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Columns / Short Stories
Shep was always writing. . .

January 1956


Guest Editorial K2ORS

The range and roar of ham radio goes on unabated and, in fact seems to grow fatter and more catlike as we progress". It has occurred to many over the years that all the evils, prejudices, desires, charities, and other assorted and unclasificd qualities of Man are present in every act he does. Even the most social. Actually, some have pointed out that the more social the contact he has, the more these various seemingly disparate qualities come into play. Let's take good old friendly ham radio for an example of the typical social activity of homo neandertalis. It is possible to observe every known human failing, and positive quality too, in a couple of hours of casual listening on any band. Provided, of course, the band is reasonably open and busy. Has it ever occurred to you that a "dead" band in many ways is a thing of beauty? On lucky days it is possible to tune from one end of the ten-meter band to the other and hear not a single splatter or roar of an over modulated gallon bellowing inanities over three million square miles of earth and even perhaps (we have reason to suspect) a couple or more planets of our solar system who have done nothing to warrant such a blatant invasion of their privacy. In many ways a "dead" band is like a beautiful forest glade before the picnickers arrive prepared to litter the moss with empty beer cans, half-eaten sandwiches, egg shells, and things too revolting to discuss in a family magazine. However, not all picnickers, or hams for that matter, are beer-can throwers, it just seems that way. It is my opinion that there are just as many gentlemen around as ever before, but the egg-shell tossers and beer-can throwers are more plentiful. Frederick Lewis Allen, the late editor of Harper's, said a few months before his death that we had entered the Age of The Slob and our era would be so known in history. It is surprising to note that Allen made this observation without first scanning the forty-meter phone band on a good busy night when the littoral was crowded with fat redfaced beer drinkers dropping potato salad on the trampled forest grass. Too bad he missed it. I shudder to think what he might have written had he known. But I digress. My basic theme here is the diverse qualities peculiar to Man that are displayed through the medium of ham radio. And remember, this ham radio of ours is far more than just a hobby. It essentially remains a social contact between two or more human entities regardless of the technical furbelows that might conceal the fact. It is funny, and yet sad in a way, to hear the conversation of two people who would never have spoken had they met in a subway or bar since they both are rather shy introverts with more than a touch of snobbishness in their makeup. Suddenly, thru the medium of ham radio, they find themselves in conversation with each other and both vaguely aware that the other is an utter stranger and quite possibly beyond his own social pale. Immediately the air is filled with stock phony phrases of goodwill such as "Old Man", "call me Jack", "the XYL is ringing the dinner gong", all of these things are as pat as a form letter from TIME magazine begging for subscriptions, and just as personal. The real use of this guff is to sound as tho' our two heroes are having a real conversation without actually having one. But if one of them strays from the beaten path of Worn Clich for as much as an instant the other immediately clams up and hears the "dinner gong" and "must pull the Big Switch since the QRM is getting rough". Actually if we were to analyze carefully the full transcript (an embarrassing thought!) of the "ragchew" between our two introverts, we would find that a full 99% of the content is a discussion of the means by which they were enabled to make contact and the other 1% is a collection of homilies regarding weather conditions and like trivia. In over seventeen years of ranging the ham bands from 2 to the old 160-meter band (and what a haven for "joiners" that one was! It, in fact, will be subject of my next tirade). I cannot recall more than three or four instances where the conversation became a few ounces heavier than the usual lightweight gabble. And perhaps the saddest of all is the DX'er. Here is a man who is in nightly contact with the world and yet knows nothing of it. I caught a complete QSO on fifteen this morning between an LA in Oslo and some yokel in Jersey. They "talked" for better than twenty minutes under perfect conditions for a change. Here were two humans separated by thousands of miles, from two widely differing cultures, one from a Monarchy and the other from a Republic, and yet all they spoke of was the inevitable weather and QSL card. Apparently neither had any curiosity about the other and was secure in his own provincialism. I almost felt as tho' I should apologize to my beautiful new NC-300 for all this much ado about nothing. Not more than thirty minutes later I heard a friend of mine in contact with a bird in Johannesburg and the same thing happened. However, the real tragedy of this contact was that I knew my friend was a normal, intelligent human being and not more than three days before we had discussed over a drink the miserable political situation that now is blighting South Africa. He was tremendously interested in that mess but it apparently never entered his head to ask this guy in Johannesburg what he thought about it. I guess ham radio does that to a person. It is simple and natural to forget that you are actually in contact with another human cipher. A contact becomes a technical thing and not a social act. Too bad. If there is anything we need more than increased understanding between people in the world today, I don't know of it. And understanding comes from knowledge which in turn results from familiarity with others. In short, "contacts" between people. Ham radio has become a sort of classic example of that old human failing. That of confusing means and ends. Even as I write this, my 300 is tuned to twenty where some lout is "tuning up" what he calls "a full gallon" which actually means two, He has been doing this (or over an hour on the high end of the phone band. He probably is a wispy thin breath of a man who is low man on the totem pole at the office and is married to an ex-lady wrestler who has taken up bridge in later life and who runs over him like a Juggernaut. But at the high end of twenty he is King and it is there he really can spread himself! I'd dare say about fifteen kc (unmooulated). Poor little man. He has found his means to his own private end. "Be the first in your neighborhood..."

Copyright: 1956 CQ Radio Amateurs Journal