From Morse to mgk
Saturday June 18th 2005, 5:35 pm

I’ve been a ham (amateur) radio operator since I was truly a kid-kid, living in the USA in the early 1970s. Before I learned Morse code and the radio law and electronics theory needed to pass the test for the ham license, I was an avid shortwave radio listener.

Some kids climbed trees. I climbed trees to string antenna wires.

In the early 1970s, vacuum tube-type radio sets (valve-type, to you Britspeakers) were the established state-of-the-art and had been since the 1920s. I have owned literally hundreds of radio sets over the years. I’ve had Hammarlunds, Heathkits & Hallicrafters as well as Drakes and the odd Collins, the latter being the Rolls Royce of radio sets. Former Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh is also a ham radio operator and owns close to a warehouse full of fine old Collins sets- and may indeed soon own them all. His ‘enthusiastic’ collecting of Collins gear on Ebay is legendary. Ordinary average guy, my white ass! 😉 Still, can’t begrudge the guy his good taste, can you?

Radio sets once made their own heat and light with their glowing glass bottles. All tube type radios have their own personalities. None work cold; they must be allowed to warm up in their own sweet time. Drafty rooms can cause valve sets to drift off station; a blanket will usually solve it.

my 1946 Philco AM/SW/Phono radio

To this day, I have old valve sets. This 1946 Philco AM/shortwave radio with a built in record changer lives in my dining room. I brought this particular character with me from the USA when I moved to Australia in 1996, though I’ve owned it since around 1985.

Yes- "Phil" does work and we often use him to listen to ABC Radio National. Phil has a 12" loudspeaker and has lovely sound quality, especially for spoken programming, like Philip Adams’ Late Night Live. "Phil" warmly fills the whole house with fillips from Adams. 🙂

Back when I was a kid, late, late at night, when distant signals were strongest, a vast, cryptic, almost underground world of mystic messages and music poured out of my headphones. Incomprehensible languages and odd opinions of the United States in English language news programming crackled from my ‘cans.’ Radio Moscow and Radio Havana Cuba’s skeptical treatment of America made them staples, as did the more ‘America friendly’ Radio Australia and BBC World Service. The contrast of the editorial bent of these programs from distant lands with the news coverage with which I was more familiar from local TV & newspapers became the inadvertent beginning of my desire to be a radio/print news journalist.

When spinning the dial across the shortwave bands, in between the voice broadcasts, I came across the most curious peebling and twobbling sounds. It was surely man made and mechanically sent… but what was it? I soon found out that these were forms of digital communications, mainly radioteletype, abbreviated ‘RTTY.’ The abbreviation has a familiar jargon pronunciation of "ritty." I became fascinated with RTTY.

Eventually, I both sent and received RTTY with a miltary surplus model ‘32ASR‘ paper tape driven mechanical teletype machine which was so LOUD that I could not run it when my sis or parents were within earshot. It sounded like a coffee can full of little nuts & bolts being rattled in a paint-mixer.

You hams will know what Drake ‘twins’ are. I had a T4C & R4C pair which carried the signals for my RTTY outfit. CQ RTTY! I did a lot more ‘listening’ to distant RTTY stations than sending, though. When still living with my parents, we usually lived in apartments, which really cramped the style of a young ham who wanted to build a 100 foot tower. Never could quite get out ‘the big signal.’ Still, I had more than enough antenna to simply receive these signals. I used countless rolls of teletype paper whilst tuning in various military and commercial RTTY stations.

Most communications were either mundane or encrypted, but on occasion, I’d come across news being transmitted by wire services from overseas- and would have the next day’s news before anyone else. Sometime in the mid 1980s, I had a Commodore 128 (yes, 128) connected to an MFJ brand TNC (terminal node controller) which converted the digital signals from the C128 into audio signals which were then transmitted and received with a VHF (~146MHz) transceiver. This means of digital communication was known as ‘packet radio’ because the data was sent in digital chunks called ‘packets.’ The net effect was a form of wireless email. Packet radio is still happening on the ham bands, both in local communications via VHF & UHF frequencies and on the shortwave bands.

I’ve been an ‘online writer’ since I had a Commodore 64 BBS (billboard system, similar to a forum) online circa 1982. Other Commodore users could dial up and connect to my BBS (one at a time) to send and receive messages with other users- a very early form of email which was accessible to the public, long before the military/educational ARPANET (later known as ‘Internet’) became available for public use in the early 1990s.

Once ARPANET became publicly available and thence became called ‘Internet’, I completely stopped frittering around with digital communications via radio. The quality of signal is critical in digital communications sent by radio. When the radio links were replaced with phone lines, suddenly anyone with a mind to put up a website had an equally ‘big signal.’ Internet is THE great ‘information equaliser’- no longer do you need a 1000 foot tower to be heard as well as Rupert Murdoch.

I was one of the very earliest public users of Internet in the USA. I was "online" using Internet in late 1991 or early 1992. I gravitated to IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and struck up chat-mode friendships all over the planet. One friendship from roundabout 1995 became a romance- with an Aussie girl. This romance was the genesis of my move to Australia in 1996 and my marriage to her in 1997. Sadly, the marriage did not last- but the permanent residency visa certainly did. I have remained in Australia ever since and became a naturalised Australian citizen in 2003. I yet maintain my US citizenship and vote in both countries.

Blogging is but my latest use of digital communications modes. Though I’ve only been blogging for a little over a year, I’ve been at the keys ‘talking’ to people all over the planet for more than 30 years.

You guys are finally catching up with me!


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Now your weird feet make sense…you needed those opposable toes to swing from oak to maple to string up your antenna wires.

Comment by suki 06.18.05 @ 11:01 pm

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