Transcript - Episode 050 - Bill Meara - N2CQR
Eric, 4Z1UG: QSO Today, episode 50. Bill Meara, N2CQR.
Welcome to the QSO Today podcast, I am Eric Guth 4Z1UG, your host. This QSO Today is being recorded on the one year anniversary of the QSO Today podcast. I appreciate all of the support that I have received from my very excellent guests and you the listeners. I appreciate your emails and suggestions. I look forward to another year of outstanding guests and discussions that I hope will ignite the possibilities that exist for us in this amazing hobby. Before we jump into the interview, please take the time to stop by the QSO Today iTunes page and leave a review of the Podcast. This will put the Podcast on the iTunes radar and help people interested in ham radio to find it.
My QSO Today is with Bill Meara, N2CQR from the Soldersmoke Podcast. Bill has a long history in ham radio and the American Foreign Service where he was stationed abroad for most of his professional life. He was oversees that he revised his interest in building homebrew equipment, especially sideband transceivers using the Manhattan method. We will get into the details later in the podcast.
Bill, N2CQR: 4Z1UG, this is N2CQR, hello Eric?
Eric, 4Z1UG: Hello Bill. Thanks for joining me on QSO Today. Can we start at the very beginning of your ham radio story? When and how did it start for you?
Bill, N2CQR: Well, I think we became aware of my predilections for ham radio very early. I know this is a common thing with many of the people you talk to. When I was about 7 years old my grandmother declared that I was electrically inclined. I think this was because I helped her set up the timer on the front light in her living room. She lived in the Bronx and nobody could figure out how to set up a timer, she was worried about burglars when she went to visit her children. I cracked the code and got the timer working and this led my grandmother to declare me to be electrically inclined. I think that was probably the earliest part of it.
Then also I exhibited an odd fascination with the electrical supply portion of the hardware store in our little suburban town in New York. I would ask my mother to buy lantern batteries and buzzers and those little sockets with the little light bulbs and I would make up my own little light system and everything else. Those were the early signs that I was afflicted with what we call the knack, the Dilbert disease.
Then later on, I started, it was the time of Apollo and the space program, and I know this is another thing I think comes up with a lot of your interviewees. That was a real time of the interest in technology. I was 10 years old when I landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong was my hero, I followed every minute of Apollo 11 and of course that stirred an interest in technology. All these things I think we’re putting me on the path to ham radio.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Wow. Did you have some mentors or Elmers that helped you along, that actually got you into ham radio?
Bill, N2CQR: I think the guy who actually got me into ham radio is a very famous person, Jean Shepherd, his call sign was K2ORS. He's a really well known author, comedian. He did the standup routine in Greenwich Village for many years. For me, the most important thing was that he had a radio show on WOR, on the AM Dial in New York. He was on every night telling stories. It wasn't like talk radio, it was like story radio. He got on and he would tell stories about everything. It was amazing that he was able to go on, night after night, I think for about 2 hours. Shep, as he's known, grew up in the Mid-West shortly after The Great Depression when there wasn't a lot of money around and he got interested in ham radio during this period. Out of necessity it was homebrew ham radio because they couldn't afford to buy any equipment. He and his friends would go down to Radio Raw in Chicago and raid the part stores and collect parts and build their own radios.
From hearing Shepherd's stories about this kind of ham radio, I got interested in the hobby. I think it was good that my initial introduction to the hobby was from somebody who was so into home brewing. He described this kind of group almost like a street gang based on ham radio. The hierarchy was based on technical confidence and they were trying to impress each other with the rigs that they built, and who could come up with the cleanest signal and who could come up with the most exotic rig. One guy actually built a television receiver, before anybody was even thinking along those lines. This was really heady stuff for me. As a 12 year old, I used to sit in the living room with my father and we would listen to these shows and that was when I learned that this thing called ham radio existed.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, I think there were a lot of us who as kids, even in the area of television, I could say that I grew up in front of the television in the 60s. I think those of us, who were hams, we were really fascinated by just the medium of radio itself, don't you think?
Bill, N2CQR: Oh, it was really great. He had this great radio voice and he would get on there and he would us stories. For me, it was this idea that there was this group of kids out there who were joined together by their interest in this technology. Then the technology of course allowed them to maintain contact, because they would get on the errand and talk and keep in touch that way. I had Elmers because we noticed in the town that we grew up in, in the suburbs of New York, that there was this little building and we always called it the radio shack. It was literally a radio shack. It was the headquarters of the Crystal Radio Club. We drove past it and it had the call sign on the front of the shack, it was W2DMC, The Crystal Radio Club.
I put two and two together and when I heard Shep talking about ham radio and I saw this thing, I realized this might be, for me, the very kind of immediate way to get into ham radio. I asked my dad to take me down there to one of the club meetings. One Tuesday night he drove me down there, and I was so timid I didn't want to go in. My father, he was a sports guide and he wasn't really interested in the technology at all but he was very supportive. He said, "Come on, I'm going to take you in." He put his hand on my shoulder, walked me into that radio shack and said to these guys, "This is my son Bill and he's interested in radio and could you help him out?" They immediately took me under their wing and I was a member of the club. They hooked me up with an Elmer. My Elmer was Hilmar Maier, WB2NEC, a great guy.
I look back and I feel sorry for poor Hilmar because he was a very precise German engineer. A really high level technician. I think he was more of a technician than an engineer. A relatively recent immigrant from Germany, and I think just used to working in the environment of German high tech, machine shops and precision. I was as far away from that technical ethos as you could possibly get. I mean, I would put a station together ... I remember one day he came over; I was having trouble with getting my first station going. He came over and he looked at the ground arrangements, how I was grounding the DX40 transmitter. I had this piece of little copper bell wire that would meander along the floor. It was casually wrapped around the knot on the transmitter and then it got down to a cold water piper, and I had barely wrapped it around. I remember he gasped when he saw it. There was a lot of technological culture clash, but Hilmar helped me so much.
I still have gear that I got from him. He was the one who provided the Drake 2B that I talk about so much on the Soldersmoke podcast. I have that rig sitting in front of me now, more than 40 years later. There's been an element of continuity there, but I guess so. The club they got me in was the Crystal Radio Club. The other thing Eric, it's telling about the name of that club. The Crystal Radio Club was called that because when the club was set up that was what they were playing with. That was the limits of the technology, it was crystal radios. We forget sometimes how young this technology is. There were people in the club who were founding members of the club when I got there. I think the club was set up around 1925, so about 50 years before I walked in.
There were guys sitting in that room when my father walked me in, who had been in there at the founding. When you think about it now, we have plenty of people now around us who have been in the game 40, 50 years. I've been doing it for 40 years. Then we had people who were in from the very very early days of radio. I mean, broadcast radio in the United States didn't begin until 1925. That was the year of my father's birth. We're dealing with young technology and it was really neat to walk in and be brought into the fraternity by that very kind of almost founding members of the technology. It was really cool.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How old were you when you got your first license and what was the call sign?
Bill, N2CQR: I got my Novice ticket, and I knew you were going to ask so I checked. It's on April 27th, 1973 at the age of 14. I was WN2QHL. Men, I was really pleased with that. Hilmar, my Elmer, gave me the test. Because in those days a Novice exam was administered by the club or by the Elmer, so Hilmar gave me the test. I don't know whether I remember this right, but I think that you had one year at that point to upgrade. Somebody told me that it was actually two, but I recall it as being one year. As I soon as I got that Novice ticket, the countdown was on and I had to study up and improve my code skills and my technical knowledge so I could get the General ticket and not be ignominiously passed off the air by the FCC's one year limit. I started studying right away.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I think I got my Novice also about the same time in '73, just after the first of the year.
Bill, N2CQR: Yeah.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That was great, what a great time that was.
Bill, N2CQR: It was great. I think for me the real big milestone that was getting the General class ticket. Because that required me to go down into New York city, into the federal building, to sit in front of the examiner and take the test and really pass it. The Novice exam was great and everything, getting the call sign was terrific. It felt a little bit like ham radio with training wheels, whereas doing that General Class Test, for me I think the thing that made it really attractive was that it was something that was considered difficult even by the adults. The adults would complain about how difficult it was, and here I was at this point, still 14 years old, going down there to take this test. My father drove me down into the city and I can remember ... There's a lot of things I can't remember from back that far, but I can remember going in.
I remember what the exam room looks like, I can remember what the table was like, I can remember going through the theory test and the CW test. The CW test came first, then the theory test. I was elated when they told me that I had passed. Jean Shepherd said that when he got his Class A license he considered himself ... I think his call was W9QNH, he said he considered himself W9QNH, a man of substance.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Absolutely. Do you recall, do they do the test with the instructograph, or do they use a record, or do they actually send it to you live?
Bill, N2CQR: I think they probably used the record. My focus was so thoroughly on that piece of paper in front of me, I don't even remember that. I remember nailing it; I think I got the whole thing at 13 words a minute. I had gotten pretty good at the code because of the Novice year of using code. Then the theory test, I knew I did well on that too. It was great, it was a barrier, it was a struggle and it was meaningful. I think that's what made it such an important occasion for me. It really was.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What I remember from that was, I don't even remember the exam. I remember studying for it. What I remember was, is that as soon as I had that General, I was on the same level as the adults in the class.
Bill, N2CQR: That's right.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I wasn't just a kid.
Bill, N2CQR: No. It's like you had this ... You had these letters after your name. It was almost as good as PhD, or MD. I was Bill Meara, WB2QHL, a general class radio operator, certified by the FCC. I sometimes think it's sad these days when they try to emphasize how easy it is to get a ham radio license. I was interested in it as a kid, and I was attracted to it. Well because it was hard. Because it was difficult, because it represented an achievement, something you had to struggle to get. I was really pleased. Then my operations then really took off at that point, once I passed the general test.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, mine too. What was your first, where you mentioned the Drake 2B and the DX40, were those the first rigs that you had? Can you talk a little bit about those.
Bill, N2CQR: My first receiver, I got the receiver before the transmitter, was a Lafayette HA600A. I had seen it in the Lafayette catalog and I wanted that receiver. I thought that the general coverage receiver, I thought would be better because you could do shortwave listening and hear the ham band. In retrospect, it probably would have been better to go with the HA800, which was a ham band's only receiver. I asked for this for Christmas and I think I got it for my 13th Christmas, Christmas at age 13. Wow, that was amazing, I could sit there and do shortwave listening and listen to the hams. The receiver, it wasn't that stable mechanically so it was easier for me to listen to AM. I used to listen to 75 meter AM, what they used. There was some great conversation, it was a great bunch of guys. They weren't much older than me, they were mostly high school seniors and guys in college. Some of them are still on AM, I still hear them and I could recognize their voices from back then. I listened to them.
Also I was able to do a lot better in code preparation because I would listen to W1AW Code Practice and things like that. When I got the Novice ticket, the guys from the club fixed me up with the DX40. My first rig was the Lafayette HA600 receiver and the DX40. I made a lot of contacts with that. I would get on every day; it was mostly on 40 and maybe 15. The receiver wasn't that stable above 40 meters, I mean mechanically stable. If you sneezed it would go off frequencies. I had a tendency to gravitate the 40 meters where I made a lot of contacts. I was looking through my old log books and I realized that once I passed the exam, I celebrated by going out and getting the Drake 2B. I bought it from Hilmar and I used my newspaper route money to buy it. I'm sure he gave me a tremendous discount. It was one of the best buys I ever made. I still have it here.
When I brought that in and I hooked that up with the DX40, wow, that was a big change. One of my most memorable moments in ham radio was the first real big DX that I worked. It was on 15 meters CW, using the Drake 2B and the DX40. I can remember the call sign to this day, ZL2ACP on 15 meters. I never would have heard them, I don't think with the HA600, but he was coming through clear as a bell on the Drake 2B. I waited until he finished his contact, they gave him a call and I almost fell out of the chair while I worked in New Zealand. I hadn't even worked Europe, I don't think. I finished that contact, I mean I was shaking. I ran upstairs, you always see the story about the kid who runs upstairs to tell his parents, "I just talked to the other side of the World!" It was really great. I still have the QSL card.
The icing on the cake Eric, was his QTH was Tauranga New Zealand. It was just so exotic sounding. I said, "I talked to somebody in Tauranga New Zealand." What a great contact it was. Then I was really hooked and I realized what the full potential ham radio was for this kind of communication.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I think in those days, and maybe that's true even now, New Zealand was about as far away as you could get.
Bill, N2CQR: I think it still is because if you go any further you're coming around the other side.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That's exactly right.
Bill, N2CQR: That was terrific. Then shortly thereafter I upgraded on the transmitter size and I got a HT-37, which I also still have here. Now the Drake 2B and the HT-37 was a very common combination back in the late 60s, early 70s. They work very well, they still do. I still use them. I fire them up on Straight Key Night, and I would use that on CW and sideband. Those are my early rigs. Even then I wanted, Eric, I wanted to be a homebrewer. I felt the need to follow in Jean Shepherd's footsteps because I felt the need to be the kind of ham that he and his friends were. I also felt this compulsion to really understand the theory. I felt that if I was going through the motions and not really understanding what was going on, it would be I was somehow missing out or I somehow wasn't doing enough, or wasn't a true radio amateur. Of course this creates great frustration because some of these stuff, especially when you get deep into the physics, nobody really understands the way we understand other things. I was trying.
It caused me to spend a lot of time with the books. I remember I struggled, I really struggled to understand how the phasing arrangement in the HT-37 produced a single sideband. That was a tough one because you'd go to the ARRL handbook and they'd present you the trig or just a cursory English language description of it. Somehow I couldn't get it into my head, so some of these things I struggled with for a long time. Finally got them, but there's was this struggle for understanding and a desire to emulate Shepherd and his friends. I was a terrible homebrewer. I was a failed teenage ham radio homebrewer, okay, I admit it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, I think that went on to change. How did ham radio play a part in the choices that you made for your education and career?
Bill, N2CQR: Well, I'm not an engineer. I didn't pursue an engineering degree. When I got out of high school it was fashionable for people to take a year off, the gap year. I wanted to do something different and it just so happened that in the area that we lived in, in Suburban New York, there was an Army National Guard Unit that happened to be a Signal Corp unit and my math teacher, my trig teacher, was a reserve officer in that unit. He was a mentor to me and I talked to him and I told him I was interested in taking a gap year. He said, "Look, if you join the National Guard, the Reserve Unit, they will send you away for a year. They will send you into the army for a year, you do basic training. Then because we're a signal unit we'll send you to advanced signal school at Fort Gordon, Georgia and you'll learn to do ... What I was trained at was a multi-channel communications equipment repair.
He said, "Its good training, it fits you in well. It's about a year. Your gap year, you'll be doing something different but you'll be self-sufficient. You'll be earning your own keep. Then when that year is over you come back and then you can start college." The timing fit well and so off I went. You know what, and I put this in the book, The Soldersmoke Book, the army, and I guess all armies have a way of squeezing the joy out of just about everything, so I think too. It's to be expected, it's kind of a grim organization. I went through the electronics training and I did very well in it. I was a top graduate from the class. I had a feel for it because of the ham radio background. When I got finished with it I was burned out on electronics to tell you the truth.
I had been accepted by the college that I went to and I had been accepted into the EE Program. The summer when I got back I wrote to them and said, "Look, I want to do something else." Ham radio had started interest in foreign places and the world beyond our borders. When they asked me what I wanted to do instead of doing the EE, I said, "Well, you got this program called The International Studies, and it's a lot of political science, a lot of economics, a lot of the international relations courses." I had gotten interested in that. I guess this is also the product of growing up not only during the Apollo program but during the Vietnam War. I had seen, I'm sure you did too, kids in our neighborhood being drafted and sent off to Vietnam and some of them didn't come back. This for me, it created a real interest in international affairs and what this was all about.
Here I had an opportunity to do it. I guess this interest was accentuated and intensified by the ham radio experience. Instead of becoming a EE I became an international studies major and went off to Manhattan College. I guess that marks the point where my professional involvement in electronics ended at that point.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Right. It appears from your QRZ Bio that you ended up traveling all over the world professionally. Can you say what you did and where you went?
Bill, N2CQR: Sure, yeah. I get out of college, and I graduated from college in the worst year you could graduate. Pretty much 1981 was a terrible year to graduate especially if you had hopes of working on foreign affairs for the US government. There was a deep recession as the federal government hiring froze. One thing that was-
Eric, 4Z1UG: I remember it.
Bill, N2CQR: Yeah, there was a big military build-up going on and because I was a reservist, I looked around and I said, "Well, look, there's not going to be too many opportunities as a civilian," but the Reagan military build-up was underway and so I said, "All right, off I go." I went back into the army as an officer at this point and was in the army for 4 years. At the end of which I took the Foreign Service exam, while I was in the army I had really discovered that I wasn't as interested in the traditional military stuff as I was the political diplomatic aspect of US foreign relations. I took the Foreign Service exam and I actually took it in Panama. It was administered in Panama by the US Embassy so I took it there and I passed. I got out of the army and joined the Foreign Service. They immediately put me on, what I guess you could call this the very very long DXpedition.
The job that we do, people ask what do you do, or basically where are the people that staff the US Embassies and Consults around the world. We spent most of our professional lives oversees in Embassies and Consults. They sent me to, I started out in Central America, went to our Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. From there I was sent to Bilbao, Spain right up on the French border. Beautiful place, very interesting place at a tiny Consulate that we had up there. I spent 2 years up there, then went to the Dominican Republic where I met my wife. I met her and then we got married, and that's the woman who was going to be my wife, Elisa. I was in the Dominican Republic for 4 very happy years.
Then came back to the States, our kids were born back here, right here in Virginia. Then after a few years back here when the kids were big enough to move, where my daughter was 6 months, but I guess that's big enough, then we headed off to Europe. We got lucky and got a succession of a really nice post. I was in the Azores Island of Portugal. Then we went to London and then we went to Rome. I guess I should plug the ham radio back into the sequence, because it was in the Dominican back in between around 1993 that I really got back into ham radio in a big way. In each of the places I went, I think the Drake 2B went with me to every single post. It's probably the only piece of gear that stuck with me through every single post. When I was in Central America, when I was in the army there was really not a lot of time of ham radio. I would occasionally listen but I don't think I had too many contacts.
In the Dominican Republic my life slowed down a bit and Elisa actually encouraged me to take the radio gear out of those shipping crates and set it up. I got my Dominican license and I guess that marks my real return to ham radio. Many of us drift away for a while at that point of our lives, I know you did too Eric. I came back, I guess around 1993 in the Dominican Republic, and I became N2CQR/HI8.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Wow. You were schlepping around with all this gear with you all the time, even though you weren't using it and weren't active?
Bill, N2CQR: That's right, yeah. When I went to Honduras a lot of the stuff stayed in the shipping crates. I think the Drake 2B just did come out, I think the Drake 2B I used it a little bit. I had set it up by the window in Spain. The bulk of the equipment, really I didn't start acquiring until the Dominican Republic. Then the real intensive schlepping really began. A lot of these rigs have a lot of miles on them, in more ways than one. Yeah, I would carry it around with me a lot. In the DR I also got back into home brewing and I decided that I was going to do homebrew but with success. I was older and a little more disciplined and I took a much more methodical approach, but that's really when I got back into home brewing and started building QRP stuff.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Have you had to recap, I mean replace the capacitors in Drake and the old gear?
Bill, N2CQR: Yes I have. You'll notice the Drake 2B a little certain might be this horrible AC hum and I had no other capacitors, they had gone out. Some guys go in there and they get that you could buy cosmetically identical modern equivalence of the Drake 2B capacitors. I really wasn't that concerned with the aesthetics so I just put modern caps in there. You can get these caps, they look like the old Drake caps but they are modern caps stuffed into a similar can. I had to replace the caps on the HT-37. The HT-37 has got some stories behind it too, and I have some of these in the Soldersmoke book. While I was getting back into ham radio I had the HT-37 with me in the Dominican Republic. Somehow I managed to burn out, I think either the main power transformer or the main RF choke. Which is big iron, and hard to replace especially if you're in the Dominican Republic.
The guys at the local Dominican Radio Club, “Radio Club Dominica” told me, they said, "Well, look, no we have our equivalent radio row and if you take these parts down there, there are guys down there who will rewind them for you for a very reasonable fee, believe me." I went down there, and these guys they had, it was weird, they had these little stores where they were selling parts. Because in poor countries people repair things, they don't just throw them away. There were places where you could go in and buy a little bag of resistors or a little bag of caps. On the street corners, there were these guys who had set up, it was almost like the electronic equivalent of food trucks. They would be standing there and you would go up and they'd say, "Yeah, we rewind transformers," and I gave them the transformer.
My HT-37 works today with the benefit of transformers that were rewound on a street corner in Santa Domingo. Its amazing people will do that stuff still.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, that is amazing. That's one of the things I advise people where they buy one of the older rigs. I have a TS520, there's a guy on eBay that makes capacitor kits for all these old radios. If you've got an FT101 or TS520 or something like that, then you can actually buy all of the electrolytic caps in a kit already even with a paper that tells you where they go. That's a great resource that's available now that probably wasn't available when you had to redo the 2B.
Bill, N2CQR: That's right, yeah. You can keep these things going, the Drake 2B is a phenomenally good receiver. Some people still talk about it as being almost as competitive as some of the more modern receivers today. I have had it so long, I think it's a keeper, I think I'm going to stick with it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, I am with you. What kind of impact did amateur radio have on your family life? I mean, you picked it up again in the Dominican Republic, are family member’s hams as well?
Bill, N2CQR: No, they're not but they've been very supportive. As I said, I really attribute to my wife Elisa me getting back into ham radio because she was the one who encouraged me to open up those boxes and set up a station. She's always been very happy with me being in the hobby, and I think that's really important. I think it is a hobby that can be, if you do it right, very compatible with a happy family life. I think one of the things we have to remember, in the amateur radio code of the ARRL, that there's a line where it says that the radio amateur is balanced in its approach to the hobby. I think that's important. If you just allocate your time properly, if you don't let ham radio become this complete obsessive thing in your life and to the point where it's taking away from your other responsibilities and other priorities in life, it could be very supportive.
It's been great with my kids too. They've grown up, every house that they lived in always had in one form or another, a shack. They've always known that they could come in here and that this was much their room as it is mine and they could come in here. My shack right now is adorned with old school projects of theirs, old posters that they've made. They've over the years helped me in one way or another with projects. I often find an old piece of gear that I worked on and I'll notice on the bottom that I had written in magic marker that Billy helped me wind the coil. I have a power supply here that I got when we were in the UK, I think we were in the Azores, and Maria helped me paint the cabinet.
I try to involve them as much as I can. At the same time, it is my thing and they have their interest and I have mine. I don't push anybody to get interested in it. My son was always interested in technology but in different things. My daughter wasn't as interested in this as much and so everybody is free to do their own thing. They all know that the shack is open to them and I always keep a chair so if anybody wants to come in and watch what I'm doing and just talk while I'm working on the gear, they could come in and just sit down. They know that it's theirs too because all their stuff is up on the wall.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, it sounds to me like you've had two lives as a home brewer. The first life as a kid where you weren't so successful, and then you have the second life. How did the second life as a homebrewer begin?
Bill, N2CQR: Well, like I said, in the Dominican Republic I said, "Okay, I'm going to take another shot at it." I started looking around for projects that I thought that I could complete that would put me in the ranks if a successful homebrewer. I found it in a ARRL publication called QRP Classics. They had a schematic in there for a 6 watt VXO Control, Variable Crystal Oscillator control transmitter for 20 meters. The circuit looked simple and I liked it because it was so simple that I could look at it as a series of circuits and not just as blab of electronics. I think that's one of the reason I failed as a teenager. I would look at that schematic and I would just see a whole bunch of parts that were thrown together. I wasn't able to see it as, okay here's the oscillator, here's the buffer, here's the amplifier and here's the keying socket and together they come together to form this transmitter.
This particular ARRL Circuit which was designed by W1BD, he had it spread out in a way that I could see the individual sub-circuit so it was understandable. I ordered the parts, I got some of the parts from Radio Row in Santa Domingo. I very carefully wound the toroidal inductors and I put that little transmitter together. I actually etched the circuit boards which I later discovered wasn't all that necessary, but I did it. I wanted to do it right. I put that thing carefully together and it worked. I got on the air with that thing. Like I said, it produces about 6 watts, I think I was actually 5 legally QRP. I matched it up with the Drake 2B and I remember the day in the Dominican Republic that I put that thing on the air and I called CQ on 20 meters.
The very first station that responded was in Poland. That was a real sweet moment because I was a homebrew transmitter, I was on the air with a rig that I had made myself. I really came to understand the real joy and satisfaction that comes from using homebrew equipment. That was kind of, I wouldn't say a revenge moment, but it was a moment that I had been waiting for a long time to experience. That really got me into homebrew and I've been melting solder pretty steadily ever since.
Eric, 4Z1UG: And making smoke.
Bill, N2CQR: Yes, solder smoke, that's right.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That's cool. You just said that you didn't have to use a printed circuit board. What would you have used instead?
Bill, N2CQR: Well, what I later came to realize was that through some of the publications and some of the online services and through SPRAT magazines of the G-QRP Club, I started to hear about this other method called the Manhattan Method. This is a method for really very simple, easy, fast instruction and prototyping. What you do is you just take that piece of copper clad board that you would have etched. What you do is you have available, you could make them yourself, little squares of PC board material that you've chopped up into little squares or circles, but small. Then next to that you have a little container of crazy glue. What you do is you glue onto the copper clad board that forms the base underneath, one of this little square. That square becomes the point at which you solder any connections that need to be electrically above ground.
If you have for example the base of a transistor, you very often have a resistor going to ground then the capacitor right next to it. You put the base of the transistor ... I am sorry, the base of the transistor, the emitter actually of the transistor. Then you have, that goes to one top of the little pad, then the resistor goes on top of the pad. Then the other part of the resistor goes to the copper clad that's below and that becomes the ground, the base. That's the way you do it. It's very easy to do. It's very easy to work with. One of the advantages is that you have all the parts and all the connectors on the top side of the board. If you have to work on something you're not constantly flipping the board over, upside down and working underneath it and trying to find the right connection. It's a very easy and very stable electrical way to build electronic gear.
It's a very variation of a style called ugly construction in which you really don't even use these little pads. You just have the circuits suspended in the air, sort of the old point to point way of doing it. I prefer the Manhattan style, so almost everything I've built lately has been using Manhattan style. I think it's a great way to build gear.
Eric, 4Z1UG: One of my Elmers taught me how to use a little tiny hole that would actually cut the pad. I still have a small draw press that I use to grind the pad into the top. I don't know what that's called but-
Bill, N2CQR: Yeah, that's a great way of doing it. As a matter of fact my colleague in the Soldersmoke podcast, Pete Juliano, N6QW on California, he jokes he has a CNC machine, a $250,000 CNC machine. He calls it that because that's how much it cost him to put his son through college and the son was the one who built on the machine. He takes a piece of copper clad board and he curves out a grid pattern. Then the grids serve as the isolation path. The last rig I built he sent me some of these boards and I used them instead of the Manhattan style of construction and I really liked it. You could evolve, you could move forward and there are many different techniques. Just to come up with a technique that works for you and allows you to build circuits quickly, easily and then repair them and modify them easily I think is really what you have to be after.
Eric, 4Z1UG: When you design a board like this or when you build a project like this, do you actually cut your board to size or do you start at one corner and start building, however much space it takes you to build it? That's what you end up having before you decide what kind of box it's going to go in.
Bill, N2CQR: Well, Pete and I have been discussing this. I think in the beginning you have to think about what the end is going to look like. You think, "Okay, how big is this going to be?" I usually try to come up with a starting point that is bigger than I expect because I almost always underestimate how much space I'm going to need to build the circuit. I like to have a lot of room, I think it's easier to build circuits when you have a lot of room. Things get difficult and you make mistakes where you start cramming things into smaller and smaller spaces. This is where Pete and I have a difference. Pete likes to cram things into small boxes and is quite good at it, but I'm not nearly as skilled as he is so I have to give myself more space.
In the case of the latest rigs that I have been working on, the BITX Transceivers, I start with a board, it's about the size of a piece of printing paper. I know from looking at pictures of other people who have built this rig, that that's more than enough space, so I know that I'm okay. What I do-
Eric, 4Z1UG: That's about eight and a half by eleven, is what you're saying?
Bill, N2CQR: Right, right.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, okay.
Bill, N2CQR: What I did was I take the board and with a pencil start allocating real estate on the board, almost like little plots you see in the neighborhood. I draw in one corner and I say, "Okay, this is where I'm going to put the microphone amplifier. Okay." I draw out another space, "Okay, here's about as much space as I think the VFO is going to need." Up in the other corner I'll have a little square that I'll draw and I'll say, "Here's where the power amplifier is going to be," et cetera. I come up with a rough kind of real estate plan for the various sub-component circuits. Then when I start building them, I sit there and I have the schematic in hand and I have a whole bunch of these little isolation parts that I've cut out, then I just say, "Okay, what's the sensible way to lay out these circuits?"
Sometimes, it's very similar to the way the schematic looks, sometimes you're really just taking the schematic and trying to get into component reality. Sometimes you have to be a little bit more careful, the main thing you have to do is keep the inputs away from the outputs so that your amplifier are not going to be oscillators, which is a real problem. Sometimes you have to sit back and before you do this you have to say, "All right, now how can I make this the most stable? How can I keep lead short where they need to be short? How can I keep the 12 volts powerlines where I want them to be?" It's usually pretty quick and you glue these things down and the next thing you know, bang!, you have this little island of circuitry and that's your mic amp.
Then you test it. It's very important once you get one of these simple sub-circuits constructed, then test it. Don't wait until you build the whole thing and then see if it all works. It's much better to test that sub-circuit. "Okay, I know the mic amp, what am I going to build the next day?" Well, the next day I might build the first IF amp or the crystal filter or something like that. Then it all, hopefully it all comes together. It's also worthwhile to give some forward thought to the box that it's going to be in. I've been using the same, similarly sized wooden boxes that I get from a craft shop. That's the approach that I take to sizing.
Eric, 4Z1UG: They look like cigar boxes.
Bill, N2CQR: Yeah, I think they look really-
Eric, 4Z1UG: Or tea boxes, yeah.
Bill, N2CQR: I love them, they worked out. I actually went down and tried to find materials to make a box and I just stumbled across boxes that were exactly the size of the PC board that I had been using. It was almost destiny, the radio gods had spoken.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you need to out shielding inside those boxes? Do you line those boxes inside with copper or something like that?
Bill, N2CQR: Well, you're supposed to. I think the use of wooden boxes is highly unusual these days. One of the things that's going on is that metal cabinets for ham radio have become very expensive. If you go out and you try to buy a metal box for these kind of rigs, it's really one of the most expensive components of a project. Not only that, I have never really been good at metal working. As a kid, one of the things that really scared me about home group projects was the idea of having to do very precise metal work. It was awful. These wooden boxes are much easier to work with but it does raise the concern, as you just said, about shielding. The first rig I built was a BITX sideband transceiver for 17 meters, I used no shielding. I just took the board, I put the board in a wooden box and it's never really given me any trouble.
On the second rig I said, "Well, there's got to be a way for me to shield this." I went down to Home Depo and they sell this, a roll of copper flashing. It's usually used for the construction of back porches. It looked perfect for me and it's just a roll of copper foil, and I got that. On the second rig that I built, before I put the board in, I lined the inside of the box with copper foil. Then when I put the board in, I set the board down, put the electrical connection to that. Copper is good too because you have the top part of the box that opens, a cigar box as you described. If you do it with aluminum, first of all you can't solder to it. It creates some problem.
Second, aluminum will form an oxide layer on top of it, so when you close the box the top part of the box might not be making good electrical connection with the bottom part of the box. Copper is good for that, so the copper stays, it makes a good connection. When I close the box, it makes a good electrical connection and I think I have pretty good shielding all around. The two subsequent BITX rigs that I built ... maybe we should talk a little bit about the BITX rigs, but they're better shield than the first one, but all of them seem to work pretty well.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, I was going to mention that, those are folks that listen to QSO Today podcast that also get my email when I send out the podcast every week, know that I am in the process of doing a renovation in my house and my wife is making me get rid of a lot of junk. Well, I have to tell you I've lots of junk. One of the things I do for chassis and boxes is that anything that gets, like a router or a switch or some kind of electronic device that no longer is being used, I keep the cases. They make great chassis boxes for things. You might have to repurpose the front panel, but rack mount cases and things like that make nice rack mount shelves for mounting equipment. Small metal router cases or switch cases also make nice little nice chassis for transmitting, absolutely.
Bill, N2CQR: Absolutely, yeah. You're thinking the right way, absolutely. You're on the right track.
Eric, 4Z1UG: On the one hand, on the other hand that's the bone of contention with the wife, is, "Boy, there's a lot of stuff I've got to move."
Bill, N2CQR: Mm-hmm (affirmative). These are the things we struggle with.
Eric, 4Z1UG: These are the worst things that we struggle with. Talk a little bit more about the BITX transceivers that you built.
Bill, N2CQR: All right, great. I told you my first rig was CW, but I honestly and have always been a phone guy. I got quite proficient at CW, like I said, I spent a lot of time on it, but I always was more attracted to phone conversations. I guess it's from listening to the 75 meter AM guys back in the mid-70s. There's a certain warmth with the phone conversation, to hearing the other guy's voice, to hearing him laugh. I was always more into the works of the microphone than the key. When I was in the Azores, I started building phone rigs, but the phone rigs that I built were double sideband. I think this is an important point to make, if we want to talk to hams and tell them, "Hey, I'm trying to build the phone rig," don't try to jump right into it and build the SSB rig. SSB rigs are hard.
Double sideband rigs are much easier. Okay, use up twice the spectrum, but if you're operating at low power and if you're careful about it and you use a direct conversion receiver with your double sideband transceiver, you're listening on both sides of the zero beat. Anyway, without getting into a whole lot of technical detail on that, Doug Demaw advise getting started on phone with the QRP double sideband transceiver. I started building those in the Azores and I had a blast with them. Real simple stuff, it's a very simple circuit and you get on phone, and most people don't even know that you're transmitting double sideband.
I really got into it, I got into homebrew phone. I wanted to run a little bit more power but I couldn't in good conscious do it when I was using twice the spectrum that was necessary. Then I started saying, "Okay, I'm going to build some sideband rigs." I found some circuits in Sprat magazine and I built myself a simple SSB transmitter, and then I paired it up with the Drake 2B. From the Azores I was on the air with the SSB transmitter and I had a little amplifier from Ramsey kit that I modified, where I was running about 40 watts on it. It was great.
When I got back here to the States after our time in London, I started looking at a design called the BITX, the bidirectional transceiver. It was a rig that was designed by a friend of mine in India, he lives in Hyderabad, and he’s an engineer. His name is Ashhar Farhan, it goes by Farhan. It's a brilliant design. Ashhar Farhan wanted to come up with a design for an SSB rig that could be reproduced by hams in India. Hams who might not have access to online part sources, or might not have a lot of money. All the parts were selected, no “unobtainium”, it had to be parts that were easily obtained. It had to be reproduced without a lot of expenditure.
Its called bidirectional because each of the amplifier stages, as the name indicates, are bidirectional. If you apply power to one portion of the circuit it's in a received direction, if you apply power to another portion, the same circuit throws it as a transmitter amplifier. It makes TR switching very easy. The filters were using surplus computer crystals. Some of the stuff in there was just ingenious. Some of the coils for example, he didn't want to make these guys try to find ferrite iron powder that they probably couldn't get. Some of the coils were actually wound on kitchen sink washers. Nylon washers that you could find anywhere.
In India, if you want to build this thing you could, even if you had to buy all the parts, you could spend less than $5, US, less than the rupee equivalent of $5. It's a very inexpensive rig. The circuit is designed to work none of the amplifiers are running, kind of at the bleeding edge of oscillation. I built my first one, following the guidance from Farhan, from the online schematic on 17 meters and it's been really just a joy. I've had so much fun with these rigs. I've actually built 2 others. I've built 3 BITX transceivers. Pete Juliano thinks I should build more but I told him, I said, "After you build 3, if you build the fourth one people will start talking about you." I'm taking a break from the transceiver construction. I have one for 17, one for 20, one for 40.
Eric, 4Z1UG: They're single band radios?
Bill, N2CQR: They can be, yeah. That's the design. The original design was the BITX20 for 20 meters. In the last one I did, I made provisions to make it switchable, relatively easily switchable to other bands. I've plugged in filters, I just built another set of filters and I plugged them in and I could put it on other bands. They're wonderful rigs. When you build these things there's a phrase that we use, and I know you always look for people who have a phrase, you want to do great, a lot of that came up with late-ism. I guess the phrase that I would give you is, soul in the machine. I'm using a quote from a book by Tracy Kidder, and he wrote the book Soul in the New Machine. That really stuck with me because I think when you build homebrew rigs like these, you end up with a machine that has a lot of soul in it. That you've sweated and struggled with, that might contain parts and ideas from friends around the world, components from when you were a kid that had been sitting in your junk box for 20 years.
You get done with this thing and here is this machine that allows you to talk to people all over the world. It also gives you something to talk about. Because when you get on, when you make that connection and they ask you what your rig is, believe me, it's a real conversation starter when you tell them that you built the rig yourself. I've had a great time with this. This have been the most fun rigs that I've built and I really thank Farhan over there in India for coming up with this great idea.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, what kind of test equipment do you have on your bench?
Bill, N2CQR: I don't really have a sophisticated arsenal of test gear. The main piece of gear is a digital voltmeter that I got from Radio Shack about 20 years ago, I use it on every project. Lately I have a scope, I have a Rigol, and it's an 1102E digital scope. It's a great piece of gear. They're about 300 bucks, really an amazing piece of test equipment. It's got all kinds of stuff in it. It's got a frequency counter, of course it's got the scope, it's got a fast Fourier transform in there that lets you look, to give you a rough version of the spectrum analyzer. I use that on all projects. I have some signal generators, I have a bunch of power supplies. Very important to have an L/C meter from AADE, Almost All Digital Electronics. It's a little L/C meter that lets you measure what the actual value of that coil that you're planning on using is. It lets you measure the value of variable and fixed capacitors. I use that all the time. That's it.
I realized I need to work on the bench. Sometimes what I do is after I complete a project, with a rig or something, I say, "All right, I'm going to take a pause and I'm going to try to do something to upgrade my work bench and my test gear arsenal so that the next project will be easier." I think it's important to do that from time to time. Sometimes I succeed in doing that but sometimes I get so enthusiastic, I just launch right into the next rig.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Right. What you're demonstrating is, is u don't have to have tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of test gear on your bench to be able to successfully build a transceiver?
Bill, N2CQR: I think that's right. That's it. I think there's been a lot of urban legends that have come up, that said, for a while they were saying that without a spectrum analyzer you really couldn't build a solid state SSB transceiver. That's just not true. Farhan designed this rig that we've been talking about so that you could do it. All you would really need is a digital voltmeter and you could make yourself a little RF probe. Even if you didn't have a scope or signal generators or anything else, you could get this thing going. Hams in India have done it with nothing more than a digital voltmeter and an RF scope probe which is a dialed in a cap and a resistor. You could do great things with limited resources. I think when people say that you need kind of NASA like clean room to build gear, I think that's unfortunate because it discourages people from jumping in and experiencing the satisfaction that you get when you do build your own equipment.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What is the Soldersmoke podcast, and how and why did you start it?
Bill, N2CQR: Soldersmoke podcast has been a labor of love. It started where I just realized when I was preparing for this show that we were approaching our 10 year anniversary. We started the podcast, our first one was uploaded on August 21st, 2005. I was in London. Now what happened was that I was fooling around with a system, MI system called EchoLink. My location in Central London was not good for emitting RF, I was in a concrete canyon. There was those online substitutes VO, voice over the internet system called EchoLink. I would get on there, and if I couldn't get on the air and make a contact I would get on the internet and they were kind of fiber optic version of the hand band. It's still out there, so a lot of people still use it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Mm-hmm (affirmative), sure.
Bill, N2CQR: I met up with a fellow who was interested in home brewing in his ... Mike, KL7R. Mike Caughran, KL7R (SK), and he was in Juneau, Alaska. I would get on in the morning and it would be the evening for him and we were both working on the same homebrew projects. Mike was much more advanced than I was. We would meet once a week or so and compare notes on what we were building. Then one day I mentioned to him that I saw in a magazine, I saw in the New Scientist magazine an article called Software Killed the Radio Star, it's a play on an old rock song, and video killed the radio star. This was software killed the radio star. It was New Scientist which is a fantastic British magazine, and it appeared in April, I think 2005. It was about this thing called podcast. I had never heard of it. I really hadn't. I told Mike about it and he was intrigued and the next day I found in my mailbox, my email box an email from Mike with files attached.
Unbeknownst to me, he had taken our most recent conversation, recorded it, slapped a little music on the front and in the back. A little bit of intro and that became Soldersmoke podcast number one. We uploaded it, we let people on QRP know where they could get it. It soon became quite popular and we had a lot of fun doing it. Mike and I did it together for more than two years. Then it was just terrible, he was tragically was killed in a car crash when he was on vacation in Hawaii at age 51. It was a terrible loss. People had really come to know and love Mike. He had a great voice for the podcast, he was very approachable and understanding in his description of electronics. Now he was gone, and I really felt that was it. That was going to be the end of the podcast.
There was a hiatus but then people started sending me emails and said, "You know, you should continue with us." One of the lines, one of the points it said, I think it was completely valid, was that, "Mike would definitely have wanted that thing to go on." I mean, this was his creation as much as it was mine. Okay, after a few months we went back out and we did another podcast. I did it solo for many years. We'd occasionally have a guest speaker come in. You know, it requires a real chemistry and compatibility to have a co-host in this kind of thing. I didn't really find somebody who was willing to spend the time and had the expertise. It just didn't click until Pete Juliano came along, and that was just over a year ago. Pete came on. A lot of times people would say to me, "Hey, you know you really need to go back to a two person format, people like that." I'd say, "I know, I know."
It's really hard to find somebody who is on the same schedule, who is willing to do it and would want to make that commitment. Pete was willing to do it and it's been really an amazing shot in the arm for the podcast. It's a lot more fun for me, Pete's got way more expertise on technical stuff than I did. He's a master homebrewer. He was just in May inducted into the QRP Hall of Fame which is a real honor and it was a completely deserved honor. He has really revitalized the podcast over the last year. I really look forward to doing it with Pete, it's so much fun. We get on, we don't really plan it. We roughly plan it, but we just spontaneously ramble on and talk about electronics and projects. He's building so much stuff, he's such a prolific builder. He's always got something to talk about. He doesn't limit himself as I tend to do to analog circuitry. He's deeply involved in the digital stuff and melding digital technology with the analog circuitry. It's been great and it's been a real pleasure to have him on board with the show.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How many episodes have you made so far?
Bill, N2CQR: Pete always has to remind me, I think we are at 178, or a hundred and seventy eight. We try to do it at least once or twice a month our schedule permitting. We think that that's a good mix for us because if we do it any more we're cutting into our own time on the workbench and we will run out of things to talk about. Once or twice a month is I think about right, and we supplement it with a lot of blog postings and videos that go up between podcasts.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Mm-hmm (affirmative), wow. I know what kind of commitment it takes to make most of these podcasts. Yeah, good for you. I'm anxious to listen to your podcast.
Bill, N2CQR: We think you'd like it Eric. I really enjoy yours and I think it's got very much sort of the same spirit but then they're very different also. I really like your decision to do each one with a guest. That really keeps it alive and interesting, so my hats off to you also.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, thank you. You published a book, SolderSmoke - Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics?
Bill, N2CQR: Yeah.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I've put a link of that in show notes pages, but what is that about?
Bill, N2CQR: Well, it's as the title indicates. What happened with the book was there was a book that I wrote before, many years ago when I was in Central America at the encouragement of some of bosses in the Foreign Service. I wrote a book about some of the stuff that was going on down there. It had nothing to do with radio and it was really about the conflicts in Central America. Many years passed it but eventually it got published by Naval Institute Press. My wife, as she watched me go through the process of getting the book ready for publication, she said to me, "You know next time you should write a book about something that's uplifting and fun, and not such a downer." She was right. The first book was called Contra Cross, and it was about the conflicts in Central America. There was no way you could turn that into something that's fun. Any kind of conflict like that, it's tragedy and it's depressing.
I followed her advice, I said, "Okay, next time I'm going to write a book about something that's fun." She said, "What is it going to be?" I said, "I'm going to write a book about ham radio and it's going to be about our life in ham radio. My experience of being a ham radio operator on this Foreign Service sponsored lifelong DXpeditions. It's going to be ham radio in all the places where I have been at ham." There's a chapter about the Azores, a chapter about London, a chapter Rome, a chapter ham radio in the Dominican Republic. A description of my electrically inclined childhood and frustrations as a teenage frustrated homebrewer, all that stuff.
It came together, it was a lot more fun to work on and write. I really enjoyed it. We published it through Lulu and Amazon and it's out there and people like it. It still sells, it's got technical elements in the book. I tried to not just describe my operations but to describe my struggles to understand the circuitry and my efforts to live up to the ideals established by Jean Shepherd and his intrepid group of teenage colleagues. It's sort of like a technical memoir and I had a lot of fun producing it. People seem to really like it. I hope they like the book, I had fun writing it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You have a new book as well called Us and Them?
Bill, N2CQR: Yeah.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Is that ham radio or is that in the foreign service?
Bill, N2CQR: No. It's more kind of foreign service, but it's about the ... There's a little bit of mention in there, but it's about the family life. What it was like for us between the year 2000 and 2010 to live in 3 different European countries and raise our kids in these very mobile international multi-country environment. I tell people, and if you like SolderSmoke, if you like Contra Cross, you might like the style because the style is much the same. It is about our experiences as a family living in Europe, what it was like, what we went through. We were privileged, we had really good access, we got to see things and experience things that other people didn't see or experience. This is the story of our family and our lives during those 10 years oversees. I think people will like it, it's definitely not a radio book.
As I said, people sometimes say that what they like about the podcast is when I would pause and talk a little bit about our travels, about things that we've done. If they like that, they'll definitely like this book because this book is filled with that kind of stuff. Also about how this experience of living abroad can change your perspective on life and the world. I try to talk about our experiences in that regard.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I'll put a link on the show notes pages for Us and Them as well. Of course it's available on your Soldersmoke blog page.
Bill, N2CQR: That's right. I appreciate Eric, thanks.
Eric, 4Z1UG: If you're looking back on your younger self, ham radio self, is there anything that you would have done differently, or something of a hobby you would pursue that you're not pursuing now?
Bill, N2CQR: Great question. When I look back, and this is something that I've said to my children as they go through a similar age period, one of the mistakes I made when I was a teenage ham was that I didn't do enough to search out and link up with and collaborate with similarly minded electronic geeks. When I heard you interview Wayne and you talked about your experiences in the radio club, and I think you and Wayne went back and crossed paths as kids.
Eric, 4Z1UG: We were active friends as kids, and are friends to this day.
Bill, N2CQR: Yeah, and that's amazing. When I heard that, it reminds me of stories when you read about for example Steve Wozniak and his experience as a kid involved in electronics. Bill Gates, his experience with programming as a young kid. I missed out on that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Right.
Bill, N2CQR: I think because I was for some reasons, kids do goofy things, I wanted to hang out with the cool kids, right? I think that cost me because I lost the opportunity to hang out with the technically competent kids. The kind of kids that Jean Shepherd hang out with as a kid. I would tell kids that are interested in this today as I've told my kids, if you have a passion for something, something that's technical or electronic, I would say follow the example of Jean Shepherd and Wozniak, and you and Wayne and find people who are of similar interest even if they aren't the coolest kids in town and you'll have a better time. You'll have better memories. I think that is something that I would have done differently.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What advice would you give to new or returning hams to the hobby?
Bill, N2CQR: I think this also gets to my concern about the future of the hobby and all that. First of all, it's a hobby and so we can't really get too concerned about it. We are all in it for fun and everybody has a different way of pursuing it. I think we have to be careful about going and saying that everybody has to do things the way I've done it, or do what I do, or try what I do. It's a very diverse hobby and there's a lot of ways to get enjoyment out of it. I will say that I think that we're losing something in that the hobby is shifting away from being a technical hobby and it's shifting away from the homebrew roots of a hobby. I think that's unfortunate.
I would advise people who are coming into the hobby and who are returning to the hobby, I would say, "Hey, look, don't miss out on the joy that can come from building your own rigs. Don't listen to the people who tell you that in this modern age it's impossible to build equipment especially phone here, because that's not true. It can be done. I'm not an engineer, I have very little formal technical background but I'm able to build these side-band transceivers and so could you."
I'm really struck by how rare it is to run into people who are using homebrew equipment. I have been on the air with these BITX rigs now for almost 3 years, I have not once, not once in daily use of these rigs, not once come across somebody else who is running homebrew equipment. It happens sometimes on CW but it has never happened to me on the phone and I think that's unfortunate. Also, guys when I tell them that I'm running homebrew gear they're actually shocked and surprised. I have heard people say, "Wow, I didn't think that was possible. I didn't think people did that anymore." They're genuinely surprised. For me, that's an indication of how far the hobby has gone from its homebrew roots. I think it's unfortunate. I think people are missing out.
On the Soldersmoke podcast we try to encourage people to get started in homebrew. For a while back there, Pete has an article called Let's Build Something, that he put out on QRP quarterly that takes people through the construction starting with the simple direct conversion receiver and it eventually leads on to an SSB transceiver. We were giving out crystals, 3.579 megahertz crystals so that people could get a little Michigan Mighty Midget, one transistor oscillator. My advice to them would be, don't forget that you can homebrew. For me, and I think for them, that's the most satisfying part of the hobby. Using a rig that you built has a lot of soul in the machine. Soul that you put into the rig. It still can be done so I would say that would be my advice, consider homebrew.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, there's nothing like it. Well, Bill, you've been an amazing guest and I really appreciate your coming on and telling your story. With that, I want to wish you 73 and I hope that our paths cross again.
Bill, N2CQR: Eric, I really appreciate you letting me come on your wonderful podcast. Thanks for letting me tell you stories and I wish luck to you and to all of your listeners around the world. Thanks very much.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Thanks so much, 73.
Bill, N2CQR: 73, out.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That concludes this episode of QSO Today. Please note that I have put links in show
notes page on all of the topics discussed in my conversation with Bill.
QSO Today is available in the iTunes store and in the CQ podcast app for both iPhone and Android. There are links to these places on the QSO Today website.
Please take the time to join the QSO Today community, our community at this time receives my weekly blogpost as an email introducing the next episode and we have a Facebook page where many of our QSO Today guests are available for questions. There are bargains on the website and on the show notes page. I promise not to spam you or share your email address with anyone.
Until next time, this is Eric, 4Z1UG, 73.