November 1961 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Here is a pretty funny story that,
although it is fictional, it could easily have really happened. I'm not much of a party-goer,
but based on what little experience I've had at social functions and the stereotypical
behavior often portrayed in movies, the author's scenario likely actually did occur.
Maybe he exaggerates just a bit, though. The follow-up situation would be a great gag
to play on someone if you ever get the chance. It probably would not be hard to get people
to fall for it.
How to Talk to Non-Hams
By Fred Ebel, W9PXA
It happened during one of those awkward conversational vacuums abhorred by party hosts.
My host, an up-and-coming insurance man, suddenly turned to me and said, "I understand
you're a radio ham."
I produced one of those it's-really-nothing type of smiles. But secretly I was flattered.
All eyes were on me, including those of three beautiful young ladies. And then came the
question that must come to all hams at one time or another.
"What do hams talk about?"
My interrogator was a platinum blonde.
When our eyes met, it was like an a.f.c. locking circuit. We resonated.
"Well," I began, "take that QSO - that means talk - I had with a ham in India the
other day. He--"
"I know, I know!" broke in a bearded chap who had just recited some weird poetry while
tapping a bongo rhythm on his knees. "This fellow had just been bitten by a king cobra.
Your message made it possible to fly in antitoxin in the nick of time."
"No, this ham lives in the Himalayan country-"
The blonde squealed. "The home of the man-eating tiger. The tiger had attacked a native
and was roaming the village for its next victim. The ham wanted you to send in professional
I winced. "No, no, no! This ham was just" an ordinary postal clerk. He gave me an
S9 report and said my modulation was tremendous."
I had delivered this information with considerable heat. But all I saw were blank
expressions. Perhaps they didn't understand. I cleared my throat. "You see, this ham
was on the other side of the world, yet he gave me that wonderful S9 report. It meant
I was really barreling in."
Another of those vacuums resulted.
My host smiled through clenched teeth. His words would have made good battery acid.
"How very interesting. Please tell us more."
"Yes," a pretty redhead said, "tell us, what do hams really talk about?"
I searched my brain for a typical example. I had it. A very interesting QSO during
which my DX contact had successfully made two transmissions, though his antenna had fallen
to the deck of the ship.
I managed a smile, then: "I once talked to a ham who was the radio operator on a tramp
schooner that was crossing the South China Sea, and here's the interesting part-"
"The ship was caught in a typhoon. sinking fast. But thanks to your quick action,
port authorities were notified and a rescue ship got there just in time," said the redhead,
beaming like a quiz kid.
I wiped my brow, counted down from x minus nine to zero before I answered. "No, the
interesting part was that the antenna wasn't in the air. It was lying on-" But I got
"I know," blurted a shiny-eyed guest.
"Mutiny had broken out on the ship. The captain already was bound to the mast and
the crew of cutthroats was trying to get to the radio operator!"
The circuits in my brain shorted out.
I jumped to my feet and ran out as I screamed: "Yes, that was it. Mutiny! The crew
had gone berserk. The typhoon had ripped open the cages of the wild-animal cargo. Three
gorillas, two tigers, an elephant, and five cobras were loose. The boiler had just exploded,
and-and-" But the rest of my words were lost in the wind as I raced home, hat-and coat-less.
How long I stood behind the closed door of my apartment having visions of two men
in white coats coming to get me, I don't know. But finally, letting out a huge sigh of
relief, I sank into an easy chair, after automatically switching on the TV set. It was
time to review the past events with analytic calm. What had happened? What had caused
me to blow my top?
Breaking into my thoughts came an excited voice ..."CQ
emergency! CQ emergency."
I looked up. There on the television screen, parka-clad and kneeling next to a dog
sled, was a man speaking into the microphone of an emergency transceiver.
Then a cut to the radio shack of a young operator. "Read you loud and clear, old man.
What is your message?"
Cut back to the frozen north. "Dogs broke loose, partner broke legs in crevasse fall,
wolves closing in. Need immediate help! Our position is-"
I switched off the TV, smiled. Of course, that was it. The public is conditioned to
make-believe hams who have exciting adventures. For them, no talk about weather or technical
stuff. These fictional hams are men of action, their conversation laced with "Medical
help on the way" ... "Stand by for instructions on emergency appendix operation ... "
An idea played around in the back of my head. Why not give my friends a show? They
wanted drama. I would give them drama. Hama-drama !
I immediately wrote a dramatic sketch of exciting, imaginative ham adventures and
put it on tape. Being a mimic, I had no trouble taking off three different voices, representative
of hams from three different parts of the world. I even inserted sound effects, teletype
and fast code - who ever heard a re-broadcast of a short-wave transmission without those
The big job in taping the playlet was synchronizing the voices so that my live voice
would track with what my characters said. I arranged to have a relay in the transmitter
actuate the recorder hidden in a closet, and I used my regular receiver speaker to heighten
How does it work? Wonderfully! My public relations are the very best. Guests in the
ham shack no longer suppress yawns - they're on tenterhooks waiting for the next thrilling
Consider the demonstration I gave last Sunday to a new neighbor and his family - including
two kids. After seating my guests comfortably, I put on the show - with a warm-up period
The warm-up feature is actually an audio-visual aid as I fuss over ancient ham gear
- a spiral-wound oscillation transformer, rotary spark gap, huge capacitors, and loose
couplers. It's junk, but the effect is terrific. My modern transmitter and receiver don't
even get a glance - how could anything so small, compact and silent be effective?
With my audience properly primed, I started the main event by giving the globe a twirl,
stroking my chin, and then muttering: "Hmmm, suppose we contact this part of the earth."
My neighbor gulped. "You can talk - anywhere ?"
My smile was indulgent, as I nodded in the affirmative, my finger stopping the globe
at the Arctic Zone. "I haven't talked to the top of the world for some time. I wonder
what Professor Schloggenfloober's doing. He's the scientist, you know, who's heading
that project to determine what lies at the bottom of the ice cap."
Open-mouthed heads nodded as I grabbed the dead mike to intone: "CQ, CQ, CQ Schloggenfloober
After an appropriate time, I switched on the tape recorder, and from the speaker came
what I like to think of as a pretty good imitation of a German scientist. .. "Dis iss
Professor Schloggenfloober shpeaking from de Nort Pole. Ve are haffing a heat vave here
- sixty degrees below zero."
"Thanks for coming back, Professor.
What's new in Santa Claus land?"
This was for the benefit of the children, who leaned forward to catch every word.
Chuckling came through static - I didn't forget to throw in some static on the sound
track. "Tell the sshildren that ve got a pet walrus. Ve call him Blubber Boy unt ride
him every day. Oh, unt annuder ding, ve found a mastodon at the two-hundred foot level
in a vunderful state of preservation. Dose mastodon steaks go good vit canned mushrooms."
"Boy, a pet walrus. Wish I had one," said Junior.
I signed off with the professor, then purposely yawned as if I were bored.
"I'll try to raise something more interesting," I said, noticing through the corner
of an eye the amazement on the faces of my guests. "Suppose we point the beam in the
direction of the South Pacific Ocean."
Again, after a suitable pause, we heard a voice (mine, of course), this time the voice
of an excited British radio operator of a steamship ... "This is the S. S. Glugkloop
(I had put my hand in front of my mouth) ... Can you take a message? Very urgent! Very
My neighbor poked his wife in the ribs.
"Did you hear that - very urgent!"
"Go ahead," I said, reaching for a pencil and pad of paper.
"Here's the message." The voice was almost a scream, as though some awful thing were
impending. "Just sighted strange sea animal with huge serpent-like head. Body length
estimated one hundred feet with ten loops breaking water. Crossed bow some fifty feet
ahead, creating wave estimated six feet high. Position - mid-Pacific near Ogre Island.
Relay message to the Society for the Investigation of Unusual Sea Life. The address is
... " Here the voice rises to a blood-curdling scream, and a sound effect as of wood
splintering is heard.
Naturally I make a valiant effort to learn what has happened. But only static comes
through. I turn to my white-faced guests, say: "I - I wonder what happened ?"
But I know that, in their mind's eye, they know what happened. They see the huge head
of a sea serpent landing on the ship's cabin, spike-like fangs ripping the wood asunder
Later that evening, I turned on the last installment, which is a harrowing account
of an explorer in a Burma jungle making an urgent request for penicillin.
How do I feel about these hama-dramas? Like a kindly Santa Claus who wouldn't tell
the kids for all the money in the world that the beard isn't real. My guests get quite
a kick out of these mythical adventures.
So do I. So much so that a strange and somewhat frightening thing is happening. Instead
of going on the air and having real QSO's with real hams, I find myself writing and recording
new adventures and talking to myself.
Maybe those two men in the white coats will get me yet!
Posted October 17, 2012