What You Can Do with Almost Nothing
By Jim Cluett

“I’ve been doing so much with so little for so long that I can now do almost anything with nearly nothing.”

I’ve been wondering just how simple, just how inexpensive a station could really be, so this month I decided to find out. I threw a wire out the window, set up a miniature xtal-controlled station on the windowsill and started making contacts. With just a QSO or two a day, in barely two weeks I had worked 15 states and three countries on 40 meters with just two watts. The whole setup cost only $135.

The experiment really started last fall with the desire to have a simple emergency antenna… just in case I lost my Windom in a storm. So I ran a 66 foot wire out an East facing window over to an oak tree. The wire runs only 20 feet above the ground… it’s pretty humble. From time to time I’d set up a little station on the windowsill to try the whole thing out. I made contacts on 80, 40, 30 and 20. I couldn’t just leave a perfectly good antenna sitting there unused, so I dedicated a little station to it and started my experiments.

2 watts on windowsill
Two watts on the windowsill

I chose the smallest, least expensive gear I had. I ended up with a little 40 meter xtal-controlled transceiver with a VXO that gives me about 5 Khz band spread. The rig is a kit from Wilderness Radio called the SST and it fits in your shirt pocket. You can build the kit in about four hours. It costs $90, and you can see it at http://www.fix.net/~jparker/wild.html

I really could have made the setup simpler if I’d used a resonant dipole without a tuner. Because the antenna is just a wire, I needed the tuner. So I chose the BLT from the Norcal QRP Club. This tuner is about the same size as the SST and it also fits in your pocket. It costs $45 from http://www.norcalqrp.org/norcal_blt.htm

The back of the tuner has two binder posts for antenna wires. One side goes out the window to the antenna; the other side is grounded to a radiator under the window.

During my 2-week experiment I made a total of 22 QSOs. I’d stop by to listen in the morning for a few minutes before heading off to work and sometimes again in the evening. I worked as far West as Colorado (W0RW using the Paraset Spy Radio).  For some reason I was hitting Alabama frequently in the morning. (WB8WOJ Dale was camping in his RV.) But I also worked the Bahamas, Cuba and Canada.

The experiment further illustrates for me just how much fun you can have with ham radio with a very small investment in time, money, space for a shack, and a minimum antenna. Even though it’s not fancy, not complicated, doesn’t cover all bands (or even much of one band), you can still make great contacts and enjoy the thrill of wireless contacts around the world.