Friday, September 23, 2011

Amateur Radio rides out the storm

WELCOME TO THE NEW AGE OF INSTABILITY

The weekly news cycle is coming to an end.  After a week of generally disturbing economic, political, and international news,  I'll be glad to flee the radio station news room for some peaceful hours at the amateur radio station nestled in the back bedroom of my home.  One thing is for sure in the news business--it is never dull, no matter what you hear and read.  There is always something building that will break out in a banner headline in the days to come.  Keeping up with all of the twists and turns of the current day surely makes for a busy day.  After doing 30 or so newscasts on our four program streams, I am ready to vacate the media circus for the relative calm of my modest neighborhood along the Hamakua Coast.  Sometimes I wonder how things got so out of hand in my country.  Even after 33 years in the news gathering business, I am still amazed how normally decent, intelligent people can be so taken in by the hucksters passing themselves off as leaders of this once dynamic nation.  I suppose many of us just fail to see the larger picture and naively opt for putting trust in a "dream" with no foundation.  Add to this mix irresponsibility, incompetence, and lack of concern for our own citizens and you get a ship of state with no rudder, no purpose, and little concern for the consequences of past actions.  Facing reality is our basic problem.  In my newscasts and daily news blog, I try to raise the awareness level of my fellow citizens, but, as you may suspect, those efforts are ignored or criticized as the ramblings of a news junkie.  There is a good side, though.  My news blog gets about a 100 hits a day with comments--not bad for a small outpost in the Central Pacific.

Sorry for the rant, but I get tired of people ignoring the obvious and failing to take steps to correct some of the small problems around us.  Our island community elects the same people to public office, tolerates a growing drug culture, and generally refuses to prepare for the economic tsumani that will engulf us in the future.  Granted, many of us on this "rock" do care, especially in those areas where human services are concerned.  Many of our local civic groups, churches, and non-profit agencies do an excellent job of serving the less fortunate, who have been cut off from county assistance because of the state's budget woes.  None the less, I wonder just how well off we will all be here once the ocean going freighters can't afford to come here....freight charges, fuel surcharges, and a myriad of other factors have made daily life in the Aloha State a very costly affair....try $4.21 per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Hilo.  And that is just for openers.  

SO, WHAT DOES ONE DO IN THIS SITUATION?

Like many of my fellow amateur radio operators and nearby neighbors, I have cut expenses to the bone.  The small family garden, the weekly farmers' market, and the geneosity of friends have helped trim the grocery bill to a manageable level.  My xyl and I practice energy conservation whenever possible.  If we are not using something electrical, we turn it off.  We have a timer on the water heater as well--all of that helps trim expenses.  I keep the van tuned and maintained so it runs at the best efficiency possible.  As for my amateur radio station, I use solar-charged batteries to stay off the grid.  The equipment and antennas are definitely "old school".  The old Swan 100-MX and Kenwood 520 are the main rigs and they do a good job for my irregular appearances on the amateur radio bands.  As mentioned in earlier posts, the antenna system is homebrew, using wire, coax, and twin lead I find at yard sales or from station studio rebuilds.  I have been fortunate to acquire some useful pieces of RG-6 from various station projects.  RG-6 has been converted into patch cords and even feed lines for my verticals, inverted "vees", and loops.  I have found RG-6, extendable aluminun "fruit pickers, and decently priced pvc pipe at local hardware stores.  The harware store can be a treasure trove for amateur radio operators confined to a limited budget.  I suppose my conservative New England roots are showing, but I prefer to "roll my own" when it comes to antennas.  The money freed from the process can be used for other purposes, such as food and fuel.  I have nothing against the many commercial antennas available, but food, shelter, and fuel come first.  The same principal applies to my rigs.  While the old Kenwood and Swan are by no means state of the art, they fulfill the purpose of my amateur radio operations.  I keep the rigs clean and don't push the finals to exhaustion.  Most of the time, I run power levels of less than 50 watts.  With my solar chareged batteries, I don't worry about bumping up the electric bill or suffering through a power outage.  I am still putting a few dollars away for an Elecraft K-3, but that rig will have to wait until I can pay for it up front.

LEADING A REDUCED AMATEUR RADIO LIFESTYLE

Despite these self-imposed restrictions, I still have a good time working the bands.  Admitedly, my "antenna farm" on the strip of land I call a backyard will not break a DX pileup.  But, I enjoy what can be done under the circumstances.  My modest arrangement provides many hours of fun at very little cost.

Some of my amateur radio friends think such steps are a bit extreme.  They may be right.  I just prefer to pay cash, incur no debt, and do things for myself.  I am not a technical whiz by any means.  I have the solder burns and few piles of damaged components to prove my marginal competence.  But life is a journey and there is much to learn along the way.  Giving up is not an option.  I have lived in restrictive radio enviroments before and still put rf into the atmosphere.  One must be creative and willing to push the knowledge envelope. Thankfully, there are many books and websites to help you enjoy this fascinating hobby.  So, take the bull by the tail and face the situation.  Do what you can to get on the air.  Improve your capabilities as your budget and time allow.

Thanks for letting me vent--it has been a stressful week.  Things could be worse--I could be organized.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM