Farewell to Monrovia

I think it's in Living By Fiction that the writer Annie Dillard mentions a novel in which myriad and multiplying strings, tying person to person, signify the relationships among all the people in a small town. It's an apt image, because, once made, links of emotion, perception, juxtaposition, or action—links stretching as much from person to time, place, idea, or object as from person to person—arguably never disappear. Severance breaks ties but does not annul; something that once was will always have been.

The minutes in my life I do radio, I am in Radio Space, and when I am in Radio Space, specific radio frequencies and their relationship to me through time fascinate me as do my relationships, over time in life as a whole, to places I have been and known. I remember 7090 kHz, for instance, as my father's favorite 40-meter ragchew spot, site of the Coffee Net—where's Howard, K5HDP, from Hydro, Oklahoma, with his HBR receiver now?—and the long-time 40-meter channel for QPO, the Police Radio Operator's net, in which my father was a participant. Moving from Novice to General Class in late 1969 meant that I, too, my straining Morse code speed permitting, could hobnob with the regulars on 7090. At night, it also meant dodging the wobbly, buzzing carrier of Radio Tirana.

Every time I tune past 7090 or vault over it by keypad, my associations with that frequency, including how the 90 and its adjacent, unnumbered kilocycle ticks looked on the backlit dial of my late uncle's Collins 32V-3 transmitter, flash through my mind like posters on an el platform. I'm on the A train and 7090 is now a B station; I still haven't decided in my heart if that subband's relatively new-found Digitalness means progress. All I know is that my train doesn't stop there anymore.

But 7090 is only the second most important frequency in my ham radio career. The other, I realized just within the past few days when a string I didn't even know I'd tied fell slack forever, also lies within the limits of the 40-meter band. That frequency is 7193, the highest of a handful of Novice crystals loaned to me, through my dad, by John Rosenbery, W9PBI. Like my dad, Rosie also manned mike and key at Illinois State Police Radio, District 3. Rosie, now deceased, was also a crystal enthusiast—he loved to grind his own, and always took care to make sure that none of his Novices got squashed beneath the BBC or Radio Moscow. I don't think a single 80- or 40-meter rock he loaned me had a frequency ending in 0 or 5; all of them were 1s, 3s, or 7s.

I made my first amateur radio contact on 7193—with John, WB2AUT, in Attica, New York. "FB ON UR STN IN THE ATTIC," I replied terrifiedly, having procrastinated all afternoon after receiving my license until my dad was safely at work on the 4-to-12 shift so I could tough out my first contact alone. Also at about this time, my dad and his fellow ISP hams, sitting before a stack of National NC-400 receivers, were holding their breaths, enthralled: Knowing that nature would soon take its course, he'd made careful note of all of my frequencies. Rosie himself may have kept a list for just that purpose.

I could really step out on 7193, although I usually took a beating lower in the band. Some gravitylike effect seemed to increase Novice population density exponentially toward 7150. I regularly took a beating on 7193, too—not from other hams, but from the Voice of America's powerful Liberia relay, which faded in early in the evenings on 7195 and held sway until it faded back out—or signed off, I can't remember which—after local midnight.

VOA-Monrovia taught me tolerance. I couldn't beat it, so I joined it, turning off my BFO and listening to The Breakfast Show or Willis Conover or the news in S p e c i a l  E n g l i s h. As fashionable—some say necessary—as it is for radio amateurs to treat 7.1- to 7.3-MHz broadcasters as mortal enemies, I didn't then and still don't now. As I see it, life is too short, and tuning dials spin freely. There is always another frequency to try.

My Novice license lasted only from August to December 1969, when I upgraded to General and fired up the 32V-3. U. S. Novicedom's 7150- to 7200-kHz segment had less than three years to run—until the band moved to 7100-7150 with the expansion of the U. S. 40-meter radiotelephone band in 1972. ("There goes the neighborhood," I remember thinking—except that I'd already moved out.)

And VOA-Monrovia itself would finally die. So badly was its plant vandalized during the Liberian civil war that VOA management recently decided to abandon the site and start anew on the island of São Tomé. At the instant I heard that news, I felt something give. VOA-Monrovia, I now know, was at the other end of a string I didn't even know I'd tied. Severance breaks such ties but does not annul them; something that once was, I am renewedly glad to be able to recall, will always have been.

August 9, 1992 Copyright © 1992, 2011 by David Newkirk (DavidNewkirk@gmail.com). All rights reserved.
Postscript: Thanks to correspondence from grandson Eric in 2016, we can now celebrate more fully the life of Howard Cloninger, K5HDP: "Howard, K5HDP, passed in 1994 at age 86, a few years after my grandmother. They had a good life, with seven grandchildren and lots of love. His grandchildren all called him Didaw (dit-daw) because of his obsession with radios." Hail and farewell, K5HDP!