The Band's Always Open to Texas

by Rick Ferranti, WA6NCX

© 2001

When I was a kid in the 1960's, I used to sell mail-order Christmas cards to my gullible relatives around the SF Bay Area, earning me geeky goodies like an electronic build-it set or a telescope. One year I sold enough cards to get a pair of CB walkie talkies, those early 11-meter radios with the shiny diecast front grill featuring a 4-transistor superregenerative transceiver, and what seemed like a 25-foot long telescoping antenna.

Though lacking in the selectivity department, these little radios did a fine job of hearing most of the nascent Citizen's Band all at once. In the wintertime, it was a fascinating pastime to eavesdrop on the 11-meter denizens "working skip," an activity illegal even back then. I'd often wonder why everyone sounded like they came from Texas, and in fact, they often gave their location as Houston or Dallas or Austin. Indeed, the CB band was my introduction to the rhythms HF skywave propagation, as the skip mysteriously disappeared in the evenings and during most of the summer. But I learned one thing: if 11 meters is open, it's always open to Texas.

Not too many years later I got interested in shortwave radio and got my amateur radio license. Because I was a poor high-school and later college student, my HF operating was confined mostly to working 10 and 15 meter stations, where my lousy antennas and cast-off CW transmitter had half a chance of getting out of the backyard. Strangely enough, when the sunspot gods smiled on WA6NCX's wayward signals, there were always a bunch of Texans on the bands ready for a gentlemanly QSO. And not too many years after that, when I moved to the Boston area and tried for two decades to talk to friends in Californa with my equally lousy antennas, it always seemed that if I could hear a W6 at S-2, I was sure to hear plenty of W5's at 20 over S-9.

An engineering education and access to the internet led to many sessions at the computer, modeling HF propagation using programs like MiniProp and VOACAP. Inevitably, if there's a band opening anywhere west of Boston or east of California, the computer model says it's got a nice big lobe down to Texas.

I returned to the SF Bay Area two years ago, and still don't have any HF antennas, lousy or not. Nonetheless, when the band's hopping, I listen in to the 10 meter AM hams up near 29.0 MHz using a variety of old analog shortwave portables with their whip antennas. Until recently becoming a silent key, W5PYT's station dominated the band, operated by Ozona Bob (hint: Ozona is a town in Texas). And at the bedside is a wonderful Sanyo RP-8880 analog shortwave portable, mostly used for those pre-dawn 75-meter DX listening sessions when I can't seem to get back to sleep. Inevitably, there among the occasional W0 or W9 drifting in near 3880 KHz, is a whole dawn chorus of W5's, fading in and out with their vintage AM transmissions.

I don't know whatever happened to the chromed supergenny walkie-talkies that I had so laboriously earned in the 1960's and listened to with such fascination. Today there are a few other vintage CB HT's in my collection, dating from that same era. If I pull up their long shiny antennas and fire up an old Philmore or Johnson or Midland or Lafayette walkie any sunspot-laden day, I'll surely hear, in amongst all the heterodynes and cacaphony, a big, big signal quieting the band. Funny thing; it'll have that same twangy drawl blaring the decades-familiar phrase, "Breaker, breaker, y'all got a copy on this lil' ol' Sodbuster, come on!" Yep, the band's still always open to Texas.

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12 June 2001