Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Only 99 grids to go...

Big Iron. For serious VHF men, this brings to mine multiple antennas, phased arrays, and power dividers. Monster sized Yagi's perched high on towers, mounted on mountaintop locations.

Or in my case, a tongue in cheek reference to both the Marty Robbin's song and my very limited VHF/UHF "stack". I won't bore you with the details, but my wife's back surgery and recovery dictated a move into a single level house, and here in the South if you want that in a decent neighborhood, you're also talking about deed restrictions and Nazi-like homeowners associations.

Here in EM63, near Birmingham, Alabama that means "No outdoor antennas, period". No flagpoles, no TV "Log" antennas, nothing bigger than a small satellite dish. Yes, I could go to court. Yes, I could move, yes, I could do a lot of things. Thanks...but I've heard it all before. The fact is that for most of us ham radio isn't the most important thing in our life, and other considerations often come first.

My wife loves the house. She wants to live here, and I want her and my neighbors to be happy. If that means that I never make the DXCC Honor Roll, so be it. For the first year after we moved here, I made due with a couple of J-Poles in the attic, and a horizontal loop around the inside of my privacy fence for HF. It's an NVIS (cloud burner) antenna for sure, but it works great for ARES stuff---and I managed to work 90 countries without a lot of effort. Then, I was to fall victim to "The Bug".

It started harmlessly enough. I had mounted a small 2M/440 vertical beam in the attic to get into some distant repeaters. It was attached to a small TV rotor and some RG-213 coax. One Saturday afternoon while working in the attic, I switched it to horizontal polarization and went down into the "garage-shack". I tuned the radio to 144.200 and USB. Nothing but static on that December afternoon.

I remember thinking, "There's nobody on weak signal stuff around here". Ten minutes passed while I soldered a jumper cable for my soundcard interface. Then I heard a very loud, CQ. It was Jim, K4AAF in Birmingham. I responded to his calls, we exchanged "grid squares" and I told him he was my first ever weak signal contact after being a ham for nearly 40 years. We talked for over half an hour about VHF/UHF....and at some point, I started to feel light headed.

I was seriously ill, but didn't know it yet. The following weeks were spent looking at pre-amps, and every issue of
CQ VHF and The World Above 50mhz. Hmmm...the January ARRL contest was just around the corner. I wonder if I could work a few guys on that little beam. What the heck? The Icom 746 Pro had a 100 watts on 2 Meters, and it wasn't totally deaf, right?

Years ago, I had been a very serious TV DX'er. I had low noise pre-amps, hardline, an Icom R7000 with NTSC adapater, and even a phase box for e-skip. This VHF stuff wasn't totally new to me....I'd just never tried the ham radio side of things. How hard could it be, right? Besides, I'm not serious about this. I mean, I live in a deed restricted neighborhood. I'll just play with it a little. It'll be fun. Harmless.

That's how the sickness works. Within a few months, I had gone completely crazy. I wanted to earn VUCC on all the "low bands". 6 Meters. 2 Meters, 222, 432, and maybe even 1.2ghz. Purchases had been made. An Icom IC-910H, several pre-amps, a Yaesu FT-736R with 222 module, some brick amplifiers, and oh, yes...lots and lots of 1/2" Andrews hardline. Houston, I think we have a problem.

Thus begins the quest for VUCC using only indoor antennas. Like most travels, it's about the journey as much as the destination. Along the way, I'll try to share my experiences and inspire others to take up the challenge. I'm very much indebted to folks like Jack Bruce-WA5UUD, Jim Long-W4ZRZ, and Bill Olson-K1DY for their help and encouragement.

If you haven't tried weak signal work on the VHF/UHF bands, all I can say, is "Come on Up, the Weather's Great!"

73 DE N1LF

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