Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Simple Antennas for Hawaii Island Amateur Radio Operators--a continuing series

I trust that Santa Claus was kind to you this holiday season.  I didn't get the new Elecraft K3 I promised myself, but I did enjoy a wonderful break from the classroom and my former responsibilities as a newsman at Pacific Radio Group.  This has been the first time in many years that I didn't have to rise and shine at 0230W and drive through the darkness to Hilo.  Although my former role as a broadcast journalist (and I use that term very loosely) was a thoroughly enjoyable job, I now relish time at home with my better half, working for my local community as a school teacher, and, finally, getting to spend some more time with amateur radio.

Presently, I'm preparing to dive into the ARRL's "SKN" (straight key night) on New Year's Eve.  This should be a fun event with little of the contest pressure that dominates other events.  About the only thing old I'm bringing to the effort is myself, my trusty J-38 key, and the old Kenwood TS-520 and the venerable Swan 100-MX.  In order to create the atmosphere of my former novice days, I will run less than 75 watts, use a straight key, and erect my first novice antenna--a 40-meter inverted vee.  I wish the old Heathkit HW-101 was still in the shack, but I foolishly let it go many years ago for reasons I can't seem (or don't want to) remember.  This year, the accent will be on fun and laid back operating.  The ARRL is asking for logs and recommendations for the best "fist" heard on the air.  This event will mirror some of the old "novice roundup" days where any contact was cherrished.  Early in my novice days, I was fortunate to have the long-lost HW-101 as my prime rig--I really enjoyed this boatanchor.  Perhaps, I'll find another one someday.  The important thing is to enjoy the event with what you have on hand.

I still have the 130-foot "long wire" running through the backyard and into my neighbor's garden.  I'll probably use the wire for some contacts.  I'll have to take it down before he returns from a mainland trip.  The standby 40-meter loop under the house will be pressed into service for local state-wide contacts.  This NVIS antenna does a great job on state wide HF nets.

Have a good, safe, and sane New Year's Eve.  One of the reasons I want to enter the SKN is to keep myself off the roads on the festive evening.  When I was working full-time at the radio station, I had a few close encounters with drinking drivers--not a fun experience.  So, just take it easy this weekend.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM (Russ)
Laupahoehoe, Hawaii--along the beautiful Hamakua Coast.

P.S.  And yes, that fearsome picture peering from a previous post is yours truly...none the worst for wear after more than six decades on this planet.  My computer connect is quite slow in this rural area of Hawaii Island, so uploading pictures of anykind is a major project.  Happy Holidays!.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

bigislandnewsman's photostream

Russ Roberts

Russ Roberts, KH6JRM, editor of "KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog" and editor of prgnewshawaii.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Simple antennas for the Hawaii Island Amateur Radio Operator--a continuing series

Merry Christmas to all!  I trust that Old Saint Nick left a few presents under your Christmas Tree.

During the holiday season, I've been  busy with various household chores, visiting friends, and just relaxing until the new school term begins on 04 January 2012.  I'm sure the coming year will be exciting both in the classroom and out in the real world.  The holiday break is also giving me some time to do basic antenna maintenance and general shack clean up.  The December weather has been quite wet along the Hamakua Coast with over 13 inches recorded at the qth since 01 December.  Despite the recent storms, Hawaii Island rainfall totals are about 30 % below normal.  The Kailua-Kona area on the west side of the island  is even more parched, with most leeward areas getting less than 50% of their normal rainfall.

SIMPLE ANTENNAS FOR NEW YEAR'S EVENTS

Three major operting events remain as this year morphs into 2012.  The 2012 ARRL Straight Key Night is set for 01 January 2012, 0000 UTC to 2359 UTC.  This is the time to recall and take part in the fun associated with hand-sent CW...especially CW sent by "boatanchor" rigs such as the old Heathkits, Yaesus, Kenwoods, Swans, Drakes, Collins, and Hallicrafters.  The ARRL says this event is not really a contest, but rather a chance to operate vintage gear and make new friends worldwide.  Although my oldest rig is a Kenwood TS-520, I plan to use as much "old" gear as I can, including a J-38 key and some classic antennas.  Presently, I have a 20-meter dipole and 40-meter loop that could be pressed into service.  A random length wire around 130 feet will also be used as long as my neighbor doesn't mind the wire crossing his property.  If you have the time, get on the air with a homebrew dipole or vertical antenna.  Ah, those thrilling days of yesteryear, when novices like me, were thrilled to just get a contact on our crystal-controlled rigs running 75 watts or less.  I imagine all sorts of homebrew transmitters will be dusted off the shelf and used to create the proper "atmosphere" of that night.  You can submit your votes for "best fist" and "most interesting QSO" along with your log to straightkey@arrl.org or by regular mail to ARRL Straight Key Night, 225 Main St., Newington, CT, 06111.

Another popular event is the ARRL Kids Day, set for 07 January 2012, from 1800-2400 UTC.  The program is designed to encourage young people to have fun with Amateur Radio.  The event will give on-the-air experience to youngsters and foster interest in gettting an amateur radio license of their own.  The December 2011 "QST" has a nice article about Kids Day and shows how one of our Hawaii Island amateurs, Lloyd Cabral (KH6LC), provided hours of fun and education to aspiring hams last year.  For details on Kids Day, visit www.arrl.org/kids-day.

The final trio of early January operting events is the always popular ARRL RTTY Roundup, which will run between 1800 UTC Sunday, 07 January 2012 to 2359 UTC Sunday, 08 January 2012.  Digital stations worldwide will be doing their best to contact as many fellow amateurs as time allows.  Although I'm not equipped to run RTTY yet, I plan to dive into the RTTY as soon as I can.  All logs must be postmarked no later than 2359 UTC Tuesday, 07 February 2012.  You can e-mail Cabrillo-formated electronic logs to rttyru@arrl.org.  Good luck everyone.

QST TO OFFER DIGITAL FORMAT

The ARRL plans to issue "QST" in a digital format sometime by mid-year 2012.  Recent editions of the "ARRL Letter" have the details.  This follows an earlier announcment by CQ Publications that it will start digital subscriptions by the end of this year (2011).  Unlike the CQ project, the digital "QST" will not come at an additional price.  I see this as a desireable trend, since digital publishing will reduce costs in the area of paper and distribution.  When I worked in the commercial broadcast business, most of my professional journals were available in a digital format.  Once I set up various files, it was easy to read, store, retrieve, and print what I needed.  With distribution costs rising ever higher, digital publishing is the way to go.  It may take some time to adjust to the change, but with resources getting more costly, digital is an obvious alternative to previous publishing methods.  On a local level, the Big Island Amateur Radio Club has converted its monthly newsletter to digital, saving the club hundreds of dollars in postage and printing costs.

With SKN approaching, I'll spend some time this week repairing the homebrew antennas for the event.  Although I still use the J-38 key, my sending skills could use some improvement, so a little CW this week should get me up to speed.  Good luck in the SKN.

Have a safe and sober holiday season.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Simple Antennas for the Hawaii Island amateur operator, a continuing series

SCHOOL'S OUT--TIME TO PLAY, AMATEUR RADIO THAT IS

Today is Thursday, 15 December 2011, the last day of school for the 2011 academic year.  Most of Hawaii's public and private schools will be taking a winter break until 04 January 2012.  For my xyl and myself, the intersession will give us a break from out substitute teaching assignments at Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School.  During the two months I've served as a substitute teacher, I'm not sure who taught who.  Both the students and I have learned a lot about each other.  I don't regret leaving the commercial broadcast business for the classroom.  At least I don't have to get up at 0230 W and drive 30 miles to Hilo and sit before an audio board and a computer for 14 hours a day, six days a week.  My radio experience was rarely dull and I got a chance to use some of the most sophisticated equipment in the profession, but, when all is said and done, I don't miss the stress.  My co-workers were some of the most professional people I have met and they gave me a lot of slack, but it was time to move on.  I still drop in at the studio every now and then to cut a few commercials and remain available to help with election coverage and disaster assistance.  My new role as a teacher has been rewarding so far.
Now that I'm free a few more hours a week, I can concentrate on helping my xyl with the usual domestic chores and in expanding my modest amateur radio station.

IMPROVING THE SHACK--A PROGRAM IN PROGRESS

As I've mentioned before, my radio shack is modest with a bunch of older rigs and homebrew antennas.  In the antenna category, I've been able to build a few verticals, loops, and dipoles that work very well, considering the postage-stamp size lot of my rental home.  I would prefer a decent 3-element beam on a 50-foot tower, but the proximity to power lines and neighbors rules that option out for now.  That project will have to wait until a new home is built on my xyl's property in the Puna District.  At this stage of the game, I'll make do with what I have.  So far, the 20-meter vertical dipole, the 40-meter under-the-house loop, and a 67-foot end-fed wire with counterpoise seem to generate enough contackts for now.  Most of antenna ideas are not original.  I've adapted a few very simple designs from ARRL and RSGB antenna books with some success.  I once had a 20-meter loop tacked to the shack's ceiling.  Nothing fancy, but it did get contacts at a low power level (less than 10 watts).  Presently, I'm working on the 67-foot long wire--mainly by improving the counterpoise system.  So far, the Drake MN-4 and the various baluns at my disposal seem to handle the impedance problems with the wire.   For more serious work, I find the homebrew 20-meter vertical dipole a useful and space-saving alternative to running radial wires all over the property.  My backyard is very small, so the radial field tends to be a bit haphazard.  When I used the 40-meter homebrew vertical, I found a tuned counterpoise helped a lot. Nothing too efficient here, but it did work.  For local Hawaii contacts, the 40-meter loop under the house (the house is on a post and pier system about 4 feet off the ground) seems to work very well.  Basically, the loop is a NVIS "cloud warmer" that covers the length of the entire state from Laupahoehoe on Hawaii Island (my qth) to Lihue, Kauai.  This might be a good antenna for those of us who run local or regional HF nets.  Most antenna books have a section on loops.  I haven't tried a magnetic loop, yet.  The November "QST" has an article on a small transmitting/receiving loop fabricated out of copper pipe and some hardy variable tuning capacitors.  Those of you more mechanically skilled than I may want to try one of these antennas if your space restrictions are severe.  I believe MFJ still sells a magnetic loop antenna that could help those of use with little space for antennas.  So, until school resumes in early January, I'll be fixing up the antenna damage done by our recent heavy rains.  This past Monday, Laupahoehoe received more than 8 inches of rain in a 12-hour period.  Although there was little moisture penetration noted in my various antennas, I will spend today checking all connections and rewrapping those that appear damp.  So far, there have been no coax leakages.  The 450-ohm twin lead remains in good shape and the 4:1 balun appears normal.  A few weeks ago I wrapped the balan and its connections in a large plastic bag to protect them from moisture.  I then put the bag into one of those plastic storage cabinets with a snap top to keep the weather out.  The entrance and exit holes for the antenna cables were sealed with a caulking compound.  Apparently, those precautions paid off.

KEEPING THE "OLDIES BUT GOODIES" RUNNING

With the exception of a Ten Tec Scout 555, all of my rigs are more than 20 years old.  For qrp work, I usually rely on the trusty Yaesu FT-7 which puts out a maximum of 20 watts.  I usually run the rig at 10 watts or less.  I keep the transceiver covered to keep dust out.  I've had no trouble with the circuit boards, which are easily cleaned.  The main HF rigs are an old Swan 100-MXA and an almost restored Kenwood TS-520 I received as a gift from the family of a Hawaii ham who passed away last year.  I also have a Drake TR-4 that needs a power supply.  I have the operator's manual for each rig, so I can do some rudimentary trouble shooting if I need to.  To date, the old rigs are steady and I treat them with care.  I try to keep them clean and covered when they are not in use.  I'm slowly putting away some of my funds to buy a rig that's more current.  I have my eye on an Elecraft K3.  For now, though, the rigs I have keep me busy.  I hope to do a little more operating during the holiday break.

Have a good holiday and take care if you're on the road.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM
Laupahoehoe, Hawaii--BK29jx

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simple Antennas for the Hawaii Island Amateur Radio operator--a continuing series

This has been a busy week at Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School.  Both my xyl and yours truly have been doing our thing as substitute teachers.  Today, we had a break before resuming our assignments on Friday and Monday.  Never a dull moment in the classroom.

SUNDAY DRIVERS--HOPE FOR THOSE OF US CAUGHT IN THE CONTEST FRENZY

During a few spare moments this morning, I found several interesting and entertaining articles in the December 2011 issue of "QST".  One that caught my eye was a short essay on page 63 by Rick Lindquist, WW3DE.  "Sunday Drivers--contesting in the slow lane can add a little spice to your life."  Being that I only dabble in a few contests and have a rather modest ham station, I found Rick's approach to the contest phenomenon both humorous and relatively stress-free.  Like Rick, I find the last day of a contest sometimes the best time to jump in and make a few contacts.  If you treat the contest weekend as mostly fun and don't care how many points you accumulate, then this article is for you. In the past, I've generally avoided contests because of discourteous operators, qrm, and a host of other problems.  Rick makes the contest scenario bearable by saying "it's also okay just to jump in and work as many contest stations as you'd like, without becoming a contesting convert; you don't have to submit a log or even stick around for the whole event...it's not necessary to go whole hog in order to have a terrific time.  Even modest stations can enter the fray."  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the excitement and frustration of a contest that I forget that even my small station can help someone get a multiplier or even get enough contacts to complete WAS or some other award.  Now that I have some free time in my semi-retired state, I will opt to enjoy the moment and cast aside any attempt to dominate a frequency.  With my small station that won't be too hard.  There's just so much 10 watts will do into a 20-meter homebrew vertical dipole or a low-lying loop.  Yes, I still have the dream of erecting a 50-foot tower with a 4-element beam for 20-meters, but for now, I'm happy just to get on the air.  Nothing like a small lot, non-existent budget, and older equipment to get the creative juices flowing.

SOME INTERESTING ANTENNA IDEAS

In the same issue of "QST", there are several intriguing antenna ideas for those who wish to improve their signal.  "How About an HF Beam Under Your Holiday Tree?" by Joel Hallas, W1ZR, offers some interesting beam antennas that could make your signal more competitive than the dipoles and vertical monopoles many of us are now using.  To his credit, Hallas warns that there are several issues to resolve before that quad or beam sends your signals to some point far away--namely, the cost of a tower, zoning permits, the services of a civil engineer, and perhaps the advice of an attorney.  Once you surmount those obtacles, Hallas gives several examples of simple beams and quads that could make your signal a real powerhouse.  For me, anyway, I'm restricted by space limitations and power lines, so the verticals and loops I now use will have to do until our house is built.  

GOING PORTABLE IN STYLE AND COMFORT

And finally, the December issue of "QST" contains a practical and doable project by Stan Levandowski, WB2LQF.  "A Laptop QRP Station" is well-written and gives a good approach to portable opertion, be it in your home or on the road.  Stan assembled a laptop operating board that was usable from either his lap or a standard height table.  The board was designed to be carried in one hand and accommodated his Elecraft KX1, a clock, a cw paddle, a power source switch, and a place to write.  According to Stan, his project cost less than $20 because he had most of the materials around his shack.  With this project, you could operate in the comfort of your home or at the nearest park bench.  

UPCOMING OPERATING EVENTS

Here are some of my favorite events in the coming months:  The 2012 ARRL DX Contest, CW--0000 UTC Saturday, 18 Februrary to 2359 UTC Sunday, 19 February and Phone--0000 UTC Saturday, 3 March to 2359 UTC Sunday, 4 March.  For VHF enthusiasts, check out The 2012 ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes, 1900 UTC Saturday, 21 January to 0400 UTC, Monday, 23 January.  I don't do much in this contest since I'm in the middle of the Central Pacific.  But who knows? Propagation may favor some contacts, especially if sporatic-E, tropospheric ducting, and aurora help out.  And don't forget Kids Day on 7 January 2012 from 1800 to 2400 UTC.  Several local Hawaii Island amateurs will be active on that date for neighborhood children who want to see what ham radio is all about.  Finally, the 2011 ARRL December Rookie Roundup is set for Sunday, 18 December, from 1800 UTC to 2359 UTC.  This should be good time for both newly licensed "rookies" (2009 to 2011) and us "old timers" who want to capture the feeling of the "Novice Roundups" of the 50's and 60's.

That's about all for now, as the December rains continue along the Hamakua Coast.
Aloha from Hawaii Island and BK29jx in Laupahoehoe.
73 de KH6JRM