The very first years
Somewhere in the eighties of last century it started… listening to radio signals which weren’t related to broadcast stations. And it didn’t relate to radio pirates or hillbilly rock as well. But it was all about the talk of local police and firebrigade when they were driving with squealing tires and sirens to an emergency. The livingroom of my parents was equipped with a portable computer scanner with 16 (!) channels. But I also wanted something similar for my own bedroom. Unfortunately those devices were quite expensive in those times. But there were some people nearby who also wanted such a beautiful digital device. So it gave me the opportunity to buy their old crystal operated scanner for 10 guilders and a cake. And that marked the beginning of an era of insufficient night’s rest. Especially during the holiday season it could be quite exciting in my QTH, so I got into the strange habit to go to bed really early at night. At approximately two o’clock in the morning, when pubs and dancings had to close their doors, my alarmclock rang to announce some hours of scanner fun. Depending on how interesting the situation was, I was listening for a longer or shorter time. At last again I lay down for some sleep until the alarmclock rang a second time because it was time to get up for school. And despite this strange habit I could finish secondary school quite successful.
Nearby becomes far away
In those times I was going to secondary school in the nearby city of Maastricht. And because I could be a lazy guy I travelled those 12 kilometers by bus or train. Once upon a time I sauntered into a kiosk at the train station in Maastricht, where my attention got drawn by a magazine called ‘RAM’, Radio Amateur Magazine. It looked quite interesting, especially for a geek like me. After having purchased some issues at the kiosk I decided to subscribe. At that moment I also became interested in signals coming from much further away. The magazine told stories about adventurers sailing the oceans accompanied by an HF tranceiver, strange signals from eastern europe where ‘glasnost’ was not completely deployed and NATO vessels in the Adriatic Sea. Time to access the short wave! Somewhere during the nineties I’ve found a used Yaesu FRG-7700 in an amateur radio store nearby. Not a bargain, but much cheaper than a new one. Together with a longwire antenna and and RF-Systems MLB I’ve left the shop, convinced to catch every tiny signal on the entire planet. The antenna found its place at my parent’s attic. Thanks to the respetable size of my parents house I could stretch the 12m longwire across the entire attic. Coax cable attached, receiver on and off I went. Indeed I could hear a lot, but especially a lot of garbage. Beeping, garbled broadcast signals and all other flavors of interference. But not those things I’d expected. Back to the attic again, and after a lot of thinking and headache I realized that the longwire antenna could be the cause of all evil. The attic was split into two parts by a huge wall. To stretch my antenna to its full length I had chiseld a nice hole in that wall (!). Could it be that this grounding surface half way the antenna caused some strange behavior…? So the wire was removed from the attic to be mounted between the edge of the roof and a tree in the garden. And the world of HF signales opened to me! Although the FRG-7700 had the reputation to be rather deaf, I spent days and nights listening to the dutch coastal station ‘Scheveningen Radio’, Prestwick, Kinloss Rescue (5680 kHz), the USAF (11176 kHz, later on 11175 kHz) and indeed also the the NATO vessels in the Adriatic Sea (5310 kHz).
I could also heard some strange data signals on HF frequencies and I had learned already (by ‘RAM’) these were RTTY and fax stations. From the (not so commonly used) internet I downloaded different diagrams for ‘HamCom’ modems and some strange DOS applications like ‘HamCom’ and ‘JV-Fax’. And despite a lot of effort, evenings of soldering, lots of cables and bags of components I never succeeded to get something meaningful on my monitor. Much later, with the introduction of a Racal RA-17L I was able to see fax and RTTY messages. This heavy receiver found its way to my bedroom. Except the Racal was terribly heavy, it was a great receiver to work with. First you had to flip the ‘mains’ switch to preheat some tubes. If you took the receiver from standby straight away, you surely blow its fuse! First requirement was to preheat everything long enough before the receiver could be taken out of standby mode. Using the two big knobs the receiver was tuned, the frequency dial printed on 24mm film rolled behind a dirty window and for SSB reception the BFO had to be used. Of course I didn’t have the original SSB converter. But with this receiver I was able to get for instance weather maps on my display. Just in the years when transmissing of weather maps and press photos via HF was getting less and less, I had decoded this Rosetta’s Stone. But already then I noticed I was more interested in voice than in data communication.
Although I was receiving a lot of signals in my bedroom at my parent’s house, I never thought about sending signals into the air. I had read about radio amateurs, and once I had ordered an info package of VERON. The technical part attracted me, but all thre rest left a moldy impression to me. The the dutch D-license it was possible to reach the nearest repeater, which wasn’t my cup of tea. The dutch C-license? That opened more doors, as long as you kept your butt higher than 30 MHz. Below thirty remained the empire of the PA and PB calls. This was the interesting DX area. But listening to radio amateurs didn’t invite me in any way to participate. PA calls gave the impression the HF was their exclusive area. And PB amateurs who were hammering their Juncker key a bit slower were sometimes treated as some wannabees. I refused to become part of that group. Not in the last place because CW was still required: communication by beeps, although I could speak already for two decades!
On a beautiful evening I had to follow a course because I had a new employer. Together with me two other new colleagues would start that training, both people I didn’t know. On a hot evening in august they picked me up, and during the short trip to the training center all of us spontaniosly introduced himself. One of those chaps ‘did something with transceivers’. I got interested and asked a bit more. And soon it became clear my new colleague was busy with DX at the 11m band. No 4 Watts on the 40 allowed channels in FM, as ordered by the dutch government. He had a bit more power in USB somewhere around 27.500 MHz. Not completely legal, but fun…
So there was much to talk about, and in the same week this person came to me with a HAM International Jumbo in one hand and a DV27 in the other. Powerplug in the wall socket, the magmount of the DV27 was slammed on the heating and I was on air. The setup was used as an intercom between us to discuss the training and homework, but also to do some DX. Therefore I quickly purchased a Sirio Boomerang which as (again) put on my parent’s attic. All this happened above the regular 11m CB band, but okay… the power was not too high and nobody knew. This was the way how I got into the sending part of the hobby. Nice QSOs were made over the world, even to Surinam.
That way the hobby extended more and more. Because suddenly I decided to experiment with packet radio with the Jumbo. In those day there were still BBSses to connect. The 1k2 signals were thrown into the air, and accidentally I’ve found an advertisement in such a BBS. Two 2m portables were offered for not too much money. Radio equipment then still had to be registered on the owner’s name, selling and buying without license wasn’t allowed. So it was a bit tricky. But we then still owned a postbox to receive the not entirely legal QSL mail. And this postbox was perfect to receive a package with 2 radios. And via this way two Bosch portables entered my stock: the HFE-165. Well known radios with a typical black and red housing. These portables were almost new, and tuned on some strange frequencies in the 2m section for companies. Still nowaday these artefacts are in my collection. The batteries have died alreay a long time ago, but they’re nice remains of old times.
Because the collection of equipment had extended more and more I decided I had to legalize the whole bunch. So I ordered a course manual for the D license and signed up for an exam. The exam was a piece of cake: I had to spent most of the time to learn rules and regulations. The technical part was no issue because of my technical background. But this is part of the next story.
As the previous story tells, I had to decide to legalize my equipment (I was still owning illegaly) by obtaining a dutch D-license. The technical part from the course manual was no challenge because of my technical background. With a movie in the background and some peanuts within reach I’d studied the book. But the bunch of paper with rules and regulations which I had got from the telecom authority was a different story. Boring stuff about laws and rules, filled with endless references to other paragraphs were not my favorite. But because it was part of the preparation it was obvious there also would be some questions in the exam about this.
So at a certain day I took my red Subary and drove to the exam location somewhere in the middle of the country. Just like at secondary school it was a huge room filled with tables in long rows and shambling officials supervising the exam. Without any issues I could complete the multiple gamble questions. Before finishing I quickly copied the answers I had provided on a piece of paper to check the results afterward. While leaving the room someone handed out an issue of the magazine ‘Electron’, a bit further it was completed by an issue of ‘CQ-PA’ and while leaving the building I also collected a sheet with the correct answers of the exam. Although I knew already I had passed the exam, it took some time before the confirmation of the result was received by mail. After some administrative hassle I became PD2KMV.
Proudly I entered the local HAM shop and purchased a brandnew Icom IC-2100H, together with a Diamond X-30. The radio was mounted carefully at my desk in my bedroom and once in a while I was active on 2m. Which brought me in contact with a local radio amateur who was selling a Teletron SE540 (locally know as ‘Condor Standard’) so I could be /M QRV. A Diamond RH771 with a tiny magmount was put on the roof of my car. By the way that antenna with the magmount lasted a very long time: they were also mounted on my next car which I owned for 14 years!
With the Condor Standard in my car I was driving around: crossing the german border every day because I was studying in DL. The happiness faded away when I found out the D license I had was completely useless in DL. So with a lot of dislike I signed up for the C exam.
Different course book, the same pile of laws and rules and again an appointment for an exam in the central part of the Netherlands. So on that specific day I drove north again. But not as fast as I wanted, because it was one of those day when entire PA had turned into one big traffic jam. But I had my Condor radio in my car, and obviously more radio amateurs were on their way to give their HAM license an upgrade. Somebody who know the area where I was driving appeared on the frequency and gave some tips to take shortcuts. After leaving the motorway I whiped my small red car across the countryside, because time was running out. After a nerve-racking trip and a sweaty back I arrived at the parking lot. I ran to the correct room for my exam and the door literally closed just behind me. In the nerveous humming room I got my table, where I first had to get control of my heart again, before starting the exam.
Despite all the hassle of the trip I also passed this exam on first attempt, changing my call into PE2KMV. And this opened some doors for me, beginning with the one to DL. But there were also some rumors that C licensed amateurs would be allowed to be active on HF very soon. It was the time of snorting PA calls and typically their anger was often inversely proportional to the number in their prefix. Because for some radio amateurs it was a degradation that everyone was allowed to enter the royal HF bands, without ever having hammering a CW key. But also this storm died down again, as so often.
HF, here I am!
… but how? I had been reading magazines and researching the internet. As so often there were as many opinions as there are radio amateurs, giving a new HF amateur a hard time to decide. A very popular radio of those days was the Icom IC-706. But also about this radio different sounds could be heard. In the ‘Radio Amateur Magazine’ I’ve read a story about deafness of the 706. Icom had come to the same conclusion and a successor was released. The IC-706mk2G had better performance and it could also be used on the 70cm band. Not my part of the deal, because I wasn’t interested VHF and UHF at all because I was living in a valley. Perhaps nice to listen to a satellite, but nothing more.
So I got in touch with a local radio amateur who had bought a used 706mk2G. This was a great opportunitz to have a look at this radio. Indeed the IC-706mk2G was a nice radio which fitted my requirements regarding size and price. Especially because this OM knew that the person he had bought the radio from had another one for sale. This seller later became the owner of a very popular webshop of HAM radio equipment in the Netherlands. Not at that moment: I went to his home in the central part of the country to have a look at this set. After a cup of coffee, some chatting and some tries, the radio was sold. Nice advantage: this set was equipped with the DSP option.
With the transceiver in its original box I went home and decided to go to another well known amateur radio shop nearby one day later. Because without a tuner the radio would last very long. A nice and not too expensive MFJ tuner was added to the pile of equipment. My antenna was a 40m longwire with a balun mounted between the edge of the roof and a tree in the garden. And with this equipment the first QSO was made on the lower HF bands. For a reason still unclear to me I didn’t do a lot with the bands above 20m.
Just like so many radio amateurs, there was always the search for improvement. The MFJ tuner was okay but could be annoying when changing bands. I alwas had a written note at hand with the global settings. But still it was not possible to switch fast: changing bands, changing mode to AM, power to QRP, tuning, mode to SSB and power to QRO. There was room for some improvement. And soon I could get hold of and SGC MAC-200 automatic tuner. Also about this tuner there are different opinions, but it never let me down. QRP, carrier, clicking relais, done!
Nevertheless the fun didn’t last for long. Because my shack was still part of my bedroom (or was it the other way around?). And the human part of me wanted to convert it back into a normal bedroom again. So I started planning to renew my bedroom. New floor, light, wallpaper, furniture… and there was no space left for a lot of equipment. With pain in my heart, but also knowing this was better for my night’s rest, the whole bunch of equipment was packed into crates and stored on my parent’s attic. But because it’s a very old house the attic is a place of dust and dirt, tropical temperatures during the summer and freezing cold in winter, I was a bit anxious if and how my equipment would survive. Storing in the cellar wouldn’t be an option as well because of the humidity. And the storage was at that moment a phase with open end. A pause in the activities came up: the pause many radio amateurs encounter.
Pause, and then…
I believe there is no single radio amateur who never puts the radio hobby on hold. My break started after I had removed all equipment from my bedroom to get a human place to rest again. For some years I was only QRV in my car. In those times I owned a Volkswagen Golf type 3 which offered an awfull lot of space to mount radio equipment. In my case this was a Kenwood TM-D700. A Diamond RH771 on a magmount was put on the back part of the roof. One calls it an antenna for a portable, another calls it a water resistant dummy load. But for me it served its purpose.
But also for me a period in my life came up when there was no room for the radio hobby. A lot of QRL, moving houses, living together with my partner. But when moving houses the radio hobby played a small roll again. We’ve bought a house at a high spot in town, with some place to build an antenna. It was a win win situation: we found a house on a hill, at the outskirts of the town, with a space to put an antenna and a suitable room for a shack. But this had the lowest priority: the crates with my equipment weren’t initially moved to the new location because they still were safely stored at my parents. Then also the last option to be QRV disappeared. Because we were accompanied by a QRP and the VW Golf was already quite aged we needed a new, modern and larger car. But afterward this fantastic, shiny rolling tin had a huge disadvantage: no option to mount a transceiver. Golf gone, Kenwood sold, radio silence…
But at one evening I got a phone call from a friend with whome I had already some radio adventures. He was living in ON and got also licensed HAM. From his new QTH he could reach the ON0LB repeater near Tongeren (B). That repeater has such a good coverage that it’s almost possible to receive it with my electric shaver. And this was the sign to pick up the HAM activities again.
But first I had to start refurbishing my attic. Then I worked out a plan to build a mast of scaffolding elements at the sidewall of my house. On that mast I’ve putted an Eco Asay for HF, the old Diamond X-30 and a Comet 2m monoband. My XYL had her concerns… why did I need such an ugly construction on the house although a smartphone could do the same and more…?
Finally the hobby was restarted. High and dry in my new shack I could play around at HF again. My Motorola GM300 hadn’t survive the storage period: the transceiver didn’t receive anymore. Luckily I could get hold of another one. The GM300 has always been my favorite for local traffic: easy to operate, only a few buttons and some good audio from the front speaker. Finally the issue with my GM300 was something typically for this radio, which could be fixed really easy.