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RANDOM RADIO THOUGHTS



Here is a collection of random thoughts which revolve around or are somehow associated with radio. Could be ham radio. Could be broadcast band radio - either AM or FM. Could be VHF/UHF scanner kind of radio. Could be shortwave radio. Could be pirate radio.

Probably won't be satellite radio. Don't believe in it. Don't subscribe to it. Thank you very much.

No, wait! It definitely won't be satellite radio. Nor will it be Internet "streaming radio." That simply isn't radio; it's just digitized audio over the Internet and converted back to audio. Period. Nothing radio about it.

And don't you even dare quip, "What about if it's over WiFi?" Go hone your mad gaming skillz or something, luser.


Quick Maneuver Links

Fear and Loathing in the Adirondack Mountains

But wait...there's MORE!

Productive weekend

Caveat emptor deja vu

And then there were three

Farewell to a friend

And then there were two

Home again

On real radio

Miscellaneous stuff

Another fun SKCC WES

If it's in stock...

XMTR design idea

Welcome to Random Radio Thoughts


Fear and Loathing in the Adirondack Mountains

September 27, 2017 - I was somewhere around Albany on The Northway when The Fear began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit panicy; maybe I should pull over and inventory the car..." And suddenly there was a great rushing sound as all the fresh, clean air got sucked out of the car and was displaced with desperation - the sharp hooks of which set deep in the psyche.

First, apologies to Hunter S. Thompson. Second, it wasn't that dramatic or bad. However, it wasn't pleasant. You see, I had just realized that in the mad rush packing and loading out for vacation, the box with all my antenna goodies never made its way to the car. And I was way too far from home to turn around to retrieve it.

Yup. Everything. Pre-measured and cut lengths of antenna and counterpoise wire, tape measure, spools of mason, hemp, and other lines, adapters, fittings, and miscellaneous schtuff - all "neatly thrown" into a box and sitting safely in the apartment in Winsted. This was not a good thing.

Ever hear the quote "fail to plan is a plan to fail?"

After resigning myself to this unsettling reality and pressing northward, options were considered. I could always look for a spool of speaker wire at the True Value Hardware Store in Inlet or Cohen's General Store in Old Forge. As for launching a pull line for the antenna wire, I had three fishing rods from which to choose.

Having gotten such a late start for the journey to ADK, I never got around to setting up WN1MB/2 on day one. Most important was racing the sunset and beating the arrival of forecasted rain. Setting up the tent, sleeping gear, picnic table and requisite tarp tent cover - aka the Command Center - and making some semblance of dinner took precedence over anything radio.

dah-dididit-dah

When day two came around there were still some loose ends to tend to in setting up camp. While rummaging around in the back of the SUV, I came across a gem of a find!

Last year I replaced the aging wiring harness for the lights on the boat trailer. Being a graduate of the "Use it up. wear it out, make it do, or do without." school, the old harness got wrapped up and saved - for something. And now I knew why and for what!

At the command center I unzipped the individual, insulated conductors and then spliced the pieces together - carefully taper taping the slices so they'd pull smoothly over tree branches and hopefully not snagging up. Due to the age and exposure to the elements, some of the insulation had cracked - so I bandaged those spots with electrical tape, too.

Oh yes. I strongly suggest not "cheaping out" when buying electrical tape. Scotch ™ is my go to brand: 33 is the "thin" type with 15 pounds per inch tensile strength, while 88 is the "thicker" with 20 pounds per inch tensile strength. I like to keep both on hand. And an old electrician trick to keep tape more pliable in cold weather: keep the roll of tape in your front pants pocket. Your body warmth keep the tape easier to use.

When all the splicing, taping, and bandaging was done, somewhat half-assed measuring revealed "close enough" lengths to my standard 60' radiator/30' counterpoise! As my luck had changed for the good, I launched my pull line and got an excellent placement with the first shot! Up went the radiator, down went the counterpoise, and WN1MB/2 was on the air with one of my recent Heathkit HW-8 acquisitions! Yay!

dah-dididit-dah

Long story longer is that my pack rat (or hoarder) tendencies saved the day for my WN1MB/2 camp operations. I could try to mask the pack rat or hoarder tendencies with pontificating on the virtue of a waste not, want not philosophy, or how I still to this day practice the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared.

But I won't. I fouled up, dropped ten, and punted. And this time I got lucky and scored.

Lesson learned. Come early September 2018, I'm going to pay more attention to my packing and planning!


But wait...there's MORE!

August 26, 2017 - While innocently (yeah, right...) doing a web search for "HW-8", I noted a three year old ad for a dead HW-8. Thinking it a long shot, I contacted the owner anyways. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Lo and behold, the rig was still available! Not only that, he offered me the dead unit and a heavily modified, working unit - both for the price he had originally asked just for the dead unit.

Though already having three HW-8's, this offer was just too good to pass up. Off went a money order and soon thereafter the triplets grew to quints:


hw8_all_five.jpg

I believe I'm done now. I have plenty of options to consider and the hardware for all manner of experimenting and testing. What do you think of HW-8 separates? You know - separate receiver and transmitter? That's just one of the thoughts I've got. A monobander is another possibility.


Productive weekend

January 23, 2017 - Made some progress around WN1MB this past weekend. It started with a last minute Saturday afternoon trip to Newington for parts at Cables and Connectors. As luck would have it, their webpage didn't display very well on my computer. I don't know whether it's their coding or my browser, but the bottom line is I misread their Saturday hours - thus arriving mere minutes before they were closing. The boss man wasn't pleased, which is understandable, but his attitude was what I consider rude. Whatever. I managed to pick up the bulk of the items needed.

First order of business was to replace the string of three shorted rectifiers in the RF probe for the VTVM. The NTE replacements for the 1N191's were vastly overpriced, but C&C had 'em in stock - so I splurged. Got them installed, buttoned the probe back up and tested it. Success.

Next order of business was to check the power output of my daily go to rig. Now that I own three HW-8's, I refer to this rig as HW-8.1. heh. The repaired probe worked like a charm and I was pleased that the output on all bands was close to spec. It's nice to have measured figures instead of just the LED indicator on the L-network.

When more time presents itself, I'll be measuring and documenting the outputs of the HW-8.2 and HW-8.3 rigs.

Replaced a burnt out grain of wheat meter bulb in HW-8.1 and contemplated a more businesslike wiring arrangement.

Tore into the VTVM and replaced the filter capacitor in the power supply. Gave the function and range switches a thorough spritz of DeoxIT D5 and exercised them well. Buttoned the meter back up and (knock on wood) the filter cap seems to have cured the wandering and sometimes erractic meter movement's needle. Yay!

Did some preliminary design and parts sourcing for an HW-7 or HW-8 accessory. Yes, I'm intentionally being vague. By some divine miracle, should some half-baked idea turn into a cash cow, I certainly don't want to prematurely spill the beans and give away said idea to someone with deeper pockets than mine. Been down that road before...

So that's it: got some work off the back burner and done! And that feels good.


Caveat emptor deja vu

January 14, 2017 - I decided it would be a good idea to test and document the outputs of the newly acquired HW-8 triplets. However, this clever plan got sabotaged by the guy who sold me a Heathkit IM-28 VTVM - a "2-lander" who misrepresented both the VTVM, but also the PK-3 RF probe that came along with the regular probe.

There were issues with the VTVM - most of which have been resolved. "Works just fine" he said. Upon measuring the RF voltage across the dummy load, I was surprised to see no meter deflection - even on the 1.5V scale. So I took apart the probe...

Heathkit uses a string of three 1N191 diodes in series - probably to increase the PIV rating of the rectification. Lo and behold, all three diodes were shorted. Dead shorted. And of course I have no 1N191's, IN34's, or any germanium diodes in stock. So much for output testing the HW-8's until I hit Radio Shack or Cables and Connectors. Sigh.

This rather annoys me, because I paid considerably more than top dollar for the IM-28 with the assurance that it worked "just fine." The VTVM did NOT work "just fine" and now all these months later I find that the RF probe was DOA, too. And to add insult to injury, a printed copy of the manual promised to be sent to me "under separate cover" never was sent. Probably never even got printed.

I'll never buy from that guy again. Ever.


And then there were three

January 11, 2017 - The cat is out of the bag. Faithful, little Argonaut got traded for another Heathkit HW-8! Now how can I place the blame for this on something other than me?

OCD seems a plausible excuse, though I'm hesitant to hang that particular placard from my neck. The price was right? Naw...it was a trade; not a sale. How about this:

The first one I picked up appears to be a perfect candidate for the daily go to rig for the operating position. The second one was to be for testing mods and such without hacking into the daily go to rig. That leaves number 3.

Instead of haggling over price or shipping details in selling the Argonaut, I was presented with the offer of a straight up trade. There was no pressure over equalizing the trade values of the equipment nor shipping cost differential. You ship yours, I'll ship mine. Done deal. Thank you very much. It was a welcome and refreshing change!

So after some more testing and examinations, one will be the daily go to rig; another will be a mod test bed rig; and the last will be a donor rig should parts be needed. That is, unless I can score a junker basketcase - or two. Or three.

Anyway, here's a photo of the recent additions to the family here. My kids - the triplets.


hw8_03.jpg


Farewell to a friend

January 8, 2017 - "My" Ten Tec Argonaut 505 is currently in the back of a UPS tractor-trailer on its way to Minnesota. I say "My" because it wasn't sold - it was traded - so, in that no money was exchanged, it's still mine until the new owner places his hands on it. What it was traded for is temporarily a secret to keep readers in suspense.

A deliberately lengthy ad was placed on QRZ.COM's Online Swapmeet, and within a few hours, it was spoken for.

The old Argonaut helped get me radioactive after an extended absence from ham radio. It was a constant camping companion on my annual jaunts to the Adirondack Mountains in September. It was on one Adirondack adventure that the Argonaut introduced me to the SKCC crew - some of the nicest and most patient operators you'll ever find - through their Weekend Sprintathon event. And that antique bit of Tennessee technology put the call sign WN1MB/1 out into the ether on numerous Field Days.

Though I'll miss certain things about the Argonaut, it's now headed for a better home with a real Ten Tec fan. I hope the new owner has as much fun with it as I did.

73 little Argonaut...


And then there were two

December 15, 2016 - As mentioned in the previous post, HW-8 #2 has arrived! "It works", but not "as it should." Like my experience with the Ten Tec Argonaut, the seller misrepresended the radio. Caveat emptor deja vu, eh?

HW-8 #2 hears and transmits, but needs a serious alignment. There are a couple other minor things inside that need to be cleaned up, but overall I didn't "get taken" too badly. I'm optimistic.

That said, #1 will be the daily go to radio; #2 will be the modification test bed radio.

Now to fashion up an ad for the Argonaut and get 'er posted up on the QRZ.com classifieds.


hw8_02.jpg


Home again

December 12, 2016 - Recently scanning the classified ads on QRZ.COM revealed a nice, little Heathkit HW-8 and power supply for sale. Better yet, it was being sold by an old friend I met many years ago. You see, he was my first contact after I got my novice ticket in the the mail! I was using the best Christmas gift ever: a Heathkit HW-16 from my folks!

Long story short, I visited Augie, WA1JD, tried out the HW-8, and bought it. After a one week test drive, I'm more than pleased. It operates very well and on first blush reveals no issues other than an intermittent meter light - which is easy to remedy. The rig is definitely a keeper!

Way back when, I bought and built an HW-7 and have fond memories using that rig both at home and portable. Some time between then and now, I seem to remember buying a second hand HW-8, but details are very foggy other than noting it was a considerably better performer than the HW-7.

So I'm a reborn Heathkit fan. Or fanatic. Having built many Heathkits over the years, it's nice to "be back home," so to speak.


hw8_01.jpg

And the HW-8 has been so much of a blast, I've purchased and am awaiting delivery of another one! After some A-B testing, I'll use the better of the two as my regular station radio; the other as a modification test bed. I've already got some mods and tweaks to try out.

Though my low serial number Ten Tec Argonaut 505 (the "original" original Argonaut) has served me pretty well the past few years, it is not without issues. I'm still less than pleased with the eBay seller who seriously misrepresented the radio. And those issues require some test equipment I'm hesitant to invest in right now. So I'll most probably be putting the Ten Tec up for sale- and meticulously listing known issues. Nobody likes getting taken.


On real radio

July 13, 2016 - There was a thread running on kb6nu.com about a couple of "virtual ham radio" systems available for use over the Internet. After reading numerous posts in the comments thread, I couldn't help myself and posted.

A week or more later, I stumbled on a thread on qrz.com about band conditions and various online propagation tools. Then someone mentioned about some sort of fake ham radio over the Internet - which turns out to just be VoIP and no real radio at all. Again, I couldn't help myself and posted the exact text I had left on kb5nu.com.

Reviews have been mixed. At least there are a few "likes". And here's the text:

"It's a very strange world in 2016.

As a kid way back when, I took out a book at the library that was a story about a young guy who met a neighbor who was a ham. This ham had a real shack in his back yard that was his ham shack. There were homemade, wooden masts in the yard to support a wire antenna fed with homemade ladder line. He introduced the young guy to the hobby, helped him with the code, and all that.

Classic stuff.

I loved that book and it was instrumental in my pursuing getting a license. Of course, that was back in the days when it was the norm for houses to have antennas: TV, ham, CB, scanner ... etc. In 2016, except for very rural areas, good luck finding one house in your neighborhood with an antenna.

For this dinosaur, ham radio involves pumping RF into an antenna, and capturing RF with an antenna, amplifying, mixing, detecting, and amplifying again to drive a speaker or phones.

Ham radio, for this dinosaur, ISN'T something you run on a computer. It ISN'T something carried over an Internet provider's system. Ham radio, for this dinosaur, isn't just something you just plug into a wall outlet. Ham radio, for this dinosaur, isn't a black box.

And you know what? I like being a dinosaur. You know what else I like? I like looking out the window at my haphazardly strung antenna wire and marvel that the 2 watts of RF I pump into the thing actually gets projected out into the ether and that some other ham's antenna picks up my puny signal and we're able to communicate by primitively keying oscillators on and off.

Once that marvel and wonderment is lost, the "radio" part of ham radio is lost, too."

And here are links to the site theads the above was posted to: Virtual Ham Radio? on kb6nu.com, and Bands open/closed? on qrz.com


Miscellaneous stuff

January 10, 2016 - As alluded to on the main page, reality priorities have kept me away from the website for a while. As things have settled somewhat, here are some random items:

My second 12V 7AH gel cell battery decided to follow the path it's predecessor and not charge up to full spec. Before purchasing a replacement, I decided to bite the bullet and build up a little PSU for home operating. The supply is based on the LM-317 regulated supply circuit in chapter 8 of Crystal Sets to Sideband by Frank Harris, K0IYE. It's an amazingly good book available free to read and download in PDF form. And it's not a stretch at all to say it stands on equal footing alongside ARRL's Solid State Design for the Radio Amateur.

The PSU works well and loafs with the Argonaut 505 load. Though having been in use both in its breadboard life and then housed in a real enclosure, I still have to procure and install some output jacks and a pilot LED. Then it can be buttoned up nice and neat.

dah-dididit-dah

I get a bit of a chuckle when reading advertisements for certain pre-made wire antennas. I suppose the expedient is important for some, but it sure has its price!

My humble EFHW radiator is a 60' length of 30-gauge enameled magnet wire thrown out the apartment window and out to a tree branch by the parking lot. It's from a three-pack from Radio Shack that costs $8.99, with the 30-gauge spool holding over 200' of wire.

Yes, 30-gauge is very thin and not very strong. Yes, it can be and has been broken. But for the price, the el-cheapo radiator wire in use at WN1MB is a deal. And it works - and pretty well, at that. YMMV.

dah-dididit-dah

I've gotten into the sometimes time sink/trap of checking out station details from hams' pages on QRZ.COM. And I'm still amazed that in many of these station pictures there's no key, paddle, or bug to be found. There are plenty with overpriced "broadcast quality" microphones, mic booms, spring suspension mounts, windscreens, pop filters, multi-channel mixers, and over-the-top audio processors though.

You don't suppose no code licensing has anything to do with this, do you?

dah-dididit-dah

The first SKCC Weekend Sprintathon of 2016 is this weekend. I've made a few contacts, but I'm not going to be able to put in the amount of time I'd like. Today is Sunday and it's just past the noon hour, which means it's time for this third shifter to get some sleep before work tonight at 10 p.m. Sigh.


ANOTHER FUN SKCC WES

August 10, 2015 - My first introduction to the Straight Key Century Club's Weekend Sprintathon was a couple of years ago when I was camping up in Adirondacks. At the time I didn't know what SKCC or WES was, but just jumped into the action after monitoring a few exchanges.

What I learned was that WES is just a fun activity and that the SKCC guys are some of the nicest and most patient hams you could ever meet. I've handed out Connecticut contacts, which for some odd reason is a rare one in WES, on the odd occasion when my schedule and WES are in alignment.

So this past weekend I jumped in briefly and made about a dozen contacts. The 30-gauge stealth EFHW and new L-network worked a charm. Again.

FMI on SKCC and WES, check out the Straight Key Century Club website.


IF IT'S IN STOCK...

August 2, 2015 - A considerable ways back in that other century, I worked doing counter and phone sales at a wholesale electronics parts house. When queried whether we had one item or another, if it was the right kind of customer we could quip, "If it's in stock, we've got it." You had to know your audience and not wear the joke out...

I mailed a reasonably good size order to Dan's Small Parts on July 23 and tried to be patient. "This will probably take at least two weeks" I lamented. Well lo and behold, look what arrived on the morning of July 31:


dans_parts.jpg

All sorts of goodies! Looks like some work will be done on the 30-meter transmitter and receiver project this week.

And a tip of the hat and hearty thanks to Dan for exemplary order fulfillment and quick shipping. I'll be sending Dan more business. You should, too.


XMTR DESIGN IDEA

July 27, 2015 - A little light bulb lit above my head while at work last night. Let me explain:

With several portable outings using various configurations and home station usage, I'm very happy with the EFHW antenna and counterpoise system. The recent build and use of the WN1MB version of the SLT+ has made both tuning and monitoring SWR with the EFHW a pleasure.

It occurred to me that for the homebrew 30-meter transmitter build in progress, with dedicated use of the EFHW/counterpoise I could easily enclose the antenna tuner inside the transmitter enclosure. It would only require a single toroidal coil and small variable capacitor - going by experience garnered thus far with the EFHW. Oh yes - the switched, absorptive SWR circuit would be included, too.

This would mean one less box to pack, stow, set up, break down, etc. And one less coax cable. More testing is needed on this, but I believe it's a very promising idea. And no, this wouldn't make the new tuner here obsolete. It would still be used at the home station with the Argonaut 505 or other multi-band rigs.

Stay tuned!


IT HAS TO START WITH SOMETHING

July 27, 2015 - Welcome to Random Radio Thoughts. I have a number of things jotted down on various bits of paper, so expect an entry or three to follow within the next day or two. Stay tuned!