Amateur radio in the news: community service, radio prepares for war, end is near for Radio Shack

Floyd County hams talk about their work in the community. A meeting sponsored by the Foundation for Amateur International Radio Services (FAIRS), the Floyd Amateur Radio Society (FARS), and Triad on August 26 was an opportunity to spotlight the work of local ham radio operators.

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1935 National HRO U.S. Navy Receiver. Credit P. Litwinovich collection

Radio prepares for war, Part 1. As the roaring twenties came to a close, radio technology would continue to evolve with significant improvements to consumer sets, particularly in the area of shortwave reception. The price of radios would continue to fall as availability continued to increase. Herbert Hoover could have added “a radio in every home” to his famous “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” campaign slogan. This radio boom would continue right up until December of 1941, when the first bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor. After that, new radios would be a scarcity as almost all production and materials were diverted to the war effort.

For RadioShack, the end is near. Gentlemen and gentlewomen of a certain age harbor fond memories of trips to RadioShack. In days of yore, ham radios and homemade guitar amplifiers would emerge from the mysterious jumble of wires and audio components hawked by this unpretentious electronic retailer. Among younger generations with a much different view, the business enjoys a nickname: “S–t Shack.” Definition as per the Urban Dictionary: “derisive term describing the quality of products, the prices, and the people that go there.” Whatever one’s view of this American institution with about 27,000 employees, it is near death. On Thursday, RadioShack warned that it may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Is the prepper community fertile ground for amateur radio clubs

This morning I got an e-mail from a reader:

Our local club is trying to attract new members, and to that end we’re contemplating a mass-mailing to licensed hams in our area.  But my thought is, why not include the preppers as well?  Why not reach out to the prepper community to help them learn how to communicate during emergencies?  Granted, ham radio may not be the focus of their lives, but, does that matter?  Plant the seeds of interest via an outreach and see where it goes from there!

I didn’t want to dissuade him from recruiting preppers, but I don’t think that they’re a fertile ground for recruiting amateur radio club members—at least not the kind he really wants. The reason for this is that their primary concern is prepping and not amateur radio.

Most preppers don’t really care about the technology, per se. If they could use tin cans and string, they’d use tin cans and string. That’s not a knock on preppers, but I think in an amateur radio club, you want people that are truly interested in the technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to have preppers in my classes, have them download my study guides, and help them when they have questions. While I don’t have any real numbers, I’d say that my study guides have been used by hundreds, if not thousands of preppers to get their licenses. Many prepper sites link to KB6NU.Com, and when I find those links, I thank them, and in some cases, try to correct some misconceptions that they have about amateur radio. I just don’t think that many preppers are going to go beyond buying an HT and putting it in their “SHTF” kit.

Having said all that, I’d be happy if I was completely off-track here. Has your club had any experience trying to recruit preppers? If so, what’s been your experience?

Amateur radio in the news: London ARC, Skywarn

 

London ARC members activate the Blackfriars Bridge for Bridges on the Air.

London ARC members activate the Blackfriars Bridge for Bridges on the Air.

London hams bridge communciations gap. Since 1920, members of the London Amateur Radio Club (LARC) have filled the airwaves with banter both about the hobby itself, and about emergency preparedness. On July 19, a handful of LARC members put their talents on display at the Blackfriars Bridge in London.

SKYWARN WARRIORS: Local ham radio buffs work front lines for National Weather Service. The National Weather Service has radar, satellites, Doppler, and double Doppler. But even with all of that high technology, it still needs boots on the ground to know how the weather is affecting people. So when the power is out, many of its 6,500 Skywarn weather watchers in southern New England go the traditional route, using ham radio to file reports.

Hospital has SPARC of security. Beaumont is ready for any kind of natural disaster: the city and the San Gorgonio Pass Amateur Radio Club (SPARC) have partnered to provide ham radio operations at City Hall in the event of a disaster that could interrupt communications between cities and residents. The service is now in place in the Emergency Services Department office at the civic center. Rick Cook, emergency services coordinator, said he is very pleased to be working with the amateur radio club.

ARRL needs to improve their support for clubs

Often, when you hear ARRL officials speak, they extol the virtues of amateur radio clubs, saying things like, “Clubs are the lifeblood of amateur radio.” For example, Dale Williams, WA8EFK, in response to my e-mail congratulating him on his appointment as the new ARRL Great Lakes Division director, said that his “plans are to push to keep things local, club-related, and bottom-up driven.”

Of course, that kind of set me off. When it comes to club support, the ARRL is more talk than action.

One example of this lack of support is that there hasn’t been an issue of the ARRL Club News newsletter for years. Even so, if you log into the ARRL website and look at your e-mail subscriptions page, you’ll see that it says that it’s supposed to be a monthly newsletter.

I’ll also note that the ARRL CEO Harold Kramer, WJ1B,left this particular newsletter off the list of available newsletters in his June QST column. I don’t know who at HQ is responsible for producing this newsletter, but the fact that there hasn’t been one for so long speaks volumes to me.

arrow-logo-150wAnother example is the club commission program. Under this program, clubs get a $15 commission when they sign up a new member. That’s not bad, but the commission falls to only $2 for renewing members. According to a former treasurer of ARROW, my club here in Ann Arbor, MI, $2 just wasn’t enough to make it worth his while to process renewals.

To be fair, it’s not all bad news. The ARRL website does have a page with information on how to set up and run an active club (http://www.arrl.org/affiliated-club-resources). The ARRL also has a club liability insurance program is a decent deal for clubs, but that program probably doesn’t require much effort on the ARRL’s part. The ARRL is also supposed to refer new hams to clubs, but I’m not sure exactly how they do that, and I don’t think ARROW’s gained any new members from this recently.

Let me ask you. Is your club getting the support it needs from the ARRL? If so, I’d like to hear about what you think they’re doing right. If not, I’d like to know what you think they should be doing to help your club.

—————-

This is a version of my July newsletter column. So, if you think you seen this before, you may have. Sorry, Dan

 

Operating Notes: (Un)Clubs, certificates, W100AW

Over the weekend, I made a few QSOs of note:

WB2KQG. 20m wasn’t in great shape when I called CQ on 20m CW on Saturday from the museum, but I managed to raise Vinny, WB2KQG. When I called up his QRZ.Com page, I found the banner below and a link to a site with a description of the Radio League of America, an early competitor of the ARRL. Were it still around, the RLA would be celebrating its centennial in 2015, and to commemorate that, Vinny is offering a certificate. To get the 8.5 x 11-in. certificate, send an SASE to Vinny. I’ll be getting one of these certificates for myself.

 radioleague

AC2EU. On Jim, AC2EU’s QRZ.Com page, he notes that he is a former coordinator of the QSY Society, and notes, “The society is a bit different than other clubs in that it focuses on discussions of the Amateur Radio hobby at every meeting.” I didn’t get a chance to talk to Jim about how his club is different, but I did visit their website. Here’s how they describe themselves:

The QSY Society was formed in 1996 by a group of hams who felt there was a legitimate need for an alternative to the conventional ham radio club.  These plankowners observed that formal structure, business discussions, and the focus on the more traditional aspects of emergency operations and public service often left precious little time for good old fashioned social interaction and sharing.

The purpose of QSY Society is to create an environment in which persons with an interest in ham radio – whether licensed or not – can come together to explore the many facets of amateur radio in an informal and friendly environment where there are “no dumb questions” and “no smart answers.”

That’s as good a description of an “un-club” as I’ve seen, and I think that I would enjoy being a member of the QSY Society.

KK4UVW. When I first heard Chris, KK4UVW, calling CQ, I almost didn’t reply. His sending was slow, but he had a good fist. Then, I looked him up on QRZ.Com, and knew I had to reply. Even if the picture on QRZ.Com is an older one, he’s still quite young, and we should encourage young people to be active in amateur radio, and the more experienced CW ops should encourage those who are just getting started or are less experienced.

W100AW. On Sunday afternoon, I worked W100AW. This was the first time that I’d even heard this station. To get a QSL card, you have to sign up for it on the ARRL website. When you do that, you’re also signing up to get cards from all the W1AW/x stations you’ve worked, too. Seems to me that it would be a lot cheaper to allow me to sign up only for a W100AW card, but hey, I don’t make those decisions. The ARRL will be sending the cards through the QSL bureaus, so you’ll have to have a current account at the appropriate bureau.

Note that in each case—except for W100AW—what made the contact was the information posted on QRZ.Com. Having a computer in the shack has made my operating that much more interesting. So, please post some info there if you haven’t already and tell us about you. You never know who you’ll inspire or how it will make your QSOs better.

Amateur radio in the news: WRTC 2014, clubs

kl9aBozeman resident to compete in world radio competition. There is an old saying among the licensed amateur radio operators that says, “When all else fails, ham radio goes through.” And this month, Chris Hurlbut, KL9A, will go through with the 2014 World Radio Sport Team Championship.

Amateur radio club attracts tech experts. The Pacific digital amateur radio club is turning the city into a high-tech mecca, attracting a stream of technology experts and computer gurus, who also are hams, to use the club’s digital repeater, which is still in the process of being installed. Until recently, amateur radio operators, or hams, used analog radios and self-installed towers and repeaters to access radio waves. Now, digital amateur radio allows hams to reach the radio waves through their laptop and desktop computers using new, sophisticated digital technology that some hams are scrambling to learn.

Steady frequency: McKinney Amateur Radio Club tests service, gains youth. For Mike Baker, an 18-year member of the McKinney Amateur Radio Club (MARC), the importance of constant communication is simple. “Got to keep the Morse code up, because if we get invaded by aliens, that’s what we’ve got to have,” said Baker, an engineer with the Department of Homeland Security.

Field Day 2014: Smaller, but funner

This year, the two local clubs, ARROW and the University of Michigan ARC, once again joined forces to do Field Day. It was smaller than Field Days we’ve done in the past—we were 2A this year instead of 4A or 5A—but it was a lot of fun, nonetheless.

Our club banner hanging on the public information tent at the entrance to our Field Day site.

Our club banner hanging on the public information tent at the entrance to our Field Day site.

For a while there, it almost looked as though Field Day wasn’t going to get off the ground. One of the reasons was that we had to find a new venue. For some reason, which I never quite understood, and to be honest, didn’t want to get too involved in, our old venue didn’t want us back.

An alternate site was suggested, and seemed like a good idea, until someone pointed out the controversial nature of the conservative political views of the owner, the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization. After some heated debate on the club mailing list, this choice was nixed.

Finally, someone suggested the Ann Arbor Airport. In addition to hangars and runways for the local general aviation crowd, it’s home to a couple of soccer fields, and since the soccer season is over here, they were available for our use.

The administrators were at first somewhat hesitant to give their permission, thinking that our operations might cause interference to the airport’s radio communications. Dave, N8SBE, this year’s Field Day coordinator, allayed their fears, however, by working with their technical people. They sent Dave a spreadsheet that they use for evaluating the possibility that a radio system will cause interference to their radio system.

Dave took that spreadsheet, and by plugging in numbers from the data sheets of the radios that we were planning to use and making some assumptions regarding the antenna layouts, he was able to show them that interference wasn’t going to be a problem. He even went so far as to make some spurious emission measurements on the IC-746PRO that we used for the GOTA station. Overall, it was quite an interesting exercise, worthy of its own blog post.

2A, plus GOTA
We operated 2A, with one SSB station, one CW station, and the GOTA station. Going to 2A, instead of trying to operate 4A, meant that we could man each of the stations continuously for the entire 24 hours.

The CW was captained by Tim KT8K. The other operators included Stuart W8SRC, Arun W8ARU, and yours truly. I’m not sure if we set a club record or not, but we easily surpassed 1,000 QSOs.

The SSB station captain was Jim, WD8RWI. I won’t try to list all of the operators that worked that station, but stalwarts included Jameson, KD8PIJ, our lone University of Michigan ARC participant and Mark, W8FSA. I think that they made over 600 QSOs this year.

That's me on the right coaching the first of eight newcomers in the GOTA station.

That’s me on the right coaching the first of eight newcomers in the GOTA station.
Photo: Dinesh, AB3DC.

I captained the GOTA station. While we only managed about 30 QSOs this year, I was quite happy with the turnout. I was able to get eight newbies on the air, including one fellow who showed up Sunday morning. After making a couple of contacts, he said that he had to try to get his son to come out and try it.

It took some cajoling, but eventually he did. The son wasn’t quite so thrilled as the father, though, once he got in front of the radio, and he shortly took off to walk their dog. The father stuck with it right up until 2 pm. I even got him to call CQ FD and run a frequency. We weren’t real successful doing this, but we did manage to get one station to reply to our CQ.

Burgers and hotdogs
The food was handled this year by John, WA8TON. He did a fine job, serving up hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch and dinners and bagels, donuts and coffee for breakfast on Sunday. For dinner on Saturday, we asked everyone to bring a salad or dessert, and that worked out pretty well, too. Certainly no one left hungry.

I’ve left out a lot, but there aren’t really any stories that stand out like in year’s past. We didn’t get a hotshot kid CW operator to show up like we did five years ago, nor did I run over any laptops like I did seven years ago. It was just a lot of fun.

Cheat sheets for Field Day

2014_Field_Day_Logo_333_X_220On our club mailing list, a guy who doesn’t get on HF very often suggested that each Field Day station have a cheat sheet containing the following:

  • a list of bands for that particular station,
  • a band plan showing the frequencies that can be operated,
  • a list of the antennas are connected to the radio in the station,
  • some simple instructions on how to setup and operate the radio at that station, including how to tune the antenna if a non-resonant antenna and tuner are being used, and
  • instructions on how to use the logging program, including how to change the operator.

In addition, I would suggest for the Get on the Air station (GOTA), if you’re running one, a script that operators simply have to read when making contacts.

Any other thoughts?

Invite a kid to Field Day

Field Day is still six weeks away, but I want you to think about inviting a kid to Field Day this year. Instead of just complaining that kids aren’t interested in amateur radio anymore, do something about it.

Invite them to help you set up antennas.

Show them how you power the rigs with a generator, or even cooler, by charging a battery with a solar panel.

Let them sit in front of the rig, show them how to make contacts, and log for them. To make it easier for them, make up a cheat sheet with the callsign spelled out phonetically and the exchange, also spelled out phonetically.

Let them operate for as long as they’re interested. When they’re done, thank them on contributing to your club’s total score.

Answer every single one of their questions.

This may not win them over immediately, but I can assure you that it will make an impression on them. To increase your chances of success, find a kid that’s already technically inclined. Invite a bunch of them from the high school’s robotics team, for example.

If you don’t have any plans for Field Day, then make some. Then, go find that kid. If you don’t, then you don’t have any right to complain that there are no kids in ham radio.

Net aims to promote amateur radio at colleges

Amateur radio seems to be enjoying a renaissance on college campuses around the country. Here in Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, the U-M Amateur Radio Club was revived about ten years ago, and it’s still going strong. They hold regular meetings and have a great station. Their callsign, W8UM, is often heard on the air.

This is not an isolated case.  California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California, recently set a record for the largest number of freshmen to take the Tech test, and the Iowa State University ham radio club recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary. There are active clubs all over the country.

To help bring these clubs together, Jameson, KD8PIJ, the current president of the U-M ARC, started the Collegiate Net. They meet every two weeks on 20m, and on EchoLink, and the next net will take place this Saturday, May 10, at 2030 Z. The 20m frequency is 14295 kHz. The EchoLink node is W8UM-R.

According to KD8PIJ, he started the net because he saw a gap – or rather an opening – in how amateur radio serves the college community, and decided to start the net to try to fill the void. Its goals are to:

  • promote amateur radio to the college students,
  • share club activities and projects,
  • discuss how to incorporate radio into other college and/or community events,
  • brainstorm ways to increase and retain membership to ensure club longevity, and
  • help new or inexperienced Hams get on the air with a familiar audience.

While the net caters to younger hams, OMs can certainly check in. KD8PIJ says, “We want to hear from everyone! There’s plenty to be learned from alumni hams, and since most clubs include a combination of older and younger members, we want to include everyone. You don’t necessarily need to be connected with a college to participate, either.”

For more information, you can email KD8PIJ or join the Amateur Radio Collegiate Net Google Group. More information on how to join the net is available there as well.