W9ZN – Silent Key

I saw a note yesterday that Mr. Bill Crane, W9ZN had died. Always a powerful CW signal from his home in Chicago, Illinois he might be best known outside the MidWest for his CW warm-up sessions using ‘Ben’s Best Bent Wire’ routine. I’ve listened to him pound brass many nights on 40 meters where his signal and unique fist attracted a crowd.

Dave, AA7EE used to listen to Bill from the West coast and wrote about it a decade ago.

Before Channel 9, Mr. Crane was a popular DJ in Chicago in the ‘60s and ‘70s He also served in the United States Navy.  He still wore that uniform to work every year on Veterans Day.


TAPR Mini DCC Announced

Not sure how I missed this (October 19) announcement from TAPR:

While TAPR was unable to hold its traditional Digital Communications Conference this year, there’s been a lot going on in the organization. To update members and to hold the annual TAPR membership meeting, we are happy to announce the 2023 Mini DCC to be held online on Saturday, December 9, from 1700 to 2230 UTC (1200 to 1730 EST, 0900 to 1430 PST).


I’m a long time member of the organization though I’ve been somewhat critical of it in recent times because of what feels like a lack of purpose. Despite being a paying member, if someone asked me to explain what TAPR does I would be unable to put it into words. Despite that misgiving, the line-up for the mini Digital Communications Conference is impressive and I look forward to it.

Turn the Page

Last night wasn’t the first time the kids around here had to do their trick-or-treating while it was snowing, but my memory is fuzzy enough that I can’t remember when that might have been. It was cold enough to snow all day yesterday but none of the white stuff was seen falling until about 4pm when flurries became evident. By 7:30pm it was really becoming an impressive event. Enough to cover the vehicles and make the ground look white while giving us something talk about and a memory for later. There were at least a couple dozen little ghouls at the door, not including our grandchildren, which I thought was a good turnout for 27F degrees and snow, but Brenda was disappointed. She was expecting a hundred or more based on the leftover candy. Oh well, maybe next year?

That chill in the air had me lighting the fireplace for the first time this season. Actually for the first time ever since we moved into this house in July. It’s a natural gas fireplace so nothing burned other than a few cobwebs, but it looked incredibly seasonal and released some heat into the family room. I think I’m going to like it.

You know HF band conditions aren’t good when you can’t hear FT8 signals on 20 meters around the clock. It was dead when I checked this morning so I moved down to 30 meters where I was able to copy exactly four stations and worked all of them. Then the well went dry. There was nothing else to work there. It should be interesting to see if the bands perk up as the sun starts to do its thing later today.

I submitted an updated application to the DXCC Awards desk yesterday that included having passed the 100 confirmation marks on 20 and 15 meters. My plan had been to wait until I had a thousand confirmations for the DXCC Challenge, but sitting at 558 I’m a terribly long way from that. I’m still holding out hope for a strong finish to the year, but time is getting short. It’s suddenly time to turn the page on the calendar again, it’s November.

On the Air

I granted myself the entire day off yesterday. No chores, no yard work, no housework. Not even radio made the cut. It was just family, food, and football. The kids came over along with their kids, and we enjoyed a nice day of rest that was sorely needed. All good things end, however, and this morning we were back in the grind. I took my early morning walk in the chilly 40F air and by the time I got back home it was time for Brenda to go to work while I, being the retired guy, spent the next several hours playing on the radio.

With my SKCC quest having turned to Senator, I spawned a new log to keep track of just those contacts. I worked three qualifying contacts and need 197 more.

I stopped by the POTA spots page to see who was in the field and managed to hunt down seven of them before giving up and making myself a pumpkin spice latte. Break time is important!

During the afternoon I did a lot of listening. Just spinning the dial and eavesdropping on conversations while making note of procedures used. These change from time to time and they probably shouldn’t. Your Novice Accent And What To Do About It remains the seminal work on the basics of CW procedures. I used to believe that so long as both operators understand each other then procedures were for graybeards. But now that I are one, I suddenly see the value.

It’s kinda like how my Dad got smarter the older I got…

I also caught AA7OY on a SOTA adventure in New Mexico this afternoon. He was on 20 meter (CW) and sounding every bit the part of a QRP station on some yonder mountain, which of course he was. I prefer chasing Summits on the Air operators because nearly all of them are using QRP gear. I find that more challenging and perhaps a bit more interesting to review the locations where these folks gain some altitude.

SKCC Numbers

I joined the Straight Key Century Club (3383) in 2007, but didn’t really become active with that group until several years later in 2013. I dug in and quickly leveled up to Centurion and not long after that Tribune. And while I’ve remained a “T” ever since, I do occasionally still collect additional numbers. At the moment I have 953 total SKCC contacts in my log. Today I crossed the Tx8 threshold which is a major step on the long road to Senator — if I decide to move up to that level. I have remained a Tribune because after a decade, sending “3383T” has become a muscle memory thing. Plus, I have printed QSL cards and an SKCC decal on my automobile with that number on them — why change now?

Getting to the Tx8 level requires 400 unique contacts with S & T members once the basic Tribune level has been achieved. These are broken into groups of 50 contacts. So 50 more equals Tx2, a hundred equals, Tx3 and so on. Eventually, you complete all 400 and arrive at the Tx8 level. Moving from this point to the Senator level requires yet another 200 unique contacts with S & T members. These must be logged after qualifying for the Tx8 level. However, this is something of a fresh start since T and S stations worked to get the TX8 may be worked again for credit towards Senator. That should make the final run of 200 easier to obtain. Once all that’s complete, the documentation submitted and approved, I would become a Senator and my SKCC number would become “3383S”.

If I decide to level up, and I just submitted the paperwork for Tx8, I figure I can probably get there by year-end. That’s two more months and two more Weekend Sprints. If I don’t qualify by the end of this year, then January 2024 brings the K3Y Straight Key Month event that usually generates a nice bump in the log.

Moving from Tribune to Senator hasn’t been a big priority for me up to this point. And I’m not sure how much urgency I feel to do that. But the events of this incredibly bad personal year reminds me daily of my mortality. Life isn’t forever and of at least a hundred different things I’ve tinkered with in this hobby, many remain unfinished yet “close”. Like the 99 DXCC I have confirmed on 15 meters. I mean, come on, I can’t quit on that and many others like it.

Maybe replacing the T with an S on my SKCC number is one of them too?

Law of the Instrument

The law of the instrument, law of the hammer, Maslow’s hammer, or golden hammer is a cognitive bias that involves an over-reliance on a familiar tool. Abraham Maslow wrote in 1966, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.” 

Nearly fifty years spent in this hobby has convinced me of a similar thing, “If you frequently criticize everything the ARRL does, it is tempting to blame them for every ham radio problem.”

Like any member organization, the ARRL makes decisions that rarely pleases every member. Often forgotten is that these decisions pass through the filter of member-elected politicians. But that’s not how this has been working. Seldom do you see someone praise some League actions and criticize others when it comes to ARRL. For many of its detractors, decisions aren’t just sometimes wrong, no, the organization is on a mission to destroy amateur radio.

It’s an incredibly ignorant position to take, yet it seems an infectious notion and I believe it to be a sign of these times. Look no further than at our national politics. It’s no longer that two candidates hold opposing views on how to fix a specific problem, it’s that one candidate is “right” while the other is bent on destroying America.

Sound familiar?


The sun simply doesn’t want to wake up on this early Friday morning. Already a couple of stations in the log and that’s probably a good thing. We have lined up several chores later this morning that will probably keep us busy for most of the day. 64F and mostly cloudy right now. Rain tonight looks likely, then much cooler temps will move back in. The high tomorrow is expected to be twenty degrees cooler than today’s high. Happy Friday, hello weekend!

K4SWL noted on his blog today the increased usage of “72” at the close of many POTA contacts. 72 is sent instead of 73 to indicate that QRP power levels were used for the QSO. I’ve noticed the same and think it’s a nice touch too!

Blogs.Radio is a mega aggregation of ham radio blog feeds that is becoming one of my most visited spots on the web.

Wayne Burdick, N6KR was a guest on Coffee and Ham Radio last night. I haven’t seen it yet, but assume it was a discussion about the new Elecraft KH1.

Speaking of the KH1, none other than WG0AT just carried one to a summit and he has some thoughts on its performance as an ultra-portable field transceiver.

A note went out to members of QCWA warning of a recent phishing attempt circulating among members, falsely representing the Quarter Century Wireless Association and soliciting donations through gift cards. Don’t be fooled! The organization will never ask for donations or gift cards through email or any other form of communication.

Good luck in the CQ WW DX Contest (SSB) this weekend!

More than a year ago I re-published The Unicorn in the Garden, a short-story by James Thurber that was originally published in The New Yorker in 1939. It remains the most read post on this blog and continues to receive the lions share of daily attention here. Go figure.

Early Bird

It was a year ago today that Elon Musk bought Twitter, ruining the service and the brand. At least that’s my view of how things went down. Having been an early adopter and frequent advocate for Twitter as a tool for radio amateurs, I deleted my account some months later and haven’t really looked back. As it turns out, I still have another account. Something I created a few years after my ham radio call sign account. I have re-visited the social network a few times using that other account, but it’s not the same and I don’t really use it. So much water under the bridge that makes me wonder, do hams still use Twitter?

I had this Early Shift Hunter award in my POTA account this morning. It says it’s for “Making 100 QSOs as a hunter during the Early Shift” which isn’t too surprising considering I’m frequently on the air before the sun comes up, but there was nothing to inform me what time the early shift begins and ends?

The W3LPL Propagation Report was prefaced with this today:

“Despite very unusual low sunspot and geomagnetic activity for solar maximum, some of the best HF propagation in 20 years is likely to continue through at least Saturday October 28th by Frank Donovan, W3LPL”

That might be good news for the crowd expected to participate this weekend in the SSB edition of the 2023 CQ World-Wide DX Contest. Or as this week’s editor of the ARRL Contest Update N1ADG wrote, “With propagation on the higher frequencies being some of the best we’ve seen in decades, 10 and 15 meters will be a great place to find multipliers and run, run, run.”

Yeah. Do that!

Hump Day

It’s been cool here for the last week. Not unusual, and welcome relief from the summer heat. The days have been pleasant and the nights cool enough for frost some early mornings. It’s been great weather for walking and we’ve been taking full advantage. Then yesterday it got up to nearly 80F and is expected to remain around that for the next few days before retreating back to normal for this time of year.

After dinner and our evening walkabout last night I was in the shack, tuning around working the occasional POTA or SOTA station when I decided to call CQ. That’s something I rarely do anymore and I’m not sure why. I guess I prefer searching and pouncing on others calling CQ. I was on 20, around the QRP watering holes, when I called and got a speedy reply from a Texan with a nice signal. We exchanged the usual Morse code pleasantries and then he sent me his SKCC number. I switched to the straight key and then we officially exchanged numbers. It was a nice chat — I need to start calling CQ more often.

This morning’s walk was equally pleasant. The Fall colors have become about as vibrant as they are going to be here in Central Indiana. Halloween decorations are out everywhere and it’s obvious our new neighborhood is much younger than the one we left a few months ago. Lot’s of kids and activity. Lot’s of life.

Back in the shack for another hour or so this morning and it’s more POTA hunting. Including one worked whose license is set to expire tomorrow. Yeah, tomorrow. At least that’s what QRZ says about it. I decided not to mention it because there was a short stack of other hunters waiting to work him. And for all I know he’s already taken care of it and might think I was just being nosy?

My to-do list is endless as are most such lists. Today it’s going to be paying the November bills at a minimum. But other items on the list include a lot of yard work. I’ve got one small tree and several bushes to cut down. And the temporary warm spell is perfect for some of the power washing tasks we have identified. And there is new baseboard trim to be installed in one of the bedrooms. And it’s Fall so the leaves that need to be raked are endless at this point.

I remember when “Hump Day” meant the work week was half over.

But for us old retired guys, the chores are never fully done. Sigh.

See you on the bands!


There are several videos of N6KR’s Pacificon presentation of the new Elecraft KH1 ultra-portable CW transceiver making the rounds. In one of those he comments about a new kind of operation enabled by a handheld transceiver that he called “Diet SOTA”. The diminutive new KH1 will no doubt become a favorite among SOTA activators. That also reminded me that I haven’t chased, or even checked into the Summits on the Air program in quite some time. Following up on that, I see I last worked a summit activator in 2018. Yikes! Time flies. I tried to make amends by working three SOTA stations (MI, CA, CO) on 20 and 17 CW during the afternoon hours yesterday and will be looking for more today.

One of those worked yesterday was N4EII who was operating from W8M/UP-001, Mount Arvon in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Hours later I received a really nice email from him describing his location along with many interesting details of the UP road trip he and his XYL were enjoying along with his work for the day:

“This was the first outing/SOTA for my LNR Mountain Topper (80,40,30,20). I first called on 40 then 30 with no response and nothing heard. Thank goodness for 20 it saved my bacon and the activation. A very big thank you to the chasers all 7 of you from OR, PA,KS,CA,NC,IN. I am still amazed at these contacts with a 9 volt battery as my power source.”

He also included several photos from the summit. It was a nice finishing touch to our radio contact and it really made my day!

A Little More on the KH1

Wayne, N6KR dropped a comment here last night adding a few details to a couple things in my previous post. Sounds like shipping will be in 2024 for anyone who didn’t order over the weekend. He also added some details about the robustness of the internal auto-tuner even if its specs don’t say it covers a 10:1 range.

The Elecraft KX Radio (Groups.io) community mailing list changed a little over the weekend to reflect that it’s also the group for discussion of the AX1 and KH1.

On one of the mailing lists a fellow commented that, “the most important feature of the KH1 in my humble opinion is it makes it nearly impossible to forget any parts of my station!”

To which N6KR replied, “One of our primary design goals :)”.