KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog


Today is Memorial Day–a time to remember those who paid the ultimate price for our nation.  Despite a full weekend of drag races and other holiday events that kept our radio station staff busy, I welcomed a return to the news room this morning. This time gave me a chance to grace my newscasts with some heartfelt thanks to veterans and their families for their service to this still great country.  Like many vets, I don’t care to share war stories…some memories are best forgotten.  I was fortunate to return alive with most of my faculties intact.  Others were not so lucky.  The tie between my service and amateur radio goes back some 40 years or more when many of us stationed in remote, deservedly forgotten areas of the world kept in touch with our families through MARS stations.  Those were the days before e-mail, skype, iPhones, or any other high tech communications marvels.  I owe a debt of gratitude to those MARS operators who kept us sane in a world gone crazy.  Perhaps the best known of the MARS opertors was the late Barry Goldwater, a United States Senator from Arizona and former presidential candidate.  Of course, there were many others who reached out to our service personnel during that time….many thanks for making our lives a touch better.   When I finally retire from the news business, I’ll reactivate my past Air Force MARS license and give back to those serving today.

When that day arrives, I’ll have to modernize my amateur radio station which now resembles a radio museum.  Most of my rigs are old Kenwoods, Yaesus, and Swans.  Perhaps I have the ideal excuse for buying that Elecraft K3.  I’m saving for that little gem as fast as I can.  Of course, my minimal antenna system will have to be upgraded.  That will be an interesting project, considering the space limitations presented by my current QTH.  Once the XYL and I get our house built on a larger piece of land, antenna issues will be lessened.  I don’t know about a tower, since erecting a 100′ metal mast with monobeams would severely tax my aging bones.  Rather than take a chance of falling onto a hard lava flow, I’ll most likely opt for a vertical beam.  I have a good supply of fiberglass masts, so anything from a full-wave loop to a 3-element 40-meter vertical beam is possible.  For now, I’ll improve what I have until a move to a more spacious location is done.  The recently-erected inverted 40-meter “v” seems to be working well, despite propagation problems. 

After wrapping up the newscasts for the day, I’ll head home for some late afternoon cw and a few SSB ragchews, propagation permitting.  Have a good holiday…and warmest aloha to my fellow brothers and sisters in arms.  Although I was never a marine and only “flew a desk” in the Air Force, I salute the spirit of “Semper Fi”.   May God bless all of you.   73 de KH6JRM

Advertisements

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog


There remain only a few hours until the busy Memorial Day weekend breaks on Hawaii Island shores.  For those of us at KKBG-FM and KHLO-AM, the next few days will busy and filled with remote broadcasts, outrigger canoe races, the Honokaa Western Days Rodeo, and the traditional drag races at the Hilo Drag Strip.  By the time our staff reaches Monday, all of us should be tired, talked out, and ready for a vocal cord transplant.  My weekend will be spent in the track tower announcing the pro-gas and ET bracket races and sending live updates back to the station.  Although the next few days will be intense, the time away from the newsroom will give me a break of sorts from the usual panic of world events.  For the briefest of moments all of us at the track will be only concerned with elapsed times and getting closest to our indices (pro-gas).  Radio plays a huge role in coordinating and facilitating the complicated series of events that make a smooth running race.  All key personal (tower, starting line, security, rescue, and pit area staff) are equipped with HTs and cellphones.  The HTs are commercial, 23-channel UHF Kenwood copies that occupy business band frequencies near the 440 Mhz amateur radio band.  The HTs are from American Electronics and they work quite well.  Coverage from the tower is excellent.  Cell phones are used as backup.  The HTs, plus a few spares, are charged in the tower.  The auto club also operates a part-15 (low power) AM station on 1610 Khz to provide continuous coverage over the track and pit area.  The range of this station is about 1.5 miles.  So, while my communications arrangement isn’t amateur radio, the equipment is close enough to what I use in both my news gathering duties and my amateur VHF pursuits  to fulfill my “radio habit.”  This should be an exciting weekend with many off-island racing teams expected to put their skills against the best drivers from the Big Island.

While all of the above is going on, I won’t be able to explore the amateur radio spectrum until Monday at the earliest.  None the less, I did manage to erect a new inverted “v” antenna in the back yard.  The new skyhook will be a temporary replacement for my 40-meter vertical which is being lowered for maintenance and the installation of a better ground system.  The few on-ground radials aren’t giving me the signal I want, so until I put in a decent set of radials, it’s back to the inverted “v” and the under-the-house 40-meter loop.  Initial tests with the 40-meter “v” have been good.  All I did was run up some 450-ohm twin lead to the top of the 32-foot Jackite fiberglass mast, attach two 33-foot wire elements,  and connect the arrangement to my DX Engineering 4:1 balun.  A short run of RG-8X runs from the garage to the operating position in the living room.  The antenna is oriented NW-SE which gives me a bit more signal to the mainland U.S.  I suspect that most of the radiation is omni-directional, since I’m getting decent reports from all directions.  At least I don’t have to worry about radials or counterpoise systems at this point.  The antenna work well from 40 to 10 meters.  Eighty and 75-meters are an uncomfortable stretch.  I really need more space and more wire to cover those bands.  But for now, I have a useful antenna that works for both local and DX contacts.  My small lot and the proximity to utility lines impose certain restrictions on the type of antenna I can use, but  I’m satisfied for now.  You can find several inverted “v” and NVIS antennas in the antenna books now available from the ARRL or from the antenna sites on the internet.  Your cost should be minimal if you have some spare wire and cable around the shack.  If you’re really pressed to get on the air, you can design a single-band inverted “v” with only coax as your feed line.  If your antenna is designed for 40-meters, you can probably use it for 15-meters as well with a suitable matching device (tuner).  If you’re really cheap like me, use 450 or 300-ohm feedline to a 4:1 balun and get multiple band coverage.  Don’t expect a blockbuster signal, but you will get on the air and make contacts.  The important thing is to get on the air with the resources you have available.  In this time of economic uncertainty, it may be wise to work with what you have.

It’s just about time to wrap up the news cycle for another day–the drag races beckon tomorrow and Sunday.  Have a good, safe weekend. Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog


With Memorial Day weekend fast upon us, activity in the news room will surely be hectic.  The radio station is tied up with a variety of remote broadcasts, including the traditional Memorial Day weekend drag races (I have the job of tower announcer) and the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Races in Kailua-Kona.  Both of these events won’t leave much time to chase down DX or to ragchew with the locals.  At least the racing calendar will keep the weekend full and will provide a break from the normal news cycle.  Some other station members will be working at the Honokaa weekend rodeo, so this weekend won’t allow for any slack time.  If I can get home early on Sunday, I may try an hour or two of ham radio.

Presently, I’m in the process of redoing my “antenna farm” in the back yard.  Stringing radials for the 40-meter vertical has always been a compromise affair considering the small lot I call home.  This time around, I will return to the inverted “v” arrangement of a year ago.  I managed to fit a 32′ pvc mast and two sloping 33′ wires in the cramped space that passes for a back yard. I fed the “v” with 450-ohm twin lead. The arrangement worked well and eliminated the hastle of radial wires.  The performance was a slight improvement over the vertical.  The under-the-house 40-meter loop is my standby antenna.  It does an excellent job for contacts out to around 250 miles.  Most of rf shoots straight up and covers the state with a strong signal.  I suppose one could call this a “cloud warmer”.  This NVIS antenna doubles as an antenna for my collection of shortwave receivers.

The ole clock on the wall is approaching bedtime and that means a few short hours before I start the early morning routine once again.  I have never gotten accustomed to hitting the sack at 2000 W and getting up at 0200 W.  But, as the old saying goes, early to bed, early to rise still makes for a long day.

Have a good day and enjoy the DX.   Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog


In between a few jobs around the QTH over the weekend, I ran across an article in the eham.net website concerning the “Maxcomm Automatic Antenna Tuner”.  The reviews of this product ranged from “0” to “5” depending on the experience of the amateur radio operator using the device.  I’m still amazed that anyone would use this product, which is just a 50-ohm resistor network and a torroid.  Back in the 1980s, the ARRL rejected the claims of the manufacturer because the tuner was just a dummy load.  Of course, the device protected the transmitter, since it presented a 50-ohm load to the transmitter.  I’m not saying the maxcomm won’t give you a few contacts…even a dummy load with a wire attached can do that.  A few weeks ago I tried an experiment after I took down my Drake MN-4 ATU for some long-overdue cleaning.  I connected one end of a UHF “T” connector to my dummy load (Heath Cantenna) and the other end to my RG-6 coax going to 4:1 balun and the 450-ohm twin lead attached to my backyard 40-meter vertical.  I adjusted the old Swan 100-MX to about 10 watts and sent out a CQ on the J-38 key.  Wonder of wonders, I raised a few contacts on 40-meters, with most of my signals getting a 549 to 569 report from California (about 2,100 miles from my station to Los Angeles).  When I reattached the Drake MN-4 to the antenna system, the reports ranged from 579 to 599.  I don’t know what this little experiment proved other than I can make some contacts without a formal tuner.  I suppose this arrangement could be used in an emergency if there is no tuner available and you need to operate on several bands.  The Swan 100-MX remained cool  and the signals were clear coming and going.  So, for what it’s worth, a maxcomm unit may be fine for emergencies, but you can probably make a decent copy with an extra UHF “T” connector and an extra dummy load.  I really can’t see spending money on devices you can make yourself. 

My deepest sympathies go to the residents of Joplin, Missouri who suffered greatly from Sunday’s tornadoes.  At last count, 89 people perished in that event.  And like their counterparts in the deep south and in Northern Japan, amateur radio operators are providing emergency communications while those communities rebuild their radio networks.  As you can imagine, those amateurs preparing for field day on 25-26 June
have those unfortunate victims in mind when the exercise begins.  Even in Hawaii, emergency communications aren’t far from local ham operators.  With hurricane season beginning on 01 June, most of us in the amateur radio service are preparing for an event we hope never happens.  Local amateur radio clubs will be participating in emergency drills and other projects to get ready for what is hoped to be a mild storm season.

How are your emergency preparations?  Do you have a “go-kit” ready?  Do you keep your vehicle’s gas tank at least half-full at all times?  Does your family have a backup supply of water, food, clothing, and medicine?  How about extra batteries for your hand-held 144 Mhz/440 Mhz transceiver?  Could you operate your home station if all commercial power were lost?  How about extra cash in case the ATM’s fall victim to power outages?  Based on Hawaii Island’s past experience, cell phones will work intermittently, if at all, once the grid collapses.  During the last tsunami (11 March 2011), only our hard-wired analog telephones remained in full service.  Cell phone text services did remain operational.  Modern technology is fine, but when the grid goes down, things we take for granted, such as ATMs, the pumping of fuel, and even the internet can suffer interruptions of service.  ‘Tis better to be prepared than to be caught off guard.

Have an excellent day….Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog


Another week has passed and the world is still here.  I must admit to a morbid fascination with the current crop of “end time” proponents.  I usually get a few calls to the news room everytime someone believes he/she has the exact time our planet will disappear and the faithful will be repatriated to paradise.  This week produced a bumper crop of the merely curious and the deeply concerned.  I treat these stories like any other event that crosses the news desk.  Most of the predictions are based on faith and little else.  You either believe or you don’t.  The world is facing some real problems, any one of which could ruin your day.  Take your pick–the Middle East, natural disasters of various kinds, errant asteroids, and even the hotly debated climate change theories.  From what I’ve seen, humanity, with its propensity for both genius and stupidity, is quite capable of doing itself in without the help of the divine.  These radio and television preachers are free to express their views and confirm for all to see their profound ignorance.  All the pity, too, since most churches in this country are working to alleviate misery, care for the poor, and promote social consciousness.  There’s enough fear and mistrust in this world without some self-appointed expert adding another layer of doubt to a rapidly changing world.  What does this have to do with amateur radio?  Probably little, other than recognizing that disasters happen and that one should prepare as best he/she can.

One way to get a feel for such a scenario is to participate in the ARRL’s Field Day, which occurs over the 25-26 June weekend.  Field Day is part contest, an emergency communications exercise, and downright fun.  For a brief day, “hams” take to the field and communicate without commercial power and the usual comforts of the radio shack.  All of this has a practical side, too.  Just ask the hams still on duty throughout the tornado-ravaged South or the amateur radio operators working to restore communications in Northern Japan following the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  One never knows when a casual operating day in a public park will turn into something serious.  Many of us in the broadcast business will miss Field Day in the traditional sense because of work commitments.  However, there are alternatives which will draw you into the event.  In my case, the June drag races will tie up the daytime hours on that weekend, so I’ll operate in the evening from the home station in class 1-E (home station, emergency power).  This won’t be too much of a stretch for me, since my rigs run off batteries and solar panels.  In keeping with the spirit of the event, I’ll make an “emergency” antenna from some speaker wire in the storage room.  I did this last year and had a good time…not too many contacts, but a good time none the less.  I’m planning on a few interviews with members of the Big Island Amateur Radio Club–the interviews will give the club a hundred extra points for publicity.  The focus will be on fun, public service, Field Day food (much of it is pretty good, since our club has a few good cooks), and mosquito control (Hawaii has some of the most hungry bugs I’ve ever seen).  More information on Field Day can be found in the June 2011 issue of “QST” or by visiting the ARRL website.

It’s just about time to wrap up the news cycle for today.  Sunday will be a short day–mostly dedicated to writing stories for Monday morning, editing sound bites, and following the routine of meter readings and computer maintenance.  I’ll squeeze in a few hours of cw as well if all goes as planned.  Have a good weekend.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog


As the news cycle comes to a close in the KKBG-FM/KHLO-AM newsroom, my thoughts are turning to a relaxing drive home, a daily walk with the XYL (about 2-4 miles depending how ambitious both of us are), a good home cooked dinner, and some time with the trusty Swan 100-MX and my basic, but workable “antenna farm”.  All of my rigs have been given the monthly cleaning and other necessary maintenance needed to keep them functional.  The older rigs are fun to use, but one must keep them maintained, since spare parts are getting scarce and expensive.  The antennas are a no-brainer, considering what I use to keep them up and running.  My biggest challenge is keeping one step ahead of Hawaii’s salt air, vog, and heavy rains.  This trio can ruin a homebrew antenna is just a few weeks.  But thanks to co-ax seal, electrical tape, and some home-brew plastic enclosures, I manage to keep most of the moisture out.  Coax takes a real beating as well–not only from the elements but also from the geckos, rats, and orther garden beasties that have developed a taste for vinyl covered wire.  My coax problems are minor compared to the squirrel problem some amateur radio operators have experienced on the U.S. mainland.  None the less, small animals of various types can develop a taste for tape and wire, especially in an area that once hosted sugar plantations.  The legacy of rats, wild pigs, and other pests from those sugar cane days can often complicate antenna maintenance.  Thankfully, I have plenty of wire and coax from various station renovations to last a long time.  So replacing cable isn’t a real hardship.  The only problem comes from mating regular UHF connectors to the “F” connectors found on most RG-6 cable runs.  There are a few parts places that can find suitable connectors to match these cables to UHF configured cables.  I ordered a bunch a few years ago, but I can’t recall the name of the company that supplied them.  Talk about short-term memory loss.  Anyway, I haven’t used regular RG-58 or RG-8 for several years since I have a good stock of RG-6 on hand.  My trusty Drake MN-4 ATU can handle the small mismatch encountered with RG-6.  The only shortage in my “junque” box is 450-ohm twin lead–something I usually order from AES or one of the other ham equipment distributors.  I’ve also used some home-brewed twin lead made from #14 gauge wire. 

Keeping with my ultra-simple and dirt cheap approach to antennas, I usually prefer simple dipoles, verticals, or loops.  My lot is fairly small and shares an access road lined by power poles and other obstructions.  A tower is out of the question for now.  A tower will have to wait until the XYL and I build our house on a larger lot.  Meantime, I’m having fun building a variety of “skyhooks”.  Although I’ve tried stealth antennas inside the house, they don’t work as well as an outdoor antenna.  I just don’t like working too close to radiating elements and the problems they often create with in-house wiring and entertainment systems.  At the power levels I run (around 5-10 watts), my precautions are probably extreme.  Of course, amateur radio and all of its sub-hobbies provide an endless avenue to explore the electromagnetic  spectrum.  So much to investigate, so little time.  The idea is to have fun at minimal cost.

One of my future projects will be to build a low-power beacon station for 10-meters.  I have a few old CB radios that could be modified for that purpose.  Most likely, I’ll opt for a kit or a home-brew contraption of my own design.  I have a few spare deep cycle marine batteries and some small solar panels which could be used to power the project.  It wouldn’t be too hard to erect a 10-meter vertical in the backyard.  I’ve got enough radio projects to keep me busy for several months.  The other project will be to get an HF transceiver in the Honda Odyssey van.  I may have to think this one out, since I am adverse to punching a hole in the roof or on the side to accommodate a mobile whip.  I’m not a skilled metal worker or auto body specialist, so I may go for some kind of removeable magnetic mount.  The efficiency of this kind of arrangement will be low, so I may have to look at other options.

All the above is continguent on actually having the time to do a proper, professional job.  Any guidance in this area would be welcome.  Never a dull minute…time just seems to move faster the older I get.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog


With most of news assignments done for the day, I’ll take a break and mentally organize my amateur radio projects for the remainder of the week.  For once, the news cycle has calmed a bit after the flurry of excitement over the involuntary demise of Osama bin Laden, the aftermath of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Northern Japan, and the massive flooding of our own midwest.  Never a dull moment in this business, and you take a break where you can.  Like many of us who call broadcasting our home away from home, a brief respite is welcome anytime.  Most of my shifts run 0400 to 1600 local time with additional time on Saturday and Sunday to pick up “loose ends” ( special programs, interviews, maintenance, and other unexpected events such as hard drive failures, computer repairs, and T1 problems).  Operations on a seismic-active island can often be challenging…nothing like a little shake, rattle, and roll to keep the juices flowing. 

I should have some spare hours this week to pursue my ongoing improvement scheduled for the KH6JRM radio shack.  Most of the effort is directed to keeping my near antique equipment functioning.  I must confess I enjoy working on the hybrid tube stuff, such as my recently acquired Kenwood 520.  There’s sufficient room for my pudgy fingers, so I can work with relative ease.  My soldering skills are getting better–just look at the scars on my fingers…ooch!!  Anyway, the low-level therapy keeps my somewhat sane.  Of course, my neighbors have a different idea.  To them, I’m the “radio nut” that pulls voices out of the air and occaisionally keeps their music systems operating.  Since I operate at QRP levels, I don’t get RFI complaints.  My antennas are mostly out of sight and well disguised.  Besides, the XYL knows where I am most of the time, so those “honey-do” projects usually get done. 

The other rigs are working well after routine maintenance every few months.  The salt air and moisture of Hawaii’s tropical environment take their toll, especially on antennas and exposed rigs.  The Swan 100-MX and the Yaesu FT-7 are easy to clean.  Eventually, even these dependable transceivers will bite the dust.  But for now, they do the job.  I’m still saving for the Elecraft K3–that may take a while, considering how fragile our economy, and therefore my job, is.  In the commercial broadcast business, if you don’t sell and get the necessary numbers from Arbitron or the other ratings companies, you fade to black.  Last October, three radio stations in the Hilo, Hawaii market filed for bankruptcy and left the air.  These stations are now being subjected to a court-ordered liquidation under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy laws.  Fortunately, some of their employees found work elsewhere.  Our radio community in the islands is quite small, so the loss of any radio or television station can hurt, especially if you were close to those who worked there.

With that in mind, the XYL and I have gone into semi-survival mode–meaning no debt, paying with cash or check, and taking care of bills as they come in. We live simply.  We don’t have cable, high speed internet, or dish TV.  I admit that dial-up is a royal pain in the backside, but the money we save on cable goes to a variety of purposes, such as fuel ($4.49/gallon in Hilo), food (it’s gone up 16 percent since 2010), and entertainment.  Fortunately, the local public library has DVDs for a weekly rental of only $1.00.  I’ve cobbled together a home-brew home theatre of sorts, consisting of a recent vintage, large screen television, a Sony DVD/VHS (remember those?) player, a fairly news CD player, my old Sherwood amp, a Techniques turn table (yes, we have many LPs), a rack of Ampex 350 tape decks, and some Altec Lansing speakers.  I’m refurbishing an old Pioneer cassette deck to make the system complete.  We go to movies occasionally, thanks to the discount from our county senior citizen discount card.  We make sure to go to a decent restaurant at least once a week and earmark special treats for the holiday season, birthdays, and anniversaries.  I finally replaced my old 1996 Toyota Tercel with a demo-model 2010 Honda Odyssey Van.  The van has been paid off–what a chore that was–The van is useful for a variety of radio station purposes (remotes, sports broadcasts, and the drag races) and for taking my XYL’s school projects to her classroom.  We don’t live a fancy life, but we still have fun.  A day at the beach or the local museums can provide a refreshing and free break from all of the turmoil of current life.  The only moderately high-tech device I have in the arsenal is my iPhone, which is a remarkable, if costly instrument.  When I finally retire (whenever that occurs is anybody’s guess), I’ll turn it in and get a simple, pay as you go phone from Netzero or one of the other providers.  We still have a regular phone at the QTH, mostly to keep me in contact with the radio station and to provide dial-up for the computer.  I’ve retained the hard-wired telephone because cellular service in my rural area is abyssmal due to mountains and irregular terrain.  To use my iPhone, I have to go into my backyard near the 40-meter vertical to get anykind of decent signal.

So, you could say I’m a regressive left over from the 20th century.  I am and I could care less what the trends are.  Our stuff is paid off and we owe nothing.  I get my tech fix by working at the radio station.  It’s a joy to use the modern equipment, computers, and programming software now available to broadcasters.  I’ve learned a lot from our engineers and IT people–so much to learn and so little time.  All told, working at KKBG-FM and KHLO-AM is a lot of fun and well worth the 70 hours I put in each week.  I’ll miss all of this when I leave to retreat into the sunset.  I suppose that’s part of the reason I enjoy working with my older amateur radio equipment.  I have the best of both worlds.

The news day is coming to a quick close and it’s time to do the final equipment checks before I head to the QTH.  Have an excellent day.  Get on the air and have some fun, no matter how modest your station is.  Adventure lied ahead, propagation willing, of course.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

%d bloggers like this: