Friday, March 19, 2010

Ham Radio and the (Really!) Great White North

On a Tuesday afternoon, August 1, 1978, I tuned in a radio station called VE8RCS.

This was an amateur radio station that also happened to be the most northern radio station in the world (450 nautical miles from the north pole), located at a small Canadian weather/military outpost in Alert, Canada - at that time part of the Northwest Territories (now Nunavut).

And at that time, I also lived up north (in Ohio, which is downright tropical by comparison to Alert) and I also had an amateur radio station - WB8VNR (which is still my call-sign today).

I tuned in VE8RCS on the 20 meter ham band (14.162 MHz) at 1758 Greenwich Mean Time. The operator, Brock, was using voice communication. I could not contact him by voice, as the FCC only allowed for Morse Code communications for American radio stations in that portion of the 20 meter band. So, when he finished his previous contact, I called to him in Morse code.

Brock was a little surprised, but we carried on a nice conversation - he using a microphone and I responding using a telegraph key. It was a little unusual, but worked out just fine. I received a QSL card from VE8RCS to confirm our contact. It is shown above. This was a more memorable QSO (contact).

I ran across the card today, and was curious about whether or not the station is still there.

So using technology that we take for granted today that didn't exist in 1978, I went to, and found out the rest of the story, which is found here. Since May 15, 1997, VE8RCS is no more. But it was temporarily revived in 2008 for the 50th anniversary of the radio station. A more complete history is found here.

Until today, I had no idea that in 1978 (32 years ago, when I was 14 years old), amateur radio was the only means of communication between Alert and the world, and that men were stationed there for six months at a time. Nor did I know that this was considered the most sought after radio contact in the world (followed by KC4AAA, the American Antarctic station, and JY1A, the King of Jordan).

Time and technology have turned my contact with VE8RCS into a thing of the past. But it was a great thing that ham radio was able to keep the guys stationed there in communication with the outside world, and did so for decades.

I do hope they keep some amateur radio equipment there "just in case." In a climate like that, I imagine it is wise to be "alert."


Past Elder said...

Great Judas in the radio shack.

I am often struck by how it is that most of the ones I side with theologically are so different otherwise -- generally 10-30 years younger, listeners to Rock music (the latter a particularly bad sign) etc.

Now in your case I understand -- it's radio communications. No I never got a ham licence. However, from staying up late as a kid in Minnesota when the local stations went off the air and you could get these great Quebec French Canadian stations playing Jazz or messing with a SW tube set with an antenna strung across the patio, to driving my wife nuts with the squawks and squalls of SW on my latest set or scanner from Radio Shack, ecstatic when either finding something I understood or figuring something out when I didn't, which eventually was confined to when I was grilling out, not to mention the time I was transfixed when suddenly some Albert Collins came over the waves and I began my introduction to Gene Scott.

That's it! That's why we get along despite my aversion to mitres and crosiers. It was the sense of a kindred spirit.

Yes times have changed. My trust Grundig and scanner gather dust on the bedside table, and Pastor Melissa Scott is on cable TV for Judas at the Great Pyramid's sake, though she's easier on the eyes than her late husband.

michael said...

so there are other hams that our missouri synod clergy persons. besides us, are there any others? you're the first one that i am aware of outside of myself.

last weekend, I made my first successful DX contact, OT2A in Belgium. It was pretty cool.

I'll keep an ear out for you on the radio.

73, W0NXM

Father Hollywood said...

Hi Michael:

Offhand, I don't know any pastors that are hams (though I know there are some out there). I know of Mrs. Carol Rutz (wife of Rev. Wayne Rutz) of Indiana, KF6FNS.

73 OM,

-.. . .-- -... ---.. ...- -. .-.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

That Melissa Scott is creepy. And it's not just because she is a former porn star. That isn't nearly half as bad as her claim to be a "pastor." I'd rather see Bobby Hebert in a dress than Melissa Scott in a clerical collar. Naked would be a step up from the gutter when it comes to ecclesiastical cross-dressing.

She is also a charlatan. She once claimed that two unrelated Greek words were related because they had the same ending. Uh, Greek is an inflected language. The endings don't make the words related to each other in the same way that words that end in "-ing" are related to each other. But it makes for good TV I suppose. I guess it's better than getting a real job or actually learning Greek.

Her husband was definitely funnier. But what goofball!

The nice thing about Short Wave Radio is that it is a place for wackos to operate. It may well be the last bastion of free speech out of reach of fascist governments (but I repeat myself...).

You should go for a ham radio license. There is no more Morse Code requirement, and the tests are much easier to study for these days.

But as for me, I don't care much for all the modern stuff. I'm an old-school "brass pounder" (I have a WW1 vintage telegraph key and I know how to use it) and a part of me is ticked off that you can get an Amateur Radio license and be Morse-illiterate. It just doesn't seem right.

michael said...

i forgot about KC9KYP, Eric Malmstrom

Past Elder said...

Well there you go. Pastor Scott (she) is quite the YL. I'd better leave any musings about her clothing or lack thereof alone, lest I have to run the 100 miles Luther speaks of to avail myself of the benefits of private confession, especially since it is more than 100 miles from Omaha to Gretna.

I don't really know Greek either, just Latin and etymologies. I come from a place and time where the Vulgate was considered a more trustworthy source than original languages since a) it is the work of a saint rather than a committee of scholars and b) made from sources more ancient than those now surviving. That's why when I'm on a real rant the old Catholic spellings and names still come out, like Osee for Hosea and Noe for Noah or Ezechiel for Ezekiel, although so far I have avoided saying Paralipomena on Past Elder.

I agree about the Morse thing though. Due to its physical nature you can get a Morse transmission through damn near anything. I think it's funny that the current shorthand for texting actually has a prototype in the abbreviations and prosigns of Morse. Then again, I've been giggled at by preteen girls while texting my kids while in Target; Judas on a bug, I've been texting since there was texting.

I'm also a supporter of military alphaphonetics. The greatest intersection of generations and technology I have witnessed in years happened recently in a training class on some electronic equipment when a young reservist suddenly expressed frustration by shouting out Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I haven't had such a laugh since the post on General Scuttlebutt when the grandson was referred to me re the meaning of Tango Uniform!

Never did believe that was you btw. I always thought the general was the persona of the grandson, an actual seminarian hoping to actually graduate and get a call despite not being on board with the recent marketing fads.

Now if only Melissa regardless of garb will start playing some Albert Collins, the Master of the Telecaster, like the old man. Hey, if she digs older guys -- oh wait he was about 40 years her senior, and I'm only 59, but it;s nice to know there's babes out there I'm too young for still.