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  • Bruce H. McIntosh
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    Last revised Jul 26, 2020

    Invisible airwaves crackle with life
    Bright antennas bristle with the energy

    Amateur Radio

    My father Ken held callsign W3PNT from time immemorial. Many of my childhood memories have a single sideband soundtrack. I used to sit on a barstool behind his desk chair while he twirled the dial on his Collins receiver,marvelling as the dots and dashes flowed into his ears at 35wpm and the words tickety tacked out of his fingers and onto the paper in his decrepit old Royal code transcription typewriter (all caps, with a slash through the zero). He had a huge old Motorola VHF rig that he'd rejiggered to work on 2 meters,with crystals for a couple of the local repeaters,on a shelf over the desk. Racks of old GE and Motorla VHF gear filled every nook and cranny that wasn't full of model railroad,and the water heater kept company with a massive old Motorola AM transmitter. Alas,most of the stuff,including that Motorola,wound up in the junkyard after Dad became a Silent Key. If only I'd insisted on Mom and brother hanging on to some more of that stuff!

    I built my first radio,a Science Fair 2 Transistor AM radio kit from Radio Shack,in oh,first or second grade. I ran a length of wire out the bedroom window into the trees for an antenna,and laid in bed night after night listening to WTOP ("Fifteen hundred on the AM dial!") on that uncomfortable little earbug. Over the years I worked my way up through several tabletop multiband rigs.and up into a Hallicrafters S-107 rescued from a junkpile at my high school's radio/tv shop class. Lamentably,I traded the Hallicrafters (and the hulk of a Heathkit HW-7 from the same source) for my first 35mm camera,a Pentax Spotmatic which I still have. But I digress...

    Anyhow,Dad used to bug me constantly about getting my license,especially after the no-code Tech ticket appeared on the scene. Trouble is,one sure fire way to get me not to do something was to bug me to do it - some sort of perverse Scots stubbornness or somesuch,Dad was subject to it too - and so I politely demurred,repeatedly. Stupid. Now I'd give a lot to be able to fire up the HF rig and chat with the old man. Well,when Dad died,he passed on the whole pile of radio stuff to me. I cherry-picked what I thought was usable and that I thought my lady wife would tolerate me bringing home,and carted it all down to Florida. After several months of dusting the radios and studying the study guides (thank you, Gordon West!) I emailed Warren NW4C and signed up for the Element 2 test.

    I received my Technician class Amateur Radio license,call sign KG4WKY,on December 12,2002. My first rig was a Yaesu FT-2500 2m FM radio in the car. I got into 6 meter SSB,with the purchase of an MFJ 9406 transceiver at a local hamfest; I paired the radio with a homemade copper pipe J-pole. The J-pole was soon replaced by a 2 element quad first at 15' then at 20' as I added mast sections.

    In June of 2003 I added a Yaesu FT-100 that was acquired for $500 - and several promises to the wife about selling other stuff - from the good folks at AES in Orlando. I spent many fine summer afternoons and evenings calling CQ on 50.125 and 50.135 or .140.

    In the fall I took a first shot at a homebrew QSL card (created using The GIMP),so I could finally respond to the kind souls who sent me theirs! Thanks for the patience,folks!

    Also that fall saw the addition of a pair of new VHF antennas: a 2m/70cm collinear that was described in the 09/03 QST,and a 6 element WA5VJB "Cheap Yagi" for 2 meters. The collinear was mounted on a bracket out in front of the quad; the Yagi wound up above the quad at 25'. That mast is starting to get crowded,as you can see!

    Fast forward to the Orlando Hamcation in February 2004; I passed Elements 1,3 and 4,to become the proud holder of an Amateur Extra license. I had to walk the long way back into the hamfest from the testing site (the back gate of the fairgrounds was locked at that point) in the rain but did I care? Not hardly!

    Soon as I got back home from Orlando,the HyGain 80/40 dipole came out of the shed and went up into the trees,oriented so it "faced" roughly se/nw to get most of the lobe out across the country. Coverage was kind of "iffy" on the higher bands to the NE,but on 80 and 40 the antenna was low enough to be darned near omnidirectional (it was maybe 30 feet in the air). The higher bands deserved a quad or a yagi,but that was always lower on the priority list than new 6m and 2m antennas. I really had the VHF bug but bad.

    The main HF goal was now to get Dad's old Collins S-Line gear running again. The receiver received well enough,though the S meter misbehaves,and the VOX behavior on the transmitter was best described as "spastic" (VOX kept tripping the rig into transmit no matter if it were on or off or how it was adjusted),and the transmitter wouldn't tune properly on 40m and up. That particular project was still pending as of early 2006,awaiting the development of a practical 25 hour day.

    In April,2004 my vanity callsign application was approved. KG4WKY was cancelled; WA4UF was issued. I joined the burgeoning community of folks related somehow or other to the University of Florida that have UF in our callsigns.

    I've greatly enjoyed checking in when I can to the SouthCARS net in the mornings and afternoons. A greater bunch of folks could not be found. I've made it to a couple of their January confabs in north Florida and had a splendid time.

    At the TenTec hamfest in September,2004,I had just enough time (had to head back to Florida before Jeanne got there!) to peruse the tables and snag a good deal on a Kenwood TS-830s. When I was a kid,I always drooled over the Kenwood ads in Dad's QST magazines; now I landed one! I paired the rig up with one of the Shure 430 Commando mics I had boxed up in the shed and mated the result with the HyGain dipole and a quick-and-dirty wire vertical for 20. Results have been encouraging; I get good signal reports and plenty of compliments on the audio.

    The following summer I added another radio to the stable. I snagged a discarded,apparently dead Icom IC-251 from the GARC club station,brought it home and dinked with it a bit. I would appear to have gotten it working,though with a couple of problems. It's acquired a few scratches and dings,and the VFO lock switch is decidedly non-original.

    February,2006 saw yet another Orlando Hamcation and yet another acquisition. This time the car came back with a slightly disheveled but reputedly functional Swan 250 with matching power supply (and optional 12VDC converter). Rehabbing the Swan had to wait,however,as the Great Hamshack Shelving and Rearrangement Project was afoot,and spousal ire would be aroused if I derailed it to play with yet another boatanchor. The Swan would keep.