What’s in the Woodbutcher’s Shack:

Radios Old & New

While it is technically possible (and frequently done) to make contacts with many other hams with limited antennas, low power, and home built equipment, many times more sophisticated equipment makes the job easier, or even makes the difference between making the contact and not making it.

Kenwood TS-850
This is my current (although boxed up) HF radio. It is a Kenwood TS850. It has a general coverage receiver (500 kHz-30 mHz) and transmits on all of the HF Amateur bands (160M, 80M, 40M, 30M, 20M, 17M, 15M, 12M, and 10M) which are often referred to by the typical wavelength at that frequency (M=meters). The transmitter will put out 100 watts and there is an automatic tuner. It does all modes, SSB (upper and lower; a type of voice modulation), CW (Morse code), RTTY (radio teletype), FM, and AM.

My amplifier, an Alpha 87A. It is amazing. In addition to some very complex microprocessor controls to protect against antenna mismatch and non optimal circuit conditions, it will automatically change bands whenever it detects that the transmitter is on a band different than what the amplifier is. It detects the frequency and changes bands in less than a second.

Alpha 87A

Not all hams have an amplifier, maybe only 30% do, but it helps to have extra power available (hams are allowed to transmit with up to 1500 watts) for certain situations. For example when propagation doesn’t provide a signal path good enough for lower power communications, or when competing with other DXers to work a distant station, or to maximize the number of contacts you can attract in a contest.

Truth be told, I no longer own this amplifier. Although I now live in a house again and could conceivably rebuild a substantial installation, the fire in the belly for radio is in a dormant state for me and I finally succumbed to the reasonable offer the friend to whom I had loaned it made. He was using it, I wasn’t (and wouldn’t for the foreseeable future). It’s like my father when he sold his airplane, though (a tale told in my flying biography), I have no regrets about it.

Front view of tower

Many hams have only small antennas or even wire antennas, but I was fortunate enough to be able to erect a 70’ tower next to the house and install a large directional array on it. It started out as a 60’ tower and a medium sized directional antenna (Mosely TA-33), but about a year after moving in, I added another 10’ at the suggestion of a friend—that brought me up to ≈70’, very close to a wavelength at 20 Meters, which is considered the lowest optimum height for an antenna for best takeoff angle of the radiated signal. Translation—makes me louder. I also replaced the Mosely with the Hy-Gain TH6DXX shown. The TH6 has slightly better gain but superior front-to-back ratio over the TA-33. The TA-33 went to a local friend for his first beam antenna.

This is a view from the back of the house on the day the TH6 went up. The shiny section of tower is the one I added. That’s me up on the tower. I did all the aerial work myself, sometimes with the help of some fine ground crew volunteers. The only exception was when I took the tower down—my good friend, Dave-of-many-calls, did a session topside bringing the mast and a few other things down.(Detailson all that the tower ultimately held—unfortunately I don’t have a picture of that)

Rear view of tower

The Woodbutcher himself

As is the case with the woodworking shop documented elsewhere, this station no longer exists since we sold the house in Illinois and moved into a condominium in Florida. I have all the equipment in storage against a day when I can re-establish K4QG on the air. This is a picture from my radio active days pretending to operate (this was actually taken at a friend’s shack, but pictures of myself that I can stand to look at are rare). I can assure you that I now have less hair, it’s a different color, and I’m carrying more pounds than in this picture.

Let me sneak this in here before you get lost in my tales of equipment over-indulgence. I subscribed to 73 magazine for a few years in the late ’70s/early ’80s. There were frequently some good articles in it and it was sometimes amusing to see what editorial tangent the publisher, Wayne Green, W2NSD (SK, 13 September 2013), was going to go off on. He is legendary in that way. I’m not sure of the issue, but I was particularly taken by one article that had a lot of information about sending CW (Morse code) with a straight key (the old time, telegraph-type key, pictured right). By the time the article had been published, the vast majority of hams, particularly Novices, had jumped to electronic keyers, because they had trouble learning to send with a straight key. In recent years, however, there has been a resurgance of straight key operation. There’s even a group, SKCCStraight Key Century Clubdevoted to them.This articleexplains how to do it right.

the ubiquitous J-38 telegraph key

Nostalgia Section

I was first licensed in 1963, and in those days (and until the ’90s) a Novice license was the entry level license (now no longer available). Unlike more recent years, however, the Novice in those days was quite restricted in privileges and term of license. For example, back then, the Novice license was valid for one year only (and only one time), up-or-out. Power was limited to 75 watts (later increased to 200), and transmit frequency had to be crystal controlled.

National NC300

I was very fortunate to have supportive parents in those teenage years who popped some pretty good money for my first station. My receiver was a used National NC300 purchased at Amateur Radio Center in Miami (long out of business). The NC300 only a few short years earlier had been marketed as the Dream Receiver based on the significant survey National had done among Amateurs looking for what Amateurs wanted in a top quality receiver.

Heathkit, a prominent electronics kit manufacturer from the 40s through the 80s, also produced a line of Amateur equipment, much of it still on the air today. The DX100 was a state of the art transmitter in the 50s, and still did a pretty good job when I got one (used) from an inactive ham who lived around the corner, no more than ten doors away.

Heathkit DX100

These were not small pieces of equipment, and the DX100 had to have been so designated for its weight. I carried it by myself once...once. They took up a lot of room on a desk, and being made well before the advent of solid state, generated a lot of heat! Not that welcome to a Florida ham.

Some hams still like the older, vintage radios, and have extensive collections of them. Not me, though; I like my cool solid state, computer interfaced, no-tune modern equipment.

HF Radios

Heath SB-303
HF Receiver
My first radio purchase when I decided to get back into ham radio. I used this to copy Morse code to get my speed up, and then used it for nearly ten years in conjunction with the transmitter below. I worked a lot of DX with them. Per an article somewhere (QST probably) I installed a noise blanker from an SB-104 in it with questionable results. I also rigged a modification (again, based on a magazine article) whereby it and the SB-401 would transceive on either VFO (the pair was designed to operate as separates—with some shared circuitry—or to operate transceive on the receiver VFO).
Heath SB-401
HF Transmitter
I picked this up (used, already assembled) at a local hamfest only days after my new Advanced license arrived. It transceives with the ’303 above and was a workhorse for me for years. Among the last of the radios you could actually work on, I found a cold solder joint on the 10M coil in the driver circuit which cured an annoying problem of miniscule power output on 10M I’d experienced periodically. I think I worked ZL1AMO with mere milliwatts before I fixed it.
Kenwood TS830
HF Transceiver
After several years of using the Heath pair I got my hands on a TS830 and companion VFO-230 at a friend’s and immediately started working on a plan to obtain one. Life was never the same. This was a great radio, and light years ahead of the Heaths. In the end, the tube finals (I’m lazy) and the lack of ability to interface with computer logging or contest software forced me to move up to the ’850. The ’830 found a good home with a deserving local.
Yaesu FT-757GX
HF Transceiver
Shortly after my parents got their licenses, I went down to Miami to visit them and attended the Miami Hamfest for the purpose of selecting an HF radio for them. The FT757 is what they wound up with. Sometime later a local had the matching tuner for sale and I picked it up for them. After they moved to a condo I took it home and had it mobile in our Explorer for a while. I still have it.


Heath SB-220
I don’t think I ever actually owned an SB-220, but a friend who was going away for six months loaned me his, and it started me on the path of QRO. Gazillions of them around. They’re a simple, reliable, effective amp. The pair of 3-500Z tubes are popular workhorse bottles for amps, and have the distinct advantage of having nearly full output available mere seconds after turning on the amp.
Dentron GLA-1000
After the 220 went back to its home I was bereft of power. A local had this for sale really cheap so I bought it figuring there wasn’t all that much difference between 1KW and 1.5KW. There is. Sweep tubes (tubes commonly used in television sweep amplifier circuitry and adapted for use as RF amplifiers) also are no comparison to a real RF power tube (such as the 3-500Z in the SB-220 above). Darn thing was noisy, too. I wasn’t unhappy when I got rid of it, and I have no recollection of who I saddled with it.
Kenwood TL-922
I had a chance at this amp (to match my Kenwoods) from a local SK. I used it for quite a while. After I got my Alpha, I found that all legal limit amps are not created equal. Although this also used the 3-500Zs (and thus instant on), its 1.5KW was not at all like the Alpha 1.5 KW. Still, it was a decent, if unspectacular, performer.

Adventures (Briefly) On 6M

Heath SB-110
6M Transceiver
I bought this and built it in late 1967. I had fun for a while with it. There was a regular local crowd on 6M SSB in those days and sometimes I spent two or three hours a night chatting with them. I even brought a date over once and put her on the air. About six months later I hired on with the FAA (1968) and I never had it on the air again. Years later I happened across one of those locals who I had visited back in the day and had even gone to a local tavern with him featuring, ahem, live entertainment. He didn’t remember me or the tavern at all. What a blow that was.

There’s No Such Thing As Too Many 2M Radios…

That was a catch phrase some of us locals threw around frequently in the ’80s. We used to use it to badger new hams into getting on 2M and as an excuse when trying to justify a new 2m purchase to the long suffering SWMBOs. However, developing this section has proven to be more than a little embarrassing. I didn’t realize I’d had so many of these until I started gathering pics and making a list. Dare I say it? Is it possible to have too many 2M radios? Naaaaah!
Icom IC22A
2M Transceiver
After I reactivated my ham radio career, my friend WB9NJL loaned me a handheld for local 2M FM use. It was a nice introduction, but it was immediately apparent that I needed something with a little more oomph. Another friend, WB9ICR (later N9CD, my study partner for the Extra) sold me this nice crystal controlled 2M radio. I used it for some time—first in our Volkswagen beetle, later in our Ford E150 van, I believe.
Yaesu FT-227
2M Transceiver
Eventually getting tired of buying crystal pairs every time I wanted to get on a different repeater, and synthesized radios becoming affordable, I happened across this radio. Barebones, but with capability for odd splits (a necessity in the Fox River Valley at the time), it’s bullet proof and easy to PL™ (sub audible tone, used to control access to a repeater and minimize interference—it’s a trademarked Motorola feature, Private Line), albeit only 10 watts. At one time that was plenty! As I recall, I installed a dip switch in the top cover to allow programming different PL tones. This replaced the IC22A in the van. Later it went to the shack. I’m not sure where it is, now.
Icom IC-28A
Icom IC-28H
2M Transceiver
Wanting to have an attractive stack of identical looking radios, and with an IC38 (below) in hand, I got a 25 watt “A” model for 2M packet, and an “H” model (45 watts) for voice. The “A” went to a fixed 4 element beam which worked fine for packet up and down the valley, while the “H” could be switched between an 11 element beam fixed to the northeast (for the local DX repeater) and an 11 element beam on the tower several feet below the 4218XL SSB/CW antenna.

These ICx8 pics are of an IC28A, but they all look the same from the front except for the digits in the display and the model number in the logo. Like the earlier ICx7 radios (described below) the ICx8 series was available in 2M, 220 MHz, and 440 MHz versions. I had yet another 28A mounted in our Aerostar in a custom panel which replaced the ashtry. Nicest looking install I ever did.
Icom IC-38
220 MHz
The local DX community ran their PacketCluster on 220MHz, so I acquired this radio for it. IC38s were hard to find and I was lucky to get one. Now with DX spots available on the internet, I wonder what I’ll do with this thing. It ran to a 4 element beam (modified from a 2M beam) fixed toward the favorite PacketCluster node. The Achilles heel of the IC-x8 radios was the bulb lighting the display—easy to burn out, hard to replace. Yes, I know—220 MHz is not 2M. Where would you put it?
Icom IC-37
220 MHz
I’m pretty sure I had one of these for a short time. The ICx7 series radios were the predecessors of the ICx8 series above. 220 MHz radios were hard to find at the time and when an IC38 wasn’t immediately forthcoming, I got an IC37. It worked fine but it ran surprisingly hot from the LED display. When an IC38 appeared, I got it and sold this. I have no idea when or to whom. I edited out a big ’ol ugly microphone in the picture of this I found. Cool, huh?
Kenwood TR-7800
2M Transceiver
I had ongoing needs for 2M radios—mobiles, radio shack, kitchen, shop, etc. Kenwoods always did a good job with oddball repeater splits (a necessary feature in the area) so I got this somewhere along the line. This picture is of a higher power 7850 (see below) although they are virtually identical from the front. I think I ran it in the Volkswagen for a while. I’m not sure what happened to it, as I don’t seem to have it in inventory, now.
Kenwood TR-7850
2M Transceiver
A higher power model followed. This is sad. I can’t even remember where I used this. This also is unaccounted for from when we packed for our move. I may have loaned it to someone or even sold it, but I’ve forgotten which or to whom. Clearly, lack of 2M radios is not a problem for me, however, inventory control is.
Kenwood TR-7930
2M Transceiver
This was no doubt in conjunction with a vehicle upgrade, but I don’t remember which. It may have been in the Volkswagen and it may have been in the Volvo. Nice radio. Not sure what happened to it.
Kenwood TR-7950
2M Transceiver
As ever more power became available in mobile transceivers I, too, chased the power spiral. Not for no reason—we travelled enough that working repeaters on the Interstate often needed an extra 3 dB. I think I ran this in our Volvo.
Kenwood TR-7625
2M Transceiver
I needed a radio with odd split capability (due to a local repeater we used regularly) for the kitchen (doesn’t every ham family have a 2M radio next to the microwave?). I can’t remember where I happened across this, but it was a nice radio—sort of barebones, utilitarian, like the Yaesu FT227.
Icom IC-229H
2M Transceiver
This low profile radio filled a new car need at one time. The PTT switch on the microphones were the weak link—I think I went through a couple of them. Microphones, that is—the micro-switch was not a repairable item, nor was a microphone cheap. I believe I ran this exclusively in our first Explorer. I also think I had more than one of them. Perhaps I had it installed in our daughter’s car. Spreadsheet says!: three! I’m pathetic.
Icom IC-2AT
2M Handheld
This was the first HT (short hand for Handie Talkie™, which is Motorola’ trade name for hand held transceivers) I actually owned—circa 1982. I got a pair of them when SWMBO worked in the city for a while and was commuting on Metra. They didn’t work all that well from the train, but well enough that she could alert me when she was 15 or 20 minutes out and I could drive down to the station to pick her up. I do remember selling these at a hamfest.
Kenwood TH-25AT
2M Handheld
We had four of these in the family at one time—one for each licensed ham. Some of our best family memories revolve around these radios. Bike rides, road rallies, hamfests, picnics, etc. My daughter sold hers a few years ago—I still have the other three. Nice HTs.
Kenwood TR-751
2M All Mode
With 80+ feet of tower available, it was silly not to do some 2M weak signal work. I had made a couple of attempts with a transverter on my TS830, but it wasn’t satisfactory so when I found this rig on a packet BBS ad I decided to get it and give 2M SSB and CW a try. I intend to eventually get it back on the air. It fed the RF Concepts amp below, and went to a Cushcraft 4218XL at 84’ on the tower. A Landwehr mast mounted preamp brought the signals down the Heliax.
RFC 2-317
RF Concepts
2M Amplifier
I suppose this should be under Amplifiers, but since it’s a 2M amp, maybe it is rightly here. Although the TR751’s 25 watts is certainly adequate, particularly when running low loss feedline and a high gain antenna way up in the air, I was already QRO on HF and there was no reason I shouldn’t be QRO on 2M. This amp was very highly acclaimed in its day and I had no experience to the contrary. The picture is of the 2-117, whereas mine is a 2-317 but that merely indicates that it will accept input power up to 30 watts, and it’s otherwise identical.
RFC 2-317 Alinco ELH-230G 2M Amplifier This is a small (much smaller than it looks, compared to the RFC above—it’s not 3" wide) 2M amp, designed to give an HT a little more zip for mobile work. I have never used it—I inherited it from my parents and never added it to any installation since, with exception of our own HTs, we always had a minimum of 25 watts at our disposal.

To put the coda on the sadness, my current inventory seems to be:

14 2M radios! Too many? Yeah, probably in my current circumstances, but twenty years ago, no. Every one of them were useful and necessary.

Last updated: 05 October 2016

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