New Technology for 2020 ~ Homebrewing Radios is Dead!

As 2020 Winds Down there is but one Conclusion ... Rolling your own rig is Over!


Hackaday has some info that matches what I have said

Wow that should draw the ire of the homebrew community both far and wide. But ask these questions and see if you do not reach the same conclusion? 

  • How often do you hear that some one is making contacts running a home constructed station? Or how often you personally work a station running a homebrew transceiver? Percent wise does it ever hit three percent? (One % would be a likely landslide.)
  • The homebrewers as a set are mostly old timers wanting to live the glory days of yesteryear. But ask how many hams under 30, completely build their stations? Conversely most over 60 will say they used to build stuff; but state the eye hand coordination is gone. Those in between likely have families and other commitments and thus available time is a factor. So what segmented group identifies with scratch building their stations? I build a lot stuff and use it on the air on a regular basis --but that is because when I joined this hobby that is what you did. I am in my 7th decade of homebrewing gear.
  • How many current publications are chock full of nothing but homebrew gear? Probably only a few like the SPRAT or RADCOM which are of course off shore. Domestically, since I stopped writing for QRP Quarterly -- that well has been devoid of any of my projects. QST seems to only support contests and is the main organ for the hawking of equipment from offshore manufacturers. A kind person recently gifted me a 1946 Edition of the ARRL Handbook --it is all totally homebrew and only cost $1 not $50!
  • Competition? For many, a homebrew rig might consist of a  direct conversion receiver or perhaps a simple low power CW transmitter. These work and can provide a good deal of pleasure and enjoyment; but more complex radios such as SSB transceivers are bypassed as being too hard to build. Thus the real station is an ICOM 7300 which can be had for $900 with the coupons. The homebrew one  is used to show off to friends or perhaps to tote along when doing a social distancing outing. Maybe also an alternative Chick Magnet versus a beret?
  • Laziness is a huge factor. To build stuff you have to know stuff and that means studying and learning -- too hard, as most of this learning stuff is hard to do on an I-Phone. I get many emails about building projects and despite my best efforts of trying to teach hams how to fish, all that is wanted is for me to put a fish on their hook and they will move on to smoke a few more parts.
  • Complexity factor -- I find building a homebrew SDR transceiver (and I have 5 of them), is easier than a pure hardware rig. The bottom line for many who don't embrace SDR is that if one cannot see inside a complex IC then there is no understanding of how things work. I don't find that to be the case as my engineering background tells me if I  can describe the action of the black box in terms of stimulus and response --the innards are irrelevant. I liken this to the doubting Thomas -- you know those that believe in something without actually seeing it!
But there is a reward to homebrewing a SSB transceiver as it has many facets.
  1. It is indeed a learning journey that involves use of new tools and skills, expanding one's knowledge base and best of all learning the fine art of not smoking parts.
  2. If built in modules, it then becomes an experimenter's platform where changes and improvements are readily facilitated. In essence the project is a living work where it is never really finished --just improved.
  3. The joy of operating a home constructed station that can make SSB contacts and garner high quality signal reports that rival a commercial rig costing a ton more.
During 2020 a ham friend on the East coast undertook the Simple SSB Transceiver project which I designed. Firstly he was able to replicate the design and at that stage worked tons of European DX on 40M. 

He now has taken the design using only 10 common low cost transistors and moved it "Uptown". Originally it had an 16X4 LCD -- it now sports one of those fancy Nextion Touch Screen Displays. He has added AGC which really helps with signal overload from the east Coast high power stations. One huge upgrade is that he added CAT control so now that Simple SSB Transceiver is a digital station running WSPR, FLDigi and FT-8.

Despite a project like the Simple SSB --that doesn't move the needle! Even though we are experiencing more stay at home time, less is likely being built mostly because of issues like laziness and the complexity excuse. So if the building is not happening, you reach but one conclusion. The era of home constructed equipment is waning and in a death spiral as there is one factor not mentioned earlier -- our hobby is shrinking not growing. The crop of any new hams are not youngsters! 

The IARU told us so -- hams are hams for two reasons: --contests and operating. No mention of homebrewing or advancing the state of the art. 

So to Emily Murphy (GSA Obstructionist) your 15 minutes of fame are over and so is the era of ham radio homebrewing!

Pete N6QW

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