Monday, 15 February 2016

How I got in to radio - Tony

Name:  Tony
Callsign:  VK3JED (amateur) since 1989, formerly VGE610 on CB, until apparatus licensing was dropped for CB in 1994.

I have always been fascinated with radio.  As a kid of around 4, I remember listening to broadcast radio, wondering how they fitted the DJ and all those musicians into the speakers.  Later, I saw something magical in the idea of being able to pull voices out of the air, and even more so with 2 way radio, where people could communicate over reasonably long distances without any wires.  In my childhood years, Dad was probably the biggest influence (mostly unintentional, I think) influence on my radio hobby.  When he was in Civil Defence (what soon after became the SES), he brought home some walkie talkies home to try out (he got as far as the pub while the rest of the family stayed home on the other end of the link! :) ).  Dad also worked for the CFA in the property and maintenance section, and was issued with a car.  Although he was not issued with a radio, he would occasionally get a pool car when his was in for a service or repair, which usually had a radio, and we would listen to the Sunday morning radio tests.  His final influence was when I was 10, I got an electronics kit for Christmas. The two projects I spent the most time with were a crystal set and a miniature AM transmitter, which managed to transmit about 1-2 feet on 600 kHz.

When I hit my teens, my radio hobbies became fully self directed.  I took an interest in CB, though could not afford one, but I was able to monitor local CB activity using a toy walkie talkie, which had a superregenerative receiver that could receive all 40 channels (and later, on a beach trip, I found it worked on 27 MHz marine as well).  I discovered "FM bugs", those little broadcast FM transmitters that you could build, with a range of 20m - 1km, depending on which design one built and the antenna used.  At this age, I was getting more interested in connecting to people, but as a very nerdy teenager (though unlike most nerds, with a keen interest in sport - but that's another story! :) ) in a small town, I was socially isolated, and the phone didn't offer much assistance, because to phone beyond the local area meant STD charges.  Radio also offered a common interest.  At this time, I also became aware of amateur radio, which sounded like something I really wanted to get into.  Much of my information came from the back of a Dick Smith catalogue - the reference section was really good in the early 1980s.

When I was at uni, I dabbled in shortwave listening, picking up popular stations like Radio Moscow and VOA, but just listening really wasn't my thing.  Using two shortwave radios (one as a BFO, fine tuned by hand capacitance), I was able to receive SSB transmissions and listened to CFA HF tests and amateurs ragchewing on 80 and 40 metres.  Shortly afterwards, I bought my first CB - a 3 channel AM handheld from Tandy, and later on got onto UHF and SSB.  This realised my dream of connecting
to people outside my local area, and I became a regular on the local CB scene.  However, I also maintained my technical interest in radio and knew that I needed to get my amateur licence, so I could legally experiment with transmitters and use a wider range of frequencies and modes.

I studies for and obtained my amateur licence in early 1989, in those days it was a "combined" Limited and Novice ticket - a callsign which I hold to this day (now classed as Advanced).  On the amateur bands, my interests have been mostly on the higher frequencies (VHF and above), with HF being of interest for remote area communication.  While I've had some success as DXing in the early days, I'm more interested in technical experimentation and building relationships, and have a number of on air friends as a result.  As data, Internet and digital voice technologies have become commonplace on the amateur bands, I've found my place, because of my strong IT background - I have a better understanding of IP and Internet based communication than many amateurs.  I've run an IRLP node for many years and am planning on building a multimode digital voice repeater in the next year or so.  I'm a bit less active on the bands these days, as conflicting commitments -CFA, sport and domestic - compete for my air time, but I'm able to configure my systems remotely over the LAN, so development and testing goes on.  I've also built a customised remote base to give me more flexibility using my radios around the house and immediate area.

For me, predicting the future is always fraught with danger, because my life has a habit of taking unexpected turns.  However, what I do expect is to become more involved in the digital voice modes such as D-STAR, DMR, Fusion, P25 and FreeDV/Codec2.  I'm also keen to see if it's feasible to link HF DV nodes (running FreeDV) VHF via the Internet. This could be helpful remote area communication, while bypassing the problem of increasing electronic noise in urban areas.  Remote operation and text/voice integration are other aspects that suit my lifestyle, because of my other commitments.  I do maintain some interest in CB as well. 

These days, UHF has become more of a workhorse than a hobby, but I am considering putting a 27 MHz radio back on the air, to rekindle a connection with that aspect of the radio hobby. 
Whatever happens, I will maintain an interest in radio. in some form for the rest of my life.

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