Sporadic Cure For The Sporadic Blues

“There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” That’s the way the old song goes.

Yesterday was one of the prettiest, sparkling days in a long time here in north central Kentucky. We had brilliantly blue, cloudless skies and if there was any coal-fired power plant smoke in the air it was at least invisible and odorless.

And yet I had the blues. Not crippling depression. Just a vague sadness.

My business is slow in the summer and since I work from home I can usually put my profession on temporary hold at my discretion. So, I decided to blow the dust off my ham radio and fiddle with the dial for a bit.

First, a word from science: A large part, but not all, amateur radio works by the principle of sending a signal into space and hoping it hits one of the layers of ionized particles in the planet’s upper atmosphere. It bounces back to Earth where someone, maybe, is listening. The reflective layers above us have letter designations D, E, F1, F2. There’s more here if interested. Hams have various methods of knowing when certain layers are active.

Yesterday was one of those summer days when the “E” layer of the atmosphere was bouncing signals. The phenomenon of these floating clouds of particles are so unpredictable and elusive that they are called “Sporadic E.” When the E layer is doing its thing radio operators find they can use certain frequencies, such as the 10 meter band, to bounce signals once, twice, three times or more – you never know if you’ll be heard in California or Japan.

So, yesterday afternoon I tuned to 10 meters and heard a fellow calling “CQ” – meaning he was asking if anyone could hear his transmission. I responded. We were soon chatting like two neighbors over the back fence.

He was a year younger than I and sounded cheerful and young for his age. I am often told I sound young. He said he liked my call sign which incorporates my initials with my state – AB4KY. He was in Loveland, Colorado. He told me about the town of Loveland, the origin of the name, and how people like to get their Valentines postmarked from there. I told him we have a place near here where people get their Christmas cards postmarked Santa Claus, Indiana. Which gave me an opening to joke about the city of French Lick “It sounds nicer than it is!” He laughed.

I talked about my clients and friends from Colorado. He told me he had grown up in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. I talked about my wife’s commute to work each day and my dog’s insistence on attention since her fuzzy head was in my lap looking up with loving eyes and maybe wondering “Who ‘ya talking too?”

He responded to my dog talk with a wistful “Oh yeah, dogs.” There was a long pause but he was still transmitting. “Dogs. Oh man. It’s been such a long time but I remember the last one so well. They are wonderful. Such good company.” Another long pause. “But it just wouldn’t work out here especially since I’m out here alone now . . .”

With that, the “E” layer cloud weakened and my new friend’s transmission faded into nothing, like a distant AM radio rock-and-roll station on a summer night. That’s the nature of Sporadic E and hams know voices can suddenly just vanish like ghosts without a chance to ask “When did you leave Hopkinsville?” or even say “So long.”

But that’s OK. I was suddenly feeling better. My sense of deep gratitude for all the good things life offers had returned. I was ready to get back to work, take my dog for a walk and prepare dinner for my wife.

I’ve been asked about my little hobby of ham radio “What do you have to talk about?” I usually shrug and say “Oh, we talk about our radios, antennas – stuff like that.”

Now I can say “We cure the summertime blues.”

— Allen – – Call sign: AB4KY