Sunday, February 17, 2013

JW7XM, beyond the 59

Around 25 years ago, I found myself in New Haven CT, home amongst other things to Yale University. I remember at that time seeing a poster somewhere, inviting students to join the Yale University amateur radio club W1YU. The sales pitch was, that it was a unique way to meet people in very different walks of life and it was equally possible to talk to people such as the king of Jordan, or a russian coal miner. I really liked the poster but didn't stay long enough to meet any of the group.

Nowadays, internet is very much present in the developed world and in some repects we have become pretty blasé about the size of the world. Also in ham radio, many of us know that while its true that you CAN talk to such far away and interesting people, if you are lucky enough to talk to for example a foreign King, there won't be much chance to chat and see what the kings life is like. In the case of the russian coal miner, you are more likely to work them, and they'll have time to chat, but there is then the language problem in many cases.

What happens is that often, the contacts we make are with people whose culture is known to us, often because of our modern news media and internet, and some of the¨"magic" that used to exist is a bit lost.

On friday night, I was lucky enough to be able to talk to a rare DX station and have a half hour chat with him. The station in question is Harald, JW7XN, on the island of Svalbard, north of scandinavia. Whilst not the only licenced operator there, he is the only active operator, although it is true that the radio shack at club station JW5E is available for rental and quite often put on the air. The fact is that being the only operator there, every time he calls CQ, he generates huge pileups for people wanting to contact Svalbard as a new country. But, like most hams, he also likes a chat from time to time, and as luck would have it, he stumbled across my CQ call on a relatively empty 20m band and came right back to me. He also speaks perfect english!

We talked about many things, both of his life there and also my life here. One of the fascinating things he told me about was the difference in daylight hours between winter and summer. There, they know exactly what day they will start to get sunlight after a period of 24 hour darkness in winter, they know how many minutes earlier the dawn will come every day (27 minutes every day!!), and exactly which days they will have 24 hour days in the summertime.

Another thing that struck me was when he said that the signals were a bit degraded by the aurora that they were having at the time. I came back and mentioned the alternative name of the "northern lights", to which he commented that they are so far north, that on some days, and it was one of those days, the aurora actually formed SOUTH of him, and so to him, the aurora was actually a southern light!

Harald is a telecoms engineer, and his job for the following day was to travel to a remote repeater site to do some maintenance work. The trip was 100km....on a snowmobile, and in -20ºC temperatures! He said he would probably see some polar bears on the way. Summer can be a bit nicer, he days, with average daytime temperatures between +3 and +8 degrees, with an all time recorded maximum of .... +14ºC!

Harald eventually had to leave to go for dinner, and commented that in the 2 hours he'd been in the club shack, he'd left his car running outside, otherwise it would have been tough to start and freezing cold to drive home. It made me feel lucky to be sitting in +15 degrees.

Thanks Harald, for taking the time to give me an insight into an unknown world, and to bring back a little bit more of the old magic via ham radio.