Friday, February 25, 2011

KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

Friday at last.  This has been an exciting seven days in
the KKBG-FM/KHLO-AM news room.  With the
turmoil in the middle east, the nasty mainland U.S.
weather, and the continuous rise in the daily cost
of living, there are sufficient stories to keep several
news people busy.  Never a dull moment this month.
I'll paraphrase an old Chinese saying--"may you be
blessed (or is it cursed) by living in exciting times."
The news from the amateur radio front is just as
confusing and strange as the happenings in the so-
called "real world."

During a recent break from the daily schedule of
newscasts, I purused the 24 February 2012 edition
of "The ARRL letter".  Usually, I just glance through
the e-mail edition and file the few stories I consider
worthy of later inspection.  But today, there were
several stories that show both the highs and lows
of our hobby, and by tenuous extension,  the current
state of our nation and people. 

In the good news category, New Zealand hams are
doing a great job of maintaining public communications
in the city of Christchurch following that devastating
earthquake earlier this week.  There are many stories
such as this.  Amateur radio operators have a proud
tradition of pitching in where our talents can be used.
For those of us in Hawaii, the performance of amateur
radio operators during Hurrican Iniki some twenty years
ago was in the highest traditions of the amateur service.

In the warning category is the ARRL effort to oppose
certain sections of HR 607 (The Broadband First
Responders Act of 2011).  This bill could affect
amateur radio allocations in the 420-440 MHz spectrum.
The ARRL is asking you to contact your congress person
and to urge that the bill be changed to protect vital emer-
gency operations that occur on those frequencies.  Al-
though I don't agree with the ARRL on many topics, I
feel this erosion of spectrum to commercial interests will
set a bad precident.  Of course, these frequencies aren't
"ours" and the FCC can allocate use of this segment as
it sees fit.  To be fair, these frequencies would be used
to supplement the spectrum now available to police, fire,
and other first responders.  This may be another case of
"use it or lose it."  If regulators find that certain frequencies
are under utilized, we amateurs may find those areas denied
to us.  Just a thought.

On a more positive note, the IARU is moving toward getting
some shared amateur radio use in the MW portion below
500 KHz.  Amateur radio operators could succeed here,
Several groups of amateur radio operators have secured
experimental license to  see what is possible in this area.

And finally, before I step off my infrequent soap-box, there
is the tragic tale of the yacht "Quest" which was captured
by Somali pirates with the resultant death of three amateur
radio operators on board--Scott Adam (K9ESO), Jean
Adam (KF6RVB), and Bob Riggle (KE7IIV).  This is
reminiscent of an ill-fated German DX operation to the
Spratly Islands more than 20 years ago.  In both cases,
amateur radio operators were caught in dangerous
situations that could have been avoided.  Why would
otherwise rational people willingly enter an area where
the chances of coming out alive are dicey at best?  If
huge ocean going vessels can be captured and held for
ranson and their crews threatened with execution what
makes these amateurs think they have the special gift
of survival?  Is it possible to be so dedicated to the
search for DX that we ignore plain common sense?
Didn't either of these hams keep up with current events
or monitor warnings issued by their governments?  I
guess not.  Such ignorance can be fatal.  It's one thing
to be a journalist assigned to cover an area or a military
professonal ordered to serve in harm's way, but another
thing to just act foolishly.  Of course, we don't know all
the facts, but doesn't it seem odd to throw caution to the
wind for the sake of a QSL card or to enter an area where
outsiders are considered infidels worthy of death?  If soldiers
have a rough time of defending themselves against tribesman
in the mountains of Afghanistan, what makes hams think they
will fare better off the coast of Oman or in any other hot
spot?  After serving many years in the Air Force and covering
almost four decades of news, I 'm truly amazed by the lack
of awareness shown by many amateur radio operators. 
Afterall, De-nile is not necessarily a river in Egypt.  Now that
I've vented and made a few of you upset, I'll climb off the
podium and return to some form of rationality.  Besides, the
day is nearly over, and the lower half of 40-meters awaits.
Have a good weekend. 

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM

Monday, February 21, 2011

KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

Nothing like a seven-day work week to make one
appreciate a day off.  In the radio business, there
are really very few vacations, especially for the
one man news departments in small markets like
Hilo, Hawaii.  So, following the season opening
drag races over the weekend, I find myself doing
the regular Monday news shift.  To me, President's
Day is just another work day, and the day is filled
with all kinds of things to keep the mind busy.  Count
your blessings that you do not live in Libya, Bahrain,
or Yemen.  Young folks living in those countries
have a grim future--no jobs, repressive regimes, and
little social mobility.  It's sort of getting dressed for the
prom and having no date. 

Once the news day is over, I'll complete the required
transmitter and computer checks and head for the
little piece of paradise I call the "shack".  The oper-
ating position is really a small extra bedroom my
xyl and I use for storage.  The Swan 100 MXA and
related equipment occupy a corner of the bedroom
just below the window....convenient for the feed
line that attaches to the Drake MN-4 ATU.  Al-
though the space is small, it is comfortable and pro-
vides a necessary escape from a world gone crazy.
About the only thing left undone is installing one of
our old Computers as the digital interface to my
aging equipment.  The XYL has dibbs on the new
computer, since she uses it for lesson plans and
other teacher-related tasks. 

I've just completed an small upgrade on the 40-meter
vertical that launches my signal into the either.  The new
jackite fiberglass mast replaced an aging and weather
compromised MFJ mast that served me well for several
years.  In the coming days, I will add snake through a
few more radial wires to improve the antenna's efficiency.
My backyard is quite small, so  I will run the wire where
I can.  The current system uses 10 radials varying in
length from 16 to 30 feet.  This is not ideal, but the signal
reports are good enough for now.  When the antenna is
not in use, I can disconnect the vertical from the feedline,
something I always do when a storm comes across the
ocean or during times when the vertical is not being used.
I fashioned a home-brew swivel to lay the antenna flat
when I finish working the lower portion of 40-meters.
Besides being a safety feature, the reclining mast presents
a nearly invisible footprint for the neighbors.  Once the
xyl and I move to our property in the Puna District, I
can be a little more ambitious with my antenna projects.
For now, the arrangement works and I am able to enjoy
amateur radio. 

Well, it is just about time to close down the newsroom and
head to the qth for a sanity break.  This is a case of mind
over matter--with my mind it doesn't matter.  Enjoy the day
off.  Get on the air and have some fun.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

This has been an exciting week in the radio
station news room.  With all the events unfolding in
the Middle East and even here in Hawaii, there hasn't
been much time to get on the air with the trusty Swan
100-MXA.  I did manage to restring the 40-meter ver-
tical and an improved radial system over the past few
days.  The old MFJ fiberglass mast has been removed
from service.  The combination of salt air, wind, and
rain have weakened the pole considerably, so I re-
cycled the structure for whatever usable parts I could
and repositioned the Jackite mast I bought a few months
ago.  I attached 32' of #14 gauge wire for the radiating
element and attached 10 radials, varying from 16-32 feet
to fit the contour of my postage stamp lot.  I'll add a few
more radials in the days ahead.  Presently, the arrangement
seems to work well.  My Drake MN-4 ATU (with 1:4 balun)
seems to handle the system fairly well. I'm running approxi-
mately 25' of 450-ohm window line into the balun and about
20' feet of RG-6 into the Drake MN-4.  The set up is not ideal,
but it does work.  The RG-6 was left over from a studio re-
wiring, so I had very little outlay for the cable.  I had a few
F-connector adapters around, so connecting the cable to
the ATU was fairly easy.  Although there is a slight mis-
match, the ATU handles the assignment well.  I still have
the under-the-house 40-meter loop in reserve when good
strong local contacts are desired.  And so, I'm back in
operation--an enjoyable task once the workload decreases.
Also on the "to do" list is the removal of the old OTR tv
antenna.  Although I can receive two excellent digital
tv signals at the qth, I just don't have the time to watch
much television these days.  Other than a few games and
PBS shows, I'm not really interested in what's offered on
the tube these days.  My XYL and I work long hours too, so
time devoted to the box is getting less by the week.  I
don't really miss commercial tv at all.  My XYL hit the
sack pretty early, since our work day begins in the wee
hours of the morning (0230 for me at the radio station).
We just prefer to spend our evenings reading, listening
to music, and doing our daily walks.  By the time evening
comes, we're pretty much played out.  I'll work up a few
contacts before bedtime and get ready for the work day.
Our internet time is basic, owing to the lack of DSL and
cable in my area.  Dial up is slow but it does allow us to
keep up with e-mail and lesson plans for my better half,
who is a teacher.  Our existence is simple, but we pre-
fer that sort of life.  We have no desire to "keep up with
the Joneses" and spend our resources foolishly.  Your
mileage in this area may vary.  But for us, the laid
back, keep it simple, pay cash approach to life works.
We got out of debt a few years ago--you can't imagine
the relief that accomplishment gives you.  It's too bad
our great nation can't adopt a similar approach.  Too
much entitlement and not enough responsibility...what
a dead-end future that is.  I follow the often maligned
principle of "in God we trust, all others cash."  Of
course, your life is different and all of the above may
appear a bit too restrictive.  Each to his/her own.  I
guess it all boils down to being as responsible as you
can with the resources you have available.  Now that
my soapbox has begun to creak, I think it's time to
leave the confessional, tidy up the newsroom, and
head for the qth.  It could be worse--I could be
organized.  Get on the air and have some fun.
Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

Monday, February 7, 2011

KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

Now that the super bowl is over, it's back to what
some of us in the news business call the "real world".
With things the way they are these days, who's to say
what is real anymore?  On one hand ,you have the
largest national block party with a truly outstanding
game and , on the other hand, you have a nation
struggling to climb out of an ever deepening financial
black hole.  Surely makes for an exciting year--never
a dull minute.  After a full day of reporting everything
from riots and revolution to acts of heroism and  pure
kindness, I'm ready to call it quits until the next news
cycle begins. 
The Hawaii Island news week began with a kidnapping
on Sunday.  It seems the suspect commited acts of violence
against some family members last week and has been on
the run from police.  Police were able to find the car in-
volved, but, so far, there has been no trace of him or his
unlucky victim.  Police say this whacko is possibly armed
and should be considered tell.  It was a good
thing most of the island was inside watching the game.  I've
about had it with psychopaths who fault society for their
personal deficiencies.  And so, we go about our business
with this kind of character running around terrorizing inno-
cent people.  I guess no community is immune from this
sort of person.  This state, like many others on the U.S.
mainland, has cut social and mental health services, be-
cause of an on-going budget crisis.  Perhaps, the afore-
mentioned malfactor could have been stopped if pro-
fessional help were available.  But, I guess it's a pipedream
to believe such services will be restored anytime soon.  What
a mess.  That's why I'm glad amateur radio provides at least a
temporary respite from the disentegrating social order.  Of
course, I've run into a few "characters" on 75 meters that
could provide a real change to your daily routine...some of
these guys make CB opertors models of civility.  Oh, well,
I just turn the dial and look for meaningful discussion else-
where.   Over the course of several years, I've gravitated to
cw and the other digital modes, partly because of the behavior
displayed by some operators.  And yes, I do have a CB rig
in my van.  I use it to communicate with my neighbors and
local REACT-type of units in our rural areas.  Most of the
CB operators in Hawaii County are pretty good folks.  Several
rural subdivision neighborhood watch groups are active on CB
and they tend to be professional and polite when they are on
the air.  It's hard to generalize about radio behavior--every field
and hobby has its obvious problems.  Most of the people I run
into on the amateur and CB frequencies are decent folks.  So,
once the day is done, a stint in the shack provides genuine stress
relief--besides, the xyl knows  where I am and can count on me to
help out where it's needed.  I have enough radio projects to keep
me busy and out of trouble.  That may be a blessing in disguise,
considering the pressure cooker I sometimes find myself in during
the news day.  Nothing like deadlines and a little stress to keep the
ole ticker going.  For me, amateur radio provides necessary stress
relief and a chance to share experiences with those around the world.
The internet is great, but I still enjoy launching rf into the "ether" and
seeing where it goes.  I suppose Marconi's ghost is still in the house.

I trust you survived the weekend.  There's lots to do this week--
especially losing those pounds packed on during the super bowl.
I never learn--those buffalo wings taste so good.  Aloha es 73
de KH6JRM.

Friday, February 4, 2011

KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

This has been a very busy week in the radio station
news room.  The problems in Egypt have gained an
importance in Hawaii that we islanders usually don't
have.  Several Hawaii residents are trying to get out
of Cairo amidst the confusion, violence, and disorder.
I hope they make it.  Once this day is done, I'll be
glad to put the cares of the Middle East and Hawaii's
deficit economy behind me until Saturday morning.
Although our economic woes pale beside those of
Illinois, California, and New Jersey, the Aloha State
is just beginning to cope with a stubborn $844 million
shortfall.  Everything is going up now--taxes, fuel,
and electricity.  I know, what else is new?  Anyway,
it's off to the Swan 100 MX, the ole J-38 key, and the
new inverted vee in the backyard.  My yard is quite small,
so I had just enough room to squeeze in a 40-meter vee.
Fortunately, I had some extra 450-ohm ladder line, so I
can use the skyhook from 40 to 10 meters.  The ladder
line is attached to a 4:1 balun, which is joined to 50' of
RG-6 I had around the shack.  I found a suitable connector
which allows me to mate the RG-6 to the Drake MN-4
ATU.  The setup is simple, easily repairable, and works.
I still have the under the house 40 meter loop which doubles
as an antenna for my vintage Hallicrafters 62A.  The loop
is a few feet off the ground, since the house is supported
by a post and pier setup.  The arrangement is good for
local state-wide contacts and will load well from 40 to
10 meters.  Best of all, it cost me virtually nothing to
build.  I was able to salvage 150' of 20 gauge wire from
a studio rebuild a few years ago and I put it to good use.
The RG-6 I'm currently using came from a neighbor's
cable and internet installation.  The jacket was good and
showed no weathering.  The center conductor was clean
and didn't need much work to get it shiny again.  I had some
adapters around the shack and was able to use the cable
directly into the Drake MN-4.  These is some mismatch, but
the ATU doesn't seem to mind.  All told, I was able to erect
these antennas with minimal cost.  You could buy all of this
new at the nearest hardware/home improvement outlet for a
reasonable price.  My antennas certainly are no match for a
decent tower and a 4-element monobander.  But I work with
what I have.  Once the XYL and I retire, we'll get the house
built on our lot and get serious about a real garden, solar power,
and the super loop for the amateur radio station.  At my age, I
really don't want to climb any towers.  Some excellent trees are
on the property--perfect for stringing up loops, double zepps, and
vertical beams.  That scenario will have to wait until I gracefully
back out of the media circus known as the news room.  Until
then, it's ham radio on a very basic least the current
antenna farm is easily maintained and, most importantly, it's cheap.
Have a good weekend...Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.