Editor's note: This is a historical page describing my station when I first started out with Amateur radio in the Summer of 2002. At that time, I only had a handi talkie and was having a ball with it!

Station KD5TFD - Round Rock, TX

I am a newly licensed Amateur Radio Operator (aka ham radio). I've always been interested in ham radio, and even studied a bit for the license exam as a youngster, but never followed through on actually getting my license. In the summer of 2002, I ran across a reference on the web to APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System), and thought it was pretty interesting and wanted to play with it. So I went and got my license (Technician class, as I've yet to master morse code), and got on the air in July 2002.

Initial Station Setup

The current radio I'm using is a Kenwood TH-D7. This is a 2m, 70cm dual band handheld with a TNC and Modem built in. I decided on this radio because it would allow me to operate anywhere, talk with folks, play with APRS trackers and run packet.

Running an APRS tracker with this radio is simple; hook up a GPS receiver and you're all set to go. If I've been playing with the tracker recently, you can see where I am at this site.

When I started out with this, I was a bit concerned about what to do for an antenna. I've seen ham stations around town with large towers and fairly extensive arrays of antennas and did not think that would do well for me. After looking into it a bit, I decided to see what I could do with simple antennas, and then move into more extensive antennas if needed.

A simple antenna I found to try was the Pocket J-Pole. This is essentially a 4 1/2 foot piece of 300 ohm TV twin lead cut to look like a J-Pole antenna. One could not ask for a simpler project. So I built myself one and installed it in the window (as shown to the right).

Performance on this setup seemed pretty good. I could hit some of my local repeaters and and was able to decode a packet on the local APRS network every few minutes. I was happy -- for a while.

After working with this setup for a week I was not so happy. I seemed to be picking up a lot of noise, and I was able to decode far more packets with a rubber ducky antenna outside than the J-pole in the window setup. Something needed to be done.

The first obvious thing to try is to get the antenna outside. This should help reception by getting outside, and should cut down the noise being picked up from electrical items in the house. So, I moved the antenna outside, hanging off the overhang of the house. This does not get the antenna up very high, but does get it outside and away from noise in the house.

This has improved things markedly. I can now reach repeaters more than twice as far away as I'd previously been able to. My packet reception rate is now equivalent or better than what I was seeing with a handi talkie antenna in the backyard. On APRS I now collect about 170 stations from all across the state. Of course, not all of these are direct, but since most packet stations repeat what they receive, packets spread out across the state pretty well.

I've even been able to bounce packets off of the Space Station and the PCSAT Amateur Satellite with this setup -- pretty neat. More info on that can be found here.

The repeaters I regularly use are shown on the map to the right. With the original inside the window antenna setup, I could reach 3MRC and GT 640. These are two large repeaters, that are relatively close. With the outside the house setup, I can now reach Walburg and the Aus 940 repeater. I've not really probed the limits of how far I can reach as yet. I expect it may be a bit more than this, as no one has commented on my signal being weak or anything when using these repeaters.

Am I happy with this setup? Yes and no -- I am amazed at how well the Pocket J Pole has worked as an antenna. I had a bit of fun putting it all together and experimenting with different places to put it and the like. I also enjoyed looking into all the various antennas one could build fairly simply, and suspect I will continue to experiment with different home built antennas.

For the moment, this is enough of a setup to experiment with some of the things I wanted to with Amateur radio. It gets me on the air, and I see enough APRS traffic However, I suspect the day will come when the limits of this setup will become a problem. At that time, I'll have to look into getting a bit more height into the antenna. I could try and get the current antenna up into a tree, or simply get a proper antenna up on the roof.

Plans for station KD5TFD

I've got some further plans for station KD5TFD. I'd like to get a permanent APRS packet station with weather reporting up and running. I'd set this up as an IGATE. I've ordered a kit for the TNC and hope to get that put together once it arrives, and then I'll need to procure another radio for that. Ideally, I'd like to find a fairly basic 2m rig that is computer controllable so I could also set it up as an SGATE to copy APRS packets off the ISS and PCSAT when they are in range. What I'd do here is hook it all to a computer with a satellite pass prediction program and retune the radio to copy satellite packets when a satellite is visitable and tune for regular terrestrial APRS when no satellite is in view. For the weather reporting part -- not sure what I will do there. I've seen some kits, but none that I really like. Perhaps I will go part kit and part original design. Still have more research and thinking to do on that part of the station.

I'd also like to get my General or Extra Class license. I've passed the technical part of the General, and am pretty sure I can pass the technical part of the Extra exam as well. The hang up for me will be the 5 wpm morse code requirement. Perhaps when the weather turns nasty in the winter, I'll find some time to spend on learning morse code. It really should not be all that hard, 5 wpm was the novice requirement for many years.

Comments to: Bill Tracey (kd5tfd@ewjt.com)

Copyright © Bill Tracey 2002