It occurred to me that I've been an Amateur Radio operator for almost
25 years. In the beginning, I had very little idea what I wanted to
do with my new-found radio privileges. I favored emergency
communications somewhat, but definitely wanted to dip my toe into a
variety of fields. I did, initially, but now, all these years later,
I'm firmly entrenched in the emcomm niche.
I decided to poke around and reacquaint myself with the vast buffet
that Amateur Radio has to offer. Even if I didn't find anything that
I wanted to explore further, I'd have at least reminded myself what
The first place I looked was at my own early columns, written back when I
was playing around with all manner of things. It was an interesting
experience, reading about what I tried, what I learned, and often
enough, how naive I was. It reminded me of why I titled this column
The Amateur Amateur, and why it is still applicable.
Here is a very early column that appeared in a local police scanner
club newsletter, but was never published on the Internet.
radio is fun and I've dabbled in a variety of different aspects of
it, but my most frequent ham activity is still chatting with my wife
car-to-car during rush hour. Since we talk for extended periods of
time, we are reluctant to use (and hence tie-up) local repeaters. We
use simplex mode when we can. The problem with 2 meter FM simplex is
that it is very much a line-of-site operation. That is, when Nancy
and I are on hills, it works great. When either of us is in a valley,
we can't communicate at all. And, naturally, the further apart we
are, the more difficult it is to make contact.
I thought about our propagation problem. One thing that occurred to me
was: the lower its frequency, the farther a radio wave travels. This
simplistic statement is chock full of caveats, exceptions, and
assumptions, but that's the approach I took. I had been thinking
about the 6 meter band, because Missouri Highway Patrol cars manage
to communicate over long distances fairly well using the 7 meter
band. I was saving my pennies toward buying a 6 meter radio when
something caused me to change course.
HTX-10 10 meter transceiver
Multi-band base antenna
CB mobile antenna
I was reading a radio magazine when I stumbled across an article about
10 meter mobile ham radios. The author was enthusiastic about the
band primarily as an introduction to HF and DXing (making long
distance contacts), but I was still thinking in terms of local
communications with little extra "oomph". Basically, the
article said: It's fun. It's easy. It's cheap. I was especially
interested in that last part.
The article described a couple of different inexpensive10 meter mobile
radios, including one sold by a nationwide chain of popular
electronics retail stores. Oh boy, I thought. I could get myself
operating on 10 meters right away. I dashed off to the nearest retail
store. I really should have known better.
These particular retail stores are always busy on weekends, packed with
people attempting to buy high-tech consumer products at
bargain-basement prices or get free advice concerning dangerous
do-it-yourself projects. My own experience has been that many of the
products are basement-tech and high-priced rather than the other way
around, and that the advice dispensed tends to contradict not only
common sense, but frequently several laws of physics as well.
Nevertheless, I waited my turn, itching to get a 10 meter radio.
You know, of course, what happened. The clerk did not know what a 10
meter radio was, what ham radio was, and once I pointed it out in the
catalog, didn't have one in stock. He did, however, call another
store and ascertained that they did have one in stock. The clerks may
not know rocket science, but they do know product numbers.
I dashed to
the next store and found a similar group of high-tech, bargain-price,
free-advice hunters, but this store had more clerks. (Initially I did
not know that the shuffling, muttering, glassy-eyed creatures were
clerks. It was only after I discovered that they were engaged in
phone conversations on tiny headsets that I realized my mistake.) Within
minutes I had purchased the one 10 meter radio that they had in
stock. I really should have known better.
Gleefully examining my prize
at home, I realized my various mistakes: (1) Don't be in such a
hurry, (2) Compare the products of several companies, and (3) Never
buy the last item they have in stock. My radio had no manual.
It was, of course, pointless
to go back to the store, so I didn't. It occurred to me, though, that
the radio's manual might be available on the Internet. I gave it a
shot, and was stunned speechless to actually find the manual online
and available for download. Actually, it was only extracts from the
manual, but there was enough for me to figure out how to operate the
Rather than attempt a
complicated mobile installation right away, I decided to test my new
10 meter radio as a base station. I took it down to my basement, a
small corner of which is designated as my "shack". I
usually hesitate to call myself a "real" ham, but I did
have a spare power supply of the correct wattage and a means to
connect the 10 meter radio to the multi-band antenna on my roof. It
only took a few minutes to set up the new rig. I paused to admire my
work. The disarray of radios, power supplies, antenna switches, dummy
loads, Morse keys, wires, meters, and illegible notes was starting to
look like a real ham shack. I felt proud.
But enough of that. I had to
find out if this 10 meter radio, and indeed, the 10 meter band in
general, was up to the task I had in mind. I turned on the radio,
scanned through the 10 meter band, and was disappointed to find I
only heard the occasional hiss of a carrier wave, but nothing strong
enough to understand. I contemplated this sad situation. I thought
about the possibility of poor propagation conditions. I thought that
perhaps my multi-band antenna didn't include any elements for 10
meters. And as I stared at the rig, deep in thought, I noticed that I
had improperly set an antenna switch, meaning that the radio wasn't
connected to the antenna. I set the switch to the correct position
... and was
suddenly blown out of my chair by the sound of a S9 (full strength)
conversation came blaring from the speaker. Wincing in pain, I
fumbled for the volume control, which was set at
maximum. After a moment the ringing in my ears subsided. I regarded my new
radio for a moment, and then the immortal words of Victor
Frankenstein came to mind: It's alive!
I have to interject at this
point that I was a little leery of the 10 meter band. The nearby 11
meter band is the notorious Citizens Band. I'd heard stories of CB
operators illegally infiltrating the 10 meter ham band. I'd even
stumble across the Web page of a local radio distributor who sold a
variety of 10 meter transceivers with features such as "echo
chamber" and "roger beep" (whatever the blazes that
is). This was very disturbing, as these ham radios were clearly
loaded with gizmos designed to entice CB operators. I feared that the
10 meter band might be heavily populated with unlicensed users. After
monitoring the 10 meter band, however, I was very happy to find that
all of the operators I heard were legitimate hams.
to transmit without knowing what I was doing, I listened to the 10
meter band for a long time. The first and most obvious problem I was
going to have was deciding what mode to use. The 2 meter band was
easy. Practically all of it was devoted to FM transmissions. 10
meters was different. There appeared to be a section set aside for FM
and a section set aside for SSB (single side band). I scrounged
through my books, magazines, and notes and came up with several band
plans (none of them exactly the same). Moreover, none of them had a
dotted line saying "use FM hereand use SSB there".
They tended to show things like "frequency for RTTY uplink using
helically polarized antenna when satellite is at apogee".
Nevertheless, I was able to figure out about where the dotted line
I did mention that the radio was cheap, didn't I? That was it's big
feature. That was practically it's only feature.
Although the transceiver worked in different modes, I had to figure
out which mode to use when tuning around the 10 meter band and then
set it manually. Perhaps you think that's not too bad. Okay, maybe it
Except while scanning.
The transceiver was capable of scanning the 10 meter band, but unlike a
police scanner, it could not be set to scan only selected portions of
the band. I could live with that if the radio automatically switched
modes as it scanned, but it didn't. It could only be set to scan the
entire band in FM mode, or the entire band
in AM mode, etcetera. No matter how I set up the radio, I was going
to hear gibberish. I wasn't happy about that. I get plenty of
gibberish without having to scan for more.
I knew that if I ever got 10
meter radios to work in our cars, my wife and I would probably use
single side band. The clarity of SSB was lower than FM, but it was a
more efficient use of the power. That is, single side band had that
extra "oomph" I wanted. I decided, however, to focus on FM
for my first rudimentary experiments. Why? Well, I figured FM mode
would be easiest.
I was wrong.
One of the
band plans I found listed a national FM simplex frequency. I
monitored it and heard nothing. I transmitted on it and got no reply.
I wasn't really surprised, since I hardly ever get a reply on the
calling frequency of any band.
(I smell a topic for another column..) There were also four FM
"repeater pairs" listed in one of the band plans. Were
there any 10 meter FM repeaters in the local area? According to the
ARRL repeater guide there were two. Great, I decided to give them a
Well, the transceiver did
allow frequency splits (transmit on one frequency and listen on
another) for repeaters, but setting up the radio to do that was a lot
like trying to open one of those Chinese puzzle boxes. It would have
helped to have a computer capable of doing 3D rendering handy. I
didn't, but somehow managed to set up the radio anyway. I needn't
have bothered, since I was unable to reach either repeater. (The
repeaters, however, could reach me.)
My experiments with 10 meters
are continuing. The score so far is, heard: plenty, contacted:
nobody. Sooner or later this will change and no doubt I will write a
Really Big column about it. Meanwhile, the question that really nags
me is: when I am finally satisfied with the 10 meter radio, will I
have to go through the Chinese puzzle box all over again after I
unplug it to install it in my car?
I did follow up with a mobile
experiment. My wife sat in the shack, using my multi-band HF rig,
while I drove around the neighborhood with the 10 meter rig (a Radio
Shack HTX-10, in case you hadn't already guessed). I stuck a Radio
Shack CB mobile antenna on the roof of my car. I can't remember
whether we operated FM or SSB, though, and I'm too lazy to go digging
through my pile of notebooks to find out. In any case, the HTX-10
kept drifting off frequency, and that ended my 10 meter experiments.
It was time to play with something else.