Monday, April 7, 2014

The Tower Project that Just Won't Die!

Well, here it is, the first part of April and the 60 ft tower project with the HF Yagi, the 2M long-boom Yagi and the 2M/70cms vertical omni is still bogged down in logistics. My main tower guy and climber, Bill Wilson, KJ4EX, is thankfully recovering nicely from his heart attack around Christmas time last year. I have been in contact with a person who owns a commercial tower company in Winder, GA and he has surveyed the situation and thinks it will take him and his crew about 4-5 hours to complete the installation, run the coax, mount the antennas, rotator, etc. and run the guys....cost: $around 400-500 Buck-a-roonies!! That's a whole bunch more cash than K7SZ has available on short notice. Ryan, the tower company owner, said he would be available in April and May so maybe, if I can find the cash, the installation will be completed.

Originally I had decided to include an HF Yagi, a 6M Yagi and the V/UHF Omni on the mast that would protrude about 12 feet above the 61 ft tower top section. This would give me a total installation height of about 73 feet above the dirt. Not bad, considering. Sure, I would have liked to have a 90 or 100 ft installation, but I cannot complain, especially in light of the cost of the project todate.

Bill, KJ4EX, had constructed the 6M Yagi but was having all sorts of difficulties getting it to tune properly before installing it on the tower. Since I have a 6M Cushcraft Ringo on a separate mast on the roof, I decided to leave that 6M Yagi off the tower installation and substitute a long-boom Yagi for 2M in it's place. After scrounging around the area I came up with a KLM 14 element Yagi from the 1970s, which I picked up at a reasonable cost. In inspecting it, I noticed that the antenna had a log-periodic feed system and one of the element clamps had broken, which would take some work with some high grade epoxy putty to put right before it could go up in the air.

In addition to the KLM, I also found a local ham who had a Cushcraft 13 element long-boom Yagi that I picked up at a great price which was fully functional. All I had to do was assemble the boom (again) and bolt it together, which I did. I enlarged the through-boom screws from #8 to #10 size to give it added strength. I have to put this antenna on a test stand and insure that it is tuned for the lower portion of the 2M band (144-145MHz) for terrestrial weak signal work, but that shouldn't take all that long to accomplish. I was able to obtain copies of the Cushcraft manual so I am good to go.

As far as things I have to accomplish before Ryan and his crew arrive some time in May (or June, or July, or.......): wire up the rotator and control box, (I have already tested them out together, I just need to get the long cabling set up and labeled), obtain some low-loss coax/hardline and connectors for the two V/UHF antennas, get the coax and connectors on the cable for the HF Yagi, set the screw-in guy anchors for the tower, and fabricate a piece of angle iron to act as an anchor for the center feed point of the 40M EDZ that will be side mounted from the 55 ft level of the tower.

Stay tuned....I might have this installation completed before Christmas 2014 yet!!!

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Power Mites of Old!!!I'

I saw an ad for my first Ten-Tec Power Mite transceiver when I was stationed in the Azores in the early 1970s. The price was attractive but other things took priority. Thankfully, Jake Ritzen, CT2AZ, loaned me one of his Power Mites and I had my first experience with direct conversion receivers. I was suitably underwhelmed.

In 1973 I procured a Heathkit HW-7 QRP rig and built it according to the manual. It, too, had a direct conversion receiver. Again I was suitably underwhelmed! It seemed that any time the base MARS station came on the air (irrespective of the band) I was unable to use the HW-7....something I also experienced with the PM-2 from Jake.

Over the years I have had several of the PM series....the PM-3A being my favorite. It covered only 40 and 20 M but had break-in keying, which was nice. No having to switch from TX to RX on the front panel, as with the previous models. Power output on the 3A was around 2.5 watts (5W input power).

Some how I ended up with a PM-2B while I was in Japan (KA2AA) in the late 1970s and that rig followed me to England (RAF Mildenhall), my next duty station. We were relegated to quartering off base, in our case, the town of Bury St. Edmunds, the place where the English Barons met at the Abby of Bury St. Edmunds and vowed to force King James (you, know.....Robin Hood and all that) to sign the Magna Carta (circa 1214).

Our house was positioned in a housing estate located on the end of a huge soccer field next to a school. Surrounding the field was a very large chain link fence. Lacking a suitable aerial at the time, I affixed a piece of wire from the fence into my bedroom and hooked it up to the PM-2B via a AC-5 antenna tuner. My first contact was Colin Turner, G3VTT, a member of the G-QRP Club. That started a 35 year love affair with the G-QRP-C. I met many fine QRPers during that time period and on the occasion of my 37th birthday, my wife, Patricia (KB3MCT) conspired with George Dobbs, G3RJV, head honcho of the G-QRP-C and his wife, Jo, to put on a surprise party for me at the Dobbs' home near Birmingham. With about 25-30 QRPers in attendance we had a grand time and I even was introduced to that old Scottish tradition, the Haggis! (Hint: If you get past the smell you got it made!!)

On a recent trip to Norm Schlar's, WA4ZXV, to pick up an antenna analyzer, I was presented with Norm's ailing PM-2, in hopes of getting it back into running condition. Unfortunately, I had off-loaded all the T-T literature I had amassed on the PM series of rigs dating back to the mid-70s, so troubleshooting this little QRP rig is proving to be somewhat problematic.

So, I am now on a quest to obtain a schematic of the PM-2 (I have one on the PM-3A but that is an entirely different radio) so I can get this old gal back on the air for Norm. Therefore, if anyone who reads this posting might happen to have a copy of that schematic and possibly the entire 9 page manual, I would be very grateful if you would contact me directly (k7sz@live.com).

Looking over the PM-2 I am amazed that anyone was able to make a QSO with these simple rigs. The receiver is just this side of "horrible", and the power output is around 1W going flat out with a tail wind! All that being said, those were the things that made life using QRP "interesting".

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

More on Go-Bags and EmComm

I do a lot of reading, mainlly about emergency communications, disaster preparedness, etc. Having been a deployable member of the Gwinnett County ARES group for about 5 years, I have noticed a few things that give me pause to reflect on my own EmComm preparedness.

Something interesting surfaced while doing an inventory of the majority of the ARES group's volunteers. I find that most of the members do not have a "real" Go-Bag. Looking through the various member's bags I find lots of radio related stuff, connectors, power cords, antennas, coaxial cables, headsets, speaker-mics, etc. Very few, if any, have food items, water, shelter options,etc. Having the necessary radio gear and associated cabling, mics, etc, is fine BUT you NEED to have the other major areas of a 72 hour "survival Go-Bag" covered in order to be really autonomous. This means you need to take a critical look at your radio gear, pare it down to bare essentials, and add items designed to make you independent for a minimum of 72 hours.

As discussed in an earlier post your emphasis must include (in order of importance), water, security, shelter and food items if you are to be truly able to survive in a disaster scenario for the minimum 72 hours. This doesn't mean that you need to scrap your entire Go-Bag and get a huge backpack. It does mean that you have to take a serious look at your present bag with an eye toward autonomy and not just comm gear.

For several years my go-to radio set was the Yaesu FT-817. True it had only a 5 watt output on HF through 70cms, but with the addition of a very small Mirage dual band V/UHF amplifier I now had a station capable of 30+ watts! The antenna that I settled on was a Diamond dual band base station antenna and 35 ft of RG-58 coaxial cable. The DC power source was a trade off. Originally I had a 7.5 A/hr gel-cell but I later changed that to a 20 A/hr battery. It was a lot bigger and much heavier, but it gave me more power budget to play with while deployed. Of course, you could opt for one of the new Lithium-ion batteries with their special charger. This would drastically reduce the size and weight of your power supply. However, many of these exotic batteries are extremely expensive. The choice is yours. I also had an Arrow V/UHF beam that could be placed on a fiber glass collapsible mast set that was carried in it's own bag. That way I could have either an omni directional vertical antenna or a directional beam, depending upon the need. I had also experimented with RG-174 mini-coax....this stuff is great for video lines and short runs on HF, but for serious V/UHF work it has too much loss at the higher frequencies.

As of a couple of years ago, I have dispensed with the FT-817 (no real need for HF EmComm in this area at this time) and went to a Yaesu FT-90 dual band HT with 5 W output. It is much smaller than the 817, and provides me with the necessary RF coverage I need. Power budget is now governed by the size and type of batteries I use with the FT-90. I  no longer need to drag a heavy gel-cell which is a real blessing.

Some ARES folks take a notebook computer or I-pad type tablet. I have a General Dynamics Go-Book (their answer to the ruggedized  Panasonic Tough Book computers) laptop for those times I need to go digital (FL-Digi, etc). I rely on a 300 watt inverter to furnish 120V AC from a 12 V DC source to power the laptop. I find the GD Go-Book, although heavy, to be a great laptop and I am not afraid of taking it into the bush.

As you can see my Go-Bag is not just one bag. It is a collection of several bags, each one dedicated to a specific task for EmComm. My radio gear fits into the top section of a small backpack. The GD Go-Book fits into it's own carrying bag with strap, and my food, water, shelter, security items fit into another portion of the backpack. Finally, the 40 ft collapsible mast with guy ropes, fits into it's own carry bag.

Obviously it is advantageous to make up an inventory of your entire Go-Bag to insure that what ever goes on deployment comes back from deployment. My inventory list is on my computer hard drive (HDD) and I can add/subtract/change it quickly and print out an updated listing of my gear. All my gear is labeled with my call sign for ID purposes. I also have TOPO USA installed on my Go-Book along with a small GPS receiver that I can plug in to get a real idea of the terrain and routes into and out of the affected area. This takes the place of a stack of maps, giving me more room of other items.

Well, that is about it for now. We have pretty well beaten this Go-Bag thing to death. If you have any ideas, send them along in comments and I will include them in an update sometime in the future. While you may agree or disagree with my individual plans and assessments that is fine. Each deployment will be different and circumstances will change, sometimes quite quickly in a disaster scenario. While it is impossible to cover everything, "all bases" if you will, the more flexible you are with your Go-Bag and your preps, the better off you will be to meet your EmComm obligations.

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ



Birmingham (AL) Hamfest 2014

This was the second year in a row that I attended the Birmingham (B'Ham) Ham Fest on March 1 & 2, 2014. Last year Pat and I, along with Ken Evans, W4DU, motored the three hours to B'Ham where we set up a QRP ARCI table where we waved the QRP flag and sold a bunch of my "stuff".

This year, Dave Kuechenmeister, N4KD, made the trek with me. We took my "new" (old) truck, a recently procured 2001 Chevy Silverado 1/4 ton pickup with a full cap and a full length pull-out bed tray. This time I managed to install an Icom 2100 H 2m FM rig so we had mobile VHF comms. 

Dave and I arrived in time for the B'Ham DX Club's dinner. The food was great but the companionship was even better. My good friend, Don Keith, N4KD, was there with his wife, Charlene. Dave Cisco, W4AXL, was sitting next to me during dinner. Dave is one heck of a DXer and lover of all radios that glow in the dark!

The hamfest was good. It is a two day affair, and is housed in the Zamora Shrine Temple just outside B'Ham. The flea market was always interesting. However, I was under orders from Peppermint Patti to off-load a bunch of my "stuff", which I did. Sort of....more on that later.

We got the last table available and were positioned directly across from the Alabama Historical Radio Society (AHRS) display. I met these folks last year and joined their club on the spot. Their reflector is full of good info and the membership is absolutely fabulous when it comes to helping out a fellow collector/restorer. I had brought along two boxes of Sam's Photofacts on CB radios....almost a complete set from #1 to #111. I had arranged to give these to the AHRS prior to the hamfest to add to their unbelievable library of technical books and information. In addition, I had packed up my father's old Arvin Silver Prince AM/SW console radio (sans console) for them to work on, and ultimately I will donate this radio to the AHRS collection. Dave (W4AXL) is fairly sure they can find a console that will fit the chassis.

At 12 noon on Saturday Dave and I attended an AHRS power point presentation given by Dave, W4AXL. This was an overview of the 100th anniversary of the ARRL combined with the history of the Birmingham ARC and AHRS., complete with a vintage radio program at the end. There were about 40-45 people in attendance and Dave's briefing was terrific.

After the AHRS presentation Dave took Dave K and myself to their "club house" in down town B'Ham. To say this place was astounding is an understatement. Literally hundreds of radios of all makes and models. Vintage televisions by National and Hallicrafters. There is also a complete AM radio station control console complete with cart tapes, 16 inch reel-to-reel tape decks, a Gates audio board, dual turn tables, etc. Right out of 1964!!!! That brought me back to KCLX (Colfax, WA) where I started as a Dee-Jay in August of 1964!!!

As I stated before the AHRS technical library is nothing short of fantastic. All copies of QST from 1915 to present in hard copy, only 4 or 5 magazines short of a full set of CQ Magazine from inception to present, along with all sorts of books, service manuals, service bulletins, etc. Amazing, truly amazing. 

The AHRS repair facility was also a treat to view. They do restorations for almost any antique radio or piece of amateur radio gear. They even wind their own voice coils and transformers! What a great place!

Back at the hamfest I proceeded to slowly off-load my stuff. I had purchased a Heathkit MT-1/RT-1 transmitter/receiver along with the power supply, speaker and cables from a local ham. This set was an AM/CW station from the 1960s. I had wanted to put an AM station on 80/40 meters just for grins. I tried this set out prior to plunking down my money. The radios sat for about a year while Pat and I discussed whether or not I would move my ham shack from the back of the house (with no air conditioning and/or heating) into the spare bedroom. When I went to fire this rig up about a year later, I noticed that the transmitter bandswitch was binding. It turned out that it was something I could not fix without major surgery so I packed it up with the rest of my stuff to take to B'Ham.

There I met a fellow ham who had a number of boatanchor receivers for sale. He seemed interested in my Heath twins, so we made a deal...sort of...We traded gear. His SX-122 Hallicrafters general coverage receiver for my Heath twins. For me it was an outstanding trade since I had been looking for a SX-122 for quite a few years. The styling on the 122 is the same as the SX-117/HT-44 receiver/transmitter by Hallicrafters, which is the station I used in college. The SX-122s would turn up on e-bay once in a while, but the auction prices were in the high $200s, sometimes climbing to over $300, which was way out of my price range.



While at the AHRS club house I was presented with an Eico RF generator and B&K 3 inch oscilloscope, both of which I sorely needed. These two items were surplus to requirements at the club, so with a donation to the club I ended up with two very handy pieces of test gear for my workbench. My sincere thanks to the AHRS folks for those two items.

Dave and I drove back on Sunday, after packing what was left of my stuff into the Chevy. One-way mileage was just under 200 miles and I used slightly under 10 gallons of gas in the truck so the mileage is great compared to our Jeep Commander with the 5.7L Hemi!!!!

After dropping Dave off at his place, I continued on home where I hooked the SX-122 to an antenna and fired it up. Everything worked as it should and the calibration was spot-on all the way across each of the four AM/SW bands. I verified this by using a calibrated signal generator coupled to a digital freq counter which was plugged into the receiver's antenna socket. This SX-122 was in excellent cosmetic shape with only a small blemish on the front panel. The chassis was clean above and below. In short, I got a great deal on the #1 item on my "Equipment to be Acquired List". It's great to enter the shack, catch the smell of warm vacuum tube electronics and listen to the SW bands while I work at getting the place straightened up and on the air. My new SX-122 sits atop the ops bench above my cherry Drake TR-4 station!

Next year I plan on another trip to B'Ham to attend their fest. It is a great venue and the people involved were extremely friendly and full of southern hospitality. My only regret about this year's event was that we were unable to spend more time with Don, N4KC and his wife. However, Don and I have made plans to hook up at the Huntsville hamfest in August.

So if you want to have a great time at a ham radio flea market/hamfest give the Birmingham hamfest a try. Hope to see you next year.

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Some Realities of EmComm

Well, Peppermint Patti (KB3MCT) and I made it through the New Years Eve celebration unscathed. As a matter of fact we were engrossed in a movie at home and almost missed the countdown to 2014!!! We are such "party animals!!"

Pat and I both take our commitment to emergency communications (EmComm) via our involvement with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) very seriously. Unfortunately, our ability to participate in drills and simulated emergency tests (SETs) in 2013 were drastically curtailed due to family obligations and Pat's work schedule. It is our desire to interact with the local Gwinnett and Barrow county ARES groups in the upcoming year.  A major part of the commitment involves being ready to deploy without tearing the entire house and shack apart to find the necessary radio gear and other things we will need for the magic 72 hours after we are deployed.

One of the realities of EmComm is the onus placed on the volunteer to have, at the ready, a "Go-Bag" (also commonly called a Bug-Out-Bag, Get-Out-Of-Dodge-Bag, etc). This one piece of ARES hardware is a key element within the EmComm community and many, many words have been written about the "Ultimate Bug-Out-Bag". Now it's my turn.

As one gains experience in EmComm and subsequently endures numerous deployments and activations the reality of the "ULTIMATE" go-bag rapidly becomes a myth. Right up there with the Holy Grail and five cent cigars. To the uninitiated it is advantageous to have "everything" in your bag. Reality quickly sets in and it becomes painfully apparent (italics mine)  that you can't take it all with you.

You (along with the rest of us) need help. I have read and reviewed quite a few bug-out-bag how-to books over the last couple of years. The best of the lot, by far is "Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit" by Creek Stewart (available through Amazon.com for under $10).

Ideally your B-O-B should contain the bare necessities to enable the EmComm volunteer to be self-sufficient for a minimum of 72 hours. I've often wondered why 72 hours was the "magic number"? Personally I'd shoot for the at least a week, possibly two if possible. Unfortunately expanding the B-O-B to include life support for a week or more leads to a very large (and heavy) container. Therefore, lets concentrate on the standard 72 hours of self-sufficiency for starters. We can always expand our kit at a later date.

So, exactly what does one put in a B-O-B? Let's look at the basics for life support: water, security, shelter, and food in that order.

Water:  Water is the staff of life! Period! You can survive for roughly 6-7 days without water. After that you are dead! Period! Unfortunately no one has managed to invent/manufacture dehydrated or instant water! Water is heavy; 8 pounds per gallon. You should consume at least one gallon of water per person per day. Three days worth of pre-packaged/bottled water equates to 24 pounds. That's heavy. Therefore, the logical conclusion would be to keep one or two bottles of water in our B-O-B kit and plan on using a water filter and/or water purification tablets to provide us with potable water after our initial water is consumed. Water filters, good ones, are not cheap. Plan on spending between $50-$125 on a good quality portable water filtration device.

Security: This one subject could take up an entire book! Often we do not know where we are going to be deployed, so the idea that you might find yourself in a hotel room or living in a lean-to in a forest are distinct possibilities. In any case you need to be aware of your surroundings and have your personal security set accordingly. What I am about to say may cause some of you to recoil in horror at the idea of including a fire arm in your B-O-B. However, that is exactly what I am going to do. Your personal security is YOUR responsibility. Not the cops, not the military, but Y-O-U! Obviously, if you are going to do this you need training. One of my personal pet peeves is that people are allowed to buy a fire arm, get a concealed carry permit (CCW) and then boldly go on about their lives carrying a deadly weapon without the proper training. This is just plain stupid. IF you are going to include a fire arm in your B-O-B, then you NEED to get some combat arms training from professionals. Watching DVDs or reading a book or two is not a substitute for time on the range with a qualified combat arms instructor. Personally, I prefer either a small J-frame Smith & Wesson 5 shot revolver in .38 caliber, or one of the many sub-compact semi-autos in 9mm Luger. Don't forget a good quality knife. Knives are one tool that is indispensable in the B-O-B. I carry at least three in addition to a large folder in my cargo pants pocket. Lastly, in the discussion of personal security, learn and follow the Jeff Cooper condition colors: White, Yellow, Orange and lastly Red. Just Google "Jeff Cooper or these code colors and you'll find a great method of staying on top of your personal security.

Shelter: For several global engagements the US military has relied upon a "shelter half" or "poncho" to keep her troops dry and relatively warm. Today we not only have military surplus shelter halves and ponchos but we have a plethora of "survival blankets" in various configurations that can be adapted to work as personal shelters, sleeping bags (believe me this is a very loose terminology), and shelter/tent/lean-to. Weight of these modern plastic (Mylar, actually) survival blankets is negligible so packing several in the bag is not a big deal. Obviously you can find single one-person tents (the good ones are really expensive but can be used on the North Face of Mt. Everest!) can be purchased and included but, again, you are adding weight. Remember: ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. Of course, you can opt for foraging tree limbs and make a lean-to if you are in an area where trees are plentiful and abundant.

Food: The survival manuals all say you can exist just fine for two weeks without food. Beyond that time frame you will loose the ability to think clearly, your body will start devouring muscle tissue to "feed" itself in the absence of any sustenance and in about 30 days sans food you are dead! Resist the idea of packing a few MREs (Meals Ready To Eat) from the military surplus outlets. They are NOT packaged conveniently for use in a ruck sack (bug-out-bag), and they taste like crap after a couple of days. There are a number of freeze dried food outlets, many of which find their way to the shelves of Wal-Mart, REI Sports, etc. They are very light, extremely packable but the are NOT cheap. You can pack three to five days worth of freeze dried meals and add only one or two pounds of total weight to your ruck. Don't forget "power" bars and protein bars, especially the latter. You NEED protein to keep muscle tone. They all taste like cardboard drizzled with caramel and chocolate but they will keep you functional in the absence of a five star restaurant. I pack some "trail mix" that I put together myself (Google it) and some power/protein bars, along with some hard candy (carbs) and some form of jerky.  Some authorities may dismiss the jerky as being too high in salt content, but in an environment where you want to retain water and not become dehydrated, jerky is the answer. It is also very high in protein per ounce. I prefer the brand carried by Costco not the "Bigfoot" brands you will find in Wal-Mart and the gas station convenience stores. The latter I have had bad experiences with all centering on mold. E-mails and phone calls to the manufacturer have gone unanswered. So I say "screw Bigfoot jerky". Stick with the Costco brand (No I do not have any commercial interest or ties with Costco) I just like the taste and the fact that when I open the bag it's not all green/blue and fuzzy! (My aircrew survival school instructor told me many years ago "Arland, their ain't no such thing as eatable navy blue food"!)

OK, that is about all for now on the subject of bug-out-bags. Do your homework and get on the net and find out things for yourself. Remember, these are MY ideas and your situation may or may not be similar to mine, so there is work to do to be ready to deploy with a ruck that is not only useful but easy to carry. Remember, ARES does not employ any baggage porters, so if you bring it you "hump" it, Pard.

Vy 73 and get involved with ARES/RACES EmComm.

Rich K7SZ    


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year's End Synopsis.....And other "Stuff"!

I wanted to get this up on the blog prior to the start of the New Year. 2013 has had some ups and downs for all of us here at the Bent Dipole Ranch. Among them the loss of our little Bunny Dog.....our little female mini dachshund died this fall leaving a BIG hole in our hearts. She was 15 and had given us two great litters of puppies with her mate, Buddy, whom we lost two years earlier, also at the age of 15.

I had steeled myself as I figured Bunny had cancer. She had some very large growths on her belly that the vet said were cancer and would eventually spread to her bones, amounting to a very painful last couple of months. Pat and I decided to have the vet put her down on a trip to the UGA veterinarian school in Athens.

On the way home we both agreed that we didn't need to find another dog since we had Oki Kuma, our 150 pound Alaskan Malamute and our two cats, Cocoa & Carab. So, two days later found us at the animal shelter picking up our new 4 month old "mutt"! Lucy, a Lab mix, is giving Oki a real run for the money, getting him some much needed exercise.

On the radio front:

The antenna project is still on hold, awaiting some help from the Barrow County ARC gang to complete the tower installation and mounting the antennas. The Drake 2B needs some work in the audio section. The K2 is getting farmed out to a local ham who will complete soldering the high density PCBs, which I can no longer do. I have some restoral to do on the Drake TR4 station but that is nothing that directly affects the operation of the rig. The K3 continues to putt-putt along constantly spoiling me. I just don't deserve that great of a rig!

I am Elmering a couple of guys that I shoot with. One of them just got his license a couple of days ago and is happy as a clam getting on the air on 2M FM. Unfortunately there is a growing trend (or possibly pressure) among ham clubs to run a "Ham Cram" program on a weekend. This is where one or two members of the local club take an afternoon on a weekend to teach the test, so to speak to anyone wanting/needing a Technician Class ham ticket. It seems that a large number of "preppers" (or survivalists) are getting their ham tickets for the day the SHTF!

I really don't like this type of "instruction". Over the last 20 years between the ARRL and the FCC the license tests have been "dumbed down" to the point that if a person can properly spell his/her name they can get a license! That's not what Ham Radio is all about. At least not in my opinion. Of course the ARRL did this (with the blessing of the FCC) to swell the ranks of amateurs and stimulate the hobby. I can't help but think that there is a connection in there somewhere between the ARRL and the various Evil Offshore Empire equipment manufacturers, too. After all, it takes a LOT of money to buy several full pages of advertising in QST!

In reality what has happened is that there are a lot of new hams who will never go beyond a technician class license and in turn stay on the V/UHF frequencies with their shack-on-the-belt hand-held. Not that this is a bad thing, but there sure as hell is more to ham radio than repeaters and packet radio.

This brings me to another point of irritation: clubs. I belong to three here in the Atlanta area. I rarely go to meetings due to Pat's work schedule and some other family obligations that occur on meeting nights. However, I have noticed that the active clubs, the ones with large memberships, are a diverse bunch. This is great. It's the smaller clubs that lack a large member pool that suffer stagnation while trying to scare up hams to present presentations at meetings. Therefore, my New Years wish for all of you out there in Radio Land: become active with one or two local clubs and stir up some interest in areas of ham radio not directly related to 2M FM operation. In other words, train your replacement in the hobby.   

In other news:

I love guns. I have been a long-time target and pistol competitor. This year I finally conceded that I could no longer shoot accurately with the 1911A1 in .45 ACP. At the urging of several other shooters (Herb, from Alaska, among them) I unloaded the two .45s I had and procured three Glocks in 9mm (G-19, G-26, & G-34). One thing about all Glocks.......the sights suck! Big time! No, really, they SUCK!!! I took some drastic measures and replaced the stock sights on two out of the three Glocks with Trijicon sights (http://www.trijicon.com/na_en/index.php).  MAN! What a difference!!! I can actually pick up the front sight now with almost no effort at all! They are low light/night sights and you can really lock onto the front and rear sights with very little effort. If you have a problem with the sights on your weapon, go to Trijicon. You won't be sorry. They are a little expensive but it is well worth the cost to be able to boost your accuracy. Additionally, if you carry concealed on a regular basis, it goes without saying that you need to insure that you have the proper sights on your weapon.Check out "In the Gravest Extreme" by Mass Ayoob. Amazon.com has them in stock.

Speaking of shooting, and I do a LOT of it now, I am converting over to lead reloads, since I have two reloading presses and a whole bunch of dies and brass in various calibers. Acme Bullet Company ( http://www.acmebullet.com/index.php?route=common/home) offers a great price on their lead alloy bullets for all popular pistol and rifle calibers. They do a land office business with the Cowboy Action Shooting crowd. They offer some really nice prices and they modified their mailing boxes to fit inside Priority Mail boxes, thereby cutting the shipping costs over half! They have a great customer service department, and are just plain good folks to deal with.

The latest trend in concealed holsters are the "plastic" holsters offered by a number of shooting accessory companies. I prefer Fobus holsters as they are inexpensive (around $20-25) and they come in a large variety of models to cover the most popular hand guns currently in use by police, military and civilians. Fobus products are made in Israel (http://www.fobusholster.com/).  The IDF uses them almost exclusively. In reality they are a carbon fiber holster sometimes called by the trade name of "Kydex". I use one on my G-26 and it keeps the pistol in close to the body and can resist attempts by individuals that wish to snatch your firearm out of your holster. Speaking of my Glock 26, it is now my favorite carry piece. It has double the firepower of the Smith model 442 that I use to carry, and with the Fobus holster it stays put and I hardly know its there!

All for now. Have a Happy New Year.

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Antennas, Towers and "Stuff"

Well, here we are four days before Christmas and the weather has been "WONDERFUL"! Today's temperature was in the high 60s with virtually no wind. Ditto for yesterday. Perfect for antenna/tower work. Unfortunately, Bill, KJ4EX, my tower guy, has one of those erratic work schedules and couldn't get time off to come over and finish the tower installation.

HOWEVER, Dave, N4KD, is in the midst of erecting a small tower and beam at his place. Since he has been one of my "go to guys" for my installation, I assured him that if he needed assistance or coolie labor, I was available. He completed his hole earlier last week using a rented auger from one of the big box stores. Bill, KJ4EX, had access to a similar auger which he used to dig my tower hole next to the house earlier in the year.


Using an auger greatly speeds and simplifies the hard work of digging out the hole that holds the concrete and the base of the tower. Once several holes are dug using the auger it is simple work to remove the excess dirt and square up the overall dimensions of the hole to make a square (or rectangle) approximately one cubic yard which will hold about 800 pounds (ten 80 pound bags) of concrete mix and the tower base. This type of installation is good enough to support a tower installation up to 80 or 90 feet, provided guy wires (or Dacron rope) is use to prevent lateral movement of the tower. In my tower installation I will be using one set of three guy ropes set at just under the 60 foot level on the tower. These will be attached to guy anchors (augers, actually) set out into the yard in three locations approximately 120 degrees apart. In addition, I am attaching the tower to the side of my house, just under the roof gable, at the 25 foot level for additional support.

While Dave didn't seem to need me for anything like "work" he did mention that since I had a cement mixer (actually a birthday present to Patricia, KB3MCT, a few years back) he would be tapping me and my mixer when he was ready to plant the base of the tower into the hole and add the concrete. Of course, I said "yes" so right now I am awaiting his phone call.

On to other antenna projects here at the Bent Dipole Ranch.....I procured two Newtronics (Hustler) 4BTV verticals, one just prior to Dayton from a local ham who had it stored in his shop, and the other one I procured new, from DX Engineering, at the Dayton Hamvention. The used antenna was in pretty sad shape, and I will be restoring it over the winter for use as a portable emergency HF vertical to support EmComm. The new one will be affixed to the roof tower that use to hold the Cushcraft A3S HF Yagi and the Skycraft 6 meter beam, which are being moved to the new tower after completion of the tower installation.

The 4BTV is a rather interesting antenna. Originally designed as a quarter wave length trapped vertical to cover 40/20/15/10 meters, this antenna has enjoyed a dedicated following over the years. I used one when I was active in the Azores (CT2BH) in the early 1970s with outstanding results. Over the years the engineers have modified the design to include adding the 80 and 30 meter bands, using additional traps and resonator coils. 80 meter operation is quite restricted due to the limited bandwidth of this vertical's design. Although I have never had one modified for 30 meters; I may add that trap (available from DX Engineering) before erecting it on the roof tower.



One thing to always remember regarding vertical antennas: they need a good radial or counterpoise system to properly radiate an RF signal. Since the vertical antenna element itself is only a quarter wavelength radiator, the radial system provides the other half of the antenna. Since this installation will be above ground on my roof, I will need to provide wire radials cut to approximately a quarter wavelength of the operating frequency on each band. According to the manufacturer I will need at least two, possibly four, of these wire radials per band! This makes for a lot of wire on the roof! In my Azores installation (roof mounted) I used four radials per band and the antenna worked amazingly well. Therefore, I will duplicate that counterpoise system at my current location, in hopes of having an antenna that is a real "DX getter".

The radials don't need to be anything fancy. In the past, on other vertical installations, I have used wire sizes ranging from #26 to #12 with good results. There is also a method of taking five conductor rotator wire and cutting the radials for up to four bands. This greatly simplifies the number of wires you have to deal with and terminate on the roof. I have used this method once before and it worked well. Depending upon my situation here at the Bent Dipole Ranch, I may use that method again just to save space.

One thing about multi-band trapped verticals:  adjustment of the antenna and the traps is paramount to obtaining good results on the air. Using my trusty MFJ Model 269 antenna analyzer and taking my time, I will insure that the element measurements are accurate and the radials are properly cut and configured.

Many hams who erect a quarter wavelength trapped vertical and fail to put the necessary work into the counterpoise system see a very low SWR across the bands. This leads them to the erroneous conclusion  that their antenna is working just fine. On the contrary, this means that the radiation resistance is so low that the antenna won't radiate properly on the air. You actually want to see a pronounced "dip" in the SWR curve on each band. Remember: the higher bands won't exhibit as much of a drastic "dip" as these bands tend to be much wider in working bandwidth than the lower bands. On the 4BTV the 40 meter band should only be about 75 to 100 kHz wide, from the chosen frequency of operation to where the SWR rises to approximately 2:1. On 80 meters (provided you add the capacity hat and 80 meter resonator) your bandwidth will only be about 25-30 kHz! This means that you will have to re-tune your antenna tuner if your operating excursions exceed the chosen frequency of operation.

One of the major features regarding quarter wavelength verticals is that, when properly configured and adjusted, their angle of radiation (the take off angle of the radiated RF wave) is very low, allowing the RF signal to project further out into space before it encounters a reflective layer of the ionosphere, where it will be refracted (bent) back toward the earth. This is refereed to as "skip zone" and the longer that skip zone, the further out you can successfully work other stations. So basically the lower the angle of radiation (take off angle) the further you can reach with your signals. Therefore, the vertical antenna is often refereed to as a good antenna for DXing. Again, this is provided the antenna is carefully installed and a proper RF counterpoise (radial) system is installed and tuned.

OK, enough for now. I need to get into the shack and do some much needed house cleaning and straightening up. Then, if time permits, I may get on the air and see what DX is available.

Until next time, Vy 73 and good DX.

Rich K7SZ