We have such a wonderful hobby with its myriad, almost limitless facets. No room for boredom here! Paul Mills, AC0HY, President of The Kaw Valley Amateur Radio Club [Kansas], wrote a very interesting article in their Newsletter, THE TRANSCEIVER September 2017. It’s republished here with his permission.Club Web Page: www.KVARC.org Layne AE1N
A Good ‘Day’ To Be A Ham? by Paul Mills, AC0HY
I was thumbing through some magazines for inspiration, as I often do. Magazines for me are seldom read but frequently browsed. In some, I observe the advertisements more than I do the articles. I do read a few articles from beginning to end. But to a large extent, I look at titles, pictures, schematics, and captions. And frequently I scan the article for areas of interest. Today this caused me to think about how things have changed in my lifetime.
My earliest days in radio, tubes were still the norm. Transistors were out there, but the quality was not great, and most were used in portable or mobile electronics. Equipment was large and heavy. Transmitters and receivers were frequently separate. Power amplifiers were very large, and often two pieces – the amplifier, and the power supply.
Over the years, transistors changed, the move from germanium to silicone greatly improved reliability, though there still remains a place for a few germanium devices. And while early transistors were bipolar devices, there came to be many FET’s and a number of new materials and techniques used in their construction.
In many ways, this was a great time. It was easy to roll up your sleeves, and put together circuits, and observe how they worked. During these days, many parts houses sold electronics components. At one time, Topeka had 5 or 6 wholesale parts houses. Radio and television repair was a common business. But even before this era was over, Integrated Circuits, and Large Scale Integration was upon us.
In many ways, this was a great time for the radio enthusiast. Parts were widely available, and building from scratch was therefore fairly easy. Likewise, repair was possible due to the wide availability of parts. Now Very Large Scale Integration and surface mount technology has totally changed electronics, and thus radio. This has done a lot of positive things for us.
Consider that your Smartphone is tiny compared to the radio-telephone of the 1970’s. And in addition, the Smartphone contains a room full of similar era computing power. On the down side of all of this, parts are harder to come by. If you need parts, you will probably have to order them, and wait. And in many cases, it is cheaper to replace a product than it is to repair.
What does this mean to us as ham radio operators? It means that to a degree, all of us have become appliance operators. Does that mean that we are doomed to a dumbed down hobby? NO! There are plenty of things we can do if we so desire.
Most obvious of these things we can still do is to build our own antennas. There are lots of antenna designs that we can experiment with. Many antenna projects can be done with a spool of #12 wire, and some homemade insulators. Let your imagination run wild.
Those who would like to play with electronics may find some satisfaction with parts houses such as Mouser, DigiKey, Newark, Arrow, MCM, Jameco.
Additionally, eBay can be a wonderful source for things to experiment with. And, if there is something you forgot, don’t forget the Radio Shack replacement –Amazon. You will be surprised at what you can find on Amazon – and if you have Amazon Prime, frequently have in 2 days with free shipping.
In many cases, instead of building from scratch, you will buy things like RaspberryPi, Arduino, or other small single board computers. These can be used to automate various tasks in the Shack. On eBay, there is a wealth of boards that can be found to do just about anything you want. Your imagination is the limit to what you can do here. There are SDR radio kits, various parts and pieces that can be cobbled together to create your own receiver, transmitter, transceiver, etc.
If this seems hard to believe, start searching the internet, you will find that there are lots of people already doing these things.I know these are not for everyone, but hopefully it will cause some of you to broaden your horizons. Even if you do not choose to do any of them, it can be interesting to find a read about what others are doing.
Until next time…73 de AC0HY