Monthly Archives: April 2011

Happy Birthday, NØARQ!

My friend, ACØVW, is planning on visiting me the day after Easter. He’s just re-licensed for the first time since he was a boy, and he is eager to get on the air. Trying to figure out what kind of temporary antenna we might be able to set up, I dug into a junk box and came up with a couple coils of old twin-lead that we could use to feed a doublet.

I could tell by the way the twin-lead was methodically coiled and taped with strapping tape that my dad had been the last one to handle it. As I uncoiled it and measured how long it was, my fingers were quickly coated in white, powdery residue from the aging, well-weathered insulation. Suddenly, I realized what I was holding. Surely this must be what my dad used to make the radials for my first antenna, a Butternut vertical that he set up for me on the roof back in 1978.

And just as suddenly, something else struck me. My dad was really my first Elmer. No, he wasn’t a seasoned ham radio operator when he started helping me. But he was a very seasoned electrical engineer — and a fabulous father. He may not have been able to help me out with operating procedures, but he sure did help me get on the air when I was a 10-year-old boy.

Take a close look at that picture of my first ham shack, up at the top of this blog. See those little squares of paper neatly taped to the front of the Heathkit DX-100 transmitter? My dad put those there. They were little notes to help me as I learned to tune that great big tube-fired rig. The laminated sheet of paper in front of the transmitter is, as I recall, a list of settings that my dad figured out for the antenna tuner. And that straight key — the very thing that first got me interested in ham radio when I stumbled across it in my dad’s shop — was lovingly screwed down to the desk by my dad, permanently marring the beautifully finished surface of the desk he had built years before this hobby became part of my life.

My dad went on to become licensed as NØARQ, and he homebrewed some great stuff. Some of it made its way into ham radio magazines, and a fabulous spider-quad he built back in the early 80’s went into an ARRL Antenna Compendium. I couldn’t have built any of those things back then (some of them I still couldn’t design if my life depended on it!). If it weren’t for my dad, I would never have gotten on the air. But because of my dad, I did — and enjoyed using some really fine gear, too.

Today is my dad’s birthday. I didn’t get to see him today, but the memories came flooding back when I held that old, powdery radial in my hands. Dad really was my first Elmer, and so much more. He led me to Jesus Christ when I was a young boy. Years later, when I was a freshman seminary student, he led me to a high view of God’s sovereignty. And to this day, he leads me by example to be a loving father and husband.

So thank you, Dad.

And happy birthday!

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Old Articles on Ham Radio in Popular Mechanics

While homeschooling my son this morning and researching something completely unrelated to ham radio, I stumbled across an old article on ham radio in Popular Mechanics. A quick search yielded lots of other articles like this:

Click here to find old articles on ham radio in Popular Mechanics.

While you probably won’t find much in the way of technical help in these articles, they are still helpful as snapshots of what ham radio has looked like over the years. For instance, the article I first stumbled upon began by quoting a ham calling CQ back in 1949: “This is K4USA — King Four Uncle Sugar Able — calling CQ, CQ, CQ. Come in for a rag chew.” That taught me something. Had I heard that on the air yesterday, I probably would have chalked up the goofy phonetics and the words “Come in” to the erosion of operating procedures in the last few decades (contemptuously attributed by many old-timers to the influx of “CB’ers” since Morse Code was dropped as a requirement for an amateur radio license). But apparently this is nothing new.

This doesn’t mean that operating procedures haven’t suffered in the last few decade; it’s pretty obvious to me that they have. Nor does it mean that we should be sloppy just because sloppiness has always been with us. But it does mean that old-timers should at least give new hams a break (no pun intended). If operating procedures aren’t what they should be, we have only ourselves to blame.

But I suppose I sound a bit cranky. My purpose in pointing to these old articles really isn’t to find things to pick on. On the contrary, I’m pretty sure that some of these old articles could be inspiring. I’m also pretty sure I won’t have time to look at them any time soon! If you find something noteworthy, you’d do me a favor by sharing it with me in a comment below.

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New Carolina Windom

A tower with a Yagi or Quad is too expensive. A vertical antenna has a nice low take-off angle, but its bandwidth is narrow and its radial system is a pain in the neck. It’s hard to beat a dipole. Dipoles are cheap, easy to build, and wideband.

An off-center-fed dipole has the added advantage of radiating well at its fundamental frequency as well as at even harmonics of the fundamental frequency, making it a multi-band antenna. The biggest disadvantage of an off-center-fed dipole is that it is unbalanced, putting unwanted RF on the feedline. That can be a problem since you don’t want a hot feedline in your shack with RFI (or worse).

But it may just be that this disadvantage could be turned into an advantage. By putting an RF choke (also known as a “line isolator” in this application) on the feedline, not only can you keep the unwanted RF out of your shack, but you can choose just how much of the feedline is hot. The hot portion of the feedline then becomes part of the antenna, purportedly enhancing the multi-band performance of the OCF dipole as well as its radiation pattern.

That’s the idea behind Len Carlson’s “New Carolina Windom.” You can read Mr. Carlson’s article about the New Carolina Windom by clicking here (Adobe Reader required). I’ve decided to try it. The recipe for the New Carolina Windom is simple:

  1. Cut a half-wave length of antenna wire for the lowest frequency you’ll use (468 / 7.0 Mhz = 66.9 feet)
  2. Cut this length of wire at a point 37.8% from one end
  3. Connect these two elements to a 4:1 current voltage balun*
  4. Feed the balun with a 10′ length of 50-ohm coax (this is the “vertical radiator”)
  5. Place an RF choke at the bottom of this 10′ piece of coax
  6. Hang the elements 24′ or higher and as flat as possible (if you hang it as an inverted-V, make sure the angle is no less than 120 degrees), with the 10′ length of coax hanging straight down
  7. Connect the feedline from your radio to the RF choke

I’m going to hang this antenna as an inverted-V because that’s the cheapest and easiest way to do it where I live. I’ve read conflicting opinions about just where on this antenna the apex should be when hanging it as an inverted-V. Some say the apex should be at the midpoint of the overall length. Others say that the apex should be at the feedpoint. I’ve decided to put the feedpoint at the apex simply to better support the weight of the balun and feedline.

In future posts, I’ll say more about the way I’m building my New Carolina Windom. The first part that I’m planning to build is the balun, so that will probably be the next part of this project I’ll write about.

* Since I originally posted this, I’ve learned that a voltage balun may be preferable since we want the feedline to radiate. Since I’ve already built a current balun, now I have to decide whether to rewire it or build a new one. — Todd Mitchell, 5/14/11

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New Call Sign

All sorts of little shipments keep rolling in — torroids, wire, ferrite beads, teflon tubing, mast sections, coax connectors, SWR analyzer, Softrock kit, etc. I haven’t had time to do anything with them quite yet, though. Not only have there been far more important things on the agenda (like the magnificent Conference on Suffering we had at our church last weekend), but there are a few things on the critical path that need done before sitting down at the electronic workbench. One of those things is simply putting my office in order — not just cleaning it, but remodeling it a bit. This is something that has needed to be done since I moved in, and it should help me immensely in my vocation. A nice spin-off of the hobby!

In the meantime, my new call sign came in: NIØL. The FCC calls it a “vanity call sign” because I requested it, but I sure hope I’m not being vain! I put in for this call sign for two reasons. First, it’s “lighter-weight” in CW than my old call sign (though my old one, NØART, was nicely iambic). Second, my old call sign was often misinterpreted by folks who saw it on my license plate. They would read NØART as “No art!” as if I was expressing some kind of Philistine aesthetic philosophy. But the biggest reason is its ease of sending with CW, my favorite mode.

There’s a different call sign that I have my eye on, but it won’t become available for another four months (two years and one day after it was released by the last holder). But since there’s an element of chance to getting these (It’s not quite first-come-first-serve; everyone who applies on the same calendar day has an equal chance.), I figured I’d better grab this one before it got snapped up.

And now, back to work!

73,

Todd
NIØL

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