My Ham Radio To-Do List

A ham friend came over one day last week to pick up some stuff I was giving him. He’d never been to my shack before and commented on some of the old radios I’ve acquired over the years, including:

  • a Grundig console radio I purchased when I was in college,
  • the Philco console radio that I inherited from my grandparents and which got me started in radio, and
  • the old tube tester that my father-in-law saved from a dumpster where he used to work.

I mentioned that they all need some work to get them up to snuff, and it’s always been my plan to do so.

That got me thinking about the rest of my ham radio to-do list, which currently includes the following:

  • Get EchoLink working on the ARROW repeater (K8PBA, 146.96-).
  • Get this computer to talk PSK31 and RTTY.
  • Play around some more with antennas:
    • loop antenna
    • home-made verticals
    • Moxon rectangle
    • tower to support all this stuff
  • Fix up the HW-101 I’ve been carting around since I first got my General ticket in 1972.
  • Build an Elecraft K1 or K2,
  • Work more contests.
  • Get more involved with the ARRL in some capacity.

I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up that I’ll get around to fixing up that Grundig any time soon.

Bring on the No-Code Licenses

I just got through reading the comments on eHam.net regarding the dropping of the CW requirement for HF priviledges. At first, I thought it was a step backwards, but I’m over that. Now, I think it’s probably a step forward. It will attract new hams, and that can’t be bad for the hobby.

Not only that, I think that many “no coders” will find their way onto the CW portion of the bands. Without an amp, phone operation is going to be less than satisfying, and using an amp is both an expense that not everyone can afford and a hassle (increased chance of TVI, etc.) Besides, CW really can be fun!

That being the case, it’s going to be up to the current crop of CW ops — including me — to both welcome the new guys and help them along as they get their feet wet. I don’t know exactly how we’re going to do that, but it will be worth the effort.

A couple of months ago, I worked a guy on 20m CW and he was kind of slow, but we had a nice chat. He made some sending mistakes, but I tried to stay patient and encouraging.

A couple days later, I got a QSL from him that really made my day. It read:

“Dan, Been a ham for 13 years and have never made a CW contact. I have hated it, but for some reason just really started to fall in love with it. I am still very sloppy, but continue to try. This is my first CW QSL card, and I will cherish yours. I don’t keep many, but yours in on the wall.”

How cool, eh?

The point is that we’re going to need to be patient with these ops and encourage them. Slow down to whatever speed they’re capable of receiving and make it a good QSO for them. If we can do that, we’ll win over at least some new CW ops, if not many of them.

A Night of Firsts

Tonight was a night of “firsts.”I made three contacts tonight on 30 meters, and it was a first of some kind for each of the guys I chatted with.

My first QSO was with Larry WB4KLI. He had just purchased an FT-817, and it was his first contact with his new rig.

My second QSO was with Rob VA2FB (great call, isn’t it?). He had just purchased a Drake TR7A on EBay, and this was his first contact with the rig. I have to admit that his CW tone sounded a lot smoother than many of the newer rigs out there.

My third QSO was with Bernie VE3FWF, and our chat was his first 30 meter contact.

Pretty cool, eh?

My Ham Laptop

I bought a used laptop over the weekend to use primarily in the ham station. The place I bought it specializes in reconditioned equipment, and while I didn’t get a rock-bottom price for the thing, I do think I got a decent deal.

The first thing I did was to download a bunch of utility software, such as:

  • the Opera Web browser,
  • FreeZip, to unzip files,
  • and AZZ Cardfile, a program that mimics a 3×5 card file and helps me keep track of various bits of information.

I also tried to get some anti-virus software, and after doing a little searching, decided to purchase the F-PROT software. This software used to be freeware, but now they charge $30 for it. The funny thing about it is that the developer and his company are in Iceland, and while I ordered the software on Saturday, I had to wait until this morning for them to process the order and give me the password needed to download the program.

Another funny thing is that the license reads that all of the clauses are subject to the laws of Iceland. I rather doubt that I have any other software that reads this way.

I also began the process of download some amateur radio software. What I have so far is:

  • EchoLink, which allows you to connect with ther stations and other repeaters around the world via the Internet,
  • XMLog logging software, and
  • DigiPan, software that will let you run PSK31.

I think I got EchoLink working. I had to configure my router to allow traffic through to the laptop, and I seem to be able to connect to repeaters, but I haven’t actually made any contacts yet. I connected to several repeaters, but no one responded to any of my calls. I also had one guy connect with me, but he never said anything, so I’m not sure if I was gettting through to him or not.

The plan I have for this software is to set up a link between EchoLink and the K8PBA repeater (146.96-). I’m going to use my old ICOM IC-22U as the radio. I already have the interface board and have assembled all the cables. I just have to find the time to hook it all up and test it.

After the EchoLink sofware, the next thing on my ham radio software wish list was logging software. After downloading and installing the XMLog software, I spent several hours pounding a couple months worth of QSOs into the program. While I like the program, I think there are several areas where it could be improved. For example, I’d love it if, after entering a call, the program would notify me automatically if I have already contacted the station. I think it would also be a good thing if the software would use previously entered information, such as the operator’s QTH and name, when entering subsequent contacts. Of course, it may already do all this, and I just don’t know how to configure it properly.

The last program I downloaded was DigiPan. I haven’t gotten this working at all yet, aside from installing it and seeing that it loads and runs. I tried hooking the IC-735 audio output directly into the sound card input and then tuning around for a PSK31 signal, but I didn’t have any success in decoding any signals. More experimentation is definitely in order.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my purchase so far. The laptop is relatively easy to use once you get used to it. My one gripe is that the touchpad seems a little sensitive, but I just have to learn to take my finger clearly off of it if I don’t want it to do anything.

Field Day 2003

Most of my operating activities in 2002 and the first half of 2003 have been focused on doing well at Field Day. For example, I worked hard on my CW skills (increasing my CW speed to well over 20 wpm) and participated in several contests (OK QSO Party, MI QSO Party, and two FISTS Sprints).

Well, now that Field Day has come and gone, I can happily say that all that work has paid off. I didn’t count them exactly, but I’d say that I made at least 150 QSOs during this year’s Field Day, mostly on 80m and 20m CW, but also about 50 on 40m CW.

One of the reasons I was so successful is that this year we used the NA contesting software, thanks to Dennis KT8X, who lent the club a couple of laptops loaded with the software. NA is a very cool program. Not only does it log contacts, but also keys the rig, and you can program the computer’s function keys to send the most common kinds of things so that your hands never have to leave the computer keyboard.

For example, we were using the call W8UM, so Dennis programmed F1 to send “CQ FD W8UM FD.” So, you hit F1 till someone comes back to you. Then, you type in the station’s call into the log, hit another function key and the computer sends the guy’s call and the exchange. So, if KZ1G responds to your CQ, you type in that call and the computer would send “KZ1G 2A MI.” When KZ1G replies with his info, you type that in as you receive it, hit the INSERT key, and the computer automagically logs the QSO and sends “TU de W8UM.” Other function keys were set up to send just the exchange info “2A MI”, our call “W8UM” to reply to CQs, and “?” to ask for repeats. As long as you can copy them, you can work stations as fast as you can hear them.

It has a whole bunch of other functions as well. For example, it checks what you input to make sure that it’s valid data. It won’t let you enter an incorrect category or ARRL section. It also displays a running point total and can display your contact rate per hour. It’s all very amusing.

I was at the site practically the whole time. I helped set up antennas on Friday evening, was there Saturday morning to complete the setup, and stayed throughout the day–with a four-hour break from 5 pm to 9 pm–operating, greeting visitors, and just BSing with other club members. At night, I did quite a bit of operation, staying up until nearly 3 am. At that point, I hopped into my truck and got about 4.5 hours sleep.

When I woke up, Tim KT8K was already hard at it. I ran out for a little breakfast, then got back on the air myself. When Dennis KT8X showed up, I decided to take a break, and then got back on a little later to give Dennis a break. I operated the last hour or so, giving up about ten minutes to 2 pm.

This was not only a great event for me, but for our club as well. We were category 2A, with two HF stations, a VHF station (6m and 2m) and a “Get on the Air” (GOTA) station. This setup gave most people a chance to do some operating, but I think that next year we might want to consider going to category 3A to give more people a chance to work an HF station.

Our scores were pretty good. Preliminary counts indicate that we almost doubled last year’s score. More important, though, is that at least 20 members participated actively, and I know of a couple of people who I believe are going to join or re-join the club. And, I think everyone had a great time.