My Beef with Ham Radio

My amateur radio journey began back in the mid-1970s. I was about 12 at the time, with an interest in electronics that baffled my parents. With little to guide me and fear for my life as I routinely explored the innards of the TVs and radios in the house, they turned to the kindly older gentleman across the street from us, Mr. Brown. He had the traditional calling card of the suburban ham — a gigantic beam antenna on a 60′ mast in the backyard – so they figured he could act as a mentor to me.

Mr. Brown taught me a lot about electronics, and very nearly got me far enough along to take the test for my Novice class license. But I lost interest, probably because I was an adolescent male and didn’t figure a ham ticket would improve my chances with the young ladies. My ham ambitions remained well below the surface as life happened over the next 40 or so years. But as my circumstances changed, the idea of working the airwaves resurfaced, and in 2015 I finally took the plunge and earned my General class license.

The next part of my ham story is all-too-familiar these days: I haven’t done a damn thing with my license. Oh, sure, I bought a couple of Baofeng and Wouxun handy-talkies and lurked on the local repeaters. I even bought a good, solid HF rig and built some antennas, but I’ve made a grand total of one QSO — a brief chat with a ham in Texas from my old home in Connecticut on the 10-meter band. That’s it.

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Old Heatsink Lets Ham Push Duty Cycle for Digital Modes

Listen to the amateur radio bands long enough, and you’ll likely come to the conclusion that hams never stop talking. Of course it only seems that way, and the duty cycle for a transmitter operating in one of the voice modes is likely to be pretty low. But digital modes can up the duty cycle and really stress the finals on a rig, so this field-expedient heat sink for a ham transceiver is a handy trick to keep in mind.

This hacklet comes by way of [Kevin Loughin (KB9RLW)], who is trying to use his “shack-in-a-box” Yaesu FT-817 for digital modes like PSK31. Digital modes essentially turn the transceiver into a low-baud modem and thus messages can take a long time to send. This poses a problem for the 5-watt FT-817, which was designed for portable operations and doesn’t have the cooling fans and heavy heatsinks that a big base station rig does. [Kevin] found that an old 486 CPU heatsink clamped to a lug on the rear panel added enough thermal mass to keep the finals much cooler, even with a four-minute dead key into a dummy load at the radio’s full 5-watt output.

You may scoff at the simplicity of this solution, and we’ll concede that it’s far from an epic hack. But sometimes it’s the simple fixes that it pays to keep in mind. However, if your project needs a little less seat-of-the-pants and a little more engineering, be sure to check out [Bil Herd]’s primer on thermal management.
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Amateur Radio Parity Act Passes US House

Most new houses are part of homeowners associations, covenants, or have other restrictions on the deed that dictate what color you can paint your house, the front door, or what type of mailbox is acceptable. For amateur radio operators, that means neighbors have the legal means to remove radio antennas, whether they’re unobtrusive 2 meter whips or gigantic moon bounce arrays. Antennas are ugly, HOAs claim, and drive down property values. Thousands of amateur radio operators have been silenced on the airwaves, simply because neighbors don’t like ugly antennas.

Now, this is about to change. The US House recently passed the Amateur Radio Parity Act (H.R. 1301) to amend the FCC’s Part 97 rules of amateur stations and private land-use restrictions.

The proposed amendment provides, ““Community associations should fairly administer private land-use regulations in the interest of their communities, while nevertheless permitting the installation and maintenance of effective outdoor Amateur Radio antennas.” This does not guarantee all antennas are allowed in communities governed by an HOA; the bill simply provides that antennas, ‘consistent with the aesthetic and physical characteristics of land and structures in community associations’ may be accommodated. While very few communities would allow a gigantic towers, C-band dishes, or 160 meters of coax strung up between trees, this bill will provide for small dipoles and inconspicuous antennae.

The full text of H.R. 1301 can be viewed on the ARRL site. The next step towards making this bill law is passage through the senate, and as always, visiting, calling, mailing, faxing, and emailing your senators (in that order) is the most effective way to make views heard.

One Man’s Awesome Collection Of Projects Done Over A Lifetime

[Robert Glaser] kept all his projects, all of them, from the 1960s to now. What results is a collection so pure we feel an historian should stop by his house, if anything, to investigate the long-term effects of the knack.

He starts with an opaque projector he built in the third grade, which puts it at 1963. Next is an, “idiot box,” which looks suspiciously like “the Internet”, but is actually a few relaxation oscillators lighting up neon bulbs. After that, the condition really sets in, but luckily he’s gone as far as to catalog them all chronologically.

We especially enjoyed the computer projects. It starts with his experiences with punch cards in high school. He would hand-write his code and then give it to the punch card ladies who would punch them out. Once a week, a school-bus would take the class to the county’s computer, and they’d get to run their code. In university he got to experience the onset of UNIX, C, and even used an analog computer for actual work.

There’s so much to read, and it’s all good. There’s a section on Ham radio, and a very interesting section on the start-up and eventual demise of a telecom business. Thanks to reader, [Itay Ramot], for the tip!

How Low Can You Go? The World of QRP Operation

Newly minted hams like me generally find themselves asking, “What now?” after getting their tickets. Amateur radio has a lot of different sub-disciplines, ranging from volunteering for public service gigs to contesting, the closest thing the hobby has to a full-contact sport. But as I explore my options in the world of ham radio, I keep coming back to the one discipline that seems like the purest technical expression of the art and science of radio communication – low-power operation, or what’s known to hams as QRP. With QRP you can literally talk with someone across the planet on less power than it takes to run a night-light using a radio you built in an Altoids tin. Now that’s a challenge I can sink my teeth into.

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Sage Advice for the New Ham

If you’re on the edge about getting your amateur radio license, just go do it and worry about the details later. But once you’ve done that, you’re going to need to know a little bit about the established culture and practices of the modern ham — the details.

Toward that end, [McSteve] has written up a (so far) two-part introductory series about ham radio. His first article is fairly general, and lays out many of the traditional applications of ham radio: chatting with other humans using the old-fashioned analog modes. You know, radio stuff.

The second article focuses more on using repeaters. Repeaters can be a confusing topic for new radio operators: there are two frequencies — one for transmitting and one for receiving — and funny control tones (CTCSS) etc. This article is particularly useful for the new ham, because you’re likely to have a relatively low powered radio that would gain the most from using a repeater, and because the technology and traditions of repeater usage are a bit arcane.

So if you’re thinking about getting your license, do it already. And then read through these two pages and you’re good to go. We can’t wait to see what [McSteve] writes up next.

A Geek’s Revenge For Loud Neighbors

It seems [Kevin] has particularly bad luck with neighbors. His first apartment had upstairs neighbors who were apparently a dance troupe specializing in tap. His second apartment was a town house, which had a TV mounted on the opposite wall blaring American Idol with someone singing along very loudly. The people next to [Kevin]’s third apartment liked music, usually with a lot of bass, and frequently at seven in the morning. This happened every day until [Kevin] found a solution (Patreon, but only people who have adblock disabled may complain).

In a hangover-induced rage that began with thumping bass at 7AM on a Sunday, [Kevin] tore through his box of electronic scrap for every capacitor and inductor in his collection. An EMP was the only way to find any amount of peace in his life, and the electronics in his own apartment would be sacrificed for the greater good. In his fury, [Kevin] saw a Yaesu handheld radio sitting on his desk. Maybe, just maybe, if he pressed the transmit button on the right frequency, the speakers would click. The results turned out even better than expected.

With a car mount antenna pointed directly at the neighbor’s stereo, [Kevin] could transmit on a specific, obscure frequency and silence the speakers. How? At seven in the morning on a Sunday, you don’t ask questions. That’s a matter for when you tell everyone on the Internet.

Needless to say, using a radio to kill your neighbor’s electronics is illegal, and it might be a good idea for [Kevin] to take any references to this escapade off of the Internet. It would be an even better idea to not put his call sign online in the future.

That said, this is a wonderful tale of revenge. It’s not an uncommon occurrence, either. Wikihow, Yahoo Answers and Quora – the web pages ‘normies’ use for the questions troubling their soul – are sometimes unbelievably literate when it comes to unintentional electromagnetic interference, and some of the answers correctly point out grounding a stereo and putting a few ferrite beads on the speaker cables is the way to go. Getting this answer relies entirely on asking the right question, something I suspect 90% of the population is completely incapable of doing.

While [Kevin]’s tale is a grin-inducing two-minute read, You shouldn’t, under any circumstances, do anything like this. Polluting the airwaves is much worse than polluting your neighbor’s eardrums; one of them violates municipal noise codes and another is breaking federal law. It’s a good story, but don’t do it yourself.

Editor’s Note: Soon after publishing our article [Kevin] took down his post and sent us an email. He realized that what he had done wasn’t a good idea. People make mistakes and sometimes do things without thinking. But talking about why this was a bad idea is one way to help educate more people about responsible behavior. Knowing you shouldn’t do something even though you know how is one paving stone on the path to wisdom.
–Mike Szczys