KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

This has been a week of ups and downs in the radio station news room.  I was saddened by the loss of James McLaughlin, WA2EWE/T6AF, who was killed by an Afghan pilot on Wednesday, 27 April 2011, at the Kabul, Afghanistan Airport.  The “ARRL Letter” dated 28 April 2011 has the details.  Although I didn’t know James, I was familiar with his DX and MARS activities.  Many dusty years ago in another liftetime, I grew to appreciate the service MARS operators rendered to the families of service personnel in far-flung areas of the world.  My experience in the Air Force actually encouraged me to get my amateur radio license back in 1977, a move I never regreted.  I was involved in communications work before that (both in the service and in commercial broadcasting), but my duty tours made me appreciate the efforts of MARS operators in the days before the internet and cell phones.  James will be missed.  ‘Kinda makes you wonder why this country wastes its human and material resources on basket-case nations that are better left alone.  I’m familiar with all of the reasons given for our world-wide presence and there is no need to review the mistakes and lapses of judgment committed by leaders worldwide.  Just take a look at the nearest gas pump and supermarket shelves to get an idea what our lack of foresight has caused.  Suffice to say, I’m dissatisfied with the incompetence and willful neglect of facts that dominate the national scene.  In the highly competitive broadcast business, if you don’t produce, you don’t get paid (I’ve been in sales, too).   That’s why I’m saddened by James’s death–such as waste in a no-win cause.  Based on my past military service and my nearly 3 decades of broadcast experience, this nation hasn’t learned a thing from the mistakes from the past.  So naive, so trusting, so foolish.

On a more positive note, the performance of amateur radio operators in tornado-ravaged Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and North Carolina has been superb given the extent of the damage and the loss of life.  Amateurs have been called upon to support many towns, many of which were hit heavily by violent weather.  And across the Pacific, amateur radio operators are still helping Japan restore communications in areas devastated by the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  All of this should give us pause and question just how prepared we are to serve when the need arises.  I’m improving my “go” kit, making sure emergency supplies are available, and keeping the trusty van fully fueled (even at $4.59 a gallon in Hilo).  I hope you are prepared when the next disaster, natural or man-made, occurs.  Of course, those of us living on an island have few options–there is no place to flee except to higher elevations.  And being about 2,100 miles southwest of Los Angeles, it’s a long swim for help.

The 48th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival is entering its final two days in Hilo.  This is quite an event for Hawaii and for our stations in particular.  Our Hawaiian music station (KAPA-FM) is doing a series of remote broadcasts from the main venue at the Edith Kanakaole Stadium, so most of the staff is fully engaged is staging this huge production.  With state-wide radio and television coverage, the popularity of this Hawaiian cultural event has grown over the years.  Hula troupes (halau) from California to Japan are participating in this week-long festival.  At least the event gives me something to work on other than the usual “gloom and doom” of the news cycle.

Following today’s shift, I’ll try to squeeze some cw into the evening before I rise early Saturday morning to cover the Merrie Monarch Parade.  All told, this has been a busy and rewarding week.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

This has been a very busy week at the radio station news room with not much time to pursue amateur radio matters.  With the arrival of the Easter Holiday this past weekend, I was kept busy at the Hilo Drag Strip, where the Big Island Auto Club and the Big Island VW Car Club held a combined points meet and trophied car show.  The turnout was excellent with many exciting events.  The weather was superb and the action was non-stop from gate opening at 0700 to closing at 1830 on Saturday and Sunday.  I am the tower announcer and and work with a dedicated crew of IT folks, spotters, and safety personnel.  Our system is computer intensive, and, even if the arrangement is not exactly ham radio related, the amount of communications equipment and computers used is impressive.  Most of our track communications rely on Family Radio Service frequencies in the 400 mhz range.  The range of the small Handi Talkies is a little over a mile, which is adequate for most track communications.  Our crew also has CB backup on several channels.  The tower also uses a Ranger 1000 (part 15, FCC approved, 100 mw transmitter) to cover the track area.  The range of this rig is around 1.5 to 2 miles and gives those able to tune 1620 khz a continuous feed of all tower communications.  I use my iPhone to contact the radio station with hourly updates.  The patch work system works well and is fairly inexpensive to maintain.  The monthly drag races give me a needed pause from the “doom and gloom” agenda of the news room.  Speaking as a former drag racer, I find the role of tower announcer enjoyable and stress relieving.  So, while I didn’t use the amateur rig much this weekend, I did get a chance to operate radios, albeit in a restricted sort of way.  Hopefully, your Easter holiday went well.  When I finally got home late Sunday, I was able to feast on a homemade dinner crafted by my alway amazing XYL.  I suppose she’s given up trying to reform me.  Both of us will take off this coming Sunday, have  dinner at a nice restaurant, take in a movie, and just unwind.

In the amateur radio phase of things, I’m still restructuring the “antenna farm” on my postage stamp-sized lot.  The old fiberglass MFJ mast finally gave up the ghost after being battered by several years of tropical sun, rain, and salt air.  The Jackite fiberglass mast I held in reserve is now being pressed into service as a 40-meter vertical.  The current system is a 33-foot vertical fed by 45 feet of 450-ohm ladder line, which is attached to 4 elevated counterpoise wires.  This arrangement goes to an old W9INN 4:1 balun box, which is connected to 25 feet of RG-6 and the trusty Drake MN-4 ATU.  The system works and will be improved as time allows.  The under-the-house 40 meter loop is being held in reserve.  The loop works well as a 40-meter NVIS antenna for the Hawaii Island 40-meter afternoon net (used whenever I can get home in time).  The loop can be attached to the old Hallicrafters SX-62A, which provides excellent AM and SW reception.

By Wednesday, 27 April 2011, I will be busy again with the arrival of the Merrie Monarch Festival.  The festival started on Monday, but most of the big dance performances begin on Wednesday.  Our Hawaiian station, KAPA-FM, will be providing coverage of this cultural event, inspired by the “Merrie Monarch”, King Kalakaua, who restored the hula to the Hawaiian Kingdom in the 1880s.  Before that time, hula and other polynesian cultural practices were discouraged by the missionaries, who considered the traditional activities “pagan”.  The festival has been growing in popularity for the past 4l8 years.  The festival attracts participants from the entire Pacific Rim area, including New Zealand, Tahiti, Japan, Micronesia, and even the mainland United States.  So, I will be busy trying to balance the cultural events, the usual news cycle, and amateur radio.  Never a dull moment around this place.

Have a good week.  Aloha es l73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

This week’s news cycle is coming to a close.  Two short weekend shifts will wrap up a good, productive week in the newsroom.  Unlike previous weeks, most of the crises have retreated a little more into the background.  That means I can at last spend some time at the amatuer radio station and destress from the week’s activities.  I found several useful antenna articles on the 15 April 2011 edition of  These articles can give you some good “skywire” ideas and several ways to operate successfully from restricted home locations.  K2ZS’s article entitled “An indoor HF stealth antenna” is a nice read.  The antenna is a loop fed by ladder line attached to a SGC-230 matching device.  I’ve used similar antennas in the past.  They do work, considering the space limitations.  Apparently K2ZS has accumulated over 1500 QSOs using this arrangement.  You might want to try his indoor loop if you find there is no space to erect a decent outdoor antenna.  I prefer outside antennas , but this idea is worth a try if there is no other way to launch your signal.  W5DXP’s webpage has approximately 20 articles on antennas, some of which could help those of use operating in restrictive circumstances.  And finally, those who maintain W4RNL website have done a good job of orgnaizing the antenna work of the late L.B. Cebik, W4RNL.  The collection is quite extensive, so be prepared to spend some time gleaning the precious antenna gems from this site.  I always learn something new when I visit this site. 

Work on my misicule “antenna farm” continues.  The tropical climate with its rain, salt air, and beasties that enjoy coax coverings surely keeps my hands and weekends busy.  Corrosion is a huge problem on the Big Island, even more so since Kilauea Volcano started its latest phase–the volcano has been releasing lava and gas since 1983.  You can imagine what the combination of sulphur fumes and rain can do.  The effect is most pronounced on vehicles, which suffer greatly after a few years.  So, the weekends with the hose and wax keep the van looking presentable and frequent maintenance on the vertical and loop make for a full weekend.  All of the rigs at the operating table are working alright after the usual routine of dusting, cleaning, and lubricating switches and circuit boards.  Besides, all of this workbench stuff convinces my understanding, patient XYL that I actually know what I’m doing.  Well, maybe some of the time anyway.  Like many things in life, every day is a learning experience.  Thanks to manuals and helpful user groups, I manage to keep out of serious trouble.  I’m not the greatest tech, but I do have fun–I have the soldering iron burns to prove it.

So, it’s back to the shack after I finish the news broadcast for the day.  At least for few hours I can remove myself from the “real” world and just have fun bouncing rf off the F layer.  Have a good weekend. 

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

The shift at the KKBG-FM/KHLO-AM news is just about over…and none too soon.  With another 7.4 earthquake in Japan and the eleventh-hour negotiations over extending the federal government’s spending authority, it has been an exciting week in the radio business.  Hawaii received some good news on the tsunami front–President Obama has declared the state a federal disaster area, thus enabling local businesses and state agencies to some relief from the $30 million in damage from the 11 March tsunami.  Kailua-Kona’s business district along Alii Drive was torn up badly; the main pier sustained damage;  at least 12 homes were damaged; and one major resort was closed until further notice.  Two other hotels suffered various degrees of damage, but they stayed open.  Compared to Japan, we got off lightly.  Japanese amateur radio operators continue to provide valuable communications and relief support to Norhern Honshu which has suffered greatly in the loss of lives and property.  According to the 07 April 2011 edition of the “ARRL Letter”, amateur radio operators should stay clear of these frequencies– 3.525 mhz, 7.030 mhz, 7.077 mhz, 7.087 mhz, 7.097 mhz, 14.100 mhz, 21.200 mhz, and 28.200 mhz.  As mentioned earlier, the sequence of event since 11 March has prompted me to review my emergency plan.  Fortunately, I have most of the pieces in place–emergency “go” kits in the van, home, and newsroom, backup generators for the radio station and the home qth, a good supply of water at home, two-months supply of food, medicines, clothing, etc, topped off gas tanks for the van and my old 1974 Mercury Comet (that’s another story for another time), and necessary supplies and batteries to keep the amateur radio station on the air.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be making a few more portable antennas and trying to figure out how to operate the old Yaesu FT-7 from the van.  As usual, I’m always on the lookout for wire, connectors, and coax.  I’ve been able to assemble a good collection of wire and connectors from previous studio rebuilds at the station.  Local hardware stores have provided a variety of poles, nuts, bolts, screws, and tape.  I’ve found RG-6 coax particularly useful for feedlines and short jumpers.  The nominal 75-ohm impedance doesn’t seem to bother my rigs.  The Drake MN-4 ATU handles the small mismatch with ease.  I also have several 4:1 baluns for antennas fed with 450-ohm ladder line.  If you have the time, building antennas out of simple, readily available materials can be fun, educational, and, yes, occaisonally frustrating.

Also on the good news front is the apparent resolution of the federal government’s budget crisis–at least until September.  Whether all the hand wringing, finger pointing, and blame distribution will produce any real relief for taxpayers is anybody’s guess.  As a news guy with access to a variety of economic and budgetary sources, I remain skeptical that any positive results will come from the temporary respite of the debt crisis.  I sometimes wonder what planet our elected officials call home.  I don’t know about you, but I live in the real world where debts are paid, where individual responsibity is demanded, and where your continued employment depends on performance and results.  I suppose my view is tainted by working in the commercial sector.  At the radio station, if you don’t produce results, you are asked to leave.  What’s so hard in grasping this concept?  With that in mind, I hope for the best and plan for the worst.  For me, that means putting the credit card away, staying out of debt, maintaing one’s health, and buying only what is needed.  Long ago I disconnected the television and relearned the joys of reading, good music, staying fit, mini-vacations with the XYL, and living a simple life.  That philosophy won’t work for everyone, but it does allow me to stay ahead of the budget squeeze and to run a decent, if somewhat antiquated, amateur radio station.  Presently, I’m saving for a new Elecraft K3, so I’m not a total “boat anchor” operator.  The K3 will be bought when I have the resources to do so.  My technological “fix” is found at the radio station I call my home away from home.  I’m indeed fortunate to work with state of the art equipment and a staff that truly knows what they’re doing.  ‘Sorry for the rant, but I just can’t sympathize with those who refuse to accept responsibility for their own problems.  People seem to demand “change” but they can’t seem to make that first step–change yourself first before going after others.  This process of changing yourself is a lifelong task, so be prepared to confront reality and act accordingly.  Your life depends on the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Enough of the proverbial soapbox.  It’s time to head for the qth and a J-38 key that needs some exercise.  Have a good weekend and get on the air.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

For the first time in almost a month things are quiet
in the KKBG-FM/KHLO-AM newsroom.  The
earthquake/tsunami recovery effort in Japan and
the ongoing Middle East crisis have dominated
the news cycle for weeks.  Eventhough these
topics are still in the daily news, other topics are
beginning to lower the priority of March’s disasters.
Like many communities across the nation, fund
raising efforts continue for Japan on Hawaii Is-
land.  The support will be needed for months, may-
be years as the situation develops.  Japanese hams
are doing an excellent job of filling in communications
gaps or coordinating recovery efforts where required.
Hawaii Island is rebuilding, too.  Most of the tsunami
damage has been cleared from business and residential
areas.  The state has applied for federal disaster relief
funds to cover some of the $14 million in estimated
tsunami damage.  Whether Hawaii gets any of the
requested funds is unknown, given the current economic
condition of the country.

While the federal bureaucracy and relief agencies do their
work, most of us on the Big Island are returning to what-
ever passes for “normal” life these days.  Now that the
emergency has calmed a bit, I can turn some of my
attention to my second love (after my XYL, of course)–
amateur radio.  I haven’t been too active since the tsunami
and I can’t wait to get the J-38 key busy on the lower
portion of 40 meters.

I’ve just finished reading an enjoyable article in today’s
edition of “” by Steve Katz, WB2WIK/6.  His
“Honey I Shrank the Tower” is a good morale booster
for those of us who are “antenna challenged” and, for
whatever reason, can’t erect a tower and a beam for
our ham stations.  There aren’t too many amateur radio
towers on the Big Island–mostly for the reasons cited
by Steve.  The usual suspects are restrictive CC&Rs,
lack of professional help in erecting towers, fear of the
unknown, and cost.  When one adds the cost of shipping
a tower to Hawaii, the erection of an aluminum antenna
farm becomes a major financial outlay.  I prefer to avoid
the cost, considering how uncertain the economy is these
days–especially for those in the commercial broadcast
business, where a bad ratings “book” or a loss of sales
often means staff reductions, changed formats, and  no
hiring.  So, as good as Steve’s article is–and it is an
excellent piece–I’ve chosen to improve what I have,
fully knowing that breaking DX pileups will be difficult.
Vertical antennas are at a distinct disadvantage when
compared to stacked monobanders on a 70′ tower.
However, there is light at the proverbial end of the radio
tunnel.  Once I get the house built on our 2-acre, no
CC&R propety, I’ll have time to erect a decent antenna.
Presently, I working on a three-element vertical bean or
a rhombic on 33′, guyed poles.  I’ve used vertical beams
in the past and they work well.  Anyway, Steve’s article
may inspire many of us to get off the sofa and do something
about improving our signals.  Of course, having the necessary
financial resources will determine what we can really do.  If
your wallet can stand it, follow Steve’s advice and go for it.

It’s just about time to wrap up this Sunday in the news room.
Following some supermarket shopping, it’s off to the home
QTH for some early evening cw.  Have a good weekend.
Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

Hawaii is observing Tsunami Awareness Week with
a variety of educational and public service campaigns
sponsored by local and state organizations.  In light
of the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in
Japan, this week has special significance for those
of us living on Hawaii Island, which is attached
firmly to the “ring of fire.”  Back in 1946, an April
Fool’s Day tsunami took out much of the Hilo
bayfront with a huge loss of life.  And in 1960, a
tsunami struck the city again with large losses of
property and life.  So, all of the curent uncertain-
ty surrounding the Japanese tsunami, earthquake,
and nuclear power plant problems resonates strongly
here.  Hawaii escaped with only property damage
from the 11 March incident.  Even that was serious
enough to prompt a disaster declaration from Gover-
nor Neil Abercrombie.  One can’t afford to be com-
placent these days.

Eversince the last tsunami, local residents have regained
a sense of urgency and preparedness I thought was
slipping away.  The incident forced many of us to
examine just how prepared we are in the event of
a natural disaster.  The radio station is in pretty good
shape, with a disaster plan available to staff, generators
ready to go, and back-up equipment availabe.  The same
goes for the amateur radio station at the qth.  I’ve made
a few emergency antennas and a new “go” kit for the van,
just in case some event drops in.  The XYL and I restocked
our food inventory, expanded our water supply, tuned up
the generator, and made sure each vehicle has at least a
half-tank of fuel.  My neighbors are doing similar activities.
Hopefully, the events of the past few weeks will serve as
a sober lesson that humankind really doesn’t control Nature.
Living on an island in the middle of nowhere makes you
appreciate just how vulnerable we really are.

Have a good weekend….Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM

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