Mini FM in Hornby Island

by Patrick Ready

One night in the early 1990s I went to a friend's house and hurriedly put together a small FM transmitter of Tetsuo Kogawa's design. The next morning I took the transmitter up to Hornby Island, one of the Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC, to do a broadcast of their "Hornby Island Festival," an arts festival that features poetry readings, music, inventions, performances, and so on. Can be as good as anything anywhere.

My part of the event started by tying a thin wire to a small hobby rocket and shooting it up into a tree ? not the most ideal kind of antenna but it seemed like a good idea at the time and was very exciting?the flames and noise made dogs bark and there was potential of something going horribly wrong-- thus focusing some attention on the radio transmission aspect of the festival as well as acting as a foreboding of things that would actually happen.

I got a feed from the main microphone in the room, and had another desk mike in front of me. I either had not gotten much information about the transmitter before setting up, or hadn't been paying enough attention, so hadn't tuned the RF coils properly and about a ? hour into the broadcast, in the heat of an intense reading by a gentleman from Singapore, one of the output power transistors started smoking and that was the end of the first broadcast. Word spread quickly and within another ? hour we were up and broadcasting again with another transmitter properly tuned and ready to go provided by an island resident with more where-with-all than myself who gone to a proper workshop of Tetsuo Kogawa's, and learned all the details of these transmitters.

Word of the radio spread rapidly from mouth to mouth and soon people were riding up and down the main road and walking through the woods with transistor radios testing signal strength and coming back with on air reports.

It was fun and there were many events, and all in all it was considered a great success. At the end of the day I packed up my stuff and went back to the less joyful requirement of life in Vancouver?trying to make money.

Following summers I visited the island and each time heard of some new attempt at setting up a more permanent broadcasting situation. Often these were by young men broadcasting the kind of music they liked using a 10 watt transmitter and 5 watt repeaters. Their signal was being heard on neighboring islands as well. Apparently they've been shut down several times by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and many of the island residents are grateful.

Last trip up to Hornby Island two little girls had been doing a fairly regular evening broadcast using one of Tetsuo's transmitters. It wasn't happening while I was actually there, apparently because there was just too much homework. The show would end, I was told, with them saying ".... and that's it for today. It's time for us to go to bed."

My next attempt as a broadcaster occurred last weekend. I live in a housing co-operative in Vancouver and had recently discovered that one of our members in his late 80s was one of the pioneering radio people here?he worked at setting up the first two big transmitters which were then owned by the newspapers here at the time. And he broadcast on the stations as well. Around 1950 he helped set up the CBC Vancouver television station, and worked there for years.

I found an old transmitter of Tetsuo's design in our storage locker, spent a bit more time pretesting it and adjusting the RF coils, replaced components that looked like they might have been burned out on Hornby years ago, put some heat sinks where it looked like they might be useful. Made an ammeter for it, but couldn't figure out how to use that. Made a dipole antenna and hung it in a tree in the courtyard connected to the transmitter with 30' of coaxial cable, which is probably much too long.

We did an hour and a half broadcast. The signal was extremely clear at the co-op but its strength dropped off rapidly outside the property. The content was fairly minimal, but people ended up dropping by and talked more than I would have suspected. However since then members here have been very excited about the event, and there's lots of talk about a more regular radio broadcast here. Somebody else suggested putting the system together as a kit, and on Sundays travel around to other cooperatives in the city for them to do local broadcasts as well. A very good idea that will probably happen.