How to Talk to Non-Hams
November 1961 Popular Electronics
Here is a pretty funny story
that, although it is fictional, it could easily have really happened. I'm not much of a party-goer, but based on what
little experience I've had at social functions and the stereotypical behavior often portrayed in movies, the author's
scenario likely actually did occur. Maybe he exaggerates just a bit, though. The follow-up situation would be a great
gag to play on someone if you ever get the chance. It probably would not be hard to get people to fall for it.
[Table of Contents]People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about
and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April
1985. As time permits, I will be glad to scan articles for you. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
See all articles from Popular
How to Talk to Non-Hams
By Fred Ebel, W9PXA
happened during one of those awkward conversational vacuums abhorred by party hosts. My host, an up-and-coming insurance
man, suddenly turned to me and said, "I understand you're a radio ham."
I produced one of those it's-really-nothing
type of smiles. But secretly I was flattered. All eyes were on me, including those of three beautiful young ladies.
And then came the question that must come to all hams at one time or another.
"What do hams talk about?"
My interrogator was a platinum blonde.
When our eyes met, it was like an a.f.c. locking circuit. We
"Well," I began, "take that QSO - that means talk - I had with a ham in India the other day. He--"
"I know, I know!" broke in a bearded chap who had just recited some weird poetry while tapping a bongo rhythm
on his knees. "This fellow had just been bitten by a king cobra. Your message made it possible to fly in antitoxin
in the nick of time."
"No, this ham lives in the Himalayan country-"
The blonde squealed. "The home
of the man-eating tiger. The tiger had attacked a native and was roaming the village for its next victim. The ham
wanted you to send in professional hunters."
I winced. "No, no, no! This ham was just" an ordinary postal
clerk. He gave me an S9 report and said my modulation was tremendous."
I had delivered this information with
considerable heat. But all I saw were blank expressions. Perhaps they didn't understand. I cleared my throat. "You
see, this ham was on the other side of the world, yet he gave me that wonderful S9 report. It meant I was really barreling
Another of those vacuums resulted.
My host smiled through clenched teeth. His words would have
made good battery acid. "How very interesting. Please tell us more."
"Yes," a pretty redhead said, "tell us,
what do hams really talk about?"
I searched my brain for a typical example. I had it. A very interesting QSO
during which my DX contact had successfully made two transmissions, though his antenna had fallen to the deck of the
I managed a smile, then: "I once talked to a ham who was the radio operator on a tramp schooner that
was crossing the South China Sea, and here's the interesting part-"
"The ship was caught in a typhoon. sinking
fast. But thanks to your quick action, port authorities were notified and a rescue ship got there just in time," said
the redhead, beaming like a quiz kid.
I wiped my brow, counted down from x minus nine to zero before I answered.
"No, the interesting part was that the antenna wasn't in the air. It was lying on-" But I got no further.
"I know," blurted a shiny-eyed guest.
"Mutiny had broken out on the ship. The captain already was bound to
the mast and the crew of cutthroats was trying to get to the radio operator!"
The circuits in my brain shorted
I jumped to my feet and ran out as I screamed: "Yes, that was it. Mutiny! The crew had gone berserk.
The typhoon had ripped open the cages of the wild-animal cargo. Three gorillas, two tigers, an elephant, and five
cobras were loose. The boiler had just exploded, and-and-" But the rest of my words were lost in the wind as I raced
home, hat-and coat-less.
How long I stood behind the closed door of my apartment having visions of two men
in white coats coming to get me, I don't know. But finally, letting out a huge sigh of relief, I sank into an easy
chair, after automatically switching on the TV set. It was time to review the past events with analytic calm. What
had happened? What had caused me to blow my top?
into my thoughts came an excited voice ..."CQ emergency! CQ emergency."
I looked up. There on the television
screen, parka-clad and kneeling next to a dog sled, was a man speaking into the microphone of an emergency transceiver.
Then a cut to the radio shack of a young operator. "Read you loud and clear, old man. What is your message?"
Cut back to the frozen north. "Dogs broke loose, partner broke legs in crevasse fall, wolves closing in. Need
immediate help! Our position is-"
I switched off the TV, smiled. Of course, that was it. The public is conditioned
to make-believe hams who have exciting adventures. For them, no talk about weather or technical stuff. These fictional
hams are men of action, their conversation laced with "Medical help on the way" ... "Stand by for instructions on
emergency appendix operation ... "
An idea played around in the back of my head. Why not give my friends a
show? They wanted drama. I would give them drama. Hama-drama !
I immediately wrote a dramatic sketch of exciting,
imaginative ham adventures and put it on tape. Being a mimic, I had no trouble taking off three different voices,
representative of hams from three different parts of the world. I even inserted sound effects, teletype and fast code
- who ever heard a re-broadcast of a short-wave transmission without those dah-dit-dahs?
The big job
in taping the playlet was synchronizing the voices so that my live voice would track with what my characters said.
I arranged to have a relay in the transmitter actuate the recorder hidden in a closet, and I used my regular receiver
speaker to heighten believability.
How does it work? Wonderfully! My public relations are the very best.
Guests in the ham shack no longer suppress yawns - they're on tenterhooks waiting for the next thrilling installment.
Consider the demonstration I gave last Sunday to a new neighbor and his family - including two kids. After
seating my guests comfortably, I put on the show - with a warm-up period first.
The warm-up feature
is actually an audio-visual aid as I fuss over ancient ham gear - a spiral-wound oscillation transformer, rotary spark
gap, huge capacitors, and loose couplers. It's junk, but the effect is terrific. My modern transmitter and receiver
don't even get a glance - how could anything so small, compact and silent be effective?
With my audience
properly primed, I started the main event by giving the globe a twirl, stroking my chin, and then muttering: "Hmmm,
suppose we contact this part of the earth."
My neighbor gulped. "You can talk - anywhere ?"
My smile was indulgent, as I nodded in the affirmative, my finger stopping the globe at the Arctic Zone. "I haven't
talked to the top of the world for some time. I wonder what Professor Schloggenfloober's doing. He's the scientist,
you know, who's heading that project to determine what lies at the bottom of the ice cap."
heads nodded as I grabbed the dead mike to intone: "CQ, CQ, CQ Schloggenfloober expedition!"
After an appropriate
time, I switched on the tape recorder, and from the speaker came what I like to think of as a pretty good imitation
of a German scientist. .. "Dis iss Professor Schloggenfloober shpeaking from de Nort Pole. Ve are haffing a heat vave
here - sixty degrees below zero."
"Thanks for coming back, Professor.
What's new in Santa Claus land?"
This was for the benefit of the children, who leaned forward to catch every word.
came through static - I didn't forget to throw in some static on the sound track. "Tell the sshildren that ve got
a pet walrus. Ve call him Blubber Boy unt ride him every day. Oh, unt annuder ding, ve found a mastodon at the two-hundred
foot level in a vunderful state of preservation. Dose mastodon steaks go good vit canned mushrooms."
"Boy, a pet walrus. Wish I had one," said Junior.
I signed off with the professor, then purposely yawned
as if I were bored.
"I'll try to raise something more interesting," I said, noticing through the corner
of an eye the amazement on the faces of my guests. "Suppose we point the beam in the direction of the South Pacific
Again, after a suitable pause, we heard a voice (mine, of course), this time the voice of an
excited British radio operator of a steamship ... "This is the S. S. Glugkloop (I had put my hand in front of my mouth)
... Can you take a message? Very urgent! Very urgent!"
My neighbor poked his wife in the ribs.
you hear that - very urgent!"
"Go ahead," I said, reaching for a pencil and pad of paper.
"Here's the message." The voice was almost a scream, as though some awful thing were impending. "Just sighted strange
sea animal with huge serpent-like head. Body length estimated one hundred feet with ten loops breaking water. Crossed
bow some fifty feet ahead, creating wave estimated six feet high. Position - mid-Pacific near Ogre Island. Relay message
to the Society for the Investigation of Unusual Sea Life. The address is ... " Here the voice rises to a blood-curdling
scream, and a sound effect as of wood splintering is heard.
Naturally I make a valiant effort to learn
what has happened. But only static comes through. I turn to my white-faced guests, say: "I - I wonder what happened
But I know that, in their mind's eye, they know what happened. They see the huge head of a sea serpent
landing on the ship's cabin, spike-like fangs ripping the wood asunder ....
Later that evening, I turned on
the last installment, which is a harrowing account of an explorer in a Burma jungle making an urgent request for penicillin.
How do I feel about these hama-dramas? Like a kindly Santa Claus who wouldn't tell the kids for all the money
in the world that the beard isn't real. My guests get quite a kick out of these mythical adventures.
I. So much so that a strange and somewhat frightening thing is happening. Instead of going on the air and having real
QSO's with real hams, I find myself writing and recording new adventures and talking to myself.
two men in the white coats will get me yet!