Sunday, February 24, 2013

No Longer QRT

Contest...DX...contest...DX...tower...contest...DX...DX...tower... (ad nauseum).

By 1992 I was getting burnt out in the amateur radio hobby and it was time for a change. That came when I had to dismantle my station and, most importantly, remove my tower, stacked yagis and wire antennas. The reason was that I was demolishing my old decrepit dwelling to build a new house. This was a great way to increase the property value but not good for radio.

The reason the tower had to come down was that the grade had to be raised well over 1 meter to meet modern DOE regulations for septic systems. This is an odd neighbourhood since although it is well within the city we have no sewer service. We like it that way, but it does constrain property use.

I very nearly did put up a new tower in 1993. I went to the trouble of gathering all the required engineering data, putting a design to paper, getting quotes on the tower and antennas, and even discussing it with the city. However when a decision needed to be made I found that my heart wasn't in it. That was the start of my 20 year hiatus, one that I fully expected to be permanent. My interests and work responsibilities had changed and fully occupied my attention.

To my surprise there was a rekindling of interest in late 2012. I don't know why, it just happened. First I had to determine if the interest was permanent or simply nostalgia for the old days. I unpacked my ancient and venerable, and only partly operational FT-102 and turned it on. Suddenly I was hearing signals again. To my surprise I had little difficult copying moderately-fast CW.

I played with reception for a while, just to get the taste of the bands. The antenna was nothing, just a length of wire pressed into the antenna jack. For a few days I listened.

The FT-102 it is an interesting transceiver. It is one of the last hybrid transistor-tube designs, produced for only a few years in the early 1980s. The receiver is exceptional and the transmitter is clean and conservative. It was the receiver that attracted me to this rig, which became the centerpiece of my station from 1984 to 1992. Its one glaring flaw is the quality of the relays. There are many of them and are not build to last. This can be remedied with some effort. That needs to be done to make it usable once again

My more immediate concern was the RF pre-amplifier. One of the transistors had gotten fried many years ago when I was attempting to repair one of the relays. After some research I decided to replace both long-obsolete 2SK125Y transistors with J310 JFETs. It took some work since they are hard to access and the pin-outs of the devices differ. After fixing one cold solder joint the RF pre-amp came alive. I don't yet know how the performance compares, although I expect it to be at least equivalent.

I needed an antenna. To draw little attention to myself for no good reason and to avoid significant effort I decided on stealth. I drilled a hole in the aluminum eaves trough just outside the window of the guest bedroom, secured a wire to it and thread it a few feet around the window seal to an L-network tuner I found in the basement. I ran a counterpoise along the inside wall and a short length of RG-58 crossed the room to a desk. It isn't much but it works.

Deciding that the FT-102 repair would have to wait I started shopping for a more modern rig. After looking at the usual suspects on the used market I chose to buy a new radio, a QRP rig, the Elecraft KX3. Low power suits my new minimalist leaning and the receiver is very good. I ordered it just before Christmas and a few days later I was assembling the no-solder kit.

I will come back to this and other adventures, including my plans for the future, in coming posts. For now I will say that in the subsequent 8 weeks I have worked 80 countries on CW using from 3 to 10 watts on 40 through 10 meters to my eaves trough antenna. The one thing that hasn't changed is that I am still a DXer. That means I must do something about antennas.

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