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. 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