Category Archives: Ham Radio

Huge props, muchas gracias, and *thank you!*

I’ve been long overdue with this letter of thanks to my Elmers that I sent out this morning. I’m posting it here as a reminder to you to says “thanks!” to someone who’s made a difference in your life lately.

It occurred to me this morning that I’ve been a ham for almost a year
now, and I owe almost all of that to you guys. The three of you have
been mentors, trouble shooters, a cheering section, whip-crackers, and
equipment sources for me since even before I first got licensed, and
you’ve kept that up even when I’ve been absent from the airwaves for
weeks at a time, absorbed in the rest of my life.

I want to let you three know how much I appreciate all your help and
encouragement, and to tell you that I’m the ham that I am today in
large part because of your guidance. I just hope that when it’s my
turn to mentor someone, I can do half the job you all have done with

My sincere thanks, and 73!

Trying to clarify myself…

It’s come to my attention that some of the local hams thought I was calling them out with my previous comments about the ham community. That’s not the case.

I’ve been taken to task by a couple seemingly old-school hams on 80m when I’ve tried to — always politely — get a signal report or add something to the conversation. That’s what I was alluding to in that post, albeit poorly. My apologies for the confusion, and 73 to *all* hams out there, no matter how grouchy or geeky. 😉

AJ’s new toy

I’ll give you some hints: it’s electronic (there’s a big surprise, right?), it’s sexy black, and could potentially fit perfectly in the entertainment center. And it’s not an XBox.

Give up?

Meet my new radio. I’ve been kind of dancing around it for about the last three months while I’ve been dancing around ham radio as a whole.

In the last month, though, every time I’ve talked with someone about my involvement in radio, I keep hearing myself say “I love the technology and the public service opportunities, but get frustrated by some of the people.” Finally, it clicked for me: If I give up, then the forces of darkness other people win. If every time someone new comes to ham radio, all they interact with are grouchy uber-geeks, then that’s they only kind of person that’ll be in ham radio. So I’m going to try to amplify the friendly, useful faces of ham radio around here. We’ll see how it goes.

And that brings me to the new radio. Another local ham* upgraded one of his radios, so he had one to sell. He gave me a great deal (yes, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse ;-)), and the radio is in pristine condition. For those of you who speak ham, it’s an HF+50MHz rig. For those of you who don’t speak ham, think medium and short wave, plus a little. Once I get my antenna repaired (and no, honey, I’m not going on the roof until you get home), I’ll be able to talk regionally (100-500 miles), across the country (500-2,500 miles), and around the world (do the math), depending on conditions. I’m pretty stoked!

A Note on the Ham Community

The guy I bought my radio from is a super-friendly guy, just like almost all of the hams I’ve had the good fortune to meet. There are only a couple of “pain-in-the-ass apples” out there in the ham ranks, but they’re louder than most of us regular apples. Most of us are just geeky people playing with geeky toys, and that’s cool.

Ham Radio Update

I’ve been appointed the Amateur Radio Emergency Services Emergency Coordinator for Bayfield County. That’s neat, but it’s also a little daunting, what being the go-to guy to try to draw other ham radio operators out of the woodwork and get them trained, certified, and useful in an actual emergency response.

I’ve got a great opportunity for a little local net training/community service coming right up: the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race. I’m trying to get even one or two other guys to commit to doing communications for the Feb. 2-3 event with me, but so far, there’s a lot of “Well, that sounds neat; I’ll have to look at my calendar.”

And finally, I’m hoping that Santa will overlook that little toad-licking incident in June, and bring me a nice new soldering iron in my stocking. How ever else shall I maintain the head of nerdy geek steam that I seem to have built up?

See what happens?

I spend seven hours in the car (not all at once, thank god) yesterday, ace my general exam, then spend all night dreaming of the collapse of society due to compromised computer networks and panicky people.

And now I’m cuckoo for coax, trying to figure out all the little details of my first couple homebrew antennas. I think there’s going to be a copper J-pole and a smallish variety of wire antennas (say, one end-fed longwire, a couple inverted-Vs, and maybe a dipole or two for the higher HF bands.

“General”ly messing about

This weekend, early, in fact, Saturday morning, I go to Tomahawk, WI, to take my General class ham radio license exam. Woot, and whatnot.

I’ve been seriously studying for about a month or so, and I think I’m ready to go. You can see if you’re ready to go (or what I’m getting myself into) by checking out these practice exams that are pulled right from the actual test question pool. I’ve been doing pretty well on those practice tests, so I think I’m ready for the big time.

This new license will give me a whole lot more privileges on the air. So far, I’ve been pretty much restricted to playing with VHF radios that are more-or-less line of sight rigs. A lot depends on antenna and amplifier setup, but with the radio in my car, I can reliably get a signal out between twenty and forty miles. With my new ticket in hand (and a new radio in the house!), I’ll have potentially world-wide communication ability in the HF (think shortwave, though that’s not technically correct) radio bands.

Just think: I’ll be able to ignore my chores while yakking with someone in Europe, Aisa, or the southern Pacific who’s also ignoring chores. Booya!

Also: Kevin, this means you no longer have an excuse to wait. Heck, I’ll even send you my manual if you promise to take the dang test already.

The need to help

When a disaster like this bridge collapse happens, I get this almost overwhelming urge to rush in and help. I want to pull people from the rubble, get them something to drink, patch a couple of wounds, and get them reunited with their loved ones. And I want to do it right now.

I was all set to drive down to Minneapolis last night and help with communications via my 2m radio in the car, but the cops and EMS people on the scene were telling folks to stay clear and let them do their jobs. So I got on the local ham radio linked repeater system asking for info about a ham response to this disaster, but no one answered my calls, which (probably) means no one had any information for me.

Since it doesn’t look like there’s any good way for me (and the rest of us who have the same kinds of urges) to help in the immediate aftermath of this disaster, I’ve done the next best thing: I’m getting ready for the next one. I’ve sent an e-mail to my local Red Cross chapter (find your local Red Cross chapter) outlining my basic abilities and asking how I can help. I’m hoping to get training in disaster communications from them so that I can be useful in a confusing situation like that. I’m going to get hold of the county emergency government coordinator this morning and schedule a meeting to talk about ham radio in local disasters; apparently there’s currently no volunteer emergency coordinator for either Ashland or Bayfield counties. I sure don’t have a lot of experience on the radio or in planning county-wide emergency responses, but I can learn, yeah?

I’m going to prepare my family, too. I’m going to re-up my first-aid and CPR certifications (which aren’t particularly lapsed, by the way), and I hope The Wife will come with me (hint, hint). I’m going to work with The Wife to make a disaster plan for our family for everything from local “inconveniences” to major regional disaster. We’ll put together a comprehensive, compact first-aid kit for the house, and a crash kit for each car.

And that’s a pretty decent start, I think. What will you do?

Shack progression

Right now, I’m watching eleven items in MyEbay, and yes, they’re (almost) all HF radios (Kenwood TS-440Ss, if you care). Right now, show of hands: How many of you have ever seen me *not* go big when I go? Right. So now, you may all put your hands up, because I’m going to let all these radios pass.

I figure I should finish my VHF install and tweaking, and also get my General license which’ll grant me the privileges I’ll need, before starting in on the HF toys. The good news is that I ran my antenna plans past The Wife and she suggested that it might be safer for the house in the event of a storm, or particularly a lightening strike, if the antennas were on a dedicated tower instead of mounted on the roof. I love the way she thinks!

Beach trips = n-1

…where n equals the number of days since July 19. There was one day last week that we had a thunderstorm, so we stayed home. Mostly, we’ve been making the thirty-five minute drive up to Bayview beach because the water is so much more refreshing, there are fewer people, and the drive time is a chance for The Wife and I to catch up after our busy days and for her to gain more ammunition for her theory that hams pretty much incessantly talk about their rigs. I’d say it’s only about 97 percent of the time.

I think the string is about to be broken unless some miracle happens tonight and I can get out of ben tomorrow without wincing, grimacing, and sucking in a great lungful of air to combat the pain in my lower back. I think I tweaked something at the beach yesterday, and going back today didn’t really help. In fact, it’s pretty painful to do anything but lie down right now. Grrrr.


Yup; that’s me. Or at least my amateur radio call sign. It occurred to me last night that I hadn’t posted any info about my foray into ham radio, so here I go: I earned my tech ticket this spring at the Head of the Lakes Ham Fest in Superior. I’m currently running one radio — a Yaesu FT7800 2m/440 mobile rig with a 5/8s dual-band antenna — from the car, and just getting into EchoLink.

I’ve been taking things slow, and doing a lot of listening for a while, but now I’m starting to do a little chatting, too. I took a Skywarn class this spring and act as an official spotter — that’s one of the reasons I wanted my ham license in the first place.

I also want to get involved with emergency communications, but I feel like I need a lot more learning and experience before I really get into that. But I’ll get there. I think the next big things for me to do are:

  • Setup an operating station (shack) at home
  • Build and install an antenna
  • Get a computer going through the radio for some digital modes
  • Study for my General license

With all the other stuff going on in my world, I figure that oughtta keep me out of trouble for a while.