The Old Man: Rotten Weather Relays


In the early years of the ARRL, co-founder and first President Hiram Percy Maxim occasionally penned editorials in QST magazine using the pseudonym "The Old Man." These "rants" became legendary. As part of the ARRL Centennial celebration, we have been re-publishing a number of The Old Man's observations.

Rotten Weather Relays (originally published in the April 1920 QST)

By The Old Man

It certainly is awful what a man will do when he is idle. This run of bad radio weather lately put us out of business here, and left us nothing to work but nearby locals. This got sort of tame after a week of it and the result was trouble. The trouble never would have happened if the good old long-distance stuff had been possible. You never take to trouble when you can hear 9ZN booming along at his thirty a minute, which he thinks easy to copy, or 8ER at her ladylike fifteen which you cannot miss, or 8AA, or 8NF, or 3BZ or 5AF or 2ZS or 1AW away down East. Everybody attends to his knitting and keeps out of mischief. You always feel any one of them will give you an answer if you call him in a firm voice, and the chances of enjoying a long distance chat keep your interest up and your mind on your number.

But when this is all gone, thanks to the sun spot business and the seven planets all lined up on the same side of the Sun, and there is nil but the locals to hear, you just can’t help straying off the straight and narrow. A man will stoop to things he would be ashamed of in better days. One was pulled off the other night here that would have made a horse laugh, and when it all comes out in QST there will be some heavy thinking on the part of some young gentlemen not a million miles from Michigan Avenue. I don’t suppose it will do any harm, however, so here she goes...

I don’t just remember how it began. Anyway, one notorious character known to certain old timers as “Radical” exhibited his usual finesse and supplied an evenings’ entertainment for those able to take in the show. We will mention no names, but a chap we will call “Mr North” who lives in a town some fifteen miles to the North asked me to ask a chap we will call “Mr South,” who lives about the same distance South, something about a Burgess Battery. Misters South and North were newly licensed since the war, neither could work the other. I was glad to assist, but the potential for mayhem was too hard to resist.

I asked the questions and handed them back and forth until somebody got mixed and both parties started sending to me at the same time. I could not get either one of them to save my life. It turned out that Radical had been listening to the affair, because at the finish of the mix-up he injected a hoarse “HI,” which I recognized. This started me. Knowing his spark and the fact that he could be dragged into anything, I called him and passed some bunk about being called to the telephone. I asked if he would kindly repeat to Mr South what Mr North had said about the fact that 8QXJ was waiting to know what to do about the cramjiky coupling for the Burgess battery. Don’t ask me what a cramjiky coupling is, because I don’t know. It was the first thing that came into my head and I thought it would serve as well to start something as anything.

Radical paused quite a long time while he turned it over in his mind. He sized the matter up adequately, however, for he soon shot me back a quick and solitary “R" and immediately called young Mr South and gracefully imparted the information that I had been compelled to QRT, but that he would be happy to undertake the repeating of the message from Mr North. He took mine and added his to it, and by the time young Mr South had it written down it must have looked something like this: “North wants know what you said abt new cramjiky coupling audiospit hook up?” (Some cute little question to answer, eh, what?)

Silence fell and darned near broke a hole in the floor. Not a buzz disturbed the serenity of the circumambient ether. Probably all the buzzing was confined to young Mr South’s noodle.

After what seemed half an hour, Mr South came back. Lame and halting, but yet he came back. He gave a deadly long call and then stopped, and you could guess he was giving his paper the final once-over to see if he couldn’t possibly dig some kind of sense out of what he had taken down. It was hopeless. “Please repeat. Did not get you. Sorry OM. Please repeat once more?”

Radical went back gently and slowly with about a dozen Rs and handed him this: “OK. Glad to help. Understood. North asks what you said about 7BZV using cramjiky hook up so his audiospit won’t fall off. Get it now OM?” Sort of suggests a pair of pants, the way he puts it.

More silence. Evidently there was a badly overstrained intellect put to torture while the poor man tried his best to twist this hog-wash into something human. At this critical juncture young Mr North woke up and exploded. He had been quiet, but had copied Radical and had been studying things. Being of a positive temperament probably, he made up his mind that somebody was off the track. He certainly had never asked any such darned question remotely like what he had been copying from Radical.

He called feverishly, for him, and was just starting to tell his troubles when young Mr South began. You couldn’t spit between the signals, they were so thick. Both went on at about the same wavelength, if you would call a signal as broad as the Atlantic Ocean a wave, and both probably had Murdock rotary gaps by the sound, and both gaps were getting heated up. The result was a grand bedlam conveying exactly no meaning at all. When the storm passed I wondered what old Radical would say.

It never ruffled a hair of his serene personality. Without a sign of doubt he went back with a bank of untruthful Rs and said: “R R R R R R R R. Yes. Yes. OK. OK. Shall I tell him that OM?”

Radical did not see fit to include call signs, so each probably took the answer unto himself and the confusion became worse, which was what the rascally Radical was aiming for.

It was time to light up the old pipe now and see the finish. After an extra long pause, darned if they both did not burst in again at exactly at the same time. Rattlety-bang they both went at it and I could imagine Radical having the time of his life. It took them both about the same length of time to unload and then it was up to Radical again. Without a pause, and I know to a certainly he could not have read one single letter of what was sent by either party, he went back: “R R R R R R R R. OK. OK. OK. What’s the trouble? You say they won’t stay hooked up OM?” No calls used again, so that each thought the answer was for himself.

I don’t know what happened to the North chap. Probably he was struck dumb or was making up his mind whether the subject under discussion had been changed to pants or amplifiers or what. He kept out. Only South came back. I copied this from him: “R R R R R. Sorry don’t get you OM. Trouble with my receiver. Don’t understand what it is he wants to know. Will you please repeat once again OM?” (Talk about cruelty to animals!)

Radical answered: R R R R R R R. OK. OK. OK. Here QTA OM QRX. HI. VVVVV. Here QTA. Was it hooked loose or tight? Cramaudiojikyspit works best loose. Very QSA last night. How now OM QRU? K”

I guess the "HI" was for me. The rest was for nothing as far as poor young Mr South could make of it. It was sent close up to eighteen words per minute with a rotten swing, and all the Q Signals simply made it a hash.

There was a long, awkward pause and finally the poor victim limped back with something to the effect that he would have to quit and was much obliged for the trouble and would CUL OM. Radical gave him an OK OK OK, said he was happy to have been able to straighten the matter out, told him GN and 73 and signed off as only Lord Chesterfield would have, had he been a radio bug.

Radical then called me at twenty-five WPM, leaving out the numeral of my call, and asked if there was anything more going on to while away the time while we waited for the weather to clear. I was half afraid to answer the rascal, but did and told him QRU NIL NM. I figured that was enough for one night. I trust Radical said double prayers when he turned in.

Can you beat it?