Foundations of Amateur Radio


Starting in the wonderful hobby of Amateur or HAM Radio can be daunting and challenging but can be very rewarding. Every week I look at a different aspect of the hobby, how you might fit in and get the very best from the 1000 hobbies that Amateur Radio represents. Note that this podcast started in 2011 as "What use is an F-call?".


Foundations of Amateur Radio navigateright Episode

Buying and using pre-loved equipment

Foundations of Amateur Radio

The other day I received an email from Colin VK2JCC who mentioned that he was a keen home brewer and he was interested in a discussion about using ex-military gear in amateur radio. If you want to see his beautiful rig, check out Colin's Clansman PRC 320 Radio, does 2 to 30 MHz at 3 or 30 Watts. Look for his callsign and you'll also find a video of him calling CQ.

Colin also shared his efforts for the construction of a Ground Tuning Unit which started a whole different exploration, but I'll leave that for another day.

Back to the topic at hand, ex-military gear in our hobby. My initial thoughts on the subject were predictable: "What on earth do I know about this and do I have anything useful to contribute on the matter?"

It turns out that this isn't something new to me. You might recall that I'm an IT professional in my non-amateur life. In that role you'll likely never see me buying second hand or refurbished gear, unless I installed it myself and was the person responsible for its maintenance.

This same mindset prevails within my hobby. Although I am the owner of several pieces of pre-loved equipment, it arrived either because I knew the previous owner and where they live, or because it arrived unencumbered at my door.

I go to hamfests and look askance at the gear on offer. I'll buy connectors, a tower, but not so much anything in the way of electronics. I asked around and I'm not alone in this. Many of my peers have the same view. Why pay good money for something that has been abused?

It occurred to me, that this mindset is based on the idea that something can go wrong because the equipment has been invisibly damaged. Of course that is possible. However, on reflection, the reality is likely different.

In my professional life I've seen plenty of badly maltreated equipment. I remember being called out to a faulty computer that sat on the ground in the office in a car mechanics workshop. The computer, used for accounting, would on warm days just stop. On opening it up, in 2006, I found a motherboard with a Pentium processor on board. It was untouched from when it had been built in around 1994. The CPU fan was no longer moving and the amount of caked on dust - complete with microscopic motor oil - had formed a solid cake around the cooling fins. After removing the dirt, the fan spun back into life and the computer was once again rock-solid.

That is the definition of abused electronics.

Yes, in case you're wondering, I did recommend replacing the computer, but out in the back roads of Australia, that's easier said than done.

Story aside, I came to the conclusion that while abuse might reduce the circuit life from a millennium down to a century, that was unlikely to happen in my lifetime.

Back to the ex-military gear.

Based on Colin's comments, his historic radio, and my insights into the scale of abuse and their impact, I'm more inclined today than I was yesterday to investigate.

I will note that I'm spoilt for choice. I can pretty much buy off the shelf any gadget required, limited by my imagination and my budget, but that wasn't true for several of my amateur friends. I know of several modifications of aviation and military rigs, born from necessity, that eventually made it into amateur radio and come to think of it, there's not much difference from me adding a serial interface to my Commodore VIC 20 back in the 1980's.

Before I start shopping for radios that glow in the dark, there is another consideration. I did the same with computers over 20 years ago. I ended up with about a dozen of them in my office. Today that's replaced by a single one that runs as many virtual computers as I need.

In radio terms, do I fill my shack with boxes, or should I spend my efforts on getting an RF signal into a black box with SDR written on the side? It's hard to know what the differences are without seeing both sides of the equation, but I'm sure that at my next hamfest I'll be looking around with different coloured glasses.

Thank you to Colin VK2JCC for asking the question and showing his toys.

I'm Onno VK6FLAB