Geek of the Week: S. Khrystyne Keane, K1SFA

K1SFA at 2008 HamventionThis week (just in time for Field Day 2008!), I’m happily reviving the “Geek of the Week” posts, and I’m proud to feature this week’s geek, S. Khrystyne Keane, K1SFA, News Editor for the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and author of the monthly “Happenings” column as well as the quarterly column “Amateur Radio World” in the ARRL’s monthly magazine, QST. Keane was kind enough to answer a few questions for .51 about amateur radio, her experiences, and other women involved in the hobby. (My questions are in bold, followed by Keane’s answers in regular text.)

May I call you a geek?
Actually, I prefer geekette. Yeah, I’m a girly-girl, what can I say?

How did you get started in amateur radio?

I was married to man who has been a ham for more than 40 years. After being around it for so long, I found I had learned so much [by] osmosis. I signed up for a Technician license class taught by ARRL Chief Development Officer Mary Hobart, K1MMH. I went to one session and then went to the town next to mine and took my test – I passed. And here I am!

What’s the best thing about being a woman with a ham radio hobby?
Besides there being no line for the restrooms at Dayton? (This is the only large venue I have ever been to in my life where there is no line for the women’s restroom, but the line for the men’s room snakes a mile long.) It does help to have a woman’s voice when trying to break through a pileup during a big DXpedition or contest. I can’t count the number of times I have broken through a pileup during a contest, bypassing big guns like W3LPL, KC1XX and K3LR. Since a woman’s voice has a higher hertz, it carries through all those man voices and the station on the other end can pick it out more than they can a man’s voice. What a feeling when that station tells all those guys (who have been trying for a long time to get through) to stop – they want to hear the YL [young lady].

Who’s the most inspirational or influential woman to your ham experience?
I would say Ann Santos, WA1S, DXpeditioner, contester, woman extraordinaire. She gets it done. When I grow up, I want to be just like her. She went to WRTC2006 in Brazil as one of the first all-woman teams. Not only is she a great ham, she’s a wonderful woman I am proud to call my friend.

What’s one thing you would change about your ham radio experience?

I have been incredibly lucky in my Amateur Radio experience. I lucked into my job at ARRL even before my Technician license ever appeared in the ULS database. I have access to a wonderful multi-multi station at K1TTT’s QTH – I have been going up there for years, tagging along before I got my license – I thought all Amateur Radio stations looked like that, with six operating positions and an antenna farm out in the meadow. Now I know Dave’s station is the exception and not the rule, and understand how lucky I am to be able to use it. Also by working at ARRL, I have access to all the super neat programs we do, and many times, have actually provided input into them before they are released to the amateur community.

If I had to give advice to women hams, I would have to say this: Take advantage of every opportunity offered. If there is a class to upgrade your license, do it. If you get a chance to operate at a different station, do it. If you can go to a hamfest, do it. Don’t just let your license be a piece of paper thumbtacked to your wall. Don’t just get call sign license plates because you can and they look cool (they really do!). Do something with your license. Show the world that you are a ham, even if it’s just getting on the repeater and talking across town (or across the state) to people you might only see once a year at a hamfest. Get involved in the ARRL Field Organization as a Public Information Officer or Emergency Coordinator. Do anything, but do it!

There was a time when there was a YL section in QST, the official journal of the ARRL. Why isn’t it there now? Is it because we have fully come into our own and we no longer need to have special treatment? I’d like to think so.

Do you know of any organizations or groups specifically for women in ham radio besides the Young Ladies Relay League (YLRL)?
No, not really. Why don’t we start one? (And yes, I am a member of YLRL.)

What kind of equipment do you use?

Well, I have an HT, and yes, I will save the world with it. Seriously, that’s all I have. I think I have used it twice. I am lucky enough to have access to W1AW and W1HQ at ARRL HQ, as well as K1TTT’s station. I don’t really “ragchew.” I contest. I might call CQ a few times before the contest starts, just to get my mojo going, but once it’s 0000 UTC, I’m in the game. That said, I would like to do more. I’m looking at getting either an Elecraft K3 or the very pretty (so sue me – I like the color display) Orion II By TenTec.

What question do you most want to ask other women who are hams, or who are geeks?
Are you having fun? If so, then great! If not, then why do you do it?

What do you think is the best thing about the ARRL?

[Personally] We really are a family. This past year has been really tough for me and everyone here at work has bent over backwards to help me out, be it my boss who let me be flexible in my time to take care of everything, or my friends and co-workers who were there for me when I needed them. I know if I worked in a corporate environment, I would not have had the support that I did. Most everyone here is a ham, and hams do stick together. You couldn’t ask for a nicer bunch of people. If it sounds as if I’ve drunk the company kool-aid – sorry, but it’s true – I am so lucky to work here. Not only do I get paid to play with words all day long, I have some really great friends.

As for the organization…I am currently in the process of updating the W1AW scrapbook. Pictures in this book go back to the 1920s. I look at these pictures and see the awe and wonderment on the faces of the people as they work those “magic boxes” – the same look and feel I get when I get on the radio. It hasn’t changed in almost 100 years. What they did then and what I do now are the same, we are tied together. This organization started when Hiram Percy Maxim couldn’t get a message through from Hartford to Springfield – it had to be relayed through Agawam (a town close to Springfield). He loved to tinker with this new radio technology, so he started the American Radio Relay League (relaying messages, or “traffic”) in 1914. We are “of, by and for the amateur.” We were that in 1914 and we continue to be so now.

What do you want to see on a site like .51? What does “geekspace” mean to you?
Keep doing what you’re doing – it’s all good!

Other than what you’ve talked about already, what’s the geekiest thing you do?
If you ask my (non-ham) friends (and yes, I do have those), they would say Amateur Radio is, by far, the geekiest thing I do. Let me think… I like to diagram sentences for fun (and have even done so to prove my point to my boss when he didn’t agree with the sentence structure I used in something I wrote). I am really (really, really, really) into Red Sox baseball and New England Patriots football (slightly less so than the Sox) – I can hold my own in a sports bar, thankyouverymuch. I grew up showing dogs (mostly Great Danes, but there was the occasional Whippet), so I have this uncanny talent to look at a dog and tell you the breed (or breeds, as the case may be) that it is.

[Got questions about some of the callsigns and stations in this interview? Email me for more information at ubergeeke (at) dotfiveone (dot) com.

Got questions about the ARRL that their website doesn’t cover, or for Keane herself? Drop her an email at k1sfa (at) arrl (dot) org.

For more information about amateur (ham) radio, visit the American Radio Relay League’s website at, as well as some of the previously posted information here on .51, then get your license and join me and thousands of other folks worldwide.]

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