The Amateur Amateur: My First One Didn't Work Like That
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
After nearly a
decade of collecting radios, we've arrived at a new milestone:
replacing them--but what to buy, what to buy?
October 27, 2004
My wife Nancy and
I have been Amateur Radio operators for almost 10 years. An
inevitable consequence is that we've accumulated a lot of radios. We
started with a pair of handheld transceivers. Then we added mobile
rigs. And then we picked up an HF station. Soon, there seemed to be
two-way radios everywhere. And now, after nearly a decade of
collecting radios, we've arrived at a new milestone: replacing
I set up the new transceiver in my shack.
I put dualband
transceivers in our cars several years ago, so we could chat with
each other during our daily commute to work. Those cars eventually
gave way to newer ones, but the original transceivers remained. Two
radios, four installations (see "The
Amateur Amateur: Going Mobile
" from August 2001).
Over the years,
the transceivers had good days and bad days. Mine in particular had a
lot of bad days. I once referred to my mobile rig as my "electronics
laboratory," because I spent so much time working on its
problems. After the same problems kept recurring, though, I finally
gave up and conceded that I needed a new radio.
Ah, but what to
there. Every Amateur Radio operator has. You looked through the
catalogs. You started out with good intentions. You knew that the
budget was tight, but you really needed
that radio. Besides,
you'd keep it simple. No bells and whistles, just the bare
And there, that
model would do just fine. It was a bit more expensive than you'd
like, but if you gave up going to the movies for a few months you
could afford it. But wait. The next
model on the same page had
And it was only $120 more than the bare-bones
model! You knew you shouldn't do it, but you always wanted
operate on that extra band!
Okay. I admit it. I bought a quad
-band transceiver. I had my credit
card out, and the transaction had already taken place before it even
registered in my consciousness. It just sort of happened. (I'm not
making excuses, mind you, but I always wanted
to operate on
those two extra bands.)
transceiver arrived a few days later. Four bands!
salivating as I opened the box. It was the same size as my existing
mobile rig, so there should be no problem installing it in my car. I
was ready to do it right then, but I figured I'd better read the
instructions first. After all, it had new features and I wanted to be
sure that I knew how to operate it before yanking my old rig out of
Days later I was
reading the manual and, by the way, also scratching my
head. Hmm. My first
mobile transceiver sure didn't work like
that. Both radios had many of the same features, but the buttons and
knobs were arranged very differently. And every single one of them
had two or three functions. For any given button the instructions
said something like this:
The old and new units side-by-side in the trunk.
- Press momentarily to change the main band.
- Press and hold for one-half second to switch
from kilohertz to megahertz.
- Accidentally brush with your hand while
reaching for the windshield wiper to put unit in special undefined
mode. (Note: There is no recovery from this mode. Return unit to
Well, at least the third
feature was the same on both radios.
Anyway, I set up
the new transceiver in my shack so I could familiarize myself with it
as I read the manual. It had some pretty exotic features, but I stuck
with the basics. After all, I was only going to install it in my car,
not in the space shuttle.
It took a few
days of reading and experimenting, but I finally got to the point
where I was confident that I could operate the radio without first
having to take a quick peek at the manual. (That would definitely be
a problem while driving down the highway.) I entered all of my
favorite frequencies into the unit.
Now came the
point of no return
: I disconnected my old mobile rig and removed
it from my car.
The new transceiver, ready to go.
of the new transceiver went fairly smoothly. Here's a hint: I find
that things go reasonably well if I make a blood
sacrifice--apparently required--fairly early in the project. Skinned
knuckles will usually suffice. I found that replacing
was much easier than installing one for the first time. The speakers
were already in place. I already knew where on the dashboard to put
the control head and what route to use for the control head cable.
The antenna was already in place. And, of course, the power cables
had already been run.
Yes, yes, there
fuses on the power cables, right next to the battery. I've
installed fuses everywhere. I'm not going to risk setting my car on
fire . . . again. (See my October 2001 column,
Amateur Amateur: Mobile Flambée
installation wasn't difficult, and everything worked. Once on the
road, however, I immediately discovered something that I'd forgotten
while testing the unit in my shack. I need reading glasses to
decipher the tiny labels for the buttons, and I can't wear reading
glasses while I'm driving! Ah yes. It was the same with the first
mobile rig. And just as I did with my first rig I will simply
memorize the button functions by their locations.
button! Oh man, my first
radio wasn't laid out like this.
A Big Thank
You to the Gentlemen in Florida
Frank Maren, W4VV, and his handiwork
My Aunt Lee is a retired author. Actually, she's done many things. Writing
westerns, romance novels, and science fiction just happened to be her
last job. She lives in Florida now, in a little place called Port
Charlotte, one of the places that Hurricane Charley smashed to bits
as the first of a series of hurricanes to plague Florida this year.
As did many
Florida residents, my Aunt Lee suffered a lot of damage and a
prolonged period without power. Even when the electricity returned,
she was unable to watch TV because the antenna and mast had been
blown away. Living in Missouri, there wasn't much I could do for her
other than to call and offer moral support.
I did, however,
ask my editor, Rick Lindquist, N1RL, if there was anything at all
that the League or its members might be able to do to help. Rick
talked to ARRL Affiliated Club and Mentor Program Coordinator Norm
Fusaro, W3IZ, and he contacted Martin Horowitz, W4MHH, the president
of the Englewood Amateur Radio Society (EARS).
gentlemen from EARS--Vic Emmelkamp, K4VHX, and Frank
Maren, W4VV--went to Aunt Lee's home and erected a new mast and
antenna. Vic and Frank, and indeed all of the people involved have my
note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name
-- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web
page. Readers are invited to contact the author via
e-mail, [email protected].
© 2004 American Radio Relay League