Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back to the Heartland

A couple of weeks ago I completed my move from Texas back to the Midwest. I headed up north to Charleston, Illinois to take the job as General Manager of WEIU-TV & FM, the radio-TV center of Eastern Illinois University. With minor exceptions, the move went calmly and was accomplished with minimal hassle.

At some point down the road I'll spend some time talking about the job and the university environment. At this point I find it quite exciting and productive.

But right now I want to spend a few words on the house I bought when I moved back to the heartland. The home I'm affectionately dubbing, The Farm House.

This beautiful American classic was built way back in 1917 by a farmer, maybe rancher would be a better term, who had received a contract to breed mules for America's war effort. Yeah, this was long before humvees or even jeeps, to be sure. Those old enough to have read about "The Big One" may remember that horses and mules were still the major forms of transportation during the war. So a contract to raise them for the effort was likely pretty lucrative.

The bad news was that when the war ended, so did much of the demand for mules! Automobile and truck production ramped up and Americans were quick to adapt to a much more mechanized society. As a result, the enterprise of breeding mules for fun and profit near Charleston, Illinois, began to fail.

The Great Depression brought the end. By then the farm had fallen into foreclosure and was bought by a local physician who owned the farm for many years.

Then in the 70's, a local farmer purchased the land and added it to his farming operation. It has remained in Max Winkler's hands until this year when I quickly became fascinated with the home while looking for a place to live when taking over my new position.

Max still has a vibrant farming operation which leaves me much to watch as he continues to grow corn and soybeans on more than a thousand acres surrounding the Farm House. And at night, the porch allows me to watch the setting sun in the west, the enveloping stars from the east or the incoming weather from, well pretty much every direction!

Yes, I've endured my share of "Green Acres" jokes already. And to be honest, some are pretty darned funny! And no, I have not yet ventured to the Rural King to purchase a pair of overalls. Though you never know what might happen!

So to slightly paraphrase a beautiful John Denver song from back in the 70's, this move to the Farm House gave me the chance to "Come home to a place I'd never been before".

It's great to be home!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Back East to Baltimore

I had the chance to head back east this week to attend the PBS/CPB GM Round Robin meetings. Heading to the city that took away my beloved Cleveland Browns over a decade ago was interesting. And I have to admit it was a bit of fun playing up the loss of the Dawgs and feigning disgust for the city with the phenomenal Inner Harbor. But in reality, I found it a wonderful city to visit. Leaving it came too quickly.

As for the PBS meeting...lots of information and some very solid discussion. Some things to worry about yet much to be excited about. And some incredible ideas on dealing with an industry very much in transition.

We discussed partnerships and collaborations. There was also some good discusson about PBS stations and NPR stations working together to head exciting new directions

But those blog topics will come later.

Right now, just a quick message to pass along the beauty of autumn back east. Flying into BWI on a bright, autumn day with the reds, oranges and yellows of the thousands of trees beneath was truly awe-inspiring. Especially after having left the lush, green foliage of Houston and the Gulf coast. It reminded me of how big, expansive and wonderful this country of ours really is. Very much a unique place.

I'm happy to be here!

Friday, June 26, 2009

WAYT, AM Radio, Daytimers and Wonderful Wabash

There are times when the Internet frustrates me completely And there are other times that I thank Al Gore, or whomever, for inventing such a fascinating and amazing part of my life.

Today I was surfing for something I needed in my work. Don’t quite remember how I got there but I found a very cool site that pretty much explored radio towers from the northeast. Very fun place.

And lo and behold, through various searches I found a link to the FIRST radio station I worked for on his site. Yup, then it was called WAYT in Wabash, Indiana. A daytime AM kicking out a booming 250 watts (yeah, I was ALWAYS a QRP fan!) before sunset when we signed off. The building occupied about 800 square feet overlooking the Wabash River’s journey through the city of Wabash in the county of Wabash! So what was our station slogan? “On the Banks of the Wabash”. What else?

Anyway the site brought back some really enjoyable (and a few not so) memories of that first experience in broadcasting.

I started there as news director in February, 1974 just in time for the great frying pan murder. The story goes a woman killed her husband by smacking him on the head with a frying pan the Saturday night before I came to town. And apparently right downtown. Wow. That kinda news would have made CNN today!

Getting there was the first problem. After packing up all my worldly possessions in a fairly small U-Haul, we drove overnight on one of the clearest and most starlit nights of my life through the countryside of western Ohio and eastern Indiana. I arrived in Wabash early on a Saturday morning.
Unfortunately, our arrival was before the office at Meadowbrook apartments, where I was renting, opened. Since the apartment complex was across from a little shopping center, I pulled the U-Haul into the shopping center and decided to sleep there till daybreak.

Not long afterward a Wabash PD officer pulled up, asked me what I was doing and checked my drivers license. I told him (with great pride!) I was the new news director at WAYT! He took the info, said good night and drove away.

Five minutes later, the WPD arrived en masse. In the case of Wabash at that time, en masse is defined as three patrol cars! Obviously they didn’t believe my story. They made me open the rear of the truck (which must have proven that NO ONE would be stealing stuff as old as I had in that poor old U-Haul!). Then they called my new general manager, O.J. Jackson, who confirmed that yes, the station HAD hired a kid from the Buckeye state and that yes, he DID get an apartment at Meadowbrook apartments (Shady Oak Lane, if memory serves!). Eventually, they went home, I settled back in the cab of the truck to stew awhile and then rested till dawn.

And it never got less interesting.

During my nine months at WAYT I was able to be knocked over by an escaping inmate while I headed to the county jail one morning during my morning rounds. I saw my first drowning victim up close and personal. I experienced the great April, 1974 tornado outbreak that destroyed Xenia, Ohio. And I learned how special the infield at the Indianapolis 500 can be in May!

The wonderful part of the job, though, was likely the people I worked with…Fred Ramsey every morning. I still can hear him doing his live Hamm’s beer commercials! Steve Ford (Brelsford) afternoons. He was a production guru to me. Not to mention he owned pretty much every rock & roll record ever made to that point. I remember the two of us visiting Penguin Point for lunch and then checking out Star Trek repeats before heading back to the station. The boss, O.J. Jackson, who taught me more than he’ll ever know (even though I still laugh at him referring to Cat Stevens as “Catherine Stevens” while intro’ing “Peace Train”). Dave Gross before he made the move to Marion and WGOM, the “Giant of Marion”. I believe he went to Indy sometime after I left. Leigh Ellis who began as an intern salesman for us and later ran stations in Valparaiso, Indiana. All were very good friends to this Buckeye.

I remember long drives back to Akron, Ohio to see the family. Stopping in Findlay, Ohio one snowy, winter night while heading to Ohio to watch the premiere of “The Hindenburg”. A complete inability to find a pizza delivery (good or bad) in the whole town of Wabash. And the only thing that made up for no pizza…Curby’s Crispy Chicken!

Yeah, radio in 1974 was a very cool thing to experience. And to experience it in a wonderful little town like Wabash, Indiana was special indeed. Though in those times I could hardly wait to get to the major markets, I now look back and remember with great fondness how nice it was to be a part of a small town station in small town America.

Lord, do I miss it!

Monday, June 15, 2009

QRP = The Good Old Days!

Well, it seems quite awhile since I’ve last posted anything to the blog. Guess there’s been a lot happening. Especially with the DTV transition. I should probably talk about that sometime down the road. Guess I will. But right now, it’s nice NOT to think about it!

Today, I just want to pass along what was to me, an amazing QSO on a minimal power of two watts from my Yaesu FT-817ND.

I had been sorting through a few radio things and pulled my go-bag out to just dig through it briefly. For some reason, I pulled the 817 out and attached it to the stealth inverted vee wire antenna at home. It peaks at a height of maybe fifteen feet with the ends at around six feet. I tell you this just to pass along the word that it’s NOT much of a DX antenna!

At any rate, I was tuning around forty meters and decided I didn’t want to compete with what I heard with my two little watts and internal battery power. So I dialed it up to twenty meter CW and tuned up. I heard a “CQ USA” coming from UA4HBW in Samara, European Russia.

“Hey, might be fun to try Russia with two watts!”, I thought to myself.

I called him only to hear him already working someone else stateside.

When that conversation ended and he sent QRZ, I threw my booming pair of watts at him again.

And he answered!

Well, he SORT of answered.

Copying my call was NOT an easy feat at a distance of 6,300 miles! W8A? was his first response. Then W8AA.

Basically, It took three exchanges to get the call sign right and another two for us to get the RST accurate.

But we did it!

Well maybe more accurately, VICTOR did it! As we all know, the real operator in a QRP QSO is the one copying the QRP station. But Victor hung in there and sent me an email later that night confirming the QSO.

Wow. 2130 local time on twenty meters! 6,300 miles on two watts. I have to say, in many, many ways, this QSO was the most exciting I’ve had since those very early days back in the 60s when hearing ANYONE call back my call of WN8ZNO through the Knight Kit R55A receiver made me shake! For an old guy, it was much the same.
Yeah, at least for me, QRP has pretty much brought back “the good old days” of my radio hobby!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My First Knight Kit

This week once again I was able to take a trip back in time. A journey back that pretty much let me once again remember the smell of melting solder and the excitement of putting together my own radio with my own hands.
Here's the story.
The first kit I ever built was a Knight Kit C-100 walkie talkie. I poured over the Knight Kit catalog daily for what seemed like forever dreaming of all the toys inside. The Star Roamer and Span Master receivers. The T-60 transmitter. But the most special for me was the C-100. It only cost a bit more then $5. But for a poor kid living on a farm with no income, it might as well have been $500. It seemed impossible that I'd ever get these cool communications devices.
But eventually, I did get the money to order one. I don't remember how, but it happened. I figured I didn't need (nor could I afford) two of them as they were often marketed. But since mom and dad had a couple of CB radios and would be able to talk with me on the designated channel 7 (the crystals the C-100s came with), I knew one would at least get me on the air. So I ordered my 100 milliwatt walkie-talkie kit and waited for it to arrive.
Eventually it did! Yeah, the mail man was a special guy back then. He brought all the shiny gadgets of the world outside.
Anyway, I had NEVER gotten nor assembled a kit in my life. I would eventually put together several other Knight Kits but this was the first. And I was both nervous and excited as I worked through it. After a few hours I put the speaker in, screwed the circuit board in the plastic case, attached the trusty 9 volt battery and put the whole shebang together.
Nope. Didn't work.
But a quick visit with my elmer, a local ham named Paul Segi, who also served as the head of our 4-H club that focused on electronics, quickly showed the bad solder connection I had made.
Heat up the gun. Clean up the connection and voila....static! My 100 milliwatts boomed the better part of half a mile down the road. I was thrilled.
So this week, I was able to acquire a pair of these old walkie-talkies, open one up and briefly re-experience that time in my life nearly 45 years ago when I first learned the thrill of making my own electronic toys.
Man, it felt great!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I keep confusing myself about QRP. Ninety-five percent of the time I absolutely love it. I'm totally fascinated by it. And in many ways it takes me back to the glory days of when I was a novice running about 35 watts out. Not a whole lot more than I'm likely running QRP on my FT-817.
Then I have days like today. Days when I frustrate myself with total failure to reach anyone. Twenty meter CW and SSB. Thirty meter CW. Forty meter CW. Not one QSO.
Yeah, I know. That's the challenge.
But gee, it would be nice to at least get SOMEONE out there to hear my little two watts limping through the air from that little Miracle Whip sitting on the hood of my Ford Ranger. The loyal truck parked in a quiet rural park in Conroe, Texas. A beautiful little park situated under bright, sunny skies. Skies that were pleasantly breezy with 75 degree temperatures.
Maybe I remembered the beauty of QRP. It's more than the QSO. It's the whole package, isn't it? Yeah. A great day out there today. A cool experience that I couldn't have in the shack. Oh yes, that's right. Now I'm beginning to remember. Now I get it.
QRP rocks!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Popular Electronics in the 50s & 60s

W8SU did it again. He sent along a picture of an old issue of "Popular Electronics". February of 1955 to be exact. What memories.
I’m betting I’m NOT the only one who grew up devouring every issue of this magazine. Hey, between it and "Electronics Illustrated", I was kept up to date (for the time!) with all the latest electronics info a kid could handle. Lots of dreams.
I still remember the adventures of Carl and Jerry from "EI"... Of particular note is an issue where the pair conspired to cheat at a spelling bee by taking a little earpiece apart (You know. The kind that came with your six transistor radio), taping it on the arm of one of them, attaching a miniature (for it’s time) receiver that he kept under his shirt, and the other conspirator sending the correct spelling of the word from the audience in CW, to be translated by the feel of the diaphragm on the skin. Wild!

Anyway, the cover of the issue sent to me by Bob includes a basic novice transmitter. If I remember correctly, and I may or may not, this particular project utilized a square baking pan from the kitchen for the chassis. And till the day she died, my mother never knew why she lost a cake pan every time I built a new project! Hi hi

I’d been lucky enough to get a box of old 1950s electronics magazines from the Warwick auction sometime in 1962. And I began to systematically read every one of them cover to cover. I loved every page, every project and even the amazing ads. Ah. Those were good times.

Also around that time, I was in 4-H. Our club specialized in electricity and electronics. Our leader, Paul Segi, was a ham. But somehow I cannot recall his call anymore. Maybe one of these days it’ll come to me. At any rate, he was a great elmer. He often explained some of the more difficult elements of some of the construction projects I’d find in the magazines. And he taught me not to be afraid to experiment. Of course, with the high voltage of the day, maybe I should have been BIT more careful.
OK. That’s plenty for tonight. Been a long day and I need to get some things done.

73 till next time.