An Open Letter to #HamRadio Manufacturers

Dear Ham Radio Manufacturer,

Once upon a time, companies like yours developed equipment for hams entering the hobby as Novice licensees. Your radios were fairly inexpensive, simple to build, easy to use, and treasured by the young men and women who owned them.

Hams of a certain age fondly recall their first QSOs on your gear. They were excited and nervous as they tuned up and tapped out their first CQ in Morse code.

Your rigs were a right of passage for generations who still enjoy the hobby today.

Most importantly, your radios were designed for them.

Novices. On their bands. At their experience level.

In 2000, the FCC eliminated the Novice, making the Technician the new entry level license. But except for a small patch of spectrum in the 10-meter band, the modern Technician isn’t much different from the Novice license they eliminated. It is fundamentally a Morse code license on HF.

When the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement seven years later, they did so without updating Technician operating privileges. Amateurs entering the hobby are restricted above 10-meters to using Morse code without having to know Morse code.

Unable to use most of their HF privileges for the lack of one skill, Technicians purchased your VHF and UHF radios in droves.

Companies like yours responded with Dual-Band, Tri-Band, and even Quad-Band radios.

For this generation of radio amateurs, FM repeaters have been the first (and maybe only) impression of on-the-air activity. Perhaps a few experiment with APRS, EchoLink or IRLP. Some may try Pico-Sats, but fundamentally, Ham Radio as a Technician is nothing more than GMRS with better repeater coverage.

Why haven’t companies like yours developed radios tailored for Technicians?

Why is it all FM when there are many more possibilities in the world above 50 MHz?

Where are the Dual-Mode radios, such as SSB/FM, on VHF and UHF?

Where are the sound card-ready interfaces? USB interfaces?

Why does it all look like Land Mobile Radio on Amateur Service frequencies?

Is there no imagination, innovation, or experimentation left in your Skunk Works?

Do you still have have a Skunk Works?

Please, let me be clear; this is not a call to bring Morse code back to the hobby.

When I look at your website through a Technician’s eyes, though, I see nothing that I couldn’t purchase at Wal-Mart for less money. Perhaps this is why the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese radios are so popular among entry-level licensees. They do the job their license allows them.

Perhaps you can inject new vigor into the hobby by designing something that takes them beyond a repeater.

Like a rig designed for Technicians of this generation.


Brian McDaniel,

UPDATE: Chris Wilson of Yeasu left the following comment. It is nice to know at least one of the Big Boys pays attention.  I’ve moved his comment up.  -KC4LMD

Hello Brian, I read your letter, It’s great to see proactive content being published by our valued customers! Yaesu USA is actively developing technology that incorporates exactly what you are saying. Radios such as the FT-991 have a multi-function USB port, integrated sound card, built in tuner and other features that appeal to the new radio operator as an “Shack in a box”. I have forwarded your letter to the Owner of the company, Mr. Jun Hasegawa and our operations director for review. I will be discussing your concerns with them this month, and you will continue to see progression from Yaesu that incorporate the features you are looking for.

Thank you once again for your wonderful letter.

Facebook Gives Non-Profits a Game Changer

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $100-million through a social media-powered video challenge this past summer on Facebook.

More than a million people made donations, driving a 3,500% year-over-year increase in donations.

How much more might ALS have raised had Facebook offered a Donate Now button to embed on all of those home-made videos?

On the heals of the ALS success story, the ubiquitous social media platform has responded. Now, Nonprofits can add a Donate Now call-to-action button to page posts and link ads, the company announced.

This simple element is a game changer for Nonprofits everywhere.

With the click of a button, local charities and 501(c)(3) organizations can tap the largest on-line community in the world, raising money for causes both big and small while extending their brand awareness through regular campaign marketing.

It doesn’t appear that grassroots organizations or your local High School Band Booster Club can use the system yet; but for IRS-recognized organizations, the Donate Now button will be an important fundraising tool in the coming years.

Crossposted on LinkedIn

Rufus Turner: Ham Radio’s First African American Operator

I ran across a Wikipedia entry about Rufus Turner recently. Rufus was an engineer who developed the 1N34A germanium diode in the 1946.

This particular diode is an old standby in electronics, widely used for detecting the rectifying efficiency of radio and television circuits.  You can build his “ambitious” four-transistor non-superheterodyne AM radio from his 1956 article in Popular Electronics.

Turner, while still a teenager, built what was then the world’s smallest radio set. Three years later, in 1928, Turner became the first African-American to earn an Amateur Radio License.

The Department of Commerce, which issued licenses then, assigned Turner the call sign W3LF. His station was licensed for 15 watts.

He left electronics to become an English professor after earning a PhD in literature.

Rufus Turner died in 1982. He was 74.

How You Can Really Help

There are many ways you can lend a hand to people in developing nations.

Give Time

Charities need volunteers. Stuffing envelops is as tedious as it sounds, but it’s work that must be done. The United Nations has a clearinghouse where you can find ways to volunteer on-line. You could also Donate Your Birthday.

Give Money to Individuals

You’ve seen the television advertisements asking you to sponsor a child. In most cases, cash does not go directly to the child; it’s pooled with other donations to help the child’s community. Heifer International allows you to buy a farm animal that will be given to a family. You can also loan small by meaningful amounts through micro-lending organizations such as Kiva.

Give Money to an Organization

Simple. Straightforward. Just write a check. Silicon Valley uses crowd-funding to raise cash, which is a pretty forward-thinking way to leverage lots of people and a good cause.

The upside is that most donations are tax deductible. The downside is that you are not doing something more direct.

Volunteer in a Developing Country

Exciting. Adventurous. The sort of thing that changes lives for the volunteer and the recipient. Think Peace Corp. But if you have no real skills or relevant experience, you’re better off sending money or doing some of the other things on this list.


You can do so much more when you have others helping you. There is nothing stopping you from organizing an event for your favorite charity or petitioning your elected officials to support your cause. Advocacy is the Entrepreneurship of Non-For-Profits.

What ways do you give?

Crossposted on LinkedIn

What Happened When I Added a Counterpoise to My HT

The problem of an electrically short antenna is familiar to anyone operating in medium-wave bands. One solution is the counterpoise ground system, which is a series of radial wires that act as a low-resistance ground connection.

Broadcast Engineers use counterpoise systems to improve AM radio station coverage. Coastal Maritime Stations with limited space use them in conjunction with capacitance hats as a tuning method. HF Backpackers even tie a long radial to their whip antenna to improve their own signal as they hike.

When I read an article about applying the concept to handhelds, I was intrigued.

The antenna on a typical handheld is a vertical monopole with the radio chassis serving as a ground plane. This configuration is terribly inefficient because the antenna is a fraction of a wavelength it should be. Your radio may be rated for 5 watts, but you’d be lucky to have a third of that power radiate from the antenna.

By adding a 1/4-wave counterpoise, you, in effect, turn the antenna into an off-center-fed, vertically polarized 1/2-wave dipole. The modification should improve antenna efficiency so more transmitter power radiates from the antenna than it would without a counterpoise.

Theoretically, it should work.

As an experiment, I added a half-wave counterpoise to my Yaesu VX-8DR during a recent Boy Scout camping trip.

The Communication Challenge

Our Scout Camp is a 700-acre facility on flat elevation. The archery range, fishing dam, and swimming beach are exceptions. They drop 30-35 feet below average terrain over short distances; and it is difficult reaching those sites with 5-watt radios, even though they are less than a mile from most camp sites.

First Test Result

My first test was to see if I could reach a local VHF repeater in nearby Morris, Illinois. Under most conditions, I am fully quiet into this repeater with 1 watt.

I talked with my wife back at our home over the repeater, and she confirmed that my signal was good both at 1-watt and 5-watts.

When I added the VHF counterpoise, I couldn’t kerchunck the repeater on full power.

I was very surprised because the VHF counterpoise, at 19-inches, was nearly as long as the stock VX-8DR antenna. It should behave like a center-fed, 1/2-wave dipole and be 60% to 70% efficient.

I checked my connection and tried again.


I move to a simplex frequency to make sure the counterpoise hadn’t shorted the antenna system.

It did work, but I was 20 feet from the receiver on high power.

Second Test Result

Armed with the knowledge that I had a signal, the next test was a short distance check of 175 yards between our campsite and the dining hall.


When I removed the counterpoise and tried again, the operator on the other end thought I was using the counterpoise and transmitting my test.

I reduced power to 1-watt and carried on the conversation without a problem.

We then tried a UHF counterpoise to see if the fault lay in the construction of the VHF counterpoise.

Again, no signal over the short distance.

Thoughts and Opinions

Without any test equipment, I can’t determine the reason for signal loss. Either the antenna was terribly out of tune and had a SWR greater than 3:1, or the counterpoise I built worked as a shunt away from the antenna. I don’t plan to spend any more time chasing this birdie down.

The antenna theory is logical, but didn’t work for me in practice.

I wouldn’t recommend using a counterpoise on an HT. If you want to improve your signal, construct a better antenna such as a Roll-Up J-Pole.