Fall 2008 Issue

VHF-Plus Contesting
on a Shoestring

Many of us hope that our progeny consider taking up our wonderful hobby. Here K7SZ describes his initial successes with his grandson Llyam.

By Rich Arland, K7SZ



My 11-year-old grandson, Llyam, operating
my Yaesu FT-726.

Occasionally something happens that makes me think our ham radio hobby has an actual chance of enduring into the foreseeable future. Ergo, my 11-year-old grandson, Llyam. A couple of years ago, while working on the ARRL’s QRP book, Llyam approached me about possibly building one of the small QRP kits that I had managed to amass over the last couple of years.

Wow! A chance to win a newcomer to the ranks of amateur radio! Why not? That started what has become in recent months Llyam’s quest to become a ham radio operator. This is a good thing. I remember becoming interested in radio at around his age, shortly after my dad’s console radio shocked the heck out of me. (Mom would say, “He’s never been the same since.”) That experience whetted my appetite and I just had to learn more about what “bit” me! Fifty-plus years later I am still learning, and it has been one heck of a ride. For Llyam to express interest in learning about radio and wanting to obtain his ham ticket is a real treat. A few more Llyams and I think our hobby has a chance to survive quite well!

Together we built one of Rex Harper, W1REX’s “Tuna-Tin-II” transmitters for 40 meters. Llyam learned how to solder properly (he now corrects me when he sees me trying to cut corners with a soldering iron), how to read a basic schematic, how to understand resistor and capacitor codes, how to use a VOM’s basic functions, how to wire a circuit, and how to perform the all-important “smoke test.” It should be noted here that Llyam’s first kit went together without a hitch (not counting putting the label on the tuna tin upside down, but that’s a whole other story) and the “smoke test” went flawlessly. Listening to the milliwatt transmitter in a monitor receiver tuned to 40 meters (7040 kHz, to be exact) really excited him.

This was fully documented by my daughter, Maja, who took a ton of pictures, some of which ended up in the QRP book. Llyam, now world famous, is still full of questions and eager to learn more. A trip last year to the Military Radio Collector’s Association (MRCA) meet at the West End Fairgrounds near Gilbert, PA, provided a chance for him to widen his radio horizons by being introduced to a different facet of the radio hobby: collecting, restoring, and using military electronics (primarily HF and VHF radio gear). The 30-plus attendees treated Llyam like royalty, and K1BOX gave him a PRC-10 (low-band VHF/FM man-pack radio set) to restore! Of course the real reason I brought him along was to crank the hand generator for the GRC-9! Nothing like a 10-year-old with lots of energy!

By now I suppose you are wondering what all this has to do with VHF-plus. In his quest for his license, Llyam has dutifully been studying the question pool, using his flash cards, asking endless questions, and having very little fun in the process. Unfortunately, today’s kids need a lot of instantaneous feedback to maintain their interest in a project. It is the same with Llyam. He needs some “hands-on” to keep his interests kindled and burning brightly. Enter the September VHF QSO Party the weekend of the 13–14, 2008.

In the early 1990s I purchased a Yaesu FT-726 tri-band VHF/UHF transceiver from Rick Rinehimer, K3TOW. I used this radio quite successfully for some terrestrial weak-signal work along with some Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Mode-A satellite work. Mode-A, for those who don’t remember, entailed transmitting uplink to the satellite on 2 meters and receiving the downlink on 10 meters. It is sort of a flying cross-band repeater system. Unfortunately, I had to sell that rig (something about a house payment, or food, or bills, or some other such nonsense) about 1996, and I have regretted that decision ever since.

About two months ago I found another FT-726 on eBay for a reasonable price, so I jumped at the chance to procure this radio set. It came with only the 2-meter and 70-cm modules included, but that was enough for the present. Llyam, of course, noted a new piece of gear in the shack about 3.2 microseconds after he arrived, so we had to give a demonstration.

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