I just finished reading an article in The Magazine titled, ‘You Are Boring – Tell me more about your food blog, please’. It’s an interesting piece that serves to solidify my notion that its not just radio hams who are boring, with few exceptions, everyone is boring. And frankly, I think this notable because in our hobby, laments about boring on-air conversations are legion.
And this includes the ARRL in opinion pieces published in QST magazine from K1ZZ to The Old Man himself.
I don’t know about you, but I take some solace in knowing that if we are boring on the air, it’s only because we are boring off the air too – it isn’t just a ham radio affliction. Perhaps one day we will tackle the problem of boring QSO’s but in the meantime, we continue the elusive search for the remarkable QSO. The kind where you find yourself enthralled by conversation without taking note of the passage of time.
The kind you hope doesn’t end too soon.
The most memorable QSO in my radio life took place in 1981, not long after having obtained my General class license. I was spending time on 20M SSB, the proverbial promised land for a young ham who had formerly been stranded on the Novice (CW only) portions of the dial.
I was using a Heathkit HW-101 with a vertical antenna. My station was tucked into a back closet of our home. It was small, but it was my shack. It was also poorly grounded. I actually gave up on phone after having my lips constantly burned by the stray RF that was creeping on everything metal in the “shack”, including my microphone – but that’s another story.
It was a weekend afternoon and the band was in great shape. I had been listening to a weekly swap net (do they still have those?) and when it was over I was tuning around when I heard a 7 with a decent signal calling CQ. I answered his call and after exchanging those details necessary for the log, we spent about 30 minutes, maybe a little more, in the most interesting conversation I have ever had on the air.
This fellow was a retired engineer from NASA. He had worked on the Mercury and Apollo programs. He had met and actually knew many of the astronauts that I had watched on television more than a decade earlier. After retirement he bought a 200 acre “ranch-ette” as he referred to it, in the bad lands of Arizona. His place was off the grid and a gasoline powered generator provided his electricity when he needed it. “Just a few hours each day”, he said.
He lived alone except for his old dog and he traveled into a nearby town once or twice a month to “pick up mail, handle some banking and purchase supplies”. He built the shelter that he called home as far off the county road as possible and he seemed pretty pleased to tell me that he could see someone coming ten minutes before they arrived at his door. I got the impression that visitors were pretty rare.
The old engineer spent his time with ham radio and astronomy, avocations that were no doubt made better by his remote location.
One of the last things he said to me concerned what would happen if he died alone out there. He didn’t care about himself but he worried that if he did, his dog would then starve. Not wanting that to happen, he was seriously considering shooting his dog before that time came so his old friend wouldn’t have to suffer that fate.
When we signed off that afternoon I assumed that we would never make contact again. And we didn’t. To this very day I still think about that old guy from time to time and wonder whatever became of him – and his dog – and how they finally met their end.
The fact that I’m telling you about a QSO that I had more than 30 years ago is testament to what a memorable contact that one was for me. I wish there was some way we could all have contacts like that each and every day. But maybe if we did, if that became commonplace, then what would make a single QSO memorable?
We probably should appreciate the mundane contacts we endure on a daily basis for these serve as marker buoys to those really incredible contacts that occasionally take place – if you’re really lucky.