Hello, I am Randy Peckenpaugh, wb0smx.
I am posting this blog to contribute my experiences in Ham Radio. I have found much great information from other ham’s blogs, and it has been greatly appreciated.
My Ham Radio Life:
I was bit by “the knack” at about age 13 (1972), when my dad brought home some very early CB Radios (crystal controlled, a couple of channels, looked like commercial gear). We hooked these up to a makeshift antenna, and I was fascinated that I could hear other stations 20 or 30 miles away.
This was followed by an interest in short wave listening on my parents old shortwave receiver. I don’t recall what it was, but it stood about 6 feet tall, and was quite a piece of furniture.
Finally, Dad brought home a book called “So You Want To Be a Ham”, by Robert Hertzberg, W2DJJ. When I started reading this, I was bit hard by the knack. I still have that book, minus its front cover, and bound with Duct Tape. The pictures of all the 70’s era equipment were just amazing to me. I remember thinking, “This is like Star Trek!”
So now I had to learn more and earn my Novice License. My Mom would stop by the Heathkit Store in Northwest Omaha, and allow me to browse there, and purchase the occasional book. I still have all of those books, too… Anyway, I studied code and theory for a year or so, and finally got the nerve up to try for my license. I stopped in the Heathkit store again, and asked if they knew anyone who could give me the Novice test. In those days, that was the only test that could be administered outside of the FCC office (unless you count Conditional Class, which was like General, but for folks who had disabilities that prevented them from going into the FCC Field Offices).
They gave me the name and number of Bob Conley, wb0lyu, in Omaha. I called Bob, and he gratiously invited me over for a real introduction to Amateur Radio. At the end of that visit, he had me fill out the forms which would set off the process for him to receive the test from the FCC, and administer the exam for me.
A month or so later, the test arrived, and I again went over to Bob’s to take the exam. First, he sent the Morse Code at 5 words per minute, and I wrote down everything… “If you can copy this message you can be a ham”. When he saw that I had copied it down correctly, he told me that I had passed that part.
Next, Bob handed me the written part of the exam. When I was finished, he told me that he was not allowed to check my answers, but the smile on his face let me know that everything was going to be OK. A month or so later, I received my callsign, WN0SMX (N for Novice). Bob has recently passed away. We had stayed in touch over the years, and he was a great friend and mentor (especially for MARS).
My first rig was a Heathkit HW-16 CW Transceiver, which I built myself, with no help from adults. Of course, the first time I turned it on, it made a screaming oscillation, and blew out the filter cap that I had installed backward… I learned something that day, I guess.
I saved all of my money from the after school jobs, and eventually got a Heathkit HW-101 Transceiver, which allowed me to have VFO Transmit. That Rig was left with Dad, when I finished High School and Joined the Marine Corps.
While stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina, a friend and I went up to Baltimore Maryland to take our Technician Class Exams at the FCC office there.
It was a couple of years before I got my next Ham Radio of any kind, a Tempo 2-meter handheld transceiver. I remember hooking this up to an 11-element beam in the boonies between Oakland and Atlantic Iowa. I could hit the .34/.94 repeater in Omaha with it at full quieting (50 miles). This allowed me to talk regularly with my good friend from Junior High/High School, John, wb0who. It got even better when I received a Kenwood TR-7800 2-meter mobile for my birthday. The 25 watts out allowed me to access many more repeaters in the Omaha area. There was a small problem that at full power, it would key up the .34/.94 repeater in Des Moines off the back of my beam, so I had to throttle down the power on that frequency.
John eventually sold me his Kenwood Twins (R599/T599). I put them on the air occasionally, but I only had the Technician Class License at that time, so no voice priveleges.
In 1982, we moved to Garden City Kansas. This is when I really started getting active in Ham Radio. The people I worked with there were almost all Hams, so we did a lot of stuff. While I was up in Minneapolis for training, I took my TRS-80 Color Computer, and loaded a Morse Code program on it. I used that computer to bring my speed up to about 15 words per minute, enough that I felt comfortable going the the FCC field Office and taking my General Class Exam.
I traded in the Kenwood Twins on a Kenwood TS-430. I still have that rig. It has been great over the years, and I can’t get myself to part with it.
I also picked up a new handheld in Garden City. It worked, but was kind of a dissappointment. The TH-21 was the first Kenwood handheld that was truely small. But it was a bit too small, and a bit too fragile, and didn’t survive being dropped on the floor very well. It also only had 1 watt output. I still have it, but it is in pieces right now, trying to figure out some purpose in life.
While in Garden City, I was one of the parties that set up the first packet radio link in the western part of the state.
Once I had my General, I joined Navy/Marine Corps Mars in Kansas. This was a very busy time in my Ham life. After the FCC allowed VEC exams, I took my Advanced Class exam by a VEC examiner in Scott City, Kansas.
After moving to the Phoenix area in 1986, I discovered a great hamfest that was held in July of every year at the Ft. Tuthill Park in Flagstaff Arizona. I really enjoyed that hamfest and eventually upgraded to Extra there (but not with the code at 20wpm, they had dropped that requirement by that time). It’s too bad they moved the Hamfest to Williams, it hasn’t been the same since.
While in Arizona, my ham interests have ebbed and flowed some.
For a while I was into vintage gear restoration. I started with my Hallicrafters SX-100 and HT-37 Receiver and Transmitter pair. They have been neglected for a couple of years, so I need to clean them up some, and re-check them out. I do occassionally fire up the receiver when the shack gets cold, though!
I also did some work on my SBE Model 34, work that is benched for now, but will continue another day.
For a while, I was active on the AMSAT Satellites AO-10 and AO-13 and the�microsats that were launched in that period, UO-14, AO-15, AO-16…
I started with a Yaesu Ft-736, a very nice rig designed for satellite use.
Next I sold that and got a Kenwood ts-790, a rig designed with the same purpose in mind. I still have that rig. It is currently doing duty as the transceiver for my echolink remote link (WB0SMX-L)
I built a 1200 baud psk modem for the PACSAT AO-16 satellite. That allowed access to a flying packet radio bullitin board. I had tried to sell this at a hamfest, but had no takers, so I still have it.
Also abouth this time, I got a Kenwood TH-F6 tri-band handheld. This is a cool little handheld that covers 2-meters, 220mhz and 440mhz bands. In addition, it has an HF receiver that actually demodulates SSB and CW. It’s not the greatest receiver for serious use, but it is fun to tune around without lugging a big old HF rig with you.
My next endeavor in Ham Radio was with the Arizona Near Space Research Group. We launched Helium Balloons with ham radio and scientific payloads on board. We tracked them and (mostly) returned the payloads safely back home.
I got a new dual band 2-meter/70cm mobile about this time. The duplex feature was very useful for the balloon chases. Some have had complaints with the Icom IC-2720 blowing finals, but I have had no problems in the 4 or 5 years that I have had it.
After a couple of year hiatus to make some progress on the cabin we are building in Northern Arizona (see ArizonaRanch.org), I am now getting active again in Ham Radio. This time, I am concentrating mostly on homebrew and QRP kits. I did manage to get a new HF Transceiver. I was looking for something a little more compact that I could take mobile with me to the Ranch. I decided on the Kenwood TS-480.
Hope to meet you on the air someday….
73 de Randy WB0SMX