General Discussion on HAM Radio

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

(Admin note: This thread originated in comments to a main blog post Why Should I?, and I thought they should have their own tread here in the Communication and Transportation Forum.)

Great article David, and I'm glad to be back here after only sporadic visits/participation in the first version of this site. The things I did over the last 8 years as a neophyte green wizard -and still budding as a neophyte- were to get my amateur radio license and the gradual learning of herbalism and gardening. I'm hoping to go deeper with these last two this year. Storytelling is a lifelong interest, so I'm delighted that has a prominent place here. And over the past five years I've gotten fairly good at making krauts, kimchis and pickles, but want to grow in the area of food preservation as well.

The amateur radio side is where I've done the most -getting involved with my local ARES: Amateur Radio Emergency Service- to be prepared in our county to provide back up communications. I remember there was a spin-off site devote to green wizard radio stuff, but it seems to have gone by the wayside, as there were only a handful of participants. I know lathechuck was part of that. In any case that is an area I'd like to contribute to here at the site, I'm guessing in the communications circle. And while I have modern ham equipment, I also have an old "boat anchor" rig, my great-grandfathers heathkit hw-101 that I'm working to get back on the air, which will give me an opportunity to learn some more electronics, and learn about the older style of rigs, and be a help in living a "1950's lifestyle" lol.

In any case I'm just really happy that you have put the energy into renewing this project, so I'm here to participate and to help. Looking forward to learning in all the circles. All the best.

lathechuck's picture

Justin -

I'm glad to hear that you're here again, and increasingly "radio-active".

I've argued this (with civility, of course) with Greer, but I'm skeptical of the value of vacuum-tube radios. They just waste so much electrical power, which means they produce heat, which shortens the life of internal components, makes the room (more) uncomfortable in the summer, and is hardly consistent with sustainable energy sources! I wouldn't want to discourage you from restoring what you have, though.

Building new vacuum tubes, or transistors (especially RF power transistors), is a project that (as far as I can tell) requires a sprawling industrial infrastructure, so my "green wizard perspective" is to try to preserve solid-state equipment, especially that of the late 20th century vintage (when passive components were big enough to see without a microscope, and a software fault wouldn't turn your rig into a brick). ... which reminds me, I still have an outdoor antenna cabled to my favorite HF rig, so that's gotta get fixed right now.

DE AB3NA (Extra-class, and eager to assist)

Sweet Tatorman's picture


I'm totally in your camp regarding the vacuum tube vs solid state question in the long descent. Greer has influenced my own thinking in many ways but in this case I think he got it wrong. While I think that I personally will have "shuffled off of this mortal coil" before the salvage economy really gets on a roll I make a point of giving a bit of thought to the consequences of being wrong. The existence of a most probable outcome generally does not preclude the existence of other possible outcomes. I get some intellectual stimulation from developing some salvage economy skills. I would say that this is not new. I had a ham ticket once though it is over 50 years since my license lapsed. I do recall that the transmitting side of my rig with exception of the key was largely built from components of dead TVs that folks had set out for the trash man.

You wrote: >when passive components were big enough to see without a microscope<
My advice to folks that want to develop the skills of building from scratch is GET THAT MICROSCOPE!!

I continue amaze myself at what I can accomplish with just a temperature controlled hotplate, a cordless Dremel tool, and a quality Stereozoom microscope. Ebay is your friend here. The past 15 years or so I've been using a B&L Stereozoom-4 that I picked up for under $200. This is a quality instrument built back when optics were still manufactured in the USA and sold for what in today's dollars would be $3-4K. I routinely build with 0603 size caps/res/diodes and SOT-23 and even SC-70 size stuff. In some ways the salvage economy is already here if you know where to look. Partial reels of SMT components from board shops that had runs completed or cancelled find their way onto Ebay at next to nothing prices. I have literally 1000's of BJT's that cost me under a penny each as well as some very useful IC's at under a nickel. The Tech crash of the early 2000's created a bonanza of electronics related bargains as well as the later GFC.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Good to hear from you Chuck!

This all bears some thinking. I'm certainly going to use whatever equipment I can until I can't. Just like this computer & the internet. I just happen to like old rigs and want to get the heathkit on the air for nostalgic reasons, as I do remember my great-grandpa and was quite fond of him. It does give some idea of preserving solid state stuff too though...

I disagree with Greer on things too: mainly musical & art discussions last year. I think the legacy of the 20th century avant-garde has some good things to offer, even to green wizards. But I suppose that is an instance of "dissensus" & dissensus as Greer showed in The Ecotechnic Future I believe, is something that is good to have.

Though summers will be hot I look forward to using the Heathkit in the winter to help keep the shack warm. I hadn't really thought of the power aspect, but the resilience of tubes if an EMP weapon were ever used. Still I thinks it might be good to have both.

Blueberry's picture

Most of what I work on are from 1940-1970 AM/FM sets. My oldest set is a Philco from 1933 had to rewind one of the coils that was fun!!! Some of the early solid state stuff is a pain to fix. Would prefer to work on a Zenith TO tube set vs a Zenith TO solid state.

I happen to like old tube equipment, just because I like it. I'm working on restoring and old Johnson 500 transmitter that sold for near $1000 in 1960 and pairing it with a Hallicrafters SX-101. But that's for a vintage station that I won't use all that often. I also have a couple very nice Drake tube rigs from the late 1960's and early 1970's.

For ease of repair and finding replacement parts, solid-state equipment made before the use of highly customized parts and short component manufacturing runs, is my preference. Once custom IC chips started to be used in the rigs, it's become impossible to get them if one dies.

Amazingly, lots of IC's made in the late 1970's and 1980's are still available, even if you need to buy from Chinese so-called "re-manufacturers" who are pulling them from old equipment and cleaning them up. Getting transistors is no problem at all, they're cheaper than ever.

I can still get all the parts used in the Yaesu Ft-301 I have and people are even making replacement display modules for the digital display version FT-301D. Same goes for Hybrid Tube/Solid-State rigs like the Kenwood TS-530 & TS-830. I just bought a replacement for the custom IC display driver made by a Ham in Japan for the Yaesu FT-107 that I have. He's using a programmed microprocessor to replace the obsolete custom IC. The replacement works great.

I have seen several of the later Yaesu FT-757 rigs that turned into doorstops only 15 years after they were made because Yaesu quit making the custom CPU chips that are in them.

Tatorman is right on target about working on surface mount stuff, you just have to learn some new techniques and keep on building. I salvage a lot of the "old" 1990's and even 2000's Motorola VHF/UHF gear that can't be used commercially any more but is perfectly suitable for Ham use. Yes, to program some of these you have to run an old and slow DOS computer but I worked with those when they were cutting edge and have kept several running. They can be bought for pennies on the dollar. For some of the Low-Band equipment I have to change out surface mount components in the VCO to make them work on the 6 meter Ham Band, but it's not that hard. I buy Hand-Held radios that sold for $3000 in 1990-2000 for $50 today. They are better radios than ANY ham radio sold even today. Batteries are still available for them from many sources.

I'm working with our local County ARES group and this equipment comes in VERY handy.

David Trammel's picture

Thank you Justin for your comments. Its been a long road to get to here but I hope from here on in we can really develop the vision Greer had for Green Wizards.

And yes, I would definitely like to see people expand on the work lathechuck and augjohnson did to get people interested in HAM radio in the early GW days.

Justin, I just put up an old thread which was a place to post your HAM id. Its older but it might let you contact a few of the original GW Hams on the radio OR let those of you new here, and who have licenses a place to get to know new people.

What is your Call Sign?

lathechuck's picture

Sorry to be away for so long, but I hope to be here on a more regular basis in the evolving future.
For those new to ham radio, I think it's helpful to divide the hobby into the "VHF/UHF" side (which you have full access to, with an entry-level Technician license), and the HF side (which you'll want to upgrade to General, or Extra, to enjoy). VHF/UHF is good for local communications: peer-to-peer over a few miles, peer-to-repeater-to-peer over tens of miles. Generally, it works consistently, day/night, summer/winter, year after year. HF is different: your ability to communicate over HF will depend on the time of day, the season of the year, AND the 11-year sun-spot cycle (and possibly longer cycles within which the 11-year cycle is embedded). And the sad news is that the sun-spot cycle is very poor for long-distance (HF) communications this year (2019), as it was last year, and as it most likely will be next year. Optimists will embrace the challenge, and modify the "rules of the game" to find successes where they will. The main thing to remember, though, is that conditions should be much better in a few years, and intercontinental voice contacts will once again be routine. So, if you get an HF rig, put up an antenna, power it up, and spin the dial, just be aware that this is not "normal". Maybe you'll be happy making connections with local hams for the next few years, and reach out farther when the sun resumes cooperation.

Our local ARES group runs exercises in HF, VHF, and UHF bands. Just tonight (in February), we had a net with about two dozen participants, in the 80m band, after dark, and had good comms over about a 50 mile radius with 100W sideband rigs. However, with low solar activity, the 80m band is the only game in town, so it can get crowded, and frustrating when there's an active conversation going on just 1 kHz away.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

If I can get on 80 meters sometime I might try to check in to your net. Right now I'm limited to 6m-40m on my HF rig. I hope to get a better antenna set up. I'm using an end-fed wire now, and it doesn't like to load up higher than 40 meters... but we'll see it's something I want to work on this spring & summer.

My ARES group mostly does VHF activities, though some HF. With the radio club I'm in Oh-Ky-In ARS (that has a lot of the same ARES members) we do a lot of different things. We had a good turnout on Winter Field Day and made lots of contacts on the bands, mostly 80 meters in the evening. Looking forward to the solar cycle changing up.

lathechuck's picture

Justin and I have made several attempts to communicate by ham radio, between (basically) Washington DC and Cincinatti, Ohio. I would prefer to use 80m or 40m after dark, but we've only been partially successful, on 20m, in late afternoon. By "partially successful", I mean that he heard me calling him just well enough to recognize the call, and I heard a few syllables pop above the noise which I guess must have been him. So, the moral of the story is: "it isn't as easy as you might think". (The utter lack of sunspots in the last month probably has something to do with it, and may portend something important.)

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I need to spend some time working on my antenna system on my end. For one I have a loaner tuner from one of my elmers and I need to get my own so I can give his back to him. I definitely want to get an antenna that works on 40 & 80 and that will improve our chances of making contact, and the ability of my station in general.

This is also a good lesson in how different HF communication is from VHF. The last time Chuck & I tried this I had just done a net for our local ARES group on 2 Meters. Contacts on VHF through repeaters often sound great & clean -about full FM broadcast quality, whereas on HF there is a lot of noise to wade through in order to hear the contacts. It takes more patience & skill with the radio to listen & use filters, etc. to cut through the noise.

lathechuck's picture

Conventional, F-layer, ionospheric radio propagation gives us long distance communications, but it depends on the amount of ionization in the upper atmosphere, and that, in turn, usually depends on sunspots. And we have had almost no sunspots for months, as we go through the trough of the 11-year sunspot cycle. However, during Field Day (Jun 23), I could easily hear stations in Texas, California, and even Hawaii from my home in Maryland, due to Sporadic-E propagation. The phenomenon is somewhat mysterious and playfully unpredictable, but June is typically the best time for it. Last night, I heard a station in Tennessee on MHz around 8:30 PM EDT, which also relied on Sporadic-E propagation. The moral of the story is: even without sunspots, wonderful things can happen... sometimes.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I love 6 Meters. So fascinating. We could give 10 or 6 meters a shot when I get back from my camping trip.

lathechuck's picture

As the sun's activity rises, HF radio propagation conditions become more interesting. Interesting in that more solar radiation means a stronger ionosphere, so higher frequencies can be used with ionospheric reflection. Also, "interesting" in that there will be greater variations from one day to the next, as solar flares come and go. For the next few years, conditions should improve, before they begin to decline again toward the next solar minimum.