The Extra Class License

Since the FCC stopped issuing Advanced Class licenses, I’ve been telling everyone that the reason I haven’t upgraded to Extra is that I want to be the last living Advanced Class licensee in the U.S. My resolve is weakening, though, for several reasons:

  • Vanity. Lately, a couple of new guys in our club have not only gotten their licenses, but have now passed the Extra Class test. I do get some mileage out of this by joking with them when they ask me questions by saying, “Well, how should I know? I’m only an Advanced.” But even so, it’s kind of bizarre that they should have more operating priviledges than I do.
  • 40m DX.Lately, there have been some band openings in the evenings on 40m. While I’ve worked a few Euros above 7.025 MHz, there are more of them down at the bottom of the band.
  • I’m going to get it whether I like it or not. It looks like the FCC is going to do away with the Advanced class and issue us all Extra class licenses anyway. That being the case, I might as well take the test, so that I can say that I passed it. Not only that, who knows when the FCC will take this action? I might as well go for it now so that I can operate in the Extra Class subbands sooner rather than later.

I guess I’ll start reading the license manual.

Use Your PC Sound Card as a Test Instrument

A friend of mine recently sent me a press release touting free software that would turn your PC’s sound card into a function generator. As it turns out, the press release was somewhat misleading–as they often are. The software is really only free to use for 30 days, and then you have to pay $25 to obtain a registration key. That got me thinking that there must be some software out there that’s really free, so I did a Google search for “pc sound card function generator.”

One of the links it came up with was a page listing electronics related software from an online encyclopedia. That page has links to a function generator program that’s really free by Dr. He Lingsong of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. According to the page:

“Digital Signal Generator is a virtual signal gerenator that use sound card or LabView compatible A/D card to outport signal. It can produces white noise signal, sine wave, square wave, trigon wave, beat wave, sweep sine wave and a signal defined by a windows WAV file. It is free and easy to use.”

It doesn’t do pink noise–whatever that is–like the first program, but it does do a swept sine wave, which I’d guess is more useful than pink noise, anyway. The page also has a couple of links to free programs that provide oscillator functions.

Other useful Google results include:

Update 9/23/04:
Brad, AA1IP sent me a link to the Amateur Radio Soundblaster Software Collection. As Brad notes, it looks like it’s all in German, but page down and you’ll find English. It’s a great collection of programs that do ham related tasks using the sound card, including SSTV, RTTY, fax, and audio frequency analysis.

What caught my eye was several links to voice keyers. Call me lazy, but now that I’ve started using SSB a little, I’d love to have a voice keyer to call CQ for me.

Update 9/24/04:
Brad just now e-mailed me a link to .WAV Audio to EPROM by Harry Lythall – SM0VPO. This is the voice equivalent of the simple CW keyers I wrote about earlier. According to Harry,

“You will be able to record two seconds of decent quality AF on a 2764 EPROM, with a 4KHz sample rate….” A 27128 should thus hold 4 seconds, a 27256 8 seconds, a 27512 16 seconds, and a 271024 (or whatever their omenclature is) will hold 32 seconds.”

I haven’t timed a CQ, but you should be able to get away with a 27512, which you can get at Digikey for less than two bucks.

Brad notes, “Harry includes playback logic, too– essentially, you set up a couple of counters and crank the EPROM’s addresses.” The circuit even includes an 9-bit D/A converter that uses a transistor, some resistors, and a couple of gates. VERY COOL!

CQ 40m SSB??

Since I have had the use of an IC-746PRO recently, it’s been easier for me to work SSB. The reason for this is the internal automatic antenna tuner. Even though my dipole’s cut for the CW portion of the band, the antenna tuner provides a near perfect match in the phone band, without my having to twiddle any knobs.

I’ve made a few contacts on 40m SSB, but operation there is much different than on 40m CW. For one thing, there are a lot of nets on 40m phone. In addition to the old nets, such as EASTCARS and MIDCARS, there are a bunch of ragchew nets, such as the Supper Club. I guess this is understandable; nets are a lot easier to conduct on phone. There are also a lot of informal nets. That is, there are groups who concentrate around a common frequency.

What you don’t find are a lot of people calling CQ. I’ve been tuning around for about 20 minutes this morning, and haven’t heard a single call. I tried calling myself a couple of times, but didn’t get a response. I guess all the operators are either on the nets or talking with their buddies.

That’s quite different, of course, from 40m CW. You always hear ops calling CQ, and this morning, I called CQ twice and got two responses on the first call. Guess I need to join one of these nets.


LINK: For a large list of nets, see the AC6V HF Nets page.

This Weekend in Ham Radio (here at KB6NU, Anyway)

I spent a lot of time on the air this weekend.

While waiting for my wife to get ready to go to Home Depot, I worked 40m CW for about an hour and a half. The first wo were slow-speed contacts, and enjoyable, though short. I sometimes find that the slower guys are working so hard at a contact that they’ll cut it short and take a break. I know I did this two years ago when I was just getting back on the air.

The third was a higher-speed QSO with Mario, N2AK. Mario’s an interesting guy who’s done a lot of interesting things in ham radio and is fun to talk to. Our QSO lasted nearly a half hour at 22-24 wpm. Mario had a good strong signal, and there was very little noise or interference, so I took off the headphones.

After the contact, I went upstairs to check on my wife, and she said she’d been listening in. She said it was kind of mesmerizing. I guess it is, too. When you’re copying CW that fast you get into a zone and sort of block everything else out.

Later that evening, 40m was really congested with all the contest activitiy, so I got on 30m CW. Band conditions were again good, and I worked a couple of Europeans, an SV2 and a 9A2.

On Sunday, I participated in the Tennessee QSO Party. This is a quickie, seven-hour event lasting from 2 pm EDT to 9 pm EDT. I operated near three hours total, racking up 34 Qs (as the high power contesters say) and 29 multipliers. Not too bad, I don’t think.

About a week ago, I’d worked Jim KY4L in Oak Ridge, TN, and he’d mentioned that he was going to be operating as a rover in the contest. And in fact, he was my third contact. All in all, I worked Jim six times from six different counties. Thanks, Jim, and all the other rovers for making the TN QP a lot of fun.

Finally, I have a bit of a confession to make. I’ve started working a little phone. One of the reasons for this is that it’s so easy for me to switch modes with the IC-746PPRO that I’ve been using lately. As long as your antenna’s SWR is less than 3:1, the rig’s built-in internal antenna tuner will automagically match it to the rig. So, even though my dipole’s tuned for the CW portion of the band, it also works like a champ on phone, without my having to twiddle any knobs on an antenna tuner.

I still don’t work a lot of phone, but I have had a couple of fun contacts. One night, I was tuning around and happened on a couple of guys talking about vertical antennas. After they’d finished their contact, I called the guy in Wisconsin and chatted with him for a bit. He was using a trio of full quarter wave verticals, fed with a single coax on 40, 20, and 15. One thing I found interesting is that he made them out of electrical conduit, and they’re entirely self-supporting. I would have imagined that you’d need to guy the 40m vertical at least. I told him about my idea to make the verticals from copper pipe, and he thought that would be a good idea as the copper pipe would have less skin resistance than the galvanized steel conduit. All in all, it was a very nice contact.

Last night, after working the contest for nearly two hours, I tuned around the phone bands again and heard Neal, W1FT in MA. He was an interesting guy to talk to as well. I was able to inform him that not only did the University of Michigan football team hold the record for the most wins ever, but that the football stadium here is the largest in the country. Go Blue!

At any rate, my point is that it’s all fun, and if you have the ability to operate a certain mode, than why not? Hmmmmm. Maybe I actually will get on PSK31 or RTTY one of these days.

MI Section Club News – September 2004

Here’s the first installment of Michigan Section club news. This should also appear on the ARRL Michigan Section web page.

New Clubs
Several clubs have been accepted as ARRL affiliated clubs recently, and there’s another that, while not ARRL-affiliated, deserves mention.

The first is the Michigan VHF-UHF Society. Based in White Lake, west of Pontiac, the club lists contesting, DXing, repeaters, digital modes, and public service and emergency communications as their specialties. They also offer help for newcomers. For more information, contact Robert G. Lang K8ZKJ. His e-mail address is k8zjk2@yahoo.com.

The second club I want to mention is the University of Michigan ARC. It’s an old club, perhaps one of the oldest in Michigan, but for several years has been inactive. Now, under the leadership of grad student Chris Galbraith KA8WFC, and with the support of several faculty members, the club has been revived. They now have a shack in the EECS building on U-M’s North Campus, and are going to actively begin recruiting new members. Listen for their distinctive callsign, W8UM, and give them a shout if you hear them on the air. For more information, contact Chris by emailing him at cgailbra@umich.edu.

Tech Classes Begin
The Motor City Radio Club will once again be conducting Tech classes at Trenton High School. Registration is on Tuesday, September 28 at 7:00 PM, and classes start on Thursday the 30th also at 7:00 PM. Their is no cost to take the class, but students will need a copy of _Now Your Talking_, 5th edition. For more information, visit the MCRC website at http://www.w8mrm.org or e-mail Gary N8ZFH or Dave KC8OBH .

If your club doesn’t offer classes, you may want to think about doing so, either in January or next fall. Holding classes is a great way to attract new members and a good way to promote amateur radio. Via the Volunteer Instructor Support Program, the ARRL offers resources that can help you get started.

Do you have some news about your club and its activities that you would like me to highlight here? If so, e-mail me at kb6nu@arrl.net

Let’s Change the Term “Amateur Radio”

I don’t know about you, but I think the term we used to describe our hobby is wrong. The term “Amateur Radio” does not describe all that we do, and it creates the wrong impression about what we’re about. It’s an antiquated term that we should jettison.

Let me give you an example. Every week, I get the ARRL Letter. This week, there’s an item on “The Big Project” activities. It discusses an LCR activity board that allows students to explore alternating current and RF theory. In particular, the article says, “the board uses a microcontroller and a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to generate the ac waveform used to explore L/C circuits.”

Microcontrollers are being used in many of the devices we now use in amateur radio, and all but the most simple rigs now have at least one microcontroller. Icom advertises that its new IC-7800 has four digital signal processors, and it undoubtedly has several more microcontrollers. Knowing how microcontrollers work and how to program them is becoming as important as knowing how RF works and how to put up an antenna, at least for those who want to stay on top of the art and advance it.

Even the QRP guys (and these guys are some of the most innovative in all ham radio) are using microcontrollers in their projects. I just purchased a Tenna Dipper from the Four States QRP Group, and this $25 kit uses a PIC microncontroller.

With all this going on, shouldn’t we broaden the term we use to describe our hobby? This hobby is about much more than dipoles and DX, and the way we talk about it should reflect that. The terms we use should reflect the fact that we also deal with computer hardware and software, computer networking and voice over IP (VOIP), television and other multimedia. We may know that this is what you can do with an amateur radio license, but the general public doesn’t know that, and simply calling our hobby “amateur radio” and calling ourselves “ham radio operators” doesn’t do a great deal for our public image.

You Learn Something New Every Day

Today, we operated a special events station from the Monaghan Antique Engine Show here in Ann Arbor. The organizer of the event is an ARROW member, and he has a van outfitted for communications that he drives out to the site. He has a push up mast on which he mounts a G5RV antenna that he operates in an inverted V fashion. He has an antenna tuner, which he uses to get on 75m, mostly.

Since we were going to begin operation around noon, I figured that we probably should get on 40m instead of 75m. We pulled out the antenna tuner, but I couldn’t seem to get the antenna to tune properly on 40m. The best SWR I could achieve was 3:1. This was odd, I thought, as I was able to achieve very low SWR readings on both 75m and 20m.

At this point, I got on the local repeater looking for some guidance. Tom N8AMX, who was familiar with this setup suggested that the G5RV was not really suited to being operated in an inverted V configuration, and not only that, I probably should try to elevate the ends of the dipole legs. That will reduce the capacitance between the elements and ground and possibly make it tunable.

We were able to raise one of the legs about four feet, and–voila!–I could now get the SWR down to 2:1. We tied the other leg to a branch in a nearby tree, raising it to about eight feet off the ground, and I could now get the SWR down to 1.7 or so. At that point, we decided to see if we could raise anyone. I called a couple of CQs, and got an answer from KF3EA. He gave me a nice 5×7 report.

George, KF8ADV, figured out a way to get the first leg up to about ten feet, and now we were able to get the SWR down to 1.5:1 or so. At that point, Jeff W8SGZ took over the controls and began working stations right and left. I don’t know how many contacts he made, but he was still at it when I called on the repeater about an hour later.

So, what did I learn?

  1. The G5RV is probably best used horizontally.
  2. If you can’t get a good match, get the antenna up off the ground.
  3. Teamwork rocks.

Two More CW Links

I’m getting more comfortable at 24 wpm. My last three QSOs have been at 24 wpm. I really wish more people would find CW as much fun as I do. Here are a couple of links that might help.

One of the obstacles to operating CW is, oddly enough, the lack of knowledge of how to do that. I say oddly because back when I got into ham radio, Novices were allowed to operate only CW, and this is one of the first things we learned. Now that most hams get a no-code Tech license first, knowing how to make CW QSOs is not common knowledge.

To help new hams learn about CW operation, WB8FSV has written A Beginner’s Guide to Making CW Contacts. This article has lots of good information on how to start a CW QSO, what to talk about during a CW QSO, and how to gracefully end a CW QSO. I plan to recommend this to everyone interested in working CW.

There are many other good Internet resources. The W5WWW Morse Code Links page lists many good ones. Unfortunately, some of the links are broken, and there are some that need to be added, but even so, this is a great resource for those learning and using Morse code.