A Column for Your Newsletter

In December 2007, a friend of mine took over as newsletter editor for the Livingston (County) Amateur Radio Klub (LARK) and asked if I would be interested in submitting a regular column to their newsletter. Well, that sounded like work, so my first thought was to pass on that offer, but I realized that I do like writing about ham radio, so I accepted.

Then, it occurred to me that if LARK found my column valuable, other clubs might, too. So, I made up a list of newsletter editors from the ARRL Big List and e-mailed all the clubs in Michigan. When a number of them thanked me for my offer, I extended the invitation to clubs in Ohio and Kentucky, and then to any and all ham radio clubs out there. The upshot is that there are now about 300 clubs (as of May 1, 2012) who have either already started running my column or will be shortly.

The way this works is that towards the end of each month, I’ll send you 300-500 words on some aspect of amateur radio. Some columns may be edited version of blog items; others will be original material.

There’s no obligation to run a particular column. If you have room and you think the material is appropriate, feel free to do so. If you’re tight on space in a particular issue, or you just don’t like what I wrote, don’t run the column. I won’t feel offended.

To get on the distribution list, use this online form.

The First Solid-State QRP Rig

The 12/26/07 of the ARRL Contest Rate Sheet had the following item:

Next time you open up your radio, consider that 55 years ago George Rose K2AH, made the first solid-state amateur transmission with a single-transistor homebrew rig. It used an RCA point-contact germanium transistor. Rose measured an input power of 24 mW and estimated the radiated power at somewhere around 50 uW. He made a contact with 25-mile distant W2UK and with W2KNI and W2DPB. (Thanks, Stew W5FYI)

On the qrp-l mailing list, Jason, NT7S, pointed us to AA1TJ’s 80m 1950′s “Retro” QRP Transmitter Web page. This page describes an 80m QRP rig bulit with a couple of 2N35 germanium transistors.

AA1TJ says, “I’m curious to know not only, “How low can I go?” but also, ‘How bad can the active components be?’ and still communicate.” The 2N35 was marketed as an audio transistor and the spec sheet claimed a maximum usable frequency of about 1 MHz. Even so, AA1TJ did manage to make the thing oscillate on 80m and make a few contacts!

Know Your FCC Rulemaking Process

In the last couple of days, there has arisen quite a furor over a petition to change the rules regarding the use of digital modes. The petition number is RM-11392. You can find it on the FCC website by going to http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/comsrch_v2.cgi and entering the petition number in the “Proceeding” text box. The petition will be the highest numbered document returned.

Part of the brouhaha arose because many thought that rules changes were imminent. They urged everyone to rush right over to the FCC website and comment. As far as I can see, howeever, this petition is nowhere near being turned into rules changes.

On the page FCC Rulemaking Process, the FCC describes the four steps that occur before a petition is translated into rules changes:

  1. Notice of Inquiry (NOI). During this phase, they gather comments on the petition.
  2. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). If they determine that a petition has merit, they move to this stage. These are the rules changes that the FCC itself proposes to make, based on the petition and the comments received.
  3. Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM). Changes may be made to the NPRM after receiving comments on the NPRM.
  4. Report & Order (R&O). The R&O is the document containing the rules changes or an explanation of why no rules changes are being made at this time.

Now, as far as I can see, there is no NPRM in the list of documents relating to RM-11392. The petition was filed on 3/27/07, released for comments on 8/22/07, and the first comment wasn’t entered until 11/20/07. Only two other comments were entered until the recent publicity.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that it isn’t important to read and comment on this petition. Don’t get your knickers in a twist over this just yet, though. The changes being proposed are still a long way from becoming part of Part 97, and if you ask me for a predicition, I’d guess that it will never even get to the NPRM stage.

You Are Now Entering the “Quiet Zone”

Radio quiet zone, that is. The Quiet Zone is a 13,000 square mile area in the mountains straddling the states of VA and WV. The reason it was declared a quiet zone is to allow radio astronomers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to do their research and an NSA group to perform surveillance.

The Quiet Zone even has its own full-time interference monitor. His job is to track down any source of RFI, including power line interference and wireless speakers.

PBS’ Wired Science program recently aired a feature on this zone. It’s very interesting.

Watch the video

Contact Frequencies for Schools, Kids

This item is from the November 2007 edition of the ARRL’s Education Services News for Instructors and Teachers….Dan

Teachers and Scout leaders and others who are working with kids and amateur radio have been telling us that it can be difficult to find another school or group of kids to talk to. Scheduled nets are pretty difficult to arrange with kids amid all of the conflicts that arise during school days and after school.

To help you find each other, we suggest some meeting places on the bands where kids and teachers and youth leaders can look for a contact. If we get the word out to enough of you, perhaps we can make these band locations a destination for kids looking to share a conversation with other kids somewhere across the country. These bands are available to those with the appropriate license privileges, or kids under supervision of an operator with those privileges.

We picked these locations to become youth hot spots:

  • 40 meters: 7,180 kHz
  • 20 meters: 14,270 kHz
  • 10 meters: 28,333 kHz

Brian Lloyd from Granite Bay Montessori School suggests we add destinations on 30 meters for CW and other digital modes and 17 meters. Let’s try these:

  • 30 meters: 10,125 kHz
  • 17 meters: 18,120 kHz

I hope you’ll find a way to join Brian and his 5th-8th grade wireless technology students on the air!

IC-746PRO Service Manual On Line

This item is more of a reminder for me, but other folks might find this useful as well. James, AD1L, recently posted links to the service manual and schematics on the icom746pro mailing list:

The schematics are in a zip file, but the manual is a djvu file. I’d never heard of this file format before, but apparently, it’s something similar to a PDF file. To get a viewer, go to the WinDjView & MacDjView home page.

A “Sticky” Idea About Ham Radio

I’ve just started reading the book, Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath. The premise of this book is that if you have something to say, there are good ways and bad ways to formulate and present your ideas, and that if you do it the good way and not the bad way, your ideas have a much better chance of catching on. They, of course, claim to show the good way to do this.

The first thing they teach you is that the ideas that tend to succeed are very basic, simple ideas. For example, the idea that supposedly propelled Bill Clinton into the White House was, “It’s the economy, stupid.” By focusing on that simple, basic idea, Clinton was able to go from the governorship of a small state to the presidency of the United States.

With that in mind, I propose that amateur radio adopt the idea, “Ham Radio is Fun.” It is fun, after all, isn’t it? Why are you an amateur radio operator? Because it’s fun, right?

All the rest is secondary. Yes, we can claim that we’re providing a wonderful public service—and we are—but the only reason there are hams to provide that service is because they’re having fun doing it.

I am so convinced that this should be the central message of ham radio that I have put my money where my mouth is. I just registered the domain names hamradioisfun.com, hamradioisfun.org, and hamradioisfun.net and pointed them all to this blog. I’m even thinking of changing the name of this blog to “Ham Radio is Fun.”

A couple of years ago, I commented on an editorial in the ARRL Contest Rate Sheet by Ward Silver, N0AX, who wrote that we should evaluate changes to the hobby based on whether or not it makes ham radio “better,” whatever that means. At the time, I supported that position, and still do. In keeping with my new, sticky idea, I think a better criterion is whether or not something makes ham radio more fun.

Now, let’s see. Does regulation by bandwidth make ham radio more fun? If not, can it.

I also think ham radio clubs should adopt this idea. Don’t start a project or program if it isn’t going to be fun, and if you’re already doing something that’s not fun, quit doing it. Simple, isn’t it? Start making your club more fun, and I guarantee that you’ll be more successful.

Series Addresses RF Propagation

RF DesignLine is running a series of articles on RF propagation:

  • Part 1 covers propagation basics
  • Part 2 covers multipath phenomena
  • Part 3 will cover diversity techniques

This article is directed at engineers, so the mathematics is a bit advanced, but if you can crack that, these articles should give you a better understanding of RF propagation phenomena.

More Evidence the New Sunspot Cycle is Starting

Solar physicists have detected, “a modest knot of magnetism that popped over the sun’s eastern limb on Dec. 11th, pictured in a pair of images from the orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).” So says the article “Is a New Solar Cycle Beginning?” on the NASA website.

The article goes on to say, “It may not look like much, but ‘this patch of magnetism could be a sign of the next solar cycle,’ says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.”

Long Live the 555!

If you homebrew at all, chances are you’ve used the 555 timer. EETimes.Com has recently run the article, “The 555: Best IC Ever Or Obsolete Anachronism?” that attempts to divine why it’s so popular and to suggest some alternatives to this part, which was designed in 1971.

As to the popularity of the IC, the author, Louis Frenzel, says:

I read somewhere recently that millions of new 555s are made each year and that the total sold to date is easily greater than 1 billion.

No bad for a chip that’s nearly 40 years old.

Frenzel goes on to suggest some more modern alternatives, including the:

While technically, these are all worthy replacements for the 555 in various applications, they are undoubtedly not as widely available. At any rate, the article is an interesting read if you’re into this kind of thing.