Best Deals in Amateur Radio

  1. DX Engineering window line doublets. I have had one up for a couple years. Great materials, solid installation guidelines and most importantly, a fine antenna for the money.
  2. Used Johnson Matchbox. I picked one up for $125 and use it with a DX Engineering doublet. Just works.
  3. QRP Labs QCX. $50 gets you a single band QRP radio with a frequency display, single signal receiver, internal keyer. I have had one on the air for almost two years and it has held up great.
  4. Used VHF/UHF gear. Less than $300 and you have a full featured dual band mobile radio. Well under $200 and you have a feature laden HT.
  5. American Morse Porta Paddle. Gets the job done.
  6. HamProjects MORTTY. Awesome keyer for peanuts. Integrates easily with N1MM and N3FJP.
  7. Multus Proficio SDR. Very high performance radio with great support. QRP, but integrates in seconds with a Hobby PCB Hardrock. No sidetone, so CW ops will need a keyer that squeaks. I use a Logitek and dig the pair.

Yes, I own all of these except for number 4, and that is going to change soon enough.

I could spend almost at the unlimited class, but I choose not to because the hunt of finding high performance gear that is economical forces me to think through things completely. The hunt is far more fun than the kill is the logic.

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Old Flames

My wife decided to get back on the air as a ham. She holds a Tech license, and was pretty active back in the mid to late ’90’s in ARES. We moved a few times and that messed up a lot of things. To get her back in the game, we went for a full featured HT – we chose a ICOM ID-51A Plus 2 for her.

Much to my amazement, she also decided to pick up a study guide for the General license.

Tonight she managed to get her new radio talking on several local repeaters. It was pretty amazing watching her puzzle through things and very joyful to give a bit of Elmering to kind of point her in a few directions. But, she hammered it out and got the concepts with ease. Wow.

Building Skill

I define operator skill as a combination of propagation knowledge, timing of when to call a station (or CQ) awareness of operating events and contests and using web tools such as reverse beacon and spotting networks. Becoming efficient with your logging program set up and operation also fits in this area.

CW skill is another component. Within CW is speed, sending accuracy, learning head copy and being able to rapidly record the parts that matter into what ever form of logging is used.

Yes, it is a lot. And each step of the way takes some time and effort and every time you get better it gets more fun!

I plan on writing more about how to effectively work on each of those skills.

Rewarding QSOs

My logbook will never be chock full of rare DX or enough entries to tax the database engine beneath it. I tend to work somewhere between one and three QSOs on the days I am active.

What I look for are the rewarding QSOs.

Examples are working someone who has been active for a long time, hearing a truly great fist, having a good laugh at something funny the other sent, learning of a new town or getting the feeling that digging that one last end of the day signal out of the mud was fun.

I had one of those rewarding QSOs today with a ham in a town I never heard of in Canada. It intrigued me enough to go look up the town on the internet. This QSO had several of the elements of fun for me; he was QRP (during sunlight on 40M) was running a HW-9, the town IS interesting (Guelph, Ontario) and it all added up nicely to make for a rewarding QSO.

I have also evolved into being a rag chewer. The longer rag chew QSOs on CW are magical to me as so much has to go right. Chance things like having good enough propagation to support the QSO, finding someone else who is in the mood for a longer QSO and having the time myself. Then there are the parts that are not as much chance such as having a wide enough “comfort range” of speeds that I can match rate with the other guy effortlessly. That just takes hard work.

In looking over my log, I have noticed that the QSOs that really wind me up tend to have a QRP element; one or both of us QRP has a way of adding to the enjoyment for me.

Time to turn down the juice to QRP again and see how I do!

A Little SDR Story

I have been pretty active as a ham the last couple of years.

Prior to being a ham, I spent a lot of years in Radio and Television as an engineer. It was a fun ride, where I evolved with the core technologies trip from tube based cameras, 2″ video tape, film and klystrons to silicon based cameras, server farms and solid state UHF TV transmitters. As big as that stuff was, the bigger shift was in the stations – the entry of products like computer based editing, FPGA based signal processing and transitioning to computers as the human interface.

And I saw the half live of gear get much shorter every half life, which is a great indicator of how fast things happen when real change happens.

The advances I saw in broadcasting are now coming towards ham radio like a high and inside fastball destined to start a good brawl. I figured I may as well evolve and enjoy.

I took my first stab at a SDR this summer in buying a Multus Proficio. Here we are, 160M to 10M, 5 Watts out, make CW internally, uses one USB port for control and sending the I/Q signals between the radio and computer. The guy behind it has written a straight forward application to use it with. I bought it to take over RV duty from my QRPLabs QCX. I was in for a surprise.

The surprise? The SDR is an VERY VERY good radio. My main rig at home is an ICOM IC-7410 and the SDR is a better receiver. Lower noise, better selectivity, cleaner audio. Much more than expected.

The straight forward interface is at its best when using it as nothing more than the control panel of a radio. Yes, a spectrum display is there, but as I use the radio more, I find the spectrum display a distraction.

Is this thing the end all? Nope. It is a fine radio at a low price. But, it is just a matter of time before another radio comes along and eclipses it.

As I learned in broadcast, the half life of gear is about to get shorter. A lot shorter.

SKCC

Since I came back into the ham game I have been mostly active on CW. It is the mode I get along with best. I have been working at it steadily for well over a year. Things are progressing, but not so much due to me.

Nope, the daily practice has become nothing more than foundational work.

Time on the air working SKCC contacts and events are the source of both a whole lot of fun and has done more to build up my skill than imagined. It is easy to log five contacts in an hour or so before Dinner, and a few months of doing that have helped me immensely. Gee, I bet that is just what the founders of SKCC had in mind!

I am having so much fun with SKCC that I am beginning to wonder if I have found my destination for now.

Being an Active Ham

I retired from the working world a year ago.

The writing here took a lapse after I moved into running the Interoperability Unit at the Department of Justice. I pretty much stepped away from much online communications at that point, and put everything I had into the DOJ job and my work as a bassist. Retirement has changed my focus, and I found myself re-energized as a ham. I tried a few different things and settled in on HF CW operating. I guess it is kind of like playing bass; it takes good timing, a decent technical awareness and the drive to learn a lot of new things. Through this blog, I hope to share what I have learned so far as well as the learning as I go forward.

Much more to come!