Over the last few months, I have been operating a lot of 2 meter and 70 centimeter while mobile. Really, it's the only time I operate presently. When near Bedford, Indiana, I would toss my callsign out on the W9QYQ 146.730 repeater, hoping for a local "home area" contact. From an old friend, perhaps. I don't spend any real time using the local Bedford repeaters (I use repeaters on the W9WIN system), but I'd still drop my call to see who'd reply.
Perhaps someone whom I had spoken with on the air in my earliest days in the hobby, as a teenage KB9SNL.
Really, most of all, I was hoping to hear a familar, somewhat gravelly voice, replying to my "KB9SNL monitoring".
My old friend, Keith Harris.
Keith passed away November 23, 2014. I never got another chance to hear him calling me back on the old '73 repeater. Now a "Silent Key" as folks who pass as amateur radio hobbyists are known.
The earliest I can recall him was having met him at some "get your ham license" type classes at the Hoosier Hills Ham Club in the spring of 1998. I was 15. He was very friendly and seemed genuinely interested in my friends Brandon, Landon, and I obtaining our amateur radio licenses. When we did travel to Bloomington to take the VEC administered test, he was present. (I cannot recall if he was a VE at that session, but he did hold the necessary credentials. Landon has mentioned to me recently that he thought he was, indeed, one of our VE's.) I remember speaking with him, as he sat in his Suzuki Samuari, my little yellow part of the carbon paper that was to be sent off to the FCC, proving that I had passed the test, in hand, while he explained many of the exciting things we were about to embark on in the hobby. He had the passion that a true ham radio hobbyist has.
He was president, off and on, over many years, of the Hoosier Hills Ham Club, a club which he tried his best to run properly and protect as president over many terms.
He once gave me a document, and we had a discussion, on how to not operate like a "lid" on FM. It was comical, but dead on, to me, and made a lot of sense. It dealt with not operating with many HF tactics on a mode where they are unnecessary, as well as losing some habits that came on the air on FM (especially 2 meters) from those who had operated on CB prior to becoming hams (myself included.) Due to this discussion, I have, since that day in 2004, done my best to NOT do the the following things while operating on FM or a repeater:
- Say "clear" or "clear on your final" after my callsign when leaving the air
- Say "KB9SNL for ID" when doing my 10 minute identification (you really only need to say your call)
- Use Q-codes. AT ALL.
- Say "Seventy-Threes" ("Best Regardeses!?") instead of "Seven-Three" ("Best regards") when signing off
- Say "9" as "Niner" during phonetic spelling of my call
- Using phonetics on a full quieting signal (unless the other guy is plain deaf!)
- Say "Roger", "Rog-O", "I hear that", "on the side", "negative", "making the trip", "affirmative",or anything else that can be heard on Channel 19 from a truck driver.
- Say "over" every time you let go of the PTT on the mic. (This practice belongs on SSB!)
- Say "My handle is" or "my personal is" instead of "my name is"
These may seem like silly things, but he seemed like a very intelligent man who knew what he was talking about...and if I was going to be a serious ham radio operator, I was going to operate as he did, and not sound like I just turned off my CB radio and jumped onto a ham radio. (The closest thing I've found to that document is this: http://www.rmonet.com/ham/lid.html)
Keith attended every Fox Hunt the club had as he could, up until just a couple months before he passed. He loved that part of the hobby, and we have a unique ARDF hunt locally that he had done since it's beginnings in the early 1990's. When his eyesight failed him, his wife, Ann, began to drive the vehicle while he operated equipment, listening I'm sure to the signal strength by ear to determine his bearing, along with her help.
I had managed to make my first hunt in many years last October (2014), hoping to see him there and speak with him. Mike, KF9NP, another long time ham friend, told me then he was not doing well and could not make it.
I will miss him, although it had been too long since I'd had a conversation with him. I never considered myself to have an "elmer" in the hobby (a long time ham who comes alongside a new one to teach), but if I did....it was Keith Harris, N9KH.
A wonderful article was written in the Bedford Times-Mail newspaper in 2005, about him, in which I was able to say some kind words about Keith. It can be viewed here (may need a subscription.)
The best advice he ever gave me?
"You have to pick your battles, and think of how it affects your family first before you pick."
I'm going to go for my top tier Amateur Extra class license, just in tribute to him.
N9KH 73 DE KB9SNL. 73 my friend. You will not be forgotten.