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Friday, October 26, 2018

Part Five - Getting my Amateur (HAM) radio license and getting on the air

I have learned a lot in the last while about radio repair and the like. The Yaesu FT-757 GXII is now a fully functional radio. But, it took a lot of help from many different people. The saga started with a no power issue. I needed to build a power cable and that was pretty straight forward. The local electronics supply store, Texas Electronics, had the parts in stock. The wiring diagram I found on-line, along with the operator’s manual and a service manual. Once the power cable was completed, I connected it to the power supply and the radio, pressed the switch and …nothing happened. I then stated taking the radio apart, well at least the top cover. This radio was just a little different than those Motorola Motracs, Maxtracs, Micors and Syntors that I used to play with. But, I found that the power cable was fine and that there was power getting to the radio, at least one section of it. I then needed to see if I could figure out why it was not getting to other parts of the radio. Google was very helpful. It provided websites like FOXTANGO that dealt with all kinds of Yaesu radio equipment. There were also Yahoo Groups that provided insight. I posted on these forums trying to get some idea where to go. I had determined where the power was and where it was not. I had checked components in just about every section of the radio. I though that a relay was bad. One Tuesday night I took the radio, power supply and all the schematics to the LARC meeting. I had three people, then four people all with years of experience troubleshooting and repairing radios with their eyes examining the boards, my findings and making suggestions. It got down to them all agreeing that it was probably a bad relay. Gary, (Santa), decided that the easiest way to test to see if the relay was bad was to put a jumper around it. We did that and the radio came to life. So now it was how do we fix the relay? This radio is 30 years old. Parts, such as this relay, (which looked like a black rectangle) were no longer manufactured and trying to find one was beyond hopeless. Fortunately, we found that the black rectangle was actually a box with a lid. We removed the lid and were able to see the coil and the contacts of the relay. By just pushing the contacts closed on powerup, everything worked. Well that was enough for that night. I carefully replaced the top of the radio and put it in a box and took it home.
At home, the kitchen counter (peninsula) was the best place to work on the radio. Standing height, two lights overhead, except it got in the way of kitchen activities. So, further work was moved to the coffee table in the family room. This meant having a flashlight to see things and working on my knees or sitting on the floor. I carefully cleaned the contacts in the relay with alcohol and an emery board. That done, I powered it up and it worked fine, except that it did not receive anything. It was quiet. I made a wire antenna and put on it and still nothing. Back to troubleshooting. This went on for several weeks, then one Tuesday night Gary (Santa), said that he had another radio that I might be interested in. This one an Icom IC-706 MKIIG. This radio was smaller, more like a mobile radio, plus it not only covered the HF bands (160m-6m) it also covered the 2m (VHF) and 70cm (UHF) bands. A great radio. There was a slight “kicker.” There were three different models of the radio built. Some did not include the 2m and 70cm bands. Each model had a removable face plate, so that the face could be mounted remotely from the rest of the radio. The face plates were interchangeable, to a point. The face plate from a MKII model would work on the MKIIG, but, it would not display the 70cm frequencies, or so we thought. The radio that Gary provided was the MKIIG, but the face plate was from a MKII. After some comparison with a MKIIG with the proper face plate, and some experimentation, we found that the MKII faceplate would display the 70cm frequencies, just that instead of being it would show as No problem as long as you remember that, and the fact that we were not licensed in any frequencies.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Part Four - Getting my Amateur (Ham) license and getting on the air.

The next week, back at LARC, the question came up as to when the FCC license would be issued. I had been checking the FCC database almost daily since August 1. Shannon, one of the people that I tested with happened to check the FCC database while we were sitting around a table talking, and found that his license had been issued. He checked my name and sure enough KG5UMH had been issued to me. I was now officially a ham radio operator. I could now legally talk on a prescribed set of radio frequencies in the 2M (144 MHz) and 70cm (444 MHz) bands. I could access and talk on all those repeaters. I could talk across the world, with the assistance of the Internet of course.
The first transmission on my hand-held radio happened the following Monday night during the LARC, ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) Radio Net. Basically, this is a chance to improve your radio skills, check your equipment and listen to others. In the event of a large “disaster” an amateur (ham) radio operator may be asked to assist in setting up communications links between multiple points, and this is what the Monday night Net tries to work on. 
Over the course of several “meetings” at LARC, I got the feeling that Echolink and IRPL were not in the fore-front of most of the member's minds. I heard more talk about 20 meter, 40 meters, 80 meters and the like. These were bands that I could not use (except some sections if I used Morse Code (CW)) for voice or “phone” communications. I also determined that a large percentage of the people in the group either built, repaired or otherwise dealt with used or previously owned radio equipment. Let’s face it, with the exception of, the made in China Baofeng, TYT, QYT, BFJ and many others, which are primarily in the 2m and 70cm bands, amateur radio gear is expensive. It is a limited market. There are only 801,424 licensed amateur radio operators in the US, that is only 0.248% of the population. It is not like wireless phones where there are about 1.5 devices for every person in the US. Japan has a higher number of licensed amateur radio operators then the US at 0.343% of their population.
I asked Chris in an email what his thoughts were about purchasing used equipment. His response was that he had forwarded the email to a few other members, but personally he liked to purchase new, but there were several other members who purchased everything used.
Several days later I received an email from Gary (aka Santa), asking if I knew which end of a soldering iron to hold as he had a Yaesu FT-757GXII that he thought had a bad power connection, internal in the radio at the power plug. If I was willing to take on the challenge, then he would provide the radio, power supply and his expertise if getting the radio back on the air. A monetary arrangement would be arrived at later.
I picked up the radio at a club meeting one Tuesday night in October 2017. The same night that I took my General exam. I told Gary to hang on to the radio, and if I did not pass then he could take it home. His response was – your going to pass, get in there and take the test.
Yep, I passed and took home the Yaesu FT-757 GXII. I had done a bit of research. I knew that there were three models of the FT-757. They all came out in the late 80s, early 90s. There was the standard FT-757, the FT-757 GX (some called this the Mark 1) and then the FT-757 GXII. The biggest difference between the GX and the GXII is the mode (LSB, USB, CW-W, CW-N, AM,FM) selector changed from rotary to a soft switch with lights indicating the mode. A few of the other controls were shifted, and the GXII has more switches than knobs. The tuner control changed from a mechanical detented one to a smooth electronic one. The GXII also came in two power levels, 100w (which I have) and a 10w. The FT-757 was one of the first Yaesu radios with CAT (Computer Aided Transceiver). But, I had a transceiver that would get me on the air in the 160m to 6m bands. I just had to fix it and put up an antenna.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Part Three - Getting my Amateur (Ham) license and getting on the air.

Then it was on to Texas, where for the last 17 years I have been out of anything two- way radio related, except for cellular phones (which are technically radios). It became computers and interfacing an analog telephone system designed in 1968 into a system that would integrate seamlessly with IP technology. Along the way came “band aiding” new technologies (wireless phones, texting) to work with the 1968 technology.
So, I decided that since there was no longer a Morse code requirement for ham radio that I would get my license. Ham radio appealed to me, not only from my childhood experiences and my work experiences, but from the DIY part of it. I have always enjoyed building (or in some cases trying to build) things. Ham radio would allow me to build antennas, may be build some radios or other components, along with the ability to interface the radio to a computer. On top of all that my wife and I plan to drive to Alaska in our motor home and I wanted another layer of communication in case something went awry.
I did my research. I found on-line sites to take practice tests. I found on-line study materials. I read the study material and took practice tests until I had everything memorized. I was ready. Now it was finding a place to take the test. All the resources I found indicated that once a month an exam session was held at the local Red Cross. I also found something about the Lubbock Amateur Radio Club (LARC) that held tests the first Tuesday of every month. The LARC website was out of date so, I did not know if I could depend on that. I checked with some local folks who had been involved in the local amateur radio scene and they basically told me the same thing that I had already found.
So, on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 I showed up at the Lubbock Amateur Radio Club “clubhouse.” Inside I found several people, mostly my age with a few younger and a few older. As soon as I walked in, an older gentleman stuck out his hand and said that his name was George, but everybody called him Chief as that was the rank he held in the Navy. Chief later told me that he had retired from the Navy after many years of service. Another gentleman, Chris, looked up and said “you here to test?” At least I knew that I was in the right place on the right day. After filling out the paperwork, I was given the test and sent into a room with three or four other people that were also testing. I went through the test and managed to remember all the correct answers. I handed my test in and asked if it was in fact $15 and Chris replied that it was $5,000 dollars. Thankfully I knew that he was kidding, or I would have probably passed on right there. My test was scored and then passed around to several other people to review. Chris handed me the test and the scoring sheet and told me to take the papers over to the man in the red shirt with a white beard that they called “Santa Claus.” “Santa” reviewed that test and handed it back to me and directed me to another gentleman in the room, to have him review it also. I handed that gentleman the test and answer sheet and awkwardly walked away to sit at one of the tables. Conversations covered everything from antennas and radios to military experiences to family. The gentleman (Dennis) I had given my test to was with several others around a table talking, he looked up and in a very loud voice asked whose test he had?  I sheepishly said it was mine and he congratulated me for a perfect score and shook my hand. I joined LARC that day. I was unofficially an amateur (ham) radio licensee. Unofficially as the FCC had not granted the license, and I did not have a call-sign assigned. I sat in the room and listened to the conversations. About 7:45 a lot of the people got up and started to leave. I figured things were over and got up to leave and told to come back next week.
I went home and promptly ordered a Baofeng F8HP hand-held radio. After all, that is all I will need to work the repeaters in the local area. There were many on all frequencies. There were Echolink repeaters, IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project) repeaters and base stations set to operate in multi-station mode. I would be set. I could travel the country and be able to program in local (to the area I was in) repeaters, then connect back to Lubbock through Echolink or IRPL, things would be grand.