Friday, July 28, 2017

Need vs. Want

What a GREAT topic! Several of my good ham radio friends and I have discussed this topic on occasion. After some serious debate we all agree that there is no such word as "need" in the ham radio vocabulary. "Want", however, is VERY prominent in the ham radio lexicon.

Now I'm going to step to the edge of the abyss. Aside from a radio(s) required to get on the air (along with the associated accessories like antennas, coax, key/mic, etc) a ham "needs" nothing! Seriously, how many radios can you use at one time (EmComm aside)?

Technician class hams have it pretty easy.....give them a dual band handheld transceiver (HT) and they can live quite happily on the V/UHF bands. OK, OK...add a dual band mobile/base rig and they will be a happy camper.

However, General and Extra class hams have a "need" for a lot more gear, or so they think. True if your interests lye in HF operation, you'll certainly "need" an HF transceiver, or, going old school, a transmitter and matching receiver. Then there is the problem of antennas, since your HF rig won't load up well on your 2 meter omni! Wires are good....beams are better. Beam? Add a tower, extra coaxial cable, rotator, rotator cable, guy wires, ground anchors.....the "needs" are almost endless.

Then, of course, comes the specialized modes of operation: packet, digital modes, satellites, contesting, DXing....once again, the "needs" are almost endless.

Face it......this ham radio hobby we enjoy is a money pit on steroids! Aside from the basics to enter the hobby at your level of license, you don't really "need" much more. However, we can certainly talk ourselves (and our significant others) into shelling out big bucks for a hobby that, on the surface, seems quite introverted. Hmmmmm....sounds like food for my doctoral thesis.

OK, let's face it, all us hams like to accumulate all sorts of "stuff" relating to the hobby. In my case, having started in the hobby in the early 1960s when vacuum tubes and AM were kings of the bands, I like collecting and restoring the older tube gear. Generally called "boatanchors" by those of us who enjoy them, these relics of the earlier days of our ham hobby are special. For one thing, restoring these older rigs helps to keep the history of ham radio alive. Additionally, there is something magical about watching the warm glow of the vacuum tubes when we fire up the station. Using boatanchors you will get some outstanding audio reports, especially if you work AM on a regular basis. And finally being young when many of us entered the hobby we didn't have a bundle of cash to buy a Collins, Drake, Hallicrafters, or high end Heathkit. To that end, many of us old PHARTS are, in effect, reliving our "yoot". OBTW: PHARTS is an acronym for Pennington Heath Amateur Receiving and Transmitting, really it is!

In my case I had a borrowed EF Johnson Viking Adventurer and a Heathkit HR-10 receiver (which I built). That was my Novice station for a year. When I upgraded I traded the Adventurer for a Knightkit T-60, which earned me a "pink QSL" from the FCC field office in California for working 80, 40, and 20 meters simultaneously! Needless to say I was petrified. It all worked out and George Comstock, W7CJ, my mentor in all things ham radio, helped me find and repair the problems in the T-60. Eventually I off-loaded that transmitter for a Heathkit DX-40 which was a great little rig on AM and CW!

In college we started a ham club station which consisted of a Hallicrafters SX-117, which I fell in love with. The transmitter was a homebrew beast consisting of four 811s modulated by four 811s. It was huge. It had to be because it was part of our class grade to combine our talents and produce a working AM transmitter for 160, 80 and 40 meters. The following year we retired the beast in favor of a brand new Hallicrafters HT44 transmitter and a matching HT-45 Loudenboomer kilowatt linear amp. We were now in the big league!

I fell in lust with that Hallicrafters pair: SX-117/HT-44. Over the intervening years I procured and restored four (4) of these stations. Unfortunately, I never kept one of them for my shack. Too many other restoration projects. However, there are at least four hams out there in radio-land that had the chance to experience some iconic boatanchors of the 1960s.

Most of us old timers who didn't have the finances to afford upper class gear back in the dawn of our ham careers start out seemingly benign: to recreate our first station. After all the prices on most of the 50+ year old gear from our Novice class past can be procured pennies on the dollar. Of course, there are the exceptions like a Hallicrafters SX-88 receiver (only about 80+ currently exist), Collins "Gold Dust Twins" and others. All I can say is bring your checkbook or some good plastic!

OK, now we have our Novice station all set up and working. It's time to get on the air and enjoy the fruits of our labor. UCK! I never believed that my old HR-10 receiver sounded this bad!!! It's true, friends....the crowded bands of today make using this older simple gear a real chore. Add to that the limitations imposed by a crystal controlled transmitter and its time to obtain a VFO!! Never the less we have reached our goal of accumulating our first station.

Unfortunate most of us we don't stop with our first station. We start in procuring gear that we liked back in the day and soon end up with more equipment than we can possibly restore or use. This is where the ham hobby gets out of hand. I have had the pleasure of seeing several very interesting collections of radio gear. I mean these hams pulled out all the stops and made a significant effort to flesh out their shacks with boatanchor rigs. Buckle your seat belt and go to and look up Andy Howard, WA4KCY, and Bill Wilson, W4BIZ to name just two collectors/restorers). Remembering when you look at the pix, know that this is only about 1/3 of their entire collections!

The point I am trying to make is that when the "collectors bug" bites there is no known cure! Of course it is fun! Not to mention the bragging rights when you restore a classic radio and use it on the air. The main issue that presents itself is where are you going to put all the gear you amassed? Our previous 3750 sq foot house was getting very crowded and not with humans! Suffice it to say I off-loaded a LOT of gear when we moved from PA to GA in 2008. Talk about depressing.

Since the move I have tried, and I do mean REALLY tried, not to start collecting/restoring any boatanchors. However,, I have still managed to acquire two (2) Heathkit SB-series stations (SB-301/SB401 and SB-303/SB-401 with the associated station console, station monitor, and panadaptor), SBE-34 (lovingly restored by Dale Parfitt, W4OP), a National 122 receiver and a EFJ Viking Adventurer transmitter, a Heathkit VF-1 VFO, one HW-8 and two (2) HW-7s, two (2) Ten-Tec Argonaut 509s, and a Wilderness Radio NC-40A. To the uninitiated this collection of radio relics may seem excessive, but believe me when I tell you that my current collection of rigs is about 1/4 of what I had previously and that is without factoring in my military comm gear!!

Having said all this, its time we need to address the 900 pound gorilla in the room: that time in our collective lives when we pass on/become an SK. Yeah, kinda morbid, huh? Well, as my grandfather George said "Nobody gets out of life alive!" Oh, how true. So whatcha gonna do with all that radio gear? Looking forward to the inevitable, might I suggest that you begin by listing all your gear by model/serial number and their current used price. Then contact someone within your local club to act as your executor of your ham gear. Write it all up, give a copy to your selected ham radio executor and the other to you spouse. In this way, you have delegated a fellow ham to help your spouse dispose of your gear with minimal hassle. It's only fair. Remember your spouse will have one less task to be burdened with.

 Vy 73 es Gud DX

Rich K7SZ

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