No. 22 August 23, 1997


(Low Impact, Vegetarian, Environmentally Safe DX)

So it's 4:23 AM and I'm sitting here trying to figure out why I am now W8DX. I was N6HL for 20 years. Now I'm W8DX for two days. I've already accumulated a few nasty emails and 'phone calls. Seems the boys in "8" land don't appreciate a Hollywood weirdo appropriating their beloved "8."

I met Richard Cotton, W8DX in 1954. If ever there was a "face" to the Federal Communications Commission, it was this man: stern, imposing, black-suited. He collected the form 610's from a handful of quivering, fearful "civilians," and allowed the clattering, paper tape machine to send a series of shrill "V's." "Hear it okay?" he would ask, sparing extra, inefficient words.

Cotton and another inspector visited Cleveland every three months. Twice I met him at the Federal Building in 1954. It was a cold, gray stone edifice. In the dark, paneled room, the windows were cranked wide to admit the thick, cool breeze off lake Erie. I remember worrying that the din of automobile horns and crowds of downtown shoppers below would drown out the thin whistle of thirteen words-per-minute.

Those who failed were issued a stamped, canceled form 610 as Cotton called their names in a nasal baritone. We sat and waited, staring at the man who shuffled the paper hand-to-hand, giving no clue. When my name was called, I marched to the front of the room, accepted my walking paper, continued into the cooler, marble hallway, where W8DX's voice echoed as he passed out the written exams.

The next time, I was well prepared. I emerged at the downtown station and had a few minutes for a cup of coffee at Fred Harvey's. I was well ahead of the machine that day. I sat quietly as several unfortunates accepted their canceled forms and shuffled into the marble hallway. I had finally made it to the written exam.

Five or six of us took shallow breaths in that deathly quiet room. Richard Cotton, a massive figure, moved with incredible quietude between the tables, caught our collective eye as he raised another window. One-by-one we laid our papers before him and moved out of the room into the noisy streets of Cleveland to await the tiny envelope marked "Federal Communications Commission, Washington, 25, DC."

Mine arrived in about five weeks: W8SLR. Years later, I learned that the stern examiner was a prominent and active amateur radio operator. Something very close and important to him is now mine. I will always see from afar that man at the window, leaning on the sill, arms folded across a starched, white shirt and suspenders, looking out over his small flock of inchoate radiomen with a pocket watch in his hand and an inscrutable smile on his face.

(Richard Cotton, W8DX died on July 29, 1995. He was ninety years old and had retired from the FCC in 1971. By the time I met him in that examining room, he had been employed by the government around thirty years. He was one of the first to work one hundred countries via satellite.)

The solar flux hit ninety-one and ten meters finally came to life with some signals from Africa and South America. I remember how convenient it was back in "8" land (Ohio). Just as I'd arrive home in the afternoon, the bands would be wide open. Many of our best openings occur between eleven AM and two PM Pacific. For instance, YI1US in Baghdad shows on 20m around 2000 UTC (1:00 PM). 5X1Z finally gets to the radio at 1900 after a hard night doing the clubs in Kampala. Well, it's work time for us.

(Hum an inspiring underscore:) In keeping with the L.I.V.E. DX policy of public service, we are providing a list of extremely effective excuses you may use to immediately leave work or school and head home in time for the great openings on 10, 12, 15, 17 and 20 meters. Remember, no other monthly column can make this claim:

  1. "I left the Sternwasser Report on my desk in the den. I was working on it all night."

  2. "Can't get the Roto-Rooter man to come any other time."

  3. "You know how those cable TV guys are."

  4. "My goldfish has the flu."

  5. "I'm having a mental anamoly."

  6. "I have a dental appointment unless the solar flux is less than 85."

  7. "I have to defrost before I invite the boss to dinner."

  8. "Uncle Louie is cross-dressing on 'Jenny Jones.'"

  9. "I left the iron/oven on."

  10. "Final exam in Yoga class."

  11. "Donating blood (skin, kidney, sperm, hair, etc.)" (Wear appropriate Band-Aid the next day.

Attention. The sun is about to begin its trip across the equator. The Equinox brings improved DX conditions. Add that to a flux in the 90's and you have fun, fun, fun. (At least, until Daddy takes the T-bird away.) Mysteriously, propagation has much to do with what part of the earth is in light, twilight or shadow. Sunlight strips the electrons off atoms in the atmosphere, makes little, naked "ions" of them. They're so shy, they push them nosy signals away, and they bounce right back.

So fire up the radio and do some shopping on the higher frequency bands: 15, 17, 12 and 10. Around the end of September, a group is heading for Kure Island, KH7K. This island is northwest of Hawaii and is a wildlife reserve. It's a punt from Southern California, and a great way to inhale a "new one" on 10 and 12 meters. This is a group from all over the place: Russia, Sweden, Polynesia, Japan, the U.S.. Work them the first coupl'a days before they start arguing over chopsticks vs. forks, Kentucky Bourbon vs. Saki, poi vs. Quaker Oats, sarongs and snow tires. If you work Eric, SM0AGD/KH7, tell him you're a pal of W8DX. He's certain to answer "Who?"

...Harvey, W8DX

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