Listen and Learn

A Confederate Yankee

By Bill Mayers

(March 2013) bill mayersMy adolescent impatience should have annoyed Uncle Archie no end, but he was a patient man. Steadily, methodically, he went over the radio, checking every solder joint, every circuit. It was 1960 or ’61, and I was eager to put my new, hand-built radio to use.

And I couldn’t.

I’d become intrigued by the idea of listening to radio broadcasts from faraway, exotic locations, so I’d saved a whopping $30 and sent for a kit. Painstakingly, I assembled a four-band general coverage receiver, and now it needed to be aligned … and typically, for an inexperienced kit builder, a number of solder joints were “cold” and had to be redone.

Uncle Archie, in his fifth year in New Mexico State’s electrical engineering program, had agreed to go over the rig with me.

Now it was time, finally, to put’er to the test. It took an agonizing few minutes, and then, faintly through a high level of crackles, whistles and roars, we heard a distant station. It worked! Okay, so it was KOMA in Oklahoma, only some 600 miles distant, and not the other side of the world I’d hoped to hear. But holy smokes, it worked!

It wasn’t until a couple weeks later, after much begging and wheedling, that I was allowed to put up a long-wire antenna and run one end into my bedroom, that I finally heard the BBC, and later, Voice of Israel. It was a year before I managed to score Radio Moscow.

I found listening to the radio just about as interesting as chasing girls. Not being particularly socially apt might have had something to do with it, but there was something about international radio broadcasts that captivated me. I heard people talking about a wide range of topics, some about which I hadn’t a clue, and others that were currently pertinent to international relations.

And I heard tales of local folks. Discussions about family, about faith, about the trials and tribulations of everyday life in various corners of the world. I heard things that sounded interesting, and a few things I couldn’t accept.

But as time passed, I began to form an understanding: diff’rnt strokes for different folks, as my social studies teacher noted. A family growing up in a very wet region had good reasons to see the world differently than I did, living in the high, dry deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.

As the years passed, my interest in radio was supplanted by college studies, years in the Army and the immense task of raising four children. Then, one afternoon I wandered into a hamfest. Local ham radio operators were holding an information session and flea market.

There were several dealers present, too. That’s all it took: my radio mania was back. And over the subsequent years, I’ve earned my Amateur Radio license and have had opportunity to re-establish that long-forgotten connection with the rest of the world.

My reason for this column is to report on how enlightening this experience has been. I’ve heard from many people whose worldview is radically different from mine, yet who experience many of the same trials and triumphs we Americans do. I was blown away by learning that this Russian ham was far more concerned with raising his children to be good, productive citizens than with war with the West.

It was informative to listen to a discussion on farming in Belarus and hear the particular challenges folks over there had to overcome. I learned that – son of a gun! – folks in the Soviet Union were not consumed with hatred of America, despite what some Americans said.

I learned that the key to understanding, and yes, to respect for others who are different, is communication, and that, with the ongoing crises in the world economy, coupled with climate issues, overpopulation and newly emerging diseases, mutual respect and cooperation are critical to the continued survival of this odd collection of creatures called “humankind.”

My ham radio station is inactive at the moment: needs a new antenna, and they ain’t cheap! But there are other ways to connect with different folks. I would highly encourage finding a way to do that and teaching our children the importance of communication with those folks.

It could save our skins.

William D. “Bill” Mayers RT, RN, of Sullivan is a retired senior U.S. Army Corpsman. A certified healthcare professional since 1964, he holds two professional licenses, including that of Registered Professional Nurse licensed in New York, Alaska, Virginia and Louisiana. He has four children, two stepchildren, two grandchildren and is an avid analyst of current events.

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