Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 102

I’ve been interested in ham radio since I was in elementary school, but I didn’t get my license until 1988. I mostly spent time on local repeaters and amateur TCP/IP (you haven’t lived until you’ve tried sending email on a 1200-baud radio link), and I was active in the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service group for a few years, but over time, my activity decreased, even though I’ve always made sure to have at least one working transceiver in the house.

Almost all of my activity was on VHF/UHF, but in the early 2000s I bought a Yaesu FT-817 – it covers all of the HF (shortwave) bands as well as VHF/UHF, and has a maximum power output of 5 watts. It needs a good antenna – I never got one. And eventually, I put the FT-817 and all of its accessories away in a suitable carrying case and pretty much forgot about it.

But recently, my friend Sam has been talking about the contacts he’s been making using FT8, a low-powered digital mode ideal for the FT-817. And I have a computer connection for the radio, so I thought I would give it a try someday.

Tomorrow is ARRL Field Day, an annual event centered on emergency (or at least off-grid) communications. Normally, radio clubs and groups of amateurs get together and set up for Field Day – there’s food, cooking, publicity, and fun. This year, of course, everyone has to do Field Day from their home – and I thought I’d try it, so I found the bag, took out the FT-817 and accessories, and set to work.

I quickly discovered that I didn’t have a suitable power supply, just a small battery charger – but I was able to charge the batteries up just enough to get the rig to transmit for a few seconds. I found my antennas and set one up – I could actually hear things.

But then I made two discoveries. To run FT8 (or any digital mode), you need an external modem; I have one, but it connects to a computer through a 9-pin serial connector. I think it’s been ten years since I last had a computer with such a connector; I used to have a serial-to-USB converter, but I can’t find it.

And I can’t put out enough power to hit any repeater – I suspect my antennas are the problem. Or maybe the radio has deteriorated over the years. Or I don’t have enough voltage. Or….

So I won’t be getting on the air for this Field Day, at least not with the FT-817.

Maybe next year!

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