DX Hell

Around three AM, I woke up feeling perfectly awful, head aching, stomach churning. When I stood up, I became dizzy. Holding the spinning walls, I staggered to the bathroom. Grasping the porcelain throne, I beseeched my quaking body to bring forth the evil bile, but I only felt more miserable. It was either "call an ambulance," or, "head back to bed." The latter was the shorter distance, and as I lay against the moist pillow, I could see the walls folding around me. My head was a burning coal. I grasped my forehead, breathing shallow, whistling breaths.

Soon, I could see the rough, rocky edges of a narrow tunnel. Perhaps the insides of my eyelids, illuminated by the flush of fever. I could no longer hold on to those damp, glistening rocks, and I began to slip uncontrolled down that black corridor. Presently, the discomfort I felt in my body began to fade. In fact, I was no longer aware of my body at all, I could feel a slight breeze and see a cool, bluish light in the distance.

It came to me that I might be experiencing my final, defining moment. Could it be this easy? You wake in the middle of the night, then, "goodbye." I could see myself curled on my bed, totally motionless, growing smaller as the bedroom recedes, my wallet and change on the dresser, my smelly slippers on the floor next to the bed.

I was in a grotto, the sound of rushing water, walls of moss and light leaking in from branching corridors. My thought was that I had somehow become caught inside a Nintendo or Atari game. Presently, footsteps - leather soles. It took me a moment to recognize the man who stood before me. Don Wallace, W6AM. He was wearing his red suit, reserved for Christmas, and he didn’t look like he did the last time I saw him, but like his picture at the controls of his mobile kilowatt station in his Cadillac convertible in 1962.

To be honest, I never was fond of Don. I found him humorless and stuffy. At this moment, he cracked a slight smile through that long, boyish face and I felt relieved. "Follow me," he said.

"Where are we?" I asked as we marched down an inclined, rocky hallway.

"Radio ranch," he replied, throwing the words over his red shoulder. We came to an imposing metal door which he unlocked with a large key. "Not a good sign," I thought. I soon forgot the door as I looked around the huge radio shack. There were, perhaps, thirty operating positions, humans bent over keys or microphones, the din of Morse code and mixed language swirling in the room. Beside each operating desk, a transmitter rack, meters undulating, white insulators on top and antenna feeders climbing toward a ceiling so high there was only a singularity where all the wires merged.

Don gestured for me to sit at a table near the door. "This is yours," he said. He kicked a switch on the transmitter cabinet and handed me a plastic covered sheet of paper. A digital display on the wall before me read "7.025.5." He pointed to the paper. "Send this," he said, giant eyebrows fluttering. I grasped the navy knob of a classic J-38, and began to send what was written on the paper: "V V V V……"

As he turned to go, I wanted to ask him about headphones, log books, etc. I hadn’t noticed. There were no receivers.

Just as my arm was getting tired, a bell rang, and the transmitting ceased. The operators rose as one, stretched and headed toward a corner where a large tank of coffee and a stack of Danish occupied a large wooden table. They stood around and rapidly consumed the cheese and raspberry pastries and gulped the coffee. At the edge of the crowd, I recognized the late Roger Mace, W6RW.

"Breakfast of champions," said Roger as he devoured a sugar-coated sinker. As I drank a cup of nasty black coffee, he remarked: "Don’t drink too much’a that stuff. Gives you a shaky paw."

There was a warning blast, and as we headed back to our stations, Roger pointed out a figure hunched intently over a microphone. He was repeating over and over, half-pleading, half-shouting: "Hoooo-la! Hoooo-la!" The frequency read 14226.5.

"You remember Frank, W6AOA." Roger said.

At another position, none other than famous character actor Andy Devine, speaking a combination of Spanish and Chinese on the very low end of forty meters. Talk about eyebrows!

Roger pointed out a table where a group of gents in 1930’s era suits were manning a large machine. "They’re rebroadcasting Radio Havana every fifteen KC’s on ten meters." "Kilohertz," I said. "Yes, it does," said Roger.

As I dropped into my chair and cracked my knuckles, Roger winked, "Keep yer nose clean and you might be invited to one’a Don’s parties. They’re doozies."

Next to me, Louise Moreau was sending "L8BM" on 3517.5. "one thing," I asked Roger as he turned to go, "What happens when we all go on a break? Do all the bands get quiet?"

Roger was settling into a position behind me, his transmitter readout sweeping from 3500 to 14350. He was taking a small bird out of a cage and positioning it in front of a telegraph key featuring a knob with considerable pits "pecked" in it. "No, no," Roger said, "This is just the W6-W7 battalion. There’s always some division operating."

"What about propagation?" I asked.

"No such of a thing," Roger smiled slyly.

I sent a few "V’s," then I got a sudden thought. Before It became clear, a red suit and awning eyebrows hovered over me.

"What’s the problem?" Don asked.

"I’m an ‘8.’" I said, "’W8DX.’ I don’t belong here with the sixes."

A large log book appeared and Don began to shuffle through it. "Here," he said, "You’re ‘N6HL.’" He held the book so that I could look at it.

"No, no," I said, "I have a vanity call, ‘W8DX.’"

He slammed the book down. "Stay here," he said, "I’ll be right back."

As he went through the big door, I caught it with my foot. I ran into the opposite corridor and began to climb over the slippery rocks. Suddenly, the walls began to shake violently, vortexes of fragments swirled around me. I could no longer hold on because of the violent vibrations. From below me, a bedlam of frantic voices. I could make out one word: "Hellquake!"

A piercing hot poker of pain ran up my leg and I became aware of myself jumping up and down on that leg to stop the spasm. Across the room, the two meter repeater was alive with voices:

"What the hell was that?"

"It was Will, loading up his new amplifier."

"Wow, smoked my receiver."

"Did he work the five-alpha on one-sixty?"

"Only one from the West Coast. Just a minute ago."

"Hellofa signal."

I splashed cold water on my face and ran for the rig. I switched to the beverage antenna and tuned to 1825. He was there! I could make him out, I waited for him to sign. "QRZ W6 W7," he transmitted. I grabbed the key and sent "W8DX/6, W8DX/6."

After an eternity, the din subsided and my receiver settled down. I heard him send "W…" Then he was swamped by a powerful signal that seemed to come from everywhere. "V V V V V V…"

The End


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