Tuesday 26 April 2016

Music To My Ears

In my 'other' life, before retiring, I taught high school for 35 years. I soon became tired of doing my nightly lesson preps and marking of papers on the kitchen table so I built a large oak roll-top style desk, but without the 'roll' part.
It had lots of drawers, both big and small, slots and cubby-holes, and made the nightly homework very much more enjoyable.

The left end of the desk was occupied by my Sony ICF -2010 and above it, on the desk's top shelf, was a small amplified and tuneable ferrite loop antenna. The Sony was tuned to the 500kHz international MF 'distress' frequency, which was mainly used as a CW calling frequency for ships wishing to work the coastal traffic handling stations. Once contact was established, stations would move to the 'QSS' working frequency used by the coastal, so that the distress frequency was not tied-up.

As I sat at the desk doing my nightly prep, the silence would be broken every few minutes with the sound of a CW caller, either a coastal or a ship. It was music to my ears.

On a normal night, the numerous coastals could be heard with their periodic traffic lists interspersed with ships up and down the coast calling with traffic or weather reports. However, on a really good winter night, the frequency was almost constantly abuzz with CW. Ships, as well as the coastals, could be heard from the Gulf of Alaska down to the Gulf of Mexico ... as far west as the Hawaiin Islands and on really rare nights, along the eastern U.S. seaboard. On those nights, 500kHz would sound like 20m CW, even on my little Sony and desktop loop.

Thanks to the forethought of those that had the good sense to record some of those amazing sounds, you can step back in time and listen to what '500' sounded like back in its prime ... recorded somewhere in western Europe.

The most recent 630m crossband activity brought back these pleasant memories of what the band could sound like at times, with several very strong VE7's and a few weaker U.S. experimental stations to the south, all busily calling CQ at the same time on various frequencies. I consider it a huge privilege to be able to operate on this much revered part of the radio spectrum ... one steeped in such great CW tradition.

I think it won't be too long before 630m will sound much like its old glory days again ... and wouldn't that be a wonderful thing.


David Ryeburn VE7EZM and AF7BZ said...

I was surprised how slow most of that was. Also some of those fists in the video are pretty bad! And a couple of the rigs are definitely not T9X.

David, VE7EZM and AF7BZ

Steve McDonald said...

David - I agree with you 100% !! I used to hear fists ranging from perfectly sent hand-CW to bloody awful. Some nights I suspected that the ship's oiler had been consigned to the radio shack for the evening as it was just that bad ... but lovely in its own unique way.

I don't recall the tone being an issue, as heard here. One of the ships heard was scrapped in '67 so the recordings were likely made in the 50's or 60's and assuming some of the equipment may have been 20 years old at the time and on its last legs, may explain part of it.

Steve 73