Saturday, November 23, 2013

It's True, Ham Radio Always Gets Through

Wednesday, 20-Nov-2013 I pulled one of the craziest ham radio stunts I've ever pulled.
It started when my oldest two kids brought home a sheet of paper that said  something about "The Great American Teach-in." My wife suggested I talk about ham radio.

I accepted, and found myself agreeing to speak to two classes, one full of kindergardeners, and one full of third graders. When I speak to kids, I can't help but smile. They ask questions, tell you stories, and keep you thinking all the time.

I decided pretty quickly on two things:

1. QSL cards would have to be involved. They are a good, quick visual way to show something about ham radio.
2. It's one thing to tell people about amateur radio, but I wanted to go further. I knew that somehow we would have to find a way to do radio.

With this in mind, I concocted a plan to spend about five to ten minutes talking about radio, and the balance of the time trying to make a QSO. I decided to bring several radios, so the kids could see what a built radio looked like, and so that they could understand that making radios is an important part of the hobby (to me). I used my Swan 100MX to attempt contacts because I wanted the power the Swan transmits (100w max). I brought several antennas, and two different ones, one for the kindergardeners, and a different one for the third graders. I did this because I had the ability to set my station up before hand with the kindergardeners, and I had to do the set up "live" with the third graders.

The setup for the Kindergarden class went smooth. Earlier in the week I had my two daughters help me build an antenna, the 2 band HF Groundplane featured in December 2013's QST. They were great help getting it made, and I wanted them to be able to generate some chatter about helping build it after I gave the presentation. I used this antenna for the Kindergardeners. A parent volunteer from the school helped me get things set up. He was a great help, and it turns out his third grader is in my third grader's class, so that was cool. Testing it out, I had some hiccups in connecting the feedline to the antenna, but it shook out after I reseated the connection. I went to get some juice on the air, and discovered three unfortunate things right away. First of all, my phone's battery was depleted. I think it's getting old. Certainly, it doesn't hold a charge like it use to, and it cut off at the absolute worse possible time. Second, the update that happend to the twitter application on my phone broke the application 15 minutes before I needed the application to announce my operating times/frequencies. Third, once I did manage to get my weakened battery to power on, I discovered that the clock was out of sync, and that instead of being several minutes early, I was late. I hate being late. Kids couldn't tell I was that late though. Propagation was strange on 15 and 20, and we made no contacts. Kids still gawked at the antenna and radios though, so that was pretty neat.

Shortly before my scheduled appearance time with the third graders, I tore the station down, packed it up, and trucked it over, making it just in time.
I walked into the class room with RG-8 wrapped around my chest like a bandolleer, and said:
"My name is Mr. Brandon, and I'm here to tell you about the greatest hobby in the world, Amateur radio."
Apparently, I made a great impression, because my daughter relayed later how some of the guys said I was "cool".
We went outside, and I passed out the QSL cards, I had them find the names and locations of the hams on the cards, while I got the station laid out. Then I spent about 10 minutes quizzing the kids about the information they discovered on the cards, and telling where each one originated, and the QSO that went along with it. I then told them how radios take one kind of electricity and turned it into another, and I plugged in the powersupply, and turned the radio on. We didn't hear much, because I hadn't hooked the antenna up yet. I hooked up the antenna tuner, and we still heard nothing. Then I hooked up the antenna. When I turned the radio on, I had strategically placed the dial near the lower end of 20m hoping to hear some CW. That strategy worked. They heard Morse Code. I was using a different antenna this time, for the third graders I wanted to use and easy to deploy antenna, one with a single support. I chose one of the End Fed Half Wave antennas I recently described. It only took one throw to get the line up and the antenna in the air. As it rose, the signal strengths came up, and the morse code got louder. We took a tour of the band, and then I went to 14.330 where I had said I was going to be. I called "Is the frequency in use?" twice, and when I heard nothing, sent out a CQ. BOOM, David, KW1DX comes right back to us. Several jaws dropped, and we started a pleasant QSO. The bands were a little funny, and we could never get over 55, but I did let several of the kids ask David questions. The neat thing was that David has a third grader in his family. The kids in the class made note of that.  We had a QSO on 20, and then we QSY'd to 15 with David, and signals on his end improved a little, but not a lot.

The kids had to go to lunch at 11, so we said our 73's and they went back to class. I got everything packed back up, and went home.

Portable radio is fun, and I'm glad I've had several opprotunities to work stations from the work parking lot. That prepared me to quickly and efficiently get the antennas in the air. For next time, I think I will focus on promoting the event, and try to have multiple ways of getting the word out, perhaps via the local repeater, and maybe even getting a couple of stations on frequency before hand.
I could also stand to lose some weight, trying to carry a box full of radios is hard work.

GB Hoyt

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