Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ham Radio Post (zzzzz). I take about a 30 minute walk each morning. During the work week I begin the walk about 0535, because I tend to wake up about that time no matter how late I was up the night before. On Saturday mornings, I can often sleep until 0630. On Sundays, 0730. I walk on a bike path that goes by our house just a block away. It runs along a canal, part of a canal system that is 70 years or more old and was built to dry out that part of the Everglades that used to be under our house and a lot of other houses. So though the word "canal" can conjure up images of a drainage ditch or something concrete and sterile, the canal that runs near our house looks fairly natural. We have seen egrets, herons and other waterfowl there, alligators, water snakes, and even manatees. Along the banks live racoons, possums, and quite a variety of exotic lizards, including big iguanas that are as much as four feet long from one end to the other.

I take my "hand-held" with me on the walk, also known as an "HT" (for "handie-talkie" which is such a dumb name that it was quickly shortened to HT in the ham community). The HT is a transceiver about the size of a pack of cigarettes, not including the whip antenna that sticks up about 16 inches from the top of it. The one I have can transmit on three bands, all either VHF (very high frequency) or UHF (ultra high frequency). The wavelength of these bands is so short that the radio frequency energy will not bounce off the ionosphere. So only "line of sight" communication is possible (usually). TV is also VHF and UHF, which is why your TV can only pick up signals from stations that are in your locale. (Oh, I forgot, you probably don't use RF to receive your TV signals; you use cable. I will have to explain to you the concept of rabbit-ears some day and how, back in the day, TV signals were actually free, and still are at our house, virtuous people that we are.)

So one problem with the HT is that it doesn't go very far. The other problem is that it puts out a very weak signal and the antenna on the thing is a bit of a loser.

However, the amateur radio community has people in it who love to go around the community and set up "repeaters" on top of mountains and tall buildings. (Since we don't have mountains down here, these things are set up on buildings.) A repeater is an automatic little radio station that will receive your UHF or VHF signal and then rebroadcast it. These things are all over the country. If you know the frequency of a repeater and you are within the radius of its signal, then your own UHF/VHF rig can reach beyond the line of sight radius of where you happen to be, if your signal can "make" the repeater, and make contact with people on the other side of your horizon.

So as I walk with my HT, I have it programmed for a particular repeater. Over the last couple of years, I have made friends with two or three hams who have UHF/VHF transceivers in their cars and who are driving to work at the same time I am taking my walk. Their rigs are tuned to the repeater to which I am tuned, and so I walk along talking to them, and I am able to ignore the strange looks from the 'coons and the igauanas (the manatee are not up yet).

I have a problem, however, because my HT puts out such a weak signal that the repeater has some difficulty repeating my signal. (It is located on a building downtown - about 8 miles away.) I've had this problem from the beginning, but the other guys are pretty patient.

For quite some time I have known that my base transceiver has the capability of acting like a sort of repeater itself. The thing is so difficult to program, however, that I have had little success in getting it set up to help my HT problem. But if I could, then all my HT would have to do is "make" my home transceiver, whose antenna is up on our roof and readily accessible to the signal from the HT. My base transceiver, in turn, would rebroadcast my signal to the repeater downtown, and then I would be in business. (The base transceiver is more powerful than my HT by a factor of about 20.)

Not only is the base transceiver hard for me to figure out, the HT I have is difficult to program as well, difficult for a 59 year liberal arts guy, anyway. So until this past weekend, I have had no success with this project of making my base transceiver a repeater for my HT.

However, I sat down again at the base rig Saturday afternoon for yet another try. It began to look like I was getting close to a solution. I called my friend, Joe, WA4ONV, who is one of the guys who is on his way to work when I am on my walk. And he gave me some counsel.

Lo! I figured the thing out! So early Monday morning I started my walk again, and simply amazed the guys that I talk to during the walk. They could hear me clearly without a lot of crack, snapple, and pop.

No one, however, is more amazed than yours truly.

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