About Me

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I am a ham radio operator, father, husband, Christian, musician, avid reader, Texan, philosopher, and chronic hamburger fiend. After spending several years exploring the different avenues of Ham Radio I decided to share my ideas, experiments, and activities with my fellow "technically challenged" hams as I humbly present to you: "Ham Radio For the Rest of Us". I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Where There's A Will...

     We all read about 40, 60, or even 100 foot towers with rotors and beam antennas  Someday I might even have one myself.  But for now I have to be satisfied with the real estate I have.  My property has some challenges and being a renter I'm limited to what I can do.  My landlord has graciously allowed me to do pretty much what I want as long as I don't make any permanent changes to the property.
     So what to do?  Wishing won't get anything done.  Waiting for the perfect property may take forever!  So I decided to make the best of the situation.  Here is my El Cheepo 30 foot "tower" on the left side of the picture. 
     I started with three ten foot sections of TV antenna mast from Radio Shack.  I had gone to Radio Shack to buy some batteries and found the ten foot sections were on sale.  I can't remember the price but they were almost give away's so I bought all that they had (ten sections).  This mast is VERY light weight compared to the mast on the right hand side next to the house; but as I said there was a huge difference in price too.

  Besides the antenna mast you will also need two six foot T-posts some radiator hose clamps, a bag of concrete, guy wire, and something to tie the guy wire to.  I dug a 2 1/2 to 3 foot hole in the ground with post hole diggers.  I then reached down in the hole and wallowed out the bottom of the hole so that it had a little bit of a bell shape.  That is to help hold the concrete in the ground once it's set.  Cut four feet off the TOP of one of the ten foot sections of mast.  This is the end with the taper on it.  Next clamp the four foot section of mast between the two t-posts as shown in the picture above.  Make sure that when the t-posts are lowered into the hole that the mast section is six or seven inches above ground.  Next mix up your concrete.  Use a fence post leveler to make sure your mast will not be leaning and set the t-posts into the concrete.  When the concrete has set; take the remaining two sections of mast and connect them together.  Then take the remaining 6 feet of the mast you cut and put it on top.  Make sure and use a little grease or silicon at the joints or they may rust together and be difficult to separate later.Attach these sections to your mast base and you have a fairly stable 30 foot mast! You can loosen the radiator hose clamps and drop the entire mast a couple of inches to take tension off of the guy wires you will install or the dipole at the top.  This allows you to quickly drop the mast without loosening guy wires or untying dipole legs.  This is important in areas where thunder storms pop up at a moments notice.

              In my situation, there was not a lot of room for guying.  If you look closely at the photo above you will see a guy wire behind the mast.  It is attached to one of those portable stakes for dogs that you screw into the ground.  The ground is soft here so I concreted that into the ground as well.  The guys wire goes up somewhere around the twenty foot mark and is attached to the mast by a u-clamp that is clamped around the mast.

Having no room to stake out the other guy wires, I put two large eye screws into my window sill and tied of the guy wires to these.  They go over my drive way but are high enough for my minivan to easily clear them.  This is an old house and the window sill is hardwood.  Make sure what ever you anchor your guy wires to will hold the load.  Because I only have a multiband dipole on this mast, there is not a lot of strain on the mast even in very strong winds.  It has held up with very little maintenance for several years.  This mast is meant for a light load.  In the end, you have to consider weight, wind load, and stability when erecting any structure for antennas.  The heavier mast would probably not have worked in this situation but the lighter stuff worked perfectly with the t-posts and made a perfect mast for my multiband fan dipole.  It's not a beam but I regularly work dx stations on twenty meters and have fairly good luck on 40, 15, and 10 also.  I have less than $100 tied up in the mast and the antenna.

     If you want to lower and raise a dipole you can add a pulley at the top and rope or cable to raise and lower an attached dipole.  In the picture above you can see that I used plastic covered metal clothes line.  I also used radiator hose clamps to attach a tie off to the mast.  I had to tie two lengths of the cable together to get the 60 feet needed.  If you look closely at the picture above where the cable is tied off you can see the two cables are tied together with a square knot and the ends all cinched down with tie wraps.  not pretty but it worked great.  Just a side note:  One end of my dipole is tied off to a stake in the ground.  The other side runs towards my garage and is tied off via more eye screws screwed into the trim and studs over my garage door.  It took a little planning to figure out where and how I was going to tie everything off.  With a little thought and creativity, you will be amazed what you can achieve.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Microphones? We don't need no stinking microphones!

     Back when I got my Extra license you had to pass a CW test.  I worked really hard to pass it and promptly let my hard earned skills go by the wayside in favor of SSB.  There was a CW operator in our club that always fascinated me.  Good old Ted Stubbs (KB5EAZ) could make those paddles sing.  And he made it look so easy!
     Well after many years I developed an urge to try it again.  After a few weeks of practice with software and some on air QSO's with another local ham who was also interested, I am now closing in on ten words per minute.  Not lightning fast yet but I am having great fun with it.  I bought a Kent straight key and joined the "Straight Key Century Club".  They're a great bunch of guys and I'm looking forward to making some contacts with them.

     The straight key is great and the Kent makes a beautiful addition to the shack; but my Bencher paddles are by far my favorite way to go.  With paddles you need an electronic keyer also.  They can get pretty salty.  But as usual, I scoured the net looking for just the right deal for my frugal shack.  Frugal refers to both price and technical difficulty!  I found probably the best deal on a keyer on the face of the earth.  It's called the N0XAS Pico Keyer Kit.  It comes in a kit form (that even I could assemble); however I cheated and was given one by a fellow ham here in town.  At a starting price of less than $20.00 they're quite a deal.  You can find them at hamgadgets.com.  If anyone is curious; no I don't have any affiliation with them, its just a really cool little piece of equipment.

     Let me give you two other nuggets if you are interested in honing your CW skills.  I used two free software programs to practice with.  The first is the Koch Morse Trainer by G4FON and the second is The Morse Code Teaching Machine found at http://c2.com/morse.  The G4FON can be easily found if you Google the call sign.  They are both great programs and they're free.
     I have found that I am interested in collecting unique keys and so far I have bought a couple.  Who knows where this is going to lead.  I guess I may have to build one next!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

When it comes to antennas; Nike has the right idea!

Do you remember Nike's slogan "Just Do It"?  There are times when I believe that is good advice for Ham Radio operators.  I meet with a group of local hams a couple of times a week to cuss and discuss Ham Radio.  Several ideas for antenna projects come up, but often get discouraged for various technical reasons.  "The swr will be off the charts" or "this will react with that" or some other discouraging remark on theoretical antenna design.  To listen to most folks; your antenna most be perfect or the sky will open up and you and your radio will be swallowed up by the radio gods.
     Fall is here and I decided before it gets too cold I would like a little more flexible HF antenna for the winter.  I built a homebrew forty meter last fall which served me well but I wanted a few more options this winter.  I became interested in "fan dipoles" also called "multiband single feed dipoles.  After passing the idea around at coffee with the local guys, I got on my trusty pc and searched the internet for more info.  It seemed that for every site I found with plans there were also nay sayers who diligently explained the short comings of such an antenna.  I finally decided to follow Nike's wisdom and just do it.  My goal was to build an antenna run it up the mast and have it work the first time without a bunch of trimming, tuning, and hair pulling. 
     I ran across and article on Ham Universe which led me to a design I think originally created by KC4TAQ.  It used pvc to separate the legs at the feed point to minimize interaction.  I cut the dipole for 40, 20, and 10 meters.  15 will also work because it's a harmonic of 40 meters.  I figured the lengths using the standard calculations and left plenty of extra on the ends to work with.  My last dipole worked fine without the need for a balun but I thought I'd use one this time just to be different.  I made one of those "ugly baluns".  Cheap and effective.  I built the pvc support, measured and cut the legs for each band, wrapped the extra on each leg back on itself making a loop in the end of the wire and tie-wrapped them.  Made my coax feedline to fit from the mast to my upstairs window, and threw it all up in the air.  I checked the resonance of each band and it was as I expected: not perfect but fairly close.  I decided to go ahead and hook it up to the radio and give it a shot.  Keep in mind that I was running into my Icom 735 with the AT-150 automatic tuner.  I wanted to be careful so I backed the power off to about 50 watts dialed in 20 meters and started listening.  I heard an Italy station calling CQ and I'm not kidding you one bit; I forgot all about the 50 watts, answered his cq and bagged IZ1NPT in Fresonara, Italy as my first contact on my homebrew antenna!  It worked so well that I did pull it back down to solder loops in the ends of each leg so I could tie it off permanently and weather proofed it with some liquid electrical tape and gorilla snot around the connections.  I found a gigantic piece of shrink tube to go around the balun and voila!  I was ready for the winter.  I spent the rest of this weekend making contacts on the bands to test it out and it is working beyond my wildest expectations.  Could it be tuned closer to the center of the band? I'm sure it could.  Is it working as efficiently as it could?   Probably not.  But the point is it is working, and working well.

Various pieces of 1/2" pvc used to build the support loop

Completed support complete with "ugly balun"
Finished antenna on the mast at sundown!


Friday, July 8, 2011


     Your antenna is probably the most important part of your rig.  A ten-thousand dollar radio with an eight hundred dollar mic won't get you anywhere attached to a crappy antenna.   Generally speaking the best way to improve your performance is to improve your antenna.  This is true for all radios from your handie-talkie to your HF rig.  If you want to get the most out of your radio a good antenna is a must.
     Hand-held radios are generally the new hams first purchase.  They are the least expensive and they're very convenient.  The trade off for portability and compact size is that five watts is about all you are going to get out of most.  A base station uhf/vhf is going to require an antenna in the air and an HF rig is going to require an even bigger (read expensive) antenna.
     Enter the wonderful world of home brew antennas.  With basic soldering skills, an swr meter, and a little wire; you can build an antenna for your transceiver for very little money.  When I first upgraded from Technician my buddy (KD5MZE) and I both bought 10 meter radios from Radio Shack and home brewed a couple of 10 meter dipole antennas.  The satisfaction of building our own antennas was well worth the five bucks or so we spent building them.  We talked all over the world on those antennas and I still have mine stashed away somewhere.  You can get very creative with insulating material and the wire you use.  Often you can find items around the house that you can use.  Yeah, gazillion dollar beams will perform better and you may not win any contests; there is still a lot of operating fun to be had with home brew antenna and a few watts.  There is tons of info on the internet on building antennas and I have no designs that you can't find with a casual search for home brew antennas.  It is easy to find a design to fit your need.  While you may never reach a point where you are comfortable building a radio or working on them, home brew antenna's are a great way to get your feet wet building something on your own.  Did I mention how little they cost? :-)  73

The lost art of the "Rag-chewing" net

     One of the greatest things about amateur radio is it's diversity.  There are so many modes of operation and activities to participate in.  There's something for everyone and it never gets old.  If you ever get tired of one mode there's always something new to try.  Many clubs and other organizations hold nets.  These nets can be for anything from response to emergency communications to passing traffic pertinent to local hams.  For years I have missed checking into a good old rag-chewin' net.  It seems at least in my location; the nets have become rather dry and predictable.  Kind of like going to church.  You do it every week and have the whole ritual memorized.  There is seldom anything new and the nets begin to lose their appeal.  Before too long you feel as though you are checking in more out of duty than enjoyment.
     In the past few months it has been my pleasure to participate in a 2 meter net in Kokomo, Indiana.  The net control operator is either KC9DHG or KB9MDP.  It is an old fashioned rag-chewin' net and everybody is welcome.  All of the gentlemen and ladies involved are exemplary operators.  We meet Monday through Saturday at 00:00 UTC.  We pass it around through the net control operator and everyone talks about anything from their days activities to ongoing amateur radio operations to local or news events.  Although I have never met most of these guys as I live in Lafayette, Indiana; I feel as though I know them.  We have retired guys, farmers, a bee keeper, a musician, city and country folks.  It is a great hour or so of fellowship and I find myself looking forward to checking in as often as I can.  Every ham starts out on the 2 meter band and most hams monitor the local repeaters.  If you don't have a rag-chewing net in your area I highly recommend you take the initiative and begin one.  They are a great way for new hams to get plugged in with other operators.  They are also a great place to find an Elmer.  With our frequencies under constant attack it is good to hear traffic on them.  There are too many repeaters that sit idle, seldom used until a weather event or the weekly club net.  Start or participate in a local net and get Radioactive!  Until next time 73. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Ham And The First Radio

     All new hams are faced with the same dilemma.  Deciding on that first rig.  I have come across quite a few articles lately that say the humble Handy Talkie (HT) is a bad choice for a first rig.  The popular wisdom says the limitations and lack of power make it a poor choice.  I beg to differ.  Let's think about this for a moment.
      I know there are exceptions to every rule but most new hams receive their Technician license first, and then spend some time studying and learning to go the next levels.  The primary bands the new ham will be experimenting with will be 2 meter (vhf) and 70 centimeter (uhf). For around $150-170 you can have a brand new self contained radio station that covers two of the amateur radio bands (VHF/UHF).  You can get off cheaper than that if you go with a single band 2 meter radio.  Unless you live in the desert or other sparsely populated area, there is at least one club owned repeater in your area and most likely there are a few.  So right out of the box and about ten hours to recharge that new battery the new ham can be interacting with other hams in the area.  He can learn the etiquette for using the local repeater; get used to using his newly earned call sign; and over come the fear of the microphone that a lot of new hams experience.  Ah...nothing like that first contact.
     It won't be long before you are an old hand on the local repeater and while you may later buy another radio, or two or three; that little handy talkie will never lose its usefulness.  Listening in on severe weather nets when you have to disconnect your outside antennas because of the storm.  Communicating with your buddy who's helping you install your new antenna on your roof or tower.  Monitoring the local repeaters while you're working in the yard or drinking coffee at Starbucks.  There are a gazillion reasons to own a hand held radio.
     There are some challenges to using a handy talkie, but most can be overcome.  My first radio was a Yaesu VX-5r.  It was a little pricier than the category I'm talking about right now.  It was also a tri-bander which included six meters.  It also had a ton of bells and whistles on it that I have never used (yes I still have it).  As I said there are some challenges.  Here is a list of the most common challenges and solutions:
     1. Rx/Tx not as good inside the house - A base antenna on a pushup pole or the roof will do wonders for extending the range of your HT.
     2. Operation time is limited by the battery - Some HT's can be operated on an external power supply.  For those that cannot a second battery charging while the first is being used is a simple fix.
     3. HT gets hot during QSO - an external mic and a cell phone holder for cars mounted on some sort of base will make your HT more stable on your desktop as well as take care of the heat problem.  Also with that outside antenna connected you can likely drop your transmitting by half or more.  That will help with the heat problem.
     4. QSO interfering with wife watching Top Model or other program - a headset with a boom mic cuts out at least half of the conversation :-)
     5. Your external mic, a mag-mount antenna, a cell phone holder, and you have a nifty little mobile rig!  I use mine like this all the time and it works great.  It beats hacking up that new car.
     The bottom line is with a little ingenuity and a few accessories you can make your HT work in almost any environment; portable, mobile, or stationary.  While you will probably eventually buy another VHF/UHF rig, your handy talky will always have a place in your radio arsenal.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why I began "Ham Radio For the Rest of Us"

Hello all; Ron Reece here (WO9H).  I have thought about blogging for a long time now.  I decided to bite the bullet, jump in, and give it a try.  I have had my Amateur Radio license for several years.  I've even had to renew it once.  Lord knows I didn't want it to expire and have to start over again.  I have tried a little bit of everything, and operated from various QTH's from cliff dwelling (apartment) to a home with a fairly large lot.  I have yet to experience a country QTH with a few acres to plant antennas on but I'm working on it!  I have been discouraged at times by the seemingly endless theories, formulas, and technical information I've had to wade through to do a little of my own experimenting.  Now I don't hold anything against those hams who are electronic geniuses and have forgotten more about electronics than I'll ever know.  In fact I salute them.  They are the trailblazers of the hobby.  But some of us less technically gifted guys would like to dip our toes in a little experimenting and tinkering on a little less complicated plane.  It seems most projects are always to technical or childishly simple.  It also seems that well meaning elmers on the internet and locally often unintentionally talk way over our heads.  After more than ten years of operating, I have found that you don't have to have an electronics/engineering degree to enjoy the hobby.  I have also learned that you don't have to have a huge budget.  We all drool over the mega expensive radios and equipment.  But if you're like me you don't have a money tree growing in the back yard.  I have to make my radio dollars go as far as I can.  I'm always searching for the best bang for the buck.  There are ways to get on the air and operate on a shoe string.  For me, a lot of the fun in this hobby is the ground work involved in getting on the air.  I'm particularly fond of experimenting with antennas.  So as I reflect on what I have learned; and as I continue my adventure in this great hobby, I will share it with you in my blog: "Ham Radio For the Rest of Us".  I hope you enjoy it.