It’s Back to School for KB6NU

Monday was my first session this year with the kids at the Ann Arbor Learning Center, a charter school here. At the end of school year in June, I was a bit frustrated that none of the kids had gotten their licenses. The teachers reassured me, though, that the kids would return in the fall, and that we could pick it up from where we left off.

I was a bit skeptical about this, but the kids did indeed return. A couple of them were missing–they had transferred to the public school–but the majority of them did return. More importantly, they seemed just as interested in learning as they were last year.

Over the summer, the family of an SK donated some equipment to the club, and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get that set up at the school. They need to get the permission of the company that owns the building before we can erect an antenna. I’m hoping that permission will come soon.

I think the kids need constant exposure to the radios to keep them motivated. For the first session, I brought in the 2m transceiver and the HF transceiver, and they were all over it.

I’m also planning another construction project. This time I’m going to try a regenerative receiver. I’ll need to build one myself first, though.

And if this wasn’t enough to keep me busy, one of our club members has a daughter who’s attending another private school. She e-mailed me saying that this school was perhaps interested in donig something with ham radio. I’m already too busy, but opportunities like this are hard to pass up.

“No Ham Left Behind” Feedback – Where are the Elmers?

In addition to the e-mails about restrictive antenna covenants, I’ve gotten several e-mails from hams who had a hard time finding Elmers. After describing his search, one guy wrote, “How many other hams have been lost
along the way because they couldn’t get just a little bit of real-world
help?”

This situation puzzling to me. Ham radio has had a long history of mentoring. Heck, we even have a special name for amateur radio mentors–we call them Elmers!  In recent years, though, more and more newly-licensed hams are finding it harder and harder to find a good Elmer.

There are probably many reasons for this, but two come to mind immediately:

  1. Everyone is busier than ever. That leaves less time for hams to do hamming, much less Elmer someone else.
  2. As the technology gets more complex, fewer “experienced” hams feel comfortable about the technology. So, if a question comes up about something, and the ham doesn’t know anything about it, he or she may feel embarassed. Who wants to be embarrassed like that? Well, the way to avoid embarrassment is to avoid Elmering, I guess.

When I run into a situation like that, I either try to figure it out with the person (that way I learn something as well!) or refer him or her to someone that I think might know the answer. For example, I have never operated 6m, but I know some guys who have. Should an Elmeree ask a question about working 6m, more likely than not, I’ll refer him or her to the guy that actually knows something.

This isn’t just a one-way street. I have talked to guys who have made an effort to Elmer someone, only to find them uncooperative or ungrateful. I’ve had that happen to me, too, and I can see where that would make someone less likely to extend himself or herself to help out in the future.

About the only advice I can give in this situation is to cut that person loose and move on to someone else who might be more receptive and thankful. Please don’t let that sour you on Elmering

Your Novice Accent

This article originally appeared in the November, 1956 issue of QST Magazine with the title “Your Novice Accent–and What to Do About It.” Originally authored by Keith S. Williams W6DTY, it was revised at some point by someone, and then I got my hands on it. You can read the original here.

Neither the call sign W6DTY nor the name Keith S. Williams appear in the QRZ.Com database, and my attempts to contact him have been unfruitful. Nevertheless, I thought it would be a good idea to update this venerable article. Most notably, I have changed the word “Novice” to “beginner.” While there are some Novices still on the rolls, their numbers are dwindling, and I’d guess that more Techs and Generals that can use this information than there are Novices. There may soon be no Novices, but the advice in this article is timeless.

A note about prosigns: Normally a prosign that is a combination of two characters, such as AR, is written with a bar over the letters. Instead, I use brackets (for exmaple, [AR]) to denote when to slur the two characters together. When a prosign is sent as two separate characters, such as DE, I don’t use the brackets.

Finally, if you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to add them below or to e-mail them to me. Thanks, Dan.

Your Beginner’s Accent–and What To Do About it

originally written by Keith S. Williams, W6DTY
updated by Dan Romanchik, KB6NU

A language is means of communication. It is most efficient when all who speak it follow the same grammatical rules and pronounce its words in the same way. Isolated groups of a given linguistic stock tend to develop differences in speech habits. They speak with different accents, follow different rules of grammar, the difference growing with continued isolation until each group finds it difficult to understand others even though all speak the same basic language.

International Morse code is, in a way, a language. We can use it efficiently because we all follow the same procedure and use the same set of abbreviations and Q-signals. Most CW operators learn these procedures, abbreviations, and Q-signals over the years, and it becomes second nature to them.

Now and then, though, you’ll run into an operator who’s new to CW. How can you tell? Well, generally, he will be a bit slower than the average op, but you can also tell by the way he uses Q-signals and abbreviations. He has a “beginner’s accent.” And just like it may be difficult for a native speaker of a language to understand someone who is just learning to speak that language, it may be difficult for experienced CW operators to copy someone with a beginner’s CW accent.

Since most folks learning a new language want to get rid of their beginner’s accent, we’ll assume that most CW newbies want to get rid of their accent too. With that in mind, let’s talk about CW operating procedures.

Tune Around
When you flip the switch on your power supply and prepare for a session of brass pounding, don’t be too hasty to call CQ. Check your gear, and when you’re satisfied it’s all ready, listen for a few minutes. Tune around a little and see what’s going on first. More than once I’ve heard some good DX going to waste while the brethren are busy honking out CQ’s without, apparently, having listened more than two seconds after turning on the rig. Listen for stations already calling CQ and answer that call rather than adding to the the bedlam with a CQ of your own. On the remote chance that you hear no CQ’s, go ahead and try one.

Novice Accent Drawing #1

Two things are important:

  1. Your receiver has a tuning dial. Use it. Doing so keeps it from locking up, and you may hear someone calling you off your frequency. Many QRP operators, for example, use crystal-controlled transmitters, and they may not have a crystal for the frequency that you’re calling on. If you don’t tune around, you won’t hear him calling. If a fellow calls CQ, signs and says “K”, then starts another CQ in ten seconds you know he’s not tuning. He just sits there like a lump, expecting a call on his own frequency. He has few QSO’s and he creates beaucoup QRM with his useless calling.
  2. Don’t make your calls too long. Contrary to your first impression, a long call does not attract eager prospects. Rather, just the opposite is more likely–the longer you call the fewer the answers you receive. People are a restless lot. After waiting through ten or twelve CQ’s the average operator will lose patience and start looking for someone else.

Three-by-three-by-three
A CQ pattern that has proved very successful over a long period is the old three-by-three. CQ three times, sign your call three times and repeat the whole thing three times. This is more than sufficient and results have been satisfying.

Today, however, you rarely hear a CQ that long. I generally call CQ four times, followed by my call three times:

CQ CQ CQ CQ de KB6NU KB6NU KB6NU

I then pause and listen for calls, tuning around a bit. Unless band conditions are really bad, I generally get a response by the third call.

When answering a CQ, first make sure that you are on the same frequency as the calling station. YOU do this by tuning your receiver so that the tone of the station calling CQ matches the CW sidetone of your transceiver. Some radios have a special control that makes this even easier to do.

Also, make your call as short as conditions warrant. In general, you only need call about three times and then sign your call three times. For example:

K6DBG K6DBG K6DBG DE KB6NU KB6NU KB6NU

If conditions are good, call twice followed by your call twice. If conditions are poor, or if you’re operating a crystal-controlled transmitter somewhat off the calling frequency, make your call longer.

I’ve noticed recently that some operators–even under marginal conditions–don’t send their calls more than once when responding to my CQ. This is not a good practice. Even if a signal is strong, a static crash can obliterate one of the characters in your callsign. Always send your call at least twice when answering a CQ.

If you’re 25 kilohertz (kHZ) away, call a bit longer, but not too long because it doesn’t take the receiving operator long to tune through the band when activity is light. On the other hand, when QRM is heavy, make your call somewhat longer because it takes a receiving operator longer to comb through the mess. In other words, make the length of your call suit conditions. It is seldom necessary, even under the worst conditions, to call station more than eight or ten times before signing your own call.

Procedure signals (prosigns)
Prosigns are single characters–or a series of characters–that call for the other operator to do something. For example, the prosign K is used at the end of a transmission to invite the other operator to start sending. Other frequently used prosigns include [AS] (wait), [BK] (break in immediately), and R (all received correctly). K3WWP has a good list of prosigns on his website. You can find it at http://home.alltel.net/johnshan/cw_ss_list_proc.html.

Novice Accent Drawing #2

Some beginners misuse the procedure signal DE. DE means “from” and it is sent only once before each series of a call sign. Do not repeat it before each transmission of your call sign in a series. It is common to hear something like this:

CQ . . . CQ DE KN6ZZZ DE KN6ZZZ DE KN6ZZZ CQ . . . ETC.

This is not good practice. Under poor receiving conditions it is very confusing to the receiving operator who is trying to dope out your call letters. The extra DE throws him every time. (Along the same lines, never sending DE messes up many a receiving station when they are used to listening for it.

When you sign for the last time on a CQ don’t be fancy. Just send the procedure signal K. This invites anyone who heard your CQ to answer. Do not send [AR] either by itself or followed by K:

CQ CQ CQ DE KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ K

When making calls, [AR] is used only when you have contacted another station, but are not yet in contact with him. [AR] is a procedure signal sent as one character, di-dah-di-dah-dit. It is not sent as the two separate letters A and R:

W4YYY W4YYY W4YYY DE K6ZZZ K6ZZZ K6ZZZ [AR]

Once you have established contact there are certain preliminaries you should get squared away. At the beginning of a QSO, it is common practice to exchange three pieces of information: a signal report, station location, and operator name. It used to be standard procedure to send these three pieces of information in exactly that order. Nowadays, however, more operators seem to send their name before their location.

The first two transmissions of a QSO might, therefore, look something like this:

W8JNZ DE KB6NU TNX FER CALL OM [BT] UR RST 599 599 [BT] NAME IS DAN DAN [BT] QTH ANN ARBOR, MI ANN ARBOR, MI [BT] HW? W8JNZ DE KB6NU K

KB6NU DE W8JNZ R TNX FER RPT DAN [BT] UR RST 599 599 [BT] NAME IS CLAY CLAY [BT] QTH DIXBORO, MI DIXBORO, MI [BT] HW NW? KB6NU DE W8JNZ K

Note that both operators repeated each piece of information. This is to ensure that the other operator correctly received the information.

Abbreviations
Ham radio is full of abbreviations. There is good reason for this. It saves time. You can say more in less time and with less wear and tear on the key. A great many abbreviations are standard the world over. You’ll find them listed in handbooks. Don’t go overboard, but learn to use the universally understood shortcuts in operating. A good example is “AND.” Most experienced operators send “ES” instead of “AND.” It’s standard practice, and it’s quicker and easier to send. While you’re at it, learn the proper use of abbreviations.

If in doubt, look them up in the handbooks or on the Web. K3WWP has a good list of prosigns on his website at http://home.alltel.net/johnshan/cw_ss_list_abbr.html.

While there are symbols for the period and the comma, and you need to know them to pass the code test, you rarely hear them sent on the air, except to separate the city and state when sending a station location. The reason for this is that they are awkward to send, and you really don’t need them.

All the punctuation you need is the question mark and the prosign [BT] [dah-di-di-di-dah]. Although it’s become common practice, you don’t really need to send a comma between your city and state, and you certainly don’t need it in any other situation.

Nor do you need to send the lengthy, time-consuming signal for period. Just use the break prosign [BT] between sentences or thoughts. It is much easier to send and sounds smoother. The only time that you really need to send or receive formal punctuation signals is when you are handling traffic or official bulletins.

When you sign over to the other station, make it quick and easy and use on of the standard methods. I have heard some beginners send, “… NOW I AM TURNING IT BACK TO YOU SO HERE IT COMES …” Long winded guff is okay in its place, but it shouldn’t become a habit on CW. Some operators send, “… SO BK TO YOU …” This is an improvement, but may be misunderstood because “BK” is the break prosign as well as the abbreviation for “back.”

All you need to say, really, is “HW?” (short for “how copy?”) or “WATSA?” (short for “what say?”). Either signal indicates to the other fellow that you are through for the moment and are about to sign over to him. Another signal that is becoming popular is “BTU,” which is short for “back to you.”

If it’s also your last transmission it is customary to part with a certain amount of well-wishing. Don’t drag it out too long. You’ve probably sat through a final transmission like the following:

WELL BILL NOW I MUST QRT AND WISH YOU MANY 73S 73S TNX FOR THE SWELL QSO BILL AND 73S BEST OF LUCK AND LOTS OF DX AND BEST WISHES TO YOU AND THE FAMILY SO 73S AND I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN SOON BILL 73S …

All you have to say after you’ve told Bill you must QRT is something like this:

TNX QSO OM 73 GN [SK] W4YYY DE K6ZZZ

Note that it is not necessary to add an “S” to 73. By itself, 73 means “best regards.” If you say 73’s you are, in effect, saying “Best Regardses,” which is just plain silly.

More Procedure
Now a word or two about correct procedure when signing over to the other station or when ending a QSO. It’s all very simple, but many operators seem confused as to how to do it properly.

When you are turning the QSO over to the other operator you proceed as follows:

… SO HW? [AR] W4YYY DE K6ZZZ K

The [AR] indicates that you are through for the time being. The K says, “go ahead and transmit to me.” In practice, most operators omit the [AR] these days.

Incidentally, there is a variation of the K signal. You may have heard it and wondered what it meant and as like as not you have misused it. I am referring to the procedure signal [KN]. This signal indicates that you are engaged in a QSO, that you are inviting the other operator to go ahead with this transmission and you do not wish a third station, the breaking station,” so called to interrupt by calling either of you.

This signal was originated as an aid in DX operating and is not often needed in domestic communications. Therefore I don’t advise its use in ordinary QSO’s. But if you have occasion to use it do it right. It is definitely not a substitute for the plain signal “K”. I have heard novices end a CQ with [KN]. This is obviously simple-minded . Translated to English it means, “I am calling a CQ, a general call, inviting anyone to answer, but please do not call me!”

When ending a QSO use the prosign [SK]. This is easy. [SK] is never the last signal sent. The last item is either your call or the letter K. If you have made your last transmission but will stand by for the other station’s closing remarks you send:

… 73 ES CUL GN [SK] W4YYY DE K6ZZZ K

The [SK] indicates that you have made your last transmission. If you have completely finished the QSO and wish to remain open for business you just naturally don’t put anything at all after your call. If you intend to “close station” and hit the sack you should indicate this fact by adding the CL immediately after your call. Listening operators are thus informed that you will not be in the market for another QSO. It saves them needless calls.

CW operating procedures are fixed by long usage and in part are called for by law. The correct procedure is just as easy to learn and use as the wrong procedure, and if you are a beginner, you might just as well start right. Bad habits are difficult to break. If you find it hard to remember what to send and when to send it make up a sheet with standard forms and keep it on your operating desk. Refer to it when in doubt, and soon, using the correct procedure will be automatic. Once learned, it isn’t forgotten.

R?
Being long winded, I don’t mind adding a few items that are pet peeves of mine. First on the agenda is an ancient complaint about operators who come back with “R” when they have copied only part or perhaps nothing at all of your last transmission. You often hear something like this:

WNYYY DE K6ZZZ R R R OK OK BUT PLEASE REPEAT MY REPORT AND YOUR QTH ALSO MISSED YOUR NAME AND DID NOT COPY YOUR LAST QUESTION IN THE QRM…

If you send “R” you are indicating that you copied solid everything the other operator sent. Do not send a single R if you missed any part of his transmission. Just send a break sign, [BT], after your call when you go back to him, if you missed anything, and tell him what you missed. There is nothing more exasperating than to hear, “R BUT MISSED EVERYTHING OM!”

In connection with this business of receipting, one other point might be mentioned. If you have copied the other fellow’s transmission solid and have so indicated by “R” when you go back to him, he can be expected to have sense enough to know that you got what he sent. Therefore it is needless wear and tear on your key and a waste of your time and his to go through this rigamarole of

OK ON THIS, OK ON THAT, OK ON YOUR RIG, OK ON YOUR WX, OK ON YOUR DOG HAVING JAUNDICE, ETC., ETC.

Just proceed with your remarks and comments. If he asked a question, answer it. If he made a statement that requires no answer, make no answer. It’s really very simple.

Another pet peeve is the guy with long, deathly silences. He sends your call, signs his, then says

R ES TNX FER REPT OM [BT]…

then apparently lapses into a coma.

When you finally decide that the op has suffered a heart attack and departed this vale of tears, he suddenly comes to life and burps out a couple of BT’s and staggers along with

RIG HR 807 WID 50 WATTS [BT]…

and promptly falls asleep again. This makes the receiving operator nervous. If your mind goes temporarily blank when you are on the key, send a series of [BT]. Just don’t sit there leaving the other operator to wonder if you are still alive. There is nothing worse than a lot of clatter on the air except complete silence.

??
A final pet peeve is the misuse of the question mark as a prosign. The question mark does not mean that you made a mistake and that you are going to resend, correcting the mistake. The correct way to note that you made a mistake is to send a series of eight dits, although few operators send all eight these days.

Often, operators will pause and then send three or four widely-spaced dits to note that they made an error. Many high-speed operators don’t even bother sending the dits. They simply pause for a short time after they make a mistake, then start up again, resending the word.

When you send the question mark as a prosign, it means that you are planning to repeat some bit of information so that the receiving station gets it properly. For example, you might send it after you’ve sent your location, especially if it has a tricky spelling. For example,

QTH ANN ARBOR, MI ? ANN ARBOR, MI

Novice Accent Drawing #3

Sloppy Sending
To get the most out of operating CW, it’s a good idea to practice sending properly. No one enjoys working an operator with a sloppy fist. No one expects you to be perfect, but poorly sent code is a real horror to copy.

Pay special attention to the spacing between characters and between words. I would rather copy code with proper spacing and some errors than code that is error-free, but where the letters and words are all run together.

Some operators go on for years blithely unaware that their fists are bad. In fact, they may even fancy themselves as artists on the key. They get huffy if anyone suggests that they are not 100% readable. They suggest that the receiving operators need a little practice. If you are one of those boys, you are probably a hopeless case. However, if you know that your sending leaves something to be desired, and you are sincerely interested in developing a good readable fist you can stop worrying. It’s simple.

Just practice sending–nut not on the air. Rig yourself a code practice oscillator and send to yourself. Many modern transceivers even have a practice mode that you can use.

The ideal manual fist is one that sounds like a tape transmitter. Don’t laugh! It’s a skill that’s easy to acquire. Of course, to begin with, you must know how good code sounds. The simplest way is to turn on your receiver and tune in a commercial tape circuit and listen. Tune around, find a station sending press or other traffic and just sit and listen. You don’t have to be able to copy it solid. Maybe you can copy only seven words a minute and the commercial is sending at 20 or 25. No matter. Don’t worry about what he’s sending, just pay attention to how it’s sent. Listen to the individual letters; get the feel of his rhythm and spacing. Then adjust your key, get comfortable, and send to yourself. Try to make your hand-keyed letters sound like the tape-sent letters. Send from a newspaper or book and pay attention to spacing between words and letters as well as to the shape of each individual letter. At first it may seem an impossible task but you’ll be surprised how rapidly your sending improves. Sure it’s a lot of work, but you weren’t born with a telegraph key in your hand and you have to learn. You don’t write a letter in such an illegible scrawl that it can’t be read (or do you?), so why transmit a botched-up mess of dots and dashes to some poor wretch on 40 meters who is trying to read it.

It’s Fun!
Perhaps the best reason for using the proper procedures and developing a good fist is that it makes CW operating more fun. Using genuine International Morse and standard procedure will make life a pleasure for both you and your adversaries.

New Brochure for Kids

I am a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). They’ve just come out with a brochure designed to inform 11-13 year olds about engineering careers. I think it’s notable because it’s so simple, yet gets the message across. There’s a short news item about the brochure on the IEEE website. You can also download a PDF version the brochure. They do list amateur radio clubs as resources to help kids find out if they might like engineering.

Overall, I think this is a good example of how to design something that would appeal to kids.

Two Approaches to Getting Your Tech License Quickly

I’m not normally a fan of cram-type courses for the Tech license, but under some circumstances it’s appropriate. For example, I would be in favor of holding such a class with a group of Red Cross volunteers so that they could be licensed quickly, if there are experienced amateurs who will be working with them in the future. It would also be in favor of cramming in the case of a family where one parent is an amateur.

In both cases, you can be assured that the new hams will have an Elmer to help them and guide them. Without such Elmering, chances are that the new ham will quickly get bored with ham radio and eventually drop out.

Having said that, I recently came across HAM CRAM, a Technician Class license course designed to be given in two, 3-hour sessions. Richard W9PE, the author of the course, has made his set of PowerPoint slides available for free downloading from his website.

As far as written materials go, I’ve developed a bare-bones license manual that you can use to study for the Technician test. It’s based on a method developed by Bruce W8BBS. What he did for the earlier question pool is to rephrase each question in the form of a statement and then organize the statments to make them readable.

Because Bruce was unable to update his manual for the new question pool, I’ve done it instead. If you have any interest in it at all, please download it and have a look. I’d be interested in any comments, questions, compliments, or complaints that you have. E-mail me!

UPDATE 11/1/06
The Triangle East Amateur Radio Association has published a Tech study guide in PowerPoint format. They say that it can be used by individuals for self-study as well as by instructors teaching a class.

The Elmer Kit

In amateur radio circles, we often hear of “jump kits” or “go kits.” These kits contain supplies and gear that amateur radio operators will find useful if called upon to provide emergency communications.

They include not only radio gear, but personal items, such as toothpaste and toilet paper. The idea is to have this stuff prepared so that in an emergency you can just pick up the kit and go.

In that same spirit, I’d like to propose that Elmers have their own jump kits. Some of the stuff you might carry with you all the time (or at least to all amateur radio events), and then the rest of the stuff you’d have on hand to help other hams when required.

For example, whenever I go to an amateur radio club meeting, I always carry copies of the K7QO Code Course on CD-ROM. You never know when you’ll run into someone that claims he or she wants to learn the code. You get the jump on them if you can pull out a CD-ROM and hand it to them.

You might also want to carry a General Class license manual around with you. Then, when you identify a Technician who is likely to upgrade with a little prodding, you can hand him the manual and tell him to get cracking. To keep your costs down, you can ask people who have taken your General Class courses to donate their license manuals to the cause after they pass their test. If they protest that they want to keep their license manual as a reference, steer them towards the ARRL Handbook, which is a much better reference and probably something they should have anyway.

I have also started collecting equipment that I can loan out or resell at very low cost. I think making available low-cost, but decent quality, gear could spur someone to try a new mode or even upgrade their licenses. For example, in March, I found a Bencher BY-1 at a hamfest for $40. I promptly re-sold this paddle (for the same 40 bucks) to a ham in our club who expressed an interest in working CW. I picked up another one at Dayton, and hopefully, it will find a new home soon, and help someone get on CW.

Earlier in the year, I sold my old Icom IC-735 to a guy who had been in my General Class license course. I made him a deal he couldn’t refuse ($250) with the proviso that once he upgraded, he sell it back to me for the same price. I have since used the money to purchase another IC-735 (I paid $275 for this one) that I hope will find its way into the shack of some other ham who has recently upgraded to General.

I think the IC-735 makes a great starter rig. It has a great receiver, is simple to operate, and if you shop around, the price is certainly right. Not only that, it’s a radio that the average ham can work on, and there’s a great mailing list on which you can ask questions.

Finally, there is some gear that you’ll want to have on hand for use in helping other guys get on the air. One of these is an antenna analyzer. I always encourage guys to get one, but if they don’t, then you can help them tune up their antennas. You might also want to have an EZ-Hang, or some similar device to help them get their antennas up into the trees.

I’m interested in what else I might include in my “Elmer Kit.” Any ideas?

My Shack Looks Like a Ham Radio Repair Shop

These last couple of days, my shack has started to look like a radio repair shop.

On Saturday, I attended a hamfest in the Grand Rapids area, and on the way back, stopped in Greenville to pick up some gear that the family of a Silent Key graciously agreed to donate to my middle school project.

The hamfest, though on the small side, was a lot of fun. At one table, I picked up an air variable capacitor for $2. At another, a crystal for 7.050 MHz for $3. The variable cap is for my regen receiver. The crystal for the matching transmitter. These two babies are going to form the basis of my homebrew station.

The guy who sold me the crystal was fun to talk to. He was a real tinkerer, and we had fun chatting about the various projects we have worked on. While we were chatting, a guy with a MI QRP Club hat came up and joined the conversation. The second guy already had a box full of junk that he said was destined for new projects. Just chatting with those guys made the drive worthwhile.

My New/Old IC-735
I also acquired an Icom IC-735 for $275. There were actually two IC-735s there, and the two guys selling them were situated right next to one another. The first one was a very clean unit and had a $285 price tag on it. I have purchased stuff from the seller before, and I know him to be a very reputable guy. The only negative that I could see was that he did not have a microphone for the radio.

The second IC-735 did not have a price tag, but it did have a microphone, and it even had the little plastic door covering the slide controls. It was dirtier than the first unit, which did give me some pause. At 9:45, both units were still available, and I decided to ask the second seller how much he wanted for his. He said, “Make me an offer.” When I offered $275, he grumbled a bit, but sold it to me anyway. As a bonus, he pulled out the original manual from a pile on the table. With that, I was done for the day, and headed to Greenville.

It’s always sad visiting the families of Silent Keys. This is the third time I’ve done this in the last couple of years. Fortunately, the families have been generally upbeat, and what I try to do is to explain how we will use their donations to help more kids get into amateur radio.

This gentleman had a collection of older gear including:

  • a 2m handheld,
  • three 2m mobile radios,
  • a couple of power supplies,
  • an Icom IC-730 (the predecessor of the IC-735), and
  • some miscellaneous odds and ends

KB6NU Plays Radio Tech
So, now my shack is full of this old equipment, and I’ve been sorting through it all. I first tackled the 2m radios. Oddly enough, the handheld actually turned on, but the battery charge was so low that it quickly died. A trip to Batteries Plus should get this radio back on the air.

The three mobile radios were a mixed bag. After crimping some terminals on the power cord for the Icom IC-28A, I tried turning it on, only to find out that while it turned on, it wouldn’t stay on. Apparently, the detent in the power switch must have failed. I have an e-mail in to Icom to see if a replacement switch is available.

Update 6-9-06: The switch is indeed still available, and it only costs $9.73, plus $4 shipping. From all reports, this is a nice little radio, so investing 14 bucks in it is worth it.

The second one I tried was a Kenwood TM-2530A. This radio turned on, and stayed on, but when I tried to access the repeater, I got nothing, even though I believe that I programmed the PL tone correctly. After doing some research on the Net, I discovered that this radio had an optional tone board. I haven’t cracked it open, but my guess is that it either does not have the TU-7 tone board or the one in it has failed. I did find a company that makes a drop-in replacement, but they’re asking $60 for it!

The third time was the charm. This unit, an ADI AR-146, worked perfectly. A bonus is that it uses the same power connector as the Kenwood. So, one out of three isn’t bad, and the other two units are easily repairable.

Uh Oh
Sunday evening, I finally got around to hooking up the new/old IC-735. After crimping some Power Pole terminals to the end of the power cord and plugging it in, I was relieved to find it light up, and then even more relieved when I heard the receiver come to life.

I was less than relieved, however, when I tried to transmit. After connecting a straight key to the rig, and keying down, the lights dimmed, and even the side tone sounded chirpy. Uh-oh. I hooked up the dummy load and got exactly the same results. Since it was getting late, I disconnected everything and set it aside. The next day, I put out a query on the IC-735 mailing list.

I got a couple of responses, but both asked more questions rather than give answers. This was completely appropriate. One of the questions, for example, asked if this happened on low power as well as high power. Since I hadn’t tried this, I hooked it all back up Tuesday night.

This time, the problem was obvious. As usual, the problem was the operator, namely me.

I have one of those fancy Astron VS-35M power supplies, which not only has current and voltage meters, but also current and voltage controls. Since lately I’ve only been using it to power my VHF/UHF radio, I set the current control down fairly low. When I connected the IC-735, it didn’t complain with just the receiver drawing current, but when I tried to transmit, I hit the current limit, and the voltage dropped. Hence, the lights dimming and transmitter chirping.

I didn’t notice this the other evening when I first hooked it up because the power supply is behind my laptop and the meters weren’t readily visible. Tuesday evening, I moved the laptop, so I could see what the meters were actually doing. When I saw what was happening, my problem was immediately obvious.

All I had to do was crank up the current limit pot, and now everything seems to be working just fine.I tuned to 7.042 MHz last night, called CQ, and got a response from WB2JUF to the very first call. We had a nice half-hour long QSO, and he said the rig sounded good. Needless to say, I now feel much better about my purchase.

The last radio to get some attention was the Icom IC-730. After making a couple more contacts with the IC-735, I hooked up the IC-730. This time, I hooked up the Heathkit keyer so I didn’t have to use the straight key.

Again, the first time I called CQ, I got a reply, this time from KO1K. I mentioned to him that this was my first QSO with an IC-730 that I’d just acquired over the weekend, and he replied that he was also using an IC-730! Now, what’s the chances of that happening??

I went on to work a couple of DX stations after that – XE3ARV on 30m and EA6UN on 40m. So, overall, I’d say that the rig is working.

There are a couple of things that need some attention, though. First, it looks like the preamp relay has died. When I press the preamp button, the radio goes silent. This is, apparently, a common problem with the radio.

Second, it doesn’t hear quite as well as the IC-735. So, my guess is that it just needs some tweaking. I think this is going to make a great radio for the school station.

This Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU

I had a great time on the radio this last weekend here at KB6NU.

First off, was the Fists Spring Sprint. The Fists Sprint is a relatively low-key contest, and it’s a lot of fun.

One reason I like it is that it’s pretty short, It’s called a “sprint” because it only lasts four hours from 1300Z to 1700Z. So, right about the time I’m getting tired of operating, it’s over. :)

This time, I scored 10,556 points (74 QSOs, 364 QSO points, 29 multipliers). While not as good as my score of 11,500 in the Winter Sprint, I’m hoping that it will be good enough for a top ten finish.

Later that evening, I was kind of burned out on CW, so I actually tuned around the 40m phone band for a while and heard K3LBQ calling CQ. We got to talking about how very few people seem to call CQ on 75m anymore. In the middle of our chat, K3DOS broke in and joined us. He agreed that 75m operators seemed to be a cliquish lot.

Somehow–probably because I mentioned that I had just passed the Extra Class test–we got talking about the licensing process. That, of course, led to my rant on how we don’t do a very good job of Elmering Technicians up the ladder, and that my Op-Ed piece on this topic is due to be published in the July QST. We ranted and raved on this topic for about an hour before I pulled the plug, and it was a heckuva QSO.

A Lesson (Plan) Learned

As you may know if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been working with a group of middle school kids. Things were going along pretty well until three weeks ago. Then, as I was trying to teach them about frequency and frequency bands, I just lost them. They started talking amongst themselves and that was it for the day. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t regain their attention. It was all very frustrating.

At that point, I appealed to the teacher. She said, “What you need is a lesson plan!” Then, she asked what I was trying to cover, and proceeded to walk me through the process of creating a lesson plan. “Remember the five Es,” she told me, “engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.”

She then sketched out the plan and said that she’d work on it for the next class. Here’s what she came up with:

  • Engage (five minutes). For this portion of the class, we passed out a worksheet with the key terms being covered in the lesson. We had the kids read the words out loud, and then she asked, “OK, what do all these words have in common?” After the kids answered, she wrote it on the board.
  • Explore (ten minutes). Then, the teacher asked, “How can we find out what these words mean?” The students came up with about five different ways to find the definitions, and the the teacher instructed them to go look up the definitions and write them on the worksheet. Some looked up the words in the dictionary, some got on the Internet, and one collared me and asked me to define them for her.
  • Explain (ten minutes). This part of the lesson is the lecture. I explained the concepts of voltage, current, resistance, conductors and insulators, and Ohm’s Law.
  • Elaborate (ten minutes). In this part of the lesson, I gave practical examples. We talked about solar cells, light bulbs, and the kids came up with some interesting questions and observations.
  • Evaluate (ten minutes). The teacher created a little quiz from some questions that are on the Tech license exam. The quiz sheet also had spaces for students to write down what they learned that day and a spot for them to ask a question.

This lesson plan worked amazingly well. The kids did stay engaged for the most part throughout the entire class, and I think they actually learned something. I know that I walked away from that session a lot more enthusiastic than I did the previous class.

Now, I’m concerned that we won’t have enough time to cover all the material before the end of the year. This is something I’m going to have to go over with the teacher, and come up with a plan to fit it all in.

An EchoLink Perspective

Ralph KB8ZOY emailed me:

My EchoLink alarm went off. The connection was from [a high school student] in Camp Hill, PA. She said she got her ticket as a project in her Physics class at Trinity High School. Part of the assignment was to contact 10 hams. Looks like she is making all the contacts over the internet.

I think it’s very cool that she was able to get her license as part of her high school physics class. I also applaud her ingenuity in thinking of using EchoLink to fulfill the ten-contact requirement. I hope, though, that she’ll continue on and make some on-the-air contacts as well. I’m not one of those guys who doesn’t think EchoLink is ham radio, but it shouldn’t be all there is to one’s experience of ham radio.