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Your RF Cafe
Airplanes and Rockets:
THE OTHER NIGHT I got on the air again after a QRT of about eight
years. A couple of weeks earlier. I had hooked up my old receiver to
a hay-wire antenna and had been listening around the bands to see what
was happening and to get my code speed back up. I noticed that there
are a lot more 89 signals and electronic keyers on the-air than there
used to be - often in conjunction. After a couple of weeks of SWLing
l couldn't stand .it any longer. so I carried my exciter up from the
basement and put it alongside the receiver. The antenna seemed to load
up alright on forty. So, I got my old bug out of the closet and was
all set for a QSO.
I was tuning around the band looking for a victim when 1 came across a fist that sounded hauntingly familiar (it was a bug, not a keyer). He was sending CQ on 7031 (my receiver may be old but it's accurately calibrated), and when he signed, sure enough, it was Al, W4. I quickly zeroed in and gave him a call.
Even as I was calling I began to have misgivings. Old Al was one of the reasons I had gone QRT, though in my excitement I had forgotten it. It's not that Al was a bad guy, really, But, he was the crotchetiest, orneriest. most reactionary old geezer I had ever run into. Not just politically, mind you. but in everything. And he was always a decade or so behind the issues (if you can call the kicks he got on "issues"), Back in the '60s he was denouncing the transistor, the one-piece bathing suit (I doubt that he had heard of the two), SSB, the automatic transmission, and the Lindy - demoralizing and un-American influences all. He was the Archie Bunker of the airwaves. There was absolutely no way to get him off a subject. You just had to suffer. I tried to avoid him but he always seemed to find me out. In self-defense I had. finally gone QRT altogether.
"Lord knows what he's into now," I thought as I began to sign, "probably Goldwater's presidential campaign." I half hoped the antenna wasn't getting out. I tried to console myself. "Maybe he's mellowed with time," I thought, "and anyway. this time I won't let him get to me, no matter what." I signed AR and turned up the receiver gain.
Sure enough he came back. He remembered my name as though our last QSO had been yesterday instead of eight years ago and gave me my report - 459. In Al's tight-fisted world, this meant I had a solid signal. The best I used to be able to get out of him when I had the kilowatt connected to a dipole was a 349. "Maybe he has mellowed," I thought. I gave him his report and tried to avoid everything but the most uncontroversial clichés. The weather should be safe: WX. HR COLD ES CLR - TEN BELOW IN MPLS THIS AM.
QRG? was his only reply. Al was always laconic except when it came to one of his pet topics.
That seemed harmless. "7031 kHz, I replied, rather proud that I had kept up with the world enough to know that kc had been replaced by kHz during my QRT.
The receiver went berserk. For a moment I thought that my gain control had gotten noisy from being unused for so long. But no, it was all right. Al was making spluttering noises. His bug sounded like a demented cricket. I finally made out some of it: ... SCHMERTZES - WHATS MY FREQ? FREQ MEASURED IN CYCLES NOT BUSHELS CUBITS OR RODS - HERTZ RENTS CARS.
"My God!" I thought, "I've done it." 7031 kc , I replied and then, instead of turning it back, I tried to change the subject. I brought him up to date on my family, how my son was ten now and playing the French horn in the school band. I hoped Al didn't have anything against French horns.
He ignored it and went on with his harangue. He said that a cycle is a phenomenon of the physical world, a Hertz a member of the human world, and probably an immoral one at that. He capped his outburst with this, QRSing to 20 wpm and carefully spelling out each word:
Mourned a doleful old-timer named Gertz,
"I'm appalled that all cycles are Hertz:
kHz is a fright,
And MHz outta sight,
And when I ride on my biHz it hurts!"
By now I was shaken and badly in need of a drink. I gave him a rundown of my gear arid then went into a detailed description of my antenna its exact resonant frequency (in kilocycles), its length and the height at each end, in feet. Too late I realized l might be in deep water there. I hoped he wasn't a metric nut.
But Al picked up his tirade where he had left off. A cycle, he said; is a perfectly descriptive name for a thing that has frequency, like a wave of water or energy. A Hertz, on the other hand, is descriptive of nothing. It is the name of a family - a foreign family. How would they like to be called "Cycle?" They should have the decency not to foist their family name off on a natural phenomenon, The silly thing, he continued, is that everyone knows a cycle is really a cycle, they just pretend it's a Hertz. And on and on. Then another limerick, QRS again:
Said a cheeky YL name of Mavis,
"This Hertz thing is really depravis:
Number Two wasn't tough,
Or didn't try hard enough,
Or kiloHertz would be called kiloAvis."
But Al wasn't about to be derailed. Measuring frequency in Hertzes, he said, is like measuring time in Methuselahs or velocity in Wright Brothers, because these people had something to do with age and speed. CAN U IMAGINE DRIVING 60 WBPH? he asked, rather rhetorically. Must we reHertz our used beer bottles? Will the Pope start issuing enHertzicals? Can you feature looking things up in the EnHertzopaedia Britanica? Are we going to be plagued by eleven-year sunspot Hertzes and will scholars start ranting about Hertzical history? Then he fell into his demented-cricket swing again and, as ill luck would have it, the QSB was at the peak of its Hertz and he was over S9:
Flattety-thrattety, it's a conspiracy,
Hertzian frequencies crowding the air
Gone are the cycles that,
Used to remind us of Sophia, bare.
I pulled the big switch and went down for a drink. The next day I carried my old receiver and the exciter back down to the basement and put the bug back in the closet. They cluttered up my study anyway. I really don't have room in the yard for an antenna. Maybe in a few years...