May the Force be with you …

KC3PO ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTAs a rule, I normally won’t create a QSL featuring a well-know copyrighted character — but there’s an exception to every rule.

Over the years I’ve drawn dozens of licensed characters, and I’ve found that most of their owners are protective, often litigious, over their property. Why court trouble by drawing one without their permission? I say as much on my website.

That’s why Gary, KC3PO, practically apologized to me when he wrote to request a custom QSL. “After reading your FAQ, I fear my dreams may be crushed,” he wrote.

What did he want on his QSL? Well, look at his call sign.

I deliberated over this one. I even asked professional colleagues for their take on it. Several suggested I draw a parody of Star Wars, something that called it to mind without actually duplicating it.

Problem was, Star Wars was tough to parody without coming so close to the source material that I may as well just draw it outright. I found it impossible to draw something that looks enough like C-3PO to be identifiable without actually being C-3PO.

But then I thought about what artists typically do at comics conventions: They draw favorite characters for fans. Representatives of the rights holders are usually in the same building, and they don’t care — as long as it’s for a fan. And who could be more of a Star Wars fan than somebody who manages to work “C3PO” into his call sign?

Once I relaxed about it, this one was fun. Gary likes to operate from parks, so he wanted C-3PO operating from a picnic table. I drew a few walkers in the distance. The font was obvious. And after tweaking the background colors into a warm-to-cool gradation, Gary was happy with the results. May the Force be with you, indeed.

 

Little Ralphie was a ham

 

 “A Christmas Story” — the holiday classic movie about little Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun — is shown non-stop on TV this time of year. Did you know Ralphie eventually became an amateur-radio operator?

It’s true: the late Jean Shepherd, the author and voice behind the movie, became a ham in his teens and stayed licensed throughout his life. He was a fixture on New York broadcast radio, and his semi-autobiographical essays, published mostly in Playboy magazine, became the basis for the much-loved movie.

Shepherd was a hardcore CW operator, so much so that the American Radio Relay League had him introduce this code-practice tape circa 1980, produced several years before “A Christmas Story” premiered in theaters in 1983. You can hear it above. Enjoy  — and Merry Christmas!

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BAM!

WA7BAM ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTBruce, WA7BAM, wanted a cartoon QSL, and the approach was obvious: Emphasize the suffix, which looked like something out of the old Batman TV show. (They’re actually his initials.)

This was an easy one. I’d hand-lettered comic books for about a decade for publishers including Marvel, Dark Horse, and others, so I knew the look. The font I used for “BAM!” was drawn in the style of the original “Mad” logo from the 1950s before “Mad” became a magazine. Bruce’s name and QTH info are also hand-lettered.

At this point in my life, it’s almost impossible for me to write in anything but those block-style letters seen in comic-book word balloons. It’s good to know that all those years of nuns rapping my knuckles to improve my handwriting did some good.

TuBE or not tuBE …

Shakespeare and vacuum tubeI drew this a few years ago for “The Opus of Amateur Radio Knowledge & Lore,” an excellent book by my friend Eric Nichols, KL7AJ. It visualizes a chapter title about vacuum tubes — yes, vacuum tubes — that explained them and a lot of other stuff with intelligence and style.

In fact, the whole book is like that; it explains not only how to be a ham, but also why to be a ham. If you haven’t fired up your rig in awhile (and if you have only a tube rig, we’ll assume it’s been awhile), you’ll want to after reading “Opus.” I know Eric’s text inspired me to get back on the air and enjoy the hobby after too much time bruised by its club politics and not enough time just playing radio.

The book is already in a second printing, this time with extra material by the inimitable Gordon West, WB6NOA. It’s also available at your better candy stores (I know our Atlanta-area Ham Radio Outlet carries it). I highly recommend this book.

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These are the cards from Garry’s shack, the cards from Garry Shandling’s shack …

WN7BKG QSL Garry ShandlingWA7BKG Garry Shandling QSLShortly after comedian Garry Shandling died last week, I was given these gems while researching a story for Amateur Radio Newsline: Shandling’s first QSL as a Novice, and likely his second QSL from when he upgraded to General. Both are from the 1960s when Shandling was a teenager and new to the hobby.

By now, most of you know that Shandling was a licensed amateur-radio operator for much of his life. He apparently let his license lapse some time in the 1990s.

The General QSL is especially interesting because it shows Shandling’s affiliations. ARRL (American Radio Relay League) and RCC (Rag Chewers Club) were obvious — but what about OPRC? That almost certainly stands for Old Pueblo Radio Club, still in existence and billed as “Tucson’s Oldest Radio Club.” The source for my research told me that young Shandling and his teenage ham buddies would attend meetings of an unidentified local club, where they’d sit in the back row and make fun of the Old Timers. It got them kicked out of meetings more than once. I suspect that club was Old Pueblo.

My Newsline report on Shandling’s teenage years — along with an excellent interview by Kent Peterson, KC0DGY, with one of Shandling’s over-the-air friends — will release tomorrow, April 1. If your repeater isn’t already carrying Amateur Radio Newsline’s weekly news reports, it should be. (They also can be downloaded as podcasts.) For more information, visit Newsline’s website, www.arnewsline.org.

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Agent Carter and her Astatic microphone

Agent Carter with Astatic D-104 microphoneWhat do ham-radio operators do when watching TV and movies? Why, we look for ham radios used as props, of course!

In this week’s episode of “Marvel’s Agent Carter” titled “Life of the Party,” Peggy Carter and SSR Chief Sousa monitor an undercover operation from inside a van filled with retro-looking radio equipment – including two Astatic D-104 microphones.

Using those microphones as props actually makes sense: First manufactured in the 1930s, the Astatic “lollipop” microphones were used by the military during World War II and for decades afterwards by hams. They could have been used by Agent Carter, too.

Agent Carter with Heathkit visual-aural signal tracerBut then Peggy reaches to flip a switch on some radio doohickey that’s actually an old piece of Heathkit test equipment – and you’re reminded that this is a TV show based on comic-book characters.

It’s a pretty good show, actually. My XYL and I watch it religiously. For now, it airs Tuesday nights on ABC. You can catch up with it on Hulu or Netflix.

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Hank Hill as a ham radio operator?

cast of "King of the Hill"Recently my XYL (wife for you non-hams) and I have been watching reruns of “King of the Hill,” Mike Judge’s wickedly funny cartoon series about middle-American life in Arlen, Texas. When I watched it the first time, I thought it was one of the best-written sitcoms, animated or not, on TV. Watching it a second time hasn’t changed my opinion.

One thing I have realized since then, though, is how much the cast of “King of the Hill” is like every amateur-radio club I’ve ever belonged to. Just about every cast member could be a ham.

  • Hank Hill would be an Extra-class licensee, club president and area EC. He’d get misty-eyed when the ARRL was mentioned. He’d have the tightest, best-built station in town, much of it homebrew – powered by propane, of course.
  • Boomhauer would be the club vice president. He wouldn’t be much on phone but would be an ace at CW.
  • Dale Gribble is the ex-CBer who’d have his ham license lifted quickly when the FCC discovered he wasn’t really Rusty Shackleford.
  • Hank’s wife, Peggy Hill, would get her Tech license just to be with Hank. She’d then chair the Field Day committee and totally screw it up. Hilarity would ensue.
  • Bill Dauterive would join the club and get a license just to be close to Peggy. Yet more hilarity would ensue.
  • Hank’s son, Bobby Hill, would also get his Tech license, then tie up the club repeater with comedy routines. Even more hilarity would ensue.
  • Bobby’s girlfriend, Kahn Jr., would ace her Extra test on the first try after being pushed into it by her parents. She’d operate for just a little while – but only because it looks good on college applications.

Do these people look familiar? What kinds of ham would other cast members make? Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.

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