QNCW, The QRP CW Journal

The Amazing Results of Patience and Skill

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My 40-meter tricycle QRP mobile rig. I earned several QSL cards, but some folks didn’t believe I was QRP and would not respond with a card exchange.

The battery say at the base of the handbars. The transceiver, a MFJ-9040 lived in the bag. The antenna is mounted behind the seat backrest.

Fun waiting to happen.


Ernie’s Workbench


After retiring from the US Navy, Ernie earned an electrical engineering degree and set up a radio repair shop. He intended to repair CB radios, but the local amateurs brought their broken radios to him. He built scores of QRP CW rigs. He didn’t like getting on the air, so he always brought his new projects to me for a road test.

Ernie, KB7HCW, has been a silent key for some twenty years. I still miss him.

WB7VSN’s Key Collection


WB7VSN began working American Morse as a Southern Pacific train dispatcher in Southern California prior to World War II. These are they keys he’s collected over the past 70 plus years.

During World War II he was General Douglas MacArthur’s personal telegrapher.

The last time I visited him he was operating American Morse over a phone line using a sounder. The Prince Albert Tobacco can was wedged into the sounder to provide a tone to the clicks, allowing him to identify his sounder before he heard an identifier.


R6 Transceiver


My late friend, N7JEU, was a Marine who operated a mobile high-speed communications post mounted in a jeep. His job was to report where his unit’s last heavy artillery struck. Then he had to change locations before Charlie could get fix on his location. I’ve forgotten exact power, but I think it was three or four watts output.

The rig above is very similar to the one he used.

I met him on the 40-meters one cold October night. I was using a rock-bound Heathkit DX-20. He was using a Hotwater 8.

W5VL’s Early Years of Ham Radio

by J.V. Fitzhugh, W5VL (SK)

San Antonio, Texas 

Written in 1992

N7NET’s note: One day, while chatting on two-meters, I answered the call of a ham passing through town on a bus. He was an active member of the U.S. Army Band on tour. He was one of many who were aboard a chartered bus that was passing through Eugene, Oregon en route in the Bay Area where they were scheduled to perform. The musician’s name and call have slipped into my shadowy past. But his father K5VL, a veteran operator of the spark gap days, became the subject of our QSO. Before the year was out W5VL had sent me a fistful of audio tapes filled with memories from his past, which, in turn, were published in QNCW

In 1992, when this story was current, Mr. Fitzhugh was 99 years young.

Seventy years ago Spark Gap transmitters and Galena crystal receivers, with their infamous “cat whisker” tuning were the heart of early stations appearing on the 200-meter band.

Before the development of vacuum tubes, receivers consisted of only a few major components:

1. A large, wire coil with a narrow strip from which the insulation had been removed. A sliding, shorting bar, capable of contacting the bare strip at a given point, enabling the operator to change the electrical value of the coil at will.

2. A smaller coil capable of providing loose or tight coupling with the larger coil.

  1. A Galena crystal.
  2. A piece of small-gauge spring steel wire called the “cat whisker.”

By moving the cat whisker about the surface of the Galena crystal a sensitive area could eventually be located. For a time this was the only method for capturing and amplifying radio frequency signals.

When a ham turned on his spark transmitter he began transmitting before the motor, which turned his rotary gap mechanism, had reached operating speed. This caused the sound of his signal to increase, creating a rise in the tone as the motor revolution increased. During a QSO the operator might choose to switch off the power to the motor, causing the frequency of his signal to diminish, giving his transmitted signal a melodic quality.

Crystal receivers of that era had little selectivity. When an operator tuned in a station of his choice, numerous other stations were also heard. The sound resembled an orchestra tuning up prior to a concert, at first one station changed tone, then another, and still another by switching their motors on or off. It is regretful that recording equipment was not available during that period.

Electrical grounding of equipment was no less important then it is today. However, the task was accomplished in a much simpler fashion. Radial grounding wires where not yet in use. Instead, a single wire attached to a metal rod which was driven into the soil was sufficient for receiving purposes. Many amateurs attached their grounding wires to the plumbing. While this was satisfactory for reception, grounding the transmitter in such a manner often dispersed radio frequency interference over a larger area, creating problems even more difficult to solve.

My Spark transmitter was of the “open” type. By not enclosing the sparking area I allowed a very loud arcing noise to escape the sparking area. It often made exploding sounds and I was very fortunate not have had complaints from my neighbors.

Eventually, I went to the home of a friend who demonstrated his transmitter, which was enclosed. Also, he had a darkened glass in the front of the enclosure, allowing the operator to watch the spark without dazzling his eyes. I found both features an improvement over my spark system.

I was only twelve years old at the time and knew so little about the equipment I was operating. I was unaware that RF was finding its way into the motor windings of my rotary gap. After a few weeks the motor began to hobble, and I was unable to keep it running smoothly. After removing the motor housing I could see splattering of solder everywhere, indicating that RF had ruined the field winding. The defective motor curtailed my spark activity, but I continued receiving.

When radio was very young there were no commercial broadcasting stations operating on the 200-meter band, but in engineering circles the possibility of voice transmission was a serious consideration.

Flemming had created a diode-type tube. Doctor Lee DeForest followed, shortly after, with a vacuum tube featuring the first control grid.

Apparently, one of the first experimental voice broadcasts took place in Schenectady, New York, for the purpose of testing the public reaction. One night I nearly jumped out of my chair when a human voice came over the code frequency to which I was listening.

Soon, broadcast stations were operating across the country, and amateurs shared the band with them. The arrangement resulted in total chaos, with the hams taking the larger part of the blame. Tense discussions between Congress and the amateur radio operators resulted. The subject became so heated that amateurs were on the verge of loosing transmitting privileges, entirely. Had it not been for Herbert Hoover, the Director of the Department of Commerce, and pressure from the American Radio Relay League we might have lost our amateur privileges all together.

The Federal Communications Commission came into existence in the early 1930s. With it came rules and regulations. Eventually, the 200-meter band was given over to the AM broadcasters, where they remain to this day.

How QNCW Came To Be

Twenty years have passed since the fatal demise of CW was mention (at least in my little world).  Some said not to worry about CW, that the sooner is was gone the better.  I wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.  One of the underlings sat on the letter for a few weeks and then sent it back.  That was when I decided Lane County Oregon a CW Journal.

Leo, KB7LOC (SK) and I decided to put a few things together in time for the Rickreal, Oregon February Ham Fest and called it QNC, the CW Journal.   It was a lousy failure.

Internet, as we know it today, did not yet exist.  I’d discovered a way to log into the telephone BBSs used by the staff at colleges and universities throughout Oregon.  It would have served me well, but using it for my own personal gain would have caused a firestorm.

Somehow editors and publishers heard of this tiny venture.  Letters arrived from the UK, Germany, Norway, Canada, and Australia assuring me that CW was alive and well.   A ham from the Republic of South Africa sent me a story and photos of his experience in the early 1960s, and asked me to publish it in six parts.  In his letter he explained the reasoning behind his request.

The international governing body that oversees who owns the existing land masses around the world informed the Republic of South Africa that they needed to populate Marion Island for one year if they wanted to keep it as their own.  The ham in question was 19 when he was selected as the radio operator.   During this year he’d hoped to conduct a QSO with his father during that year, but every time he sent out his Marion Island call sign there was a fierce pileup and he was never able to contact his father.

The purpose of this story was to call out those amateur radio operators with whom he’d chatted during that year, but had failed to acknowledge with a QSL card.

Publishing QNC was a hoot, but I was also a member of Oregon Army MARS and held the office of Publicity Coordinator.  That required time.  Then there was the Gulf War.  Those of us in Oregon passed nearly 10,000 messages between troops and their families.  Oh, and I had a job and a wife, too.

It was the forty or fifty dollars I had to pitch in each quarter to cover the postage and printing that took its toll.  After a decade I brought it to a close.

Now, after a decade, I’ve decided to introduce QNC, the CW Journal with its own website living at  As before, I’ll be relying on you, the reader, to help me keep this thing afloat.  Email your radio related stories and photos to:

Many 73 de Scott/n7net

QRP The Hard Way

QRP The Hard Way

by Scott B. Laughlin/n7net/8879

Copyright 2015

I tuned my radio to 14.060 MHZ then held my breath while listening in the headphones. Instead of copying Leo, KB7LOC, I heard what sounded like the War of the Worlds sound stage. But what should I expect on this frequency in the middle of the night? My being here was no chance event, but rather the result of carefully laid plans that might never produce a single positive result.


In April 1999 Barb, KC7BSY and myself, N7NET, traveled from Oregon to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and rented a comfortable spot to pause.

Many folks arriving at such desert locations search for stout walking sticks, large water bottles, and perhaps wide brimmed hats. For us radio people, however, digging-in means configuring VHF and HF radio stations. While Barb doesn’t share my CW enthusiasm, she enjoys two-meter radio and has more than once conducted the local two-meter traffic net when the NCS fails to show.

Our adventure began in earnest after purchasing a used fifth-wheel trailer. It came furnished with pots and pans, dishes, and silverware. Located more than a mile from the nearest power grid meaning we had top generate our own power.

With limited funds, our final choice consisted of a single 75-watt solar panel and two 6-volt, deep-cycle flooded batteries wired to provide a 12-volt power source. Only then was it time to consider a radio.

My old Swan 400, still in Oregon, had served me well during the ’91 Gulf War but it was a power hog. The new radio would have to be solid-state. After a day searching the Internet at the Ajo City Library, I chose an MFJ-9420 transceiver with a CW board. And a G5RV wire antenna from AES in Las Vegas completed the system.

MFJ reviews claimed there is no hotter receiver available. The speech processor on SSB is no slouch either. During the hours of midday sun the output to the coax measured just shy of nine-watts. It was enough signal to fetch sideband QSLs across North America, including Hawaii and Alaska. After sunset the power output reduced to a needles-width greater than five, close enough to qualify for QRP. Then, as though Leo held his ear to ground, Barb copied his message off the National Traffic System.

“It’s from Leo, KB7LOC. He wants to do some CW QRP,” she said.

Leo and I both attended tech school at Keesler AFB, Mississippi during 1956 – 1957. We didn’t meet again until 1991 during the Gulf War while we both served in Oregon Army MARS. The reunion was mind boggling.

QRP? Not a problem, I thought. His QTH, Seal Rock, Oregon, some seventeen hundred miles to the north northwest will be a walk in the park for this little hummer.

So, how are we going to do this QRP?” I asked him over the payphone.

I want to try out my newly acquired, gently used HW-8. I teach guitar and Wednesday evening is my only free time. How’s your schedule?” he asked.

He pauses upon learning the only rig I owned is a 20-meter mono-bander. “Well, it doesn’t sound hopeful, but let’s give it a shot. I’ll call you every Wednesday starting at seven, my time. I’ll continue sending for one minute. If you don’t respond I’ll continue every quarter hour on 14.060 plus or minus QRM. If we haven’t connected by eight I’ll secure my station until the following Wednesday.”

We began.

It was QRP the hard way, his one-watt and my five passing in the night. After several Wednesdays the escapade takes on a flavor of hopelessness, but we labored on.

One night I heard his suffix, a squeaking LOC. His frequency is too high, sounding more like an Irish penny whistle. Catching my breath, I listen with all the strength I can muster. Then KB7LOC finds its way through the dark. I issue him a signal report of 224. He sends me a 335. Then he’s gone, vanishing into the night like a wisp of cigar smoke.

Highlights of our second contact have escaped me. His QSL card is my only proof it ever occurred.

Our third time the band is filled wall-to-wall with atmospheric noises. I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Apocalypses Now. Leo reports my signal as a perfect 599. His is signal, however, is heterodyning with another station that’s dead on. The echoes and ringing are reminiscent of a carrier fresh in from the Polar Region. I send him a 221, and I think that is generous.

Three contacts are our grand total for the winter of 2000. We should have tried harder for more QSOs. But neither of us foresaw the future.

In September 2007 Leo became a Silent Key, taking with him all our chances of another marathon.

His will left the HW-8 to me. It needs work. The band switches probably need cleaning. When I’m finished using it I’ll be casting about for someone with good ears who is interested in doing QRP the hard way.

The Results of Skill and Patience

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