Sunday, July 12, 2020

This is too good not to share

Words posted by Wayne Burdick N6KR to the Elecraft KX email reflector. They are too good not to share:

"On second thought, I think I'll take the stairs."

by Wayne Burdick, N6KR

I have a friend about my age who got into amateur radio only a few years ago. Like many of us, he was enthusiastic about the technology. Intrigued with DX.

I showed him my station; we talked endlessly about gear. Later, I helped him put up a simple wire antenna.

Then, when his license arrived, he dove straight into FT8 and didn't look back. Within days, he'd worked all states, then DXCC. He'd bag a few rare ones over a light lunch, then pat his laptop on the back and congratulate his software app for its near-mythical ability to extract weak signals out of noise.

Within weeks, he'd mastered everything there was to know about this glorious new hobby.

Point. Click.

In this new world order, those of us who took the longer, slower path to ionospheric enlightenment -- and who still occasionally enjoy making waves by hand -- often fail to explain why.

I had failed to explain it to my friend. Even as hints of his boredom crept in, creating an opening, the best argument I'd made for trying CW was that he could do it without a computer. Coming in a weak second was the notion that CW was the original digital mode. For obvious reasons, I didn't bother with the classic argument about CW's signal-to-noise advantage over SSB.

I had all but given up.

Then, in a moment of delayed clarity, I decided on a different approach. I invited him to a weekday brunch. A bit of an escape. He willingly took the bait.

On the appointed day, arriving at his workplace, I bypassed the lobby's glistening elevators and climbed the four flights of stairs to his office. I insisted we take the stairs down, too.

"Why?" he asked. "And how'd you get up here so fast?"

I pointed out that I always chose stairs, when possible. That's why I wasn't out of breath. We hustled down, jockeying for position, and emerged on the ground floor invigorated by the effort.

"So, where are we going?" he asked. We'd been to every overrated twenty-dollar burger venue at least twice.

I replied that we'd be going someplace we'd never tried. My kitchen.

When we arrived, I put him to work chopping onions and broccoli and squeezing oranges while I whipped eggs into a froth and grated Swiss cheese. We ate our omelettes outside, in full sun and a cool breeze.

"What's for dessert?" he asked. "Isn't there a frozen yogurt place a two-minute drive from here?"

I had something else in mind. Back in the kitchen, I handed him a water bottle, then slipped on a small pack I'd prepared earlier.

We walked a mile or so through my neighborhood, admiring the houses' varied architecture, ending up (as planned) at a local park festooned with blackberry bushes. The most accessible branches had been picked clean, but with teamwork and persistence we were able to gather several large handfuls of fat, ripe berries, which we devoured on the spot.

We'd been poked and scratched but didn't care.

"Doesn't brunch usually end with champagne?" he wondered aloud, admiring his wounds.

Not this time. I pulled out two bottles of craft beer that I'd obtained from a neighbor in trade for repairing his ancient home stereo. Carlos had spent years crafting an American pilsner to die for, sweating every detail, including iconic, hand-painted labels.

My friend accepted the bottle, then tried in vain to remove the cap. Not a twist-off.

"Opener?" he said.

I handed him a small pocket knife, an antique without extra blades. He soon discovered it could not be used to remove the cap directly. He looked at me with a bemused expression, no doubt wondering what I had up my sleeve this time.

I pointed out that we were surrounded by white oaks, a species known for its hard wood. He got the message, smiled, and began hunting. Within seconds he'd collected a small fallen branch. I watched as he used the knife to fashion a few inches of it into a passable bottle opener. We popped the caps, toasted his new-found skill, and traded stories of misspent youth.

"Oh, one more thing," I said.

I pulled a KX2 out of my pack, along with two lengths of wire. Of course he knew everything there was to know about Elecraft, and me, so he wasn't surprised when I also pulled out the rig's attachable keyer paddle. We threw one wire in the closest tree and laid the other on the ground.

He didn't have to ask whether I'd brought a laptop.

We listened to CW signals up and down 20 meters, open to Europe at the time. As he tuned in each station, I copied for him using pencil and paper. He'd learned Morse code, but only at very slow speeds.

After making a contact, I set the internal keyer speed to 10 words per minute and dialed power output to zero, for practice purposes, then showed him how to use the paddle. He smiled as he got the hang of it. Sending the full alphabet was a challenge, but he got there. The KX2 decoded and displayed his letters, providing confirmation.

We'd blown through his allotted lunch break by a factor of three, so it was time to go. We coiled up the antenna wires, packed up, and walked back. As I drove him back to his employer, we made plans to get together again for a weekend hike.

I could have just dropped him off, but we went back into the lobby together. Out of habit, he stopped in front of the elevator. We watched the illuminated floor numbers flash: digital and predictable eye-candy.

"OK," he said. "I get it. This CW thing. It's slow, doesn't always work, and takes years of practice."

"Like hunting for your own food, or carving your own tools," I added.

"Or cooking from scratch. Or brewing your own beer. Or building your own radio. But you use more of your senses. Not just your eyes, but your ears. Your sense of touch."

I nodded. Listening; feeling. That was the radio I'd grown up with.

"Of course it's harder to work DX with CW than with FT8," I reminded him, playing devil's advocate.

"Is that what matters, though?" he asked, with a sideways glance.

A longer discussion for another day.

"Your call," I said.

He gripped my shoulder and smiled, then aimed a forefinger toward the elevator's glowing, ivory colored UP button, gilded in polished brass.

The path most taken. The easy way.

Point. Click.

"On second thought," he said, "I'll take the stairs."


Geez, not only can this guy design superb radios, he can write really darn well, too!

On a personal note, I operated in the QRP ARCI Homebrew Sprint this afternoon. While most would not consider my KX3 to be a kit radio, it was, in as much as a KX3 can be considered a kit - it was not factory built - so ...... whatever.

Anyway, I used the AlexLoop. We are up here at Lake George. I also brought the Buddistick along in a last second impulse move as I was packing the car. Yeah ...... I brought the whips, the coil, the base ..... and no coax. So the AlexLoop it is for the week.

I made 6 QSOs. Not great, but actually more than I expected. There didn't seem to be a ton of activity that I was hearing. I was hearing more SKCC Weekend Sprinters than I was hearing QRP stations, but I'm glad that I got what I got. The AlexLoop tuned pretty easily to a 1.2:1 or better SWR on both 20 and 40 Meters. I made five contacts on 40 and one on 20 Meters.

According to RBN, I was being heard pretty decently when I called CQ.

It's a decent antenna .... I'll give it that. I'd still rather have a full sized dipole or even a shortened end fed wire, but it met my expectations. I wanted to travel light with out a lot of "stuff" and I want to be able to set up and take down quickly. I didn't want to ask permission to toss a wire into a tree, either.  It is what it is. I'll play around with it some more. Maybe there's a few surprises in store.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. Nice story Larry, tnx for sharing. 73, Bas

  2. Nice story, if a little flowery. The huge advantage I see with CW, even as a non-user myself, is the ability to use the simplest transmitter (I mean, a KX2, just for CW?) and low power to transmit from practically anywhere. No need for heavy duty batteries and a computer. That is where the future of CW must lie, especially given so many of us are now trying to escape the RFI-infested domestic environment.