December 9

December 9.  Two notable radio-related things happened to me on this day, 40 years apart.  Of little interest to anyone other than me, but this is a blog and that's what blogs are for.


On this day in 1976, I bought one of these:

Well, almost like this.  Mine was branded Lloyd's CB-2123 and not Spark-O-Matic.  Otherwise, it was identical.  I didn't realize it at the time but the reason this was being offered for the unheard-of price of $79.99 (about half of what the cheapest radios had cost all that summer) was that they were being dumped on the Canadian market.

On January 1st of 1977 -- mere weeks after I bought the radio in question -- the FCC was to increase the number of Class D CB channels from 23 to 40.  While this was great for the CBers who would nearly double the number of available channels, it was a big problem for manufacturers.

Once the news of the FCC's new rules (surely a Report and Order after a Notice of Proposed Rule-making) got out, the bottom dropped out of the CB market as consumers didn't want to be stuck with "obsolete" 23-channel radios.

Some manufacturers reacted by including a coupon that would allow for a free "remanufacturing" of the 23-channel radio into a 40-channel unit after the first of the year.  I have no idea how that worked given that most 23-channel rigs used a crystal matrix to synthesize the 23 (or, more often, 24!) channels; only the most expensive units had phase-locked loop digital synthesis.

The Canadian market offered a way out for some.  The Canadian Department of Communications didn't plan their CB expansion -- legally the General Radio Service, or GRS, a name no one used -- until April 1st of 1977.  So US-based manufacturers started dumping them north of the border.  In this case, Spark-O-Matic evidently worked with or otherwise struck a deal with Lloyd's, a Canadian company that sold consumer electronics gear, to sell these radios in Canada.

Worked for me:  I was finally able to afford a CB radio!  Something I had coveted all through the summer of 1976.  Many hams look down on CB for some reason and while in my area there were certainly a number of jerks on the air, most people were quite pleasant.  We even had directed nets on busy nights and had RDF contests.  We had fun.


So today, 40 years later to the day, I'm in the car on the way to work.  The radio stops scanning on AO-85's VHF downlink frequency and I hear the recorded voice of the little girl who IDs the satellite when the voice transponder is activated.

One of the regulars is on but there is not the usual cacaphony of stations trying to make contacts.  There is a lull and I kerchunk (my radio is programmed with the UHF uplink and VHF downlink in the same memory slot).  I hear a gap in the audible hash that is caused by AO-85's Data Under Voice telemetry (at least, I think that's the noise) and that gap is about the right delay given the distance to the satellite (over the Great Lakes at that point).  So I decide to give out my callsign and grid locator. AND I GOT A REPLY!

I had no idea that you could work satellites (of the low-earth-orbit variety in this case) on a regular FM dual-band mobile radio and basically a unity-gain antenna (Comet SBB-1NMO).  Ironically, I had had no luck at all over the summer and fall with AO-85 using my HT and an Arrow-II satellite antenna, a setup I've used quite a bit with SO-50.

Interestingly, the FT-90 installation in the car is sort of half-assed, with power being drawn from the cigarette lighter.  On most of the regular repeater channels, I have the power set down at the 5- or 10-W level so I don't blow the fuse (it's hardly needed for the local repeaters).  When I checked the memory settings after I made my QSO this morning, I found that it was set to high for AO-85!  I have no idea why the fuse didn't blow.


New Stuff

Clearly have not posted more often even though I do, in fact, have a master's degree (in nothing RF- or computing-related!).  I did, however, attend the Dayton Hamvention for the first time.  I made a point of attending the AMSAT forum (even ducking out early from the HamNation forum to attend) and ended up being jazzed (again) about satellite operation.  In college, I contacted both the Space Shuttle and MIR as well as making contacts via AO-13 and, I think, its predecessor AO-10.  Not sure we ever operated any LEO sats, though at the time, most were packet and, for whatever reason, we weren't QRV on orbital packet (we certainly had all the pieces at the school's station).  I do remember listening to DO-17 trying to make its voice synth work.  Some stuff was hard 25 years ago.  Anyway, other than occasionally copying the Shuttle or ISS mostly by accident, I'd done nothing spacey.

I became an AMSAT member at Dayton and when I got back, I ordered an Arrow hand-held satellite antenna (with the diplexer and a mounting clamp).  They aren't expensive and they work really well.  Longer story short, I made a half-dozen satellite QSOs standing out in the yard back in June ... and then it got really hot, which took all the fun out of standing out in the yard.  It's cooler now, so I need to get back at it.  I've only been able to successfully work via SO-50, a Mode V/u FM satellite.  I've not yet been successful with AO-85, Mode U/v FM.  I need to figure out how to set up for AX.25  packet, too, since there are a couple satellites that will digipeat.

For several years, I've wanted an IC-910H multimode rig.  After considering an IC-9100, Icom's replacement for the venerable 910, I decided that the extra kilobucks needed to get that radio weren't worth the money, since I already have the IC-746Pro for HF/6/2 and had no plans to get rid of it.

Looked and looked and found an IC-910H that had the UX-910 L-Band module and a single UT-106 DSP module.  And I got it for a great price.  Before I found the 910, I bought a used CD-II-type rotator, an MFJ 6-m Yagi and a Diamond 70-cm Yagi.  I don't have the support to get all that in the air quite yet, but will soon get that 70-cm beam up in the air.  Don't have anything for 1.2 GHz, either.  If that wasn't enough, I also got an excellent deal on an Elecraft XV-222 1.25-m transverter.

So I've gone from having "weak signal" ability only on 6 and 2 but also 1.25 m,  70 cm,  and 23 cm.  This setup (once it's all set up!) will also allow me to work some of the linear transponder satellites, albeit only on near-horizon passes.

OK, off to do some repeater work.


Not selling the Isopoles after all

Spouse finally got me to climb the ladder to do something about the Isopoles on the end of the house. I've got both the 2-m and 70-cm versions with a diplexer (band-pass filter) feeding them into the radio room.  Since they've been up, I've never really been happy with their performance.  I eventually stuck an Arrow Antennas GP146/440 up to replace them and just used the Isopoles for the scanners.

So when I got up the ladder and got all the dead vines away, I opened up the plastic box that holds the diplexer to start disconnecting things.  First thing I noticed was that one of the PL-259s, the one on the VHF port, was loose.  No big deal. Hmm, which antenna does this feed again? Maybe that's the problem.  Hey, look!  It's connected to the UHF Isopole.  And naturally, the UHF port was connected to the VHF antenna. 

Gee, do you think connecting it backwards is a problem?