The Amateur Amateur: Q-S-Who?

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
July 27, 2004

My first DX QSL cards arrive! Some confirmed contacts made years before I even had an Amateur Radio license.

As soon as I retrieved the mail that day I sensed that it contained something special. I could feel the vibrations. I fanned the mail and quickly spotted the item that was sending out such strong signals. Even though I could just see the corner of the envelope, I knew right away what it was. It was my first package from the Zero QSL Bureau.

Envelope with QSL cards inside

The unopened envelope: Savoring the anticipation.

I was excited! Some months earlier the QSL bureau had notified me by email that it had something for me and had given me instructions for sending envelopes and postage. I knew that the bureau must have received a card from Joan, EA3BOX--my very first overseas contact. And now, at last, his card had reached me.

Before even opening the envelope, though, I laid it reverently on the table and took a picture of it. I wanted to be able to relive this delicious moment of anticipation over and over. After immortalizing the moment I picked up the envelope and eagerly opened it. Yes! My long-awaited DX QSL card had arrived!

As had another. And another. And another.

Hmmm. Something wasn't quite right. I had only made one DX contact. I was expecting Joan's card from Spain, but the envelope also contained cards from Russia, Guatemala and Malaysia. What the heck?

Okay, I get a little confused at times, but I'm sure I would have remembered making those contacts.

QSL cards for non-existent contacts

Ummm, I was only expecting one DX card.

Even stranger, the card from Malaysia was dated June 2001. I had just barely been experimenting with HF back then. But, just to make absolutely sure I checked my log book. Nope, no contacts with Malaysia during June 2001. The remaining two cards cited contacts made in 1988 and 1991. I didn't even have an Amateur Radio license back then!

Well, the Malaysia card remained a mystery, but I used my deductive reasoning and came up with a possible explanation for why I had received QSL cards for DX QSOs I'd never made. As it happens, I am not the first person to hold the call sign KB0H. So, I figured that the two cards must have been intended for the previous holder. A little digging turned up the fact that KB0H the First had been was Charles C. Carney, now K6RU.

I contacted Charles and let him know that I had some QSL cards that I was pretty sure belonged to him. Charles wrote back and thanked me, but he said that according to his logs, he hadn't made those contacts either.

Things got even weirder. According to my logs, I've only made two contacts that warranted QSL cards via the bureau. My wife Nancy has never made any. But between us we've received eight QSL cards. Two contacts; eight cards.

One of the nonesuch contact cards was easy to explain, however. In an earlier column, I'd lamented that I had never received a QSL card, and sympathetic reader Don Dunn, AB2NM, took pity on me and sent me one. (Thanks, Don!) That still left five unexplained QSL cards--some arriving via the QSL bureau and some by direct mail. I could understand one or two, but five? It was perplexing.

Gary on roof

Is this seemingly innocent Amateur Radio club a front for secret time-travel experiments?

Surely a 71 percent error rate wasn't the norm for QSL cards. It couldn't be, could it? It made no sense. Trying to unravel the mystery, I decided to take the advice of the legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. He said that once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer.

Okay, it's improbable, but was it possible that I really had made those contacts? Had I been an Amateur Radio operator for much longer than I believed? Had someone altered logs, changed records, and even tampered with my memory? Why? Who would go to such lengths? Who had the resources to do such a thing? One answer came to mind. Was it possible that I was a retired agent of the Men in Black? (And had Nancy once been a Woman in Black?)

And what are the chances of alien abduction?

I shuddered and put such thoughts out of my mind. I didn't want to be neuralized again.

But there was another possibility: Time travel. Again, it was improbable, but perhaps just barely possible. Will I discover a time machine, travel back to 1988, 1991 and 2001 to make those contacts? I might, if DX pileups get worse in the future.

Initially I thought that this was even more improbable than my first idea. But then it occurred to me that I work at one of the foremost research universities in the world. The university has an Amateur Radio club (call sign W0QEV). The Amateur Radio equipment is housed in the university's physics department. I've been meaning to go there to check out the station. Obviously I will. And I will discover that the physics department has built a time machine. You are following my logic, aren't you?

And you thought those Back to the Future movies were just silly science fiction.

More mundane--and perhaps more sinister--is the thought that someone had been--and may still be--pirating KB0H. It happens. But if someone were going to bootleg, why not use a more exotic call sign?

One last notion occurred to me. Perhaps the Amateur Radio operators who'd sent the cards had made mistakes in copying the call sign or in logging some contacts. But then, that is an impossibility, isn't it?

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2004 American Radio Relay League


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