August 1948 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Helen McKee knew exactly what she was signing up for when she agreed to marry Mr.
McKee. After all, she met and got familiar with the guy over the air during some
rag chewing sessions. This story is a humorous (and true)
account of what life can be like for the spouses of enthusiastic Ham radio operators.
We all hope for such an understanding 'significant other.' Melanie has certainly
endured and supported a lot of my pastime endeavors over the past 32 years. It's
a short read, so take a break and put a smile on your face.
I Married a Hobby
By Helen McKee,* XYL of W9ARK
Amateur radio is the hobby I married. Mac
and I were introduced over the air, so I should have known from the very outset
that there would always be a ham rig in our home. Now, after a quarter of a century
of registering the gamut of emotions over this obsession, I know that Mac and I
are not tuned to the same wavelength.
Before the wedding day, I made rash promises to knuckle down and master the code;
a husband, home and babies mastered me. The ink was not yet dry on the marriage
license when our honeymoon began to resemble a radio tour. Instead of tea for two,
we indulged in endless hamfests with strangers in stranger cities. It dawned on
me that I had a definite problem on my hands.
Back home, the first marital snag was over where to put the rig. Our love nest
boasted two bedrooms and I could see right off that W9ARK had his eye on that extra
room while my dreams of a ruffled guest room vanished. Almost overnight a work bench
was installed, wires began dangling out of the windows, and I didn't dare clean
the place for fear of mixing up some of the junk.
But we had to move soon enough. The hobby was installed in what should have been
the nursery. Subsequently, as time wore on and we outgrew one house after another,
W9ARK set up his shack in practically every room in the house. When the outfit was
in the basement, the laundress couldn't wash without getting caught in the motor
generator. The attic was a good place to admit the lead-in, but the chief op couldn't
keep himself warm. When the rig was in the bedroom, the XYL couldn't sleep for the
visiting hams in her boudoir. Finally Mac built an addition to the living room to
house his hobby, but I soon found that soldering irons and screwdrivers in the middle
of the parlor floor were not in the best taste as bric-a-brac.
It was during the period when the shack was in the bedroom that the doctor, who
was also a ham, dropped in from Crawfordsville to chin with W9ARK. I, blessed-eventing
again, by dusk was dead on my feet. But could I go to bed with a strange man at
the microphone in my bedroom? Wearily, I fought the tiger of fatigue, longing, with
a hope beyond understanding, that the extra man in my life would clear out and let
me find rest. At 2:30 A.M., belligerently, I approached the intruder. "Doctor,"
I said, "you have seen many women in bed and now you are going to see another."
Exhausted, I shed my robe arid sank between the sheets.
Tragedy came close while the set monopolized
our bedroom. The stork was expected momentarily and I busied myself with the mending
basket while Mac, in his corner of the room, enjoyed a QSO with a fellow ham. A
tube burned out in the transmitter and, absent-mindedly, Mac put his hands into
the back of the set to remove the offending part. He forgot to turn off the power
supply. A thousand volts burned into his right wrist and emerged from his left forearm,
more than enough to electrocute. He was squatting behind the set at the time and
the contraction of the muscles caused by the impact of the current picked him up
and tossed him, leap-frog fashion, into the corner of the room. When I reached him
his tongue was thick and hanging out. Such thoughts as "Don't touch him!" and "I
am a widow with four children!" raced across my mind. After what seemed a lifetime,
garbled mumbles came through his swollen lips. Hysterically, I ran for the aromatic
spirits of ammonia - for both of us! The doctor explained that if Mac's heart had
not been on dead center at the time of contact, St. Peter would have ushered him
through the Pearly Gates.
During our married lifetime we have visited hams from coast to coast; also in
Cuba. Panama and Mexico. And one time an amateur from Mexico City came to visit
us, bringing his wife along. The Mexican XYL and I had to converse in sign language.
One of our favorite travel experiences concerns the little lady ham down in Port
Arthur, Texas. Over the air she is known as "Little Dew Drop." Mac had met her at
a hamfest in Chicago, so, as we were driving into Port Arthur, he suggested that
we look her up, which we did. In answer to Mac's knock at the door, a baby voice
in that irresistible Southern drawl said, "Why, Mac!"
Is this you?" And old Mac responded with, "Is dinner ready?" True to Southern
hospitality, we were ushered into the house and right back to the room where the
rig was located. Dew Drop, instead of doing her housework, had been on the air exchanging
the time of day with Sally up in New Jersey. Undaunted, she sat W9ARK down at the
mike and turned him loose.
While we were busy on the air, Little Dew Drop dropped into her own kitchen and
soon announced fried oysters. Was my face red! Mac was literally the man who came
to dinner but I also laughed up my sleeve because one of his pet peeves is oysters,
especially fried oysters. He asked for and ate a second helping!
And then there is Katherine out in Cheyenne,
Wyoming. Katherine is the gal who told my husband that he had microphone appeal.
From all I hear she puts out a mean signal. She certainly can put out delicious
homemade chocolate creams, too. We know! She has sent Mac three boxes.
In Indianapolis there is a certain camaraderie among the hams; also a spirit
of rivalry as to who shall work the farthest DX. They spurn publicity, or seem to.
Before the war, whenever one of their number received mention in the press, a dinner
was held and a trophy presented to the notable ham. But this trophy was in no way
a loving cup. Call letters of the recipients were inscribed on a small wooden box,
inside of which was the south end of a horse going north. Upon the first presentation,
Mac ordered a bale of hay sent to the winner. For that gesture all the local hams
were out to "get" Mac, who proved to be cagey, so much so my help was enlisted to
On the night before Mother's Day, Mac happened to take a message from a lad in
the Byrd Expedition, near the South Pole, to his mother in Indianapolis. I tipped
off a fellow ham and reporters were soon on Mac's trail. On the front page Sunday
morning was the news that W9ARK had received by short-wave radio the Mother's Day
message from the greatest distance around the earth. Mac was furious and still is.
The war came along, amateur radio shut down, and W9ARK has had to keep the horse
all these years, until someone else makes the papers.
In retrospect, I have decided that marrying a hobby has added zest to what might
otherwise have been a humdrum existence. By sending our signals into the air to
fall to earth, we knew not where, our own horizons receded. A few acquaintances
became treasured friends. Some experiences, mellowed by time and memory, became
priceless. A sense of humor, sprinkled with tolerance, has saved the day. At long
last, home serenity is established, a philosophy achieved, Mac and I synchronized.
Posted May 2, 2019 (original