N5LF's Elmer Hall of Fame

1. Joseph Wormser W5GKX My most important Elmer ever!
2. Bob Monaghan W5VC Helped me get the Novice ticket.
3. Traffic Handlers 7290 Traffic Net
Texas CW Net
Try it, you'll like it! Some of the 
best operators and Elmers.
4. Jim Greenwood AB5EK The Volunteer Examiner
and on-the-air CW coach.
5. Jeff Schmidt N5MNW The enthusiastic teacher.

Elmer #1: My Dad - Joseph Wormser (W5GKX)

Dad was a real CW operator! But even though he easily cruised along at 35 to 40+ wpm, he would ALWAYS slow down for newcomers. By the time I was in school, he was no longer active on the air, but we always had a shortwave radio in the house. At 11 years of age, I was an avid shortwave listener, tuning into BBC London, Deutsche Welle, Radio Canada, Voice of America, and Radio Netherlands.

One day he brought home a Hallicrafters S40A receiver. It had a BFO, so I could listen to CW stations beeping to each other, and could finally hear intelligible voices from the hams using SSB (before that they all sounded like Donald Duck). I had discovered the ham bands! I knew Dad had been a ham once, but was astounded when he translated the CW signals for me. I kept listening to my shortwave broadcasts on the old Hallicrafters -- it sounded a lot better than our little transistorized portable. And occasionally I would listen to the hams on 20 meters using SSB. But I wished that I could make out the CW signals like Dad could.

So, I asked him about getting my Novice ticket. He bought me an ARRL license manual and "Operating an Amateur Radio Station" (much thinner than the more recent editions), and another book on learning the Morse Code. But at 12 or 13, I was too impatient to stick with it. Besides, I had other distractions: backyard astronomy, school, girls. So I was satisfied to be a SWL for a few more years and ham radio stayed at the back of my mind as "something to get back to eventually."

Six years later, when I finally got my ticket, Dad helped me get on the air with a Heathkit DX-60B transmitter and the matching HR-10 receiver. He showed how to tune an antenna, how to measure SWR and use a grid dip meter, the proper straight key "fist," and how to use a bug without a swing (a bad habit -- sometimes cultivated by the old timers). He instilled in me that a good, clear fist was more important than fast sending, and to always ask "QRL?" or "didit dit" before transmitting.

Soon after I got my Novice ticket, Dad went downtown to the FCC office and took ALL the exam elements (CW and written) in a single day! And in 1976, he was back on the air for the first time in 16 years -- first as WB5RGY, then with his original callsign, W5GKX. My mother joked that we could have a tower, but only if she could use it as a rose trellis. We settled on a trap vertical - and I still use one today.

He hated certificates and contests, but loved chasing rare DX and CW ragchewing. So, together we would stay up until the wee hours taking turns at the rig, working the South Pacific, Antarctica, or Africa.

And now he is gone.

But I am with him whenever I am on the air working DX or on CW. And I still send traffic with his old Vibroplex bug -- the one he taught me to use so many years ago.

The attraction to amateur radio, and especially CW operating, is different for each person. For me, in part, it is a communion with my father. And now, as I listen to the faint warble of a DX operator answering my callsign from half way around the world --I can still hear Dad standing behind me, snapping his fingers and exclaiming, "Got him, Son!"

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Elmer #2: Bob Monaghan (W5VC)

In the summer of 1975, I was an 18-year-old college student on my first archeological dig in New Mexico. The dig was part of a field school run by Southern Methodist University, where I was an Anthropology major. Bob was one of the graduate teaching assistants. I found out he was a ham and told him of my interest in shortwave listening and ham radio. When I had finished, he offered to take me through the process to get my radio license.

At that time, Novice exams were given by mail by any ham who had a General class license or higher. So, Bob gave me the Novice CW exam that July and he sent the Form 610 to the FCC. Then we waited for them to return the written test to Bob. We had to wait until September before the FCC got the written test back to him. I passed the written test and we mailed it back. Again I waited... and waited... and waited... and -- then in November I got my new ticket -- WN5QLF! I was floating on a cloud.

Even before I had my ticket, I had my station equipment and antenna. After my license arrived, it was a few days before I actually worked anyone. My slow, tentative "CQ" may have been a factor at first, but I soon got the hang of it. By doing on-the-air QSOs, and operating about 30 minutes to one hour at a time, my CW speed shot up very rapidly. I found out that I learn better using live QSOs than by just listening to those boring old code tapes.

One Saturday, Bob and I made plans to go to the Dallas Sidewalk Sale - a monthly ham radio swap meet. That morning, he called me on the phone and said, "I'll be there in a few minutes." And as soon as I hung up, the doorbell rang -- he'd called me on the autopatch! Those were the days before cellular phones, so I was doubly surprised. Although I am not primarily a 2 meter FM operator, I'll never forget that introduction to the VHF bands.

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Elmers #3: Traffic Handlers - Yes! All of them!

The first time I tried to send traffic it was by free-lancing -- which could also be known as "flying without a (traffic) net." I occasionally found willing message takers, but I had little concept of the formal NTS message format and often the receiving station didn't either. Everyone was very polite and helpful, but some messages went undelivered, and those that had to be relayed never seemed to get through.

Then one summer afternoon in 1977, I was tuning around on 40 meters and I found the 7290 Traffic Net. In just 1 hour of listening, I had learned a lot about formal traffic and this was a whole new world to me. After a few more times listening, I checked in and sent some traffic. I was very nervous and a little intimidated. These guys seemed to be experienced, and they were old folks (really old, to me anyway), while I was just a 20-year-old kid. But they helped me learn the right procedures for sending traffic, and it got delivered! Over the next few months, I discovered that the traffic handlers were among the most patient and kind Elmers in the Amateur Service.

Twenty years later, I decided to try my hand at the CW nets. I began listening to sessions of the Texas CW Net on 3.643 MHz, and eventually checked in. My very first time on the net, the NCS (net control station) sent, "N5LF QTC AUSTIN 1 QRV?" (meaning, "N5LF, I have traffic for you -- 1 message for Austin. Are you ready"). My only thought was "Oh-oh!", but I replied that I was new and very very green. NCS replied, "THERE IS JUST ONE WAY TO CHANGE COLORS HI HI" And with that, I took my first CW message! When he finished sending it, he asked "ANY FILLS?" and I asked him to send the whole message again - and he did! He even thanked me when we were done, saying, "TU ALAN ES COME BK OFTEN 73".

I have found that CW operators want the message to get through. So, they will slow down for you, help you out, and do whatever else it takes to make sure that you succeed! Try CW nets - just be there on time, because unlike voice nets, they don't hang around for 30 minutes when all the traffic gets handled. They're off to the next relay or net. A CW traffic net is a lean, mean sendin' machine!

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Elmer #4: VE's - Jim Greenwood (AB5EK)

Jim is the one of the local coordinators of license exams, both amateur and commercial, in Austin, TX. I have served as one of his Volunteer Examiners and observed him for over two years, and hereby nominate him to my Elmer Hall of Fame. He schedules the exam sessions in the mid-afternoon on weekends to allow for folks who drive in from outlying areas -- some of whom may even have to spend the night in Austin. He makes arrangements to get the exams and answer sheets printed in Braille. He really gives a lot of thought to accomodating applicants with physical impairments.

And between exam sessions, he pairs up, one-on-one, with newcomers to practice Morse Code and get them over their newly-on-the-air heebee-geebees. Almost any night on 10 meters (even when the skip is in!), you'll find Jim on the bands practicing CW with someone -- often with his friend James (N5OUJ) who the local hams know as "Old Uncle James" after his callsign. They will send back and forth to each other and with anyone else who pops in for a short chat. Jim has a penchant for corny jokes, and if you think a bad pun can't get any worse, try listening to it at 5 wpm!

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Elmer #5: Teachers - Jeff Schmidt (N5MNW)

Jeff has taught Novice, Technician, and General license classes in Austin, TX, for several years. He devotes almost every Saturday morning to teaching prospective hams in the Austin area. He also deserves recognition for his dedication and teaching abilities. Many of his students have remarked that he is a natural Elmer! As a professional electronics technican, his knowledge of circuits is thorough -- and he communicates this well to his students. Always repairing a piece of gear on his workbench at home, he is the fellow that you see at the hamfests moving slowly up and down the rows of old boatanchors and calling, "Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!"

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