KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

Did you survive Field Day over the weekend?  The Big Island Amateur Radio Club held its Field Day at Hilo’s Wailoa Visitors Center.  From what I could see during a break from my newsroom duties, the club had a small, but enthusiastic turnout.  Bob, AH6J, the Pacific Section Manager for the ARRL, had a nice public display complete with a grab and go communications system (we call it the “bucket” because all of the radio equipment fits in a padded bucket).  He spent most of Saturday evening talking up amateur radio with the local residents who stopped by for demonstrations and free snacks.  The club conducted FCC tests as well, netting one new General Class and one new Technician Class License.  I submitted a record of the public service announcements KKBG-FM/KHLO-AM aired during the run-up to Field Day.  Also posted was a Field Day article from the “Hawaii Tribune-Herald” newspaper.  I’m confident the club will get its 100 bonus points for public information.  Although I wasn’t able to spend much time at the 2A station, I had a lot of fun talking with our younger members.  The club “elmers” were pleased that the teen aged boys did so well fighting the QRM and getting some valuable experience in a contest and emergency situation.  The young hams seemed to enjoy themselves.  The club station was simple–two small monoband beams for 20 and 15 meters and phased verticals for 40 meters.  The club even had a satellite station.  I don’t know how many satellites the club nabbed, since I had to return to the broadcast station and get some shut eye before I returned for another day at the drag races.  I’m the track announcer, so I couldn’t do much operating.  But, at least I showed up and managed to talk a bit about ham radio with a few visitors.

During a break earlier today, I ran across an excellent arntenna article by Joe Tyburczy, W1GFH, called “The $4 Special”.  The article was re-published in today’s (27 June 2011) edition of the website.  I read the article a few years ago and learned the value of “rolling your own” antenna at a very cheap price.  Joe’s advice is simple: “The plain and simple truth is that wire antennas for the HF bands were intended to be hand-made and not store-bought.”  While he acknowledges that most commercial antennas are well designed and effective, he prefers to make his own antennas with materials at hand.  Although his $4 price may have expanded a bit since the article was first published, the cost effectiveness of his basic inverted “v” can’t be beat if you’re on a strict budget.  This ham speaks my language.  My current antenna (excluding my under the house 40-meter loop), is an inverted “v” similar to W1GFH’s.  The only difference between his skyhook and mine is that I’m using 450-ohm balanced line instead of his 300-ohm TV twinlead.  Joe says you can use anywhere from 33 to 66 feet for each side of the “v” and about 30 feet of twinlead to your tuner or balun/tuner combination.    Each leg of my “v” is 33 feet, so I can roam between 40 and 10 meters without putting a huge strain on my old Drake MN-4 ATU.  While the performance of this arrangement will not match a decent beam or a dipole 50 feet in the air, it does get me many contacts running between 10 and 50 watts.  Another benefit is the absence of an extensive radial system buried in the lawn.  My yard is very small, so my original radial system for the old vertical ran all over the place.  If you want a simple antenna that works, try Joe’s inverted “v”.  There’s no harm in saving for the beam and a 50-foot tower, but, if you want to get on the air with a basic system, the inverted “v” will work until your ideal antenna system is built.  Because of the limitations of my back yard and the proximity of power lines, the tower and beam are being saved for another day.  I still have fun and manage to get all the contacts I can handle.  Other than getting 30 to 33 feet of mast, most of the material should be fairly cheap and available at the nearest hardware store.  Besides, I prefer to build my own antennas.  Each to their own.  If you can afford a tower and a beam, go for it.  The closest I’ve come to erecting a tower and a beam was at a Field Day several years ago.  I’ve used a few homebrew vertical beams in the past…many patterned after the directional arrays used in AM broadcasting.  These antennas work quite well, if you’re willing to have a extensive radial system and a robust phase shifting network.  My homebrew rhombic will have to wait until I move into a more expansive home with a bit more property.  Rhombics are excellent if you have the space, poles, and wire to string them.  For now, I’ll use the simple verticals, inverted “vees”, and loops I can erect myself.  The important thing is to get on the air and use the best system you can obtain with the resources available.

That’s all for now.  It’s time to close the newsroom until 0300 hrs (local time) Tuesday.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

During a brief break from the newsroom this morning I ran across an excellent antenna article by Don Keith (N4KC) in the 21 June 2011 edition of  Keith is one of my favorite authors because he mixes a bit of humor with his view of amateur radio.  He never seems to take himself too seriously–which may be a good thing in a world tied to popularity, peer pressure, and political correctness.  His article, “What? You only have ONE antenna?”, really strikes home for those of us restricted by space, CCR enforcement boards, and condo HOA groups.  Basically, Keith asks hams to use both vertical and horizontal polorized antennas to get more contacts from your limited radio operating hours.  Keith explains how simple verticals and dipoles can keep your operating productive and rewarding, despite the irregularities of propagantion. I’ve used both verticals, inverted “vees”, and low-level loops to maintain both local and DX contacts.  The best part of Keith’s opus is the relative simplicity of the antennas–something even a non-technical type such as I can understand.  Of course, the author (and many of us) would prefer to have a multi-element beam on a 40-meter mast fed by a cool running Alpha amp–but, reality, being what it is, can only allow what is affordable or tolerable to those around us.  The article was a light-hearted attempt to bring in fun at a low cost.  I got a chuckle out of the well-crafted piece.  You might enjoy the article as well.

Are you set up for field day?  That one-day contest, emergency communications exercise, and bug swatting marathon rolls around this Saturday.  If you need to find a field day site near you, just go to the ARRL website and search for field day topics.  My participation this year will be limited since I’m announcing a full day of drag races at the Hilo Drag Strip.  The radio station has a contract to do the races and I’m the one feeding the broadcast reports.  So, there won’t be too much time to battle the insects at field day.  I’ll probably visit the Big Island Amateur Radio Club site at Hilo’s Wailoa Visitors Center Saturday night before I head back to the station and a good night’s sleep.  I usually spend the first night at the station, since races run through the evening hours.  There is no sense driving home when fatigue dulls the senses.

Enjoy your weekend and good luck in your field day event.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

The wet, humid weekend is coming to a close on the Island of Hawaii.  As usual, the radio station staff has been busy with remote broadcasts and special events.  The big item was another round of the “Moku O Hawaii” outrigger canoe races on Saturday–always a well-attended affair.  Hawaii Island teams are preparing for the State of Hawaii Canoe Racing Championships which will be held 06 August on Maui. Most of the staff called in reports with their cellphones.  In days gone by, our remote broadcasts were sent to the radio station by small transmitters using business band frequencies near the amateur radio 70 cm (450 Mhz) band.  These units remain in a standby status, since cell phone coverage is quite good in the Hilo and Kailua-Kona area.  The air quality is excellent. If a remote broadcast is out of cell phone or UHF range, we use a TIE line system to send digital signals back to the main station.  Although the TIE line uses convential telephone lines, the air quality is quite good.  Our sports staff uses TIE line equipment for many games not within range of cell phones.  Some broadcasters use TIE line equipment as a studio-transmitter link (STL).  We haven’t done that step yet, since there are some reliability issues with this system.  Most of our STLs are Harris Interplex equipment using T1 lines.  While the T1 lines are reliable, they do suffer from a variety of shortfalls, including storms and traffic accidents which take down utility lines and T1 lines attached.  Keeping those lines up takes a bit of effort from the engineering staff and the local telephone carrier.  The station keeps UHF STL equipment in reserve, just in case the need arises.  Digital systems are great until they fail.  The one station in our cluster that keeps on running is our ESPN outlet in Hilo (KHLO-AM) and Kealakekua (KKON-AM).  Each station uses a balanced analog telephone line to relay programming to each transmitter site.  Old fashioned and monaural–but it works.

Having something is reserve also applies to our amateur radio stations.  I’m reluctant to sell some of my older analog transceivers because they are so reliable and easy to maintain.  In that category I place my recently acquired Kenwood 520–a real gem of a transceiver.  Same goes for my 30-year old Swan 100-MX and even older Yaesu FT-7.  These rigs can’t compare with the modern DSP and feature- enhanced transceivers of today–but, with a little mainteance and non-abusive treatment, these rigs will last many years.  If you have the opportunity to acquire an older 80s vintage rig, do so.  Be sure to get the maintenace manual and necessary tools to keep the rig operational.  There are many Yahoo groups that can help you keep that “boat anchor” alive and kicking.  My main problem now is keeping the hybrid Kenwood 520 supplied with tubes–I do have sources for the driver (12BY7) and the finals (2 X 6146B).  The final transistors for the old Swan and Yaesu may present a problem in the future, but, for now, routine maintenance keeps these rigs working.  I’m saving for a new Elecraft K3, which will serve as my prime rig, but I will not sell the older rigs that have served me well.  Besides, the older rigs are fairly easy to repair and allow for modifications if you so desire.  As many hams have noticed, the older Kenwoods and Yaesus have excellent audio and have that “glow in the dark” attraction.  Sort of takes you back to a time when ham radio seemed more enjoyable and a bit more friendly.  As with many things in current life, our hobbies often reflect the coarseness and crudeness that contemporary life is becoming.   I’ve been in the broadcasting business for 37 years and I have seen the gradual erosion of society, political accountability, and personal responsibility in the type of stories I air.  Some of this attitude seeps into the amateur radio community.  All I do is turn the dial or switch bands to escape those who delight in making life difficult for the vast majority of amateurs who only want to have a relaxing QSO with someone.  That’s one of the reasons I gravitate to cw–most of the operators in the lower 25 Khz of each band seem pretty decent and willing to help others.

Don’t forget the ARRL Field Day this weekend.  Be sure to bring a good appetite, your operating skill, and plenty of mosquito repellant.  Check with the ARRL to find a Field Day station near you.  If you can’t make a club station, go solo with a home or mobile station.  You can still have fun.  Who knows?  You could even get an award for being the top home or mobile station in your area.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

While I was taking a mid-morning break from the newsroom this morning, I ran across today’s edition of the ARRL e-newsletter, which is directed to emergency responders and amateur radio operators serving in ARES and RACES groups.  The newsletter usually contains valuable material for those of us that can’t devote much time to public service support.  I was especially interested in the response of amateur radio operators to the recent tornadoes and floods which have plagued the mid-west and southern states.  Hams serving in those areas provided valuable communications links for hospitals, police, fire, and civil defense officials.  Some operators are still on the job as volunteers with the Salvation Army SATERN network.  The work of these volunteers was underlined by FCC comments delivered at the recent meeting of VOAD  (volunteers offering assistance for disasters–I believe that’s the proper title) groups.  Various communications experts acknowledged the role of amateur radio operators “when all else fails.”  Despite the sophistication of our modern technology, natural events can often render current communications networks unusable for varying periods of time.  Even in Hawaii, which has a fairly modern communications system, natural forces can adversely affect public service agencies.  During the 11 March 2011 tsunami event, there were periodic interruptions in cell phone service, texting, and even the internet…although these outtages can be attributed in part to the overloading of the network, the message is clear–systems are subject to failure, and they will fail.  Many of us in Hawaii remember the 1992 visit of Hurricane Iniki which damaged many homes and wiped out overhead power lines.  Hawaii Island amateur operators sent over a spare repeater to help police and fire get basic public service communications back on line.  Hawaii Air and Army National Guard units established emergency telephone systems to carry the rest of the disaster-related information.  So, despite all of the latest whiz-bang technology available, it’s prudent to have backup systems ready to go…especially on an island in the middle of nowhere.

So, how are you set up for emergencies?  In light of recent natural disasters, it may be a good idea to see just how prepared you are to maintain communications.  Do you have a “go” kit, a food and water reserve, and a few spare rigs and related accessories in case you’re called upon to help restore basic communications or to provide health and welfare support.  While I can only speak for myself, I have taken such steps over the past few years, gradually adding items as the budget permits.  I suppose this “survival” mentality is underscored by my role as a news director of a commercial broadcast station which must stay on the air.  We have backup equipment, generators, and even simple antennas to get us back up when commercial power is gone and telephone communication is lost.  I haven’t used our satellite phone yet, but it could come in handy if all communications are down.  Our station also has dedicated personnel station at the Hilo Civil Defense Office and the local Red Cross facility.  While I can’t duplicate this arrangement at home, I try to have basic survival  materials close at hand.  A “go” kit is in the van; the XYL has assembled at least a month of food and water in our storage areas; I keep the gas tank in the van at least 1/2 full at all times; and the ham station is fully off-grid, powered by deep cycle batteries and solar cells.  Who knows what will happen when roads are washed away and communications are lost.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but a little forethought could save you a lot of grief latter on.  Anyway, reading the ARRL e-newsletter can give you many ideas on how you may approach disasters and prepare for the loss of public services.  I’m amazed by the number of people I encounter in Hawaii who don’t have a clue what to do when disaster strikes.  This is not the fault of Civil Defense and local government, who continually train for such things.  My station has done numerous public service campaigns on emergency preparednes…I just hope some of this rubs off on the public.

Have a good day…Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

This week has begun wet and windy–the sort of weather Big Islanders normally see in January and Februray.  The rain is welcome, since most places in the 50th state are experiencing periods of prolonged drought.  Even in rainy Hilo (135 inches per year), total rainfall is only 50% of normal.  Even with that in mind, antenna work has been a damp and breezy affair now that the trade winds have returned.  It was a good thing I erected the inverted “v” before the current showers began.  There have been a few thundershowers sprinkled throughout the day, so antenna work will be put aside until the weather clears.  Storms in the past few weeks have left a nice snowpack atop Mauna Kea, but most of that is gone to damp and drizzly weather on the summit of the 13,000-foot mountain.  The weather hasn’t affected telescope operations much and exploration of the heavens continues unabatted.  A trip to the mid-level facility to take in a night of stargazing is quite a treat.  Just be sure to bring a good jacket and gloves.  The air is fairly thin at the 9,000-foot elevation, even more so at the summit.  The view of the heavens from either site is quite stunning.

Once I wrap up the news cycle for the day, it’s back to the QTH for a few hours of cw on the lower 25khz of 40-meters.  The improvised inverted “v” works well, considering the haste with which I put up the mast.  As mentioned before, the original vertical in the backyard took a lightning strike and thoroughly scarred the wits out of me (not that I had much brain matter left after a few decades on this planet).  I suffered no damage from this storm, other than my over inflated ego and the old MFJ fiberglass mast.  This time around the yard, I rely on a “close of day” shut down procedure that will maximize safety for both the QTH and the rigs at the operating station.  As a matter of course, I disconnect all feed lines, lower the mast to ground level, and unplug everything in the house when storm warnings are up.  Over the last twenty years, all I’ve lost is that recycled fiberglass mast, a few feet of wire, and some 450-ohm window line.  Perhaps the Good Lord protects fools and ham operators (I’ve been both at various times).

What are you doing for Field Day on 25-26 June?  The ARRL has a list of Field Day locations that may be within your driving range.  This year, my participation will be minimal because of pre-commitments from the radio station (the news room never stops).  I’ll probably interview a few local hams  and air some public service announcements to help Big Island amateur radio clubs get points for publicity.  The ARRL has some professionally produced public service announcements that you can submit to your local radio or cable station.  The Big Island Amateur Radio Club will set up operations at Hilo’s Wailoa Visitors Center, which is close to the major highways serving Hilo and the University of Hawaii at Hilo community.  The Center is located on an open field with a convenient salt water pond nearby.  In past years, those areas have given club members an excellent place to erect antennas from phased verticals to monoband beams on portable towers.  If I can get away from the Hilo Drag Strip after sunset, I’ll head for the Center and help out with some of the logging chores.  After a full day doing news and calling the auto races, I won’t feel like talking on a rig.  Besides, it’s more fun getting the newly licensed operators on the air.  Some of the younger operators are pretty good, once they get over their “mic fright”.  I always enjoy Field Day–it gives me a chance to see old friends, swap tall tales (or half-truths), eat some great food (no joke, our club has some great cooks), and fight off the swarms of mosquitos.

If you can’t get to a Field Day site, try running an emergency station from your QTH or vehicle.  I’ve done both.  Who knows?  You may get an award for your efforts, howerver meager.  The experience could prove useful in a real emergency.  Just ask those hams still working in the Southeast and Midwest after the severe floods and tornados.  For them, Field Day is no drill.

‘Tis time to close up the news room until early Tuesday morning.  Until next time, Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

The news day is just about over at KKBG-FM/KHLO-AM.  A truly busy day was had by all.  The arrival of direct United Airlines service to Hawaii Island began Thursday night–an event covered by our radio station.  Hilo hasn’t had consistent direct service to Los Angeles and San Franciso since 1983, so this is a big deal for those of us on Hawaii Island.  In the past, those traveling to the U.S. mainland from Hawaii Island had to fly first to Honolulu and get a connection from there–adding more time and delay to the entire process.  I hope the service can continue for a while–our visitor industry needs a boost, now that Japan’s troubles have put a real dent in our tourist industry.  For an island that has few industries, any “burp” in visitor arrivals can ripple through our fragile economy.  In years past, we had an extensive sugar and cattle industry, but most of that is gone–a victim to cost and intense foreign competition.  So, anything that keeps our visitor industry moving forward is good news.  Who knows what will happen these days?  With the economy being the way it is, nothing is certain.

Of course, our problems in the central Pacific are minor compared to the suffering experienced by those living in “tornado alley” or in areas ravaged by flood and fire.  I haven’t seen such extremes in weather for many years.  I’m proud of what fellow amateurs are doing to facilitate communication and welfare in these hard-hit areas.  The recent ARRL letter has a good review of what services amateur radio operators are offering to relief agencies and the Salvation Army Satern Network.  For these folks, “Field Day” has an entirely new and realistic meaning.  You can find out more about field day sites and activities at  I would recommend going to a field day site near you, if only to see what can be done under less-than-ideal circumstances.  As mentioned earlier, one can always run a home station under emergency power and operate as a 1-E station.

My modest antenna farm is back to normal following a bad thunderstorm last Saturday, 04 June.  The old MFJ fiberglass mast in the back yard that supported a 40-meter vertical took a lightning hit.  Fortunately, I disconnected all cables from the mast and grounded the vertical at a 8′ ground rod.  Previously, I disconnected the tuned counterpoise as well.  All of my household electronics, phone, and appliances were disconnected before the storm, so they escaped damage.  The QTH was unscathed.  Everything worked once power was restored.  This time I was lucky.  I should have pivoted the mast to ground level this time around–a task I normally do as a matter of course when I finish operating for the day.  That task just slipped my mind.  I won’t make that mistake again.

Have a safe weekend…it could be worse–we could be organized.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

KH6JRM’s Amateur Radio Blog

I had an interesting experience on Saturday (04 June 2011) that proves that I’m not as smart as I thought.  Following a long day at the radio station news room, I looked forward to some relaxation at the amateur radio station.  Afterall , there is just so much “doom and gloom” one can stand in the news business.  Anyway, before I left, I picked up a flash flood watch and thunderstorm warning for Hawaii Island, something that occurs frequently from April to June around here.  Since the weather radar showed my Laupahoehoe QTH out of the danger zone, I figured I would squeeze in a few hours of relaxed cw until the storms were due to hit around 1900W.  Wrong…when I arrived home, I figured there was sufficient time to work the rig and still attend a small graduation party for one of neighbor’s daughters at the Laupahoehoe Gym.  So, in my haste, I disconnected all cables, feedlines, and rigs just in case the QTH lost power due to wind and rain (that happens frequently here).  After I disconnected the twin lead from the inverted “v” and attached the feed line to a 8-foot ground stake, removed the 4:1 balan from the garage wall, and disconnected all electronic equipment (including the stove, water heater, and refrigerator), all preparations for the late evening weather appeared normal.  Big surprise.  Just as I entered the house, a flash caught my eye and, in less than a second, a big thunderboomer split the air.  In the rush of events, I had neglected to lower the fiberglass mast in the back yard…the rod was badly burned and the twin lead was largely vaporized.  Other than losing the mast, nothing was damaged. I was lucky my stupidity hadn’t done me in.  It will take a few days to get things back to normal.  The under-the-house loop is fine and everything in the QTH is fine.  No appliances were damaged and all my electronic equipment checked out alright.  One never knows what Nature will throw at you…never a dull moment along the Hamakua Coast.

Have a good day and disconnect when in doubt.  I have no desire to meet St. Peter at this time.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

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