Ham Radio is Not Dead Yet

By Danielle Roof

Meet Joel Wilhite, or KD6W as he's known in the American Radio Relay League. Yes, Joel is a competitive ham radio enthusiast.

Joel Wilhite Joel admits to using a "store bought" shortwave radio back in the early 80s when he first started this hobby, but his focus ever since has been one of innovation. It started with a few "upgrades" but increasingly Joel has focused on designing his competitive ham radios from the ground up. From tubes to transistors, this is clearly not your father's ham radio.

The American Radio Relay League dates back to 1914 when an inventor, Hiram Percy Maxim, best known for his firearm silencer, was anything but silent about his ham radio hobby. Frustrated by the inability to communicate directly with other hams, he had the idea of creating a relay system to extend the range of radio communication.

Fast forward to modern times and Joel designs and redesigns his radios as one of the top competitors the ARRL's 10GHz and Up contest which they hold twice a year. A 10 year veteran of the competition his best result is a second place finish.

The object of the 10GHz & Up contest (http://www.arrl.org/10-ghz-up) is to communicate with as many other radio broadcasters from as many different locations as possible. Joel's modifications including "locking in the oscillator so that two devices trying to communicate do not drift into a different frequency. He used a Jameco DC to DC converter to accomplish this crucial task, as well as other existing parts. In order to lock the oscillators, he uses phase lock loops. During the contest, the competitors try to get to a broadcast location, get on the air as fast as possible, communicate with others, and repeat this in as many locations as possible. Since the contest requires almost constant movement, a crucial part of the design process is ensuring that the operator has the ability to break down and reassemble the device. This requires a certain amount of durability and flexibility in the design.

KD6W He will often use a pre-made module but fires up his CAD software for the design process evaluating fit and function. This ownership of the design is both practical and a source of pride for Joel – he enjoys the knowledge that he is the greatest expert when it comes to his own devices.

According to Joel, the innovations in this industry continue to come, and he's regularly researching what capabilities he might be able to incorporate into his designs. He always asks himself, "Can I make this in a way that is better, faster, or cheaper?"

Joel's day job in television is nothing like his weekends as KD6W, ARRL competitor. He has been pursuing his radio hobby as much as possible since he first got licensed in 1982 and is a part of a very active hobbyist community. They collaborate on a wide variety of projects and share articles, new ideas, and more. While he's a competitor, it's clear that collaboration can be just as much fun.

Together, Joel and his fellow radio enthusiasts work to continue learning, developing, and practicing their skills. According to Joel, "getting a license is easy" – the fun truly starts when people are able to access their own creativity and think of new, innovative projects. While many of us may think of amateur radio as a thing of the past, Joel assures me that it is "not the old tube ham radio stuff anymore." The field, like so may others, continues to evolve and grow with the advancement of technology and our access to it.

To learn more about the ARRL, visit http://www.arrl.org/ and to contact Joel directly email [email protected].
Danielle Roof is a senior at Tulane University originally from San Carlos, California. She is studying Political Economy and Education, and hopes to go into teaching. Her favorite things to do when she's not studying are dance, yoga, and traveling to new places.