Amateur Radio in the News: N4KPS SK, nine-year-old ham

N4KPS is a ham that I would have liked to have known.

John William Simpson, Sr.

John William Simpson, Sr.

John William Simpson, Sr., N4KPS, 82, ham radio enthusiast and 30-year engineering technician with NASA. John William Simpson, Sr., a native of Covington who resided in the Tabb area of Yorktown for the past 60 years, died Tuesday, March 25, 2014. He was 82.

He was a proud U.S. Army veteran and served in the Korean War. He graduated from the NASA Apprentice School and retired as an engineering technician in 1984 after 30 years of service. He continued to work for Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. He was a ham radio enthusiast and received numerous awards, achievements and recognition from NASA, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. He was the co-author on numerous patents, including what was known as the Simpson probe. He worked until Jan. 10, 2014 at the ripe old age of 82.

Nine-year-old Holly Wilson is a licensed radio operator. Nine-year-old Holly Wilson, KG5AOG, doesn’t normally join her classmates in their favorite game: tag. The Lumberton third-grader said she’s not that good. But aspiring to be great at tag isn’t exactly Wilson’s goal. Instead, Wilson has recently obtained an amateur radio license.

Amateur radio operators find thrill in talking around the world. Becoming a ham radio operator isn’t as hard as you might think. Amateur radio in North America dates back to 1908 when Columbia University Radio students formed a radio club. Today, they’re all over the world.

FCC to reinstate Morse Code test

This just in…

Washington, D.C. – April 1, 2014 – Today, the Federal Communications Commission (Commission or FCC) approved Report and Order 14-987af which reinstates the Morse Code test for General Class and Amateur Extra Class licensees. “It was a big mistake eliminating the Morse Code test,” admits Dotty Dasher, the FCC’s director of examinations. “We now realize that being able to send and receive Morse Code is an essential skill for radio amateurs. As they say, it really does get through when other modes can’t.”

Not only will new applicants have to take the test, but General Class licensees who have never passed a code test will have one year to pass a 5-wpm code test. Similarly, Amateur Extra class licensees that never passed a code test will have one year to pass a 13-wpm test. Those amateurs that fail to pass the test will face revocation of their operating privileges. Materials for administering the examinations will be distributed to Volunteer Examiner Coordinators by the end of April, so that they can begin the testing on May 1, 2014.

“This isn’t going to be one of those silly multiple-choice type tests,” noted Dasher. “We’re going to be sending five-character random code groups, just like we did in the old days. And, applicants will have to prove that they can send, too, using a poorly adjusted straight key.”

Technician Class licensees will not be required to take a Morse Code test, nor will a test be required for new applicants. “We discussed it,” said Dasher, “but decided that since most Techs can’t even figure out how to program their HTs, requiring them to learn Morse Code seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.”

When asked what other actions we might see from the FCC, Dasher hinted that in the future applicants taking the written exam may be required to draw circuit diagrams, such as Colpitts oscillators and diode ring mixers, once again. “We’re beginning to think that if an applicant passes an amateur radio license exam it  should mean that he or she actually knows something,” she said.

For further information, contact James X. Shorts, Assistant Liaison to the Deputy Chief of Public Relations for the FCC at (202) 555-1212 or For more news and information about the FCC, please visit

From my inbox: radio demos, free EM simulation, radio builder’s BBS

Here are some items of note from my inbox:

  • My partner in crime down at WA2HOM, Ovide, K8EV, is working with Professor Ray, who does science shows for kids down at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, to develop a show about radio. In researching this, Ovide happened across the Happy Scientist’s experiment on AM and FM radio waves. There are a bunch of other interesting experiments on the site, but you have to subscribe to the site, in other words pay, to view them.
  • openEMS is a free and open electromagnetic field solver using the FDTD method. Matlab or Octave are used as an easy and flexible scripting interface. I haven’t yet tried this out, but it sounds like a neat tool to play around with.
  • TheRadioBoard is a forum for the homemade radio builder. There are forums for crystal radio builders, tube radio builders, and solid state radio builders, as well as a swap forum and antenna forum.

Station Activities: Paddle repair, Iambic A vs. B, first dipole

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a highly-modified Vibroplex Standard paddle. Apparently, in making the modification, the previous owner had lost one of the trunnion screws and decorative red dots. As you can see in the photo below, the previous owner found a brass screw to use in place of the missing trunnion screw.

While the paddle worked just fine, I wanted to use the correct parts. Fortunately, these parts are still available from Vibroplex, and I purchased them from Vibroplex. Each part cost $5. I can see charging five bucks for the screw, but I think that $5 for the little piece of plastic is a bit much. Not only was it expensive, it doesn’t even match the dot on the other paddle lever.

At any rate, the parts arrived Friday, and it was relatively simple to install the trunnion screw and get it all adjusted and working properly. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about the red dot. At the very least, I’m going to complain to Vibroplex about it.

Iambic A vs Iambic B
After getting the paddle back together, I connected it to my WinKeyer and started playing around with it. I was getting some odd behavior, though. It didn’t occur to me at first, but the problem was that the batteries in the keyer were getting weak. Before I figured that out, I’d done a factory reset and tried reprogramming it. Only when all that didn’t work, did it occur to me that the batteries needed replacement.

Even after I’d replaced the batteries, I was getting some odd behavior. When sending CQ or my callsign, I wasn’t getting the final “dah.” After puzzling about this for a while, I figured out that the problem was that I’d programmed the keyer to operate in iambic mode A, and previously I’d been using mode B.

Chuck Olson, WB9KZY, describes the difference between modes A and B in his article, What’s all this iambic keyer mode A and B stuff, anyhow? He says,

The difference between mode A and B lies in what the keyer does when both paddles are released. The mode A keyer completes the element being sent when the paddles are released. The mode B keyer sends an additional element opposite to the one being sent when the paddles are released.

In mode A, to make the K or Q, you actually have to hold the dah lever down until the dah actually starts being sent. Since I’d been operating in mode B, I guess I got a little sloppy about doing so. In mode B, the keyer automatically sends the dah, but in mode A, it doesn’t, and that’s why that last dah would sometimes get dropped whiles sending a K or Q. I now have the keyer programmed to operate in mode B, and everything is working just fine.

A new ham’s first dipole
Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours helping a new ham set up his first dipole. Last weekend, he actually got the dipole up in the air, but when he connected it to the rig, it just wouldn’t load up. After swapping some e-mail about the problem, we decided that it would be best if I came over and had a first-hand look. So, yesterday morning, I threw my box of antenna goodies into my car and headed over there.

Taking my advice, he’d purchased a spool of coax and crimp-on connectors. I didn’t ask him where he’d purchased the crimper, but the first thing I noticed is that his crimps didn’t look right. They were much too tight. He got out his multimeter, and sure enough, the coax was shorted. We cut off one connector and measured again. The coax was still shorted. We cut off the other one and measured both connectors. Both were shorted.

I had brought my crimper and compared mine to his. His crimper had two dies for crimping coax – .213-in. and .255-in. My crimper also has two dies: .213-in. and .235-in. The instructions say to use the .235-in. die for crimping RG-8X connectors. He had used the .213-in. die, which really squeezed the coax. While I can’t actually see the short, my conclusion is that somewhere along the crimp, the shield became shorted to the center conductor, perhaps aided by the heat of soldering the center conductor to the connectors center pin.

Fortunately, he’d bought spare connectors. We put those on, using the .235-in. die on my crimper, buzzed out the cable, and we were in business. We connected the cable to the antenna, connected my antenna analyzer to the other end, and found that the antenna was resonant at 6.9 MHz. After taking about a foot off either end, we pretty much centered the resonant point of the antenna, and as one former president once said, “Mission Accomplished!”

The moral of the story is that you really need to use the right crimper and the right die for crimping coax connectors. My friend certainly had a quality crimper, but didn’t use the right die. He may have been able to use the .255-in die, but I don’t think that would have made a secure enough crimp. .235-in. is just the right size for RG-8X coax.

ARROW News, circa 1999

A local ham, Wallace, WA1TFW, recently passed, and his daughter donated some of his things to the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum. While looking at what she donated, I ran across the September/October issue of the ARROW News. ARROW is the club here in Ann Arbor.


There are several items to note here:

  • Very few of the amateurs mentioned or listed in the newsletter are still members of the club. In fact, most of the calls I don’t recognize, as I wasn’t very active in 1999. I’m not even sure I was an ARROW member at this point.
  • KT8K is the one notable exception. He’s still an ARROW member and very active on the air. N8ZLR is still in the area, and a club member, I believe, but I don’t know how active he is these days.  According to QRZ.Com, N8REG is still in Ann Arbor, but I haven’t seen him for quite a while.
  • Several of the callsigns are now SKs.
  • There is a new product announcement for a Radio Shack (!) 440 HT. The announcement notes that it costs a “reasonable” $300.  In today’s dollars that would be about $420. There were no Baofengs in 1999!
  • Speaking of QRZ.Com, there’s a small item on the Internet Ham Radio Callbook. To access the callbook, you had to telnet to 200. Anyone remember telnetting to places on the Internet?
  • The upcoming swaps noted on the first page are still going, if not going strong. Findlay is still a good one for sure.

ARRL Executive Committee meets Saturday, 3/29

The ARRL Executive Committee is meeting this Saturday. I received the agenda for the meeting yesterday. They will be addressing a lot of interesting issues, including:

  • RM-11715; Mimosa Networks, Inc. Petition for Rule Making, proposing Part 90 Mobile allocation in the 10.0-10.5 GHz band; impact on Amateur secondary allocation at 10.0- 10.5 GHz (Development of policy for response to Petition; comment date April 11, 2014).
  • RF Lighting Device Complaint to FCC (Complaint Filed with FCC March 12, 2014; consideration of further strategies to address Part 15 and Part 18 RF devices, especially RF Lighting devices; partnering with AM Broadcast advocates).
  • WT Dockets 12-283 and 09-209; RM-11625 and RM-11629; Amendment of the Amateur Service Rules Governing Qualifying Examination Systems and Other Matters; Amateur Use of Narrowband TDMA Part 90 equipment in the Amateur Service; Examination Session Remote Proctoring (ARRL comments filed December 21, 2012; second temporary waiver request for TDMA emission granted).
  • ARRL Petition for Rule Making to Amend Parts 2 and 97 to Create a New MF Allocation for the Amateur Service at 472-479 kHz. (Status of 472-479 kHz Petition filed November 29, 2012); and ET Docket 12-338, Amendment of Parts 1, 2, 15, 74, 78, 87, 90 & 97 of the Commission’s Rules Regarding Implementation of the Final Acts of the World Radiocommunication Conference (Geneva 2007), Other Allocation Issues, and Related Rule Updates; 135.7-137.8 kHz and 1900-2000 kHz primary allocation.
  • ET Docket 13-84; Reexamination of RF exposure regulations. (FCC proposal to subject the Amateur Service to a “general exemption” table for conducting a routine environmental review of a proposed new or modified station configuration; exemption criteria as the preemptive standard as against more stringent state or local criteria.) 


As you can see, there’s a lot going on. Contact your division director if you have a comment or question about any of these issues.


Just a couple more QSL Cards for my collection of QSLs from stations whose callsigns spell words.



From my Twitter feed: Edinburgh Morse, hams hear old spacecraft,

G7AGI's avatarDavid De Silva @G7AGI
I’ve just discovered @edinburghmorse. Looking forward to seeing the new web site go live.

exploreplanets's avatarPlanetary Society @exploreplanets
Amateur radio enthusiasts were able to detect the carrier signal of a decades-old NASA spacecraft:…

ke9v's avatarJeff Davis @ke9vObject of Interest: Aereo’s Tiny Antennas… via @NewYorker

M0PZT's avatarCharlie – M0PZT @M0PZT
Blog updated: What Makes A Real Ham? #hamradio

My new (to me) key

Last Saturday, I added to my collection of Morse Code instruments. I bought a modified Vibroplex Standard from a guy who was selling it from an SK estate sale.

Whoever owned this key took all the parts off a Vibroplex Standard paddle and mounted them on this slab of steel.

Whoever owned this key took all the parts off a Vibroplex Standard paddle and mounted them on this hunk of steel.

It’s amusing for a couple of reasons:

  • Whoever owned it before I did, took all the parts off the original base and mounted them on a hunk of steel. Presumably, this made the base more stable.
  • You can’t really see it in this picture, but the guy who did it, didn’t center the mechanism very well. You have to screw in the contact on the right side much more than you do the contact on the left.
  • When the guy modified the paddle, he must have lost the trunion screw that the left paddle arm pivots on. Instead of buying a new one, he simply used a screw he had around the shack. I didn’t notice this until I purchased it. Oh well.

Fortunately, Vibroplex still sells this part, as they do with the overwhelming majority of parts for their keys, and I’ve already placed an order for one. I just hope that the guy didn’t rethread the hole to make that machine screw fit.

How does it play? Well, like a Vibroplex. I’ve been using the key for the past couple of days, and while I still prefer my Begali Simplex, I do like this key.

10 GHz: Use it or lose it

I’ve often said that I wish there was more commercial gear for 10 GHz or that there was more of a reason to actually use 10 GHz. I realize, of course, that this is easy for me to say, and that if I was more serious about it, I’d just go ahead and get on the band.

What brings this up is that a company called Mimosa Networks has filed a petition for rulemaking to allow them to use the 10.0 – 10.5 GHz band for wireless networking. While the petition does note the amateur use of of this band, and says that their use of it won’t interfere with our use of it, who knows what will happen once the flood of wireless users start.

Public comments are now being accepted on this petition. Go here to read the comments already submitted and to submit your own. The Mimosa website also has an interesting Web page on their petition.