|A brief biography of EI8IC's amateur radio career
My name is Tim Makins, born 07 May 1957. I first became interested in radio about the age of 8 when I bought an old domestic valve receiver at a local jumble-sale for 3d, or less than 2p/3c in today's money. As well as the normal Long and Medium wavebands, it had a number of Short wavebands, and after stringing out a long-wire aerial to a nearby tree, I spent many happy hours listening to merchant ships on the Trawler Band, and Amateurs in their little slots on the dial. Luckily, in those days, there was still a lot of AM transmissions, so I could understand what they were saying without the need for a BFO. As time went by, I was continuing to buy old valve sets, and started taking them apart to figure out how they worked. Later, at school I would search out old sets and try bigger and better longwires. I even used to relay the output around the school by connecting one tag to the water pipes and the other to earth, so that anyone could connect a loudspeaker between the two to hear the latest pop music from the Pirate Broadcasters of those days, who transmitted from a variety of ships in the Englsih Channel, just outside British Territorial Waters. There were also some operating from abandoned gun-platforms near the Thames Estuary. This was before the BBC introduced its pop-music channel 'Radio 1'.
I left school without many qualifications, and went to Hull Technical College to learn about radio and electronics. Here I re-discovered amateur radio, as the student's union had their own society and radio shack; a KW2000B transceiver, KW1000 linear, KW107 z-match, and a 300' long wire aerial that went up to the top of the college roof. I quickly became very interested in all that was going on, and so went to night class to get my amateur license, G4DNV, which was issued on the 17th October 1977. In those days there was still quite a bit of WWII surplus equipment around, and I soon became familiar with such wonders as the CR100, the HRO, and the AR88 which was so heavy that the local radio store volunteered to give one away free to anyone who could carry it to the end of the road ! I'm not sure if anyone ever managed it. The local Redifon office on the docks would sometimes give away old ship's radio equipment, which was a very useful source of spare parts, but Marconi never would, prefering to scrap everything - what a waste of good equipment !
Transmitters were not so easy to come by, as the commmercial ones were outside my budget, but homebrew or modified ones generally went the rounds as people up-graded. My first transmitter was a 40m homebrew CW/AM rig, with an 807 in the final to give about 40w output. With no such thing as an SWR meter, I used to tune it for maximum glow in the valve ! The receiver was an ex-naval CR100, with a dodgey bandswitch. I hung a dipole from the tree outside on a day when my Dad was out, and soon was enjoying the thrills of my first contact with DL1DV in Frankfurt. This was followed by many more European contacts before the big thrill of a stateside contact to K1RQE, who I must have annoyed in the RSGB 7Mhz contact by sending a number of times ?K1RQE ?K1RQE - I was convinced he must really have been a UK1 station !
Worried about the possible visit of a Radio Inspector, my next purchase was a BC221 herterodyne frequency meter, that came with its own book of calibration tables. I added a little homebrew power supply in the battrey compartment to supply the HT and LT. Other equipment followed; a 100w all band CW/AM Minimitter served well for a while, and after much saving of money, my first SSB transceiver, the all-valve Trio TS500. My flat in Hull was in the middle of the city where aerials were frowned upon, but being on the top floor with a flat roof outside the window meant that I could usually get up aerials for the higher bands at least. LF was more of a problem - I once covered my bedroom wall with aluminium cooking foil and tuned it up on 80m; a few contacts were made, much to the amusement of the other amateurs.
In 1978 I got a job as an electronics engineer, so moved to London and after a while bought a one-bedroom flat in East Dulwich, for £8,000. Money was short and the TS500 had to be sold, but I managed to stay on the air using a borrowed JR310 receiver, and a TCS12 transmitter, ex US navy, that needed plenty of work to start with, and always drifted up and down the band - no one minded in those days, and besides, no one had sharp-enough filters for it to be a problem. I installed semi break-in keying, from circuits found in the ARRL handbook. I had a lot of fun with this setup, and spent many happy hours on 40m working into a G5RV at 30 feet. My morse key was a semi-automatic mechanical bug key, though this was changed to a fully electronic single-paddle bug key made with TTL ICs, and a broken hacksaw blade (nice and springy) that operated 2 microswitches. Eventually, money was saved and I was able to buy a second-hand Trio TS510, which was slightly more modern than the '500 as it had most of its valve circuitry on a PCB, like the TVs of those days. It needed a lot of looking after, but was great fun to operate. The photo shows my shack at that time, and the equipment lineup was, l-r, homemade frequency counter, ATU, the homemade single-paddle keyer, TS510 transceiver, and the stack of speech processor, stereocode unit, and FL2 audio filter.
The aerial farm was increased with a HyGain 14AVQ trap vertical that covered 20,15 and 10. I mounted this on the chimney, with the radials draped over the slates; it produced my first truly long distance contact with VK8HA in Darwin - a most exciting moment. I worked a lot of DX with the HyGain, and so was concerned when one day the SWR shot up. I ventured on the roof to investigate and the cause was soon obvious - the neighbours had cut off the radials where they went over their section of roof ! Well at least it wasn't the coax. As more money was saved, I changed rigs to a Drake TR4CW, a super piece of equipment that made operating a real dream.
I was a member of the Clifton Amateur Radio Club, G3GHN, at that time, which had a small but regular membership, all very friendly. Highlights of the year would be the trip to fields south of London to set up and operate a portable station for the National Field Day (NFD) and the SSB Field Day. There was never a hope of winning any kind of prize, as the setup and equipment were modest, but a most enjoyable time was had by all, and good friendships were formed. We managed to keep the station going throughout the 24 hour period, though operating rates generally dropped significantly when 11pm arrived and Norman produced the fish and chips. I have included some photos in my Archive section - please take a look.
Still a young man, and looking for the adventure that London could not provide, I signed up in 1982 with the British Antarctic Survey for two years as a radio operator, and the hope of some good DXing ! I went initially to install a Scientific Atlanta satellite communications system for the Signy base in the South Orkney Islands; it was designed to provide trouble-free communications back to headquarters in Cambridge. My amateur callsign was issued easily, and I received VP8AQU for a bit of serious pile up working in the months that I was there. It was a lot of fun; I operated mainly CW and kept my manager K0JW quite busy with requests. I worked all the states but didn't get the certificate as the only station worked in South Dakota would never send a QSL card. The rig was an old Yaesu transceiver, jointly owned by the guys down there; the base commander refused to allow us to use the big Racal transmitters that formed the main station equipment for amateur operating, despite previous assurances from England. Aerials were mostly dipoles - a shame we didn't have anything more effective. I journeyed back to England at the end of the Antarctic summer, intending to return the following year as operator on South Georgia, but this was not to be. The base there needed a lot of work doing to it after the troubles, and so it wasn't to open to scientific work for a while.
I became GM4DNV instead, with a job in Aberdeen working in electronics, often out on the oil rigs installing MF transmitters and data-relay equipment. It was a busy time, and not much left for amateur radio. This didn't pick up again until 1987, when an obliging landlord in the Yorkshire Dales let me get put up my first 'proper' aerial, a Cushcraft 3 element monobander yagi for 15m that is still in use today. It made a huge difference to my enjoyment, added to a little later by a linear amp, and a secondhand Drake TR7 transceiver from G4CNY. I recommenced a little contesting, nothing too serious but always enjoyable. My favourites were the Scandinavian 'SAC' and the All Asian Dx, though I would rarely send in a log as my dupe sheets were a little difficult to read at times. I did have a computer, a BBC model 'B' with its 6502 processor and such a high level of RFI that no one considered switching it on at the same time as the radios !
In 1989 my DXing habits changed as I decided instead to make a few 'eyeball contacts' with the countries I had been talking to. The next few years were spent wandering the globe, to clock up a total of about 70 DXCC countries visited. I would always keep an eye out for ham-aerials, but saw very few. I enjoyed the travelling alot and found it taught me a lot about the ways of the world and other methods of doing things. My favourite countries turned out to be Mexico and India; and it was in India that I met a guy who told me about how wonderful a place Ireland was to live in. When I got back, I went to visit, and liked it so much, I decided to stay.
I bought an old farm house in County Sligo, and spent the next few years restoring it. Ham radio took rather a back seat once more until I had a room ready for the shack and a 40m dipole hung from a nearby tree. As time progressed, the shack had more work done on it. The first job was some decent work surfaces, deep and strong enough to support the equipment. I welded up a frame of 1½" steel box section, 36" deep, that was rawl-bolted to the walls, keeping all the weight off the floor. This was covered with 1" blockboard and gave plenty of space for me and the rigs. Book shelving followed, the wiring completed, and at last my old equipment could be unpacked and got back onto the air. The shack computer was updated by a succession of abandoned PC's that I nursed back to life. The first one had a 10MB hard drive, and the operating system, and the internet browser, came on a series of floppy discs.
It was time to think about some better aerials than just the 40m dipole. An abandoned telephone pole provided a base for the 15m yagi, and a few scaffold poles with a lot of rope got the 20m yagi up as well. The trees on my property weren't very big, so I increased the height of the tallest by adding a 17' length of 3x2 creosoted timber to bring it up to 60', a perfect height for what has remained one of my favourite aerials, a full wave 80m delta loop. 10m remained a problem for a while; dipoles and verticals were tried but never with much success on the air. For the last CQWW CW contest I put up a 50' mast with a 10m full wave delta loop on the top, fed with 100 ohm balanced shielded cable. It worked very well in that and the ARRL 10m contest, though a bit more gain would have been appreciated - my next project is to try a 10m quad.