Tuesday, May 17, 2011

KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

With most of news assignments done for the day, I'll take a break and mentally organize my amateur radio projects for the remainder of the week.  For once, the news cycle has calmed a bit after the flurry of excitement over the involuntary demise of Osama bin Laden, the aftermath of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Northern Japan, and the massive flooding of our own midwest.  Never a dull moment in this business, and you take a break where you can.  Like many of us who call broadcasting our home away from home, a brief respite is welcome anytime.  Most of my shifts run 0400 to 1600 local time with additional time on Saturday and Sunday to pick up "loose ends" ( special programs, interviews, maintenance, and other unexpected events such as hard drive failures, computer repairs, and T1 problems).  Operations on a seismic-active island can often be challenging...nothing like a little shake, rattle, and roll to keep the juices flowing. 

I should have some spare hours this week to pursue my ongoing improvement scheduled for the KH6JRM radio shack.  Most of the effort is directed to keeping my near antique equipment functioning.  I must confess I enjoy working on the hybrid tube stuff, such as my recently acquired Kenwood 520.  There's sufficient room for my pudgy fingers, so I can work with relative ease.  My soldering skills are getting better--just look at the scars on my fingers...ooch!!  Anyway, the low-level therapy keeps my somewhat sane.  Of course, my neighbors have a different idea.  To them, I'm the "radio nut" that pulls voices out of the air and occaisionally keeps their music systems operating.  Since I operate at QRP levels, I don't get RFI complaints.  My antennas are mostly out of sight and well disguised.  Besides, the XYL knows where I am most of the time, so those "honey-do" projects usually get done. 

The other rigs are working well after routine maintenance every few months.  The salt air and moisture of Hawaii's tropical environment take their toll, especially on antennas and exposed rigs.  The Swan 100-MX and the Yaesu FT-7 are easy to clean.  Eventually, even these dependable transceivers will bite the dust.  But for now, they do the job.  I'm still saving for the Elecraft K3--that may take a while, considering how fragile our economy, and therefore my job, is.  In the commercial broadcast business, if you don't sell and get the necessary numbers from Arbitron or the other ratings companies, you fade to black.  Last October, three radio stations in the Hilo, Hawaii market filed for bankruptcy and left the air.  These stations are now being subjected to a court-ordered liquidation under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy laws.  Fortunately, some of their employees found work elsewhere.  Our radio community in the islands is quite small, so the loss of any radio or television station can hurt, especially if you were close to those who worked there.

With that in mind, the XYL and I have gone into semi-survival mode--meaning no debt, paying with cash or check, and taking care of bills as they come in. We live simply.  We don't have cable, high speed internet, or dish TV.  I admit that dial-up is a royal pain in the backside, but the money we save on cable goes to a variety of purposes, such as fuel ($4.49/gallon in Hilo), food (it's gone up 16 percent since 2010), and entertainment.  Fortunately, the local public library has DVDs for a weekly rental of only $1.00.  I've cobbled together a home-brew home theatre of sorts, consisting of a recent vintage, large screen television, a Sony DVD/VHS (remember those?) player, a fairly news CD player, my old Sherwood amp, a Techniques turn table (yes, we have many LPs), a rack of Ampex 350 tape decks, and some Altec Lansing speakers.  I'm refurbishing an old Pioneer cassette deck to make the system complete.  We go to movies occasionally, thanks to the discount from our county senior citizen discount card.  We make sure to go to a decent restaurant at least once a week and earmark special treats for the holiday season, birthdays, and anniversaries.  I finally replaced my old 1996 Toyota Tercel with a demo-model 2010 Honda Odyssey Van.  The van has been paid off--what a chore that was--The van is useful for a variety of radio station purposes (remotes, sports broadcasts, and the drag races) and for taking my XYL's school projects to her classroom.  We don't live a fancy life, but we still have fun.  A day at the beach or the local museums can provide a refreshing and free break from all of the turmoil of current life.  The only moderately high-tech device I have in the arsenal is my iPhone, which is a remarkable, if costly instrument.  When I finally retire (whenever that occurs is anybody's guess), I'll turn it in and get a simple, pay as you go phone from Netzero or one of the other providers.  We still have a regular phone at the QTH, mostly to keep me in contact with the radio station and to provide dial-up for the computer.  I've retained the hard-wired telephone because cellular service in my rural area is abyssmal due to mountains and irregular terrain.  To use my iPhone, I have to go into my backyard near the 40-meter vertical to get anykind of decent signal.

So, you could say I'm a regressive left over from the 20th century.  I am and I could care less what the trends are.  Our stuff is paid off and we owe nothing.  I get my tech fix by working at the radio station.  It's a joy to use the modern equipment, computers, and programming software now available to broadcasters.  I've learned a lot from our engineers and IT people--so much to learn and so little time.  All told, working at KKBG-FM and KHLO-AM is a lot of fun and well worth the 70 hours I put in each week.  I'll miss all of this when I leave to retreat into the sunset.  I suppose that's part of the reason I enjoy working with my older amateur radio equipment.  I have the best of both worlds.

The news day is coming to a quick close and it's time to do the final equipment checks before I head to the QTH.  Have an excellent day.  Get on the air and have some fun, no matter how modest your station is.  Adventure lied ahead, propagation willing, of course.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.