Amateur Radio

W0BDT at Winter Field Day 2020
Brad (W0BDT) at Winter Field Day 2020

I remember, as a kid, assembling a crystal radio kit like the one below from Radio Shack, probably in the early 1970’s. I don’t recall if it was for a school project or an activity in Cub Scouts. I was fascinated by being able to listen to AM radio stations, like WLS in Chicago, Illinois, which was 125 miles away, without any power.

Radio Shack “Science Fair” crystal radio kit, circa 1970.

My older brother and I had a set of “Lake Transceiver” walkie-talkies that we used around the neighborhood when we were kids. They would have operated on CB channel 14 in the 27MHz band at probably 500mw. Ours were blue.

Lake Transceiver Walkie-Talkies, circa 1970

I got interested in “Citizen’s Band” (CB) and amateur radio as a kid in the 1970’s, and had started to study the ARRL Novice license manual as well as some other books and magazines. My mother had a friend whose husband was a ham, Steve Belter (N9IP), at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. We arranged to go over on Saturday mornings to study, but got distracted with the microcomputers that he was working with instead. I used to have an old Hallicrafter’s shortwave receiver that probably came from him. In the mid-70’s we moved away from West Lafayette, and my interest in radio waned, as I got involved in computers and programming, which developed into an IT career.

Through the years, I have had CB radios in my pickup trucks, and picked up a couple of sets of FRS radios for camping with the kids. We also discovered that they were very handy when backing in a trailer, so that my wife could give directions without having to shout. The kids could each take an FRS radio with them in the campground and we could keep tabs on them.

As the kids got older, and cell phones become commonplace, we stopped using the FRS radios, as we just used the phones instead. A couple of years ago, though, we started “camping” (with a 30′ travel trailer) at an RV park near Blue Mesa Reservoir outside of Gunnison, Colorado. It’s just far enough outside of town, and set back in a small canyon, so that there is no cell phone coverage. We weren’t able to use phones for guidance when backing the trailer into a spot.

I decided to look into a new set of FRS radios, since I didn’t know where we had put the old ones, and I figured that after 15 years we were due for a new set. I discovered that there were many more options for GMRS radios that were more powerful, and had the ability to use repeaters for greater range. I found that there a number of GMRS repeaters in Colorado, so I applied for a GMRS license (WRDD240) and purchased a couple of Midland GXT1000VP4 handhelds and an MXT115 mobile. Then I discovered that the handhelds are not repeater capable, and the mobile cannot do “split tones” with different CTCSS codes for transmit and receive, which seems to be a common setup for some reason. The only way to fully utilize many of the GMRS repeaters is to use older wideband equipment, much of it Part 90 commercial/Land Mobile gear, which have to be programmed using old Windows applications. There is not much equipment that is Part 95 accepted, and very little that is currently produced, aside from some cheap gear. While I still have and use the GMRS radios, I decided that if GMRS was going to be that much work, I might as well get my amateur license! That way, at least, I could use new gear.

I started studying the ARRL Technician License Manual in about March 2019. It seemed that once I was ready to take the test, every weekend that there was a testing session near me, I was out of town. I decided that since the testing fee was the same for either Tech or General, that I would go ahead and study the ARRL General License Manual as well, and then I could try taking both tests at the same time. I passed both tests, and got my General license in July 2019. Initially, I was assigned the callsign KE0WFW, but I applied for a vanity callsign with my initials, and got W0BDT by the end of July.

I started with a Yaesu FT-60R dual-band handheld, with a Diamond SRH77CA antenna, as well as an Ed Fong DBJ-2 roll-up dual-band J-pole. I’ve also gotten an extra rechargable battery pack and rapid charger, and an AA battery pack as a backup, as well as a Heil HTH-Y headset

Yaesu FT-991A with Heil Pro7 Headset

Later, I got a Yaesu FT-991A transceiver with a Heil Pro7 headset, and an MFJ-1921 tripod, DXE 25′ telescoping fiberglass mast, with a Diamond X50A dual-band VHF/UHF antenna on top, as well as an MFJ-2299 telescoping rotatable dipole, which consists of an MFJ-347 mount with a pair of 16.9′ telescoping stainless steel whips which will cover from 6m-20m. I installed four 8′ grounding rods, wired together with 4 gauge solid copper wire, connected to the utility panel ground and a pair of PolyPhaser lightning protectors in a DXE entry panel on the side of house. A 1/2″ tinned copper braid connects to a DXE grounding bus bar by the radio, where the equipment is grounded. DX Engineering recommends using an anti-seize compound like Jet-Lube SS-30, which prevents galling in stainless steel fasteners, and reduces oxidation on dissimilar metal contact. I’ve used it on all of the fasteners and connections. I’m using the RV battery from my travel trailer with a West Mountain Radio Epic PwrGate for power when mobile.

Setup at Winter Field Day 2020
DXE Entry panel with a pair of PolyPhaser lightning arrestors
DXE Entry Panel with a pair of PolyPhaser lightning arrestors, bonded to four grounding rods and the utility ground.
DXE Grounding Bar
DXE Grounding Bar with 1/2″ braided, tinned copper grounding strap, tied into the single point ground entry panel above.
Diamond X50A and MFJ-2299 Antennae
MFJ-1921 Tripod with DXE 25′ Telescoping Fiberglass Mast, Diamond X50A and MFJ-2299 Antennae
Antenna and Mast Extended
Antenna and Mast Extended
Rear View
View from the Rear of the House with the mast raised.

I am a member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), Colorado Amateur Radio Emergency Services of Douglas and Elbert Counties (ARESDEC), the Colorado Repeater Association, and the Parker Radio Association.