Author Archives: ke0bma

Skywarn Spotter Training … Completed


rectangle_stickerI’ve always loved storms, from as far back as I can remember so I finally decided that I should take the Skywarn Spotter Training class.

I decided to take the class because I would like to be helpful.  I figured if I am going to be out in the weather anyway, the least I could do is get some training and a better understanding of it so that I could spot and report.  I thought I had a pretty good understanding of storm formation and what types of weather produced tornadoes, I was wrong.  This class was very enlightening and informative.

Here are some resources for anyone interested in Spotter Training:

Minnesota training with Metro Skywarn
Skywarn Groups (national)

The Tower … or … Where to put my antenna

So it started out simple enough…

Bought a ham radio and needed a place to put an antenna.  Should be a fairly simple day on the roof right? WRONG!

*** A note before starting: This is a long read ***

So let’s back up a month or so… I bought a radio (two actually) on Amazon. One was a TYT TH-9800 Quad Band mobile (review to come), the other was the classic Baofeng (now Pofung) BF-8F+ HT (review also to come).  I also bought a quad band mobile antenna (generic).  Now this is where the problems begin.

I figured the simplest solution would be to by a tripod and a few mast sections and place the antenna on my roof.  I called the City to see if there were any restrictions or permit requirements before hand and was told there were only two restrictions:

  1. If the antenna was mounted on the roof of my house (our peak is at 22′) the tip of the antenna could not be more than 15′ above the peak.
  2. If the antenna was mounted to a free standing structure in the yard it had to be less than 60′ at the tip.

I was a little confused by the mental gymnastics required to understand why I could build a 60′ tall structure in my yard with no permit and no inspection, but could not securely bolt a tripod and a few mast sections to my firmly planted house.  After acquiring a headache trying … I gave up and decided I would just have to build something.

Plan A:

The plan was that I would still buy the tripod as well as 10 53″ mast sections and I would weld together a base for the tripod to sit on the ground.  I would secure the masts with a couple guy wires and also attach to the peak of my garage (because for some reason this is acceptable, I checked).  The job started out as planned, purchase, assemble and then came time to raise the masts…




While trying to tip 42 feet of antenna mast into an upright position, the inevitable happened, it buckled under it’s own weight.  Luckily, we were able to cut off about 10′ and get the rest of it raised.


IMG_1644 IMG_1656

Almost immediately I was I was beaming with pride … moments later I took an honest look at what I had done and hung my head in shame.  How the hell could I leave this monstrosity of wet noodle like metal up in the air?  How could I show this to anyone and expect anything more than pity … I was at a loss but determined to rebuild this, and this time… much better!

I spent about a week drafting, designing, ripping up and doing more drafting and designing… then it came it to me… I know what you’re thinking, an idea right? Wrong! A new ham radio post notification on my craigslist app 🙂  it was for a 48′ Rohn AX tower for only $175!!!  The only hitch… I had to drive an hour and a half each way to get it.

Plan B:

The idea was to go pickup this free standing 48′ tower which was complete with hardware and bolt it up on the previous base I had built and done.  Simple right? FOR FUCK’S SAKE WRONG AGAIN!!!  After acquiring the tower I did my research (I know, I know, I should have done this first, but what’s the fun in that!) and discovered that I should have a 3′ x 3′ x 3′ CONCRETE FUCKING BRICK in the ground!?!? … ok, ok, I’ll just dig a hole, buy some concrete mix and we’ll be good. 🙂 … WAIT, I don’t want to climb this thing so I’m going to weld together a tilt plate for it also! BRILLIANT!


Plan B.1 The cememt

After figuring out that I can go to home depot and pickup 80# bags of Quikrete for only $3.75, I hook up the trailer and head out.  I decided that with all those concrete cylinders I have (see above pic) I probably only need about 1/2 cubic yard of Quikrete which is only what … TWENTY-FIVE $%@#$ BAGS!?!?  Man good thing these are only $3.75 each!

Next I did the quick math, 25 80# bags is 2,000 lbs.  I’m not sure what the axel rating on my trailer is but I do believe I will pushing it a bit but oh well, I head out to home depot anyway.  Once there I ask a guy if he can bring me a pallet up to loading minus 10 bags (there are 35 80# bags on a pallet) and he writes a slip of paper to bring to checkout so I can pay for it.  About 20 minutes later the loading doors open and here comes my pallet!

The forklift driver lifts and centers the pallet and lowers it slowly onto my trailer and I watch in amazement as my partially filled tires (never filled them up after the winter) slowly squish down to the rims.  So, after many apologies, the pallet is lifted back up off the trailer and brought inside to wait for me to return after filling the tires with air.

After about 5 minutes I return and wait once again for about 20 minutes until once again, the loading bay doors open.  Out comes the pallet, down go the tires with about an inch and a half to the rim.  It’ll be ok I tell myself, I’ll just drive slowly.

Fortunately, the drive home was uneventful except for the trailer making some eerie sounds.  Once home I realize I am going to have to unload quite a few of these bags to be able to disconnect the trailer.  This is when I notice, I am LUCKY to have made it home at all!  Apparently the guy at home depot was lazy and didn’t want to unload the 10 extra bags, there on the pallet sat ALL 35 bags, 2,800 lbs. total.  I still cannot believe the trailer didn’t buckle!

Plan B.2 – The hole and the tilt plate

IMG_1719 IMG_1721 IMG_1725 IMG_1730 IMG_1735 IMG_1736 IMG_1746

Dig a hole I thought, hard work but should be easy enough… NOPE!

I framed and marked the spot for the hole and started digging.  Things went well for approximately 8 inches.  At around 8 inches I encountered hard packed dry clay.  This meant that for the next 20 inches down I had to water, pick and shovel this god awful stuff!  It was very slow going but eventually I got past all the clay and found some easy to shovel sand that made the rest of the dig pretty easy.  All said and done, the hole took my all day to dig.

Next up, building the tilt plate.  This part was actually pretty easy as it only consisted of welding together some scrap angle iron, buying a couple nuts and bolts and using some of the angle to fabricate my own hinge mechanism.

Plan B.3 – Putting the tower together and raising it.

IMG_1698 IMG_1700

Below is our first attempt at raising the tower….

It’s a good thing the cable snapped when the tower was only a foot or two off the ground.  This could have had disastrous results.

Next I grabbed a strong steel cable and replaced the weaker one with it and using the truck again began to lift and it appeared to hold.  The setup we were using was to place two rings on the peak of the roof for the cable to run through.  We connected one end of the cable to the tower about 2/3 of the way up and the other end to the trailer hitch on our SUV.  We used 3 sections of steel cable clamped together at the ends to get the length we needed.

At this point we had to stop and using a ladder we pushed up and propped the tower to create slack in the cable so we could get the cable clamps through the rings. Then we continued to raise it.

Mission Accomplished!  Now we just needed to grab the ends of G5RV and string them to an adjacent tree and to a vent pipe on the roof of my house in an inverted V fashion.
Mission Accomplished
At some point the plan is to install some sort of crank mechanism for use to lower and raise the tower when needed.

Thanks for reading!

Homebrew USB to 6 Pin Din Cable

I’m a “tech” guy and one of the fears I had about buying a radio from the late 80’s to early 90’s was that I would not be able to connect it to the computer.  Before buying my Kenwood TS-440SAT I did some research and found out that by installing an IC-10 Kit, which consists of 2 separate IC’s that you just plug into the open spaces on the board, the radio becomes capable of interfacing with a computer.

The other required parts to complete the connection are:

  • Kenwood IF-232C – This is a TTL to serial converter that will take the TTL signal from the radio’s ACC 1 connection port and translate it to RS232 serial for the computer to understand.  It also does the reverse for communication the other way.
  • Cables to connect the radio’s ACC 1 port to the IF-232C and another to connect the serial port on the IF-232C to the computer.

After reviewing the price for these pieces, roughly $40+ assuming I could find a used IF-232C somewhere and it was in working condition, I decided that I would look into the usb to 6 pin din cables that are all over ebay… unfortunately these were also about $35+.

I did some research and determined that buying one of these cables is really a crapshoot as to whether or not the computer will recognize it or even whether it will be functional at all.  I did discover that the recommended cables are the ones that is based off the ft232rl (FTDI) chipset.  Turns out I happened to have a $6.00 FTDI programmer so I thought I would attempt to make my own cable and after some trial and error, it is now working.

So … Why buy a $35+ cable when you can make your own for less than $15!  Follow the below instructions to build your own.

Tool List:

  • Soldering Iron, Solder and Flux
  • Wire Stripper / Cutter
  • Download FT_PROG to program your FTDI

Parts list:

  • 5V FTDI Programmer
    (cheapest on Ebay at about $3.50 if you have patience to order from China, or $8 on Amazon and get it sooner)
  • 6 Pin Din Connector about $5-6 on Amazon
  • Small length of phone cord
  • A mini usb cable to connect the FTDI to the computer (if you don’t already have one for some strange reason, they are about $1-3 on amazon, even less at a thrift store)


FTDI Programmer6 Pin Din Connector


  1. Connect your FTDI to your computers USB port
    a) Install and launch FT_PROG
    b) Click “Devices”->”Scan and Parse”
    c) Click the “+” next to “Hardware Specific”
    d) Click “Invert RS232 Signals
    e) in the box on the top right check the following boxes: Invert TXD, Invert RXD, Invert RTS#, Invert CTS#
    f) Click “Devices” -> “Program”
    g) After completed unplug your FTDI from your computer
  2. Cut a 12″ length of phone cord that will be used to connect the 6 pin din connector to the FTDI programmer and strip the ends of the sleeve back about an inch and a half and then strip the wires each about one half inch.
  3. Slide one end of the phone cord through the rubber fitting for the DIN Connector
  4. Use the following Diagrams to solder the phone wires to the pins on the back side of the DIN connector and solder the respective colored wire to the correct pin on the FTDI

    NOTE! Your FTDI may not have a pin marked “RTS”, “RTS” is the same as “DTR”.  Pin 6 on the DIN and VCC on the FTDI are not connected.
  5. Slide the rubber jacket onto the DIN connector and use some heat shrink tubing on the FTDI if you want.
  6. Plugin and go!

Here is a picture of my wiring, however I was using colored jumper wires at this point and not the phone cord.

Homebrew 6 pin din to USB cable


The following screen shots show the settings I am using with DXLabs Suite to control the radio.

TS-440S DXLab Settings TS-440S DXLab Settings

If you have any questions or improvements let me know!

73’s KE0BMA

Finally got my ticket!

It was finally time I got off my butt and took the test to get my ticket.  I’ve been wanting to get my amateur radio operators license since I was about 13 or 14 years old, I decided I might as well grab the No Nonsense Study Guides from KB6NU and go for it.

Using only his guides, I studied for about a week for the Technician class test and really wanted to test for my General as well on the same day.  Fast forward to the night before my test and I realized I never got around to studying for the General… I spent about 30 minutes studying the guide that night and about 2 hours studying it in the morning and went to take both tests.

August 9, 2014, I show up and took both the Technician and General tests … AND PASSED!

To say I was excited would be an understatement.  I had already ordered a radio on amazon, a Baofeng BF-F8+ and one from Ebay, a Kenwood TS-440SAT.  I figured this way I had both the UHF/VHF and HF covered.  The BF-F8+ arrived prior to my test so I was able to tune in to a couple local repeaters and listen to some rag chew.  My TS-440SAT arrived a few days after I passed the test and the same day my call sign showed up in the FCC database!

Baofeng BF-F8+Kenwood TS-440SAT

Currently I have a G5RV strung up in the trees (temporary placement until the tower is up) with the ladder line connected to about 100′ of LMR-400 running into the house and get fairly decent reception with no balun (planning on adding one to see if it’s better).

Anyway, I decided to start a blog to outline my trial, tribulations and adventures in ham radio so I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing and experiencing it!

73’s Jason