A New Activity: Got My Ham Radio Technicians License

I’ve been spending some time off and on over the last several months porting the code generation part of cc65 to produce code for the 16-bit 65816 rather than its 8-bit cousins. I’m just doing a simple straight port at this point, only converting the generated code to take advantage of the 65816 16-bit registers and new instructions, without considering efficiencies that might be gained with the new 65816 address modes. I’m about 30% done with this part of the project. It’s interesting work, but tedious and I’ve taken several extended breaks as a result.

During a recent break, a discussion over on 6502.org about 6502 kits got me thinking about what I liked about the kits of my youth. I grew up in the crystal radio and 100-in-1 electronics set era and always liked the ability to tinker with things, rather than just put together something from a list of step-by-step instructions.

My first soldering electronics kit/course was building a VHF radio while I was in high school back in the mid-70s. They’d send you the kit’s modules one at a time as you finished various lessons. It took me many years to complete it, but it was educational and fun. I gave that kit away to a friend decades ago when I was downsizing, getting ready to go off to graduate school. I regret that now that I have time to pick up my electronics hobby again. It would have been fun to tinker with it again.

With a little googling I found the company that sold that course/kit, NRI (National Radio Institute). They went out of business in the early 2000s when the demand for technicians dropped due to the trend to throw things away instead of having them repaired. I found an old ad for the course I took. Fun times looking back through kits of the past. I was really interested in computers back then, but the computer kits they had were too basic for what I wanted. As I recall, the good kits from other companies then were either too expensive or still a few years away.

I haven’t been able to find details of the specific course I took but generic NRI lesson booklets are readily available online as is some of the test equipment you’d build during the course, their discovery lab for example. I haven’t found any images of the VHF radio I built. A lot of NRI course materials has been archived. This isn’t exactly the course I took, but a lot of the lessons are the same.

I don’t think they have similar courses today. I suppose now you’d just look something up on YouTube, watch someone else build it and never really build anything yourself. There are radio kits available though, similar to what I built decades ago. Elecraft’s K2 HF transceiver has the look and feel of what I build back then, but in a HF vs VHF package. I would probably have bought that kit right after finding it, but it’s on backorder due to the chip shortage.

With all this nostalgia, I decided to pause my programming work again and dive back into communications electronics. As a start I studied for and passed my Amateur Radio Technician’s license. Back in the day, you had to pass a morse code test to get your license, but no more. With the technical knowledge already mastered, it only took me a couple of hours to review the technician level regulations and operating requirements to pass the test. It’s pass/fail and you only need a 74% to pass. Pretty easy. I’m going for my General class license next, which again mostly entails learning the additional regulations and operating requirements applicable to that class.

I’ll probably be writing about my experiences with analog circuits for a while. I’m going to see how far I can go on breadboards for a while. We’ll see how well they hold up to the high frequencies involved.