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Monday, August 31, 2009

Sam Brown, WA4IUM, SK

For those outside of East Tennessee, and perhaps Pittsburgh and Chicago, you may not know a lot about Sam Brown, WA4IUM. He was an TV and radio journalist for many years, an anchorman most notably for Knoxville stations WATE and WVLT (then WKXT) before heading into the private sector and teaching at the University of Tennessee.

If you're a ham, especially a ham living outside of the US, you might be familiar with him, as he was a perpetual notch at the top of the DXCC tree. I remember reading many issues of QST and seeing his name at the top of the list, occasionally 1 or 2 from the top. At last check he worked 346 of 394 countries (mixed).

I first heard of the death of Elvis Presley from Sam Brown on August 16, 1977. He was a nightly fixture for getting local, state, and national news. He delivered it the way journalists should, unbiased, unabated, and as professional as you could get. He won four national Edward R. Murrow awards for his work at radio station WNOX.

Last week, Sam died unexpectedly at 59 years of age. It came as a shock to me to hear this. Sam was a pillar in the East Tennessee community. He was active in many amateur radio clubs and was instrumental in getting UT's radio club their tower on top of Neyland Stadium.

I only met him two times on the radio. Early one evening I was driving home with my wife and I heard him key up a local repeater and no one came back. I recognized his call instantly and decided to reply. We ended up chatting for 20 minutes (10 of which were in the driveway at my house, with my wife listening) about our attempt to contact Norm Thagard on the Mir (our first meeting) back in 1995 and my writeup in the local radio club's newsletter about how I attempted to contact Norm's replacement Shannon Lucid and eventually succeeded.

He said he remembered reading my story in the newsletter and complimented me on my writing of the article. To hear someone who's as accomplished as Sam was tell me he liked my writing was nothing short of phenomenal. That's like being told by Tiger Woods, "Hey, nice tee shot!".

That QSO was one of the most memorable ones I've ever recalled, and I will cherish that moment as one for the record books. Unfortunately most hams won't know of his accomplishments and contributions to ham radio. The ARRL hasn't posted a story on him. I guess you have to be damned near a celebrity, world leader, or ARRL cheerleader. Then again, he practically was a celebrity. At least here he was. I'm not going to say that the ARRL should post every ham's obituary on their front page. But for Sam, he was truly a remarkable person and one I think many hams around the world (at least one person in 346 countries) would recognize.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Adventures in Zero-land

There are some things I wanted to do before I left this world, and traveling to the midwest was one of them. Given, I was intending to go storm-chasing, and considering that it was just visiting my sister-in-law's home, and still "tornado season" in the midwest, the chance to go to Iowa was too good to pass up.

My sister bought and flipped a 120-year-old home in a little town south of Des Moines called Truro. It would take us 16 hours to get out to the house in question. I spent 4+ days getting a dual-band radio installed so that I would have some radio time while on the way to and from Iowa. The big question I had was, would anyone want to talk to me?

I must admit, getting a contact on a repeater has been a bit of a challenge in recent treks around the southeast. When the mobile was installed in the minivan, I often spent countless hours looking for contacts on repeaters and simplex to no avail. Trips to Myrtle Beach, Winston-Salem, Huntsville, Ft. Walton Beach, and Nashville were often met with silence, no matter if it were the middle of the day or the dead of night. I even took my FT-530 to San Diego last year and wasn't able to make any repeaters anyplace. The ones I were able to hit, no one would answer. I wondered if I was even making it in to the repeaters but I guess I'll never know.

So we embarked upon our journey around midnight on a Thursday night/Friday morning. We picked up my sister-in-laws friend who lives in Iowa and we all rode up I-75 towards Lexington, KY.

I spent most of the first couple of hours talking with my friend Jason, KF4VDX on his repeater, then we moved to a repeater in Petros (NW of Knoxville) and linked to a repeater in Williamsburg, KY. He came in on one repeater, and I talked with him on the other. About an hour north of the TN/KY line, the repeater faded in the distance and we had to end our QSO. At one point in time some years ago, we probably could have continued on using the FARA linked repeater system, linking KY, OH, IN, and MI. There was a repeater in Knoxville that was installed to the linked system, but it only lasted a few short months before a storm took out the link from Knoxville to Kentucky. We decided we would try Echolink if possible while in Iowa.

Overnight, the drive was lonely, broken up by conversation in the car of ghosts and ghouls, and it was conveniently told to me that this house we were going to be staying was reportedly HAUNTED! So we passed the time telling one ghost story after another, and sure enough I wasn't going to sleep at the wheel...

The night was quiet, and I tried several repeaters in the Lexington and Louisville areas as we trudged north and west. We stopped a couple of times, between Louisville and Indianapolis. And about an hour before Indy, I tried 146.700 and struck up a conversation with K9NQW. We chatted for a while, discussing the usual banter new contacts tend to discuss. I would later get a QSL card from him after I returned home, and it was a very pleasant surprise. I just replied back to him this week with my own QSL card, something I haven't done in a couple of years.

After we by-passed Indy and its Friday morning rush-hour bedlam, (we arrived around 7AM Eastern time) we got on I-74 going towards Illinois. My wife drove as I dozed off and on (I don't sleep very well in the car) so the radio was quiet as she and my sister-in-law's friend chatted.

At one point on the drive near Peoria, I was tempted to head a bit further west towards Macomb, IL. Some friends were down there, but it was unannounced, and I hadn't heard from them in some time, so I wouldn't know where they lived. Still, it was tempting to take a trip and see if their LPFM radio station was still on the air. However, time was getting the better of us, and we continued onwards towards Davenport, IA.

Between Champaign and Peoria, I stuck up a QSO with three hams (their callsigns escape me, and the notepad I wrote them down on went MIA) in the area. They were very helpful, telling us about traffic issues, talking about other hobbies (one was into bicycle riding and spoke of wanting to bike the Smoky Mountains) and recounting war stories of QSOs long past. It was also the first storms we encountered in this area. It was unique to be able to watch the storms from several miles away, as opposed to having the horizon obstructed by mountains and rough terrain as we would in Tennessee. These storms were not severe, however, so no storm chasing for me to embark upon as a detour to the monotony.

The showers were brief, and we continued on towards Iowa. We passed Knoxville, IL on the way to Davenport, but couldn't stop to take a picture due to construction in the area.

Along the way, I sent messagea to my Twitter account to see if any hams would try to contact me while I was on the way to Iowa. I'd send my location and repeater(s) I was monitoring. Unfortunately, this experiment was all for naught. No one mentioned my Twitter page when talking to them. But considering that I was having many QSOs as it was, Twitter probably wasn't necessary anyways.

When we crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa and interstate 80, I found another ham on a repeater in the area. As we talked we passed an airport, and I instantly recognized "Fat Albert", the Blue Angels flight team's support plane. I was told there was an airshow that weekend, and the Blue Angels were the main event. We discussed returning on Sunday for the airshow. Unfortunately we were not able to make it.

During the trip, my wife would thumb through the Repeater Directory and read off whatever repeaters were on 2m and 440 in whatever cities showed up on the signs along the way. I was surprised that a great majority used tone access. Back in Knoxville (Tennessee, that is), tone access was almost unheard of. So few repeaters employ tone access in the area. (NOTE: As I wrote this, I checked and found that Iowa repeaters were mandated to have tone access in 2007). At one point in 2004 SERA (the South Eastern Repeater Association) attempted to mandate tone access, and I was one of many who cried foul. My biggest complaint was that in times of emergency we may not have the luxury of trying to figure out the tone of a repeater as we're trying to access it for any emergency traffic. I was aware many areas were using tone access to curb interference (intentional or otherwise) but I guess back home we're just a tad different. In fact, one group of folks tried to get East Tennessee repeater owners to secede from SERA and start their own repeater coordination body. While I sympathized with the breakaway repeater owners, I didn't necessarily support the idea of a new coordination group, but I wasn't a repeater owner, just an avid user. Eventually, SERA backed away and decided to wait until a later time to "re-evaluate" the policy with more input from repeater owners, and not just a few coordinators trying to speak on their behalf. The storm eventually died down, but I think a lot of damage was done and interest in SERA waned for a time. I have yet to renew my subscription to their journal, though I need to get another issue soon.

Back to the story, though. After we had a late afternoon lunch/dinner in Newton, near a new Iowa Speedway, we started to get excited as we were finally closing in on our destination. I didn't expect the drive through Iowa to be so long. It's much bigger than I expected. The radio was quiet through Iowa City and Williamsburg.

When we got near Des Moines, we hit a severe thunderstorm and an absolute torrent of rain, the likes of which I have not encountered in years, both in duration and intensity. It made me thankful for putting on new tires just a couple of months prior (at $700 no less!) as we hit some of the worst storms I've driven through ever. One of the repeaters in Des Moines (146.820) was designated as a SKYWARN repeater, and as we tuned in, I heard the National Weather Service liaison chime in with weather warnings and bulletins. I didn't dare key up, fearing I'd get a major ass-chewing by someone thinking I was a rookie, despite my having been SKYWARN net control and conducted hundreds of nets in the past. But, after a lengthy period of quiet, I keyed up and requested info from NWS on the path of the storm in relation to my destination. Silence. No one, not even NWS would come back to me. And I know I had the right tone set in, and was 50w into the machine. But whatever the reason, no one was willing to talk to me. As it turned out, I attempted to use this repeater 3-4 more times the week we were in Iowa, and not once did anyone answer me back. This was the only open repeater that I encountered where the locals were not talking.

We arrived in Truro and the rain had been pouring in this little town. The streets were flooded, and the homes on both sides of our place was flooded and running past our house's driveway to the nearby runoff creek. To make matters more interesting, after the rain eventually died down, as I'm trying to unpack the Trailblazer, the nearby tornado siren begins wailing! I joked with my mother that I would chase tornadoes while out here, but now I'm thinking I'm the hunted one!

As it turned out, the siren was signaling the local volunteer fire department into action. Apparently something caught fire from a downed powerline or something. Still, it took me a few hours to reclaim my wits about me.

The next evening I took the family to Knoxville (Iowa, that is) Raceway about an hour east (taking the highways and even a gravel road or two). I'd never been to a sprint car race before, and figured we'd take in the best one in the country. On the way there, we hit up a 440 machine and I had a 10 minute QSO with a guy on his way to working security/bouncer duties downtown in Des Moines. It was a nice way to pass the time as we travelled the highway towards Knoxville.

When we neared Knoxville, my wife looked up the one repeater in Knoxville and found it to be closed. I tried to key it up and it did not reply with a carrier. I decided to do a little snooping and found the tone for it. I know, I probably shouldn't have, but what would it hurt? I'm just some hick from Knoxville (Tennessee, that is) who doesn't know any better, right? The worst I figure is I'd be shooed off the machine. Well, not even THAT happened. I keyed up 2-3 times and gave my call ("K-4-H-S-M, mobile Zero") and got no response. Either no one really was listening (closed repeaters back home tend to be vacant) or they weren't caring to talk to me. Not even on the return trip back to Truro would I get an answer.

On Sunday, I got into another repeater on 2m and struck up a QSO with another ham as we made our way to a museum some hour NE of Des Moines. He was pleasant to talk to, though again his call and name escape me.

I began to realize that the area was chock full of enthusiastic hams who were very friendly and helpful to this 4-lander. I often wonder if I just wasn't hitting the right repeaters back in the southeast when trying to bring on a QSO to pass the miles.

The next day, I went to 6.52 simplex on 2m as we made our way towards Winterset, IA (home of the famous bridges of Madison County and birthplace to John Wayne) and I was stunned when I got an answer from Mark, W0ISF. We talked on simplex, then he invited me to his repeater. If his callsign rings a bell, it's used every year for the Iowa State Fair special event station (going on now as this is published). I would end up talking to Mark 2 more times, including our leaving to return home the following Friday morning. I thanked him for his hospitality and hoped I could talk to him during the fair. As of now I haven't heard them (listening to 20 meters mainly) but I will continue to try.

On Tuesday, I traveled to Western Iowa to see my friend Dale, N0WKF (file guy for TWIAR) for our first eyeball QSO. On the way, again, a couple of good hams talked to me. I tried to reach Dale on his repeaters but he wasn't on the air listening for me. It was great to finally meet him. We stayed for about 3 hours and then visited Council Bluffs before heading back to Truro for the evening. The trip was spent off the air, though, as we were drenched from a sudden shower while on a pedestrian bridge over the Missouri River separating Iowa from Nebraska. I was partly pissed from being soaked, and partly afraid I'd short something while talking.

The journey back to Knoxville, TN was made going south through St. Louis and unfortunately I wasn't able to make any contacts on the way back home. As I approached Wentzville, MO, outside of St. Louis, I tried to find a repeater to raise Vern Jackson, WA0RCR, another TWIAR contributor with the Gateway 160 meter net report. Unfortunately no repeaters were in Wentzville, and I didn't have 160 meters in the car to try. Although that would be a great trick...

Traveling through St. Louis (with a visit to the arch) was a first for me, and traffic was certainly not going to give me any breaks this Friday afternoon. I endured heavy traffic, and although I heard a few QSOs as I scanned the 2m band, I had to drive first, talk later.

After we left St. Louis, we got stuck in traffic, and no real way to pass the time for the 90 mins other than drive/stop/drive/stop. I tried a couple of repeaters on 2m and 440, but no one was there. My concentration was spent on trying to find a way back the other way for a detour anyways, but the two spots where I could turn were Government vehicles use only, and the cops were watching them. I saw people pulled over after making the U-turn, and figured I'd be a sitting duck with TN tags.

After the jam let up (construction that either never occurred or completed for the day while we were stuck) and we had dinner, Jes drove from Illinois down thru Paducah and into Tennessee, but I didn't use the radio. I'm not a good passenger. That's all I care to say about that part of the trip...

Back into Tennessee, I hit the Cumberland Plateau past Crossville and called to Jason, KF4VDX, and sure enough, he was there, almost like he was waiting for me to return. Although I had a great trip out west, it was nice to hear a familiar voice again. He talked me back to the house and my trip officially ended around 2am (Eastern Time) Saturday morning. In just 12 hours, Field Day would be underway, and he and I would try to work it both from his home and from a club outing in Maryville.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at the warmth and hospitality both on the air and in person from people all over Iowa. My sister-in-law's house was officially sold 2 weeks after we left, so we won't be able to go back there for "free room and board" next time we go out there. But it made such a great impression upon us, we know there will be a next time.

BTW: No ghosts bothered us while we stayed there. And if I find that sheet of paper with the names of everyone I talked to while out there, I'll add them to this post. If you're one of them, email me.


Monday, August 10, 2009

The great radio install odyssey

Every once in a while it's good to challenge yourself, to think out the processes of how to execute the procedure, and to adapt to changes brought on by obstacles in your way. Such was the case in early June getting a radio installed in my SUV...

I own a 2002 Chevy Trailblazer. It's nice, got it used almost 2 years ago, and with few exceptions have enjoyed the vehicle. I had not installed a ham radio in it as I did not have all the right equipment, the money to invest in said equipment, and I didn't want to drill holes anywhere that were visible or otherwise.

I'm not the most mechanically inclined person out there, and I am the last person you'd want to talk shop with on auto body and repair. So I met this challenge with great trepidation. Given my track record in the past, if I screwed something up, I was going to FUBAR the entire electrical system, spring a leak in the oil pan, or somehow generate a wormhole to Alpha Centauri.

This started about a year ago. See, my initial plan was to place the antenna in much the same configuration as what is on our Windstar minivan, which was to have a mount on the rear tailgate and off to the side. Unfortunately, the Trailblazer's tailgate is set so that the windows and the metal are seamless and it's impossible to mount the Comet CP-5 in the rear. So I decided I would mount it on the hood of the Trailblazer. This has become a subject of debate for a couple of my friends and I. One thinks I'm going to cook my brain every time I key the microphone at 50w. I, on the other hand, feel less conservative when it comes to that. I've been using my cell phone for several years, and haven't felt any side effects...yet...

Next, what kind of antenna will I purchase? I have several mobile radios, the Alinco DR-135 2m with TNC, the Kenwood TM-742 tribander (2m/220/440), the Yaesu FT-1802 2m, and a beat-up but functioning Yaesu FT-5100 dual-band mobile. I also have the Yaesu FT-100D I could take mobile, and my wife's FT-7800 dual band which is in her minivan.

I purchased the Comet mount and a tri-band antenna (2m/220/440) at the Knoxville hamfest last June (as in 2008). I figured if I was going to invest, I might as well get one for all three bands on my mobile radio collection. Somewhere in this house (I think) is the ATAS-100 antenna for the Yaesu FT-100D. I misplaced it after a Field Day some years ago and unless someone swiped it (which in my world is possible) I just have yet to find it.

I started initially by asking questions on both ham radio forums and on forums for Trailblazer owners. I wanted to get as much info as possible. I had people who were TB owners, Chevy mechanics, and even a pro installer helping me out as much as possible. Through it all, I kept putting it off because I just didn't want to drill a hole in the firewall or, as mentioned before, tear something up that would end up being a $4000 repair job. I even began calling around to see what estimates the pro installers would want to put it in, I was that intimidated by the project.

Every so often I would glance into the engine or under the carpeting to see where I could poke a hole if need be. However, I never quite made the connections between where the grommet was that would go into the engine compartment. Again, my naiveté in all things mechanical prevented me from connecting the dots. In April my wife decided we needed to go visit her sister's home in Iowa. The trip would be in the Trailblazer. When the plans were finalized, I decided to buckle down and get the radio installed. So, I concentrated on the antenna first, and would worry about the radio later.

Day 1: Questions, questions

For months off and on, I probed the forums and asked about where the plugs/grommets/holes were supposed to be. As things ramped up on getting the trip planned, so too, did I re-visit the issues on the forums. I studied the forums for signs of where to install the radio (didn't want it on top of the dashboard, and couldn't fit in between the seats). I finally found a forum thread where a user had installed a ham radio in his TB and he mentioned the location of a rubber grommet, and I went outside (at 11 at night) and found it. Okay, so part of the mystery was solved. Now, how to either widen the hole in the center (which was tight due to the wires already occupying the center of the grommet) or to loosen it and fish the wires through. Again, my reservations crept up as I once again did not want to poke a hole, and have it hit the wiring and shock the hell out of me or short the entire dashboard to oblivion.

Once I was assured I was not going to electrocute myself, or go broke fixing a screwup, I bought an awl just for the purpose of poking through the grommet. Then I embarked on a search for the infernal T-connectors that no one seems to carry, yet every damned one of my radios (sans the FT-100D) has them out of the box. Go ahead and try to find them at your local shops. I dare you. I twittered my contacts, which spilled onto my Facebook page (my "tweets" also simulcast to Facebook) and no one could help except for a link to Powerwerx.com. I tried hardware stores, Radio Shack, and even a CB shop, to which I was met with the somewhat-unsurprising, "Sir, I have NO idea what in hell yer talkin' bout" response. Nevertheless, imagine my surprise when I remembered there was a spare cable at home in the FT-1802's box, freeing me the agony of having to go through the ordeal I just embarked. I'm a glutton, I suppose. But now I have the two things I need to get the party started, along with the antenna mount and antenna.

Day 2: Shock and awl

After work the next day, I come home and start to gather all my items for the install. I've got most every tool I can imagine, most others I can't, and the assortment of implements of destruction to carry out the deed. I get the awl ready to go and aim at the target, the grommet. I gingerly work the awl in, and to my surprise, no sparks, smell of ozone, and no electrocution!

So now I go find out where the grommet exited:

The grommet going into the engine was basically staring me in the face all this time. I never realized the grommet set so high into the engine area. I thought it was much lower. So much for my depth perception...

So I then start to wiggle the awl around and try to widen the hole. As I'm reaching for my pocket knife, the grommet pops off one side. "Great", I thought, but as I checked, it seemed like it would be the optimal place to fish the wire and antenna coax through, so I decided to simply route the wires through the side. The result is below:

Not the greatest job, I'll admit, but for what I needed, it works. I'm going to re-work it later on to where the grommet has a better seal overall.

So I get the power cable in, then the antenna is next. It, too, easily goes in with little convincing. The antenna was mounted to the hood in little time (pic to the left), and I feel like I'm making great progress. I install split flex tubing around the antenna and power cables, then have to stop everything and make a quick run to pick up one of my kids from a friend's house.

Upon returning home, I work on getting the power cable into the battery. Boy was that a riot! Without boring you, I'll just say it took 2 hours, yelling at the connector, cursing deities for smiting me, shaving off some of the rubber insulation around the battery connector to fit the wire into the bolt so it would have a firm connection, and divorce lawyers on standby.

After that odyssey, night fell, and it was time to call it a night. 7 days to Iowa, and I started to feel pressure. Just how easy would the install be?

Day 3: A mobile conundrum

Again, I am working, and I spent part of the day (and my lunch hour) scouring for ideas on where to put whatever radio I was going to use. I got home and the weather was getting stormy, so I decided I'd work on my Yaesu FT-5100 and try to blow the cobwebs off and see if I could make it mobile-ready. My wife was at work, and the kids were antsy due to the storms and lightning in the area, and I took my radio, old Radio Shack (errr...sorry..."The Shack") magnet mount antenna, and a power supply upstairs to work on programming it while the rain came down.

I stuck the mag-mount sideways onto my tower, and fed the coax in from the back door to the dining room table. I hook everything up and start to try and sort out the radio's startup issues (apparently it was modified, and a very complicated process had to be done to just get the radio to get into the proper bands for starting up, as well as discovering the battery in the radio for memory was apparently long-dead) and the rain outside turns to a monsoon. My tower is located next to the gutter, and the gutter became clogged. Niagara Falls is now right outside my door, so I venture out to unclog the gutter. As I grab a clump of...something leafy, brownish, and soggy, I toss it over the opposite side of the tower, but it hits the mag-mount and takes it down. The mag-mount falls, and the attached coax yanks the radio off the table.

At first, it appears that everything is fine, and I pick up the radio and reconnect it. But when I power the radio back on and push the "Function" button (F/W) it's stuck. As are two other buttons on the face plate. It appearently landed on the VFO knob and jammed the front good and solid. I didn't pay a lot for the radio, and apparently I got what I paid for. Karma is not shining well on me.

So I look at my other multi-band radios. The Kenwood 742 tri-bander (which I do not have a mount for), my FT-100 (wrong power connector), and my monoband FT-1802. My wife tells me to take the 7800 out of her minivan and use it for the trip, since she seldom uses it when she drives the minivan (unless I'm driving in a caravan or using it while driving her car). I decide it's the best option since it did have 440 capability. So after the monsoon, I went out at 11PM-ish and took the radio and mount out of the minivan and took it back to the Trailblazer. The 7800 was set up with the radio's chassis in the back of the van, and the faceplate (separated) in the front of the minivan. So imagine my surprise when I can't find the cable to connect the faceplate back to the chassis, just the 20' long cable from the back to the front...

So I have a couple of options, find a place to mount the chassis SOMEWHERE up front, and put the face up on the dash, or try to get a new cable made for mounting the radio to the chassis. Ant this is not just any cable. It's RJ-12. Picture normal telephone cable (RJ-11). It has 4 wires. RJ-12 fits a plug the size of RJ-11, but it has 6 wires. This is not going to be easy to find, it appears. So, I leave the radio in the car and go back inside, feeling modestly defeated. Another day, another setback.

Day 4: CABLE GUY!!!!

I get to work the next morning, the radio riding shotgun since I hadn't mounted it yet. I get to work and ask a co-worker if he had crimpers at his house (he used to be a cable installer). Unfortunately he didn't have any equipment anymore as he sold it all years ago. I take one of my breaks and run out to a wiring supply store located across from the place I work, and ask for RJ-12 cable. They said they didn't carry any there, that it was special order (and in 1000' rolls) and that I would need a lot of luck finding some in Oak Ridge. I thought it funny, because, well, Oak Ridge did have a little technological history here and there...

I go back to work and talk more with my co-worker, and he suggested buying crimpers and checking Home Depot for the plugs, and take the 20' cable I had and cut off and end and cut it for the 3" piece I needed for the direct connection between the chassis and faceplate. So I run to the Home Depot during lunch, and I buy crimpers that were cheap, but were "designed for RJ-11/12 connectors". And by good fortune, they did indeed carry RJ-12 plugs! I do love that place sometimes...

I ran back to work, wolfed down my lunch, and worked on the cable. I cut one end, hooked up the cable in the proper orientation (based on how the original cable was set, you have to flip the connector's wires) and crimped.
It was then I made another ill-fated discovery. The crimpers were "RJ-11/12 compatible" but they only crimped RJ-11's 4 wires, with NO CRIMPS ON THE OUTER 2 for RJ-12!!!

I found a couple of guys installing network cable in the building and begged for crimpers, and they said they didn't have any that day (they were finishing a project which didn't involve crimping anything, apparently) and once again I'm out of luck. Thinking fast, I replaced the crimpers in its packaging, taped up the package, and after work ran back to Home Depot and exchanged it for REAL crimpers...the kind that were indeed made for RJ-11, 12, 45, 92, 85, 55, BINGO!

I get out to the car, remove the crimpers, and with a quick bit of careful pressure, had me a connector cable for the radio! I placed the faceplate to the chassis (a bit of a struggle because the cable was 1/4" too long) and plugged in the radio and antenna. Life was good! I might get this thing installed after all.

I get home and get to work on the mounting of the radio. I snake all the excess wiring under every crevice I can think of, under the carpeting, behind the center console, under the console, etc. I decide that the best place for the radio is below and to the right of the steering column, where I had seen another person on the Trailblazer forum mount his radio.

I mount the bracket, putting two small holes "conveniently" out of view. It was here that I faced yet ANOTHER issue. I put the bracket so close to the center console I had little room for the screws with which to mount the damned radio!

BUT...I refused to be set back anymore. I was able to use a magnet screwdriver to hold one screw in place while getting the radio mounted in the bracket. I used what little space I had and needle-nosed pliers to put the final twists on this odyssey. A couple of zip ties later, I finally have my radio installed!

The finished product is below:



So, if you've made it this far, you have (hopefully) gone through the best/worst of times, just as I did (I have a habit of wanting to make the reader emotionally involved in my stories).

I learned a lot about this install. Mainly I learned I could actually do it. Most other times I've had someone install it with me or for me. It built up confidence I needed, and hopefully will not be so intimidated on my next install.

My next post will be what happened on the way to (and in) Iowa on the radio. Was it worth the trouble getting a radio installed? Stay tuned. I'll have it posted in the next week.

Friday, August 7, 2009

My daughter's getting closer to getting her license + other tidbits to catch up on

Just an FYI, my older daughter, Lauren, has finished studying the question pool, and is now working on taking the practice tests on QRZ.com.

I'm also going to post about my trip to Iowa from June and installing my radio for that trip. They should be posted early next week.

I'm heading to Dayton, OH this weekend for a wedding, so I may be able to make some QSOs while in the area. I'll only be up for the weekend, so there won't be much time to enjoy the trip.

I wish I knew what was up with FARA. Their web site is dead (has been for several months) and when I tried a couple of their repeaters last month going to Iowa I couldn't raise them.

BTW: It looks like the Mt. Mitchell repeaters got a 1-year reprieve from the radio station that wanted to kick them out. It will hopefully give them enough time to either relocate the repeaters to another tower on the mountain, or convince the land owners that amateur radio is worth keeping around the mountain.

I was talking to a ham in Chattanooga 2 weeks ago who told me that several repeaters north of there between Chattanooga and Knoxville got evicted from their towers after a SNAFU involving a new owner of the towers and the contact information being lost. One of the stories I was told is that the Park Service was even cut off, and within a few minutes of going off the air, a Park Ranger arrived at the tower site and demanded to know what was going on. The hams who were running one of the repeaters cut off were also there, and witnessed the Park Ranger threaten the tower climber with arrest if he did NOT restore service ASAP. The tower guy didn't know what to do, because he got an order to remove the equipment, and was gonna go to jail if he did.

Sometimes I wish amateur radio had that kind of clout.

It looks like they got things cleared up with the Park Service real quick. However, the amateur repeaters (as many as 10 or more if I remember) are still off the air until a new contract is worked out.

It also looks like the English Mountain repeater came back to life recently. It had been taken off the mountain several years ago after a tower collapse that forced the land owner to require a fence, insurance, and other amenities that basically forced the repeater off the mountain. The repeater's owner, Sam Kirby, WB4HAP, passed away unexpectedly in 2007, and the future of the repeater was in even more doubt. However, Tim Berry, WB4GBI came through, returned the repeater to English Mountain, and once again, the activity is making a renaissance.

It may not match the activity of it's peak in the late 90s, but there's only one way to know for sure.

And what the heck is up with Radio Shack dropping "Radio"? Is it just for advertising, or permanent? I have money on this being a marketing test, to see if the public responds in waves to the impending onslaught of advertising and marketing in advance of the Christmas season, and if even remotely successful, "Radio" will be permanently removed from the name of the store.

It will probably work the same way Subway did those $5 footlongs. First they were "for a limited time" then it became a constant fixture on the menu due to the popularity of the promotion.

To me, it really ceased being "Radio Shack" when it stopped selling ham radios, focusing on scanners and CB radios instead. Hams are people too, dammit! Then they concentrated their market towards satellite TV and radio, cell phones, RC cars, and batteries. They did score with SAME weather radios, but now most any store sells them, and for less.

They did earn points when they had PL-259 barrel connectors and an 8-pin mic plug I needed to solder up a mic to my ill-fated FT-5100 radio (more on that in a future post) but overall, you ask an employee a technical question, and unless they're a ham themselves (and a few are), you get the deer in headlights routine. Any more it's hit-or-miss with your question. You got questions, they got answers half the time...

Off to bed, and off to Dayton.