Tag Archives: ham radio

Wayne Green goes QRT

A few years ago I wrote about Wayne Green (Going Green), an influential and controversial editor and publisher of first Amateur Radio, and later, computer periodicals. Wayne had strong opinions about everything. I agreed with many of his ideas, but some of them just seemed nutty.

Going GreenAccording to a notice on Wayne’s blog, he passed away on Friday the 13th. Born in 1922, Wayne lived to be 91 years old. Many moving tributes have been posted on his blog since Friday. His enthusiasm and vision kick-started a lot of people in the technology sector. Rest In Peace, Wayne.

(QRT is a radio telegraph abbreviation that means “I’m shutting down operations. This station is going off the air.”)

February 2016 update: waynegreen.com is now owned by someone else. To read Wayne’s blog, view its “snapshots” on archive.org.

It was 20 years ago: Hurricane Andrew struck Florida

Hurricane Andrew satellite view
graphic: NOAA

Twenty years ago, Hurricane Andrew roared through south Florida. Although I live about 50 miles from the hurricane’s eye, my house groaned in the high winds. The storm built to a crescendo overnight. It “roared and growled and snapped and howled”.[*] I couldn’t see much of anything in the dark night. The cracking sounds of falling trees and limbs punctuated the shrieking night wind. My cat assumed the meatloaf position on a bed, her eyes wide open, ears at full attention. She knew that this was a big deal.

The following morning, as things quieted, we learned via broadcast AM radio that the town of Homestead, about 70 miles to the south, had been flattened. Ad-hoc collection centers for supply trucks had been established in my county. I gathered my unused lantern, tent, and sleeping bag, drove to the nearest collection center, and loaded them into a truck that was headed to Homestead. The trucks quickly filled with food, water, and tools, before driving south to Homestead.

Someone had painted on a box, in large letters, the encouraging words, “Hang in there!”

Seeing this effort come together was a very moving experience. It was a case of one neighbor helping another, with little or no government participation. It took me by surprise, since south Florida is not known for its cozy harmony.

During the next few days, I used my mobile 2-meter ham radio transceiver to help relay messages from Homestead. (Their telephone system had been torn apart by the storm, and Dade County’s 800-MHz trunked public safety system was knocked off the air. Most Broward County 2-meter amateur radio repeaters remained on the air.) I didn’t drive to Homestead, as I was told that I’d just get lost and interfere with essential traffic.

The whole experience restored my faith in people. That morning after the storm, it was wonderful to see how generous my neighbors were!

* The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Steerable antennas

Steerable directional antennas offer advantages that justify their difficult fabrication.

My old 75-meter parasitic array

When designers need to improve the performance of any radio system, they turn their attention to improving the antennas, which improves system transmit AND receive performance. When I was a teenager, I was a ham radio nut. Most of my radio adventures took place in the HF (high frequency) amateur radio bands between 2 and 30 MHz — a fraction of the 2.4 and 5 GHz (GigaHertz) frequencies where today’s WiFi action is. A wavelength at 4 MHz (MegaHertz) is about 75 meters — antennas in this range are large. I strung a simple 75 meter band half-wave horizontal dipole antenna atop my parent’s house; it radiated in the east-west directions, was about 120 feet long, and worked fine. I had no money to invest, but wanted better antenna performance. I settled on constructing a 2-element parasitic array, which I did by adding a second horizontal dipole more or less in parallel, spaced about 1/8 wavelength apart from the first dipole. I ran a half-wavelength open-wire transmission line from my station in the basement to the center of the second dipole. I was able to electrically shorten and lengthen the second dipole by placing a variable capacitor across the end of the transmission line. The second (“parasitic”) antenna element’s radiation would either reinforce or subtract from the driven element’s signal, depending upon what reactance I added at the far end of that 1/2 wavelength transmission line.

How well did it work?

Because of physical constraints, none of this array’s dimensions was ideal, but it did yield about a 2 to 3 dB (decibel) front-to-back ratio, in either the East or West direction as I chose. Not great numbers, but I knew nobody else who could “steer” his antenna at such a long wavelength. I noticed the improvement when receiving: the signal to noise ratio (SNR) would improve slightly when I steered the antenna in the direction of the transmitting station, which was usually hundreds of miles away.

In theory, the array’s vertical angle of radiation was lower than that from a single dipole. I never measured this, but the array did seem to work better on long skip propagation than did the dipole.

Steerable Parasitic Antenna Array, 5 GHz
Illustration: L. Petit, L. Dusopt and J. Leheurte, “MEMS-Switched Parasitic-Antenna Array for Radiation Pattern Diversity” IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation, vol, 54, M. 9, Sep 2006.

Steerable WiFi Antenna Arrays

Today the same principle is being applied to electronically steerable parasitic element antennas in the GHz (GigaHertz) range. At 2.5 GHz, a wavelength is only about 5 inches, so construction is relatively easy. They’re often constructed as illustrated: etched from a copper laminate on a non-conductive substrate, so dimensions are tightly controlled. They’re steered under program control, not by a kid sitting in the basement. I’ve not tested their performance, but I’ll bet that they beat my old 75-meter band parasitic array by a wide margin.

Electronically steerable antenna arrays are now used in some new MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) wireless WiFi access points. The relatively new WiFi standard known as IEEE 802.11n specifies MIMO, which allows greater throughput with less signal fade. Each antenna is dynamically steered as required by each frame: at 2.5 GHz, that’s just a hundredth of a microsecond or so. The exact steering of the antenna may be varied from frame to frame. IEEE 802.11n provides for four steerable antennas per transceiver. That requires a ton of high-speed computing power just to steer the antennas!

AWACS antenna photo by Daderot
Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

I’ve been fortunate!

Clipart courtesy FCIT
I once stuttered so badly that I was unable to speak one complete sentence.

I watched an interview with the actor Colin Firth, who played King George in the recent movie, The King’s Speech. Watching a clip from the movie brought back the claustophobia of my own stuttering, which lasted from perhaps age 12 to 15. I’d try word substitution, slowing down my speech, shortening my thoughts . . . nothing that I tried allowed me to speak a complete sentence. I felt imprisoned.

About that time, I became interested in electronics and radio. Using money that I earned at odd jobs, I bought a used Hallicrafters S-85 shortwave receiver. That was my gateway to the world: I’d listen for hours to Radio Moscow, BBC, Voice Of America, Radio France, Radio Deutschewelt, etc. Next, I became interested in amateur radio (“ham radio”). I spent hours in libraries, and taught myself the simple theory and Morse code (a mere 5 words per minute) that were needed to pass the FCC Amateur Novice Class license exam. A friendly ham neighbor, Ken Freeland, administered the exam . . . and I passed.

In those days (c 1962) Novices were limited to CW (Continuous Wave — Morse code) — not voice. I converted a surplus WW2 era ARC-5 T-19 transmitter for Novice use, built a power supply using a power transformer from a trashed television, and was soon “on the air”, using a telegraph key to “speak”, and decoding by ear the aural dots and dashes. My first contact was in Lockport, NY — about 60 miles west of my parents’ home — I was thrilled. It was the first of many hundreds, or maybe thousands, of Morse code conversations.

Something happened while I was pounding out those dots and dashes — I’m not sure why — slowly my stuttering problem subsided. I later upgraded my license and began to enjoy voice conversations over the air. I could adopt a persona, and not fear my audience, so I became (relatively) glib. What a miracle! And none of it by design.

Now that I think about it, I think that communicating via Morse code on a telegraph key helped strengthen the link between my brain and my muscles. Certainly, rhythm and timing are critical to good Morse code communication . . . and to good voice communication, as well. By using a telegraph key, I had unknowingly shielded myself from the embarassment and ridicule that’s part of the stutterer’s experience. All of this happened a long time ago, purely by chance, or by the grace of God.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

The universe ain’t static.

The only constant is that everything changes.
Go with the flow!

Photo: NASA

Amateur radio operators quickly become familiar with the 11 year sunspot cycle, because solar activity dramatically alters the propagation of radio signals around the earth. I guess that from a young age (I obtained a ham radio license at age 16) I became comfortable with the idea that nothing in the universe stays the same. My sister points out that at one time the area around Philadelphia resided at the equator, and shark remains are found in Kansas, which was once at the bottom of a huge sea.

When NASA reported last week that a large solar flare was detected on Valentine’s Day, I didn’t get excited (aside from wondering how it would affect radio signal propagation). In addition to the 11 year solar cycle, there are other solar cycles, with periods of 22, 87, 210, 2300, and 6000 years. The earth has been through many periods of cooling followed by periods of warming.

Not convinced? Read Global warming is a hoax, invented in 1988. It’s more detailed than my little summary.

Naïf Al Gore and his horde of naïfs shout that human activity is overheating the planet. If earth’s ice caps were melting (well, at least the northern one is; our southern ice cap is actually growing), how do these pseudo-scientists (Al Gore flunked out of divinity school!) explain the shrinking of the ice caps on Mars? Are Martians’ SUVs heating their atmosphere?

More likely, Mars — like Earth — is responding to cyclical changes in solar emissions. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. (See Occam’s razor. )

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Going Green

Visit Wayne’s World.

Wayne Green

Wayne Green is still writing up a storm, after at least 50 years. When I became interested in amateur radio c 1961, there were a few ham radio magazines that were worth reading. One of them was 73 Magazine, which was edited by an entertaining fellow named Wayne Green. Each month, Wayne would rant about the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), CW (Continuous Wave — Morse Code), and the ARRL (American Radio Relay League, a radio amateur association filled with old-timers). Wayne has held Amateur Radio callsign W2NSD for years. He used the phonetics “W2 Never Say Die”.

73 Magazine archives

73 Magazine (“73” is telegraphy shorthand for “best regards”) was filled with detailed equipment construction articles: how to build radio transmitters, receivers, antennas, and accessories.

Wayne’s campaigns

I stopped reading 73 Magazine in the late 1960s, but Wayne kept publishing and writing. (Read 73 magazine archives online.) His editorials strayed into nutrition, NASA moon landing conspiracy theories, cold fusion, etc, and assorted looney areas. Wayne championed amateur radio VHF/UHF radio repeaters, which pre-dated cellular radio sites. He also was an early enthusiast of single sideband, radioteletype, moonbounce, and satellite communications for radio amateurs. Wayne went on to publish several microcomputer related magazines in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

Wayne’s computer periodicals

Here’s a chapter in Wayne’s life that’s disputed: According to Wayne, he, with the assistance of his ex-wife, started a new computer magazine titled Byte in 1975. According to Virgina, his ex-wife, Wayne’s participation in the founding of Byte was minimal. In any case, Wayne left Byte and started up his own computer magazine, which he planned to call Kilobyte. Virgina sued, and Wayne changed his new magazine’s title to Kilobaud. Kilobaud enjoyed healthy growth (though nothing like Byte‘s growth) for years, into the 1980s. I liked early issues of both Byte and Kilobaud, because they both had good mixes of technical and non-technical articles. I stayed with Kilobaud longer because it kept a strong technical — especially hardware — theme for years. Wayne used Kilobaud as a springboard to start publication of new magazines that were dedicated to the Tandy TRS80, the Apple II, and Commodore computers. Eventually, these magazines folded, and Kilobaud itself folded in 1984.

Wayne today

Wayne shut down 73 Magazine in 2003. He’s been a guest of Art Bell (another radio amateur who indulges in loony theories) on his radio show 24 times. Wayne continues to frequently write articles on his blog — some express crackpot ideas, but others make sense. He’s proposed that the U.S. outlaw Spanish language radio and television broadcasts. On the face of it, this sounds wacky . . . but it actually makes sense, in view of the invasion that’s underway from our Latin American neighbors. Spanish language broadcasts tell Spanish speakers who live in the United States that they can live their lives in Spanish-speaking ghettos, rather than speaking English.

I agree with Wayne regarding Spanish language broadcasts

Well-meaning liberals think that broadcasting entertainment and news in Spanish is being kind to Spanish speakers. Of course, the opposite is true: Spanish language broadcasts discourage the learning of English and cripple Spanish-only speakers so that they’re unable to function outside of their Spanish language ghettos. The US must define English as the sole official language of the nation. Otherwise, we’ll devolve into a loose collection of tribes.

Computerworld wrote a good biography of Wayne in 2008. At that time he was 86 years old.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com

© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695