Sunday, November 27, 2011

Amateur Radio Station from the Ground Up

I earned my amateur radio license about a week ago, and it posted in the FCC's data base last Wednesday. My call sign is AG6HU. Vanity call sign, here we come. ;)

Getting on the Air
Still, it's a good enough call sign to get me on the air.

I have two radios at present, both pretty old. One is an Icom IC-230 that I got from a ham in Hayward back in 1986 (another time when I was preparing for a license but didn't get one.) It was my one and only rig when I was KD6KGV. Presently, it's lost in storage some where. I remember coming across it sometime in the past year, so it's not completely lost. When I got it it needed some TLC. A little work and some new crystals and I was in business when I got my first license in 1992.

The other is a rig a friend gave me back when my first license was still active. It had been his father's and he wanted to find a good home for it. Unfortunately, I never got on the air with it. It's a Kenwood TS-700A, vintage 1976 or so. It's a pretty rig, and it was a lot easier to find than the Icom when I went into the garage this last week. However, when I turned it on and started listening to the local repeaters I found that the frequency readout shows a different frequency than the actual frequency of the repeater--by a lot. So I'm afraid to transmit on it until I can recalibrate it. I have the service manual, I just need to pull together some test equipment beyond what I normally use. Back to the garage I go, for more boxes.

Doing What Can Be Done

Meanwhile, I picked up an eight foot ground rod and a clamp at the hardware store, I already had a bag of rock salt on hand. I've got a place picked out in the back of one of my garages for my station set-up, and I was planning on installing the rod just outside. I've got two garages, both attached to the house. The spot I picked has a nice window, and I'll be able to install a combination heater/cooler unit in the wall beneath it.

I decided to use a technique similar to that used by Roger Halstead, K8RI. I had a heavy duty hose with no connector on one end that I slipped over a piece of full conduit (I didn't have a straight enough piece of thin wall tubing on hand). Then I put on a hose clamp, hooked it up to a hose bibb, and I was ready to do some hydromining.

My house is built on rock in a cut that was made to make enough flat space to build the house, run a driveway and so on. So a rock drill and blasting charges would be the most appropriate tools for making a deep hole. However, there's an area around the foundation of the house that was excavated for the foundation. My thought was that I'd put the rod into the area next to the foundation that was excavated, then backfilled.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get more than two feet deep this way. It appears the backfill is primarily what came to hand most easily:rock. So I changed my plans. I'll admit that while I was fighting with the conduit under the eaves of the house the idea of putting down a subsurface wire grid occurred to me, but that would be a weekend-long project at least.

I also have a retaining wall that forms the back wall of my far garage. That puts the ground rod a bit farther from where I want to stack my rigs, but not much further. If there's a real problem I can always move the station from one side of the garage to the other, even if it means being a but farther from the window.

So I climbed up the hill and tried again. It took about ten minutes, but I managed to get a seven foot deep hole without too much trouble. It's a good thing I used schedule 40, I had to ram down through some of the sandstone at two places, I don't think thin wall tubing would have managed that as well. Though schedule 40 required me to wiggle the tube around a bit to clear enough of a hole for the thick walls of the conduit.

I'm Grounded
I left the conduit in the hole until I had the ground rod ready to go in. In the dying light (hence no photos until tomorrow) I pulled out the conduit and ran in the ground rod. A few blows with a sledge seated it nicely at the tip. A few more minutes with a shovel dug a trench out around it that I poured a bag of rock salt into. It's raining off and on here right now, so it should have the ability to diffuse nicely over the next few days and raise conductivity.

New Toys
Meanwhile, I ordered some new equipment last Wednesday after I saw my call appear in the FCC ULS and realized my current rig wasn't going to get me on the air any time soon. I've got a new MFJ-259B antenna analyzer/frequency counter/cable tester/bottle opener headed my way with a full slate of accessories. I've also purchased a Yaesu FT-250R HT to get me in touch with my local hams while I fuss with the Kenwood and start working toward building up a station for HF work.

Frankly, test equipment is one of my favorite things in the world. Amateur radio lets me justify more test equipment. That's a good thing. :D

First QSO Soon
Each day I'm working to do something material toward getting a station running. My first QSO will probably be on the HT once I get it out of the box and charged up. But I'm looking forward to using the Kenwood once I get it sorted out, and getting connected with the local amateur community to learn about more types of operation. Plus getting or building more equipment to do even more.

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