My name is Vic Bilson and live in Wichita Kansas (Grid Square EM17iq).
My venture into amateur radio came a little late in life, but as they say… better late than never.
I remember building my first crystal radio back in the early 1960’s that enabled me to listen to AM radio stations. It was pretty exciting to be able to listen to a simple home built radio.
Later, in the mid-70’s, I became interested in CB radio and had a pretty nice station in my home and car. Along with my brother and high school buddy, we all contributed to a pretty nice base station with a single side-band radio, linear amplifier, Starduster ground plane antenna on the roof and a beam antenna on a tall push up mast to shoot skip. The CB craze eventually faded and I don’t know whatever happened to that equipment.
Then in the early 2000’s, as I surveyed the situation in worldwide Geo-politics and the fragile economic systems, it became apparent to me it might be a good idea to become more prepared for whatever might develop including a SHTF scenario and TEOTWAYKI. I spent considerable time and effort in beefing up my own preps with storable food, water, medical supplies, emergency gear, and guns and ammo. It wasn’t too long before I recognized one of my prepping weaknesses was in the area of EMCOMM (emergency communications).
I felt it might be important to have more situational awareness with a communication plan in case the electrical grid were to fail knocking out cell towers and more. I bought a short wave radio (Kaito KA600 Solar/Crank AM/FM/SW NOAA Weather Radio) but learned pretty quick that wouldn’t quite cut it for a real communications plan. It was a great little weather radio with multiple power options and I could hear distant stations on short wave, but couldn’t reach out and interact with anyone.
So, in 2017 I decided to get my ham radio license so I could operate a more powerful radio. I began studying for my ham license and passed the test for my FCC Technician license late in the year.
I wanted to begin with something portable so I bought a Baofeng BF-F8HP radio along with a Nagoya NA-771R Retractable antenna, a 2M/70CM Roll Up J-Pole/Slim Jim antenna from Nelson Antennas and a few other accessories for my bugout bag. The Baofeng was a more powerful radio than many handhelds and certainly was leaps above the little walkie talkies I had for FRS/GMRS frequencies. It was a great little starter radio and one I’ll keep around for emergencies.
I had a great time talking on the VHF/UHF frequencies permitted with my Technician license to nearby hams and talking a little further using local repeaters, but it wasn’t long before I wanted to improve my signal and get out a little further.
Up to this point, I’d been using the roll up J-Pole/Slim Jim antenna hanging indoors near my radio to make contacts with my HT radio. To improve my signal I purchased a Tram 1480 antenna and erected it atop 3 five foot lengths of PVC pipe attached to the side of my deck. It was a pretty simple and inexpensive install and it did improve my reception and signal for VHF. I was able to reach nearly all the local repeaters and improved my simplex contacts. But, it still wasn’t getting the job done as well as I wanted.
Next, I purchased a well used Yaesu FT-1500M mobile rig for my VHF base station radio from one of my new friends and Elmer and lifted my Tram 1480 to about 25′ with an old TV antenna mast I had around the house.
It’s doing a pretty good job for local contacts, although I know I still need to get it up higher to better cover the city and outlying areas. One of the most important things I’ve learned in this amateur radio venture is that the antenna is king. Getting a more substantial antenna mast that gets my ears higher in the sky is certainly something I need to accomplish soon.
For a mobile rig I use the Baofeng BF-F8HP radio connected to a MFJ-1724B mag mount dual band antenna. This combination has proven to be only effective for nearby communication and I am considering improvements in my mobile radio.
I spent the next month learning everything I could about ham radios, emergency communications strategies, and poured over YouTube videos while studying for my FCC General exam which I passed in Dec. 2017.
Having over 40 years experience as a professional photographer and 20 years working with computers, this new ham radio hobby had many similar characteristics fitting my photographic and computer background and seems to fit well with my retirement. While I don’t have the knowledge or experience that the old-timer hams I’ve been meeting have, I have been fortunate to find a great group of local hams who have been incredibly helpful in teaching me the ropes and helping me every step of the way.
Before the year ended and after extensive research and advice from the many new friends I’d met, I purchased my first HF rig: an Icom IC-7300. I’ve been really happy with the IC-7300 radio. It’s a HF/50MHz transceiver with RF digital sampling featuring a 4.3″ color touchscreen LCD, spectrum scope and built-in auto tuner. It’s a 100 Watt transmitter with 101 channels and SSB, CW, RTTY, AM or FM modes.
I’ve got it connected to my desktop computer using the Icom RS-BA1 software enabling me to control the rig from the computer and provide a larger spectrum scope display. I really like the spectrum scope display for finding QSO’s quickly and easily with the click of a mouse button. I’m also working to remotely control my radio across the Internet using the RS-BA1 remote control software on my laptop computer. Although the IC-7300 has an internal antenna tuner, it wasn’t enough to get my antenna tuned for anything other than 40 meters so the addition of the LDG AT-100 ProII tuner fixed that.
For an HF antenna, I chose the Alpha Delta DX-CC parallel dipole for 80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters which I hung about 20′ high on the pole just below my VHF antenna. Although not yet the ideal height for a dipole, I will spend the next few months improving my ham radio skills, antenna knowledge and eventually when the weather gets nicer, raise my antenna height to a more proper height with a 40′ push up mast.
I have been working with FT8 for making digital contacts using the WSJT-X software. I will also be looking deeper into the other digital modes PSK and RTTY. For emergency power and alternative power when I’m away from home, I’ve been in the process of setting up a small solar powered system that is portable.
I am a member of the Wichita Amateur Radio Club and recently joined the American Redoubt Radio Operators Network (AmRRON), a nationwide emergency communications network of preppers and patriots. I’m also studying now through the 7290 Traffic Net (7.290 Mhz) on the procedures for taking and delivering various types of traffic. I also want to spend time learning how to become more involved in local/regional emergency communication organizations such as SATERN, ARES, and CERT.
I’ve made numerous contacts coast to coast in the U.S. and to all continents except Africa.
Following are some recent contacts I’ve made.
In the short time I’ve been learning this new hobby, I’m convinced this venture into ham radio was a good prepper step for me and I’m expecting to expand my knowledge and skill in the coming months and years. It’s also been great for meeting some really fine new people.
If you’re in the Wichita area, give me a shout out on VHF 146.52 almost any evening. I’d love to ragchew with you.