Michael Forman

Michael Forman
Author, Singer, Actor, Photographer. This is where I scratch out things between writing books.

Friday, 3 March 2017

CQDX. CQDX. CQDX. Is anybody receiving me?

Hey good buddy what's ya twenty?

A'right, I was more a CB guy than a HAM operator. I was part of those dirty little radio rats who played fox-hunts and spent most of our air time asking the ever-repeating question, 'Who's on go?"

Having said that, I was a little more serious about my 27 Meg unit than others. AM was fine for playing but I liked switching over to side-band and reaching out to someone across the seas. And I did it all from my car!

At the age of seventeen ,I was working for TANDY electronics in Logan City. TANDY (Radio-Shack in the States) sold a number of twenty seven meg units in the form of walkie-talkies, car CB's and all the equipment to support them. The company even moved into UHF radios later.

My first car was a HONDA SCAMP which was about the smallest car you could get at the time. It was grey, second hand and only had a 600cc motor-bike engine to pull it along. Driving through my neighbourhood with all it's Yagi antennas inspired my to try out CB radio.

Fitting a CB under may little car's dash meant that my legs had to go one side when driving! (Yes, it's a small car)  And then I mounted the antenna on its bumper, tuned it to the radio rig and fired it up. Everything was working fine but I wanted more range. Living around the Kingston edge of Woodridge, my AM signal could stretch, on a good night, all the way to Daisy Hill. It's good but not great.

Citizen's Band Radio signals weren't ever meant to cross vast distances. It was heavily regulated, limited to only 5 watts of power so that the signals would remain local. (Governments didn't want secrets crossing their country's borders). A user could modify their sets to boost signal strength but there were two problems with that: 1) It was illegal to do and 2) Blasting out a CQDX call into the ether is fine but you also need to find another user at the other end with a modification of his own to be able to throw back a response.

And then I found a special antenna. It was in the back-room at work. I wanted it for myself. It was in the lay-by area, almost hidden from view. The reason it was high on a shelf and out of the way was because it didn't store well on any lower shelf. People kept bumping into it and it kept falling over. Eventually, it got placed high and pushed all the way back. The owner had made a deposit on this antenna but never returned to collect it. The lay-by was over two years old! It was so old that we no longer sold the product. This antenna was the ONLY antenna left of its type.

What made this antenna so different was it's size - and price.

She (I always give my antennas a gender) was a true quarter-wave antenna. At 2.75 metres, she was a whopper. It's original price was over a hundred dollars. As a defunct product reduced to clear, $13.61.

Yes, I had a quarter wave swaying around in the wind as I drove around the streets of Woodridge. It was the largest antenna ever fitted to a vehicle - my midget vehicle. TANDY stopped selling them because drivers often went under power lines and accidentally zapped themselves with them!

Smaller antennas are not actually smaller, not the wire part of it anyway. It's actually the same length of antenna squished into a shorter space. To reduce the space it'd normally take up, they wrap them into a spiral, usually around a fibreglass stem. The more rotations, the shorter the antenna. The shortest one TANDY sold was around 900mm

But the shortcutting comes at a cost.

Crunching all that wire down reduces signal strength. My new antenna straightened it back out and gave me the power to send and receive AM messages over greater distances. I took it off the bumper and mounted it in the middle of the roof of the car. I figured that centering the antenna on the ground-plane would do better. It did!

After work and during the summer nights of 1986, my little car, that antenna and my side-band unit could be found on the top of Queens Road broadcasting to Guam or the United States. I had Logan City's only mobile radio-shack!

Anyway, it looked a bit silly. A small grey car with a HUGE white antenna on it's roof made it appear as though it was dodgem car! The laughs came thick and fast. I didn't care too much. I had a hobby. But there were other issues to deal with.

Woodridge Bridges: Old and New
As mentioned, tall antennas can be a health hazard. I was on a constant look out for low objects. One object I negotiated almost every day was the Woodridge Rail Bridge that crossed Wembley Road. The original bridge was made of logs and built lower than the concrete one that replaced it and services the trains today. 

At low speeds, the antenna would smash into it. I had two options, come to a stop, drive very slow and let the bridge bend it back one log at a time. The other choice was to go really fast and let the wind take it back before reaching the bridge. I was seventeen and male. What did you think I did?

Fox hunts were centred on the top of Queens Road. Queens Road was the highest point. We'd all meet there and someone would be the 'fox', take their car and go hide in the suburbs. Using CB signal strength alone, the 'hunters' would go find the 'fox.'

In my novel, I used one of my fox-hiding places as the scene of a murder. It's down off Armstrong Road, right by the Logan River. Back in the day, it was a dirt road that ended at the end of the football field. The TAFE and Hospital didn't exist. Only the Kingston Pigeon Club and the local footy club used the area. My hiding spot was down their joint track, all the way to the bridge.

Good days.