Ed Eklin is into a little different kind of texting while driving and he’s doing it in all 3,077 counties in the U.S.
Beeps and blips of Morse code radio transmissions pitter-patter from speakers mounted near the headrest on the driver’s seat in his SUV. The vehicle, a rolling radio shack for the ham radio operator, wears a compact antenna and is packed with all the amenities of his home broadcast booth. His cozy cockpit boasts a GPS, a laptop for logging contacts, his Morse code paddles and, of course, his radio.
“I’ve only got 900 to go,” said the radio operator who is more commonly known by his call sign, K8ZZ. “For me to complete my feat, it will be 240,000 miles to drive through and transmit in every county in the U.S.”
Eklin, also known in the amateur radio world as a “county hunter” embarked a handful of years ago on what many in the hobby consider the ultimate challenge. Only 17 other operators have completed the trek since the Mobile Amateur Radio Club began keeping records in 1960, Eklin said.
He had already completed the next hardest feat of radio operation four times over — making confirmed contacts by both voice and Morse code with radio operators in all those counties twice in each method. Only 1,249 operators have completed that feat from their home radio shacks, said Joe Novak, also known by his call sign, W8TVT.
Novak earned his “all counties” award on March 13, 2004. He since embarked on a second quest for all counties from the seat at his basement radio set. He flips through a log book with maps of all 50 states, the counties he has contacted are shaded in red.
That task takes years for most to complete and requires hand-written confirmation of contact from radio operators in each county. They often make contact with each other dozens of times over the years from thousands of miles away without ever meeting, Eklin said.
Novak and Eklin have known each other for years and together organize an annual conference for “county hunters” in Traverse City. This year’s gathering boasted about 100 participants from 26 states. Many of them drove to the event in vehicles wired with antennae like Eklin’s, broadcasting from a swath of counties along the way.
“One guy I saw here, I have been tapping out his call sign for eight to 10 years,” Eklin said.
Eklin’s son even drove from his home in the Flint area to Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, to help Novak check off the last county in his county hunt.
The pair said most amateur radio operators dive into hunting counties after they’ve earned an “all states” award for making confirmed contacts with operators in all 50 states. Some, after completing all 3,077 counties in the U.S., tackle other challenges like making contact with operators in all countries where amateur radio operators are allowed to broadcast. Others, like Eklin, take their show on the road and see the country.
“When you open up a magazine in an airport and see covered bridges in Vermont in the fall, I’ve seen that,” he said. “I never travel four-lane highways.”
Thanks for reading!
73's, Lewis M3HHY.