A Party during the Pandemic

Ham radio has provided a lot of joy during the pandemic. Firstly, I had the strangest Easter I have ever had, though not the worst. Our family could not have dinner together, so I joined in the SKCC Weekend Sprint. I worked five stations during the relaxing weekend. A special highlight came when I worked the KS8KCC bonus Egg station right at the end. I plan to volunteer as an Egg station next year.

That brings me to this weekend. We finally had a nice sunny spring day in Philadelphia, so I packed up my Elecraft KX3 and went up to the roof. I always bring the AX1 antenna, but I decided to bring the Buddistick to give it a try. I had no idea what I would find when I got up there.

I opened the roof deck door, and some people greeted me. I had walked into a party. A few guys drank beers and chatted. I explained that I wanted to set up my ham radio, and asked if they would mind. Quite the opposite. They got right into it - asking questions about the antenna, how radio waves interact with the atmosphere, and what I can do with the radio. I told them about my contact to Costa Rica.

I tried setting up my Buddistick, but could not tune it to an acceptable SWR. I got down to about 3.5:1 or 3.2:1, but you really need it below 2:1. SWR stands for Standing Wave Ratio, the amount of radio waves which reflect back and cancel out. A ratio of 1:1 means all of your radio frequency energy goes out the antenna.

I straightened the coax, though perhaps not enough. I adjusted the length of the counterpoise and coil tack. Nothing seemed to do the trick. The guys didn’t care. They enjoyed watching me try to get it working. One works as a mechanical engineer, and helped me tighten a bolt. He appreciated the DIY spirit of the hobby.

While rummaging around in the Buddistick’s case, I heard something fall onto the ground.

“It’s this box thing.”

someone said.

“Oh, my ferrite fell!” I replied, and picked it up.

“Your what?” he replied with a note of concern. “Your ferret fell?”

“No, my Ferrite! A mixture of metals we use to keep the cable from acting like an antenna. We use them to eliminate radio frequency interference.”

. At this point I just wanted to get on the air. I vowed to come back to the Buddistick later, and connected the AX1. Elecraft makes this antenna to work with the radio, and it tuned to a 1:1 SWR on the first try. The AX1 saved the day!

We had several QSO parties going on throughout the weekend. A QSO means a ham radio contact, and a QSO Party refers to a contest in which you try to work as many stations in a state or area as possible. Within a few minutes I worked W7AI, the Oro Valley Amateur Radio Club in Tucson, Arizona, 2056 miles away! The guys loved it. They wondered aloud about the physics involved in sending a signal that far. I invited them to additionally consider that I did it using 5 Watts of power, or QRP. The magic of radio still amazes me.

They went back to their party and I went back to my radio. I yelled out each station as I worked it and they cheered.

All of these contacts took place on 20 meters starting around 06:00 PM. I went down to get dinner and returned at 09:00 PM.

I switched to 40 meters using the AXE1 extender for the AX1, and found the New England QSO Party in full swing. The guys came back to party a little more as well, but said good night as I got back into the radio. I had a strange dystopian Coronavirus moment as I sent Morse Code alone in the night from the roof of my building while wearing a mask and sunglasses. At least this time it happened during a party. I worked five stations within a half hour. I finished with the NE1QP bonus station and called it a night.

I woke the next day with a low grade headache, but felt determined to get back to the party. I did some Qigong and got on air around 03:00 PM. I didn’t feel like going outside, so stayed in my shack using the Alpha Loop. Sending and receiving high speed Morse Code doesn’t exactly complement a headache, but I kept the sidetone low and the AF gain (what we call the volume) as low as possible. The static and the sounds of radio soothed me, but my brain had to work quickly.

I have a positive association with New England, especially Boston, because I went there for my eye appointments all through my childhood and into high school. We would often go on family car trips around the area while there. I had fun going on a radio trip around New England. By the end of the QSO party at 08:00 PM I had worked twenty-one stations in total. All of my contacts with New England happened on 40 meters. Both antennas performed well. I felt content despite the headache.

A few days later my family returned to the roof deck to celebrate my nephew Demian’s fourth birthday. My family hadn’t seen each other in a few months due to the pandemic. As Demian’s birthday approached I thought about the party over the weekend, and suggested the roof deck as a location. Everyone loved the idea, and we all had a great time. I think Demian would make an excellent ham! He already understands that the Earth orbits the sun.

I would like to close this article with a response to a joke. A friend sent me a tweet which said that we have not invented a vaccine for social media. I would like to suggest that actually we invented one over a hundred years ago. We call it ham radio. Every time I go on social media I feel like running back to my radio as quickly as possible. The vaccine works!