W1AW/7 in MT

On the air as W1AW/7

The W1AW/7 Montana operation had begun Tuesday evening Montana time and, while I had managed to get on the air and work a few, I hadn’t yet had time to make much of a contribution.  And here it was, already Thursday morning.

Thinking there would likely be an open spot in the schedule this morning I got into the shack about 20 minutes before the “shift change” to see what was going on.  There was no one scheduled to take the 17 Meter CW slot at 1600Z which was in about 20 minutes so I thought I’d give it a listen and maybe sign up.

I didn’t expect much activity on a weekday morning, especially here at the 48th parallel.  It can be pretty quiet up here in northern Montana at that time of day.  I tuned around the band while the amp was warming up and, sure enough, didn’t hear much.  A W4 chatting with a WB6 at about 15 WPM.  Both about S-6.  Hmm..

I noticed in the schedule that no one had signed up for the two hour period just ending here on 17 meters so I thought, hey, why not call CQ and see if I get any response?  If I can scare up some action I’ll just stay on the band.  If not, I’ll find somewhere else to go.

The amp is warmed up, I’ve got a hot caffeinated beverage, the W1AW/7 log is open and so at 1541Z I put out a tentative CQ.


Dead silence.  So, again:


Dead silence…

Well, it’s early on a weekday at latitude 48.  Maybe once more, just to be sure...


And WHAT WAS THAT?!   It sounded like a solid tone at 700 hz.  The S-meter read S9 +30.   I could tell it was CW but there was so much of it I couldn’t make out anything.  Fully awake now and hands trembling a bit I reached over to the key and sent a single “?”.   Di di dah dah di dit.

The roar was overwhelming!  It was a massive, brain crushing, cacophony of CW and it was pointed directly at me!  There had to be a hundred signals, all exactly zero beat on the frequency.  Then, a savvy op at the far end of this unmanageable pile-up moved about 100 Hz off frequency and at 40 WPM dropped in his call.  IK6FWJ — OK I got that, worked him; put him in the log.   SM6CUK, DJ6YX, HA3LI followed closely behind.  Looks like 17 is open to EU!

But, the pile-up was enormous and it was taking forever to pick out a single call.  Then, I could hear stations calling me even while I was transmitting.  I’d lost control of the pile after only 60 seconds!


And, sure enough the pile started moving up the band.  And, I didn’t say UP1 or UP2.  I’d learned that lesson six months ago in the first W1AW/7 operation from Montana.  In that episode everyone dutifully moved up *exactly* 1 KHz.  So, they could hear me but I still had trouble making out individual calls.  But, by being vague: “UP”, people spread out.  The pile-up was more than 5 KHz wide!  Now I could start picking out calls much faster.

The rate meter started to climb - it stayed over 140 QSOs per hour with occasional bursts to 240 Q's per hour.  Europe, North America, South America.  It was a party and everybody came!

ARRL sent me this plaque -- pretty classy operation back there in Newington

I’ve been on the air for 50 years and have had many memorable moments.  There was the “QSL” card from the FCC in 1965 who could apparently hear me on 7446 better than anyone was hearing me on 3723.  There was a post card note of encouragement from Ellen White, W1YYM at HQ, after my first CD Party entry in 1967.  QSOs with W1AW, W6ISQ and many of the other “Headquarters Gang”.   Countless mountain top Field Day operations.  A DXCC certificate hanging on the wall.  Antennas built with optimism and torn down in disgust. Friendships made and re-newed.

The greatest honor — being able to sign the call W1AW. I sent it many times by hand just to *know* what it felt like. To connect with The Old Man himself..

The greatest experience — running that Thursday morning 17 meter pile-up as W1AW/7.  I’ll never forget that.

I put 2,414 QSOs in the W1AW log from Montana. Thanks to every one of you, it truly was my pleasure.

Using the call sign of The Old Man himself -- what a thrill!