Good Ops, Ben’s Best Bent Wire, and Some New Home-Made QSL Cards

Nearly every evening on 40M, I hear Bill Crane W9ZN for an hour or two coming in from Chicago. He’s a good op. I’m not sure what his top speed is, but I often hear him conversing easily with others at around 25wpm.  He always matches the speed of whoever he is talking to, which I think is one mark of a good op. I remember the first time I QSO’ed with KA7PUN a couple of years ago.  We were conversing easily at what was my comfortable speed back then (which was probably around 16-17 wpm).  I thought that was his regular comfortable speed until I heard him in QSO a few days later with another station sending much faster. I realized that he had matched my speed and felt very grateful to him for making me feel comfortable in that QSO.

Anyway, back to Bill. I first noticed him on the band for a style of sending that incorporates a variation on the “Ben’s Best Bent Wire” routine that commercial operators used to use in order to loosen up their wrists before a shift. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with this type of routine and only knew that Bill had a style that made him stand out on the band for me.  Here’s what I’m talking about.  This is Bill as recorded last night –

I imagine that a few decades ago, this kind of routine was more prevalent on the bands, but W9ZN is the only station I have heard doing it.  Some people would probably prefer to perform their warm-up routines off the air, but it sure is a good way for Bill to be instantly identifiable. A little online research seems to indicate that he was a Chicago radio personality in the 60’s and 70’s, going by the name of Bill “Butterball” Crane. I’d sure like to QSO with him, but he never hears my puny 5W sigs.  He’s running QRO, and a regular presence in the segment from 7031 – 7034 most evenings.

I’ve also been busying myself with making some new QSL cards, firstly for QSO’s I make with the CC1 beta.  I was inspired by NT7S’ CC1 beta card, and wanted one for myself. I’m lucky to have Photoshop (CS2) and to have finally figured out the importance of layers and how to use them.  The initial version of the CC1 beta card that I came up with looked good on the screen, but due to the fact that I didn’t have a profile for the printer at my local Fedex Kinko’s (they probably don’t have one), the card printed out a lot darker than it looked on my monitor, and some of the text ended up being buried in the background.  I did eventually come up with 2 versions, both of which look OK when printed. One, in my opinion, looks better in print than the other, but I’m waiting to hear back from NT7S as to whether he agrees before I print up a few of one of these two.  These are not scans of the printed cards, but jpeg renditions of the original Photoshop files. Bear in mind when you’re looking at these, that the printer in my local Fedex kinko’s prints files darker than they look on-screen, so if you’re thinking these images look a bit light, that is why –

I finally seem to be getting the hang of using Photoshop to do these kinds of layouts so, bolstered by the success of these cards, decided to make another one. It took me a while to scan the G-QRP Club logo and change it from black on a white background to white on a transparent background, but now I know how to do it, it’s a piece of cake –

Of all these cards, my favorite is my basic 2 color one.  The following image, unlike the previous ones, is not a jpeg generated from the original Photoshop file, but a scan of the final printed card.  I did this because the color of the card stock does a lot to make the card look good.  It’s called “Sawgrass” and unfortunately, my local Fedex Kinkos won’t be restocking it once their current stock is gone –

It’s simple, effective, and prints out well on a variety of printers – no complex graphics that need to be rendered in accurate tones. On top of that, if I need to make a lot and am feeling a bit skint, it doesn’t look too bad in monochrome either.


9 thoughts on “Good Ops, Ben’s Best Bent Wire, and Some New Home-Made QSL Cards

  1. Hey thanks for the notes about W9ZN! I don’t have the right antenna up yet, but have something rigged so I can listen anyway, and heard him out there calling cq on 7.034 around 1 here on the east coast. I was just casually listening doing stuff in the room and then heard him do the warm-up bit, and that really caught my attention so I googled the call. My girl was amazed with the video playing that part again. Thanks for the info, and I’ll make sure to get the dipole up on my 765 and try to give you both a shout out there. 73! Randy, N1VGN, Concord, NH.

    1. Once you hear him, he’s almost instantly recognizable after that! It would be great to hear you Randy. 73 for now,


  2. Hello Dave,

    I had a very nice QSO with Bill last night about the Navy days and pounding brass in the old days. He caught me totally off guard with the “happy dance” towards the end of the QSO. I didn’t have a clue as to what it was. Thanks for the explanation! Yes…he’s a very unique CW operator and it was one of my most enjoyable QSO’s 72’s

    1. I didn’t know what it was either John, until very recently. I forget exactly how I found out but it was, of course, on the internet. That seems to be where many of us do much of our learning these days! I’d really like to work him, but he hasn’t yet heard my QRP sigs. One day when the propagation is in my favor, one day 🙂

  3. Dave — AA7EE —
    I hear Bill often, but have never worked him. Another 1’st Class QRP operator — as are you, is John, N8ZYZ. As a Twitter friend — I have to proclaim, Dave — you are just awesome. And for a cat — Sprat is pretty neat, too. Thanks for all — Randy K4LJA

    1. Thanks for the kind words Randy – am happy to be connected with you on Twitter! I was very skeptical of it at first (I mean, how can you take something seriously with a name like Twitter?) but it has proved to be invaluable for talking with fellow hams.


  4. Hi Dave,

    Just ran across this discussion regarding W9ZN, Bill Crane.

    I had often heard Bill ending his QSO’s with that wonderful “Ben’s Best Bent……” ditty for 3 or 4
    years now. At the time, I had no clue what the heck it was…. but I loved it!
    By chance I would always run across him late at night, and just get the tail end of his QSOs and could never get his call sign. So his station had always been a mystery to me for years.

    I just loved his sign off routine and wanted to learn it myself.
    Little did I know it was his version of a standard warm up exercise for military and pro brass pounders in the WW2 era–maybe even earlier. Finally, I was told by a non-CW ham about what it was and what it was used for….. but Bill has added much more to it in his version.

    After much late night searching the 40M band, I finally caught him calling CQ
    and he answered my call. I finally had a chance to tell him I had been a fan for years. We had a great QSO…. and was treated with his signature sign off routine.

    Since then, I’ve had a number of QSOs with Bill and glad he can copy my barefoot signal. It is always
    a treat. I continue trying to perfect the “Ben’s Best……” routine but will never get it like Bill does.


    By the way, I don’t like the word “Wire” in the routine. It breaks the rhythm for me.
    slant bar, “S” repeated is fun. Also throw in a slant bar “V’

  5. Ok, now I gotta try Bens Best Bent Wire. About seven years ago I sold off my amateur station of 30 years, along with my home brewing “bench”, my variac now serving as my press’ power switch. I sold it all to finance my original “boat anchor” predilection, old iron letterpresses. Now, having stumbled into some ham equipment, wd4nka will be, hopefully back on the lower forty, swinging his Champion Bug, that is, if he still remembers how. Great article!

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