NPR: Ham Radio Volunteers Worry About Spectrum Plan

This evening, NPR aired a spot titled, “Ham Radio Volunteers Worry About Spectrum Plan,” on the HR607 controversy. There’s both the audio that was broadcast and a transcript.

The spot starts,

Across Alabama, emergency communications systems fell silent this week when tornadoes knocked down antennas and cell phone towers. Amateur radio operators are helping to restore emergency communication in some of the areas hardest hit by the storms. But those volunteers say their ability to provide that help is threatened by a new bill in Congress.

Click over to NPR and listen.

Should Amateur Radio Licenses Be Good for Life?

The ARRL reports that

The Anchorage VEC — one of 14 Volunteer Examiner Coordinators in the US — asked the Commission to give permanent credit to radio amateurs for examination elements they have successfully passed. This would, in effect, create a license exam credit that would be valid throughout an amateurs’ lifetime, never expiring.

I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind this, but it seems to me that instead of granting a lifetime credit, we should be going the other direction and asking for re-examination.

Now, I know that the logistics of doing this might be too cumbersome, so I’m not seriously proposing this, but the lifetime credit just doesn’t make sense to me. Just because someone passed a test at some point doesn’t mean that he or she could pass it again. That’s especially true for those who have been out of the hobby for some time (which they would have to be if they’d let their license expire and then not even renew during the two-year grace period).

I’m not sure when they changed the rule, or if they ever enforced the rule, but back in the old days, to renew your license you had to provide proof that you were active by producing your station log if asked. Showing that you’re active doesn’t necessarily prove that you could still pass a test, but it does show continuing involvement. I kind of like having that as a requirement for license renewal.

Perhaps that’s another responsibility that could be given to VECs. In addition to administering the tests, they could be tasked with ensuring that an amateur has been active before allowing a license renewal. And those that don’t qualify for a renewal based on activity would be required to take an examination.

I know this is still a partly-baked idea, but what do you think?

Choose the Right Microcontroller

The latest issue of the e-mail newsletter electronic design update is devoted to microcontrollers. It includes the following articles:

The article on whether it’s better to use a microcontroller or a 555 for timing is an interesting one. Microcontrollers have truly gotten so cheap as to make this a real consideration.


No-Nonsense Guide to DXing

No, the New DXers Handbook by Bryce K. Anderson, K7UA, isn’t the latest in my series of No-Nonsense guides to amateur radio, but it could be. This free e-book lays it all out for new DXers in much the same style that I have tried to lay it all out for those trying to get into the hobby.

The book takes this no-nonsense approach right off the bat. K7UA couldn’t put it more simply, “Listening is the key to successful DXing.” It’s not watching the DX clusters, or reading DX bulletins. It’s listening.

Further down, K7UA maintains that an important skill for a DXer is persistence. You have to be in your shack when the DX is on the air. As the author says, “You can’t work them if you are not there!”

My one quibble with the book is that I think he gives short shrift to CW operation. Although K7UA concedes that CW is perhaps the most efficient mode, he also says, “SSB might well now be the DXer’s primary mode.” I’m not so sure about that. All of the recent DXpeditions and many, if not most, DX stations operate CW.

I’ll even go a step further, and say that your chances of working a DXpediition are better on CW than on phone. This is mainly because they can work them faster on CW than on SSB, and this gives you a better chance of making contact, especially when conditions aren’t optimal.

At any rate, the New DXers Handbook is a great read, and you can’t beat the price. It’s FREE!

British Hams to Celebrate Royal Wedding With Special Callsigns

BBC News reports that hams in Great Britain can apply for special call signs to commemorate the royal wedding scheduled for this coming weekend:

The telecoms regulator Ofcom has agreed to issue temporary licences, meaning the UK’s 60,000 amateur radio enthusiasts can change their call signs to mark the royal wedding. The use of the letter “R” in a UK call sign will signify that the operator is celebrating the event.

The FCC should do something like this to commemorate special events here in the U.S. It doesn’t seem to me that it would be all that difficult or expensive to add something to the FCC website that would allow currently-licensed hams to apply for the commemorative callsigns.

Robots Allowed on 440 MHz Band

Recon Scout

ReconRobotics Inc.'s Recon Scout

Government Technology, a trade magazine covering state and local government issues, reports that the FCC will allow a robot used to transmit live video during rescue operations to transmit in the 430 – 448 MHz band, ending a legal battle between amateur radio operators and law enforcement over the device. The report says:

Called the Recon Scout Throwbot, the robot transmits over the 430-448 MHz portion of the 420-450 MHz frequency band, which is primarily used by the federal radiolocation service. The spectrum is also utilized by amateur radio enthusiasts. The latter group, spearheaded by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), opposed a waiver request filed with the FCC by Recon Scout maker ReconRobotics Inc. to use the band.

The ARRL argued that ReconRobotics’ claims that the device would be useful in public safety and anti-terrorism operations didn’t prove that a waiver to use the frequency bands was in the public interest. The FCC admitted, in its order approving the waiver, that while some interference in the frequency bands may occur, it isn’t a reason to prohibit the use of the Recon Scout.

The ARRL spin on this is that this is a partial victory for amateur radio. They correctly note that the FCC granted their request for changes in the labeling and instruction manual requirements to ensure that users of the device are aware of its limitations, with regard to interference:

Recon Scout transmitters delivered after April 15, 2011 must carry the following label: “This device may not interfere with Federal or non-federal stations operating in the 420-450 MHz band and must accept any interference received.” The instruction manual must also include the following: “Although this transmitter has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission, it must accept any interference received from Federal or non-federal stations, including interference that may cause undesired operation.”

Ukrainians Lose Frequencies. Should We Worry?

A reader recently e-mailed me about this item in Amateur Radio Newsline Report 1757, dated April 15 2011:


Some restructuring news out of the Ukraine that’s bad news for ham radio operators in that nation. This, as the Ukrainian government has affirmed new rules for amateur radio operations that have resulted in spectrum losses on the High Frequency, UHF and microwave bands.

According to an e-mail from Alexander Doshchich, UY0LL, the spectrum withdrawn from access by Ukrainian hams includes 10.100 to 10.150 and 14.250 to 14.350 MHz on the HF bands. On UHF an above the losses include 1240 to 1300 MHz, 2300 to 2450 MHz, 5670 to 5850 MHz and numerous other spectrum slots right on up to 248 to 250 GHz. (UY0LL)

He wrote:

One concern is these bands are established by international agreements. For a single country to overrule them is their right in theory, but in practice it bodes poorly if future cooperative agreements are to carry any significance. If it becomes common to disregard the agreements, the whole process collapses into chaos.

The other concern is if they are denying these frequencies to hams, they evidently have some other purpose in mind. This suggests we may be open to new sources of interference to contend with, which undermines the use of these important HF frequencies for world wide communications.

The first step is just to confirm this is true so we aren’t just being stupid. And even if it is real, I don’t mean to be crying the sky is falling immediately. But if this is confirmed, it does seem to me to be an important challenge in maintaining long term viability of the amateur radio bands.

I have no way of determining the veracity of this report.ARN has been a reputable news source for a long time, however, so I wouldn’t question that.

As for interference to contend with, there is an “Intruder Watch.” In the U.S.—and probably for all of Region 2—the ARRL runs this service. In Region 1, there is a Region 1 Monitoring System. I presume there is also a Region 3 Intruder Watch, but didn’t Google them. If there is any interference, I’m guessing that they’ll catch the offenders.

I’m still at a loss for why the Ukrainians would restrict ham radio in this way. I’d guess some kind of military use for those frequencies, but that’s only a guess. Anyone else have ideas?

Fewer Taking Up Ham Radio in India

On the event of World Amateur Radio Day, an Indian newspaper story about amateur radio reports, “Narayanan, [a] veteran ham from Madurai, pointed out that even though several radio clubs in India try to attract youngsters to take up HAM radio as their hobby, lack of interest in youngsters seems to the reason they stay away.”

It goes on to say, “Although WPC [the Indian version of our FCC] revamped the examination process it failed to expedite the licence process. ‘It takes about a year for a person to get licence. This is another reason why people do not want to take up amateur radio as their hobby,’ a ham said.”

A year to get a license!? No wonder so few are taking up the hobby. The Indians really have to figure out how to speed up this process.

All l Can Say is WOW!!

To break in the new beam yesterday, down at the museum, we participated in a couple of contests: the CQ Manchester Mineira DX Contest (MM) and the Michigan QSO Party (MIQP).  All I can say is, “WOW!!”

I got there just before 11 am. Jim, K8ELR, was already there making out QSL cards. Since the MIQP didn’t start until noon, I thought I’d tune around and see what bands were open. I first tried 15m CW. That’s how I discovered the MM DX contest. The band was very open to Europe, especially with the new beam. In short order, I worked a dozen or more Europeans and Caribbean stations.

What a difference the beam makes! With the 20m inverted vee, nearly every QSO was a challenge, but with the beam, I worked every station I called, usually on the first try. This was so amazing that I was actually getting a little giddy.

About 11:45 am, I decided that I better get set up for the MIQP. I had brought my WinKeyer (since the Omni VII doesn’t have a memory keyer!), and wanted to hook it up to the N1MM program. I had done this quite easily at home, but I could not, unfortunately, get it to work on the computer down at the museum. The computer seemed to be talking to the keyer, but the function keys didn’t work. (If anyone has any ideas on what I’m doing wrong, I’d be happy to hear them.)

A little after noon, I decided to give up on this, and just program the keyer itself and operate stand-alone. About 12:10, we were working the MIQP on 20m using the callsign W8CWN, the callsign of H. Richard Crane, a distinguished professor of physics at the University of Michigan and one of the founders of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

Again, the performance of the beam was just spectacular, at least compared to our 20m inverted vee. We pointed the beam west and easily worked stations on the West Coast. We pointed the beam east and got calls from Europeans and the East Coast.

Using the beam, our noise level seemed to be lower, too, although not as low as I would like it. We’re going to have to work on that some more.

We worked a lot of 40m, too, using our 40m inverted vee. That antenna has always worked pretty well for us, and the band was in good shape yesterday afternoon. There was a lot of short skip on 40m, allowing us work quite a few Michigan counties.

Overall, we made 195 contacts in nearly five hours. That’s certainly not championship form, but it’s a lot better than we’ve done in the past, and we really had a blast, both operating the contest and explaining what we were doing to the museum visitors. It’s just too bad that the museum closed at 5pm and we had to stop.

An Odd QSL

Yesterday, I received the QSL card below from Gordon West, WB6NOA, who, as you may know, has also written a series of amateur radio exam license study guides.

Now, I’m kind of wondering why he sent me this card. I hate being a skeptic, but I wonder about the sincerity of the message. He did, after all, misspell my last name and called my study guides “study notes.”

What do you think?