Backyard Radio

After three weeks in lockdown it’s beginning to feel a little like Groundhog Day.

Up at 6am and while the coffee is still brewing I record my temperature, blood oxygen level, heart rate, and blood pressure. Then a quick scan of the overnight virus stats. New confirmed case counts and revised death count. After that, it’s the 10 second commute from the kitchen into my home office where I settle down for another day of working from home. Lunch and a mile long walk is at noon and then it’s back to the office to complete the workday. After dinner there’s another walk and then we’re in for the evening where it’s reading or television before bed time.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

All my HF activity now takes place outdoors with a battery and the KX3 since I haven’t replaced the fallen HF antenna – and may not. I’ve been looking forward to spring when I can carry this gear to nearby parks and other recreation areas but right now that feels like non-essential travel so I’m making do in the backyard. It’s not bad, I enjoy spending more time outside and am even considering leveling up to a more comfortable arrangement out there. Maybe a screened enclosure with a better table and comfortable chair. I wish I had acres from which to choose a prime radio location, but mine is a small, city lot.

Nevertheless, outside seems preferable to inside.

I already have a few wires randomly tossed into trees for just this purpose. And given that the kitchen, refrigerator, and bathroom are all within easy reach of the backyard, it’s a comfortable contrast to working from a park or trail.

Plus, forgetting to bring along a necessary connector or cable isn’t such a calamity when you can pick them up a few steps away and use the opportunity to refill a cold drink. If thunderstorms roll in, I step inside where, if I had a larger antenna, I would disconnect it and stay off the air anyway.

Obviously the backyard isn’t a replacement for taking radio to the field where more interesting sights and sounds of nature can be enjoyed in places like State and National Parks, etc. But I’m finding the space just beyond my door to be an overlooked opportunity as it provides fresh air, sunshine, and a lot of convenience. It’s the perfect location to setup and test field equipment and portable antennas before toting them to distant vistas. And there are plenty enough birds, squirrels and rabbits who stop by for a visit on a daily basis to make peace with nature.

BOTA – Backyards on the Air might one day evolve into yet another popular and enjoyable facet of the hobby. But for now, let’s just keep this quiet and between us. Someone is bound to throw a fit if it’s ever discovered that the best looking shack to ever to grace the cover of CQ magazine was a picnic table in the backyard on a sunny afternoon with an icy pitcher of sweet tea setting by the logbook.


Great Tribulation

Ham radio enthusiasts prepare for all manner of natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, tornado, storms, anything that causes normal communication channels to temporarily fail. What we don’t train for is a viral global pandemic along with a complete shutdown of business and society. At least I don’t think we do. I’m not involved with many emergency service aspects of the hobby, but I’ve attended enough Field Day events to understand it’s risks, like the potato salad left too long in the sun.

This isn’t a failing on our part, I’ve found nothing in any ARRL Handbook to address this current situation. The ways we might provide service to our communities in this new reality are just going to have to be worked out as we go along.

The power of wireless communication has always been its ability to call for help. Like when a hurricane hits some large coastal area, radio amateurs can stand in any gaps in the existing infrastructure and call for help, relay messages, etc. The necessary element being that there is some other place, farther away, that’s unaffected by the crisis and capable of sending assistance. But if the storm hits everywhere with equal ferocity, who do you call for help then?

In our current situation, there’s really no one to call to bring help and that tends to neutralize our unique power to shrink distance.

Of course the hobby provides us something to do while stuck at home, and the ability to communicate with other hams can soften the pangs of social isolation.

I’ve heard reports from around the US that local repeater traffic is way up. General welfare nets are popping up all over to check on elder hams and to make certain they have what they need. These kind of activities begin at the intersection of kindness and radio, and I hope these persist long after this viral episode has subsided.

Too often our intense focus on DX and Contesting makes contact with those in faraway places seem more highly valued than those in our own community. Perhaps this will change. The concept of hanging out on two meters seems odd to some, especially when our time could be spent filling the log with endless, vapid contacts. But we can get back to local comms, and we might even make a few new friends in the process who we never knew lived so close. Friends who one day we will meet for coffee. We might even do that using FM simplex and that might become a thing again!

I’m not trying to tell anyone how to have fun, but we find ourselves in a unique time where all the major DXpeditions are postponed and all the radio conferences, hamfests, and conventions are canceled. Radio contests continue, but without multi-operators piled high in some million-dollar superstation. In all likelihood you won’t be doing Field Day with your club this time around. We need a reason to be radio active and we we must be creative or risk wasting an awful lot of what looks exactly like “free” time.

73, stay well, wash you hands.

Two Meter FM References:

  1. Getting Started on 2 Meter FM, Part 1 by K7AGE
  2. Getting Started on 2 Meter FM, Part 2 by K7AGE
  3. Getting Started on 2 Meter FM, Part 3 by K7AGE
  4. VHF FM Operating Guide by K0NR


Lock Down

Day seven of the lock down for me. Initially, it was a strong recommendation. Now here in Indiana it’s a firmer suggestion, though no one is getting tossed in the hoosegow for violating the order. Naps and a lot of reading have filled my days. The television is an annoyance I can do without for long stretches of time. The hardest part so far has been not constantly checking my retirement accounts as I watch plans to retire in less than a year dissolve into the virus stream.

I suppose life and pandemics are what happen while you’re busy making other plans. There were many things we could have done to better prepare, but we didn’t, not the government, not me. I’ve been dreaming of moving to a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, maybe in the Upper Peninsula, but have never gotten round to it. Social isolation isn’t just a near-term goal for me, I expect to spend the rest of my life in its pursuit. Assuming things ever get back to normal, if that’s even possible now.

That’s mostly because I don’t see this pandemic as a once in a lifetime event. There are now 7 billion of us sharing this planet and almost half of the people who live here can, on a whim, hop on a jet with carry-on luggage and exotic germs and travel wherever their heart desires, and I don’t see that as a good thing. Globalism has always been a bad idea that looks even worse in light of this novel Coronavirus. I expect another pandemic sooner, rather than later and I don’t see the government taking interest in planning ahead for any threat they can’t see or bomb so we’re doomed to repeat this history and very likely in my lifetime.

And gloomy as that sounds, it also assumes the virus to be naturally occurring.

For all I know, this one could have been concocted in an Army laboratory as a bio-weapon. I don’t have the necessary expertise to determine that for myself. I’m forced to trust someone else to inform me about the origin of a contagion. Do I trust sources on Facebook or Twitter to inform me? The media? How about the orange-tinted fellow who once claimed this whole virus episode to be a left-wing hoax intended to hurt his re-election chances?

Do you trust politicians to tell you the truth? I don’t.

Antennas & Bad Timing

Having all the antennas down a couple weeks before the beginning of a global pandemic was either plain dumb or really bad timing. I’ve been pulling new feed line this week for the VHF/UHF stack. But it’s springtime in Indiana so it’s nice one day and rainy for three in a row. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and I’m finding it tough to complete those kind of projects despite having plenty of spare time to do it right now.

On the HF front I’ve taken to the field. The “field” being the backyard where the KX3 and AX1 antenna continue to impress me. And that’s handy since I noticed a recent post from Larry, W2LJ about the upcoming QRP to the Field (QRPTTF) event now being a backyard special this time due to the virus and social distancing.

Things to Read

Lots of interesting links are appearing online probably due to us having a little extra time for the hobby. For instance, you can download the book, 200 Meters and Down, the definitive early history of amateur radio. Paul Harden, NA5N made his design plans for one damn fine looking TFD antenna. CQ Magazine is making the March and April 2020 digital editions of that publication free for download. You could download the excellent March 2020 edition of Cheese Bits newsletter from the Mt. Airy VHF Radio Club. And one more, the latest edition of the 432 & Above EME Newsletter is waiting to be downloaded. That should keep you busy and out of trouble for at least a day!

Reason to Melt Solder

If you ever assembled a 4SQRP Cricket transceiver, you might be interested to learn about the club’s latest offering, the Cric-Key designed by Dave Cripe, NM0S. The Cricket series consists of low cost entry level minimalist CW transceivers. This NEW kit is designed to complement the popular Cricket series of QRP transceivers with a useful and easy-to build keyer circuit. It was intended to be a build project at the annual OzarkCon QRP convention until fate changed those plans. It’s twenty-five bucks USD plus shipping and will give you reason to melt a little solder while stuck at home.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay isolated, and wash your hands.


Time Travel

Bill Gates gave this brief TED talk FIVE YEARS AGO.

Yet he spoke directly to our current crisis. Perhaps his great wealth allowed him to assemble a time machine? Did any politician listen to him and take his suggestions to heart? I doubt it. Making intelligent preparations for unseen danger doesn’t get anyone re-elected.

Hopefully the $10-$20 trillion dollars of wealth destruction from this current crisis will change the way we select our leaders and the way they make decisions on our behalf?


The Descent

We’re sorta quarantined in place here. My employer ordered me to work from home for the next 6-12 weeks. My wife is still working in public (retail), but her normal schedule is just two days a week and even that might be halted abruptly. The only public places we’ve been lately has been the gas station and the grocery store. Lots of hand washing and maintaining contact with relatives to make certain everyone is okay and have what they need. I suspect that unless there is martial law, people will get bored of this arrangement sooner, rather than later. Gasoline is under two dollars a gallon and the grocery store trips have been interesting…

The American hive mind seems focused on one thing, toilet paper. That commodity is not to be found anywhere in these parts. It’s futile to try and get it via Amazon as they are sold out and backorders online now extends through May. It’s also getting tough to find meat and frozen foods in the local stores. The hoarding reflects the fear that’s obvious. Everyone I talk with says this will all be over in a couple of weeks, but they say that while pushing shopping carts filled with enough supplies for six months.

Jobs and income are being put on hold, the markets are tanking, the recession has started, and the government has made little progress in stemming the flow of bad news, even with all the spigots wide open. The day after dumping trillions into the system the Dow was down another 3,000 points which has to give serious pause to people who take interest in such things while the rest of us have switched into survival mode, doing whatever we’re told and hoping for a better outcome.

This is an amazing time to be alive and we’re literally traveling through a slice of human history that our great-grandchildren will read about in their history books. I’m certain of that because the most interesting parts of mankind’s story are those parts filled with the greatest challenges, suffering, risk, and how it was overcome. If you doubt for even a minute about the historic nature of these times then consider this, not even two World Wars could shutdown all the bars.


As expected, Hamvention was cancelled. First time in 68 years and with it, a lot of the ancillary programs and meetings have been nixed too. DX Dinner, Contesting University, FDIM, Collins Collectors Association the list goes on and on. Now comes the business of refunds. For tickets, vendors and flea market booth holders there are options being offered by the Hamvention folks:

  1. Obtain a refund
  2. Obtain a 2021 ticket instead. (to be mailed around January 1, 2021)
  3. Donate to Hamvention (no refund)

This will be a big hit on the Greene County economy, but no more than anywhere else. We’re going to just have to rub some dirt on it, walk it off, and wait for the next shot at the biggest ham radio show on earth.

More Cancellations

Most other hamfests and radio conventions that had been slated for the next 3-4 months have already been cancelled. That includes all of them as well as most radio club meetings in my area. Hell, you can’t even visit and tour W1AW and HQ right now so we’re just going to have to cool our jets and wait this out.

Stay home, stay safe, wash your hands.


Other Arrangements

Interesting times that include a market crash and spreading global pandemic that has all but closed America down.

Just six weeks ago I listened to one analyst pontificate that Trump would be unbeatable in November thanks to a soaring economy and peace breaking out all over. The turnaround in those fortunes over just a few short days has been stunning to witness. I’m certain that a hundred years from now when our progeny studies the history of these trying times they will be stunned by its rapidity too. We’re passing through a remarkable slice of human history, but this too shall pass.

I can’t believe Art Bell, W6OBB (SK) missed this…

Social isolation is being touted as the best way to slow the contagion. That shouldn’t be too difficult for us, most radio amateurs have been practicing it our entire lives. And with all the hamfests and conventions being on hiatus, it becomes even easier to just hangout around the shack and only interact with others from a distance, via radio.

Yeah, I know. They haven’t called-off the Dayton Hamvention yet.

It doesn’t seem very responsible to conduct an event that draws 30,000 people from around the planet to one spot during the opening stages of a global pandemic. Nearly everything has voluntarily closed, but not Hamvention. I have no inside details. Perhaps they need the Governor of Ohio to order them closed to get out of having to pay Greene County?

It seems pointless to hold out in the hope that things will improve much over just the next 6-8 weeks. Besides, attendance will be greatly reduced and I imagine many vendors won’t show up either. Same for those who usually visit from outside the US.

This virus seems to present a higher risk to people over 60 years of age. And it’s more deadly for men than women, and can be downright brutal on those with heart and respiratory problems. Now close your eyes and remember last time you were at Xenia. How many in attendance were over 60 years of age? How much gray hair did you see? How many of those electric scooters did you walk around?

This virus is surely licking its chops at the chance to visit a large crowd like gathers at Hamvention. That’s what makes the delay in announcing its closing seem irresponsible. I’m pretty sure the government will shut it down, but only time will tell. It’s not like I’m rooting for Hamvention to lose, but too many people have approached this like a hurricane or snow storm. Stock up on bread, milk and toilet paper while holing up to watch movies for a few days and this will all blow over.

We’re going to have to learn to make other arrangements to keep it all together. Sorry, but this thing is not going to come to a clean, orderly conclusion – just in time for Hamvention.

Stay safe, stay well, and wash your hands…


Cable Prep

The LMR-400, N-connectors, tooling to install them, and a lightning arrestor showed up on Friday (DX Engineering) and now everything is on hand to install the Diamond X6000A tri-band vertical. The hardest part will either be installing the N-connectors (I’ve never done that) or else routing the cable through the attic.

With that complete, I’ll finally be able to put the IC-9700 on the air and begin exploring the local VHF/UHF/1.2 landscape. Next will come the installation of a rotor and directional antennas for 6, 2, 440, and 1.2 – new slices of radio spectrum (for me) to be explored.