My entry into Amateur radio:
(For a look at my antenna, you can take a shortcut here).
On June 4, 2011 I finally took my Amateur Radio License exams. I have had an interest in Ham Radio ever since I was in grade school, and in 1958 bought a used general-coverage communications receiver (NC-57B) from a local Ham that had upgraded to a newer receiver. Over the years the old receiver became a bit deaf, so I had it completely refurbished this past month. I am happy to say, it is performing like new again.
I struggled for the next few years with the Morse Code, and found that no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not get proficient with the code. I did keep an interest in Ham radio, however, even as my technical interests became somewhat satisfied as I moved into Commercial Broadcast. At least I was working with transmitters, and putting radio on the air through what was to become my career. This year will mark 50 years in Broadcasting (counting the beginning years when I was only part-time).
Many Hams over the years encouraged me to enter Ham radio, and in 2007 when the Code requirement was dropped from the licensing, I guess I had no excuse not to. So in May of this year (2011) I made the decision to do it. I looked up the question pools, took a few dozen practice exams, and felt pretty confident I could do this. And so I did. And my technical experience paid off.
I knew I could make the Technician Class, and the practice exams assured me I was ready for General. Not too sure on the Extra. I failed a couple practice exams, so I concentrated my study on the Extra. On Exam day, the studying paid off. After 2 hours and 3 tests, I had my completion certificate for Amateur Extra. June 9, my name and call sign appeared in the FCC database, and I was finally, officially, among the ranks of the Ham Radio operators.
My real love is AM. And to that end, I am hoping to get on the air in the HF bands soon, and with some luck, find some others still running AM. During the time I was studying, I was also surfing Ebay, and picked up a Viking II (with original VFO) in what appears to be good condition, except for a few external cosmetic blemishes. So far I have only fired up the filaments, but will get into the rest of it soon. Knowing that most of the activity is SSB, I also acquired a Heathkit HW-101. It appears to be in decent condition, but the power supply needs a little work. Once the Viking is off the bench, I'll move on to the HW-101.
Due to my location and limited space for an antenna, I will probably have to compromise in that area. Presently, the best I can hope for is a random wire (longwire) running from gable to gable above the house. Not the best, but with some luck and a tuner (I also bought a really well-made home-brew antenna tuner / matchbox along with the other gear) I hope I can at least get out of the state for some contacts.
As of this writing the antenna is nearly completed. As I move toward finally getting on the air, I will update this with notes and the progress as I restore some of this wonderful older equipment to working condition.
(June 16, 2011)
Update Sunday, June 19:
This weekend saw the completion of the antenna - Approximately a 56 foot longwire, end fed. As expected, being embedded in a fairly dense residential area, the background noise level is quite high, but I'm still able to hear some pretty good signals. 20 meters was fairly active this evening and I was copying a QSO between Minnesota and Arizona with solid reception on both ends. Hopefully the TX will load adequately once I get it up and running and I can get out just as well. (For the full antenna story, go here.)
Progress is slow right now. I had to so some major re-arranging in my garage/office/workshop area to make space for the radio gear. After a few cabinets, shelves, and other seemingly unmovable objects were re-arranged, I finally was able to fit in a 4-foot table where the radio gear will start out. Ground rods have been driven, cables brought through the wall -- it's slowly taking shape. Hopefully later this week I will have a chance see what it will take to get the Viking II talking. Stay tuned for more soon. 73 for now.
Update Friday, June 24:
I pulled the bottom cover off of the Viking a couple days ago, and was pleased with what I found. In spite of the somewhat rough exterior, the inside was clean, with no signs of any problems. A few very neatly done cap replacements and additions were there, but it looks like this thing should light right up. So I am now gathering needed cables, connectors, etc., so I can fire it up into a dummy soon, and if that works OK, we will put it on the air....
Oh, yeah. One minor item overlooked until now: I need to buy, build, or otherwise hook up some kind of antenna relay. A quick look into the parts bins (various stuff acquired over half a century of collecting) turned up some possible items that could be pressed into service here, but I may just break down and buy a decent coax relay if I can find a used one that won't cost more than the transmitter did. I'm still clearing up the chaos created when I made space for the radio table. That will still take some time....... 73 for the moment.
Update Monday, June 27:
Found and ordered a nice, new coax antenna relay on ebay. It is now on its way. So, that item is solved.
Back to the Viking. Hooked up the dummy and the VFO. All low voltage checks were OK. A couple readings were a few ma low, but that is no doubt due to aged tubes. All were in range given in the manual, so I turned on the plates. Ouch. Within a few seconds one of the finals was trying to go into thermal runaway. No obvious reason. Tubes? Swapped a few tubes, and futzed around with various possibilities to no avail. To make a really long story short, the final tank was so far out of tune the tube was going into destructive oscillation. Once I started trying to actually tune and load the final, everything settled down.
Sooo....things tuned up fairly nicely on CW. I can hear a hum on the carrier, so I will look at ripple on the DC lines at some point, but I'll get back to that. Switched to phone, and the mods are dead. I've read several notes from other Viking users that this is a fairly common problem due to some under-sized resistors in the screen circuit. So that's where I left it tonight. The next attack will be with the good old Simpson 260 and we'll chase thru the mod circuitry.
Update Wednesday, June 29:
After a couple of new batteries in the 260, I was back under the hood on the Viking last night. Sure enough -- although there were no visible signs of any overheating, the 20K tapped 50w screen resistor was open. No acceptable substitutes showed up in the parts collection, so it's off to the internet to find a replacement. After careful measuring I determined there is enough room to fit a 100w replacement to give this component some added reserve. So... It's ordered and on its way. Once we get that installed, maybe we'll get on the air. Stay tuned, or whatever the appropriate phrase would be. Grand opening? Oh, well, I'll name my first contact when I finally get there.
73 for now.
Update Wednesday, July 13:
After being on vacation for a week following the 4th of July, I got back to the Viking. All parts are here -- Installed the screen resistor for the mods, and they came to life OK. Hum turned out to be overload in the receiver, even with the TX on a dummy. So that issue seems to be resolved. Audio is weak, and it seems the 807's are as well. So... into the tube supply for a better pair of 807's. Better tubes helped.
Installed the antenna relay, and everything seems to be ready to go. Tried to make a contact on 80 meters (the only place I could find anyone on AM) but the band was pretty noisy, it was late, so after a couple attempts and no contacts, it was time to call it a night.
Update Sunday, July 17:
Success!! Did a little more work with the Viking Audio. Due to the low output of the dynamic mic I am using, I am running it through a Shure Mic mixer to add some gain before hitting the input of the Viking. Hum seemed to come and go. Sometimes it seemed to be receiver overload, but not always. I finally tracked it down to the balanced output of the mixer going into the unbalanced input of the Viking, and getting RF on the mic line. Back the junk room, and a good audio transformer to put between the mixer and the TX. No more RF in the audio and cleaner, sharper audio. So... I will clean up that wiring and make it permanent.
I tried a few calls around 9:10p, and again at 9:30p but was unable to make contact. (This was before the audio transformer was added). So... Tried again about 11:10pm, and still no contact. I was just about to shut it down for the night, and heard another AM phone QSO between a station in California and Montana. Conditions were pretty poor - was able to copy about 85%, but gave it a shot anyway. California could copy OK, Montana could not. I had a successful contact with Tom - W6TJK - in Fenton, CA. from about 11:35p to 11:50p. Thanks, Tom, for being the first official contact in my logbook. The AE7NT station is up and alive!
And so ends the first chapter of my becoming a licensed radio amateur. There will be more notes as I bring my SSB rigs to life, so do tune in again sometime.
73 for now.
December 30, 2011:
It's been awhile since I made any updates here, and a few things have moved forward. The Viking II got a few more minor mods done to the audio, and the final configuration (after the audio interstage transformer failed) was replacing the interstage transformer with the output transformer from a push-pull 6V6 amplifier, using the primary to drive the grids of the 807 mods, and then providing external audio to the 8 ohm secondary of the newly installed transformer. This bypasses the low-level audio in the V-II and I am using a 528E audio processor into a small amp to provide the audio. This gives me some control of the audio, and all responses to my signal have all been extremely positive with the modulation achieved. I still run almost exclusively on 80m with this, and have enjoyed many wonderful contacts.
I have not had time to get to the other "project" rigs, but still hope to some day bring them to life as well. In the meantime, I bought a 5w, 2m hand-held and have enjoyed getting into the groups hanging out on the various local repeaters, and some simplex as well. With a mag-mount external antenna on the truck, the hand-held does very well. It will probably remain my 2m unit for awhile. I rarely use it with the "rubber duck" antenna, but it does still work on many repeaters when I do.
My main deficiency in the "shack" has been the old NC 57B National receiver. As much as I love it, and will no doubt keep it forever for sentimental reasons, it does lack some of the refinements needed that newer receivers can provide. I started looking at more modern receivers, and finally decided to go the HF transceiver route, which will provide some portability in the future. I made a deal last week on an Icom IC-718 which should arrive any day now. Once it is is up and running, I'll be able to expand into the HF SSB arena. I'll post more once we have made that transition. In the meantime, look for me on 80m, hanging around 3.885 when I'm on in the evenings, or on Sunday mornings with the MVArc net on 3.818. The rest of the time, the hand-held is usually scanning the local repeaters, and you can often find me on the Over-the-hill commute net weekday mornings on the 24 repeater.
73 till the next update.
January 24, 2012 --
The Icom-718 arrived earlier this month, and with addition of a few coax switches and a control switch for the antenna T/R relay, it has been integrated into the shack. The switching allows me to use either receiver, and either the V-II or the 718 or transmit. I've branched out on some of the other bands on SSB, and that has brought an expansion of people (and geography) that I can reach. I still prefer the Viking for any AM use, both because it has higher power than the 718, and it has much better audio on AM. I have found the 718 is a lot more fussy when it comes to the antenna ... the antenna tuner gets "tweaked" a lot more when I make small frequency changes in order to keep the SWR low. I'm still confined to just the one random-wire antenna, but it will tune up on all the bands with the help of the tuner.
73 for now.
Fast forward to April 3, 2015 ---
I retired from my full time engineering work December 31, 2013. I've become very active in the LDS ERC radio nets, both on 2m and HF. I've given presentations on my background as a broadcast engineer and how that all integrated into my ham radio hobby. My wife retired at the end of January 2015, and we began the move to Salmon, Idaho -- a move we have been planning for several years. The new home, on 13 acres, will have it's own radio room, and adequate real estate for some better antennas. In the meantime while home is being built, we are in a small rental with limited space. The Viking II is in storage, and I'm scaled down to the Icom temporarily with a temporary antenna, but it works quite well. There will be more updates when time permits, but we are still active in the ERC, mostly on HF, and will be looking for anyone that wants to chat whenever I can spend time on the radio.
73 until next time !