Dave Richards AA7EE

March 29, 2013

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.

March 25, 2013

The First CC1 to CC1 QSO – and a QSL as a Memento

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio,QRP — AA7EE @ 7:17 pm
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I made my first ever QSO with the CC1 beta a week or so ago. It was with Jason NT7S (the designer of the CC1 and proprietor of Etherkit) and on top of that, it was the first ever CC1 to CC1 QSO. Very exciting!  I was hoping to have been the first ever QSO Jason had with his CC1. That honor actually went to WA0JLY, but I did get to be Jason’s 2nd QSO.

He was recording video of the QSO, which is up on his website if you want to take a look, though I am rather embarassed by my sending.  For some reason, I hadn’t plugged the paddle into the jack on the CC1 properly, and when I came back to Jason, the paddle went nuts and wasn’t sending what I wanted it to at all. I finally discovered the error, plugged it firmly into the jack and continued with the QSO. Jason for his part, (due also to nervousness at our historic QSO I’m guessing, just like me,) wished me 71 at the end of our brief exchange.  I like that! As I pointed out to him, 71 is like 72, but even better.  From now on, whenever I QSO with NT7S, I am going to sign off by wishing him 71. Perhaps that could become the default sign-off for any CC1 to CC1 QSO’s in the future? He also told me that my mess-up in sending due to not plugging the paddle in properly is one of those things that help create a narrative to remember these occasions with. Well, I guess so 🙂

I don’t normally collect QSL cards, but some are special. This one from Jason is one of those in my collection that have great meaning.  In the early days of radio a QSL, instead of being seen as merely the final courtesy of a QSO, was the much-desired proof that a hard-worked for contact had taken place.  The early hobbyist would labor hard building his entire station, and spending many hours adjusting and tweaking in order to make contacts with other amateur stations. QSL’s were highly-prized pieces of proof that validated the work of the experimenter. I got some of that feeling on receiving this card from Jason –

This, in my opinion, is a QSL in the best time-honored tradition of amateur radio.  I’m running off to Fedex Kinko’s this morning to do a test-print of the custom QSL I’ve designed for my CC1 beta and hope to be spotting myself on QRPSpots later this week once I repair the final that I fried. I’m still not completely sure what I did, but it most likely had something to do with a stray clipped component lead or metal screwdriver 🙂

November 7, 2009

Old QSL Cards – My Life As A G4

I just got back from a trip to my home country to see family. The trip was brilliant – I got to spend time with my Dad, my brothers and sister-in-laws, as well as one of my nieces, her husband and their daughter (my grand-niece.) It was a really enjoyable trip. The main reason for the trip was to see my Dad, who is now in a care home.  The family have been clearing out Mum and Dad’s home (Mum passed away a year ago), which was a monumental task for them; I am eternally indebted to them for that. Amongst the things that they unearthed was a small collection of QSL cards from QSO’s I had while licensed as G8RYQ and then G4IFA in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  The overwhelming majority of the contacts that I had in this period were on 2 meters FM for which very few QSL’s were sent or received, such is the nature of this band and mode, and unfortunately, my logbook from this period seems to have disappeared. All I have to remind me of QSO’s from this period are my sketchy memory and a handful of maybe about 100 QSL cards.

I’d love to have had QSL’s from some of my elmers and other notable locals with whom I communicated frequently on 2 meters, but usually with QSL’s you tend to seek cards from the distant and exotic stations and don’t bother to seek a QSO confirmation from Bert who lives down the road from you.

Even so, there were a few interesting ones in the bunch. There was this one from my first ever CW QSO, with UO5OBC in Moldavia:

I enjoyed looking at the QSL’s from the old eastern-bloc countries, as well as the USSR.  The design of the cards seems very evocative of that particular time and place in history:

They like their bears in Russia:

There were some QSL’s from countries that don’t exist any more:

I even found a copy of my first QSL, which I thought I would never find again.  The drawing was done by my eldest brother Martin:

Then I found a QSL which confirmed something that has been in my head for a while now.  A few months ago I signed up for a twitter account, and use it exclusively for ham radio twitters (in case anyone wonders why I never twitter things like  “New Beatles remasters sound amazing”, or “crank shaft on bike completely shot”.  I steer well clear of political comments also.)  One of the folk who subscribed to my twitter was G4GXL.  I remember thinking his callsign was vaguely familiar.  He wasn’t well known to me, but I had a feeling that I had met him before.  When I saw this QSL (with nothing filled out on it, meaning we had eyeballed) amongst the other old cards, I knew my hunch was correct; we had definitely met:

So Stephen, I’m wondering if you remember under what circumstances we met? I remember what village we were in, and the reason for the meeting.  My old callsigns were G8RYQ and G4IFA. If you don’t remember (and I don’t expect you to) I can give you a bigger clue which will almost certainly jog your memory.  By the way,  this old QSL of yours was pretty neat!

While I’m on the subject of QSL’s from other British amateurs, here are a couple from a husband and wife team, G4CHD and G4GAJ, Terry and Mary Adams.  If I remember rightly, I met them on 2 meters and cadged a ride to a local hamfest:

On the back of the card from Mary, she has sent me best wishes with my efforts to learn CW (I was a G8 at the time, licensed only for the VHF and higher bands).  I should let her know that after 30 years, I have finally learnt the code.  I got there in the end!

A couple more QSL’s just for fun – this time from shortwave broadcast stations. Happy Station was a show that ran on Radio Nederland for a long time, and Tom Meijer (pictured here) was the longest-standing host of the show.  In the cold war environment that existed in the world at the time, his show was a warm friendly place on the shortwave bands:

and one more for good measure:

Looking through these QSL’s (and the other 90 or so that were retrieved from my parent’s house) makes me a little sad that many of us don’t collect and send out physical QSL’s like we used to. Having these pieces of card and paper in my hand is more interesting and satisfying to me than if I were just looking at a confirmation generated by eqsl or LoTW.

August 26, 2009

On QSL Cards

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio — AA7EE @ 6:50 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

I knew when I became active on the air again a couple of months ago that I would have to deal with the question of QSL cards sooner or later.  I’m currently unemployed and am watching all my expenses closely. Even so, it seems against the spirit of amateur radio not to reply to QSL requests – even if I were to make it perfectly clear on my QRZ page. So that option was out of the window. At the time of writing this post, I’ve made the statement on my QRZ page that an SASE will be much appreciated for anyone that wants a QSL. I’m going to start using LOTW and will probably renew my relationship with eqsl, as well as figuring out which bureaus to use. That still left me wondering what to do about an actual physical QSL card.

When I started in the UK as G4IFA (actually, my first call was G8RYQ,  but it was short-lived, as I upgraded to the full G4 license within a few months) my brother drew a great cartoon of a ham sweating away at the key.  I wish I still had a copy of that card. Next came a home made affair constructed with lots of cutting and pasting (the old-fashioned way – not on the computer) and photocopiers:

By this time I figured it was time to try a professionally printed product.  These 2 cards were from Rusprint:

The Rusprint cards were great, but by now my address had changed twice and besides, I am into CW for the first time, and I wanted a card that reflected that. One thing that I learnt from the Rusprint experience was that my requirements of a QSL card tend to change a long time before the cards have run out, leaving me with a stack of fairly useless cards. I liked the idea of a simple yet informative and elegant card that would be easy for me to design and print at home, so that when my circumstances change (like I move, or start operating 80m AM and want to change my card yet again), I can make the changes, and only have to print what I need as I go along.

Then I found out that Kinkos, or as they are now called “Fedex Office” will let you upload a file online and go pick up your order a couple of hours later (sometime sooner) at any store you choose. Brilliant – I don’t have to fuss with printer cartridges, and all those pesky cleaning cycles that use up a lot of ink. I realized that I could fit 4 postcard sized QSL’s on a single piece of 8.5 x 11 stock and cut them myself at home with a box cutter and metal rule. The prices are quite competitive with the professional QSL printers. In some cases, it costs a bit more to do it yourself (especially if you’re printing color, and not just black and white) but to me, the ability to just print the quantity that I need, and make changes as necessary give the homebrew method the advantage.

I had decided that I wanted a card that was fairly functional and simple, yet appealing in it’s design. Operating CW has made me feel quite connected to the roots of this hobby, so I started looking at designs of QSL cards from the 20’s and 30’s. I liked the idea that cards of that era were simple and functional. They served to confirm a radio contact, and they did it perfectly. Some of the full color photo cards we have today feel like overkill in some ways to me, and besides, they cost too much to print! On top of that, I just think that a lot of old QSL cards look great. Steve VE7SL had cards printed by VE7DK that closely resembled many vintage cards, and I was impressed with the result. This page shows some vintage cards from Steve’s collection (opens in a new browser window) and also the card that he had VE7DK print for him. As an aside, Steve built his own replica of a “Paraset” (opens in a new browser window) – a British WWII spy transceiver. If you work him on his Paraset, he’ll send you one of his lovely vintage cards.

A few hours on the computer, and I had found a free old style font and put together a card with the help of Photoshop. I used much of the wording on VE7SL’s card, but did change it a little to suit my needs. He has spaces in which he can enter the voltage and current to the final transmitting tube, as was customary back then. I changed that to a simple space for power in watts, as I don’t have plans to build a tube transmitter. I also added my SKCC and NAQCC numbers, and made one or two other changes. It might seem like plagiarism, but this design was very basic and common for the era. I particularly like the idea of having the station callsign in large letters “behind” the QSL info.

Here’s my new QSL card:

It’s one sided, so it’s cheap to print – even cheaper if I want to print it in black and white on a colored card stock, and I can stamp and address the other side to take advantage of cheaper postcard rates. Some hams don’t like to send their QSL’s like postcards, because of the opportunity for damage in transit, but here’s another way to look at it; those old QSL’s with stamps and hand-written addresses on now are even more appealing 70 years later. The stamps that might seem pedestrian to you now, serve as a historical timestamp to folk who might be viewing them in the future.

Set up a sked with me so I can send you my new QSL card!

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