Monthly Archives: October 2014

My First Contact and its DX!

I checked the spot reports on eham.net and started tuning the 10m band (it was about noon time here). Picked up IT9AUG in Italy with a 59 signal. There was an orderly pile-up going on to contact him but I waited my turn, sent out my call and got a signal report back 59! Wow! That was too easy! A few minutes later picked up HA8DM in Germany and also exchanged signal reports. I could not make any other contacts but did hear signals from the Falkland Islands and the UK.

First Tests

I setup the radio, power supply and SWR meter on my desk. Ran ground wires from the radio to the feed panel and out to the ground rod outside. I had already played around with the receiver using a SWL wire antenna and got the feel for the receive functions of the rig. Time to try and tune up the antenna. I started at 20m and found a nice quiet spot on the band listening to make sure there was no activity. Started the tune cycle on the FT-450D and after a few seconds of grinding noises it indicated that it had found a match. Whew! Repeated this process on 40m and the autotuner balked. Doh! Just as predicted by more informed persons on the internet!

I unpacked the YT-450 autotuner and wired it up. Setup is pretty easy and is meant to work with the Yaesu FT-450 or FT-950 radios. Ran the tuning cycle again with just the YT-450 and voila! 40m got tuned in perfectly as did 80m.  160m indicated it had tuned to an SWR of between 1.5:1 and 3:1.

Site Preparation

I work from a home office. I have a corner desk next to two windows facing the resaca in my backyard. I am sad to say that my office is not the neatest place in the house. I wanted to place the radio gear on my desk but did want to lose workspace. The initial solution….start cleaning the place up and see how much room I would free up. I guess doing this once every two years or so is not a bad idea. Threw out a bunch of stuff I have collected over the years for various projects. This cleared out the right hand side of my desk for the radio equipment right by the one window that opens.

Next was making sure my house wiring was all squared away. It wasn’t. Some of the outlets were showing as not grounded (including one in my office). Had an electrician come in and sort out the wiring problems. While he was here I had him drop two ground rods, one outside the window and one by  where I intended to mount the antenna. These were both tied to the house ground.

I knew my wife would not appreciate drilling through the wall for the feed lines so I built my own feed panel and mounted it at the bottom of my window frame. Two SO-239 connectors and a ground connection.

On to HF…but first a little history…

My interest in amateur radio goes way back to when I was a kid growing up here in South Texas. My uncle (actually a much older cousin who my dad helped raise after his mom passed away) was a ham radio operator. He fixed radios and TV’s from his ham shack for a living. My dad and I would visit every now and then and we would sit there while he worked on a TV or used the radios. I gained a real interest in electronics during that time ( I was about 10 years old). At some point during this time I visited my first Radio Shack in downtown Brownsville. I managed to talk my dad into buying me one of their 100-in-1 electronics projects kits and spent a lot of time building buzzers, and crystal radios and other gizmos over and over again.

My interest in radio continued after we bought a basic Magnavox portable radio. This reciever (which I still have and still works) was very basic. It has AM/FM as well as a SW (4-12Mhz)) , police & Air bands. This was really fun to listen to. SW could bring in just about anywhere. The air band was largely dead (no nearby airports) but the police band would be active even for my small town.

At some point, I wanted to try and get my license. I started practicing Morse code but never really got very far. About this time the CB radio craze started and we jumped in with both feet. My dad had a radio for his car that we would setup and use only when traveling out of town. I would set it up in my room as a base station otherwise. It seemed like everyone was talking on the CB in those days.

We were talking to my uncle one afternoon when he mentioned he knew a fellow ham that was looking to sell his receiver. Dad and I went over there and ended up buying an Allied A-2516. Hooked this up to a long wire outside my window and I could hear SSB voice for the first time. I had this radio for a few years before we lent it to my Uncle.

Never did get my license back then. It just seemed like it would be too difficult to get. Even if I could become proficient in learning code, I would have to start with a Novice license and travel all the way to Corpus Christi to take the exam. I moved on but never lost the interest. I ended up getting my degree in Electrical Engineering. I credit a lot of this to the support of my parents and to my uncle for introducing me to technology way before it was cool.

Easy to get started

It is really easy to get started in ham radio these days. The licensing fee is $15. My first radio is a Baofeng UV-5R Handheld. These are pretty amazing radios for the price. I got mine for under $40 from Amazon. These are small, 4W dual band 2m and 70cm radios.They are a little tricky to program with your local repeaters but once setup work like a champ. Invest in the programming cable while you are at it so you can use the CHIRPS program. This is all you need to get on the air once you get your license.

Our local repeater system works really great. I am not sure how the STARLINK system works but our repeaters are linked all the way up to McAllen about 60 miles from here. Echolink and IRLP can be used to extend that range using VoIP and the internet although I have not tried that yet.

I liked the Baofeng so much that I decided to buy another one, this time the 5W UV-82. I have been getting really good signal reports on this through our local repeater.

On the Air!

Time to document my adventures in Amateur Radio…The story thus far….

I was playing with RTL-SDR a couple of months ago and was using an up-converter to scan through the HF bands. It got me thinking about a long time goal I had to get my Amateur Radio license. I started looking up the requirements and found that no Morse code was needed anymore. For grins, I took a sample test for the technician class license and found that I could barely pass it without having studied for it. When I tried the same thing for the General class license I would score in the low 60’s. I figured if I could do that without having studied it would not take much to pass both exams. I was a month away from the next local exam so I started studying using a combination of ipad app and eham.net sample exams.

Took both technician and general class exams in September and aced both of them. By Wednesday of the next week I had my call sign. I had a few chats on the 2m local repeater and started planning my HF station. Today, i completed the last of the setup and made my first DX contacts! One to Germany and the other to Italy on 10m SSB. Way cool stuff!

Stay tuned and I will go through my equipment lists, setup and tenative steps into this new hobby.