I’m Josiah Ritchie, the control operator of Amateur radio station KEOBLL. My interest in tinkering and electronics expanded greatly as I became aware of the maker movement around 2010 when I started messing with Arduinos and other DC electronics. Among all the people I met in that community were ham radio technicians. I had only heard very little about that world previously and it began to draw more and more of my attention. What better way to expand my skills and knowledge than to build something that could communicate thousands of miles! Little did I know the challenge of building up that knowledge.
It wasn’t until moving to Colorado in 2014 that I found the time to study and passed my Technician exam in July at MegaFest, a local ham fest. Like everyone else, I picked up a Baofung UV-5R and started checking into nets on the local repeaters. I tried my hand at the National Traffic Service and attended a couple of local ham radio club meetings. How exciting to get on the air and communicate with people all over Colorado with the exciting Colorado Repeater Network. Then winter came and standing on the back porch so I could hit the repeater with my 5W HT became less appealing.
I began to realize that what I came to know as “homebrewing” wasn’t a very popular ham activity. I learned what appliance operators were and realized that they didn’t have the view of the hobby that I did. They did amazing things, but not ones I was targetting. Those who were knowledgeable in making their own equipment had huge amounts of knowledge and the gap was sufficient between them and me that I didn’t know how to get over it. At this point I was a little discouraged, but not yet dissuaded entirely.
At this point I didn’t even know the basic terminology. VFO? Inductance? Mixer? My knowledge of DC electronics was simply insufficient. It became obvious that I had to go digging and figure out first what I didn’t know. Eventually I came across the term “RF Electronics” and started studying schematics like Ashar Farhan’s BITX, Minima, eventually the HF1, or the Softrock Transceiver trying to the boundaries of each block and decipher what these blocks did. I became familiar with basically what a Crystal Filter and Mixer did, but I didn’t understand why. In order to put together my own and debug it I had to understand why it worked and why it might fail to work.
At the same time I looked into the various kits and the frequencies that homebrew equipment operated at. It wasn’t long before I realized my Technician licence wasn’t going to cut it. Almost all the kits were above the 10 meter band, the highest (or is that lowest) my Technician would let me go on voice. I decided to start studying for the General so I could actually use the type of equipment I was studying. In June of 2015 I passed that exam, though just barely!
With that behind me, I returned to studying what skills were needed to build a transceiver. I made the pilgrimage to Denver’s Ham Radio Outlet and looked at books, I talked to an employee there who built kits and made recommendations much like I’d seen while lurking on Reddit’s /r/amateurradio, but these all seemed to direct me to read a formal text book or just build kits. There must be something in the middle!
I found that the homebrewers mostly gathered in “QRP” communities that I’d somewhat ignored at first because QRP is about using low power and the conventional wisdom is that starting off in QRP would be hard and discouraging. I guess the typical path to homebrewing is through operating an appliance for awhile, but that wasn’t of much interest to me. It wasn’t what I wanted to learn and those appliances are kinda pricey, even the old used ones.
Once I realized QRP was where the homebrewers was, it didn’t take long to realize morse code was a critical skill also. If you are operating QRP, CW is what makes it possible to find a contact inside your limited range. Voice modes just don’t cut it much. SSB, FM, AM or whatever fades out where CW makes it through. This is the point where I decided to add morse code to the list of skills I needed to get to my objective.
So that leaves me just about where I am in starting this blog. I recently came across K0IYE’s free PDF book, “Crystal Sets to Single Sideband” now in revision 13, it seems to be what I’m looking for in terms of a path to knowledge. For example, his explanations of Inductors, so far, have been far better than I’ve read elsewhere and has the consistent encouragement to learn a “feel” for rf electronics like I’m trying to do.
Among the recommendations in the book is to keep a journal of experiments and what is learned. This blog takes that a bit further. My objectives are; to assist others coming from a similar perspective to find a more streamlined path to this knowledge and encourage myself to write up my findings more formally towards a greater reinforcement.
Please join me!