A couple of weeks ago I was searching for information about my father that I’d previously found online using his amateur radio call signs. I was unable to bring up the information, but I learned that both of his former call signs had been reassigned to two other ‘hams’. I decided that these two people might like to know some history about their call signs as my father was into radio all his life, from his teen years until he became a ‘silent key’ in 1992.
Using the information provided on the FCC website I sent letters to each of the hams, with short stories about my memories of how my father enjoyed his hobby. He had two different call signs during his life; the first, a five-letter call given to him when he received his initial license. Later, when he’d been ‘hamming’ for many, many years, he was honored to be given a four-letter call. In these more current times hams are allowed to request a ‘vanity call’. My father’s four-letter call was requested by one of the men I wrote.
Today I received a response to my letter to the four-letter call sign holder. He said he’d received “QSL” cards from all over the world for several years after he received his call sign, from contacts my father made prior to his death. He invited me to respond further with my father’s name. Tonight I sent an email with a little more history.
My father would have very much wanted me to become a ham too. I didn’t think I had the time to learn it all while I was involved in school and other activities. Today, though, I have such rich memories of times when my father was in his element. He lived and breathed radio and electronics. He was very gifted in his field, and he designed equipment for the U.S. Navy and the Mercury missile program. All without the credential of a college degree.
In doing some research for this post I went to CQ Magazine and was surprised and excited to learn that archives from as far back as 1945 are available online. I did a search for my father’s name and many entries came up. Unfortunately, only the first 10 pages are available for free, and most of the entries were in the table of contents. If I want more information I need to subscribe for a fee.
My father built his own ham rigs, and the desk in his ‘ham shack’ was usually covered with radio parts. I was always cautioned, “Do not move anything – not even to clean – ESPECIALLY to clean!!!” He knew where every piece was and where it went.
When I was about 10 years old the family made a car trip to California from Virginia to visit my dad’s mother, my grandmother. At that time the radios available required different ‘crystals’ to tune into the frequencies as we traveled across the country. We had a ‘whip’ antenna on the outside of the car and I remember my father calling CQ.
“CQ, CQ, CQ, calling CQ” – (“Is anyone out there?”)
My father was a radioman in the U. S. Navy and a navigator for ATC and American Airlines during WW II. He was extremely adept at sending and receiving Morse Code. He created his own ‘speed key’ using a piece of ivory he got while flying during the war. I can still see his hand moving the key, sending the signal…*
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Note: The following explanations for CQ and QSL come from Wikipedia.
The CQ call was originally used by landline telegraphy operators in the United Kingdom. French was, and still is, the official language for international postal services, and the word, sécurité, was used to mean “safety” or “pay attention”. It is still used in this sense in international telecommunications. The letters CQ, when pronounced in French, resemble the first two syllables of sécurité, and were therefore used as shorthand for the word. In English-speaking countries, the origin of the abbreviation was popularly changed to the phrase “seek you” or, later, when used in the CQD distress call, “Calling all distress”.
CQ was adopted by the Marconi Company in 1904 for use in wireless (spark) telegraphy, and was adopted internationally at the 1912 London International Radiotelegraph Convention, and is still used.
QSL cards are ham radio operator’s calling cards and are frequently an expression of individual creativity — from a photo of the operator at his station to original artwork, images of the operator’s home town or surrounding countryside, etc. They are frequently created with a good dose of individual pride. Consequently, the collecting of QSL cards of especially interesting designs has become an add-on hobby to the simple gathering of printed documentation of a ham’s communications over the course of his or her radio career.
* (This is the International Morse Code for CQ.)