Home-Made Ladder Line

Without a doubt, home-made pies are better than store-bought pies. I should know–I make great pies.

I’m not so sure the same holds true for antenna feedlines, but this e-mail came across the Elecraft mailing list over the weekend, and I thought I’d share it with you:

Date: Sun, 28 Nov 2004 11:13:37 -0500
From: Ray Albers
To: Elecraft@mailman.qth.net

Our fearless NCS, Kevin, wrote:

I wandered into Home Depot this evening and purchased a bit of 14 guage wire. I will try to get a loop up for 160 which should tune quite nicely for the higher bands. Now to get some ladder line from HRO this coming week and get it hooked up.

This prompts me to offer a hint for home-brewing ladder line from stuff readily available at Homely Depot – nice project for a rainy day.

First, buy a spool of 18 ga stranded copper wire. When I bought mine about year and a half ago it was $14 for a 500 ft spool (given inflation, your results may vary), enough for mucho ladder lines, attic loop antennae, etc (it’s a bit flimsy for outdoor dipoles under tension, but great for ladder line or attic antennas.

Next, buy some packs of electrical cable staples – these come in a variety of sizes (you want the ones designed to hold 3/4 inch cable. They consist of a plastic saddle that goes over the cable, plus two nails in holes that are about 7/8 inch apart. The nails are easily pulled out with pliers (and as a side bonus you will end up with a good supply of little nails for hanging pictures or whatever) and the resulting hole is just right for easily threading the 18 ga wire thru.

If you don’t already have a hot-melt glue gun, buy one of these, too, and in any case buy some glue sticks to fuel it with.

Thread the 18 ga wire thru the holes in the staple saddles, give a little squirt with the hot-melt glue to hold it, and voila, you have your ladder line. It’s what I’m using on my windom and has held up very well.

Credit goes to Mike K3MT for introducing this method to me.

73, Ray K2HYD

Even If You’re Not A Contester…

…you should subscribe to the ARRL Contest Rate Sheet. If you’re not interested in the contest info, you can skip right over that stuff to find the news items and technical tidbits that Ward Silver, N0AX includes in every issue. The latest issue, for example, includes:

  • a news item that points to a spark gap transmitter recording
  • several links to sites describing loop antennas,
  • how to get a catalog describing ferrite cores and rods from Fair-Rite, and
  • an item on how to remove scratches from plastic parts and meter faces.

For more information on the Contest Rate Sheet and to read back issues, go to http://www.arrl.org/contests/rate-sheet/. ARRL members can have it sent to them by e-mail. Good stuff.

The Beauty of the Vacuum Tube

An article recently appeared in the Toronto Star extolling the virtues of the vacuum tube. If you ever took a close look at one, you’ll see what an amazing device it really is. The article gets a little sidetracked by its discussion of tube vs. solid state guitar and stereo amplifiers, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Without tubes, there is no radio. Nor are there any computers. At least not as early as we had them. Tubes were the first devices to give us the control over electron flow that was needed to make both radio and computers possible.

Tubes are also an interesting example of how the discovery of a basic phsyical phenomenon can lead to the development of an entire technology. In developing the light bulb, Edison when you stuck a metal strip into an incandescent light bulb, electrons given off by the hot filament would be attracted to the metal strip. Even though this property was noted by physicist Frederick Guthrie several years earlier, we now call this the Edison effect.

What’s interesting about this is that Edison didn’t realize the importance of the phenomenon. The reason he didn’t is that he was trying to increase the life of a light bulb and not invent electronics. It may have been an interesting effect, but since it did not significantly help him make better light bulbs, he wasn’t very interested in the effect.

It was up to John Fleming, a British scientist, and American inventor Lee de Forest to realize how important this was and to develop practical devices that used the Edison Effect. Fleming invented a “valve” by placing a metal tube around the filament inside the bulb. The Fleming Valve acts as a diode. When the voltage between the filament and the tube, or plate, is positive electrons flow; when the voltage is negative no electrons flow. Fleming used his valve as a rectifier in a detection circuit.

de Forest inserted a third element into the tube. Called the grid, this element allows the designer of a circuit to control the flow of electrons between the filament and the plate. With a grid, you can not only get an electron tube to rectify a signal, but also to amplify it. A small voltage on the grid controls a large flow of electrons through the tube.

What’s perhaps more amazing is how far we’ve come in 100 years. In the last century, we’ve gone from a device that’s inches across to putting hundreds of millions of electron control devices (transistors) in the same space. It couldn’t have been done however, without the tube.


More QSLs

Last Friday, I got another pack of QSLs from the ARRL QSL Bureau. There were about 20 cards total, the most interesting being:

  • F5BAR. This card from Jean-Luc in Provence is a beautiful card, with an aerial shot of a fall scene. A bonus is that it also fits nicely into my collection of cards from stations whose suffixes spell words.
  • EN3WLL. This card is from a special event station commemorating the 150th anniversary of the igniting of the first-ever kerosene lamp designed by Ignacy Lukasiewich at the Lviv hospital on 31 July 1853.
  • MU/SP5LCC. This station was operated by a Scout troop from Poland on the island of Guernsey.
  • EA1ASZ. This card lists the “Normas de ban~o en 1877,” which translates to “rules for bathing.” The second rule states, “In no case is it permitted to bathe without being completely clothed.”


I’ll have to get a scanner and scan them so you can all see them.

Kits Galore

A lot of people bemoan the fact that Heathkit and the other kit companies of yesteryear are no longer with us. How, they say, will newbies learn how to build radio gear? Well, the picture is certainly not as bleak as they make it.

There are many companies making kits. They may not be as easy to build as Heathkits, but they’re certainly not impossible to build, either. Below, please find a list of vendors. I’m going to be adding to this list as I find them.

  • TenTec. TenTec makes a wide range of kits, including transceivers, transverters, receivers, and accessories.
  • Ramsey Electronics. They sell AM & FM transmitter kits, hobby kits, video cameras, time & weather kits, amateur radio kits, and other stuff.
  • Velleman. Velleman sells a variety of kits, including power supplies, audio amplifiers, and PIC programmers. No ham radio kits, per se. They are a Belgian company, but sell through a variety of stores here in the U.S.

If you have a favorite kit maker or seller, email me.

Horrendous Band Conditions

Band conditions have just been horrendous this past week. After my poor showing in the CW SS contest on Saturday, I decided to take a day off on Sunday, so I didn’t even try to get on the air Sunday. When I did finally get back on Monday evening, I found that there had been a coronal mass ejection (CME) and that the shortwave bands were almost completely blacked out.

It was so unusual that I got on our 2m repeater and asked if there was anyone monitoring who could turn on his radio and confirm my observations. Jeff W8SGZ was listening and did indeed find exactly the same thing I did. I could hear just a couple of signals, and I didn’t even try to make any contacts. Tuesday was a little better, and I did manage to eke out a few contacts, but the band was still very noisy.

Thursday, things seemed to be a bit better, and I made a few good contacts, although in the evening, the band started acting a bit funny again. I had a QSO with W4MQC in MA, and usually we have a pretty good QSO with strong signals. Last night, the QSO started out well, but Alan noted that the band had been up and down. Sure enough, after a few exchanges, the band changed again, and we had to cut it short.

This morning, conditions were lousy again. Several of the propagation websites (see below) reported that there had been another CME on November 10 and that we’d be feeling the effects on November 12. Well, they were certainly right about that. Fortunately, they also forecast quieter conditions for the weekend.


ARRL MI Section Club News – November 2004

LCARA Captures Newsletter Contest
It was a very close contest, but in the end the Lapeer County Amateur Radio Association Waveguide has won the 2004 Club Newsletter Contest. The top three finishers included:

  1. Lapeer County Amateur Radio Association Waveguide
  2. Branch County Amateur Radio Club Branch Signals
  3. Muskegon Area Amateur Radio Council Flashovers

The entrants were rated on four different criteria: layout and composition, grammar and style, content of interest to radio amateurs, and local content. The awards were presented at the Michigan Section Convention in Holland on Friday, November 6.

Need More Members?
To increase their membership, the Top Of Michigan Amateur Radio Club is now offering incentives to members who sign up new members. For each new member they get join, the member gets a $5 discount on their membership. If they sign up four or more, they get a free year’s membership.

Get Members Involved
As a way to get more members involved in club activities, the Branch County Amateur Radio Association holds an annual QSL card design contest. The winning card is the official QSL card of the club for a year and bears the winner’s callsign, crediting him or her as the creator of the design.

Website Tip
Looking for a way to make your website more interesting? Consider posting pictures of members’ shacks. I picked up this idea after surfing the Garden City Amateur Radio Club website at http://www.gcarc.net/. Having such a page will allow some of your members to show off and others to learn from them.

That’s all for this month. If you have a tip for increasing club membership, improving a club’s website, or getting members involved, e-mail me at kb6nu@w8pgw.org…..73, Dan KB6NU

Not My Best Day in Ham Radio

Things don’t always turn out the way you hope–that’s just life. Well, Saturday was one of those days for me.

A bunch of ARROW members thought it would be fun to attend the Holland “Super Swap” and Michigan Section Convention in Holland, so we made arrangements to drive out together. Even though we had to get started by 5:30 in the morning, the drive out was fun, and we enjoyed a nice conversation.

The swap was a disappointment, though. There were only tables in a smallish gym, and not even all those were occupied. A few deals were to be
had (I’m still kind of kicking myself for not buying that Johnson Matchbox for $75), but they were few and far between.

There weren’t even that many dealers there. I wanted to buy some FlexWeave antenna wire, for example, but The Wireman wasn’t there, and no one else was selling any. I also wanted to get a DB9 connect to make an Icom CI-V control cable. One guy had the connector, but didn’t have the shell, and no one else there was selling them.

I did attend the CW forum, and that was interesting. Nancy Kott, from Fists and World Radio, WZ8C, had a new code lesson CD. After her talk we all sat around and theorized about how best to learn the code and increase one’s code speed.

I gave Nancy my ARROW business card with the URL for Get On CW . She seemed interested in the idea, but who knows for sure? The response was underwhelming when I proposed it on the Fists mailling list, although I did get a good reaction from my posting on QRZ.Com. I need to promote the website a little bit more.

Not My Best Contest, Either
I got home around 5 pm, had some dinner, and thought I’d give the November Sweepstakes a try. What a mistake! I don’t know exactly why, but I just did not have it on Saturday. My sending was terrible, for one thing.

Then, I pulled out the cable to send with the computer, and for some reason, it did not want to work. When I’d command it to send, the thing would latch up and send continuously. I’d never had this problem before, but I hadn’t tried using it with the IC-746PRO before. I’m going to hook the scope up to it tonight and see if it’s switching properly with just a pullup resistor on it.

Overall, I made just 60 contacts in 3-1/2 hours. Uggghhh.

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun…

I’ve just come into possession of a remarkable treasure–namely the ARROW archives. It’s an amazing and amusing look into ARROW’s past.

For example, the archives contain copies of the newsletter produced from November 1988 throu April l994. At random, I pulled the April 1989 issue from the files.

It’s amazing to me that I chose this particular issue as on page 5 is an article written by Steve Andre, WB8WSF titled, “A Time of Change for the ARROW Two-Meter System.”

At this point, the repeater itself was fairly new, but the controller was the aging piece of hardware. WB8WSF noted,

“The current controller was designed in 1974 by Dana Whitlow K8YUM. When it was designed, it was a state-of-the-art unit…and has been in operation for more than 100,000 hours with few problems…Yet as good as it has been, the newer technologies have made it obsolete. The ICs from which the controller was made are no longer available, which makes maintenance very difficult.”

Steve can correct me if I’m wrong, but shortly afterwards, he replaced the original controller with the SCom unit that controls our repeater today.

Steve concludes the article by saying, “The ARROW 2m system has been an excellent system rooted in 1970s technology. It is now time to bring it into the 1990s.” Might not something similar be said of our current repeater system?

From the Board Room
There’s another article in this issue which falls into the “the more things change, the more they stay the same” category. The article in question is a column by then president Doug Wilson KA8IGS. In this column, Doug emplores the membership to consider running for the board of directors.

How appropriate as our own elections will soon be upon us. Doug says, “As in all organizations, the ARROW is run by a clique. Fortunately, it’s an easy clique to get into and there is a place for you if you have the time.”

What was true then, is certainly true now. If you would like to get more involved, we will certainly find a place for you. Heck, you can even have my job if you want it! Call me at 734-930-6564 or e-mail me if you want to discuss it. To be honest, there are a few headaches associated with being a board member, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun, too, and always educational.

Time Marches On
Of course some things do change. On page 8, we find a half-page ad from Purchase Radio that lists the lines they carry. These include Mosley Electronics, Heathkit, Hustler, Cushcraft, TenTec, and MFJ.

This issue also has a membership roster. There are many familiar calls, including WB8WSF, W8JNZ, W8OMB, K8PBA, WB4SBE, and even KB6NU (although I wasn’t very active in ARROW way back when). There are many, though, that are not familiar to me, who are no longer club members, or who are now Silent Keys. I counted 120 members total in April 1989; today we’re right around 100.

This is an amazing piece of history, and one that got me thinking about what our successors will have to look at 15 years from now. We no longer publish a printed newsletter, instead relying on our website and e-mail list to keep ourselves in contact with one another.

I think I’m going to have to start taking snapshots of the website and printing them out or storing them on some kind of disk. We do need to leave some kind of record of what we did, so that in 2020 they can marvel about how similar things were way back in 2004.


ARROW President