A new Radio for my shack

Well, I’ve been getting back into Ham Radio lately. With the pandemic stifling most things that are fun, I figured it would be a good activity for being social distanced. Little did I know which way it would go.

I had a good radio, my main radio, which served me well for over 20 years. I used it in many contests to make thousands of contacts over the years. I didn’t scrimp on it, I spent until it hurt, which at that time was a lot of money. I put all the accessories into it. Over the years, it needed some maintenance. It had a battery that died every ten years or so, and when it turned on and said “TILT” this time, I assumed it was time for a new battery.

I ordered a new battery, a li-ion coin cell. The original was the type that solders directly onto a circuit board. It’s hard to find the exact right one of those, but I ordered a holder as well. I figured I’d put the holder in once and from then on, changing the battery would be a snap.

But I put it all in and it did not fix the problem. I looked into the feasibility of sending it out for repair. I had shipped it to a fellow in Texas once before for work. he was about the only Kenwood certified repairman left. I looked him up and his web site said he had retired. But it referred me to a new service place, up in Minnesota, I believe. They did indeed still service my radio. For only $350. Shipping would be about $50 each way. I looked at the prices of used models of the radio, and they were barely getting $500.

I decided that I have had my money’s worth out of the old radio, the Kenwood TS-850SAT, and it was time to replace it with something new. But I didn’t want to spend the kind of money it would take to replace it with an updated equivalent. That would have taken at least $2-3000.

Kenwood TS-850SAT

Kenwood TS-850SAT

Icom IC-7300

Icom IC-7300

Instead, I lowered my sights a bit and found the Icom IC-7300. it was going for $1100 with a $100 rebate. It’s a modern style radio, a bit smaller th an the old one, but very capable. Many of the extras I had to add to the old radio came built in on it. How do they do that at such a low price? Well, technology. It’s a radio based on DSP – Digital Signal Processing. Most of the work that used to be done by stages of mixers and filters and amplification, is now done by microprocessors.

The 7300 has been on the market for at least 5 years, but I hadn’t been paying attention to it. It still looks like a traditional radio, but with a fancy touch screen that gives you all kinds of menus for settings and different ways to display what it is doing. It also interfaces with your computer, not through a serial port, like the old one did (with a special adapter) but through a USB cable. The computer sees a virtual serial port to control the radio’s frequency and other settings, just like the old radio, but it also acts like a sound card so that the computer has access to sound coming to and from the radio. This greatly simplifies using data modes.

So, I got the new radio and have been having a great time making it work and setting it up. One thing I found, that I already knew, but didn’t matter with a radio that didn’t work, was my antennas have deteriorated to the point of being almost useless. The only one that is even partially useful is my 40 meter vertical and there is something wrong with it, but I can still make some contacts on it. In fact, I’ve been using it on most bands with the tuner built into the radio.

My triband yagi, A Cushcraft A3S, had been out of commission for years. The center, driven element fell off. The U-bolt broke and the whole element came down. I can’t get up there to do anything, so that’s not going to change.

My 80 meter dipole, a high wire antenna that runs from a tree in front of my house to a tree at the back fence, just doesn’t work. All I hear on it is noise. I can see that one end was caught up in some branches and has unravelled, but not fallen down. But there must be something more wrong than that. Maybe the coaxial cable is broken, maybe the balun at the center is bad. It’s held up by ropes that go through pulleys, but the back one won’t let it down because it’s caught up in the tree branches. I’ll have to get up on my kitchen roof and pull the center down by the coax to free it up. But I’m not going to do that until spring.

The 40 meter vertical, I suspect has a bad coax, but I’m not yet 100% sure of that. It’s buried in the ground, and even though it is direct burial cable, that’s only good for so many years. I ran a piece of RG-8X to replace it, just letting it lie on the grass and that improved it somewhat. It’s time to replace the coax in the ground just on principal, but again that will have to wait until spring.

So, I’ve got a nice new radio, but can’t fully enjoy it right away.

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