Amateur Radio rides out the storm


WELCOME TO THE NEW AGE OF INSTABILITY

The weekly news cycle is coming to an end.  After a week of generally disturbing economic, political, and international news,  I’ll be glad to flee the radio station news room for some peaceful hours at the amateur radio station nestled in the back bedroom of my home.  One thing is for sure in the news business–it is never dull, no matter what you hear and read.  There is always something building that will break out in a banner headline in the days to come.  Keeping up with all of the twists and turns of the current day surely makes for a busy day.  After doing 30 or so newscasts on our four program streams, I am ready to vacate the media circus for the relative calm of my modest neighborhood along the Hamakua Coast.  Sometimes I wonder how things got so out of hand in my country.  Even after 33 years in the news gathering business, I am still amazed how normally decent, intelligent people can be so taken in by the hucksters passing themselves off as leaders of this once dynamic nation.  I suppose many of us just fail to see the larger picture and naively opt for putting trust in a “dream” with no foundation.  Add to this mix irresponsibility, incompetence, and lack of concern for our own citizens and you get a ship of state with no rudder, no purpose, and little concern for the consequences of past actions.  Facing reality is our basic problem.  In my newscasts and daily news blog, I try to raise the awareness level of my fellow citizens, but, as you may suspect, those efforts are ignored or criticized as the ramblings of a news junkie.  There is a good side, though.  My news blog gets about a 100 hits a day with comments–not bad for a small outpost in the Central Pacific.

Sorry for the rant, but I get tired of people ignoring the obvious and failing to take steps to correct some of the small problems around us.  Our island community elects the same people to public office, tolerates a growing drug culture, and generally refuses to prepare for the economic tsumani that will engulf us in the future.  Granted, many of us on this “rock” do care, especially in those areas where human services are concerned.  Many of our local civic groups, churches, and non-profit agencies do an excellent job of serving the less fortunate, who have been cut off from county assistance because of the state’s budget woes.  None the less, I wonder just how well off we will all be here once the ocean going freighters can’t afford to come here….freight charges, fuel surcharges, and a myriad of other factors have made daily life in the Aloha State a very costly affair….try $4.21 per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Hilo.  And that is just for openers.  

SO, WHAT DOES ONE DO IN THIS SITUATION?

Like many of my fellow amateur radio operators and nearby neighbors, I have cut expenses to the bone.  The small family garden, the weekly farmers’ market, and the geneosity of friends have helped trim the grocery bill to a manageable level.  My xyl and I practice energy conservation whenever possible.  If we are not using something electrical, we turn it off.  We have a timer on the water heater as well–all of that helps trim expenses.  I keep the van tuned and maintained so it runs at the best efficiency possible.  As for my amateur radio station, I use solar-charged batteries to stay off the grid.  The equipment and antennas are definitely “old school”.  The old Swan 100-MX and Kenwood 520 are the main rigs and they do a good job for my irregular appearances on the amateur radio bands.  As mentioned in earlier posts, the antenna system is homebrew, using wire, coax, and twin lead I find at yard sales or from station studio rebuilds.  I have been fortunate to acquire some useful pieces of RG-6 from various station projects.  RG-6 has been converted into patch cords and even feed lines for my verticals, inverted “vees”, and loops.  I have found RG-6, extendable aluminun “fruit pickers, and decently priced pvc pipe at local hardware stores.  The harware store can be a treasure trove for amateur radio operators confined to a limited budget.  I suppose my conservative New England roots are showing, but I prefer to “roll my own” when it comes to antennas.  The money freed from the process can be used for other purposes, such as food and fuel.  I have nothing against the many commercial antennas available, but food, shelter, and fuel come first.  The same principal applies to my rigs.  While the old Kenwood and Swan are by no means state of the art, they fulfill the purpose of my amateur radio operations.  I keep the rigs clean and don’t push the finals to exhaustion.  Most of the time, I run power levels of less than 50 watts.  With my solar chareged batteries, I don’t worry about bumping up the electric bill or suffering through a power outage.  I am still putting a few dollars away for an Elecraft K-3, but that rig will have to wait until I can pay for it up front.

LEADING A REDUCED AMATEUR RADIO LIFESTYLE

Despite these self-imposed restrictions, I still have a good time working the bands.  Admitedly, my “antenna farm” on the strip of land I call a backyard will not break a DX pileup.  But, I enjoy what can be done under the circumstances.  My modest arrangement provides many hours of fun at very little cost.

Some of my amateur radio friends think such steps are a bit extreme.  They may be right.  I just prefer to pay cash, incur no debt, and do things for myself.  I am not a technical whiz by any means.  I have the solder burns and few piles of damaged components to prove my marginal competence.  But life is a journey and there is much to learn along the way.  Giving up is not an option.  I have lived in restrictive radio enviroments before and still put rf into the atmosphere.  One must be creative and willing to push the knowledge envelope. Thankfully, there are many books and websites to help you enjoy this fascinating hobby.  So, take the bull by the tail and face the situation.  Do what you can to get on the air.  Improve your capabilities as your budget and time allow.

Thanks for letting me vent–it has been a stressful week.  Things could be worse–I could be organized.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM

Simple antennas for Hawaii Amateur Radio Operators, part 12


NEW ANTENNA FINALLY UP

Over the course of the past few days, I finally added another skyhook to my modest antenna farm.  It took a few days to secure a few sections of 2″ pvc pipe and to  assemble the wire, coax, and twin lead for the project.  The antenna consists of 32′ of pvc pipe, 32′ of 14-gauge housewire, 32′ of 14-gauge wire serving as an elevated counterpoise, and 40′ of 450-ohm twin lead attached to a 4:1 balun.  Approximately 15′ of RG-6 coax runs from the balun to the Drake MN-4 ATU. 

IS THIS BASIC ANTENNA A DX BUSTER?

No.  But it does work and can be used from 40-meters to 10-meters.  The design goes back to the 1920’s and has been refined over the past years by many noted amateurs.  Other than buying a few pieces of pvc pipe, my expenses were zero.  Fortunately, I have a well-stocked “junque” box and was able to find nearly everything I needed on site.  I’m enjoying this simple antenna, given the space restrictions of my back yard.  Like my inverted “vee”, this antenna can be swiveled down to ground level when it is not in use.  The visual impact of both antennas is minimal.  Since I do most of my operating after sunset, the antenna farm is largely invisible to the neighbors.

OTHER LOW IMPACT ANTENNA IDEAS

If verticals and dipoles aren’t part of your antenna plans, you may want to experiment with loops of various sizes.  For those facing CC & R and HOA restrictions, a small magnetic loop may get you on the air.   MFJ sells a magnetic loop and all of the associated hardware necessary to keep you active from an unfriendly environment.  Although it appears a bit expensive, many amateur radio operators seem to like this product.

I was able to place a full-wave 40-meter loop (141′) under my house for a backup antenna.  My qth is supported by pillars and concrete pads approximately 5′ above ground level, so there is some clearance for the antenna.  This loop provides good regional service and works the Hawaiian Island chain with ease.  The loop is, for all practical purposes, a NVIS antenna with coverage stretching out to about 300 miles.  I get no RFI in the qth, since power levels are usually 10 watts or less.

MORE IDEAS FOR THE ANTENNA CHALLENGED

If you live in an area where antennas are considered little more than an “eyesore” (thanks to CC &R and HOA restrictions), you may have to be a bit creative in getting your amateur station on the air.  An internet search for stealth or hidden antennas will reveal a wealth of information that can help you rejoin the ham radio community.  I have a well-worn edition of an ARRL publication on stealth antennas which has given me several good ideas.   Don’t be afraid to experiment with low power, various digital modes, or unusual antennas.  The idea is to get on the air and enjoy the hobby with the resources available.  The local hardware store can supply you with most of the antenna items you need.  Even the local cable company may be willing to part with unused lengths of coax.  Fitted with suitable connectors, RG-6 can serve as a replacement for RG-58 and RG-8x.  A decent ATU can match this nominal 75-ohm cable to your rig. 

That’s it for today……it’s time to close the news room and head for the qth.  I hope to squeeze in a few hours at the J-38 key on the lower portion of 40-meters before I roll back the sheets for a good night’s rest. 

Have a good weekend.  Do your  best to get on the air…use it or lose it.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

Simple antennas for the Hawaii Amateur Radio Operator, part 11


9/11 REMEMBERED

Hawaii amateur operators joined the rest of the nation in commemorating the tragic events of 11 September 2001–an event that changed this country and affected the lives of thousands around the world.  On Hawaii Island, residents observed a moment of silence at 7 a.m. Sunday to observe the event.

I remember that day very well.  I arrived shortly at the radio station shortly after 3 a.m. and joined my then morning man, D.C. Carlson, in an all-day, total news broadcast.  Our usual Adult Contemporty format was shelved until 3 p.m. as we aired coverage from the Associated Press, ABC, and CBS.  Chris Leonard, the manager of our cross-town rival KWXX-FM, lost two close friends and a cousin in the tragedy.  Many Hawaii  Island residents knew friends and family who perished on that terrible day.  On that day, at least, all of us were one in mourning that dreadful day.  If my memory serves me, I lost my voice shortly after 3 p.m., signaling that I had “run out of gas” for the day.  Thanks to warm water, green tea, and a shot of Jack Daniel’s and honey, the “pipes” recovered enough to go on the air the next day.  That was quite an experience. 

Nothing has been “normal” since that day.  Air travel is a real chore,  security has been “enhanced” everywhere, and the battle against what we in this nation label as “terrorists” continues unabatted a decade after 9/11.  For many in Hawaii, the war against the “shadow enemy” has become personal, with many island families losing friends and family members in that seemingly endless conflict.

Suffice to say, all of us in Hawaii will never be the same.  I’ll leave it to the “experts” to determine how and why Americans got involved in this mess.  All I can do is offer solace to the victims, report the news as best I can, and help residents here understand the new reality of the age.  The truth is very grim–this nation and many others will be engaged in this battle for a long time.  Those of us in the media bear some responsibility for not keeping the public informed and aware of what is really happening.  In this remote part of the Central Pacific, the world seems far away, but it is not.  Even Hawaii Island has had its share of bomb threats and alerts related to possible terrorist activities.  A review of past articles in the “Hawaii Tribune-Herald” and in “West Hawaii Today” newspapers will show the Aloha State has not escaped the current reality.  Welcome to the new age of uncertainty, national bankruptcy, and economic stagnation. 

AMATEUR RADIO AND THE SUSPENSION OF REALITY

After a day filled with bad news, I can’t wait to get out of the newsroom and head home for a few hours on the old Swan 100-MX.  My modest ham radio station and even simpler antennas (verticals, inverted “vees”) give me hours of relaxation and stress release from a world I can’t change.  About the only thing one can do these days is change the way you react to the events around you.  Amateur radio provides a needed respite from the cares of the world.  I am still amazed by what can be done with low power, modest antennas, and decent propagation.  I was never really into contests–too much stress and a reminder of the pressure I feel in the newsroom.  I prefer casual contacts in a relaxed atmosphere.  About the only time I jump into a contest is when Field Day rolls around or when I stumble into a contest where my KH6 callsign may help with a multiplier.  Of course, my laid back style isn’t for everyone.  There are enough varieties of amateur radio to appeal to just about everyone.  Choose your favorite and go for it!

THE ANTENNA FARM RETHOUGHT

My inverted 40-meter inverted “vee” is working as intended–nothing spectacular, but it does provide the contacts I need.  Presently, I’m working on a 40-meter vertical with a tuned counterpoise in the open space between the qth and the neighbor’s house.  The skyhook will be fed with 450-ohm twin lead hooked up to a 4:1 balun.  A short run of RG-8 to the Drake MN-4 will complete the system.  I used this arrangement last year and it proved workable from 40 to 10 meters.   The 40-meter full wave loop under the house will be retained for backup and as a medium wave antenna for the Hallicrafters SX-62A.   I haven’t put in a 2-meter rig in the Odyssey van yet, but I’m working on it.  I have a 1/4 wave mag mount antenna in my “junk box” and some spare RG-8x coax that could be pressed into service.  Add this little project to the usual household chores and a long day at the newsroom and you get a busy week.  At least my life isn’t dull.  Have a good day and get on the air with what you have.  You could be surprised.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

Simple Antennas for Hawaii Amateur Radio Operators, part 10


HOLIDAY IS OVER…IT’S BACK TO AMATEUR RADIO

Now that the Labor Day weekend is over, the news room can return to the normal mix of devious politicians, economic confusion, and the usual helping of local crime, prep football, and the ongoing financial crisis in Hawaii County.  Sound familiar?  It seems as if every community in the nation is facing pretty much of the same thing.  Add a few natural disasters such as raging fires in Texas, drenching rains along the Gulf Coast, hurricanes in the Atlantic, and typhoons in East Asia and you have the ingredients for keeping news people employed.  Welcome to the new definition of normal–whatever that is.  With a return to the normal work schedule, I can allocate some more time to Amateur Radio and the reheating of the ionosphere.

ANTENNA IDEAS REVISITED

During my lunch break, I paid a visit to eham.net and its always fascinating forums.  An antenna article by Craig LaBarge (WB3GCK) caught my eye.  In the middle of his website was a section of easily made and deployable antennas that even I could make.  One of his antennas he called the “Up and Outer Antenna”, which he correctly sourced to an article by Lew McCoy (W1ICP) (SK).  Basically, this antenna is a 1/4 wave vertical with a tuned counterpoise–a design that goes back to the 1920s.  I’ve used that design several times with excellent results, especially if it is fed with 450-ohm twinlead.  When I had one of these skyhooks, I was able to cover 40-10 meters easily (with the antenna used primarily for 40-meters–33′ for the vertical section and 33′ for the counterpoise).  This antenna fit into my cramped back yard and gave me many hours of fun.  Another antenna Craig used in his portable operations was something he called the “Pop Up Vertical”.  Construction of this project should be straightforward, since Craig has added pictures and several diagrams.  These two antennas may help some of you affected by space restrictions or overly nosey neighbors.

BACK TO THE HOMESTEAD

My air shift is just about over for the day.  I can’t wait to head home for a few hours of ragchewing on the lower 25 Khz of 40-meters.  I never thought I would enjoy cw, but I do.  After 12 hours of doing newscasts, I’m ready to fire up the old Swan 100-MX and execise my trusty J-38 key.  While my system is on the bottom rung of technology, I still have a lot of fun with the old Swan 100-MX and the ancient J-38 key.  After 12 hours of reading the news, I’m ready to abandon the studio console and the Shure microphones for something more simple and relaxing.  I never thought I would enjoy cw, but I do.  I’m not starved for modern technology–the radio station has enough toys to keep me busy all day.  For me, amateur radio is cheap therapy and a way to de-stress.  My neighbors don’t seem to mind the “radio nut” that lives next door.  And my XYL appreciates the fact that I spend my free time at home where I’am available for various domestic duties.  She has even helped me to erect some of my less than illustrious antenna experiments.  I haven’t convinced her yet to study for her ham license, but I’m working on that little task.  Besides, I’m handy when it comes to fixing “bugs” in her computer and in maintaining our consumer electronic gear.  Things could be worse–I could be organized.

Have a good day and get on the air.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

More simple antenna ideas for the Hawaiian Amateur Radio operator, part 9


How the time flies–the busy Labor Day Weekend is upon us. For those of us who call a radio newsroom our “home away from home”, the next few days will be busy indeed.  While I’ve got the Labor Day Drag Races to run (I’m the tower announcer), the rest of the staff at KKBG-FM/KHLO-AM will be occupied with remote broadcasts, UH-Hilo women’s volleyball games, and a variety of cultural activities.  Hawaii Island may be a large rock in the middle of the Central Pacific, but residents do their best to keep their history and traditions alive.  Once you add some excellent tropical weather,  the Labor Day Weekend will be a genuine pleasure.

With all of the above mentioned activities, there won’t be much time for amateur radio until after Monday.  Between all of this activity I’ll squeeze in some more antenna research and perform the weekly maintenance on the inverted 40-meter inverted “vee” and the 40-meter loop under the house.  Antenna maintenance and repair are alway with Hawaii’s ham operators.  The combination of tropical sun, salt air, vog, and frequent showers can degrade an antenna quickly.  Coax connectors are fully covered with tape and enclosed in plastic storage boxes.  Bare wires are coated with nail polish and wrapped with several layers of waterproof tape.  This rudimentary precaution keeps out most of the moisture.  Even so, water does sneak in after a few months.  Now that I’ve shifted to using 450-ohm balanced line to feed my antennas, the coax corrosion problem is reduced.  In most cases, a few feet of RG-8 or RG-6 (whatever I have on hand) is all I need to connect the 4:1 balun to the trusty Drake MN-4 ATU.  Over the past few years, the local rodent population (primarily roof rats) has developed a taste for coax, so I try to avoid long runs of this feedline.  Never a dull moment around the shack.

Over the past few days, I’ve been researching a few more homebrew antenna ideas for the “antenna farm” in my backyard.  If you’re short of ideas, check out http://www.ac6v.com/.  This site developed by Rod Dinkins, AC6V (SK) and Jeff Dinkins, AC6V (possibly his son) is a continuous antenna textbook with 133 pages to fire up the imagination.  If you prefer a more folksy approach, try out http://www.g4ilo.com/. maintained by Julian Moss of the United Kingdom.  He has a nice, friendly web site and amateur radio blog that explores a variety of antenna and qrp issues.  The only suggestion I haven’t tried from his site is the magnetic loop, which shows promise for those with severe space restrictions.  I believe MFJ makes a magnetic loop antenna suitable for 40 through 15-meter use.  You may want to check out the latest MFJ catalog to make sure the antenna is still being made.

Have a good Labor Day Weekend.  Drive safely and allow plenty of time for travel.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

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