[The Montana Professor 14.1, Fall 2003 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

Hobby Corner: Ham Radio

Editor's Note: We present here two accounts of the ham radio hobby, both by retired faculty members. Bob Leo is a near life-long ham, highly respected in the hobby for his technical and operating accomplishments. His special interests in radio have been antenna experimentation and development and contacting foreign stations ("DX" in ham parlance). In the latter activity he stands at the top of the honor roll of the national amateur radio organization, the American Radio Relay League. Bob has served as a League official, too. In what follows he tells us how his hobby has affected his life at various critical times. Wayne van Meter, on the other hand, took up amateur radio only after retiring from the UM faculty. He had been interested in radio from childhood, and had numerous opportunities to make good on his interest, but failed to seize them for one reason or another. His special ham radio activity lies in the area of public service. He is a regular on the message handling nets and the emergency preparation teams in Missoula County. Among other things, he is in charge of the station at local Red Cross headquarters, where he is a dedicated volunteer.


Turning Points

Bob Leo, W7LR
Electrical Engineering (Emeritus)

Each of us has experienced turning points, events that shaped or changed our lives. A few that I have had include joining the Naval Reserve at age 16, which led to interesting Naval duty before and during WWII; receiving a letter from Simon Ramo offering a position as engineer when he formed Hughes Aircraft with a handful of engineers--but turning that down; soon afterwards writing an application to be the radio operator on an expedition to British East Africa in 1948, resulting in that adventure; taking a train to NY for that trip and meeting my wife-to-be on the train; and, more pertinent to this story, discovering radio in 1933. The rest of this story will follow the trail that began then.

Sometime in 1933 when I was age 12, my father brought home some magazines for me to read. One was a radio magazine by Hugo Gernsback which contained plans for building a simple radio. The radio was intended to pick up signals from the broadcast band AM stations, as your kitchen radio does today. It was a simple design: it had one tube powered by batteries, a coil of wire wound on an oatmeal box, and a tuning condenser made from pieces of tin can with cellophane insulation between the plates. With just a piece of wire for an antenna it picked up stations. My venture into radio had begun.

I didn't know anything about the radio spectrum then; that there was a short wave band further up the dial from the broadcast band, or about other bands beyond that that now contain radar, TV, FM, and satellite signals. I didn't know that a radio should be made with short leads or wires; but with the long wires I had to the tuning condenser I discovered that I could tune beyond the broadcast band, and soon heard an amateur ("ham") radio station signal. That was my discovery of shortwave. Somehow I found out how to locate the station that I had heard and paid a visit there. The operators of the station, two brothers, showed me their equipment and demonstrated how shortwave contacts were made. I was hooked. All of these things started me on the path of radio and engineering, and 70 years later I'm still at it.

As I modified my little receiver I began to pick up code signals. These were with dots and dashes of Morse code, sent by commercial radio stations or ships at sea. Of course I didn't know the code either. I listened and listened and finally I could distinguish a V from an H (a V is dot dot dot dash, and an H has four dots). I kept at it and soon knew the entire code alphabet and could copy call signs and other information.

By the time I was 16, in 1937, I had learned a lot more about radio and was ready to take an examination in radio theory and code in order to obtain a license to operate an amateur radio station. The examination was conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in San Francisco. The exam procedure was different from that used today. Then the questions and answers were in long hand, and both sending and receiving code were required. Today the exam is multiple choice, and only copying code is required. Code speed requirements are much less today than previously. I soon received my license and the call sign W6PBV. Since that time I have moved many times and had different call signs. My call today is W7LR.

At the exam in SF another young man, Bud, took the exam and received the call sign W6PBI. He has kept that call all these years and now lives in Nevada. A few years ago Bud and I met at a radio convention and talked about our exam long ago.

Any hobby, field, or profession has its own jargon. Amateur radio is no exception. Some of our jargon evolved from the code used by telegraphers on early railroads. Communication was by code only since voice transmission hadn't been developed yet. Hence, brevity was important, so that radio jargon is often a kind of "shorthand." Other shorthand terms came from ships at sea, such as the well known SOS, short for "save our ship," as used by the Titanic. In ham radio ("ham" is shorthand for "amateur") the two characters 73 mean "best regards"; hams use it much as "goodbye," or "see you later" is used. Some systems of shorthand have been established by international agreement. One such set is known as the "Q signals," since they consist of three letters starting with the letter Q. A station's QTH is its location; thus, in morse code one would send "QTH?" to ask a station to report his location. A QSO is a radio contact. A QSL card is a postcard sent by mail to confirm a contact.

Other shorthand has to do with call signs. For example, those of broadcast stations in the east begin with W, such as WLW in Cincinnati. Those of broadcast stations in the west begin with K, such as KSL Salt Lake City, KBOZ Bozeman, etc. These prefixes are assigned to each country by international treaty. The United States has so many radio stations, commercial, television, amateur, government, military, etc., that our country is also assigned A and N prefixes. The British Empire used the prefix V, such as VE for Canada, VK for Australia, VU for India, VQ for British East Africa, etc. Numbers in the call signs have meaning, too, such as W6PBV meant that station was in California, and a 7 in the callsign (W7LR, N7TAE, W7XT) indicates that the station's permanent location is in the mountain west or pacific northwest states. A W1 would be in the New England states. Another shorthand familiar to hams is "sk." These letters stand for "silent key." An amateur who dies of course can't send code any longer on his key, and so becomes a silent key.

Back to the story. Once I had my license I needed some equipment for sending and receiving in order to make contacts with distant stations, even those in far-off countries. By this time my receiver had expanded to having three tubes and better parts. I didn't have a transmitter to send out signals, but found a used one for sale in San Mateo, CA, where we lived at the time. My folks and I were not well off and so I needed to work to earn money to buy the transmitter. I worked in a grocery store for $2 a day and saved up $50 for that first transmitter. My folks could not afford this amount, but they encouraged me to take up ham radio as they thought that it would lead to something even better--and they were right. I always appreciated their support.

The big day arrived in September 1937 to try to make my first QSO (contact). I sent out a CQ (a general request for a contact) followed by my call sign, W6PBV. An experienced ham was by my side to assist. He said there were several stations calling me, but I was nervous and didn't pick them out at first. I finally got one, W2JKG in New Jersey, for my first contact. It is general practice to keep a logbook of your contacts, and so I wrote down this first one. Over the next 66 years I have continued doing this, and having been very active over these years in ham radio, I now am using logbook #78./1/

After that first contact I went on to make many more. Eventually I was able to contact stations in other countries. These have been Japan, Korea, Australia, England, etc. One early contact was with MX2B in Manchuria in 1938. For radio purposes there are now 335 countries, and I have succeeded in contacting them all. Some were difficult due to lack of operators in those countries, or no activity at all due to their government's restrictions. North Korea is a good example of the latter. Mainly their permission for a UN worker there to operate recently has allowed contacts with that country. Only voice communications were allowed so that the government could better monitor the UN ham's activity. Other countries formerly with severe restrictions were China, Burma, Albania, and Yemen.

During my high school years I had some difficulty in operating during the night when signals are ordinarily best. My dad thought that I should be sleeping instead of radioing. We then lived right by railroad tracks and in the '30s big steam engines often went by the house. I would wait for a train to go by so that I could get out of bed and head for the radio and not wake my dad from creaking floors. This technique for beating curfew worked for quite awhile; but later on another problem arose. The transmitter used mercury vapor rectifier tubes in the power supply and these gave off a purplish glow when I would press the key. Eventually the glow had the same effect on my dad as the creaking floors, and I'd be found out and ordered back to bed.

Maybe we should digress here and define "Amateur Radio." You have seen that it provides a means of making radio contacts with other hams. This was originally by Morse code only, but now can be by voice, or by digital/computer means, or pictures can be sent, etc. An FCC license is needed to be able to operate, and to earn a license an applicant must pass examinations in radio theory, regulations, operating procedures, and the International Morse Code. Amateurs are assigned certain segments, or bands, of frequencies, mostly in the short wave spectrum, by the FCC and International Treaties. Long wave was used by ships at sea before amateurs discovered shortwave. Shortwave propagation works by having transmitted signals reflect back to earth from ionospheric layers above the earth. Amateurs are also allowed certain transmitter power (up to 1500 watts output) and have to follow other regulations. The word "amateur" is not quite the opposite of "commercial" or "professional," although we are not allowed to accept any payment for sending messages for others. Amateurs have greater technical and operating skills than the word implies. We take great umbrage at being thought of as CBers, although some CB operators graduate to become good hams.

Let's continue the rest of the story. How did the ham radio hobby lead to other opportunities in life? First of all it made me want to be in a technical field, probably electrical engineering, which is what occurred. Then being good at typing and good at code and being in the Naval Reserve all led to being called up by the Navy in early 1941. With those capabilities and training I was sent to Naval radio station NPG in San Francisco as a code operator. There were times when I would handle 180 messages in an eight hour shift, either sending messages in code, or receiving and typing them on a typewriter. Soon after that I was sent to a school to learn the Japanese radio code, to transcribe that in Katakana characters or to type it on a special typewriter. This led to copying transmissions from Japanese warships during the battle of Midway. Other Navy assignments were making recordings for our state department and teaching radio at Army and Navy military bases. The Navy also sent me to Cal Tech to obtain a BS EE degree, and to midshipman's school to become a Naval officer.

In 1946 after leaving the Navy, I worked for the FAA at their California radio stations. It was pretty boring work for a young fellow and so I answered an ad in a radio magazine seeking a radio operator for an expedition to British Africa. I was chosen along with another ham to go on that trek. Besides the wonderful experiences of being in Tanganyika, Kenya, and Uganda for several months in 1948, the main consequence of that journey was meeting my wife-to-be on the train trip from SF to NY. We were married in Florence, Italy, in October 1949. Once again ham radio helped solve a problem for me. We didn't know anyone in Florence, but I had contacted a ham, Fortunato Grossi, I1KN, both from my home in San Mateo, and as the first contact from the expedition in Africa. I found him, and he wound up as best man at our wedding.

After leaving Africa on a tanker to the Persian Gulf, I began working for the oil company ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia, both as their radio station supervisor, and as an engineer in the geology department in the great Arabian desert. Again there were benefits from ham radio. My wife could not enter Saudi Arabia so we talked by ham radio from the U.S. Air Force radio station HZ1AB at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to a lady ham in Holland where my wife was staying. I also set up my own station on Bahrein Island with the main benefit being able to observe the Arab villages and their way of life there.

Back in the USA, I worked as an engineer at Stanford Research Institute, helping to design communication equipment for the Navy, and working on one of the first computers designed for commercial work for the Bank of America. That led to working for the General Electric Computer Company and helping to design and build the check sorting machines that sort and read the magnetic characters on your bank checks.

Next we finally get to a faculty situation! I was hired to teach Electrical Engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman. I believe that all of my previous engineering experience was a factor in that. I believe that I was able to offer something different and important by having that background and by blending that into course work. I think that is a better situation than being an "Ivory Tower Professor" who has never gone beyond the classroom or engineering department. Ham radio was a factor in being in a position to offer the benefits of considerable practical experience.

I was at MSU for 20 years, between 1961 and 1981, and became a full Professor in 1975. I had a MS EE degree from Stanford, obtained when working at Stanford Research Institute. In those years at MSU, the EE Department conducted many sponsored electronic research projects, and for several years I was Director of Research in the department. One of our projects was with the Stanford Research Institute Communications Lab in Bangkok, Thailand. I was offered a position there as research director and took a leave of absence from MSU between 1963 and 1965 when our family moved to Bangkok. We traveled there via Europe, Egypt, and Pakistan. At the lab we conducted many communication research projects for several military and government agencies. Some of our lab personnel rode to work in the jungle on elephants. It was a wonderful experience living in Thailand, as we could travel to see jungles, elephant roundups, Thai villages near Burma, kite flying contests, and weekends by the Gulf of Thailand on nice white sandy beaches in the days without many tourists or high rises. A highlight was the trip to Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia.

I had the opportunity to travel to many other countries in southeast Asia such as India, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaya, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Often the research personnel we visited were also hams, which eased relationships. In Bangkok I was able to operate a ham station, HS1L. There is no FCC in Thailand, but the military allowed me to operate and select my own call sign. To improve ham radio operation in Thailand, I was one of the founders and first president of an organization called RAST, the Radio Amateur Society of Thailand. Because of this and subsequent efforts by others, ham radio operation in Thailand is now much improved. I look back on this as one of my most important accomplishments or contributions.

I retired from MSU in 1981, but I often tell myself I must retire again, as I'm as busy as ever, or maybe more so. One demanding professional activity is consulting. I work with insurance companies and law firms to investigate and report on or do trial work on electrical accident and fire cases. I enjoy this kind of work because of the challenge and the opportunity to learn new things, even at age 82./2/ Over the years I've worked on about 200 cases.

So being a retired college professor I have a hobby that keeps me busy and provides very interesting experiences. Its challenges keep one from becoming dull. In fact, there is a saying that you need to be fanatic about something, and while I would not say that I have been fanatic about ham radio, it has been an important part of my life, professional and private, for all these years. In thinking over my experiences now it occurs to me that there are many qualities that have made ham radio hold my interest. For example, it may take months or even years to make a contact with a certain country; it takes patience, knowledge, a good station, some skill, and some luck. I enjoy the challenges, and have benefited in many ways from my efforts to meet them.

I'm not sure you learn a lot about philosophy in ham radio, but there are other things one definitely learns if one is successful at the hobby. Most of these lessons are technical; e.g., one learns about various circuits, antenna designs, the factors that affect radio signal propagation, etc. Other lessons fall into the area of skills; e.g, the Morse code must be mastered, and one must learn to manage a great deal of information all at once and quickly. What else do you learn from ham radio? You get good at geography; e.g., you know where Kazakhstan, Peter I Island, Botswana, and so forth are located. You learn how countries change as they become independent. You learn a lot about life in other parts of the world from talking with hams in different countries. That brings me to a fascinating aspect of ham radio, recollection of contacts with interesting people in distant countries which led to great friendships, and, in some cases, visits with them in person.

The first such adventure that comes to mind grew out of radio contacts with Santos, CT1DVV, in Coimbra, Portugal. My wife, Cobi, and I had decided to visit Portugal and in one radio contact with Santos he invited us to visit him on that trip. After visiting Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, we drove northward to meet Santos. He was just as friendly in person as over the radio. He spent a day and a half away from his work to show us old Roman ruins, old monasteries, and then invited us to his home to visit with his family and have dinner with them. This was the highlight of our trip to Portugal.

Another interesting contact resulted from a phone call from Peter Fonda. He wondered if I could contact his yacht in the Pacific by ham radio, which I did. It was not possible to make contact with all famous hams, such as King Hussein of Jordan, King Carlos of Spain, or the minister of India. There are hundreds of thousands of hams and so the competition for such rare and infrequent contacts is huge, and the chances of success are slim. But, I've had several contacts with Tom Christian on Pitcairn Island, who is one of the descendants of the crew from the mutiny on the Bounty. I've had contacts with both the U.S. and Russian spaceships.

Recent contacts have included those with Doug, ZP6CW, in Paraguay. I've learned about his life there and how inexpensive living is in Paraguay. When we were in New Zealand we visited Dave, ZL1AV, in Rotarua and met his family and had dinner with them. Another visit took place here at our home in Bozeman when Leif, LA2PA, a vice president of Shell Oil Co. came to see us. We hope to visit them in Norway some day. We have visited Wino, PA0ABM, in Holland and he has been here, too. He and I are working on writing the story of my adventures on the expedition to British East Africa in 1948. That is another long story, but it may one day be seen on a web site.

The list of interesting contacts and their follow-ups is endless. It is one of the joys of ham radio as many contacts are random, so you never know what to expect, but are often surprised and pleased.

Finally, I should mention some contributions of hams. Our first one was discovery of shortwave propagation by ionospheric reflection. When governments began to regulate radio, hams were assigned the higher frequencies on the theory that they were useless. All of the spectrum then thought to be valuable was reserved for government, military, and commercial use. Hams quickly proved that the frequencies above the standard broadcast band permitted reliable long distance communication. There have also been many notable technical electronic discoveries. For example, several antenna types were invented by hams, and the voice mode known as single side-band was developed by hams. At present, hams are busy developing new digital modes of radio communication. Hams have been, and continue to be, important for the public service they provide, too. The ham radio community constitutes a pool of talent and experience very useful to our country in time of war, natural disasters, or other crises, as my own experience in WWII illustrates. Hams can communicate effectively when standard means fail, when phone lines are down or overloaded, or cell phone towers, satellites, or other telephone circuits are damaged or disrupted, etc.

We are not all technical geeks either. We have campouts to test gear (but those may be more of a social event), radio conventions or "hamfests," club meetings, Christmas dinners, etc.

It is time to wind down this story. You can see the result of turning points in someone's life.


Ham Radio: a Hobby, and a Servant

Wayne VanMeter, N7TAE
Chemistry (Emeritus)

Radio began very early for me; I was about kindergarten age. I was walking with my mother on a downtown street at a time when KMJ Fresno had its on-air studio behind a large glass window right on the sidewalk in the main business district. Mom asked me to go into the building with her for a close look at the place which produced the radio programs that came out of the cloth-covered speaker of our Philco cabinet radio. My actual thought processes at that moment have not stayed with me, but I know that I was regularly on the floor in front of that radio after school, listening to Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy and other serials.

Radio even crept into the room at Heaton School in the words of a song. My fourth grade teacher, Miss Sands, skillfully seeded our minds with vocal music. Of the many short songs she taught us, one drifts through my thoughts often:

Strange waves are stealing, stealing
through the very walls and ceiling,
Silent singing, wonders winging,
Music rare, from the air.

The tune itself has a mysterious flavor, and I still have it firmly in mind. Miss Sands must have taught us a new one every week, and over these last 55 years with my wife, bits of circumstance have jogged the synapses to allow me to sing some of them for her.

It was not until our family moved to a new house that I had a chance to become, at age 14, a Boy Scout. In moving up through four rank levels I learned the alphabetic signals of both the semaphore flags and the Morse code. An art-deco design table radio in the new home had a short-wave band. The warbling of Morse signals pulled strongly at me, but there was no one among my family or friends who could guide or encourage me. A cousin gave me a used cat-whisker crystal set. After some repairing and tinkering it did give me some satisfying hours of listening.

Then in 1944 during induction into the army at age 18, I responded to a question about what I wanted to do by saying "radio communication." Basic training during the next 17 weeks made me a Field Artillery radio operator and gave me many hours of practice copying five-letter code groups. This can be very dull work, but the time spent produced the ability to keep up at 15 groups per minute. Field exercises in the Hunter Liggett reservation gave us use of hand-cranked generators and voice operation with the SCR 284 field radio.

By this time events in Europe caused high levels of command to perceive greater need for foot-soldiers than radio operators. Some of us were therefore sent on to eight weeks of infantry training to prepare us to replace casualties over there. For me, an uneventful sea voyage ended at Naples, Italy, on Christmas Eve, 1944. A muddy winter of rain spent in first one Replacement Depot (the 24th) and then another (the 8th) really doesn't justify description. We had enough (though dreary) food, and were required to take enough exercise to stay vigorous. For the most part it was endless boredom intermixed with anxiety.

After the end of fighting in Europe, I was assigned to the 229th Signal Operations Company, where presumably a radio operator belonged. The company soon packed up its equipment with tropical weather in mind and set up camp near the port of Leghorn. Our destination when we left that camp was unknown to us, but an incident that occurred in that camp was, in an indirect way, related to it.

Outside a green army tent stood a ping pong table. In the tent a radio tuned to a news frequency was babbling with a stream of Morse code. One of the more experienced operators suddenly threw down his paddle, ran into the tent, and began furiously pounding a typewriter keyboard. Within a few words he caught up with the arriving Morse and continued copying an account of the dropping of an "atom bomb" on a city in Japan. The news itself was astounding, of course, but the action demonstrated a consummate mastering of high-speed code reception. Watching it made me wish I could do that, but the stimulus of personal contact with active ham radio people was far in my future, beyond some years of college and marriage.

Making a start in college with the aid of the GI bill allowed chances to compare and evaluate possibilities for the future. The appeal of chemistry, after the first year, won out over electrical engineering. Five years after becoming merely a veteran I had gained a wife and earned BS and MS degrees and was employed in chemical research by the General Electric Company at the Hanford Works, Richland, WA. During the five years we spent with GE I had no contact with ham radio people, though I bought and assembled a Heathkit 5-band short-wave receiver (it is still in use in the home of my youngest son).

The company relinquished their contract with the Atomic Energy Commission in 1956. We elected to enter the University of Washington and spent three years in completing a terminal degree in chemistry, a project that allows little time to be starting a new hobby. In 1959 the (then) Montana State University invited us to join in training young chemists in Missoula.

Not long after we were settled in Missoula, I did encounter a ham, right in my own department. In earlier years a button-operated buzzer system was installed between the storage area in the basement of the chemistry building and the teaching lab stockroom on the fourth floor. One day, up in the stockroom, I idly fingered the button there in a di-di-di-dah, di-di-di-dah series of Vs. An immediate flow of Morse code came back from the basement at a speed beyond my ability to read, much less send. It was William (Bill) Waters, a long-time ham.

I regret that Bill and I never did get together to start me on the way toward a ham license, but between family and career it somehow did not happen. The '60s, '70s, and '80s were filled with the growing, maturing, and scattering of our four children, with the arriving and graduating of many hundreds of college men and women, and the pleasures of the cycles of seasons in the northern Rockies.

Retirement came after two serious medical crises, and the reaching of age 62. One day about three years after that, I looked at a car parked on the other side of a gas pump, and realized that the license plate on it signified an amateur radio call sign. The conversation that followed led me to a meeting of the Hellgate Amateur Radio Club (HARC). A modest amount of study and code practice refreshment led to an amateur radio license and the beginning of many new friendships.

Within the scope of any hobby there are main roads and many byways. The least involved path of ham radio is taken by folks who simply want personal radio capability (e.g., to call home at quitting time for the shopping list). Others work toward achieving difficult goals, such as making a contact with an operator in each of the 50 states, or even in all U.S. counties, or in as many foreign countries as possible. My own special interest has been in public service, particularly handling messages. Ready transmission of information has been offered as a service by hams since early in the last century. Federal law forbids accepting pay for this service. In all major cities and most small towns there are hams who participate in "traffic" nets. By tuning in at a prearranged time and frequency each day, enough net members are available to send and receive any messages on hand. Most of the usual traffic is unimportant, but a basic purpose is to maintain the integrity of the system in case commercial facilities fail.

In the Northwest area there are several dozen operators living in OR, WA, ID, MT, AK, BC, and AB who constitute the NW Regional net of the National Traffic System (a function of the American Radio Relay League). Each day at 3:15 Pacific time at least a few stations announce their presence to the operator appointed as the control station for the day. Each reports the destination of any messages on hand, and the control station operator makes sure each message is sent to a correct net member. Some of these are brief practice notes, some are live messages sharing vacation plans, birthday or anniversary greetings, etc. Hams are generally delighted to have their friends and kinfolks know that they can send such missives almost anywhere to anyone. There are several such regional nets in the U.S., and traffic is exchanged systematically among them.

Ham operators play an important part in recovery from almost every large hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood, or other disaster. During the wildfire events of this past summer some of our local club members operated stations at a Red Cross shelter (school gym) and at the Red Cross office, as well as in Seeley Lake. Propagation between the sites was tested and confirmed. The objective was to establish a standby capability--actual business was by telephone. A select small group of hams has demonstrated, and stands ready to use on short notice, a portable station that can provide communication between virtually any spot in the county and a station in the Court House headquarters of the county Disaster Emergency Services. The purpose is to maintain control if any of the several mountain-top repeaters loses power. The Hellgate Club is a recognized component of the county Disaster Plan. It provided service by means of mobile and portable stations during the Black Mountain fire evacuations in August.

Whenever the club is called out officially, the operation is under the regulations of one of two agencies. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is a function of the ARRL and responds to local or state calls for assistance. The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is a part of Federal law, and responds if called by federal officials or by local officials working under a national emergency situation.

Several times each year members of the HARC turn out with hand-held or vehicle mounted sets to provide information and report emergencies to the managers of outdoor events, both competitive and recreational. In May several hundred cyclists tour the Swan River Valley (and the Clearwater and Blackfoot) from Bonner to Bigfork and back. Usually six or eight vehicular stations accompany the bikes, tagging along before, among, and after the riders, watching for equipment failures, injuries, and physical exhaustion. Operators keep track of the location of the repair truck and the tour manager.

Every spring the River Bank Run has thousands of runners crowding the city streets. Ambulances stand by near the finish line (race control), and a few police cars are on patrol. On many street corners ham radio operators stand watch for runners injured by falls or under stress from heat or exhaustion. A net control operator at race control is the link to help from the manager.

Even for scientists and technicians who may think they know all the important facts about how radio works, there is mystery and fascination about essentially instantaneous transfer of sound or effect across oceans and through solid walls. An electric current oscillating in a short wire generates a standing electromagnetic field thousands of miles in extent. Pause to think; around us and in us at all times are the infinitely small but real twitching of electrons responding to Radio Moscow, KFI Los Angeles, and all the others. It is good that we cannot feel them, but awesome to know that they are there. It is better that we only need turn a switch to use and enjoy them. I have been fortunate in my retirement to be included among those who are able to transmit these marvelous signals, as well as to receive them, and thereby to be of service to the Missoula community and the state.


  1. A standard American Radio Relay League logbook has space for 1080 contacts.--ed.[Back]

  2. When I visited Bob recently at his home outside of Bozeman, he casually mentioned that not long ago he had climbed his tower to repair one of his antennas. That antenna tower is 85 feet tall!--ed.[Back]

[The Montana Professor 14.1, Fall 2003 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

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