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Greg Davis - N3ZL - NAQCC # 1697

pix_n3zl_1 (51K) Greg receiving the ARRL Hiram Percy Maxim Award at the Shelby, NC hamfest 9/1/07

For as long as I can remember, my father has been a ham. When I was 8 or 9 years old I watched him talk to people all over the world with that radio in his office. He saw my interest in the hobby and got me a book to study so I could get my Technician License. I skimmed through it several times, but I was just not quite ready to enter the hobby on my own.

Several years went by and I occasionally noticed that book sitting on my shelf, but did not think too much of it. One day, my dad told me the local radio club was going to help out with the communications at a local airshow and wondered whether I wanted to go see the show and radios - it sounded like fun to me, so we went. That weekend near the end of May 2004 was all it took to really get me interested in the hobby of ham radio. I started reading that old book and 1 month later at Field Day, I passed the Tech. exam.

At first, I was so nervous to get on the air I did not even want to get on our club's 2M repeater to talk to Dad, who is a pharmaceutical sales rep. and spends his days in his car. As time went on, I got a little more comfortable getting on the air, but I soon realized that chatting across town would not keep me interested for very long. A few months after I first got on the air the local club had a "Digital Day" get together to demonstrate APRS and PSK31. Boy, PSK31 sure looked impressive!

That was the bug that bit me to get on HF, so I soon began studying CW. In the mean time, we procured a sound card interface and I began to operate the digital modes under Dad's watchful eye as control operator. The code practice slowly started working.. sort of. At first, I could not tell the difference between dits and dahs and after listening to ARRL code practice, my paper would be full of O's. After a few more weeks of off and on studying M's and S's starting appearing as well, along with a few other characters. During this time, I was still having a blast operating the digital modes. After a couple months, my copy had improved slightly and I decided to try the 5 WPM test at the end of the following February.

The first time around was not very pretty. I was so nervous my CW copying skills forgot to show up, but I decided to try it a second time and this time, I succeeded! Phew! I am glad that is behind me, I thought. I felt I could barely pass the 5 WPM test, so no way would I ever be able to actually use CW on the air! Good thing G3PLX invented PSK31. A week or two after passing the code test, we got the General study book in the mail for me to start reading and the Extra one for dad. I picked up most of the theory quickly, but there would not be another nearby testing session until Field Day. I took many, many practice tests on QRZ and by the time FD rolled around, I was quite confident that I could pass the real thing.

This time at FD, I had fun helping operate the digital station rather than just going to take the test. When the time finally came to take the test, as usual, I was nervous again. There were some questions I remembered reading about, but I could not remember one or two of the rules for sure.. but I managed to pass it.

The days of waiting until Dad came home to get on HF were over! I was on the air that night, signing /AG. The digital modes kept me happy for some time - I made many enjoyable QSOs, but after a while, it just did not seem quite as fun any more. Sometimes while operating the digital modes, I would hear CW ops in the mix, but I had a hard enough time passing the 5 WPM code test, so I could not begin to pick up CW, could I? Dad's preferred mode is SSB, but I knew for sure that was not for me! Well, maybe I could give CW another try.

There was a ham across town who mentioned practicing CW on 10 meters some nights, so Dad and I began practicing with him over the summer. Dad would copy a few letters and I would copy my O's and we would put them together and maybe get a few words here and there. Sending was not terribly difficult because we made a homebrew paddle and had a copy of all the CW characters in case we forgot a letter once in a while. We did this for several weeks and we did not speed up much, but we did eventually started getting halfway decent copy. However, just as we were getting to this point, school started and Dad had more work to do, so our little group fell apart and we did not get on CW any more. I got back on the digital modes, having yet to make a "real" QSO with anyone other than our friend across town. I started experimenting with other digital modes such has MFSK and Olivia, but the problem was, I could never find anyone else on those modes, so I always ended up going back to PSK or RTTY. This is what I operated again for quite a while, but I often thought back to those summer nights on 10M.

Eventually, in September 2006, the urge to try something different finally overcame me and I decided to try CW again, but this time "for real." I asked Dad if he could help me copy if I called CQ and had someone respond. That Friday night, September 30th, I got on 40 meters and started calling CQ. No replies on my first few calls but then.. "N3ZL DE K??NN KE8NN K" Wow! Someone was calling me! What now? "KE8NN DE N3ZL..." And with that, I had my first CW QSO ever with Paul in Cleveland, OH. I did not copy a thing besides his call, name, and QTH except that his rig was some kind of TenTec, but I was extremely excited! I immediately filled out a QSL to confirm my first "real" CW QSO and was very happy to receive my reply in the mail a few days later. I made a couple more QSOs, but each one was a big event in itself and I continued to operate digital for the next couple months, along with the occasional CW QSO. Pretty soon, I left Dad in the dust.

As time went on, I started doing a little more CW and a little less digital, and I suddenly realized I had been operating ONLY CW for over 6 months. Now, I have been operating CW only for nearly a full year. One year might not sound like a very long time, especially compared to the many hams who have been licensed for several of my lifetimes, but CW is what I feel is right for me, I love it - much more than I ever did digital and infinitely more than SSB. At first, I tried listening to code practice files to try to help push my speed up a little, but found no fun in that. A couple years ago I felt I could barely even pass the 5 WPM test; however, once I got on the air, my speed shot up to 30 WPM in no time and I enjoyed it (nearly) the whole time rather than trying to "cram" by listening to code practice. Sure, learning CW is not always easy and sometimes you have to push yourself along when you feel like stopping, but if you keep going, your efforts will soon be rewarded. As I am sure the case is for many people, one of the biggest steps for me was transitioning from writing EVERYTHING down to copying in my head and just writing down the juicy details. By doing that, I found I was able to relax more and thus, enjoy operating CW more. It took lots of practice and work THEN, but NOW I can get home from school and enjoy a quick chat with Dieter in Germany, have a nice ragchew with Bob in PA, and later in the evening participate in a QRP sprint (hint-hint) with ease. Besides just being so much fun, there are all the other pros that everyone always mentions: 5W CW = 100W SSB, the ability to use much simpler equipment/antennas, etc. One of my favorite things about it is that it is so versatile: if you get bored ragchewing, try running 'em in a contest at 120+ QSOs/hour, or working rare DX, and if all that gets boring, do a public service and handle traffic in to and out of your section CW traffic net - I have done all of these activities and enjoy them all so much, it is extremely hard for me to pick a favorite.

I enjoy this great hobby each and every day, which is important for working on and/or keeping up CW skills, but unfortunately, after a few thousand CW QSOs I have only ever bumped into one other teen on the air. It saddens me that this is the case, because without young people getting in to the hobby, who will be on the air X years from now? If someone is out there reading this and thinking about getting in to ham radio, DO! You will get many years of enjoyment out of it and I strongly encourage you to try CW, even if you are skeptical at first, chances are good you will soon be addicted to it, as I am.

CU on the air soon! 73 de Greg N3ZL

Addendum from John, K3WWP - I asked Greg to tell us all the things that came about because of the HPM award and he sent this additional paragraph:

First, I was featured in a (front page!) story in our local newspaper about ham radio and me winning the award. Next, I was interviewed by Boys' Life magazine along with the winner of the Young Ham of the Year award Grant Morine, W4GHM. Then I was invited to a SC State Board of Education meeting where I was recognized and met the state superintendent. A couple of weeks after this, I received a personal letter from the Governor congratulating me on everything I had done. Lastly, I have been invited to the 2008 Dayton Hamvention to speak at the Youth Forum.

Greg is also pictured on p. 46 of the October issue of QST magazine.