Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Ham Progress: Working Toward a Working Station

It's been 3 weeks since I got my CSCE for my amateur radio license, two and a half weeks since my license appeared in the FCC database. Each day I've been working to make material progress to set up a station and start operating. So far I'm not fully "on the air", though I've made a lot of progress.

my certificate of successful completion of exam for all three amateur radio tests
I passed the tests! Now what?

Getting a station up and running could happen quickly through purchasing a "shack in a box" transceiver with antenna, feedline, and accessories and setting them up. The set-up of the antenna, feedline feed-through, and learning to operate the transceiver and the aavailable ba would be no small feat in and of itself. But I'm taking a bit slower path.

As I progress, I'm learning a bit more about what I've got to work with--hopefully leading to better decisions when it does come time to lay out for equipment.

Starting Point
While I had a ham license before, I did very little with it. I had a mobile 2m rig in my car that I used on the local repeater. I helped at a local long-disstance charity run. I hoped for more, but that's all I did. I never really built up a station or even learned the routine on simplex operations.

Since then I had a friend give me a Kenwood TS-700A all-mode 2m rig. I can't locate my old IC-230 mobile rig, it's around somewhere, but I haven't found it yet. No matter, it's not much use to me in the present day. The 700A is a decent rig, but the receiver is pretty insensitive. Even if I just use it for SSB and CW it'll need a preamp and probably a power amp. Because of my location.

I've moved since my last time around with ham radio. I used to live in a fine location, now I live in a place where I'm poorly situated and surrounded by thick VHF-eating trees.

I also turned up about 60 feet of RG-8, a couple of awful little straight keys, and some other odds and ends.

Moving Forward
VHF will be important to staying in touch with local hams, but I need some tools that can deal with my location. For less than the price of a preamp/amp combo for the Kenwood TS-700A I can get a mid power, more flexible, more sensitive current-production 2m or multiband VHF/UHF rig. I still expect to have fun with the TS-700A down the road, but for normal workaday comms, a new 50-75W 2m rig would make more sense.

I did buy a little Yaesu FT-250R handheld, but it can't hit the local repeaters even with an external ground plane antenna mounted about 40' above grade. I built a simple yagi for testing, too, but I'm between repeaters so I'd like to use an omnidirectional antenna for general FM. The yagi was built to see if I could manage any SSB here. So far no luck but this is still work in progress.

More Site Assessment
To get a better idea of what might work here, I picked up a Grundig G3 shortwave receiver last night. I've been tuning around through the ham bands to see what comes in. MF/HF is definitely more promising here than VHF. It seems (so far) that 160m and 80m will be good here at night, with 20m being a decent daytime band. The jury is still out on the other HF bands. I need to put in an external antenna for the G3, so far I've just used the little whip on top.

Build or Buy
While I expect to build equipment in the future, I'm also expecting to establish the station with solid purchased equipment. Whether new or old I'm not sure yet, I have to spend more time with other local hams to find out my options. But prebuilt equipment will allow me to operate while I'm building other rigs--QRP rigs or whatever--plus it'll act as test and calibration tooling for my scratchbuilds.

From what I can see so far, I think I'd be just as happy at this point with solid equipment from any time in the past 25 years or so as I would with new stuff. For example, something like the late-80s Kenwood TS-440S or Icom IC-765 look like they'd still do fine today for my present needs. Maybe--I'm still guessing at this point. So I need to learn more and get some idea of price differentials and all that.

Meanwhile...my ground rod is in, I'm clearing an area for my station that'll get its own AC/heater unit and antenna cable feed-through. I'm experimenting with antennas and mast mounting positions and otherwise trying to make it so that when I do have equipment, I'm prepared to do something at least somewhat effective with it.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the Extra Ticket! Stay active and hope to catch you on the HF airwaves!

    73, DE NT1K, JEFF

    ReplyDelete

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