Band Conditions

30 September 2018

We Used to Build: Rolling Your Own Radios, Part 2

Many of you are worried about EMP. This concern is valid to a certain degree, but probably not in the way you think. The usual single high-altitude air burst over the center of CONUS should be less concerning than shorter range tactical EMP attacks in urban areas, particularly the coastal regions.

Many of you do the expedient of wrapping a couple cheap HTs and maybe a portable shortwave receiver in  an anti-static bag and then placing them in an ammo can. That works, but then the radios are useless when you need them the most, which is now and not when maybe after your TEOTWAWKI fantasy happens.

One solution is to run some uber-cheap sacrificial gear when you think your TEOTWAWKI SHTF fantasy is about to be fulfilled. I consider that an expedient, the last step in PACE planning. A better solution is to run EMP-resistant tube gear, especially tube rigs that can run off 12V DC.

Here is a 12V mobile transmitter that was found at a local hamfest.
It is a home brew rig. Someone built this from scratch. Sadly, the builder is a silent key.

You don't have to build something from scratch, or figure out something that was homebrewed before you were born.

After World War II, surplus gear such as this BC-229 receiver got many hams on the air. It is another 12V tube rig, part of the SCR-AR-183 aircraft HF radio set.

Look at the build quality of that rig. It was made before your baby boomer (grand)parents were even born, and will still be working after they pass away. Look at the manual that includes full schematics and wiring diagram. This radio was designed to be maintained and fixed on a jungle airstrip in the middle of nowhere. Compare the build quality and documentation of this rig to your Baofeng HT. If you think a Chinese HT is equal to something that was built with old-skool American pride, and that it will last as long as this BC-229, you are deluded.

I don't, of course, expect a beginner to be able to work on gear of this caliber. That is why you should first build up your library, study, find an elmer that can help get you up to speed, and start with some solid state kits first.

You have been given links and information to get you started. You also have these wonderful online resources known as search engines to help you along. In the next posting, I will talk about simple tube gear that even an impoverished radio experimenter would be able to work with.

In the meantime, we are in the middle of the autumn hamfest season. A nationwide list is available at You now have enough information to visit a hamfest and look for certain things.

This is an example of some of the material covered in my Come As You Are and Get On The Air radio class being held next year in various cities. Specifics are at I'm now accepting deposits ($50) for all classes. To enroll, please visit

29 September 2018

We Used To Build: Rolling Your Own Radios, Part 1

The first ham radio book I bought when studying for my license had the schematic for a simple 80 meter CW transmitter using a 6LR8 tube. The schematic looked something like the one above. This was back in the early 1980s when they expected someone at Novice Class level to be able to build a simple CW rig with the help of an elmer.

In an age where the Maker Movement is rapidly gaining popularity and adopting the manifesto of If you can't fix it, you don't own it, the original DIY hobby (ham radio) has degenerated into a bunch of appliance operators using equipment made in totalitarian countries.  When the balloon goes up, all the no-code, test-pool memorizing, Extras who passed all three tests in a single sitting are going to be left out in the cold with their Chinese dual-band HTs, unless they get up to speed.

What do you need to do?

  1. Find the local elmer who has had his license for the past 60 years and still runs something like a Harvey Wells Bandmaster or something he built himself.
  2. Put together your library.
  3. Get radios that you can actually fix, as opposed to appliances that become worthless if they break because they can't be fixed.
  4. Build a kit or three.
  5. Learn the techncial aspects of ham radio.
  6. Learn CW.
  7. Graduate to rolling your own radios.
Good elmers are hard to come by. The good ones are at least in their 70s, and usually older. They still exist, however. The hardest parts for many of you are going to be a) getting the gumption to actually put the effort into looking for one, and b) not coming across as a total cock-walloping asshole. Oh well, as Frank would say, "many are called and few are chosen."

There are plenty of online sources to build up your reference library, but you'll want a few books in hardcopy format. Start with an ARRL Handbook from the late 1960s up to the 1980s or 1990s. Older and you'll get into tube gear which is cool, but probably not something you want to start with. Newer starts getting away from sold state, discrete component, thru-hole PCB construction that's easy to begin with. Shown here are ARRL Handbooks from 1969 and 1975. My oldest ARRL handbook is from 1946. The newest is 2013. Most in my collection are 1970s and 1980s vintage. Don't spend more than $10 on one, $5 for the digest-sized ones.

Second book I would get is the ARRL's Experimental Methods in RF Design. Yes, some consider it an "advanced" text. They are idiots. I have some engineering books if you want to see "advanced." The classic reprint edition contains a CD with PDF copies of Solid State Design For the Radio Amateur, Introduction to Radio Frequency Design, and a whole bunch of good BIY articles from QST and QEX.  Between this and a couple late-edition ARRL Handbooks, you are off to a good start. I could go on about good books for your library, but I already did in my book, and by now you should have downloaded a copy.

Many of the references at the end of this article will direct you to homebrewing pages with lists of suggested tools and test equipment. I would start with basic electronic hand tools and test equipment: different sizes of phillips & slotted screwdrivers, wire cutters, wire strippers, a 25-watt soldering iron, solder sucker, various pliers (needle nose, etc.), wrench set, nut driver set, VOM, frequency counter, power/SWR meter, dummy load, antenna analyzer or grid-dip meter, and signal generator. This is stuff any ham who has gone beyond owning a VHF/UHF HT should have and be familiar with.

One of the best things I've read about homebrew ham radio was the Frank and the Five Meter Liberation Army (FMLA) story series by the late Michael N. Hopkins, AB5L/SK. Here is a synopsis by the author:

"A man of the '30s awakens one night in the '90s (episode 13) with a new mission: recapture 56-60 mc. He forms a Five Meter Liberation Army from his mobile home in a Barrio trailer park run by Tom Joad of Steinback's Grapes of Wrath (episode 9), and soon draws a decidedly uncolorful bodyguard (episode 7). A six foot tall half Mexican stockbroker named for Ayn Rand makes him rich and a demonic white ferret and a half-siamese cat become his familiars. (episodes 10 and 9). The leader of all this, called only "Frank," settles down in the narrator's basement to be joined by Maj. Armstrong (episode 8), Hiram Maxim (episode 23) and one-time pals Carl and Jerry from the 1950s Popular Electronics (episode 25). His huge 1940s sedan, with contemporary plates, is immune from police (episode 13 et seq) and his breadboarded electronic creations recall those distant days when a ham built his own rig and could "fix a radio." Of course all this is crazy. No one builds anything anymore and the other things Frank stands for, like self- reliance, tolerance and a generally Boy Scout viewpoint are simply out of step. Frank knows that too (episode 20), but he does not care. If you're standing in the middle of the road and see a big brown Frazer coming at you, you better jump - one way or the other."
The story series is chock full of references to some really good homebrew articles and authors. ARRL members can access the full collection of QST back issues online, and all the back issues of 73 Magazine can be accessed via

No one expects you to be able to roll your own right out of the gate, but instead for you to start learning about RF and electronics, upgrade to rigs that are built in such a way that they can be fixed when they break, and maybe build a kit or two.

Some of the better values in used gear are old-school kits that were previously built. Here we have a late 1970s to early 1980s vintage Heathkit HW-8 QRP HF transceiver. It puts out a couple watts CW on 80, 40, 20, and 15 meters.
A lot of these found their way into field radio kits over the years.A lot of these found their way into field radio kits over the years.

By now you might be familiar with the late homebrewer and ARRL tech writer Doug DeMaw W1FB/SK. He founded Oak Hills Research, and the (now discontinued) QRP Explorer is one of his designs. This is a simple monoband QRP CW transceiver, and an updated kit is available as the OHR-100A.
That's the inside of a QRP Explorer II, and it shows you what you want to look for: discrete components and thru-hole PCB construction. A ham operator built this with basic tools and test equipment I already mentioned, but what if you want something simpler as your first project?
A QRP transceiver that's the diameter of a tuna can from Rex at Toss it with a 8AA battery pack and 40m dipole into the pocket of your field smock, and you are good to go.

All of these rigs share a few things in common. They are all HF rigs. One is 4-band, and the others are on the very popular 40m ham band. They are all CW rigs. CW remains the best way to communicate under austere conditions. It works well with QRP ops, and does not require a PC (greater electrical requirements) to decode the signal. They are all kits, designed to be built, tuned-up, and repaired with test equipment and knowledge any self-respecting ham should have. They are all QRP rigs. That makes them more portable in size and power requirements. QRO is great until you have to lug it around with all it's support equipment. For grid-down and down-grid type commo, QRP is what you should be looking at. While QRP will reach across the globe if  band conditions are decent and you do your part, you are really more interested in reaching out to your AO and surrounding regions than you are in working DX.

To be continued...

References: <- This

18 September 2018

Field Radio With Heathkit HW-8

Sent in by one of our East Coast readers.

Knowledge Is Power - One Month To Go Until Greeley, Colorado SIGINT Class

The Communications Monitoring and SIGINT Class in Greeley, Colorado is only a month away, but there is still time to sign up. If you can't make it to this one, the schedule for 2019 has been established, and at this time only a simple $50 deposit is required.

The past couple weeks have been more interesting than usual. Hurricane Florence whipped through the Carolinas, causing massive storm damage. An over-pressurized natural gas system wreaked havoc in Lawrence and Andover, Massachusetts. An observatory and post office were closed in New Mexico, and several homes evacuated, under odd circumstances. In Alaska, NORAD intercepted Russian military aircraft flying a little too close to American airspace. Last week, Russia announced that they will be conducting war games with China.

You cannot expect to get complete information from the mainstream media. In many cases you can't even expect it to be accurate. You can, however, set up a monitoring post and collect info first hand to get a better picture of things. That's what this class teaches. 

16 September 2018

Radio Realities

  • The way things are going with the establishment media, I would not be surprised if we start seeing more accurate domestic news from China, Russia, and Cuba than we will from ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. If you do not have a police scanner and shortwave receiver you should get one yesterday, as they will be the only way to accurately get information.
  • Your Baofeng or other Chinese-made HT will break sooner than later. You should upgrade.
  • If you are worried about EMP or a Carrington Event, you should have tube gear.
  • You don't have the capability to fix that brand new Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu, or Alinco with its surface mount technology. Get something you can fix like a Heathkit or other kit-based radio that uses solid-state discrete components and thru-hole PCB construction. I have mentioned several, and there are others.
  • Repeaters go down. Don't rely on them. Think simplex.
  • You should have more invested in test equipment and knowledge (books) than in radios.
  • All modern digital modes require computers. CW does not.

VHF Communincations

Wyoming Ham Convention and Field Radios

Yesterday was the Wyoming Ham Convention in Rock Springs. Being that it was "local" (two hour drive), I opted to visit it instead of the Bozeman, MT hamfest which was a little less than 6 hours away and therefore really an overnight trip.

There were three tables selling used gear, and a few vendors including Tac-Comm whose excellent Tactical Radio Carriers are used by many graduates of the Sparks31 classes. Not much in the way of components or inexpensive fiddly bits those of us who roll our own radios look for. One seller did have an item that after the usual ritual haggling found its way home with me.
The item in question being a late 1970s to early 1980s vintage Heathkit HW-8 QRP HF Transceiver. It's CW only on 80,40,20, and 15 meters, and puts out a couple of watts. The quintessential old-skool QRP rig. Solid state components with thru-hole PCB construction. Hams used to build these from kits, and when something breaks, it's simple and easy to repair with test equipment and tools every ham should have in their shack.

It pulls less than a half an amp on transmit, less than a tenth of an amp on receive, which means you can run this thing all day on a $20 7AH SLAB you can pick up at Home Depot or any other hardware store.  Add a Harbor Freight Solar Panel, and you're now off the grid. With a simple dipole antenna you and your buddy across town can practice CW with each other on the old 80 and 40 meter Novice sub-bands.

The HW-8 is a good example of what you should be looking for in a decent field radio. It's simple, no frills, fairly compact, uses common solid state parts, easy to work on, and easy to run off-grid. They average about $125 on Ebay, but you might find one for less at a hamfest. The sellers asking $200+ for them are overpricing them in my opinion, since you can buy a new MTR-3B for around $300.

14 September 2018

Expedient Am and FM Broadcast Antennas


In the current news feed: the massive gas leak/explosion IN Lawerence, Andover, and North Andover, MA.

One internet writer has suggested that their readers monitor radio activity about the event with an internet scanner app.

Nice idea at first, but wrong.

You should be monitoring radio traffic for events occurring in your area of operations. If you live in, say, Montana, Massachusetts is definitely not in your area of operations. You should instead be concentrating efforts on keeping an ear on stuff in your region. Is the COMINT coming out of Eastern Massachusetts

You also should be using your own receiving equipment. Scanner apps use the internet via wireless phone systems, and as we've seen in the past both like to go down in disasters.

The Other Site

13 September 2018


So another FB post goes up on a threeper page of a few military vehicles driving down the road. The usual comments follow.

Let's put things into perspective.

During the 1992 LA riots, there were approximately 10,000 California National Guardsmen, 2,000 soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division, and 1,500 Marines from the 1st Marine Division. 13,500 troops to deal with rioting in an area of about 90 square miles. Roughly a 9.5 x 9.5 mile square. Under modern US military Tables of Organization and Equipment  (TOE), that's 3 Brigade Combat Teams (BCT).

Why is this important? Because we know how many troops it took to suppress a riot in an area that is only 90 square miles. We also know that these troops need transportation for themselves, their gear, and their provisions.

Let's take a look at a Brigade Combat Team TOE from

That's a lot of vehicles.

Multiply it times 3 to get an idea of what they used in LA.

Now those half-dozen humvees driving down the road don't seem like such a big deal, do they?

Also consider that any major deployment of assets is going to generate a lot of radio communications. Got SIGINT and COMINT?

Still though, it's nice to know people are keeping their eyes open.  So how should they report activities of potential interest?

With a SALUTE report.

S –size

10 September 2018