by Scott Westerman – W9WSW
Thanks very much for your warm welcome and I have to say, it’s great to be at a hamfest again. When I was a newly minted Technician in the Detroit area, Summer seemed like one swap after another, beginning with the annual pilgrimage to Dayton and ending at the start of football season.
Colleen and I love living in the Land of Enchantment and I’ll let you in on a little secret: Amateur radio was one of the things that enticed us here. When I was considering the move, I Googled amateur radio and Albuquerque and the first thing that popped up was Brian’s superb N5ZGT website. You all seem to have a group of enthusiasts connected to every niche in our hobby, from T-hunting to satellites, from search and rescue to repeaters. And I’ve been looking, but so far I can’t find a larger network of interconnected repeaters than you have here with the Megalink.
If I understand Kevin Martin correctly, there’s reason the FCC is looking the other way on this Ambient broadband over power line technology that destroys the amateur radio low bands. It’s because our government wants to bring high speed Internet to a broader constituency. As a Comcaster, I can tell you that we ARE bringing Comcast high speed Internet to more corners of the country every day. There’s plenty of competition in most places, but speaking now as a private citizen and amateur radio licensee, if the government really wanted to get Internet beyond the reach of DSL and cable modems, they ought to turn the problem over to the hams. Knowing your ingenuity, I’m certain you’d solve the problem, and protect amateur radio’s sacred duty to provide emergency communications in the process.
In fact, if you study history, you’ll find a ham connected with almost every technological advance since Marconi first experimented with Spark. In my business, our video, Internet and even our brand new Comcast Digital Voice phone service (available now right here in Albuquerque at a great “triple play” price of just 99 dollars a month) can trace connections to amateurs.
And so it is with my personal story. Ham radio truly gave me my career.
In the mid-60s I was ten years old, living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My grandfather was a shortwave enthusiast and I loved connecting a long wire antenna to his Zenith Transoceanic and listening to the sky waves that transversed the globe as dusk fell over his little retirement community.
But my life was irrevocably changed the first time I saw my uncle’s ham shack.
My mom’s family came from Lima, Ohio. Unlike Ann Arbor, where we were in the shadow of Detroit’s Television antenna farms, you had to have a good sized tower and a rotator to receive watchable pictures from Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati. That alone was something cool for a ten year old to ponder, but you can imagine my delight when I saw the other huge antenna that sat atop Uncle Ron’s radio tower. It was almost twice as big as his TV antenna and the tower itself had a pair of long copper wires with these coke-can-like things wrapped with wire connected half way down it’s triangular trajectory to the ground.
“What the heck are those things,” I asked my cousin?
“That’s just dad’s ham stuff.”
“Well lets see it!”
We went down into the basement, ostensibly to play ping pong, and that’s when I saw it.
It seemed to be illuminated by a shaft of light directly from heaven. On one wall was this big world map with hundreds of pins marking cities big and small around the globe. The other wall was covered with postcards, filled with letters and numbers and pictures of places I’d only read about in books. There was a big clock over the desk that had 24 numbers on it instead of 12. And at the center of it all were the radios, incredible grey beauties with more dials and meters than I had ever seen. on the edge of the desk was a chrome contraption with a pair of red paddles mounted sideways, my first look at the Swiss watch precision of a Vibroplex bug.
I dragged Uncle Ron down to show us how it all worked. He pulled a ragged piece of paper out of his desk and handed it to me.
“This is the International Morse Code,” he said. “Follow along.”
Do you all remember the first time you heard the sound of a amateur radio receiver sweeping down through the bands. There is something ethereal about the way the single sideband carrier’s cascaded from high frequency confusion into intelligible speech, almost like the voices were materializing from outer space. Uncle Ron whizzed through the voice portion and we soon were in the midst of what felt like a hundred CW conversations, the dots and dashes singing songs in a dozen different keys at the same time.
Uncle Ron found a reasonably quiet portion of the band and shot out a QRZ.
“Ready,” he asked?
I gripped my cheat sheet and nodded.
Da di da dit, da da di da. Da di da dit, da da di da. Da di di dit. Di da da. Da da da di dit.. On and on it went leaving me totally in the dust until I heard a final … Da di da.
“Did you get it?”
“I heard a ‘K’!”
He turned to his typewriter as the other guy began a machine gun response. After about two minutes he pulled the paper out of the machine and handed it to me.
rrr n tx ron nm hr tom qth delphos rig drake tr4 wx perfect es fb on nephew say 73 fm me.
I had a lot to learn!
Fast forward to 1981. That ham radio experience had fired my technological passions and I had spent the last decade as a broadcaster, earning my commercial FCC tickets and doing everything from air work to tower maintenance. It was the dawn of cable TV in Detroit and I was standing in front of a public hearing in Oak Park trying to convince the community that Continental Cablevision was the best suited company to earn a cable television franchise. When it came time for questions, I noticed a group of ten guys sitting in the back of the room with their arms crossed. They had walkie talkies on their belts and they looked deadly serious.
One of them came to the microphone and said, “Mr. Westerman, if your company is selected to provide community antenna television service to our community, do we have your word that you will NOT broadcast on the following four channels…”
Four channels! In our 54 channel line-up, that was almost a ten percent reduction. I managed to delay the question until after the meeting, when the men with radios surrounded me.
The spokesman said, “We are very concerned that your system might leak and interfere with the important emergency communications service we provide on these frequencies as radio amateurs.”
He went on to explain that the four channels paralleled the six meter, two meter, two-twenty and four-forty ham bands. I told him that the FCC placed strict controls on how tight our system had to be and that we spent a lot of time and money making sure we kept leaks to a minimum.
“How can we trust you,” the group asked in unison.
That was the moment I decided to become a radio amateur.
How many of you remember those good ole Gordon West tapes? It was Gordo who helped me pass my code test and it was the Michigan Department of Transportation that almost sunk me.
I learned quickly that you had to pay attention at certain points in the QSO for information like name, call sign, antenna, etc. I practiced and practiced and before long I felt ready to head to the FCC offices in Detroit.
It was a hot day and the air conditioning wasn’t working, so I took a seat near an open window. The theory part was a snap and it was only when our proctor started the code test that I realized that there was significant road work going on right outside of the window. And every time I came to one of those places where I had to concentrate, the jackhammer seemed to start up.. “brrdddaaaaap”. . Somewhere between the outdoor explosions I thought I heard a “B” connected with the guy’s name, so I wrote it down. Same story with the antenna. All I got was a “Q”.
I was certain that I was sunk. But then I realized the benefits of the multiple choice test. Among the names, there was only one with a “B” in it. I chose that answer. Cubical Quad was what I selected as the antenna, and so on. I was learning, right there in a hot FCC office on the Detroit River, how to pull copy out of the QRM. And when all was said and done, I had passed the test.
In those days it was the code speed that separated the Technicians from the Generals and I was soon back in that room copying 13 words per minute. Uncle Ron donated those original Lima Ohio Drake rigs to my first shack. I learned how to run stealth long wires among the rafters of our apartment attic and I was soon working DX from my basement and rag chewing with my new friends on the daily ride to and from work.
I kept in contact with the Oak Park Amateur Radio Club, too, editing their monthly newsletter and ultimately became club president. And Continental Cablevision earned the cable franchise. Today Oak Park is a Comcast community.
Thanks to my ham radio experience, I learned how to be come a skywarn spotter and spent many a summer afternoon looking for wall clouds. Then as now, ham radio was often the first resource to report dangerous weather and even in the midst of a tornado warning, we took the HT into the basement along with our kids, sleeping bags and flashlights. Even now, we keep an HT in the charger right next to our weather radio in the kitchen.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that as Comcasters, we in Albuquerque have a great affection for the amateur radio community. Tonight I’m proud to announce that we will be inaugurating the Comcast Amateur Radio Society as a means to attract more of our employees into the hobby. As we license our field team, we’ll put HTs in their trucks and signs on the sides saying “Amateur Radio Equipped”, so that they can join you in providing an added layer of emergency communications for our great city.
When we migrated from two-way radios to Nextel phones, we decommissioned over one hundred 500 MHz units which sit today in a corner of our warehouse. With help from my good friend W5IDT and your outstanding ARRL Division Vice Director N5ZGT, we will be re-programming these radios to a 440 band plan, and will be donating them to local scout troops, amateur radio clubs and emergency service organizations.
You see, I believe that amateur radio is part and parcel of what makes America great. Your focus on: Education, Technology, Fellowship and Service are part of the magic that has driven our country’s growth and success for over 200 years. In fact, I think our President should give every radio amateur the Medal of Freedom. Your unique culture of caring embodies all that’s good about our nation: inclusiveness, opportunity and freedom.
And it’s an honor to be with you tonight to celebrate this true American treasure.