Jean Shepherd, K2ORS

Some Guys Make it

…and then there’s us

You know, when you really step off a cliff, you know you’ve done it. It’s just like looking out from the observation tower at the Empire State Building, and suddenly you’re in mid-air and you know that there’s no going back. I mean, it’s a great flight, while it lasts.

It’s maddening. You notice that up and down the street, the guys in the big Cadillacs never get tickets? Have you ever yet seen a ticket on a fat Mercedes? Let me tell you, I used to come back with my motor scooter decorated like a Christmas tree. You know, all those little green tags hanging like tinsel all over it. And in front of me would be a tagless Cadillac, and behind me a tagless Mercedes. Both parked there since last Easter. My scooter, I’d slow down, and the fuzz would be runing alongside me, tying ’em on.

Well, that goes in all directions. There are guys who always get it you-know-where, and there are guys who don’t. It’s just that way. Now I don’t know how it’s set. I don’t know whether it’s predestination. I don’t know whether it’s preordained, but some guys from the very minute they’re born—— they can be born in a rotten neighborhood—but from the very minute they’re born, they are pre-ordained or something to Make It And there are other guys who are born to be Sunk, I mean just born to it. Your ship is leaking. From the very minute you start to walk. Your shoes squeak. And you’re phonying it up, and hoking it up from the time you’re six. Other guys win the sack races. You know, legitimately. They can run faster.

Well, let me tell you what happened one time. I’m on the air, you see, I’m a ham, and this is when I began to discover this principle. I’m a kid, and I got this paper route—rout. It was both a route and a rout It’s terrible to have to admit that even when I was a paperboy, I was a paperboy for a paper that was about to go out of business.

Every week you’d come around and you’d try to collect, and they’d tell you they want to drop the subscription, it’s a rotten paper. It’s awful. I had a paper called the Herald-Examiner. Did you ever hear of it, the Chicago Herald-Examiner? And vou know it was such a bad paper that they didn’t even read it in my house, and we had a free subscription.

I used to go running around the neighborhood at four o’clock in the morning, delivering this rotten paper, It was a losing battle. And on Saturdays, every morning, I would go up and I’d knock on every third door, trying to collect the dough, and they’d say:

“Here’s forty cents for last week. Please don’t deliver the paper any more.”

Well, then I’d have to go back and tell George The Paper Man that they quit down there, on Cleveland Street, those people down there, and he’d say:

“Ah, they’re rotten people.”

George was fighting a losing battle too, because he had the Herald-Examiner franchise in the neighborhood and he was going down with the ship. And all these poor little kids who were 12 years old and who were getting knobby knees from running around with this paper, they were going down too. Whereas right across the street from us there were a bunch of wiseguy kids who had the Tribune. And this big fat guy who had the franchise for the Trib. And they all got fat. All those kids are Republicans today. And Cub fans. All of the rest of us kids that had the Herald-Examiner, look at us. Ha! Democrats, following the White Sox till the day we die.

So anyway, T’m a kid and I get my ticket, and I figure I’m licensed, like all the rest of the guys. Except of course, the Cadillac has the same kind of license on it that you’ve got, you know. It’s the same piece of metal on the back, but Boy, what a difference.

So I get my ticket, I’m really gonna swing. I’m on 40 CW for about six or eight months, when I get on ’phone, Now I’ll tell you what I was doing as far as ’phone is concerned, I figure I’m gonna try and make it m the big leagues. And I have a single 2A5 final driven by a 56 tri-tet osc. Do you know anything about the 2A5? Well, it was a Pentode, a Power Pentode. Receiving type, I got ahold of this 2A5, and I was using a Majestic B Eliminator, which I had found in the basement of somebody’s house, to power this thing. And it put out 135 volts. I can tell you exactly what was running, it was 135 volts on the plate at 10 mils. So you can figure out what my input was. Into an RCA mismatched receiving doublet SWL antenna, a special design they had to mismatch on everything. Didn’t match anything. I could have done better with the bedsprings.

And so I’ve got this thing tuned up, and I’m running a cool 135 volts at 10 mils on the plate. I built a modulator. Oh, when I think of it…how sad.

The modulator was another 2A5, and I am grid-modulating the final. Well, you can realize the kind of output I have. I’m probably running about 7/10ths of a watt, and you will never guess what band I’m running it on. I’m on 160 meters. Where a low power guy was running 200 watts and the high power guys ran all the way up to, well, I would say WNBC standards.

I had this poor little receiver. I don’t know whether you ever heard 160 meters when it really was wild. You know what you could do on 160? You could tune into the band, and when you hit the band it was one hetrodyne from one end to the other. One solid hetrodyne, without a break. And the hetrodyne was of such a magnitude that your S-meter was on the pin all the way across the band. It never fell off.

So one night I’m on there. I throw my 7/10ths of a watt right into the middle of it all. I have a very vocal special sound, the bored sound of a high power man, calling CQ. Nonchalantly:

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“Hello CQ, CQ. 160. Hello CQ, hello C2, Hello CQ”. Then there’s a little silence while I’m tuning. Sound of arc being drawn by pencil from final plate.

“Hello, One Two Three…hello, Hello CQ.”

Where you really sound like a big leaguer is when you turn the radio in the next room all the way up so you sound like you’ve got so much power and so much gain, so much pre-amp gain that you can’t cut down the background noise in your house. It sounds real great.

I’ve got the cans on. I’m wearing cans monitoring myself on my receiver, I am the only guy who can hear me, the only guy who could hear my signal.

“Hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ.”

It’s 9 o’clock at night, and everybody in the country is on. Believe me, that band was so insane and my rig so weak that with my signal on and my receiver on, I could hear the hetrodynes through my carrier. If you know what I mean.

“Hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ 160, hello CQ,”

I am calling CQ from 9 o’clock at night till 4 o’clock the next morning, All I am raising is our light bill. That’s all that’s happening. So the next night I come on again. I get on the air again, and it’s great, you know, just to throw on all the switches. The one thing I had that was heartwarming was that my BH tube was leaky, I had a gassy BH. Did you ever hear of the BH cold-cathode rectifier? Well, it was leaky. It was gassy, it made a beautiful blue light like an 866 when I talked. Made me feel like I had real power.

“Hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ.” And I’d see that blue light flickering. It was just great,

“Hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ.”

Well, this goes on for one solid week. They can’t even hear me in the next room. I haven’t raised even a BCL.

“Hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ.”

Finally Friday night comes along. And my friend Chuck, down the street is W9AHS. He is running 6/10ths of a watt on 20, He has not worked anybody on 20 since the preceding Spring, when he worked a guy who was mobile and who drove right past his house, So the two of us are in the same leaky rowboat

Chuck comes home from school, and he says:

“You’re on 160, huh? How’re you doing?” And I say:

“Ah, pretty good, Chuck. How are you doing on 20?” Twenty is a real Big League band. He says:

“Oh, not bad. Not bad.” We both made Class A, you see, but I didn’t have the guts to go on 20 yet, because the band scared me. Chuck says:

“What do you say we work a little crossband tonight?” Chuck lived 10 blocks away from me. So I say:

“Okay, Chuck.”

So Chuck has got his receiver tuned to 160 and I’m listening on 20 and sure enough, between all the hetrodynes I hear Chuck come in,

“Hello, hello W9QWN, hello W9QWN, W9QWN. W9AHS calling W9QWN.”

So I throw on my transmitter, I’m on 160,

“Hello W9AHS, W9AHS.” And Chuck comes back to me! Fantastic! He could hear me, Right in between all the hetrodynes he says he could hear this little squeak, this little thing. He says:

“You’re coming in. You’re about an S-2.

About an S-2, Readability is very low.

About an R-3, I’d say, about every 3rd or 4th syllable.”

So, without thinking about it, we slip into cross-band work, into duplex. And I leave my transmitter on. Chuck leaves his on. and I’m talking to Chuck. We worked Cross-band, duplex, for not more than 30 seconds.


And I’m talking to Chuck, Chuck’s talking to me, back and forth. It was great. Finally:

“73, Chuck.”

“Okay, Dad.”

“Hello CQ, hello CQ, hello CQ, 160 phone, hello CQ, hello CQ.”

Six or eight weeks go by. When suddenly, in the mail would you believe it? I get a card from the FCC, They got a listening station in San Diego. And they have ticketed me for Gross-band illegal operation. I am coming in there 599 XXXX. A ton of bricks! On 160!

Well. I figured, you know, there’s some guys get ticketed and then there’s others that don’t. About that time I realized that there are born losers and there are born winners.

Oh well, it doesn’t matter. It only gets worse. But the thing you got to keep saying to yourself is that it gets worse for everybody, simultaneously, all of the time. Maybe.

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Originally appeared in 73 Magazine
December, 1963.
Now in the public domain.

Last updated: 29 December 2017

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