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Ham and CB Radio Communication – A Great Family Hobby
The opportunity to spend quality time with family members is at your fingertips. I was certainly happy when my father decided to encourage my interest in electronics by turning me on to two-way radio communication. There are several things we can choose as a hobby that offer a useful, long-term learning opportunity. Personal relationships with our children create a strong family bond and emotional attachment that lasts forever.
I was one of those kids who brought home all the electronics I found on the curb on garbage days. A neighbor saw my interest and donated unwanted electronics so I could learn. I had TVs, radios, console player/radio combos, etc. in my bedroom and on the kitchen table. I was in awe of how all these electronic devices worked. My father saw this and contributed to my education by getting me hooked on Heath Kit products and later getting a ham base station and license for our home. My world expanded greatly, and I participated wholeheartedly in its exploration.
There was a time when we had a radio mast that involved mounting a shortwave radio amateur antenna, a CB Radio antenna, and our TV antenna all together. It was quite a sight in our neighborhood when Dad’s friends; Jocko and Claude brought this mast in the company truck on Saturday morning. Dad built it himself and wanted to make a surprise for all of us kids. He decided to involve us in radio communication as a common hobby. The mast was triangular in shape, constructed of 1.5-inch thin-wall square aluminum, and stood 35 feet tall.
The base of the mast matched the slope of the house’s roof: it was easily removed from the back of the truck onto the roof, raised and attached to our roof, then scrambled to secure each antenna. It seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was wide-eyed and mesmerized that day, as were my siblings and I. We really felt proud of the appearance of our house that day; we had the only “sci-fi” looking house on the block, and we knew all the other kids in our neighborhood were jealous of us.
About a week after erecting the antenna, Dad brought in a ham radio base station consisting of a receiver, transmitter and amplifier. All additions to “Jock” who was a communications technician in the Philipeans during World War II, with his father and dad’s war buddy. In addition, he purchased a “Johnson Messenger” CB Radio base unit and a matching “Johnson Messenger” mobile radio, which he installed in the family car. Both CBs were identical “White Face” models, the only exception being that the mobile version had a “vibrator tube” fitted to allow operation from converted direct current (DC), as the radio was rated at 110V AC ( alternating current). .. It made CB Radio mobile and later allowed me to have a great time using the base station and contacting my dad on the radio wherever he was. The real fun began after all of this was installed.
Over time it became clear that our radios were not getting good receive/transmit distance. This was evident for both the Ham base unit and the CB radio base unit. The problem with our grounding system. We just ran a copper ground rod into the ground outside Dad’s bedroom window. We attached a ground wire from the base of the mast to an 8-foot copper rod and used it as a ground circuit for the transmitter/receiver base antenna. We found this to be insufficient and installed a new grounding system. Dad bought two bags of “rock salt” (sodium chloride), then pulled out our old ground rod. Then I dug a 4 foot hole, drove our copper rod into the center of it where it was 4-5 inches above the ground when the hole was filled. After that, we poured salt into one bag; added water, then filled the pit halfway, added the last bag of salt and more water, then filled the pit to ground level.
A test was needed, so I clamped a 100W light bulb (ground side) to the rod, while the ground wire of the mast held the positive end of the light bulb. Dad turned on the CB mic and my light bulb came on bright. The “Radio Messenger” was “coupled” to the final output amplifier, giving us 100 watts of SSB power. Wow, that was really amazing for me. The next test was to check the base transmitter “Ham Radio”. Using the same light bulb, Dad “turned on” the microphone and the light bulb in my hand lit up too bright and burned out. This basic transmitter put out about 1.5 KW (1500) watts of transmit power), which was barely legal with our current license. Well, we used it anyway. Our new ground tested less than 24 ohms from antenna mast to ground. We had a lightning rod situation that we didn’t realize at the time.
In short, our antenna has attracted a lot of attention over a period of time. We had the privilege of talking all over the world, the Ham and CB were well dialed and I learned a lot more about electronics. Using “continuous wave” (CW) mode, I also transmitted “morse code” around the world. Everyone in the 1960s was still proud to know how to use it. Everything is fine, but it seemed that the problem visited us in the first autumn-winter season, again in the spring. Our grounding system was so good that it attracted severe thunderstorms around our house. We didn’t realize it until the city inspectors came. It seems some of our neighbors have complained about six children living in a house that gets struck by lightning all the time.
Rock salt created an acidic soil, ensuring good contact of copper with the ground. The height of our antenna mast was approximately 47 feet from the ground plus 8 feet of the length of the topmost antenna. It was a total height of 55 feet, which was taller than anything else around our house. It was well grounded and safe, but the city indicated that the total height exceeded local regulations. We had to lower the antenna mast onto a concrete platform on the ground. It ended up being effective, but the fun of the thunderstorms was missed, although some days we still had some serious electrical activity around our house. We really enjoyed the storms and many of the neighborhood kids and parents were excited about them as well.
I must say that this hobby has changed my life. My sister, Lara, and my brother, Stephen, also became interested in communications. Larae works as a manager for a television and radio station in Oregon, and my brother Stephen works for the Sheriff’s Department as a communications engineer. Personally, I worked as an industrial electrician and appliance electrician for more than eight years. This hobby is both informative and entertaining. The bonds you build with your children will last a lifetime. I can honestly say that the time and money spent developing this hobby with family and friends will be well spent.
Enjoy and good luck with your new hobby if you decide to get involved.
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