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Whatever, However, and Forever

from Don Daso K4ZA on October 19, 2001
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Whatever, However, and Forever

A personal essay on Ham Radio, Contesting, and Inspiration


PROLOGUE:  Nobody reads anymore.  Everyone wants instant gratification.  Everyone’s on the Internet, looking at little pictures.  Advertising and hype rule our lives.  Everyone’s a cynic.   

 Like a lot of us, in today’s troublesome and terrific times, I’ve been following the “threads” on various reflectors about the state of contesting today—about what inspires us, about what we need, and need to do.  The topics are ones I’ve thought about a lot.  Indeed, inspiration is a “big deal” in my life, in my work, and has been for as long as I can remember.  It’s something I learned long ago was central to my psyche.  Being creative is something I do.  (I work in film/video as a Director of Photography.)  I enjoy doing something new and different.  And part of that was to become a ham—38 years ago—because it was different, something no other 14-year olds in my school were doing. 

 Of course, once I got the license, I wanted to get on the air, and be like everyone else.  However, my new ticket came during the Novice Roundup—a contest dedicated to the newly licensed Novice-class operators.  All I heard was “CQ NR” and I wondered why no one would talk to me.  This all happened at the blazing speed of 5 WPM, with a crystal controlled AT-1 (probably 25/30 watts output) into a random long wire strung between the house and barn.  Oh boy, huh?  No wonder WN8HJW wasn’t burning up the bands.   Contests aside, he persevered, became like many others.  RST, QTH, name and QSL-sure QSOs filled up the log pages, as regular as after-school chores and homework and budget would allow.  Surely there had to be something else?  Some way to be “different?”

 Time passed.  Upgrades to license and station occurred.  Sometimes, the old “CQ TEST” calls, heard over and over, caught my attention.  Somewhere, the idea behind what some of the louder callsigns were actually doing passed into my consciousness.  Some of THEM were different, that’s for sure.  They were fast.  They were obviously having fun (why keep going, why keep coming back otherwise?).  They were operating in ways I could only imagine.  Ahhh, radio and the life of the mind merged—how could I (little old Ohio farm boy with limited resources) do that?

 Fast forward.  More time passed.  Upgrades to license and education occurred.  Somewhere, the idea of actually becoming one of the louder callsigns passed into my consciousness.  But the realities of life intrude, and radio takes a backseat for a while.   Benched, red-shirted, down, but not out, merely idling. 

 More time passes.  One day, the ham radio idea gets dusted off.  The quarterly CD Party is on, and WA8MAZ hops into the fray with a borrowed HW-16/HG-10 and a 500-ft wire on 80/40 and a bamboo ground-plane on 15M.  Seemingly all of a sudden, he’s Search & Pouncing at 60-70 QSOs/hour.  How can this be?  Ahhh, the life of the mind and the ability to copy code, log with one hand while operating the radio with the other have more-than-merged.  They’ve become part of my being.  And besides, this stuff is FUN!  The focus, the concentration, the intensity—wow, what a rush (okay, so it’s the 70s)!

 Time continues to pass.  The process of accumulation begins.  This is an awkward phase.  Difficult to explain to a young wife.  Piles of “junk” are stacked up in rented storage sheds and under tarps next to apartments. 

 Upgrades to equipment continue.  New avenues, new activities, start to happen; DXing, for instance, takes hold.  It’s at this point in life that the “reality” behind the concept of mentors or heroes also takes hold.  Probably because I’m out of school, working for a living, but still thinking like a student.  Vic Clark, W4KFC, PVRC perennial contest winner, and a long-time rat-a-tat-tat CW maven describes DXing as “a contest for very slow operators….”  Hmmm, I’d better think about that, because Vic’s obviously someone I trust and admire.  In fact, this whole club thing—like this Potomac Valley Radio Club out of Washington, DC/Maryland—is worth some attention.  Who ARE these guys, anyway, as Butch and Sundance wanted to know? 

 Life goes on.  As they say, it’s what happens while you’re waiting for time to pass.  Young wife departs.  Junk piles get moved across the country, as work’s tugs and pulls take me from the Midwest to further West, then back East and finally down South.  Books, and movies, and ham radio and the life of the mind.

 One day you wake up in the sunny South.  You take stock of your life.  Really evaluate yourself.  Shuddering, you think about all that’s happened, really happened, and what you have to show for yourself.  What you’d say if you had to “stand and deliver” at the heavenly gates all of a sudden.  Hmmm, better not to think like this, because it’s depressing.  Well, maybe, maybe not, depending on one’s point of view, the weather, and where the stars are in the night sky.  Right?

Right!  Time and circumstance happen to us all, and really, I haven’t done so badly.  Where’s that list I made in high school, after all?  Let’s see—surely I’ve accomplished some of what’s on there by now? 

 Well, a little self-evaluation never hurt anyone.  Hasn’t living the life of the mind taught you anything?  Time to remember my favorite H. Allen Smith line:  “The optimist believes this is the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is so….”   I remind myself to savor this quote.  And what it really means.

 The process of integrating ham radio into that life begins in earnest.  What you need is a station.  You realize you have the role models.  You know many of them, now, as friends—having stood next to them at Dayton for hours on end, listening, chatting, learning and remembering.    You know many of them because of five years actually spent in that same PVRC you idolized as a boy, while working at the University of Maryland.  You know many of them, from QSOs and e-mails and letters, and you know they’re mortal, just like you. 

 And there’s the rub, as you learned from Hamlet.  Indeed, you find (uh-oh, it’s potential mid-life crisis time) you’ve become obsessed with the concept of “best of all possible worlds” in ham radio terms.  You WANT that station, you WANT that contesting buzz, you WANT to have fun more than anything else.  Okay, balancing that fun with the rest of life, including my wife and work (not that you’re not fun, honey, really!).  Well, guess what?  That’s not that bad.  So did all those boyhood heroes!  So, too, do many of your friends.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  It’s not that new an idea, after all.  It’s not really original.  But it’s one worth pursuing.

 So that’s what inspiration is, after all?  The pursuit of something?  And the answer is “yes, yes, yesssssssss!” as Molly Bloom exclaimed.  The answer’s been right in front of you all this time—the answer to why we (we’re all in this together!) contest types soldier on so valiantly.  We want to be like our mentors or heroes or role models.  We want to be good.    We want to have fun.  We want to enjoy every single second of those high-speed exchanges.  We want to be loud (apologies to N2AA, whose tee shirt exclaims this, a la Molly Bloom).  We want to be different, yet we all want to be the same.  Zen and the Art of Ham Radio Contesting—that’s what we’re talking here!

 That’s what the pictures and the stories in the magazines and the late night hospitality suite conversations are for—to inspire us.  To keep the imagination’s fire stoked and hot.  To keep the engine running.   Just ask ZD8Z—he’ll tell you.  Hey, ask any 50-year-old who’s ever stood there at two o’clock in the morning in Dayton, talking and learning something from K1VR or W2GD or K3ZO or anyone else.  That’s what the accumulation, of ideas, suggestions, dreams and vision, to say nothing of aluminum and tower parts, have been for all these years.  You get the idea—this stuff’s important!

 Not everyone will (nor can or should they) agree with these words.  Not everyone will aspire to such things.  What’s 40 WPM worth these days?  What’s being loud got to do with world peace?  How am I ever gonna get to Dayton, anyhow?  What’s knowing what zone Lesotho’s in (it’s 38) going to do for your kids’ dental bills?  What’s having stacks on one or two or even four bands got to do with anything—other than contesting and ham radio, anyhow? 

 The answer is nothing, not much, zip, nada, and whatever.  I don’t care.  It’s something that keeps me going.  Keeps me “young” for want of a better term, even though chronologically I seem to be getting older.  (What’s with this white beard, anyhow?)  It keeps my mind alive.  It keeps me thinking and imagining, growing and learning.  And that’s important to me. 

 The truth, as Chris Carter says, is “out there.”  And it is.  Keep on contesting.  Forever….



Member Comments: Add A Comment
Whatever, However, and Forever Reply
by W4ZV on October 25, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article Don!

"It keeps me thinking and imagining, growing and learning."...that is the essence of contesting for me. After 44 years of ham radio, DXing and contesting (first was Novice Roundup in 1958), contesting remains one of the few challenges in ham radio that retains my interest...and it shows no signs of abating!

73, Bill W4ZV
Whatever, However, and Forever Reply
by K8IA on October 25, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Wonderful article, Don. From someone who knew you "way back then!" <g>

Bob K8IA ex-K8HLR
Whatever, However, and Forever (and Forever) Reply
by py8azt on January 29, 2002 Mail this to a friend!
Congratultions Don!

I red the article, and was putting me on your boots. Contesting and DXing are seldom opportunity to prove to ourselves ours capacity and force. Always when I join into a contest, I know I’m part of a special contender’s community. I’m 27 years old, I begin with 10. I have no hams in the family, so I had troubles explaining the business I was wrapped up. Piles of junk in my bedroom and all my friends were 50 or older. I guess nowadays they ever never figured out the ham radio matter. Recently, my mom gave me a sign “God Bless this mess”. It’s in my station, and will be there forever and forever.

73, Luc – PY8AZT.
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