Beginners Corner – Spring Cleaning
As I write this the daffodils in are yard have bloomed and the blossoms on the trees are in full bloom. Spring is in the air! This is a time where men’s and women’s hearts turn to – well they should turn to getting the radios and auxiliary equipment ready for the lovely warm weather.
First things first. I assume that many of you have only your handy-talkie (HT) with some kind of a whip antenna other than the one that came with your radio. This is the perfect time to check the battery, and even perhaps purchase an extra battery. Nice weather is coming and it is wonderful to take that HT to the park or wherever you like to go. Having it along gives you something fun to do while taking that hike or even sitting somewhere in the shade. While you are out and about, why not take along an external antenna or two? You can grab a magnetic mount antenna for the bands your radio has and stick it on top of your vehicle. Wala! You now have a mobile radio! You can take that magnetic mount off your vehicle and place it on a pizza tin or some other metal object when you have reached your destination. You are now set up for some super mobile operation. Hey, there is even a commercially available J-pole antenna available. Get a few feet of coaxial cable, a couple adapters. Tie a small rock with a length of cord or rope, throw the rock over a tree limb and hook your J-pole antenna. You now have a perfect place from which to enjoy your amateur radio hobby!
Before you go out you might want to see if you need to add any repeaters to your radio’s capabilities. There have been some new repeaters in the area, and they might just work in your temporary location, even if they don’t work at home. Check with your club’s web site. Check with web sites from nearby clubs, as well. Alternatively, you can look in the latest ARRL Repeater Book. There may be some new entries there. Radioreference.com might list new repeaters, as well.
Some of us have external antennas. Spring is the perfect time to check them. It is not too hot this time of year. That lessens the discomfort of either going up to the antenna and checking things out. Look for corrosion. Are the connections secure? Are they adequately protected against the elements? Different hams have different ideas about weather protection where the coax meets the antenna. Some use coax seal. Others prefer a layer of electrical tape and then a layer of rubber tape covering that to keep wind and moisture out. It would be a good idea to replace whatever seal is there. When you remove the old sealing, look for moisture or signs of it. You may need to do some cleaning, first. While you are at it, perhaps you or a friend has a SWR meter or an antenna analyzer to check your antenna’s performance. SAFETY FIRST! Do not climb anywhere that you are unsure of. Make sure you have good footwear and a hart had. Never climb a radio tower unless you are a certified climber. Never climb alone. Get a friend to help you.
While you are checking your antenna, don’t forget to check the cable, too. We do not get much snow in the Atlanta area, but we do have our share of rain and humidity. Moisture is the great enemy of amateur radio operators. Moisture wears away at both the antenna and the cable. Look for nicks and tears in the cable jacket (the outer layer of the cable). Also look for moisture. I have heard of one person who was checking an antenna system and found over a teaspoon of water. Not good! Eventually the cable and antenna will have to be replaced, but good maintenance will delay the need for replacement for a long time.