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A few words from Rob K9RST…

What's in your scarbox?

I am a filmmaker. Well, I used to be! Now, I am a video person! In the not so old days of yore, we prided ourselves on being prepared for any contingency. We carried extra gear, spare parts, lots of little things that may not be needed, but it was great to have when you needed it. That was the day too when we used to have 4 or 5 person crews to carry all of this stuff. Over the years, I started carrying a three tier tool box for all of the little things that it seemed we had forgotten. Things like wire to hold up paintings, or nails, thumb tacks, tape of many colors, nylon thread, rope, clothes pins, pens, sharpies, nuts and bolts, electrical adapters…well, you get the idea. I used to call this the scarbox because every time you forgot something critical, it would leave a scar on your pride. Over time, the box got larger and heavier until just became impractical to carry. Seems that everything I might need today I could buy at Walgreen’s! So the case was dropped from the required equipment list as our crews downsized and speed was more of a measure than preparedness.

I mention this now because I have to return to this practice for some of our ham radio activities. The Club recently supported the Evanston Bicycle Club’s North Shore Century. I usually bring along a tub of stuff, called the NSRC office, which is loaded with all sorts of spare parts and some office supplies. But I do not often carry test equipment. We set up our antennas for the event, one atop a 40 foot pull up mast. It looked terrific. We were thrilled with our work and plugged it into the radio without ever testing it. The next day, the day of the event, we were getting all sorts of mixed reviews about our signals. We limped along the best we could until someone had the bright idea of changing to a different antenna. Voila! Magically, all of our problems went away. Now you might think it was a bad antenna but in testing after the event, we discovered there is something wrong with the coax. I just grabbed a coil from our inventory and never checked it out after it was used last. Lesson learned. I need to carry test equipment and double check everything before leaving the site.

Now in my defense, I had been a little distracted…life…that thing we do when we are not on the radio…got in the way. My mother-in-law passed away that week and chaos reigned all around us. I managed to get us to the event, set up our encampment and surrounded myself with some really talented people so that it all looked goo And we did look great. We did an outstanding job. The scars, however, are still on my back. Lesson learned.

We brought 32 ham radio operators to the event and not all from the North Shore Radio Club. I was delighted by the support we have received from hams all over the city. I would like to encourage more members of our own club to help out with these events. Not only do we provide a terrific public service, but it puts a face on ham radio. It helps promote the hobby in a positive way.

Many of us are working on the Chicago marathon coming up on October 11. We have nearly 130 hams helping out from four states on that project! Meanwhile, a couple of us are going to set up a demo station at a Cub Scout event in October to show the young folks what ham radio even is!! Yes, Martha, there is still a ham radio hobby!! Join us on October 17 at Camp Oakarro in Wadsworth, Illinois. Drop me a note and I will give you more details.

Meanwhile, be prepared.

73, Rob K9RST

Taking it down

There is nothing more exciting than to help a fellow ham get his station on the air, build his antenna scheme and get him or her on the air. On the other hand, it is a different experience altogether when you are asked to take down a retired ham station. Recently I was asked by Shel Epstein (K9APE)’s wife to disassemble his antenna network. Shel was an engineer and a lawyer…and both played a hand in the design and implementation of his antennas. He also had a fairly flat roof, which made access simple. Anyway, as one takes gear down from ailing, retired or hams that have passed on, inevitably you think about how the gear was used, the conversations they must have had, the thought that went into the construction process and, well, you spend a great deal of time thinking about the ham. In this case, I knew Shel, so it was actually fun to reminisce in this way about his work as a ham.

Shel had a 10 foot tower section on his roof with a Mosley tri-bander and a yagi mounted above for satellite work. He also had many wires running around the roof area, including a scheme to use his gutters as an antenna. I solicited the help of Greg Karlove to help take the stuff down since he expressed interest in using most of it. It took us most of a Saturday, but this project came down easily and we recovered most of the gear. You could tell what motivated Shel, however. He used only the best equipment and building standards. The tower was flat mounted to the roof, with stainless guy lines and stainless turnbuckles anchored to the roof. He was also careful not to used long guy lines and used insulators to shorten the section to prevent them from radiating his signal.

The real project, it turn out, was his 6 foot satellite dish. When TV started to play around with beaming signals off satellites, most of the programming was not encrypted. Furthermore, most of the antennas needed to be very large. In fact, Wilmette has ruled that having such antennas was illegal! Wala! Enter the lawyer, Shel. No way was anyone going to impede his right to free TV bouncing off satellites! So, Shel battled the city fathers and won. Then, he had to build the antenna. Well, what he built cost a fortune, I am sure. First, you need a large dish…so he bought a 6 foot stainless dish. This alone weighed about 200 pounds. To support this beast, you had to manufacture a support structure. What he did was build an 8” steel water pipe, buried into a cement block about 3 feet deep. The pipe had two custom built support struts that anchored to the side of his house and to the pipe. Each of the support struts were about 10 feet wide and were bolted to the house. For this sort of work, the antenna had to be stable. At the top, he built a small catwalk, large enough for two people to walk around and at the very top he inserted an X/Y axis mount to support the dish. I have no idea how he ever carried all of this stuff to the top. It weighed a ton. We tried using a gin pole for some things but the pole nearly bent in half!! This structure was a work of art and looked like it did the job very well. We were told that it took 4 men to put this thing together. We had never taken anything like this down before, and you’d think you could just cut and run, but with the weight involved, that would have been potentially very dangerous. So we decided to tear it apart in sections using one of Greg’s plasma cutters. What an amazing tool that proved to be. He sliced up the stainless dish into pie shaped sections. We were off and running and slowly we chopped sections off the thing until we were left with the 25’ steel pipe. We dropped that like a tree and it smashed with a heavy thud.

While this project was not the kind of ham radio work we like to do, it was a very fulfilling day to reflect on the good work that was done by Shel, and to accomplish a huge goal. The towers are down, no one got hurt and we have digested all of the metal. Shel Epstein, K9APE, SK. Gone but not forgotten.

73, Rob, K9RST

Summer camp

I just returned from a brief visit up to our Boy Scout Camp, MaKaJaWan in Pearson WI, about an hour and half from Green Bay. So it’s kind of a drive.  This camp serves the scouts from the Northeast Illinois Council, primarily our North Shore, but it also attracts many scouts from neighboring councils.  In fact, this year, there were some visiting scouts from England. They were at the EAA show in Oshkosh and were looking for a camp to extend their stay.  Years ago, when I was Scoutmaster, these were the weeks I would take our troop to camp and I remember the times well.  I often would drag out my trusty ICOM 706 and would talk late at night to hams around the country from our rugged little campsite.  The boys were generally impressed, although many had cell phones that could wrap ham radio around its ear bud…however, turns out,  cell phones don’t work well at camp!  (Hmmm sounds like a familiar story, thank Goodness! Peace and quiet.)   So, after the activities of the days die down, and the boys are starting to settle in for a night’s sleep, it was a great time to fire up the rig.   It was really a great deal of fun introducing them to ham radio.  Fade out, fade in.

Today, the camp has adopted a program to support youth interested in STEM activities, and the NSRC has contributed a couple of rigs and some other equipment to the cause. The radio course is taught by one of the camp counselors, who has a license and is supported by a number of visiting adults who drop in during the summer to demonstrate how radio works.  The course work is really an introduction to ham radio. They attract about 60 scouts to the program every year.

The station is located in the heart of East Camp, right next door to the most popular place at camp…the Trading Post (read:  ice cream and candy bars). So, you always have a bunch of curious folks gathering around the place. When I was up there this week, I fired up the rigs and had some nice conversations with some folks on 20…40 was miserable (and to be sure conditions in general were pretty bad). I could barely hear Don Whiteman, KK9H, and we had to be less than 100 miles apart.  The boys were filled with a zillion questions, as usual, but they quickly could see how the technology could have some use….and could be fun.

As I was leaving camp, I was reflecting on the many wonderful young people (yes, there are some girls in Scouting too) that I met this week.  Scouting attracts some very bright kids and camp seems to bring out the very best in them all. Camp is a very friendly village.  Everyone waves and says hello. Everyone has a bright smile on their face. Yes, it is kind of a throwback to another time, when terrorists or idiots with weapons weren’t lurking behind every bush.  Here, in the free air, under the stars, people can let their guard down.  That is when it hit me just how critical it is for us as a club and for me as an individual, to keep trying to demonstrate this technology to the young folks.  I know many of you got into radio because you had to complete the Morse code requirements for First Class rank (I know I did). They have since dropped that requirement, but Scouting and ham radio have been partners for years, and the relationship has not diminished. In fact, it may have become even more important.  We must continue to inspire the next generation so that they can better solve some of the enormous challenges that our generation has left on the table.  Ham radio is a gateway to many things, science, technology, friendship, a simple old-fashioned conversation.  I learned a while back that the best teacher is example.  The more people see us ham radio operators, as they watch how we communicate with each other, the more the values that bind us together as a community will be shared by these young people as well.  There is a formality to ham radio that might seem anachronistic to some, but is at the heart of what young people are seeking as well.  So, my point is simply this: teach your children well. (Thank you, Crosby Stills and Nash).

So, thank you to the NSRC for supporting this great cause and now, join me in sharing with others the thrill of amateur radio.

73, Rob K9RST

Field Day in the Grand Canyon

Field day in the Grand Canyon! So my daughter decided she wanted to be married at the Grand Canyon, Field Day weekend. (This date was the government’s choice not hers. She had to reserve this spot a year in advance). A wedding is a proud moment for the parents but there isn’t much room for error. My daughter did a great job of organizing 97 percent of the event…but that last 3% was our part and it was critical - get fresh flowers to the 110 degree wedding site and transport 75 people from the hotel to the wedding location, which is not on a main road and only accessible via a dirt road. Simple right!?

Well I took my responsibility seriously. I built a production book, similar to what I often use in my business: contact names, schedules, contingency plans, work schedules, maps, etc. I had to coordinate 3 vans, a 60 passenger bus and two personal vehicles to arrive all at the right time, with the right people.

One issue that quickly emerged as a potential problem was communication. Turns out cell phones don’t work flawlessly at Shoshone Point, the spot where we would be holding the ceremony and about 8 miles from the main El Tovar Lodge. Sound familiar? Enter ham radio! Turns out there is a ham repeater at the rim someplace. The question was would it work where we would be driving and eventually landing?

The other issue was that I was the only ham on site! My sister-in-law would be at the other end of the radio, so I quickly trained her in ham talk and said it would be available only if we needed emergency communications (I had two family elders, both in their late 80’s, who made the event…and we weren’t sure how well they would hold up to the torturous heat.) Nonetheless, she did not have a ham license so I deputized her as K9RST slash A. We used the radios to establish communications. We proved the concept. They worked great, but we ended up relying on simple logistic missions. Every driver had a defined purpose and plan. We had to just hope all went well enough. We used ham radio simply to confirm that everyone was in position and moving around in a timely manner.

I did talk to a few hams on the rim with that repeater…and a few who must have been in the canyon because we could not out what they were saying. The canyon is a tough place for phones or radios….the drop off the rim is easily a 1000 foot cliff and radio signals don’t bend up so well!

Anyway…everything worked great…I drove the 15 passenger van for the bride and her entourage. My brother took the groomsmen the in his rental van. The 60 passenger bus got the folks to the site on time. My brother-in-law drove everyone from the bus drop, down the rough dirt road to the wedding site. One of the great unknowns was traffic. Yes, there can be enormous traffic jams even at the Grand Canyon and we ran right into one. As I was driving bridal party to the point, there was a huge traffic jam. Cars were parked along the side of the road. Some just stopped in the middle of the road. What the heck was going on? An accident perhaps? People were jumping of their cars and were running towards something…with cameras in tow…hmmm…an animal someplace? Eventually we saw the huge male elk with his enormous rack that was causing all of the commotion. He was quietly grazing almost unaware of the craziness that was all around him. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking and I had the bride in the car and 70 guests waiting. Fortunately I had planned for such a delay and we arrived right on time.

The flowers were another story. My brother-in- law was going to bring all of the flowers from Flagstaff…about an hour and half away. At 8 am he called and said his two cars were towed. He could not make the delivery. So the good Dad jumped into the van and drove to Flagstaff….got the flowers and drove back…four hours round trip. Mission accomplished…now all I had to do was shower up and get dressed…let’s just say, I ended up taking a sponge bath and barely had enough time to suit up!

I understand there is a canyon at the Grand Canyon!! Well, the wedding site made up for the craziness. The actual wedding spot was truly a sacred space and afforded an amazing view of the canyon.

I can’t say my daughter’s wedding day was relaxing…and I certainly didn’t get to explore the canyon as I had hoped, but I did get some hiking quality time in the very early Saturday morning, for which I am grateful.

So while I missed our Field Day, I think you will agree that I could not miss my daughter’s wedding…and believe me, after facing all of the stress of handling all of those wedding logistics, Field Day looks like a most welcome breeze.

73 Rob K9RST

Dayton reflections

I almost didn’t go to Dayton this year. I really didn’t need anything and, with my daughter’s wedding coming up, money was tight. Bill Steffey encouraged me to bring some stuff to sell and, as I have never done that before, it seemed intriguing. So, I partnered with Bill’s club from Washington, PA at their booth, 4010, in the outdoor flea market. This is the very back row outside the north door. (I mention that fact for those of you who need something outside to get oriented! I overheard this all too common comment from a gentleman from England. He poked his head out of one of the doors where I was entering and mumbled to himself, “Wow, I am really turned around.” He had to look outside to figure out where he was inside! Dayton inside is very confusing if you are not used to the rambling collection of buildings and passageways. Outside, Dayton is relatively organized in lanes.)

Before leaving town, I collected a carload of gear to sell. Some NSRC Club stuff, lots of my own – and not all ham gear. I brought some higher end audiovisual equipment. I was trying to clean out some of my storage locker. Over the years, I have seen many people who worked as vendors, drop their gear on a table and leave their booth. I was determined to stay at my booth and represent my gear till most of it was sold.

I set up my table at 7:30 a.m.…the flea market opens early at 8 a.m. Immediately there were people wandering the open-air market.

The traffic at 8 a.m. was very busy. I had lots of inquiries and great conversations. At first, I had put prices on the equipment, Based on what I seen similar items sell for on the Internet. The stickers were meant to serve as a memory guide, and I thought they would facilitate selling, but I was wrong. I quickly learned that they prevented conversation, so I took the stickies off. Over the years, I watched Ron Harroff work the aisles at other ham fests and he does it right. When someone shows any interest in an item, he would engage them in conversation and tell them about the history of the item or reviews from ham reviews. So, I borrowed heavily from Ron’s technique and was in business. People soon arrived, making offers and counter offers, money started to flow in and the gear moved. I loved hearing the stories from the buyers about the plans they had for the gear. One guy is building a new VHF repeater and needed some duplexers for his Club in Texas. Another young man came to Dayton only to buy a cassette tape deck. When he saw the one I brought, he knew he had his found his item. He pulled his parents over to show them. Well, they had all sorts of tough questions: “Where was it used? How was it used? What condition are the heads?” Frankly, they asked more questions than I was prepared to answer. Eventually, I sold audio deck sold to them…and I was thrilled to see it fall into hands of someone who knew what he was getting and would provide it a nice home. By the end of Friday, I had sold 80% of the gear I brought. My plan was to sell for 2 hours on Saturday morning and then hit the flea market and inside halls myself.

One of the thrills was to see how the market sets the price. There was a lady across from me who recently lost her husband and was selling his gear off. She had everything marked (like I had done earlier) but priced way too high. At first, she was unwilling to move off her listed price…so the mics sat there. After a couple of hours, I made an offer on one of the mics for Greg Karlove, who was looking for one. We got it for about half of what she was asking.

Bill Steffey had a pile of some older desk mics and a guy came over and said all he wanted were the mic elements. He could care less about the mic housing. Bill popped open the mouthpiece cover and this guy pulled out some side cutters and took just the part he wanted. Turns out these mics are perfect for his avocation. He builds mics for harmonica players. Apparently, there is a niche market for these things.

There is something for everyone at Dayton!

It was amazing to sit inside a booth and watch the traffic float by. I had one older rig that I was going to sell. This radio was a huge crowd magnet. People would come up and look at it in wonder – it brought back memories of times when it was their first rig. There were a few price inquiries, but most just looked. I learned that for just attracting people to your table, having a vintage radio on your table can be a great crowd beacon. I never sold that rig, which is fine. After hearing all of the stories, I wanted to play with the radio more myself.

10 a.m. Saturday. I finally get my chance to walk around the flea market and “do Dayton” I didn’t go far before I discovered my own first radio…the Hallicrafters SX100. I had been looking for this rig for year. Totally an emotional thing. Years ago, my wife convinced me to throw my first beloved receiver away because it was sitting in the attic (I have since learned to just move these items to a different storage place where the wife can’t see the thing, but at the time, I wanted be a compliant husband and so tossed it out. Big mistake. I missed it. It was like I had lost part of my youth. Well at Dayton, I had seen them listed a wide variety of prices and conditions, but generally in the $300 range. There I was standing in front the rig and the guy had $150 sticker on the thing. I offered him $125 and he took it! I have my rig back.

When I got home I fired that rig up and immediately was transported back in time. I remember the smell of those tubs warming up. I connected an antenna and soon was pulling stations off the air. It sounded as good as I remember it, although I have to refresh my memory about how the dual dials are calibrated. The next problem was finding a home for it on my shack shelf. But I feel complete…got my first short wave listening station back.

So, Dayton was terrific. Great way to catch up with friends from around the country, fun to see new and old suppliers. The QRP event seminar was good, although a little bittersweet since the headline attraction Dr. George Dobbs, G3RJV, the Vicar from England who spent his life as a QRP advocate, announced that this would be his last Dayton. Dobbs has a very dry sense of humor and loves building radios from surplus parts. He has inspired a generation of QRP folks, demonstrating how we can bring the hobby back home to our own workbenches. And, Elecraft, whose roots are designing and building QRP kits, also was there to introduce their next generation radio. That’s Dayton. A mix of the old and the new. Bargains, deals and fun. I am really glad I went.


A visit to Leonore

I mentioned in a newsletter that I would be willing to come out to visit any radio club to make presentations on serving the Chicago Marathon. Well, I had a taker and I agreed without ever thinking about the request. “Can you come visit our club? We are supporting the Starved Rock Marathon?” That was the request. So, where do we meet?  “Come to our club house in Leonore, IL.” Leonore? I never heard of the place and all I knew for sure was that it was 2 hours away.

I punched in the address into my GPS and set off on a journey to the edge of the known universe. Actually, after I got out of the Chicago madness and traffic, and well into the country, the drive out was very pleasant. I know I was nowhere when I finally got on a series of straight-as-an-arrow country roads with nothing but harvested corn fields to my left and to my right. Huge open landscapes, with shaved remnant of corn stalks were everywhere. Dull brown, barren fields, except for the promise of the season to come. I drove and drove. Occasionally, I went right and then left! And still, I drove. Suddenly, like Oz, off in the distance, I could see radio towers…and then I saw the mill. Turns out the Starved Rock Radio Clubhouse is in a small little building next to the tallest structure in town, the mill. There are about 25 permanent residents in this town…no fast food anything. Surrounded by corn fields, the club has a really charming building that they share with the mill (the mill pays them rent and so that allows them to keep the place). In one room, they have a general meeting area and in the back room, their “radio room,” they have several stations set up for permanent use and lots of stuff! I was told by one of my hosts, Mark Gebhardt, K9ZQ, that the club house is often the dumping ground for stuff that doesn’t fit into other hams’ home! So, there were piles of repeater carcasses, parts in boxes, radios in various stages of repair. I was greeted by Mark, who I knew from the Red Cross and Joe Tokarz, KB9EZZ. I got the nickel tour of the station and some history of the club. I have to say, these guys made me feel right at home. I was one of the gang! I love that about ham radio…for the most part, you are always welcomed as part of the family.

Now Leonore is truly in the middle of nothing. There is the mill, with is its tall mass, and a ring of about 20 houses around the mill. That’s the town of Leonore. No McDonald’s. No restaurants at all actually, just the mill. I arrived at 5 pm for my 7 pm presentation and slowly watched as people pulled into the club house. Eventually about 25 people arrived, each with a different story about their radio background, but all incredibly friendly. Hams are generally a gregarious group…and I was amazed at how far many of these guys had to drive to get to this place. There were several who travelled 40–45 minutes to get to this spot! Of course, knowing how many came to hear me speak only added to the pressure of giving a good talk!

Eventually, I met Brad Nicholson, KA9WRZ. Brad worked with me on the Chicago Marathon and while we had never met, we have been in communication quite a bit over the years. He was now the lead for the Starved Rock Marathon and he was the guy who actually invited me out. In the audience we not only had the hams from the club, but a couple of EMA Directors, Police and Fire officials – all to hear how we in Chicago support the Chicago Marathon.

The talk, which featured heavily on how hams support other marathons, went quite well. Or at least so I am told. I was grateful for the opportunity and thrilled to see how other clubs are organized.
Their 2 meter antenna sits high atop the mill and serves as a vital link to the surrounding county for communications, Skywarn and other services. You can see how ham radio really can be more than just a
fun hobby, but serious work too. Thanks to my hosts for having me out. I learned a great deal.

Repeater coverage

Meanwhile, I came home to a series of serious storms in the Chicago area and was curious to know how well our own Skywarn team was handling the traffic. As some of you may know, our antennas had been severely beaten on while serving on the roof. The 220 antenna snapped in half and the 2 meter antenna was leaning well to the east, I suspect from the high winds on top of the building. We have since replaced them with more stable antennas, but with half of the gain. In preparing for a discussion I was to have with our repeater hosts, I came across some terrific free software to calculate your repeater coverage. This is sponsored by the Canadian government and requires an email address and pass word to work, but is it really fascinating to play with. Here is the link to the site: This program asks you for many details about the height of your antenna and the type of antenna, power and location you are using. All of this is in meters, so you need to do some conversions. In the end, I got a great map of Chicago, showing the potential service coverage for the NSRC 2 meter machine. Somehow, I will try to figure out how to get this on our website.

Rob Orr

Ham video on the web, plus the origin of "lid"

Just saying. Many of you know, I work in the video business and for most of my career it has been a terrific vocation. In the past couple of years, as technology has lowered the bar for entry, every buddy and his brother is now in the video business – and I continue to survive because basically, I have the skills to tell a story…and not just to record a selfie. So the other day I got an email inviting me to join yet another ham radio video subscription service, so I took the bait. has a weekly video live newsmagazine on ham radio. First, you have to understand making video is not easy work. In this case, they basically had a camera trained on the presenter who interviewed the guest. And, while not real dynamic, it was interesting. I would recommend checking it out (but they suffer from the same disease as most of these folks…they think we have nothing but time on our hands to watch them chat).

Ham Nation is the brain child of Bob Heil, Gordon West, George Thomas, Don Wilbanks and, one of our very own, Cheryl Lasik. I have watched a few of their broadcasts and they are always seeking contributions from the field. Again, I am not sure how people find the time or money to get all of this work done, but God love’m.

I know many of you have seen Gary Pierce’s Amateur Radio Video Newsletter (AVRN). Gary does an amazing job. He is a professional videographer – and frankly, I don’t see how he can make any money doing these videos, but I am very grateful that he does this work. You can see him often at Dayton operating three cameras by himself, and on himself! (He is host, director and cameraman!) It is kind of amusing to see how he has built a portable video studio with all sorts of small HD cameras.

All of these web programs have a video archive on their sites, so you can catch past shows. I have to admit, I was kind of overwhelmed by the number of really well produced videos that are currently on YouTube regarding ham radio. Today, you can have a virtual “Elmer” at your fingertips and on demand!

As for me, I’m thinking it might be time to find another career? I’ll be taking suggestions. Somebody asked me the other day, how I enjoyed retirement? “Retirement?” I asked. :What do you mean?” I still need to get 10 more years out of this business. Well, he misunderstood me when I told him I was retiring as President of the NSRC. The benefits package from the NSRC is just not lucrative!


So, I got a call from a friend whose husband passed away and she wanted to recognize his ham radio work on his gravestone. She asked if there was a symbol for SK? Well, I have yet to find one, but it got me off on a tangent trying to explain some of our stranger acronyms. For instance, she asked, “why are we called “hams”? Well many people ask this and this is what I found on the ARRL. Web site:

Why are Amateur Radio Operators also called “Hams”?-

Ham: a poor operator; a ‘plug’ (G. M. Dodge; The Telegraph Instructor)

The first wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession. In those early days, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other’s receivers. Many of the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working each other across town, could effectively jam all the other operations in the area. Frustrated commercial operators would refer to the ham radio interference by calling them “hams.” Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it to themselves. As the years advanced, the original meaning has completely disappeared.

And then there are LIDS

So, then I was trying to explain to my wife why we are called hams and I told her that what were once “hams” are now LIDS! Huh? So I did a little research and found that LIDS referred to telegraph operators who used the lid from a Prince Albert can as a way of amplifying the audio from the telegraph. Often these folks were new, younger operators and did not have the skills of an experienced operator. We still used the term today…to describe a host of poor operator behaviors. There was one tongue in cheek article on the web entitled, “How to become a LID!”

LIDS, HAMS, SK – we have some fine, mysterious traditions in this hobby. It is among the things that keeps us together as an International League of Radio Frequency Amateurs…or just plain Hams!

Rob, K9RST
President Emeritus
From my country estate in Glenview

The ham in the neighborhood

Every so often I get a call from Ron Steinberg, K9IKZ, to join him on some adventure or other. Couple weeks back, Ron called and said he was holed up at Meier’s Tavern in Glenview and invited me to join him. It was 3 p.m. Too late for lunch and too early for dinner, but what the heck, it was winter in Chicago, cold and blustery, so I took off to join him. Oddly, when I arrived, the place was pretty full. In fact, initially, I could not even find him. He was buried in the back corner nursing a beer and hiding behind two huge plastic tubes. In fact, he was so ensconced that he couldn’t even get up to shake my hand. He pulled box number one down and said, “This is not for today…this is all about the Enigma machine.”

Now, you have to understand Ron is a collector of all manner of interesting things, largely history, especially history of technology. Many might not know that Chicago at one point was the epicenter of a pretty robust electronics industry, including Ron’s favorite subject, Western Electric. Western Electric used to produce all of the phones and phone equipment for the country. They had an enormous factory in Cicero, Illinois that was shuttered in the 70’s or 80’s. Ron collected many of the old publications from the company, because, like many things, corporations don’t have the resources to save their own history. Well, among the incredible gems that he pulled out was a small story book on the Eastland Disaster, Chicago’s biggest nautical disaster. All of the people on that boat were Western Electric families, off for an afternoon company picnic. The boat was poorly loaded and flipped over in the Chicago River. Well, most of the photos in this book were from Ron’s collection. It was fascinating (and made even more interesting because later that week a university grad student discovered some original newsreel footage of the disaster while digging through some old Dutch newsreels. What a wild find.) Anyway, this book was not the main event. Such is an audience with Ron Steinberg. This was the appetizer.

Next Ron started to tell the story of how he became a ham…and what motivated him to even consider ham radio. Some of the mystery I understand, having been born in the 50’s, I too was caught up in the “Radio Boys” phenomenon. Turns out, there was a neighbor of his who had an enormous tower in his back yard. Thus began the story of W9CNN. As a youth, Ron would walk by this gentleman’s house and press his nose up to the living room window. Inside the window he would see an amazing array of electronic cabinets…I mean it literally filled the entire room. It looked like a broadcast center, yet it was an amateur radio station. Having had similar experiences myself with similar stations, I can only share his excitement. It was truly dazzling and even more spectacular that it was all crammed into the living room of a house. Well, seeing this station really fired up Ron’s imagination and piqued his interest. Turns out there were several others in his old “hood” that had similar stations.

Well, as things go, Ron never met W9CNN. W9CNN died at an early age and life goes on. One day, emboldened as we often get in our advanced ages, Ron introduced himself to the widow. Now, I had a few beers by now, so the story might have gotten a little fuzzy, but he explains to the lady how he would go past their house when he was younger and how this station got him into the hobby. So moved by his story, she gave Ron all of W9CNN’s station logs and QSL cards. We spend almost an hour going through the cards. It was fascinating to see all of the people he worked – what bands they used, what power and antennas he deployed, and the friendships that developed. Hams from all over the US and Europe were in the collection. The most interesting cards were the SWL cards. In those days, if you heard a station, you could send that ham a report card that showed you had heard them at your location. Your card was for confirmation and signal report. I have heard from others that this practice was often the way new hams got into the hobby – by listening first. Well, the cards really told the story of the early days of our hobby. It was a gentleman’s sport, whose spirit continues today. I mention all of this today, because in this era of digital QSLing, we are losing some of the intimacy that the cards provided. In many ways, we should not lose sight of what this hobby is really about: connecting with other likeminded people. Making friends and sharing stories.

Thanks, Ron for sharing yours with me.



Boy meets oscilloscope

Several years ago, a friend gave me his prized stereo amplifier, a JBL 6260. This is a vintage line built by UREI that you can still find in use today. I had used it in my office as a reference amp and stereo for years…and, because I am lazy, I never turned the power off. You know, the switch is way back there and I am way up here etc! One day, I heard the tell tale signs of old age…the capacitors started to sing, crackle and finally pop. She was dead. Of course, all of this happened when my arm was in a sling from having some surgery done, so I had to wait for my son to come home to drag the amp to my bench. It has a fabulous and heavy transformer that must weigh 10 pounds all by itself. I popped open the covers and peered in. Everything appeared fine…but I knew there were issues. I was able to get a nice schematic on-line and started to do some hunting. All lines lead to the 4 electrolytic capacitors that help distribute the power to the system. Now, getting replacements is where the fun began. These are all built on through-hole boards, so finding components like that are becoming difficult. The best thing about this project – which says tons about a world we have left behind, is that the documentation for this amp was superb. I could read the schematic and find the components (everything was clearly numbered). Obviously, they planned on people fixing this thing.

I hunted around for the exact type replacements and finally found some on eBay…from Hong Kong. In fact, I found a ton of older parts from Hong Kong. So, I ordered the parts and waited. I did get a nice note from someone over there thanking me for the order and encouraged me to write if it didn’t arrive.

In the intervening weeks, I found a huge library of online videos from stereophiles talking about this amp and others and service issues they had faced. This was simply amazing—and opened my eyes to a universe that I never knew existed. I knew of audiophiles…really serious people about their audio gear, but I never saw so many people doing serious bench tests with the gear. One guy had a four part video series putting this amp on his bench and testing all of the components…that worked out to my advantage later.

I installed the new caps when they arrived and was thrilled that everything powered up again. I left it on for a while when new problem came to the front. The unit would not switch out of stand by and that relay started to chatter and make all sorts of noise. So, back to the drawing board. That is when Greg Karlove stopped by with his oscilloscope. I never really used a scope other than to show kids what their voices looked like. Well, he started probing and measuring. That proved to be a wonderful hands-on tutorial on how to trace and find bad components. A great meeting topic, by the way. Sure enough, we had to replace three more capacitors…which turned out to be another journey. I did go to Radio Shack, but they did not have the parts. Go figure! Eventually, I was able to cobble together the parts from various sources (yes, I know you can go on line to purchase them from many fine distributors, but I am kind of a Neanderthal. I like to go to local shops and buy parts now!)

My arm is all healed now…so I can lift the unit back into place to see if it works and low and behold…it does! It is back in great working order and I am all the wiser. I also now know why people don’t fix things anymore…it is often impossible to get good documentation or replacement parts. I have an Alinco 2 meter radio that has issues and it will be simpler for me to throw it out and buy a new one than to try to fix the surface mounted components. So, without sounding nostalgic…from an educational point of view, I love the old days. Thanks to Greg Karlove, and the entire Internet for sharing their time and knowledge.

Rob Orr K9RST
Vice President of the NSRC

The Power of the Screwdriver

I will be the first to admit that I am not an electronics genius. I got into radio because I wanted to learn more, and I am glad to report that I have gained a great deal of practical knowledge about electronics and radio. Within the NSRC Board, we have had discussions about the right way to teach people about radio. I have a perspective that I don’t think we have ever considered that I would like to add here. First, to summarize the pedagogical arguments: one school of thought is that you teach general concepts and the details will follow; the other idea is that you teach the essentials you need to learn to pass the exam and the details will follow. I have to admit in my own education, I largely followed the latter path, because I was impatient. To learn more of the formal theories used in our hobby, I have resorted to building small kits (studying schematics) and reading books. This model has worked fairly well for me.

So my alternative suggestion? Plug and Play, with an emphasis on play. If you can start by experimenting, working on practical problems you can reach the same end (and you will probably blow a few things up along the way as well!). For instance, I truly believe the real value of a becoming a ham radio operator has been what it has taught me about problem solving. I feel empowered to use my screwdriver to explore the world under the metal cabinet. What happens when the SWR is too high? When your amp does not put out power? When the mic audio is distorted? When the ladder line you deployed throws RF back through your system and bites you every time you key up the mic! These are all practical problems that I have had to manage most recently, but this goes by extension to other things as well. Like Life!

I recently bought a new computer for my shack that just was not working. It kept crashing. I had all sorts of advice from my Internet friends and buddies in the club. Slowly, I discovered the problem and it was not an intuitive fix. Turns out the guy who built the machine installed the jumper cables for the serial ports in backwards (there was not key pin on the jumpers, so the error could have been made by anyone.) Once I reversed the cable, the problem went away. Now, this took weeks of thinking, observing, experimenting and writing down what was going on: when did the error occur? What did I do to get the system to recover? I even took it back to the shop and the guy refused to work on the machine! He said, “Hardware never fails…and I would have to charge you!” Finally, I got bold and decided to take the serial card out myself and that was when I found the problem. I learned a long time ago to try, and if you fail, then you can bring in the Marines to save the day.

The other day, Ron Settle WM9Q and I went to visit our ailing 220 machine. We opened the cabinet and immediately discovered that the power supply was dead. This was not the problem we were expecting. Ron had brought fuses for every other component but the power supply because, frankly, how often do those go down? In my rather short ham life, I have yet to see a power supply go bad and this was a brand new unit (and here’s the rub…brand new!! BEWARE). What I watched next truly amazed me….and I think it did the same for the gentleman from the building who accompanied us to the site. Ron fully demonstrated the power of a screwdriver in the hands of a ham radio guy. Ron wanted to see if there was something in the system that was causing the power supply to fail, but he did not have the correct sized fuse, so he fashioned a jumper using one of the longer fuses he brought along that had the right rating. With the jumper cable and some electrical tape, he cobbled together a temporary fuse (Editor: never use your screwdriver to bridge the fuse…that is not a fuse. It is a great way to start a fire. More on that in another blog!!) In an instant, he had built a “work around for the fuse,” so now he could power the repeater and better trace where the problem might be. Then, he put out a call on his radio to see if the repeater worked. It worked fine. However, we noticed that the cooling fan on the power supply was not turning. Clearly, that was the failure point, and the heat sink on the supply was growing quite warm in a very short period of time. So we decided to take the power supply out and work on it at home. He followed this simple process: Observe; test systems logically – power, transmitter, controllers, amps, and antenna; experiment; and conclude. Following this logic tree, we discovered a few other problems with that repeater that need to be addressed in the future as well.

I was very proud of how quickly the problem was sorted out, a solution presented and a recovery plan discussed (we will be putting in backup power supplies in our repeater cabinets in the future!). Meanwhile, because of the Holidays, the 220 machine will be down for a few more days. We cannot get immediate access to the building.

The point of this tiny blog is to suggest, don’t be afraid to use your screw drive to open the cabinet and peer inside. It is another way to learn. I have a table full of projects waiting surgery. But be Safe. Don’t stick your screwdriver into anything that is plugged in and powered up. This is the short cut to the big ham shack in the sky (pun intended).

Happy New Year everyone.