Monday, March 11, 2013

Considering a return to active amateur radio operation

I am currently considering getting my amateur radio station back on the air. I have been totally silent for the past eight months and prior to that only sporadically on the air for the previous two or three.

One of the things that has spurred me on is testing my morse code speed with a morse tutor app on my iPad. I am still reading 30wpm with no errors. At my peak I was reading 45wpm, but lets face it, there aren't many people who can so it has limited usefulness.

I got put off amateur radio by the changes in the licensing procedures. Once B class licensees were given access to HF they tended to lose interest in VHF and 2m became a wasteland. There were none of the usual local FM nets to take part in and activity on SSB died off too. The newer novice and intermediate licensees seemed to have little interest in progressing or learning and everything became a bit money related, with people spending quite large sums on very complex radios rather than making bits and pieces or adapting older equipment.

This was always part of the fun for me. My first HF radio was a general Electric BRT400D receiver from the BBC and a Heathkit DX40 transmitter - which was crystal controlled until I managed to track down a VFO. Then later I had a mobile set up consisting of a Trio (not Kenwood) TS-520 with a built in inverter and a full size quarter wave whip for 20m mounted on ladder bars on the roof of my Leyland Mini. Sadly, the photos have long gone, but that set up worked into New Zealand while I was driving through a town centre.

I gradually sold all my equipment and was down to a Yaesu FT-817, but i found the controls to be quite small. I sold it with the intentin of getting something better when I moved. Now that I am in that position I am not sure if its worthwhile getting anything for 2m or if it is entirely dead. Part of me wants to get a 2m hand held, but this is of limited use as my current car (BMW mini) has some difficulties feeding an antenna cable into the car. I always prefer a proper mobile transceiver, but getting a high current supply from the fuse box is not easy and its no longer possible to pull a cable through a bulkhead grommet as there is much more fireproofing. Neither is it easy to find somewhere to put it under the dashboard. If I decide to do this I will need to be clever.

This leaves HF. My gut feeling is to go for something simple but large so I can use it. Icom and Alinco make radios that might be suitable. Second hand is possible, but I would need to know where it came from as the reduction in technical expertise amongst radio amateurs means that anything could have been done to it by a previous owner.

This of course is a moot point, as there is only one amateur radio shop in Scotland and it is closed on a Monday. As a Monday is the only day I would be likely to be free it means I am reliant on mail order. This raises the tantalizing possibilities of some of the cheap Chinese handheld radios that are being sold under their native brands and under the Moonraker and CTE names. There are also Intek and Midland/Alan models. These are about 30% cheaper than the cheapest Alinco, Icom, Yaesu or Kenwood models. I still think the extra is worth paying for ease of use and to get an antenna thats truly tuined to 144MHz instead of just being
a general high band one.

I will report back in a month or so on where I got with this.

Update 1st October 2013
Well, I decided to splash out and buy a slightly more upmarket Alinco 2m handheld for which I purchased a quarter wave antenna. Although I can hear stations as far away as Loanhead and into Fife nobody seem to be interested in speaking to me. The more local hams all seem top be take away delivery drivers. I suspect that my nostalgia for amateur radio is for some of the people who used to be around rather than the medium itself.