Tuesday, October 8, 2019

MilCom

First of all, "My Bad!" It has been months since I have blogged anything and I must apologize to the readers of this blog. I have three other entries in draft and will get this posted ASAP.

Over the years I have collected, restored, used and sold a lot of old military communications (MilCom) equipment. It started when I was in high school when a family friend gave me a beat up BC-1000, low band FM squad radio circa WWII.

That led to a slew of old ARC-5/Command Sets (mainly receivers) and the occasional piece of test gear. My 20 year career in the USAF allowed me to "play" with a lot of comm gear but due to constantly moving around the world precluded my obtaining any surplus gear. 

The one exception was when I was assigned to the 1936 Comm Squadron in Lajes Field, the Azores. The folks at AFR&M surplussed out a bunch of old Motorola base stations in the low band and high band VHF freqs. I purchased a L43GGV high band radio that I (along with several others) converted over to 2M FM....146.94 simplex and 146.34/94 repeater frequency. 

Once I was transferred to the 3rd Mobile Comm Gp (3rd MOB) at Tinker AFB, OK (right outside Oklahoma City) I became active on the local 34/94 machine with my 20 year old Motorola rig. Thank you Uncle Sam.

Once I retiredl from the AF in 1987, I found that MilCom gear tended to follow me home from various ham radio flea markets. Prior to moving from PA to GA I had a basement full of military comm gear, most of which I realized that I was never going to restore much less use. Therefore, I sold off about 90% of my MilCom gear. 

A couple of Command receivers, a BC-221 frequency meter, a GRR-5 SW receiver, and my favorite: a PRC-74B HF synthesized SSB/CW transceiver followed  us down to GA. Within a couple of years those were also sold off due to the need to get some liquid funds after our move. 

The PRC-74B (also called a "74 Bravo") was my retirement present to myself. Mark Francis, KI0PF, built this radio up from spares that he had accumulated and installed the LSB mod to allow both USB/LSB operation. Designed and built by Harris Corporation, the 74 Bravo was the first fully synthesized HF radio to see service in military ground forces. Used primarily by the Army Special Forces (Green Berets) in Vietnam, this provided the special ops folks in country with reliable HF communications. I really hated to sell that set as it had special significance for me but hey, when the wolf is at the door.....

Slowly (very slowly, actually) I began obtaining the occasional small piece of MilCom gear. One of my all time favorite low band VHF FM squad radios is the PRC-1088 manufactured by Datron. Originally Rockwell Collins designed and produced this man-pack radio set to enter the completion to replace the venerable PRC-77 from the Vietnam era. Unfortunately the military declined the Collins radio in favor of SINGARS. Rights to produce this radio were sold to Datron which still produces it today. It is a nice FM unit with a digital readout that can frequency hop while offering an optional encryption package for secure voice communications. Mine hops but cannot go secure. The overall package is the same form factor as the PRC-25/77 and uses the same mics, speakers, and headsets. The antenna connector is a BNC type unlike the PRC_25/77 radios. It offers low power output of around 300 mW and a high power output of around 7W. 

During a recent flea market run my wife, Patricia, (KB3MCT) and I found an estate sale that included a large amount of MilCom gear that covered WWII to Vietnam. I was too late to pick up one of the two PRC-74s, but was able to score four Command receivers covering from 100 kc to 9 mc. Three of these receivers were installed in a triple receiver rack and included the remote tuning and audio units and all the proper wiring. Unfortunately no splined tuning shafts but all the receivers had tuning knobs in stalled so it was no biggie. 

One BC-312 WWII HF receiver followed me home along with two PRC-127 hand held low band FM units theoretically used in the first Gulf War. They worked, too!! 

The US Army Special Forces during the Vietnam era needed a portable low power HF set to provide intermediate range comms in the jungle. Sylvania was chosen to design and field such a radio and the AN/TRC-77 was born. This luggable radio set. while it was portable, was not able to be operated in a man-pack configuration and therefore was given the TRC (Transportable Radio Communications) nomenclature as opposed to the PRC (Portable Radio Communications). The 77 was a CW only (on transmit, CW/SSB/AM on receive), six channel crystal controlled package about the same form factor as the PRC-25/77. It was tested over a period during the early 1960s but was not adopted by the Army for use in Vietnam. However, the LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol) units in Europe utilized this radio for HF comms finding it fitting their needs as long as the operator was a good CW op. Operation is ultra simple, the six channels can be independently selected and a set of "cans" and a key (antenna not withstanding) are all that is needed to get on the air. 

The TRC-77 soon became the 77A with some minor internal and external changes. But in essence it was the same radio, same size and still very easy to operate. Those of us who like to obtain, restore and use MilCom gear find the 77A a great little rig with a price tag that is fairly easy to swallow. Mine cost $200 with no crystals. 

Crystalling up one of these radios is expensive today. With the demise of International Crystal Manufacturing (ICM) there are only a couple of crystal providers and their prices START at $50/each, depending upon the type!  However, there is a work around. Digi-Key carries a series of crystal oscillator ICs that are extremely stable and come in 8 pin DIP through-hole components. Hayseed Hamfest offers a four-IC PC board in kit form that will provide four independent oscillator outputs that can be used in older radios. This board seems a bit large for inclusion inside the 77A but the idea of using these programmable IC oscillators to replace crystals in older radios has merit. Besides, it a whole log cheaper! 

There are also options to rock up the transmit side of the 77A using HC-49 crystals (with leads) obtainable from QRP.ME and
expandedspectrumsystems.com. Prices are very inexpensive and these crystals can be directly soldered to the underside of the transmitter crystal bank and they will work quite well. (See N6CC.com for details on all this crystal stuff.) 

The receive crystals are 455 kc ABOVE the transmit frequency which makes it basically impossible to use QRP HC-49 crystals for the receiver. This is where the programmable IC oscillators will shine. Again, consult N6CC's website for intimate details. Tim has done a lot of the heavy lifting on a number of MilCom restorations and modifications so he speaks from first hand experience. 

I am going to detail the restoration of my 77A in this blog, hopefully spiking some interest in others to quit building "cute" little single band kit CW rigs and move onto some REAL radio!!! 

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ














Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Tale of Two Radios

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" 
(with apologies to Charles Dickens) 


Anyone who has been in this hobby for any length of time realizes they need (want?) more than one radio. It's a disease. Trust me. 

ONE do-all radio (FT-817/818/857) is a great idea.....until.....it breaks. What now, coach? 

The solution is simple, have a standby radio to pick up the slack while the primary radio undergoes maintenance. Makes sense, doesn't it?  It makes real sense when we talk about emergency communications (EmComm) or for the "preppers" out there trying to bullet-proof their communications systems.

For the last um-teen years those of us who have participated in Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) have used analog VHF FM to pass emergency traffic. Over the last few years digital modes like PSK-31, WinLink, DStar, etc have been incorporated into the EmComm arsenal much to the consternation of many of the Old Guard within the EmComm community.  

Gradually VHF gave way to a combination of VHF and UHF FM modes to spread the wealth around allowing more communications channels with which to improve redundancy and to support the mitigation of the emergency. This idea was something that had come of age owing to the proliferation of V/UHF dual band mobile and hand held transceivers (HTs). These devices allowed the EmComm/prepper user to have access to more spectrum which is always a great idea. 

 When it comes to survivable/emergency communications it might be a good idea to pay attention to an adage used by "preppers/survivalists": Two is one and One is none. Ergo, if you have two radios and one goes Tango Uniform, you will still have the ability to communicate. I like that adage, actually. 

One of our local area amateur radio clubs has an EmComm trailer that has all sorts of comm gear installed: HF, V/UHF FM, CB (yes, one of those "10-4 good buddy rigs") along with a portable repeater. A high end computer system, and of course, antennas to match all those radios plus gas generated power. Great idea, especially when it has air conditioning!!! Unfortunately only the "chosen ones" within that particular ARES organization have the privilege of manning it. Alas, once again "the great unwashed" are left out in the cold but it does look good on display at ham fests and field day.

Recently Patti and I were able to afford a covered Horton Hauler 6 x 12 foot utility trailer. The previous owner was an elderly locksmith and used the trailer for his business while on the road. It came with 120VAC and 12VDC lighting and power factory installed, along with a counter weighted rear door and a host of other options. The price was an absolute steal  so we jumped while the jumping was good.  

We are going to remove some of the cabinets and stowage that was previously installed and add a communications console, workbench and basically convert it over to our camping/mobile ham shack trailer. While we have a nice 25 ft fully outfitted camping trailer this smaller trailer will fulfill our needs much better than it's bigger cousin.

As to radio gear I plan on installing a HF SSB/CW/DATA radio along with V/UHF analog/digital radios, two high end scanning receivers, a CB set and a high power GMRS transceiver along with a couple of recycled laptop computers. I will have enough redundancy in place to continue operating should one or more of the primary radios fail.

Plans for this camp trailer/ham shack include outings to local county and state parks, speed runs up north to visit the kids/grand kids, Field Day, Winter Field Day, and the occasional camping/fishing trip.

In short being able to continue to operate should one of the radios go down is a great proactive idea. Provided I can find one additional Icom IC-2720 dual band V/UHF FM radio I will install that radio in the trailer as I have that particular rig in both my Chevy Silverado and Patti's Chev Equinox, giving me the necessary redundancy on those bands. 

Backtracking a bit, the addition of two scanning receivers gives us the ability to monitor local and state radio systems for the emergency responders. 

Time for a "War Story": about 15 years ago I was working at a state prison in NE Pennsylvania. One evening I heard a gaggle of sirens across town and turned up the gain on the scanner beside my chair. The local Wilkes-Barre PD and the Luzerne County Sheriff  frequencies were going wild with urgent traffic. 

It seems that two of the "guests" of the county jail had engineered a daring escape using bed sheets to form a makeshift rope that they used to slither down from their cell window and escape into the community. 

Since I knew the State Police air unit would be involved along with local township law enforcement units I put two more scanners on line and was monitoring the frantic action in trying to recapture these two miscreants. 

Suffice it to say that these three scanning receivers allowed me to keep up with the exciting, non-stop action happening only several blocks away from my home! There is little doubt in my mind that I knew as much, possibly more, about the efforts to recapture the two escapees than the on-scene incident commander! 

As to the inclusion of CB and GMRS radios that is a no-brainer. There are several million CB sets out there and probably triple that in GMRS rigs. Being able to gather information (intelligence) from these valuable sources can provide valuable insight to local situations. 

So now all we have to do is get the time and allot the energy to upgrading the new trailer. The antennas needed to support all these radios will be a challenge since at first glance, the outside of the trailer is aluminum and mag mount antennas won't stick!! That is OK, we'll think of something! 

Now how will I mount that V/UHF beam array??? Hmmmm.....

Vy 73
Rich K7SZ




















Sunday, January 20, 2019

What Once Was Old is New Again

Radios, radios, radios.....I love radios. Over the years I have owned more than my share of boatanchors, QRP rigs, V/UHF gear, short wave (now called "world band") radios, some CB rigs and, yes, a scanner or two. 

For one reason or another I have sold/traded most of that gear off and have kept only a very select group of radio equipment. Herein lies the crux of this blog. "The one that got away".

In 2017 I managed to afford a brand new Elecraft KX2 ultra-portable HF transceiver. The KX2 is an utterly fascinating radio, it's size being deceptively small for all the features that are packed inside that tiny box. I was very proud of my new KX2 and took it to Grand Forks AFB, ND when Pat (KB3MCT) and I visited our grand daughter and her hubby after the birth of Eloise, our 3rd great grand child. I had a simple vertical antenna set up on the back yard of their base house (complete with three radials) and made a grand total of 3 Qs over a 4 week period. Not a stellar number of contacts given the extended period of time. 

That experience sealed the fate of my KX2. I quickly found that although I liked the rig a lot and it was a small miracle of miniaturization and design it was NOT a fun rig for me to operate. Don't get it twisted, I was very happy with the radio but several things about it's operation started to bug me. Soon, I knew that I had to find it a new home and get a replacement. One that had a lot of features, was well respected in QRP circles and one that I was at ease operating. 

Enter the Elecraft K2....."The One That Got Away!" I built my first K2 back before the turn of the century. It was loaded up with all the options Elecraft sold except for the 100W linear amp....(I don't need no stinkin' 100 watts!) and I loved it. The building experience was not only pleasant it was also very soothing and calming. Pat worked nights as an armed Social Security Guard at the data center in Plains, PA, so I would stay up very late each night and Conan O'brian and I would build the K2 together. Occasionally I'd tune to Coast to Coast AM with John Noory and listen to all the UFO/conspiracy theorists explain how the space aliens had taken over MacDonald's and were fattening up Americans to become a food source for their dying planet. WOW! 

My original K2 and all the options went together without a hitch thanks to the extremely well written instructions provided in the K2 manual (thanks Wayne and Eric!) I used that K2 until 2005, when I sold it to procure a newer, more expensive piece of gear. Dumbest move I ever made (not including marrying my first wife). I have regretted that decision countless times over the intervening years. Time to find someone that wanted to off load their K2 in exchange for my KX2.

I placed an email on the North Georgia (NoGA) QRP Club reflector and within 24 hours Pickett Cummins, AD4S, emailed me back saying he had acquired a K2 from the estate of a local QRPer who had just become a Silent Key (SK), would I be interested? I immediately told Pickett that I was most assuredly interested and maybe we could do a trade.

We exchanged several emails and last Thursday I traveled to AD4S' QTH to seal the deal. He liked my KX2 and I definitely liked the K2 he was offering in trade. The K2 looked near mint. It was a bare bones CW rig with only the KAT2 internal automatic antenna tuner (ATU) installed. We struck a deal and I walked (stumbled?) out his basement door with my new K2 under my arm. 

Presently there is the KSB2 SSB option and the KAF2 active audio filter option on order as well as a factory manual. I need to find a copy of Fred Cady's, KE7X, book on the K2 which is long out of print. The hunt is on. 

Over the next 11 months I am going to procure the KNB2 noise blanker, the KIO2 I/O option, along with the K1602, 160M/2nd antenna option. Elecraft has discontinued their KDSP2 digital signal processor option apparently from either poor sales or the lack of availability of critical through-hole parts. This last thing weighs heavily on my mind as it is possible that Elecraft may decided to discontinue (retire?) the K2 and it's options, in the near future due to this parts procurement problem. I certainly hope not as the K2 is a great kit radio and it offers QRPers the chance to construct a world class HF rig that, although 20 years old, still performs admirably on today's bands. 20 year old technology be damned, it is more radio than I'll ever need given my current operating schedule/practices. 

One thing I loved about my original K2 was it's ease of operation. Once the learning curve had been mastered it became second nature to tweak controls to optimize the radio. Controls were ergonomic and easily accessed without going through 4 or 5 nested menus. Something I really liked! In short, the K2 was, and still is, a viable HF multi-mode station even by today's standards. Additionally, the K2 set the bar for future HF rigs, including those offered by the Offshore Empire. I have said it before, Elecraft, and it's amazing and talented engineering talent, have revolutionized ham radio equipment design, forcing other manufacturers to up their game to stay competitive. All this done by a hand full of people in northern California. Well done, Elecraft!

So I have managed to recapture "The One That Got Away" and am looking forward to many years of flawless operation on the HF bands with the K2. 

Time to go ogle the new K2 and maybe even put it on the air!

vy 73
Rich K7SZ
s

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

DXing and Contesting!

I was pondering earlier this evening about DXing. I am a proud member of a local prestigious DX club that sponsors DXpeditons and has members who participate in DXpeditons all over the world. Several of the membership are on the DXCC "honor roll" meaning they have worked at least 331 DX entities (as defined by the ARRL)! These are a world class group of hams that have dedicated their lives to the world of working distant stations (DX) and helping by financing DXpeditons for those hams that want to put extremely rare locations on the air. 

Over the last 55+ years as a ham radio operator I have worked DXCC (that is working or contacting 100 countries) on three (3) separate occasions using three (3) different call signs while on active duty with the USAF. 

All this was completely unintentional. I did not set out to "get" DXCC. It just happened. Between three intercontinental moves with the military I managed to lose several critical log books so I never collected the requisite 100 QSL cards to submit to the ARRL to qualify for the DXCC certificate. What can I say....shit happens. Now days I have no real interest in swapping QSL cards with the stations I work nor do I have any interest in getting the necessary QSL cards to qualify for DXCC. Sorry, that is just who I am.

Thinking about the DXing side of ham radio has led me to form some interesting conclusions. 

1. DXers are obsessive, A+ personalities that have a serious competitive streak. 

2. Most "big gun" DXers are extremely well heeled as far as money goes. 

3. DXers, for the most part, are on the "bleeding edge" of technology. They uses computers and Software Defined Radios (SDRs) to pursue their facet of the ham radio hobby. 

4. The majority of DXers look upon us QRP operators and smile, while patting us on our collective heads, classifying us as "DXer
wannabees".


These are just four of the conclusions that I have formed in relating with DXers. 

Looking at #1: DXers are single minded. DXing "is" as the old saying goes. They are solely focused on working distant stations and little else. Competitive? Without a doubt! These folks are all about "one ups-manship" on their fellow DXers. Working an All Time New One (ATNO} is the name of the game.

About #2: If  you have a chance to be invited to one of the local "big gun" DXers in your area be prepared for some intense sticker shock! Since DXing is a life style many DXers have more than one, high end, HF transceiver, multiple computer systems, antennas out the wazoo and a room away from the family for their ham shack. These folks don't have a problem spending thousands of dollars to be competitive DXers. 

Looking at #3: Technology is a wonderful thing.....WHEN IT WORKS!! DXers look at any new technology that gives then a "leg up" on their competition with a critical eye, ready to integrate same into their high end stations. Operating modes like PSK-31, JT-65, and JT-8 are guaranteed to grab the DXers attention. Adding computer waterfall displays gives them the advantage to look at whole chunks of the RF spectrum making for critical operating decisions, especially during contests, a whole lot easier.

As for #4: I have been a QRP (5 watt ham radio) operator for 53 years. I joined the QRP Amateur Radio Club International (QRP ARCI) in 1965 (member # 2388). Over this time I have come to realized that being a QRP op has a down side. Mainly the majority of other ham radio ops look down their noises at us QRPers. The DXers are the biggest offenders downplaying QRP as DXer wannabees. Why? Everyone KNOWS that you need at least 100 watts of RF (preferably much more) to work DX. Guess these nay sayers haven't taken a real look at QRP. Watts are not the answer in most cases. Operating techniques are. As Howard Pyle, W7OE, stated many years ago: "Power is no substitute for skill". Truer words were never spoken!

Contesting also is a place where DXers congregate on many weekends each year, in an attempt to work as many DX entities as possible, accruing points in the process. 

Having been a guest operator for four years at the G4ANT (GB4ANT) East Anglican Contest Station, I have had a taste of what it takes to accrue a world class score in several HF contests. G4ANT was the club station for the Mosley antenna manufacturer in the UK, owned and operated by Owen Chilvers, G3JOC. On the major HF contest weekends a group of outstanding DXers would descend upon the factory and put a minimum of 5 complete, high powered, HF stations on the air covering 160 through 10 meters. Antennas were never a problem as Owen had installed three towers the tallest of which was 120 ft, with fixed and rotatable mono-band beams and tri-banders at various levels. Add to this a host of wire antennas and you get the picture. Depending upon propagation each station could select one of several antennas to work the contest. It was a "sweet" operation. I learned so much hanging with these world class DXers/contesters over that four years. I am eternally grateful for the chance to work with DXers like G3LDI, Roger, G3JOC, Owen, G3MPN, David, G3VXT, Ricky and a host of others. 

Occasionally I will still get on the air during the CQ DX WW CW and WPX CW tests along with the CW portion of the ARRL DX contest to "give away" a few Qs and, in some feeble way, relive those halcyon days at G4ANT.  

Do not get my opinions twisted. I truly admire DXers. They are the Senior Statesmen (and women) of the ham radio hobby. I'm not whining about sour grapes. Far from it. DXing and contesting are outstanding ways to sharpen your CW and phone skills along with giving newer modes (PSK & JT modes) a try under extremely congested band conditions. Of course you can always use these times as a way to increase your DXCC totals!!  

OK, time to get the station ready for the ARRL 10 Meter contest next weekend. 

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ
Bent Dipole Ranch
Dacula, GA




Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hobbies & Ham Radio

There is a corollary in the ham radio hobby about the "other" hobbies that ham's seem to participate in. Among the most popular are (in no particular order):

Model railroading
Photography
Amateur Astronomy
Shortwave listening (SWL)
Computers

Over they years in this hobby I have encountered many hams who regularly engage in one or more these five side-hobbies and I always find that we have some common ground as I like all of them!!!! Unfortunately none of them are cheap. 

Photography, in particular, is my 2nd hobby. I have been a photographer since age 8, when a cousin gave me a Baby Brownie camera at a family gathering. During junior high and high school I was year book photographer for the Palouse high school. I started shooting a Baby Brownie, moved to a Kodak Hawkeye, graduated to a Crown Graphic with a hand held light meter, and finally when I arrived in Japan in 1968, found a local camera company call Nippon Kogaku and I have been shooting with Nikon cameras ever since.  


True story: My barracks room mate was Jay Merton Verrill III, a crypto maintenance man who liked shooting super 8 movies. We hit it off and when I was offered a ticket to the 1968 Bob Hope Show at Camp Zama, Japan, I was loaned a Nikon F, a couple of lenses, and a whole bunch of 35mm bulk loaded film by Jay's co-worker, Jack Wallace (AKA: Wally). That one outing with a Nikon F was the clincher. I loved the "F" and ended up owning two of them and seven (7) Nikkor lenses. Life was good....very good. While stationed in Japan in the late 1970s I entered and won base, command and Air Force level photo competitions!

During my divorce in 1981, I was forced to sell my beloved Nikons in order to raise money to pay off some bills that my ex-wife managed to accrue without my knowledge. That left me using a large Mamiya Super 23 press camera (used 120/220 roll film) and was not the best camera for the type of photography I engaged in. 

I married Patricia (KB3MCT) in July of 1981 in England where we  were both stationed.  During that time I managed to procure a Russian Zorki 4K 35mm roll film camera, their knock off of a Leica IIIC. It was an amazing camera for the money and, some warts aside, was a good little 35mm camera. No light meter but by that time (especially after graduating from the School of Modern Photography) I was able to "read light" very effectively so a light meter was really not a necessity. 

Christmas of 1986 found us re-stationed to Langley AFB, VA (near Hampton Roads). For Christmas that year Patti completely surprised me with a new Nikon FG and a couple of lenses! I was back in the Nikon Fold. I still have that little camera and it works great, considering it is over 30 years old. I have taken a lot of really good images with that little Nikon box, even winning several local competitions with the prints. 

In 2006 my daughter, Maja, a graduate with a major in photography from Marywood College, loaned me her Nikon D-70 digital. I had promised myself that I would never go digital. That lasted for a grand total of 3 days after Maja dropped off her camera. My D-70S was on order along with an 18-200mm zoom with vibration reduction (VR).  That lens seldom leaves the camera body! It's a "do-it-all lens" that, although very expensive, is a great lens that yields terrific images.

I used the D-70S until about 2 years ago when I found a Nikon D-90 on ebay for a decent price. I contacted the seller and we exchanged several emails and I felt confident it was a good upgrade. Although slightly larger than the D-70, the D-90 offered matrix metering which the D-70 didn't. The upgrade in bodies was well worth the expense. 

Now I have come full circle with the purchase of a used Nikon F4 and three auto focus (AF) lenses. The F4 platform is a film camera, not a digital one. According to articles I've read there is an upsurge in going "retro" and breaking out the old film cameras, especially in Japan. 

Opinion time:
One of the things I absolutely deplore about digital photography is the simple fact that virtually anyone can turn out very technically correct and, in most cases, well composed images at the press of a button. There is no "art" involved, as with dark room work. Take that digital image and roll it into Photo Shop or Lightroom, and you can do all sorts of computer manipulation that cannot be done in the dark room. That's just not fair nor is it in keeping with the "art" of photography. Where is the "art" in punching a keyboard? 

All the previous history of my photography involvement leads up to my good friend, Michael Boatright, KO4WX, a expert photographer who also indulges in the ham radio hobby.  I first Mike during a trip to Tampa in 2000 to be part of the birth of KC, my grand child. He met me in the Atlanta terminal, took me into the Delta Crown Club and we talked QRP and he gave me some info on a project that he'd been working on. Later, after we decided to move to the metro Atlanta area I became involved with the North Georgia QRP Club (NoGA) and Mike was a member. We discussed QRP, photography and ended up trading gear: my Mamiya Super 23 for his Ten-Tec Argonaut 509 station. 

Over the next several years Mike withdrew from actively participating in ham radio and NoGA, channeling his efforts into his photography. The best portrait ever taken of me was shot by Mike at my new shack in Dacula. The guy is an  absolute genius with a camera. If he can make me look good....imagine what he can do for you!! He has since opened his own studio in Dacater, GA and hosts regular open house events open to the public. To see his work, go to:  http://www.michaelboatright.com/galleries.php. You will be impressed.

I'd be interested to those who read this blog giving me feedback as to their favorite hobbies. 

All for now. 

Vy 73 es "say cheese!"

Rich K7SZ




 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thats What Friends Are For

I've repeatedly said that the one thing I really love about this radio hobby are the people you meet and the friends you make. This is especially true in the niche areas of the hobby like QRP. 

We QRPers are linked by the challenge of doing more with less. Not only is it a challenge to pursue ham radio at the 5 watt (or less) level, it is a character building exercise. Add homebrew equipment into the mix and you have a facet of the hobby that is a great place to be. 

In order to become a successful QRP operator your operating habits have to be honed and your knowledge of antennas, propagation and station engineering have to be top notch. This is where our fellow QRPers come into the picture. 

No one in this hobby has all the answers. We can all learn no matter our experience level or the overall time in the hobby. As a collective body QRPers are an open and sharing group. In the spirit of ham radio we gladly share our knowledge and provide help and guidance for our fellow low power operators. 

On rare occasions one meets some really astounding people in this hobby. In my instance two of those people are Paul Stroud, AA4XX, and Fran Slavinski, K3BX, formerly KA3WTF. I have known the two of them for well over 25 years, starting with their attempts to shatter the miles-per-watt record on 40 meters in mid-1990s. At the end of a two year period Paul and Fran had proven it was possible to communicate over several hundred miles with microwatts on an HF band that was crowded with high power ham radio operators along with massive shortwave broadcast stations! This saga is outlined in my QRP books for the ARRL. Suffice it to say that these two QRPers are legendary in the annals of low power operations. 

Recently I had been offered a chance to procure a Ten-Tec Argonaut II (Model 535) in exchange for my Kenwood TS-130V station. I jumped at the offer as it dove tailed nicely with my plans to downsize my station. The deal was struck and I now had a very nice digital Argonaut. 

I took the new rig home, fired it up and started tuning around the bands. All went well until I tired to go above 15M (21 MHz). The rig would display the frequency but no receive and no transmit. I finally decided that it was the synthesizer that was coming unlocked above 21 MHz. 

I contacted Fran (K3BX) and he advised since that rig had a number of header plugs and cables, it might be prudent to go inside the rig and, one-by-one, pull the cable headers off the pins and apply some DeOxit (an electronic contact cleaner/lube that has been sent from Heaven to alleviate corrosion on electrical contacts and clean up controls) then re-seat the headers several times to spread the DeOxit around. This technique I have used on other rigs, most notably a second hand Yaesu FT-726 VHF/UHF multi-mode transceiver. 

I have put this on "hold" due to an unforeseen development. In addition to QSOing Fran, I also contacted Paul, AA4XX, for his advice or to see if his Argo II had exhibited similar problems and what he did to resolve them. 

At this point in our conversation Paul said he hadn't had any similar problems but his display back light had failed (a common theme with the Argo II) so he'd placed it on the shelf and hadn't used it for several years. He was looking to off-load it, would I care to have another Argo II?

Say what?!?!?!

Long story short: Paul sent me his Argo II in exchange for the shipping costs! It works just fine except for the back light. This gift was totally unexpected. Thank you, my friend, it will be front and center in my shack. 

I have located a replacement back light which will be the subject of another blog entry. As for the other Argo II, it will be put back into full service and find a new home.

My thanks to Paul and Fran for a long and fruitful friendship. This is what good friends are for. 

All for now. I gotta go make an appearance on HF during the 2018 CQ DX WW CW test. Using the new Argo II of course. 

Vy 73
Rich K7SZ

Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Life Gets in the Way

We plan, we save, we prepare but in the end "LIFE" wins! OK, so what am I up to this time? 

This post is about taking some of my own advice and passing along some observations about how "LIFE" gets in the way of the best laid plans of mice, men and K7SZ. 

Fact: we don't live forever. What a revelation! Therefore, we need to be realistic about our plans, dreams and schemes. When it comes to ham radio one must evaluate what one needs to play the radio game and be watchful of the amount of time, money and storage space needed to engage in this hobby.

Case in point:

Pat and I had looked forward to moving from the frumpy, cold, unappealing town of Wilkes-Barre, PA (a place seemingly stuck in 1the 1960s) to a warmer, more hospitable climate. We had anticipated the move for several years before immigrating to Georgia. Outside of our daughter, Gwen's, husband's family we knew virtually no one in the area to which we moved in 2008. 

We found a nice little three bedroom ranch house in Dacula, GA, about 40 miles ENE of Atlanta and set up housekeeping with the intent of spending the remainder of our lives in this area. Good plan, bad timing with the housing bubble catastrophe that imploded that year. We were financially strapped for several years but dug our way out and finally had our feet on firm financial ground. Yeah team!

After a series of physical challenges (including falling and putting a huge gash in my forehead, breaking two ribs along with my tail bone, and finally my right clavicle) I've had to make some drastic adjustments as to how I went about life (although the gnarly scar on my forehead really looks cool....Hey, I don't have any tattoos, or own a Harley so I really needed that scar!) It quickly became evident that we needed to sell the house and move into a retirement community. Downsizing....that was the name of the game.

This past few weeks Pat finally convinced me to take a critical look at all my ham radio and electronics projects and do some off-loading of my stash of "stuff". While it was agonizing it was also a bit refreshing to unload all that "stuff" and actually be able to see the floor of the shack and the walls of our storage shed!

I guess the point of this blog is to say that while I pontificated in an earlier posting about getting our ham radio affairs in order for that inevitable day we leave this plain of existence, I was not heeding my own words. However, now I am seeing the wisdom of Pat's need to downsize. After all, I am only a man, and everyone knows that men need close, hands-on guidance in the form of a mate. Or, as I am fond of putting it: "I am Pat's Four H project!" (Hey, everyone needs a hobby and I'm hers!)

 So, to that end I placed my Drake TR-4 station up for sale, along with the Benton Harbor Lunch Boxes, two Argonaut 509s, a couple of Zenith SW radios, my Novice station, and a lot more "stuff" that I have not used (nor in some cases even seen) in years. 

For radio gear currently in the K7SZ shack I have the astounding Elecraft KX2 HF portable rig, a T-T Argonaut II, a fully restored (by W4OP) SBE-34, and a Radio Shack 10 meter SSB/CW rig. I hung on to the two Icom VHF rigs (one in the car and one at the shack) along with a couple of Yaesu HTs. That's it. Talk about downsizing! Man, that was a tough call but very cathartic in the end. 

So now you know.....K7SZ's Chief Engineer has things under control (yeah, right)! While I was saddened to see that "stuff" get sold off at a couple of local ham fests, I realized two things: first, one does not need a ton (or two) of "stuff" to participate in the ham radio hobby. Second, you cannot relive your youth (yoot?) It is impossible to try and replicate all the things you lusted for (but couldn't afford to purchase) in the early years of your ham radio life. It's also expensive. Many of us try, but it is futile. It's also expensive. When you combine all the accumulated "stuff" you quickly realize that virtually none of it will ever grace the tables of your shack or living room. Oh, did I mention it is also expensive? 

All for now. As a pre-New Years resolution I am going to make a concerted effort to blog more and spend some quality time at the operating bench getting on the air and enjoying the hobby. 

Vy 73 es Happy Thanksgiving

Rich K7SZ
Bent Dipole Ranch, Dacula, GA.