My Amateur Radio Bucket List. What’s Yours?

I’ve been interested in radio/rf every since I laid my eyes on a radio shack catalog when I was a kid. I’ve just always had this attraction to it.
25 years later, I am still into it. I’ve been licensed since 2001 and I’ve upgraded in 2009 and 2011. For some of you, that’s not a long time but I feel it is… for now.
I have accomplished many goals I’ve set in amateur radio. Got my license, got my extra, made DX contacts,  got my VE creds, taught a class, held my own exams, operated at W1AW, operated a large multi-multi contest station, ISS contact and many other things, but there is still so much to do. That’s what’s great about amateur radio. There is just so many possible things you can do within the hobby that it could possibly take a lifetime to achieve. Even though some hams lost their marbles, I think ham radio will keep your mind sharp as long as you put the effort into learning and keep an open mind.

I still have a list of things I would like to do in Amateur Radio. Here they are in order of most importance.

  • Learn Morse Code – Ever since I upgraded, I wanted to learn Morse Code. Even though I am a “Dittless wonder” according to some, I understand the importance of CW. I do a lot more with CW than phone. It would especially help out in multimode contest where CW contacts are worth more points. But knowing that my CW signal will travel farther than my phone signal is why I really want to learn. This is extremely important to where I am spending more time learning CW than being on the air at this moment in time.
  • Phone EME contact – I’ve always wanted to bounce a signal off the moon. It would be much better if I can bounce my voice off the moon and get a reply. I have really never dabbled in the VHF/UHF spectrum other than hopping on a repeater here and there and participating in a VHF contest or two. There is a chance where this is possible since there is an array close by.
  • Win a major contest – I’ve always wanted to win a major contest. Sure that is easily said than done but it would be great to get a plaque from participating in a major contest. However I doubt it would be from my home. Maybe I can sweet talk a near-by big gun station for just one contest. I would like to win it solo under my callsign.  However learning CW and being able to contest with it is key.  This is reserved for later in life.
  • Build an SSB transceiver – Even though some harp on the AM’er on 80m, I am amazed that a lot of them are talking on homebrew equipment with studio sounding quality to their signal. That is some talent considering we’re now living in a consumer age where everything is software based and on proprietary IC chips that fit on the surface area of a postage stamp. I would like to build my own rig from scratch. I don’t care if it’s someone elses plans, I just want to build my own rig. I want to know what exactly every component is doing and why it’s there.  If I were to start now, the MiniMA radio would be perfect.
  • DXpedition – Also reserved for later in life. I would love to take my equipment and run off to an island or a semi rare spot to do an DXpedition. Be on the other side of a major pileup for a change. So far the biggest pileup I’ve ever had was for W1AW/1 (MA) and I had an absolute blast doing it. I would love to be part of a team but I just don’t have the time or money to make it happen.
  • Aeronautical mobile on HF – I would love to be able to do HF from an airplane high up in the sky just once. That is very difficult but I just wonder what the traffic would be like on the frequency. How packed would it be? I do have an option to try it on VHF so I will try to take advantage of it.

That’s about it really. I am sure many other things will come up as technology improves and my interests change. DXCC honor roll and other awards should be up there but at this point in time, they don’t really seem important to me. After getting DXCC basic, chasing paper sort of went downhill.

Thanks for reading. What is on your bucket list?

–  Jeff NT1K

SOTA Activation – Jan 18th – Mt Tom (W1/MB-006)

It’s a new year! For those who are into activating summits, this means we can go back out and activate our easy and close-by summits that will count for points.  A known SOTA activator in the region (Doug, W1DMH) was going to be in the area activating a couple summits which caught the interest of a couple other hams in the area..  It was reported that it was going to be a rain/sleet/snow mix for the entire day so I was under the impression that I wasn’t going to be out. While out running errands, I’ve noticed it was clear enough so I ran home, got my gear and went to Mt. Tom.

It’s been awhile since I activated any kind of summit. I would also say it  was the last time I really ever “exercised”. The hike up was not easy. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath and I ended up taking baby steps to  the summit.

SOTA 1/18/14 - Mt Tom

Once I got to the top of the mountain, I was able to catch my breath but then I had to setup shop. Visibility at the summit was poor due to weather. Due to other activators in the area were already on the air, I had no time to walk around to see what was up.

Setting Up

After seeing a lot of activators using some sort of monopole to support their antenna, I jumped on  the band wagon and purchased a fiberglass kite pole during the holidays

Jack Kite Pole

I ended up going with the 31′ Jack Kite Pole.  I wouldn’t say that it’s the best choice for activities like SOTA. Soon as I got it out of the box, the threaded cap came off. It happened more than once which caused all the sections to fall out. I’ve also read reports of the top sections breaking under light loads. To be fair, it was designed to be use with kites. To combat the issues, I’ve removed the top two sections and made a sheath using left over outdoor canvas that I used for my Elk antenna. The sheath has a shoulder strap that allowed me to carry the pole w/o much issue.



Here is the kite pole with antenna mounted to the top.

In past activations that included the same exact spot, I’ve used a Mini G5RV by throwing rocks with a rope attached into the trees. The trees on some of these summits are not that tall and could only manage to get the antenna 6ft off the ground. It worked but I could have done better if it were higher. This time with the kite pole, things went much faster even though I had some issues  with getting the wire  snagged  in nearby tree branches.


I try to stay as minimal as possible. Even more so if  know the layout of the mountain/hill. What you see in the above photo is what I took up. I packed the KX3, microphone, battery, 90 degree BNC adapter, antenna, kitepole, mason line (rope), elastic cord, tape and 2m HT. Due to the massive amount of RF that is already present on top of the mountain, doing a VHF activation is out of the question. I’ve heard other people up there trying to do VHF and they always had trouble receiving.

Getting On The Air

Once the antenna is up, getting on the air is quite easy. However getting spotted or spotting yourself (which is allowed using SOTAwatch) could be difficult depending on conditions and which mode you’re using. I lucked out because I had cell service and was able to spot myself. Since this was last second, I didn’t have the time to give advanced warning of the activation.


A minute or so after spotting, my first call was from Doug (W1DMH) who was on another summit nearby. This counts as a Summit to Summit (S2S) contact that gives both doug and myself extra points. I was hoping to work Jim (KK1W) and Frandy (N1FJ as NE1SJ) that were also on nearby summits but I sort of arrived late to the game and missed out on 2 additional S2S.

After the first contact, the rest came in one after another with the occasional pileup. It was very exciting and made it worth the trip up. Talking on SSB with stations all around the US is fun when you’re using low power. I can see why people find QRP to be very rewarding. I also made some DX contacts with stations in Canada, England and my furthest contact with GI4OUL in N. Ireland. Approx 3000mi only using 7W (428mi per watt)  is not bad.

Thanks to the following who worked me.

Call Time Band Mode Notes
W1DMH 17:43 14MHz SSB Thanks For S2S
N4EX 17:44 14MHz SSB Thanks!
AE4FZ 17:44 14MHz SSB
VE1WT 17:45 14MHz SSB
AJ5C 17:45 14MHz SSB Thanks!
K0LAF 17:45 14MHz SSB
W0MNA 17:45 14MHz SSB
WG8Y 17:46 14MHz SSB
NS7P 17:46 14MHz SSB
KI4SUM 17:47 14MHz SSB
W7RV 17:48 14MHz SSB
W4DOW 17:48 14MHz SSB
NE4TN 17:49 14MHz SSB
WA4WKL 17:49 14MHz SSB
W4SKC 17:50 14MHz SSB
VA6FUN 17:52 14MHz SSB 2000mi on 10W TY!
AD5A 17:52 14MHz SSB Thanks for TX!
W5ODS 17:52 14MHz SSB
K4WAI 17:53 14MHz SSB
G4UXH 17:54 14MHz SSB Thanks for DX!
N6KZ 17:55 14MHz SSB
AA7DK 17:56 14MHz SSB
WB9EAO 17:57 14MHz SSB
K9ICP 17:58 14MHz SSB
GI4ONL 18:00 14MHz SSB Thanks for DX!
KC4TAC 18:00 14MHz SSB
W7RV 18:14 24MHz SSB
W1MSW 18:15 24MHz SSB

After doing a few summits, some of the callsigns start to become familiar as they chased me on other summits in the past. It’s nice to hear them and it makes it real easy to pick them out on packed/noisy bands.

Lessons Learned

Even though I’ve done over 6 summits alone, I’m still learning things along the way. For example, my logbook.



It’s an envelope… Not an logbook. It works but not well. I need some better way to log contacts w/o using some big and bulky notepad.
The G5RV needs to replaced with a SOTA version. Right now the current G5RV is using #14 electrical wire and the ladder line is solid core. It’s bulky and tangles to easily.  I would like to still use the G5RV as it works well but I would like to use polystealth wire and a ladder line made from stranded cable that was thinner.

Thanks for reading!

My SB-200 Project – Update 1

Well, after a month or so of operation with the SB-200, my first “oops” happened. I went to turn on the amplifier and I thought I had everything correct and when I went to TX I heard a loud “Pop” sound. Quickly shut off the amp and disconnected the power. Opened the case to find that one of the resistors and  the parasitic suppressors popped. I knew something was going to happen because the resistors were turning black.

Since I had to fix the suppressors, I figured this was the time to do some other “Modifications” to the amp. When I first rebuilt the amp, I ordered all the parts to do almost all the mods that you see on KL7FM’s SB-200 Page. I figured since it’s opened up, this would be the time to do SOME of those mods listed on his site. Are these mods needed?.. Nope! If they were then I would assume that they would have been incorporated a long time ago. I just figured if it makes it run a fraction of a percent better, why not invest the extra couple of dollars.


New Parasitic Suppressors on the SB200

First thing I did is replaced  the Parasitic Suppressors and I also replaced the .001uF 1kV ceramic Disk cap with a .0025uF 10kV disk cap (as seen in orange in the picture above),
Apparently it allow less RF to leak back into the power supply on the lower bands. Cap was around $2.00US

In this photo I replaced the two 33ohm carbon resistors that I had with some higher wattage metal oxide resistors. I then replaced the 3300Ohm resistor with a  high wattage metal oxide type as well.  I also replaced the 2 200pF caps with 4 470pf 1kV. I guess by replacing the caps, there will be decrease the grid-to-ground reactance for better improvement on the lower bands.

In this photo I replaced the nylon protected wire for the input to the cathode and replaced it with a 10Ohm 3W resistor. I guess this will help dampen the VHF oscillations as well as help by prevent over driving the amplifier.

After hooking everything up, The amp turned on and sprung back to life. After messing around with it for a couple house, I haven’t really notice really any improvements. doesn’t mean nothing is happening which is WAY better than having it break on me. So it was a success.
Since the AMP has been operational, I’ve notice that it gets very hot with little use. My gut is telling me that the Pancake AC fans are not doing the job efficiently.  The fins  are quite  small and most of the room is taken up by the motor in the center. I am seriously considering the purchase and installation of a replacement of the type of fan originally used in the SB200. The company that sells the fan kit want over $60 and I am still tossing it around in my head. So far I keep my eye on the temp and I’m using a bigger fan that sits on top of the case to exhaust the heat. |
When the time comes to install the new fan, I am also going to do more modifications that were on that website that have to do with protecting the power supply and  the meter. I might even go as far as replacing the meter light with an LED that turns Red when I’m TX. I also might change the “REL Power Sense”  POT with a Switched POT so I can put the AMP in standby mode. Hopefully after this, I will never have to go in that amp ever again!


My SB-200 Project

I felt that it was time to put some “Fire In the Wire”. However I wanted to learn about amplifiers since I have no clue how one really works other than giving my signal a boost. The original plan was to build one from scratch but after some attempt at collecting parts I decided that building one from scratch was not going to work out since I didn’t have knowledge to even start one. The next best thing was to buy an amplifier and rebuild it.

I ended up getting a Heathkit SB200 Amplifier. The reason I went with the SB200 is that it appears to have a huge following and (some) parts are still being sold for it.  There are also many articles written about this amplifier and it’s still being used in a lot of stations to this day.

Here it is! Ain’t it purty! Arhajrhajr

What is an amplifier and what does it do? Or what does an RF amplifier do since we’re dealing with RF (Radio Frequency). A RF amplifier is a electronic device that takes a low-power radio frequency signal and turns the signal into larger signal with more power without changing the characteristics of the signal . This can be done by at least a couple of different ways. It can be done using Vacuum Tubes  or Field Effect transistors (FET) which act very different but produce similar results.  Vacuum tubes use High voltage with low amperage and FETS use low voltage with high amperage. There are many different types of amplifiers that are divided into classes depending on the type of circuitry used in the construction and its final use.

Do you really need an amplifier? This question could lead to a lot of debate between hams. There are hams that take pride on making all their contacts by only using the power provided from the transceiver (and some using under 10 watts/QRP) and there are hams that prefer using amplifier at almost all times.  It all depends on your situation and needs. I would prefer a nice antenna setup that can be directed and have gain over a  amplifier but at this point in my life, it’s very unlikely that it will happen. I went with an amplifier as a “Pile-Up” buster.  An example for me is when 9K2UU (Barrak in Kuwait)  was on the other day. There were so many people trying to contact Barrak that it felt impossible that I was going to establish contact with him. The last time he was on I tried for over an hour to make a QSO without luck.  Mostly due to the other operators using Amplifiers. This time I had the amplifier so after a couple of times of trying to contact him, I turned on the amp and made a QSO with Barrak with the first try.

So how does the SB200 work. We know it takes the signal from the transceiver, amplifies it and sends it out to the antenna. But how? The SB200 has three areas that make amplification possible. You have the power supply, input circuit and the output circuit.  There is a relay that is controlled by either a switch or the transceiver that activates the amp. The signal comes out transceiver  into the “Input Circuit of the amp. The input circuit consists of coils and capacitors that are adjusted and controlled from the band switch on the front panel that provide the tubes with the proper impedance. The signal then passes through the tubes where amplification takes place using the components in the tubes and the very High voltage provided from the power supply to power the tubes. After the tubes do their work the signal passes through the “Output Circuit” consisting of more capacitors and Coils to clean up the signal even more and is fed to the antenna. This is just a basic summary of how the SB200 works. There are websites that explain how amplifiers work in great detail and I’ll link to them at the end of the article.

Now to my SB200. I found this amp on the for sale section on The amp needed work and thought that this amp would be the perfect project to get my feet wet in amplifier building.  Thing about Heathkit amps is that they are kits. They are as good as the person that built the amp. If the original builder had no clue what they were doing (examples are cross wiring,  swapping components and poor soldering to name a few), the amp will perform poorly if it performs at all.


This is the box my SB-200 came in!

The seller did a poor job at packaging the amp for shipping and my pants almost turned brown when I saw the box come off the truck. The seller then blamed me since “I didn’t pay enough for shipping” when it was the seller who gave me the shipping quote. The amp showed some signs of damage from shipping which appears to be cosmetic but I was worried about the High voltage power supply so I hooked it up to find that I was getting the 2300-2400vdc that I needed. A bit of relief. I’ve learned to inquire how the item is going to be shipped from now on.

When I got this amp it was in the middle of being restored. There were no tubes, the components were missing on the tube sockets and there were no parasitic suppressors (Which I was well aware). It appears that previous owner replaced the original cooling fan with a couple of PC type fans and  installed a “Soft-Start” circuit as well as “Soft-Key” circuit but removed the “Soft-Key” before it got to me. The power supply that provides the High Voltage also appears to been replaced/upgraded.  Since this amp was designed back in the 1960’s where the circuit that activates the amplifier used -110vdc. It would ruin modern transceivers keying circuits by putting high voltage into the transceiver. To combat this people install a “Soft-Key” which basically converts the -110Vdc to around 1Vdc which plays nice with the modern transceivers.  Another modification that was done before I got the amp was the addition of a “Soft-Start” module that prevents a “Rush” of current hitting the tubes. when you push the on button, the amp is supplied with a load that is restricted for a couple of milliseconds and then switches to the full load using resistors and relays. Even though I’ve read on many sites that the “Soft-Soft” is not really needed for this amp but since it’s installed, I’ll keep it. It can do no harm.

The fans (top), Soft-Key (Left Green Board) and Soft-Start (W/ Expoxy glue on the top in-case it gets detached and bounces around(

The previous owner also shipped some components that will make bringing this amp back to life a lot easier. I received the filament choke and a couple kits from AG6K (Not sure if he still sells kits) with detailed instructions on installation.

The New Parasitic Suppressors. Accidently wound of the coils with an extra loop. Thought it wasn’t a big deal… WRONG!

The only thing I  have to do is obtain the rest of the parts. The tubes were available from RF parts.  The tubes were about $120 for the pair, A new “Soft-Key” kit for around $30 from Harbach electronics and the rest of the components were about $20 from Mouser. I have around $350 invested in this project.

Show me the tubes… SHOW ME THE TUBES!

After all the parts came in. I found a manual with a schematic online and used it to install all the missing parts and installed with “Soft-Start”.  After installation of the parts I went back to the manual and double checked the entire installation and everything seemed to check out.

All new components! However it looks like a nest and needs cleaning

Before turning the amplifier on, I preformed some checks to lower my chances of a smoke and/or light show. The manual states to perform a couple of “Resistance” checks. The first one is to put a multimeter on the anode clip (nipple of the tube) and the chassis. When the meter stabilizes, it should read around 180k ohms. However I was seeing 240K ohms which made me a little bit worried. After searching google I learned that this is due to the replacement of the High voltage board. The other resistance test is to place an ohm meter on lug 3 (V3) of the tube and place the other lead to the chassis. The resistance should be somewhere between 5k-15k ohm. I ended up with 10K which is right in the middle.

After performing all the checks I can do with the amp off, I was still hesitant on turning the amp on since I never really messed around with an amplifier before.  I wanted the amp to be checked out by someone else but I got impatient one weekend and decided to go for it. I removed the tubes from the amplifier and powered the amplifier. To my relief there was no smoke/light show and was still seeing around 2400v on the meter. I turned the amp off and waited till the caps were discharged. Placed the tubes in and turned the amp back on. To my amazment, the tubes sprung to life and produced a comforting glow.  I left the amp on for an hour and nothing happened in that time so I decided to put a signal through the amp to see what happens. I went on the 20m band, put the radio into CW and did a tune. I was glad to see around 600W on my watt meter.

Ohhhhh 600W mmmm…

I decided at that point to make some contact with the amp on. Spinning around the dial I hear a Northern Ireland DX station and threw my call out. He responded to my call the very first time and gave me a report of 59 20+. That made me a very happy operator to know that my amp was working.

Let there be LIGHT! Hmmm electric sex.

The only place where I have 220V that I can get to was in the basement. So that’s where my equipment was until I had the chance to get 240v wired to my office. Once in my office I wanted to really use it so I turned it on and went through all the check to find that I was not seeing any grid current show up on my meter. That started to scare me so I shut the amp off and went searching for the answer to “What’s causing this to happen?” I asked the HeathKit Amps Yahoo group and I also asked help from my local club.  There was a major block in the road and it seemed that the help I was getting was leading me to nowhere. Some people said I have shorted tube(s) and others said that something is wrong with the wiring. Both can be plausible since I never really worked on an amp and I’ve heard of people receiving bad tubes. But then someone ask me if I had a dummy load. Of course I don’t! So another member of the club let me use his Oil can dummy load. When I hooked up the dummy load I noticed everything is now looking good.

I now have a working amplifier! Just in time for the ARRL DX SSB contest. I was happy that I was going to get to use my new amplifier and put it to the test.  On Sat morning well into the contest I decided to start. Amp on and 20m is quite busy. I was making a good amount of contacts while only searching & pouncing until I started to hear a sizzle sound coming from the amp. Found out that one the resistors in the parasitic suppressor kit has become broken and was arcing to the resistor it broke from.  That kept me out of the contest till I had the nerver to solder it back together and get back on towards the end of the contest.

I still have some issues but I am leaning toward my antenna setup to be the cause. For some reason the tubes get very hot on 80 and 40m. I would have to either get a tuner that can handle the power or get a resonate antenna before I can continue on other things. I am also thinking that the PC type fans are not doing their job. The chassis and case get hot to the point where I can’t touch it. Tubes are not glowing but I want to keep it that way.

The original pressed in PEM nuts are long gone. The rubber feet that should screw into here holds the entire unit together. Found that Tinnerman (J) clips work great


Future plans for the amp are the following

  • New HV board – The one I currently have is newer that original but I think if I’m going to keep this amp that it should have a new board
  • Glitch Resistor – This will save the tubes if anything goes wrong with the HV board.
  • Meter Protection – Since the meters are rare and get expensive when they come up for sale, I’d rather spend a couple cents on some diodes.
  • LED Meter Conversion – I want some nice white/bluish LED  to light up my meter to match my FT-950
  • Various upgrades – There are websites out there that have a ton of things to do to this amp to make it much better. I already got the parts for most of the mods but want to make sure the amp is fully functional before I even attempt modifying the amp.
  • New Chassis, Cover and face – I want to design a more modern looking case around the same chassis and incorporate some more RFI shielding and better ventilation and the use of a thermostat for fan operation.
  • Clean Up – When the new chassis is made I would like to DE-oxidize all connections, coils and plates.

Some cool sites I cam across when rebuilding this amp
Rick Measures (AG6K) – Boat loads of AMP info
Yahoo groups – HeathKit HF Amps  – Helped me out a couple times, worth joining
Robert Norgards (KL7FM) SB200 page – I plan on doing almost all his suggestions



HCRA Field Day 2011

This year I participated in Field Day with the Hampden County Radio Association. Instead of dropping by a site and using their equipment, I decided to offer up my equipment for use as the “HF DIGITAL” station. Other than a couple of software issues, the Digital station was a success with over 170 contacts.

Here are the pictures I’ve taken from Field Day

Check out Hampden County Radio Association’s Website for information about Field Day.
Continue reading “HCRA Field Day 2011”

6/13-6/14 Contacts

After getting Ham Radio Deluxe, DM780 and the Pain in my back side logbook to play nice with each other and myself.  I’ve been doing some digital.  I got some new places I’ve never talked to and had a blast.

New places I got to talk to were

MJ0SIT – Steve – Jersey (No, not New Jersey!)
I actually had to google Jersey for its info

EW6FW –  Sergej – Belarus

According to PSK Reporter, My signal got around as well

6/14/2011 PSK Map
6/14/2011 PSK Map


I’ve also notice a hetrodyne that gets louder as I go up in frequency. I hope to see if it still exists when I bring the setup to Field Day


6/14/2011 - Digital JT65 contact
6/14/2011 - Digital JT65 contact

You can see sort of what I am talking about in the screen shot above.



My FT-950


Ain’t it a thing of beauty? heh…

Before I upgraded to general I purchased an FT-857D. I was planning on putting it in my truck but I ended up using it in the house since it was my only HF rig. I wanted a bigger system so I could put the 857D mobile and I ended up getting a Kenwood TS-430s. After making  the impulse purchase I realized that the TS-430S is not suited for digital. I kept using the FT-857D as a home unit and then I decided to sell everything for a new HF base that could handle digital. I was debating between the Kenwood TS-2000 or the Yaesu FT-950. For reasons which are unknown I ended up getting the FT-950. I am loosing VHF and UHF by getting the FT-950 But I think I made a wise purchase. So far I am loving this rig, it’s taking some getting used to but it’s amazing how a couple of adjustments makes a someone who I can barely hear sound like S9.