Thursday, August 23, 2007

Seek You, Seek You, Seek You

CQ CQ CQ, seek you, seek you, seek you.

In 1959 I straddled the two worlds of techno-geekdom and class clown. In any movie you've seen, I'm the freckle-faced red head next door who provides comic relief and spurs the reluctant hero on to achieve his goal. I don't usually die horribly, but sometimes I do and then there'll always be a boat naming ceremony or something at the end.

Where other 11 year olds might have had posters of Tim Horton or Rocket Richard on the walls of their rooms, I had wire. Lots and lots of copper wire.

I lived inside an antenna.

That summer, having finally been given the transistor radio I'd been whining about for who knows how long, I discovered that this Toshiba had a short wave band as well. And so I began exploring the world, eavesdropping on amateur radio (ham) operators. Looking for trouble. Like David Sarnoff.*

That's what the CQ is: the beginning of a ham transmission, looking for someone to respond.

I had no transmitter so all I could do was listen.

Reception was better at night (isn't everything?) and I listened to the world: HCJB (High in the Andes); Moscow Mailbag; Shortwave Service of the CBC.

And while I couldn't communicate by radio transmission, I could use the mail.
I'd drop the operator a line on a post card telling them when I'd listened, what I'd heard and report on frequency and signal strength. In response they'd send a QSL card, a personalized thanks with their location and call letters. The object was to collect as many as possible and that's what ended up on my wall in place of hockey stars.

The following year I started high school.

In Toronto, in those years following the Second World War, three downtown high schools still maintained their Cadet Corps and every spring would have a big Parade at the armoury.

Harbord CI was one of those schools and cadets was mandatory for grades nine and ten. I hated marching so I joined the Signal Corps.

During the school year we'd meet after classes, do ham radio stuff, goof around, and get paid government money to learn Morse Code, which I still remember.

And then in late April, when all the cadets were marching around in wool uniforms at
the BIG EVENT, we sat up in the balcony, smoking. (We could do that then; all the cool thirteen year olds did.) Then we got driven onto the parade floor in a truck, jumped out, set up a radio base station, tore it down, jumped back in the truck and got out of there. Total time before we were back smoking in the balcony: six minutes.

Everyone else, in uniform, hot day,
standing at attention for hours and hours. Fainting was involved.

I loved being a smart ass geek.

But I did have to repeat that year.

I was having so much fun in high school, I kinda forgot about the studying part. Oops.

The next year I discovered girls and electronics went out the window, replaced with biology.

(Hello Cindy, wherever you are. I hope you're a grandmother and have had a rich and easy life with more sunshine than clouds.)

Here in the blogosphere, I'm still the techo-geeky class clown twelve year old searching the world, looking for trouble.


* David Sarnoff was a young telegraph operator in Manhattan, set up in Wannamakers Department store. On April 15, 1912, he was at his post when he made contact with RMS Carpathia speeding to aid the sinking Titanic. Since he was the first, all other radios had to stand down, and young David was the sole source of any direct news. He stayed at his radio during the entire rescue effort posting the names of survivors for the crowds of anxious relatives outside the store and around the world.

A little while later he founded NBC. Oh, and he also became head of RCA.

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