A WordPress Discovery Challenge

Some years ago, my aunt got into using FaceBook to keep up with friends and her daughters. She tried to get her husband involved.

“I really don’t need to know,” he said, “every time someone goes to the bathroom.”

The other day, on one of my rare excursions on FaceBook, I noticed he had a page. He’s retired now, which may have enticed him to get involved. My brothers, their wives, and some of their kids are also on FaceBook. I pop in once and a while, check the posts on where one brother and his wife went to eat, view the obligatory photo, and “like” the post, just to be, well, social.

But contrary to what my kids think, the internet isn’t the first way possible to made an electronic connection to people.

Growing up on a ranch, the telephone party line was one of the first ways I knew of that folks connected with one another. Even years later, small towns often had a local telephone operator and homes had telephones without a dial. Clicking the button under the handset flashed the operator, who would then make the connection as requested. Operators always knew the latest “news,” which was happily passed on to all.

But the the very first wireless social media began many years before I was born.

Amateur Radio: “In 1873, James Clerk Maxwell presented his theory of the electromagnetic field. In 1901 Guglielmo Marconi communicated across the Atlantic with a radio device using high power and giant antennas. To curb interference, Congress approved the Radio Act of 1912, which required amateurs to be licensed and restricted to the single wavelength of 200 meters. In 1914 the American Radio Relay League was founded by Hiram Percy Maxim, who found that messages could be sent more reliably over long distances if relay stations were organized. Transatlantic transmitting and receiving tests began in 1921 and by July 1960 the first two-way contact via the Moon took place on 1296 MHz.

“Today we’re on CW, phone, SSB, FM, packet, TV, PACTOR, PSK31, RTTY, and other modes, bouncing signals off the ground, ionosphere, and the Moon. Hams are active in nearly every country of the world and from ages less than 10 years to more than 100.”—ARRL

My first experience with amateur radio was in 1971. A neighbor got me hooked on talking to people from all over the world. It took me a many years to finally begin studying. I learned morse code while studying books so that I could pass the FCC license test. Eventually I passed all the necessary tests. While awaiting my license to arrive in the mail, I built a transceiver and set up an antenna. When my license arrived, I got on the air. My first contact was with a fellow in Texas. He’d called CQ a few times, which is an invitation to talk. No one answered him. I wrote down his call sign, put my had on the key, and tapped his call, “de,” which means “This is,” and my new call. Immediately I heard my call. He’d heard me. My hand shook as I quickly moved from the key to my pencil and I  b u m p e d   t h e   t u n i n g   d i a l.  I fiddled to try again to find him. I couldn’t. In my log for that day, I wrote the time and his call. I left the frequency blank, noting “I blew it,” in the note column.

It took me about a half-an hour to hear another “CQ.” This time I carefully noted the frequency on which I’d received the call. We made contact. We chatted for a while, until the connection got weak, and we signed of in the traditional manner, “73,” meaning “good luck.”

Amateur radio operators, also known as “hams,” used to exchange postcards, called “QSL” cards verifying their contacts. I sent one of my cards to my first real contact. She also sent her card to me.

One of the first versions of QSL cards I used.
One of the first versions of QSL cards I used during my time at Camp Roberts.


Front of QSL card confirming contact with Janet, KA1DBL, Oct. 11, 1979. My first ham radio contact.
Back side of QSL card from first ham QSO (connection)

When-all-else-fails-logoI have been blessed by the Lord to have made connections throughout the world via amateur radio. It truly is the original social media, and it’s totally wireless. In addition to normal communication between hams, there are nets. A net is simply a group of hams meeting together on the air. One net I enjoyed while living up north was the Bible Fellowship Net. The net meets daily, and operators take turns commenting on an assigned verse from the Bible. There are also emergency communication nets that are able to receive messages from one community and transmit them though various relay stations to their destination. In the event of an emergency, such as a hurricane, hams are “activated” to “handle traffic” out of, and into, an affected area. Hams also assist local emergency services with communications. During emergencies, cell phones and even land lines, quickly become useless.

Amateur radio isn’t limited to talking. Hams are involved in many different types of communications, and even events, such as Fox Hunts. The “fox” is a small, hidden transmitter, and the “hunters” use direction-finding radios to find the fox. There is also a worldwide email system that is used not only by hams on land, but those at sea. Hams practice for emergencies by providing communications for events such as marathons, bicycle races, off-road vehicle events, as well as parades.

This summer is thirty-seventh year as an amateur radio operator. I don’t get on the air as often anymore as once I did. The neighborhood in which I live has restrictions on outside antennas. Consequently, my operating is exclusively from my pickup truck these days. There are some severe handicaps when operating mobile, but they haven’t stopped me making contacts throughout the world—just not as easily, and not as frequently, as once I did.

Lord Bless, Keep, Shine. . .

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