?
Jim W4QO: Well we have an article on our website, we copied it, it was generated by someone who is not a member, I don’t remember where the webmaster got it, but it talks about the relative cost today versus the relative cost in 1958 where I worked 3 weeks in December to buy my transmitter. It’s relative as compared to everything else electronics has come down in price to where now the number of hours that you have to work to buy a ham radio are relatively low compared to what they were in the 50s and 60s.
While I encourage people to not make a career out of 2 meters for example in Atlanta area we have 50 repeaters or something, I encourage them not to make ... That that’s not the way to make a ham radio life, the way to do it is get on HF. You can get on 2 meters extremely inexpensively with the Chinese hand held or something. You get on for about what a middle class person would make in an hour, you can buy a hand held radio now, with a tremendous radio actually, but it’s really not that expensive.
For one thing there is a lot of, a ham stick real good carry the equipment to a great extent and especially again like the club idea. If you belong to a club for more than a month and you were saying you really want a rig, first of all our club has a supply of 5 or 6 rigs and all kinds of test equipment and everything else they will loan you for 90 days to get you on the air. Frankly we never have all 6 of them loaned out, we only have 2, maybe 3, that kind of thing, but in addition to being in the club and getting the loaners, you find that people have a rig they’ll loan you or sell you at a very good price.
We have a new chap in our club now from one of the schools we work with, his name is Zach, and he is AA4ZH. He is an extra class, he is 14, gotten really into it and one of our club members had a radio, got another club member to check it all out and sold it to Zach for $200, which is not a small amount but he’s committed to that. It’s an Icom radio from 15 or 20 years ago, digital read out, solid state, yada yada all that, has built in power supply. That just took a little bit of making it known to club members that we’ve got a 14 year old here that’s getting the bug, we’d like to get him a good deal on a radio, you can get a lot of great radios for $300 now which again is 2 days at work for an adult, you know what I mean.
Eric 4Z1UG: And I guess if you are handy with a soldering iron, there are single band transceivers kits now on eBay, at least I see them for $20, $30.
Jim W4QO: If you do want to do getting started economically and you get your mindset that you can have some frustration and things like that making contacts; on eBay you can get 40 meter transceiver for $10 or $15 kits for $10 or $15. It’s not easy, it’s an acquired taste but you can do it, and also there is a Kickstarter going on right now by a company that has a brand new 80 through 10 ,SDR, use it with a computer, CW and side band fully assembled for $289.00, 5 watts.
Now that you can make contacts with and that’s not terribly expensive either, you can’t get a set of golf clubs for 289 anymore.
Eric 4Z1UG: I’ll put a link to that in the show notes page and maybe if the listeners want to help the Kickstarter guys get over their limit.
Jim W4QO: They already have by the way, it’s been very popular, but they have bigger goals and you can contribute and that kind of thing, but they have doubled what they asked for, I forget what it was but it wasn’t too much 15,000 or something and they’ve doubled that. I’m not following it real closely because I already have so many QRP rigs, but I’m tempted.
It’s like an SDR low priced KX3 or KX2; you got to have a computer to go with it, but then you get ... Oh we’ve done that in schools by the way. One of our schools is really tight with, in the school club roundup that, they use an SDR transceiver with all the waterfalls and band spreads and the pan adapter and all that. That sounded good to them. We were all concerned, well they don’t have knobs, but they were like, what’s that?
Eric 4Z1UG: The generation coming up has never seen knobs; it’s like the dial on your telephone line?
Jim W4QO: Yeah exactly or your volume control on your TV is not a knob, it’s a button, you go up and down and that’s how an SDR radio works, it has all that. Actually one of our members that wired in, the knob sits on the desk, it was a flex radio and he wired in the knob and most of them didn’t even use it, they just clicked on the spot and called CQ and they had a lot more fun than we’ve had in the past.
Eric 4Z1UG: It seems that the 2010 Dayton Hamvention was a big event for you. In that year you were the Dayton Hamvention amateur of the year, you were also Four Days in May QRP events, you were inducted into the QRP hall of fame and your club that you and your group revitalized, the North Fulton Amateur Radio League was club of the year. How did all the stars line up in 2010 for that to happen, any idea?
Jim W4QO: It’s a little bit of a mystery to me, but people ... The simple answer to that question is a few people wanted to maybe as much as 6 seemly want to have to want to get an honor like that. Now want you to get an honor like that, you don’t do it yourself, both of which on my account were both complete surprises, and I suspect maybe I was the only entry or something, but as far as ... I knew about the club entry.
It was the first year they offered recognition to clubs, and I was only marginally involved in that particular endeavor at the time, but there were about 4 to 6 of our club members that said we ought to apply for that, and they actually sat down and listed out all the reasons that our club should be selected. Their entries all have to be on one page, and you won’t believe how many things they could cramp on one page when the type club was only point 7, it’s like 30 things they put on there for the club.
I have no idea how except that apparently people wanted me to get those honors, neither of which I was anywhere near the ... I brought the average way down on both of them, because most of the Dayton ham of the year type things are really big names in ham radio and all that and the QRP ... In the QRP hall of fame, if you didn’t invent the Tayloe mixer or something you got a rough road to getting in the hall of fame, and I didn’t do any of that.
Eric 4Z1UG: What excites you most about what is happening in amateur radio now?
Jim W4QO: I think that to a certain extent our club benefitted from a general resurgence in ham radio. A lot of the old timers who predicted the demise of ham radio when for example code requirements were eliminated or that the license tiers was made multiple choice with all the answers given out, all these kind of things. It really hasn’t happened, we’ve been able to assimilate, that’s a really I think a key word, assimilate all the people coming in at least in our area have plenty of opportunities to join clubs, which I think is extremely important.
I have a thing called the connection factor where we try to have people connected with our club which would mean membership; I guess you would call it. Even though they may not be real active, they are connected and they can say, if somebody says, I’m new, I want to join the club, you won’t believe how many people refer them to our club because they either are a member or once a member because we gave him a free one year membership at the VE, at our VE sessions, that kind of thing.
So it’s a connection, the connection, I was reading a book about connections, not ham radio, but it seems like more of the new people are connecting nowadays or maybe they always were, but they are connecting locally as compared to connected like on 75 meters or something which is good, but around 40 or 20 or whatever. But there is a lot of connections out there, and so we give everybody that’s under 18 that wanted or fills out an application, we give them free membership, because we want them connected to us, so they get our emails and they get this.
It’s like how everything now wants you to give them their ... Sign up for Macdonald’s app so you can be connected with them, or get Amazon prime so you are connected with them in certain ways. Well I think our thing was that we tried through the Elmering program and special interest groups and all that. We try to have activities that connect people in and we encourage them to come to these things whether they are a member or not, and a lot of them are.
You don’t have to be a member to come to the meetings or belong to our Sig or go field day or our school programs that we have, not a lot but we have some and we consider all that and we get the kids to join online, students and that type of thing. They are connected to us and I like that whole thing, I think that whole concept of as you get into ham radio that you’re connected, and you can see it everywhere, you can see it in the ARRL, everything. Everybody is going for this connected or the connection thing.
Eric 4Z1UG: Jim do you think that you guys are going above and beyond, you have a VE session, and you have a whole bunch of new tech licensees. You’re grabbing those people at that point and making sure they don’t fall out of the system when they walk away?
Jim W4QO: I think it’s very important, I think that giving that one year membership, I know I’ve personally, it’s not a huge number but some of our most active people have come through that connection with the VE session, and they might ... I hear them on 2 meters or some new person on 2 meters and I’ll say, have you tried our club. Well I haven’t been there yet, it’s been about 3 months now, but they did give me a membership of the VE session, and then in the next month or two they are coming and then pretty soon they are captain of the 20 meter station on field day, and it just sort of been very gratifying.
I can probably count it on my 2 hands, 10 people that ... Our vice president upcoming Darrell K4RGK. I heard him on 2 meters and he was ... His reaction; well I’m not much of a joiner. Now he’s like he got into satellites and his wife joined and now he’s vice president, she’s secretary and they’ve only been hams 3 years. He’s done a huge amount, they have both for the club, huge amount, and it’s fun to see that. I get excited about that as well as the ... Which is another angle which is the youth part. I like the youth part and I work a lot with any school that wants us to work with them, I work with them, I like it.
Eric 4Z1UG: So what’s the hook for kids?
Jim W4QO: I was doing it with the idea just I give back; get them into science and technology. I didn’t quite care if they got a ham license, a few did, most didn’t and so on and so on. But this teacher we’ve been working with for about 3 years now in the school has been really big on getting that hook of getting them to be a ham. Right now at least that seems to be a real good way, because it’s considered a badge of accomplishment in their school. If so and so has passed a ham license, she’s very good at promoting and PR and all that kind of thing.
She actually, her goal is to get hams. Now my goal is that plus get them on the air more. They get on 2 meters but that’s I could say not real, not going to be real gratifying for a long period of time, but that is probably as much of a hook as anything. Now it’s a private school so they have more flexibility I guess I should say, but we have public schools that were not as active but are in the Atlanta area that have done some really good stuff with ham radio too.
Eric 4Z1UG: Do you have a station in the school?
Jim W4QO: We do at this school at primary, yeah Mill Springs Academy and Martha Muir the teacher, W4MSA is a really great asset, not only in the school but to our club, I mean she is just phenomenal even though she says she doesn’t solder and uses every opportunity to prove that she can’t do it, but speaks a lot.
Eric 4Z1UG: That’s great.
Jim W4QO: Did you get a chance to look at any of our newsletters?
Eric 4Z1UG: No, but I will and I’ll put links to those in the show notes page.
Jim W4QO: It’s called ENEWS and they are on the website too. They are all about what’s happening “In North Fulton,” which is the part of the county that’s North Atlanta. They don’t, the people that produce it don’t reproduce stuff from like burgeons on the ARL or stuff like that. It’s all about what’s happening here and it’s all fun.
Eric 4Z1UG: It’s all ever green content?
Jim W4QO: Yeah.
Eric 4Z1UG: That’s being produced in your club?
Jim W4QO: Yeah.
Eric 4Z1UG: I think that’s great. What advice would you give to new or returning hams to the hobby, or the retreads as you called them?
Jim W4QO: Yeah, well it starts right off with the promotion of get connected with people. Get connected, get on HF, don’t just get on 2 meters on a repeater, and also set yourself a goal on HF. Have like one contact a day or work all states or work all continents, country DX score, get on automatic logging, a computer logging program, try out digital, those kinds of things, things that you may not have known about before, it’s really quite easy to do now, to do digital on HF and a lot of the stuff is really easy and really works well, I mean like JT65 where you can work stations you can’t even hear.
A lot of us older people, like I didn’t like when they dropped CW and I didn’t like some of this stuff, but it hasn’t been the demise thing that we thought it would be. Things like Echolink which people, a lot of older hams decry as not being ham radio, yeah but if you go to demonstrate it at a school and you can take a hand held and connect from Atlanta to England, it’s pretty impressive, they can do it on Skype or whatever. It’s still really impressive, so don’t shut out all that stuff that’s new.
And so when you come back as a returning ham, explore the new stuff and try it out and look at the DX clusters, and the spotting networks, all these things are just, it’s just fun, it’s just fun.
Eric 4Z1UG: The internet is really causing ham radio to double and triple in terms of the technology they were doing now, like Moore’s law to computers, right?
Jim W4QO: Yes, absolutely.
Eric 4Z1UG: We’re advancing at such a rapid rate that the opportunities in ham radio are just multiplying.
Jim W4QO: Well that’s a point I didn’t mention, but that is so, it was built in to those things I was mentioning like Echolink and DX40 and all those. I have a paper out somewhere there that says, “Did the internet put ham radio out of business?” Something like that, and the answer is no, it enhanced ham radio just like it enhances business or anything, social networking, anything, it enhances it. What I tell people that ask that question, we’re like what you get with ham radio is you get ingenuity.
We are like the people that built the internet, we didn’t necessary invent it, and I’m not talking about the internet, but I’m talking about communication networks and things like that. We put those things together, we make them work. It’s more fun to build a typewriter than just to type on it, it’s more fun to build a washing machine and invent it than it is to do the laundry. So it’s more fun to being on the technical side and the invention.
Like Joe Taylor, we’ve had Joe Taylor as a Hamjam speaker, and it’s more fun to be involved in advancing the art and the technology and even the assembly of the equipment that you do when you put radio together, and then make a contact from here to Bermuda or something, versus just making a Skype call to Bermuda, anybody can do that but not everybody can put together a station and hook it up and understand SWR and antennas and all this and make it work so that you’re actually inventing things or putting together things versus just “Using them.”
But we do use internet, we didn’t maybe invent it, but somebody in ham radio invented it or put together and figured out Echolink and just like somebody figured out Skype, so it’s more fun.
Eric 4Z1UG: Jim I hate to surprise you, but I think the internet was invented by hams.
Jim W4QO: Is that right?
Eric 4Z1UG: One of the inventors of the internet was a guy named Paul Baran, and Paul Baran was a ham.
Jim W4QO: Is that right, I did not know that.
Eric 4Z1UG: Yeah.
Jim W4QO: Well...
Eric 4Z1UG: If you scratch the technology deep enough you’re going to find an amateur radio operator in there somewhere.
Jim W4QO: I know and it’s like DigiKey that’s in the big parts company you know and there is a story about that, they are in Minnesota, and they started off with just a few parts and now they are one of the big parts places in the world, and the guy that started was a ham operator.
Eric 4Z1UG: See there you go.
Jim W4QO: There you go.
Eric 4Z1UG: What can you do, Jim we had this conversation before we started that I pursued you for over a year, you were delayed by an extensive illness, but thank God you’re recovered, so now I have that opportunity to talk to you almost a year later. I’m very grateful that you were able to speak with me today, and with that I want to wish you 73 and thank you for coming on the QSO Today podcast.
Jim W4QO: Well it’s been a lot of fun Eric even though I was slow in getting here, I’ve had a lot of fun with it and hopefully it might encourage a couple of people in some way, and you’re doing a great job there in doing this kind of thing, it’s all which is all part of enhancing ham radio. It’s taking advantage of this technology, so congratulations on your program there.
Eric 4Z1UG: Thank you very much, 73 Jim.
Jim W4QO: 73.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That concludes this episode of QSO Today. I hope that you enjoyed this QSO with Jim. 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 W4QO in the search box at the top of the page. If you would like to sponsor the transcription of this episode or any of the previous QSO Today episodes into written text, the cost is $67. There is a button on the right side of the show notes page to start this process.
This is the point where I talk about how to support the QSO Today podcast like national public radio’s fund raising drive. Today I just want to talk to you about next year. I want to keep the QSO Today podcast fresh and interesting, not just for you but for you me as well. I’m interested in your feedback to be sure you’re getting the most out of the podcast.
There are many more ham radio stories to tell, not only from old timers but also from newer hams that are making major contributions to the hobby. If you have comments or suggestions, I welcome them to my email. Send the message to email@example.com, or use the contact form on the website. I’m also thinking of a second podcast in 2017, perhaps weekly, where I answer your ham radio questions. I have at least 120 ham radio Elmer experts at my disposal who have the answers. If this appeals to you, please send me a message.
Until next time, this is Eric, 4Z1UG 73.
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