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The Crack and the Pop and the Whistle


*Email: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

Curiosity. It underlies nearly everything we do as hams, and it’s probably what led each of us to ham radio in the first place. Who can I contact? How far can I talk? How many contacts can I make in a weekend? Can I get through with less power? Can I build a radio myself and have it work? Can I bounce a signal off the moon or a tiny dot in orbit?

Author Eric Nichols, KL7AJ (“Tickled,” p. XX), recently pointed me toward an ICQ podcast about the Radio Society of Great Britain’s National Radio Centre at the Bletchley Park museum outside London1. Bletchley Park is where World War II codebreakers, working in complete secrecy, broke the German Enigma code and helped assure an Allied victory. The National Radio Centre is a hands-on museum of radio technology as well as the home of RSGB demonstration station GB3RS. It provides an introduction to amateur radio for several hundred visitors each day.

At one point in the video, host Martin Butler, M1MRB, mentioned something that grabbed my attention. During his interview with Centre Coordinator Martyn Baker, GØGMB, Butler guessed that most people under age 20 probably have never had the experience of actually tuning a radio of any sort, as most broadcast radios today rely on buttons to switch between stations pre-programmed into their memories. You simply select a channel and never get to hear what’s in between them.

Baker replied that “the fun of tuning through the crack and the pop and the whistle, and hearing a station that’s coming in from the Far East, or from the Middle East, or South America, is really still quite special and helps to capture the imagination of people.”

He was talking about the HF ham bands, of course, but it also applies to the broadcast bands, where it may play an even more important role and provide channels of discovery — in between the channels — that are being denied to most young people today. How many of us had the spark of fascination with radio and propagation struck by tuning around the AM broadcast band on a winter night and discovering a signal we’d never heard before, in the supposedly “empty space” between local stations? Wait! Where’d that station come from? Why is he telling me the weather for Chicago? And why can I hear that station now but not during the day? The spark of wonder had been struck. Curiosity had been kindled.

More listening, more learning. Wait! I can talk on the radio, too? To people all over the world who share my sense of wonder? The spark has become a full flame. If you’re reading this magazine, you share that flame, share that wonder.

But in most cases, the tuning dial on your broadcast radio or TV no longer exists, so we have to provide that spark in a different way. We need to create new channels of discovery to bring out that sense of wonder about the natural phenomena on which our hobby relies. We need to find pathways that link those areas in which today’s young technically-inclined people are already interested with those that they haven’t yet discovered. It’s up to us to reach out and create those pathways. How can ham radio help make things kids already enjoy better, easier, cheaper? How can it help kindle their natural curiosity about the natural world around them, and encourage them to learn earth and space science, electronics, and more? As Albert Einstein once said, “curiosity has its own reason for existing.” We need to bring back the crack, pop, and whistle for a digital generation.

Heading Toward the Big 75 This issue marks the beginning of CQ’s 75th year of publication. For nearly three-quarters of a century, we have been chronicling amateur radio’s growth and progress, from the hobby’s rebirth at the end of World War II through the introduction of single-sideband, radioteletype, FM and repeaters, amateur satellites, packet radio, digital modes, and more. But we have never been satisfied to simply report on the latest trends and developments. We have worked to make new aspects of our hobby more accessible to the average ham, through practical projects, easy-to-follow tutorials, and a place to share and exchange information with each other. Today, our columns are helping hams get onto our newest bands at 137 and 472 kHz, and learn how to integrate microcontrollers, such as the Arduino or Raspberry Pi, into our ham-shack projects. We are helping to fuel the resurgence of interest in kit-building, QRP and outdoor operating, providing an independent voice on important matters, and of course, sponsoring the world’s most popular amateur radio contests and a raft of award programs. We do it all with the help and support of you, our readers, as well as our authors and our advertisers. Together, we make up an amazing community of like-minded individuals with shared interests in electronic communications and, most importantly, a shared sense of curiosity about the world around us. We thank you for your support and participation for our first 75 years, and look forward to more of the same in our second.

Tnx & 73 to K1BV Speaking of award programs, for the past two decades, administration of our incredibly challenging USA-CA award for working the 3,077 counties that make up our 50 United States has been in the capable hands of Ted Melinosky, K1BV, who has simultaneously served as Awards Editor, bringing attention each month to some of the many different operating awards sponsored by various radio societies and individuals around the world. Ted has decided that it is time for him to pass the baton for both jobs to someone new. Ted’s column in this month

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