21 Things to Do: Go to Field Day

Field Day, held on the last full weekend in June, is the quintessential amateur radio event. It includes elements of just about everything that makes amateur radio the great hobby that it is, and you should make every effort to participate in Field Day the first year that you’re licensed.

Field Day got its start in 1933 as an emergency-communication exercise. Ham radio operators dragged their equipment out into a field somewhere and operated using emergency power sources. The aim was to see how prepared amateur radio operators were to respond to an emergency and to learn how to do it better.

2008 OMARC Field Day

Tents often serve as shelters for Field Day stations. Photo courtesy of Ken Barber, W2DTC.

Emergency communications preparedness is still the primary purpose of Field Day. Amateur radio operators tune up their gasoline-powered generators and test their solar panels to ensure that they will be ready in case of an emergency. And, by hauling out into the field all manner of radio equipment, we find out what radios will work best in that operating environment.

Of course, the only way to tell how well your equipment will work is to actually operate it. That’s where the contest part of Field Day comes in. Stations score points by making contacts with other stations, and those with the most points win. Other things being equal, the stations that work the best will make the most contacts and score high in the contest.

Many Field Day stations have multiple transmitters, and when you have multiple transmitters, you need multiple antennas. Setting up a multiple-transmitter operation can be a lot of work. That’s why Field Day is often a club activity. For some clubs, it’s the biggest event of the year. In addition to all the technical activities, clubs use Field Day as a social event. There’s food and drink and reminiscing about Field Days gone by. For some hams, that’s more fun than actually operating.

Finally, because Field Day is such a big event, the ARRL encourages us all to use the event to reach out to the public, elected officials, and served agencies, such as county emergency management and the Red Cross, and educate them about amateur radio. Unlike many contests, where you only score points when you make contacts, you score Field Day points for holding your operation in a public place, handing out brochures to interested parties, and having the mayor come and visit your Field Day site.

How to participate
By participating in Field Day, you’ll learn more about amateur radio in a single day than you will doing just about anything else. If you’re a club member, ask how you can help out organizing  your club’s Field Day event. That’s sure to win you points, and it will make your Field Day experience that much more fun and educational.

If you’re not a club member, or if you’ll be out of town that particular weekend, you can find a Field Day site closeby, by going to the ARRL Field Day Locator. The clubs that are listed there are sure to welcome you, especially if you arrive early and help them set up.

I hope I’ve persuaded you to participate in the next Field Day. You’ll not only learn a lot, but you’ll have a lot of fun. Don’t forget to take some sun screen and mosquito repellent!

Amateur radio leadership

About five years ago, I joined the Rotary Club here in Ann Arbor, MI. As I had, by this time, served as president of our local amateur radio club, I began comparing how our Rotary Club operating to how our amateur radio club operated. What a huge difference! The members of the Rotary Club were committed and really got things done. The members of the ham radio club, on the other hand, showed practically no commitment at all, had to be coerced into doing much of anything, and when they did, there was all kinds of sniping and complaining. I often thought how great it would be if somehow I could get our ham radio club to act more like the Rotary Club.

About three years ago, our Rotary district started began offering the Rotary Leadership Institute (RLI) course. The RLI course is a three-day course that is designed to prepare Rotary Club members take leadership positions in their clubs. I not only took the course, but I also participated in the facilitator training. From the start, my goal was to adapt the RLI program for ham radio clubs.

So, last year, after taking the final day of RLI training, I began working on the ham radio version.I completed it about a year ago and ran it by our section manager. He thought it was an interesting concept, but never really got behind it. Last fall, he ran for vice director of the Great Lakes Division, and a new guy took his place. When I explained my program to him, he was very enthusiastic about it and helped organize our first workshop, which took place here in southeast Michigan in early March. Last Saturday, we had our first session in southwest Michigan.

Here’s a list of the sessions in the current version of the workshop:

  • Leadership: Characteristics, Team Building
  • The World of Amateur Radio
  • The Amateur Radio Club and its Activities
  • Membership: Recruiting and Retention
  • Leadership: Team Building
  • Leadership: Setting Goals
  • Evaluating Your Club
  • Moving Forward

Overall, this worked pretty well. Most of the participants found the workshop to be valuable, and now our section manager is encouraging me to offer it in other parts of our state.

I think that I can improve it, though

I had originally thought it would take about eight hours to get through these sessions, including lunches and breaks. Well, as it turned out, in both workshops, we finished earlier than I’d expected. I think the biggest reason for this is that some of the later topics were actually covered in some of the earlier session. For example, we talked about how good communications are important the “Ham Radio Club and Its Activities” session, making the latter session moot.

Here’s how I’m thinking about changing the workshop:

  • Leadership: Characteristics
  • The World of Ham Radio
  • The Ham Radio Club and its Activities
  • Membership: Recruiting and Retention
  • Leadership: Team Building
  • Leadership: Setting Goals
  • Evaluating Your Club
  • Moving Forward

For the team-building and goal-setting sessions I’ll have the participants to a class-participation thing. That is to say, actually go through a little exercise getting them to set up a team to do something and getting them to set some club goals.

For the final session, instead of just being a review session, I’ll have the participants do some blue-sky thinking about what they can do with their clubs and perhaps have each come up with a specific idea to take back to their clubs.

We’ve set up a Yahoo Group—AmateurRadioLeadership—to discuss the workshop and other issues of interest to ham radio club leaders. If you’re at all interested in these things, please feel free to join it.

Find new amateur radio operators in your area

It used to be that if your club was an ARRL affiliated club, they would periodically send you a list with the names and addresses of recently-licensed hams in your area. They no longer offer this service, but don’t despair, you can do this yourself by going to the FCC website. Here’s how to do this:

  1. Go to the ULS advanced search page.
  2. Select from the following drop-down menus or fill in the following text boxes:
    Service Group: Amateur
    State or Zip Code: Choose the appropriate state or type in the zip code
    Status: Active
    Date Type: Grant Date
    Date: Select a time period from the drop-down menu or type in the “from” and “to” dates.
  3. Click the “Search” button.
I typed in the zip code 48103 and selected a date period of the last 90 days, and I got the following information:
Call Sign/Lease ID Name FRN Radio Service Status Expiration Date
1 KD8ROJ Elliott, Harvey M 0021439682 HA Active 01/24/2022
2 KD8ROP Pawlowski, David J 0021439757 HA Active 01/24/2022
3 KD8RTO Yanikoglu, Sami I 0021516760 HA Active 02/21/2022

Now, the cool thing is that you can have the FCC website compose a pipe-delimited file for you that has all of the licensee data, including addresses. This allows you to import the data into a spreadsheet or database. (A pipe-delimited file is like a comma-delimited, or .csv, file except that it uses the “|” instead of the comma.) To to that, all you have to do is click on the “Query Download” link at the top of the Search Results page.

Now, you don’t have any excuses for not knowing about new hams in your area.

21 Things to Do: Join a club

Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas for my upcoming book, 21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio License. I am going to post chapters here as I write them.  Here’s the first chapter. Please feel free to comment on this chapter.

Join a club

One of the very first things you should do after you get your first amateur radio license is to join a club. There are many reasons why this is a good idea, but perhaps the biggest reason is that amateur radio is more fun when shared with others. The whole point of amateur radio is to make contacts with other amateur radio operators. By joining a club, you start making face-to-face contacts.

All of the other reasons for joining a club stem from this idea of sharing the hobby with other amateur radio operators. For example, you can think of the other members of the club as a vast reservoir of knowledge that you can tap.

Want some advice on what radio to buy? Ask a club members. Need some help installing an antenna? Ask a club member. Have a question about the best place to buy feedline or connectors? Ask a club member. I think you get the idea.

Clubs conduct a variety of activities that you’ll find both interesting and useful. Many clubs, for example, have speakers at their monthly meetings that discuss some aspect of amateur radio. By attending these meetings, you’ll not only learn about the topic, but have someone that you can contact should you decide to pursue that topic further.

Clubs also hold classes and administer license examinations. Being a member of the club will make it easier for you to take advantage of the classes and help you upgrade your license more easily.

Another benefit that some clubs offer is the use of a club station. This station may allow use to use equipment or operate modes that would be impossible to do at your home station. Our club station, for example, has a three-element Yagi antenna up about 70 feet. There’s no way that I could install such an antenna system at my home. Using the club station, though, allows me to experience using this antenna system and learn all about how they work and how well they work.

Being a club member can even help you get a good deal on used equipment. Club members often offer their used gear to other club members at a lower price than they would ask if they listed them online or taking them to hamfests. Not only do you get a lower price, but it’s less likely that there will be a problem with your purchase, and if there is, you know exactly where to find the seller.

Finding a club
If you don’t know of any clubs in your area, go to http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club. Type your zip code into the appropriate box, and soon you’ll get a list of clubs in your area.

The listings will show what services the clubs offer, their specialties, and if the club has a website, the website address. This information should give you an idea of how active the club is and what kinds of things the club members are interested in.

If there are several clubs in your area, visit them all before deciding to join one. Just like people, clubs have their own personalities, and you may find that you fit better with one club rather than another. For example, some clubs emphasize emergency communications and public service. If you’re not really interested in those activities, that club may not be for you.

Whichever club you choose, go to the meetings and participate in their activities. One thing is certain. You won’t get anything out of a club, if you never show up.

Customers or Members?

Three weeks ago, I held the first Amateur Radio Club Leadership Workshop here in Ann Arbor, MI. (I’ll post more about that later.) While we were talking about member retention, one of the attendees said that we need to think of the members as “customers.”

I suppose that I used to think like that, too. Give the customers what they want, and they’ll keep coming back. Now, I’m not so sure that is a good way of looking at things. There are some major differences between customers and members.

For one thing, there is a certain sense of entitlement about being a customer. A customer hands over some money, and in return, expects to receive a product or service. Do you want members like that? Don’t you want to get members to actively participate in your activities and not just consume them? If you have customers instead of members, doesn’t that put a lot of pressure on you to make sure the “product” is as attractive as possible to the “customers”?

A customer is in no way responsible to a business, but a member is responsible for the organization he or she belongs to. He should be, at least. If not, then why be a member?

The challenge is how to encourage that sense of membership, that sense of ownership. I don’t have the answer to that. What do you think?

Get a Google grant for your ham club website

On the ARRL PR mailing list, Allen, W1AGP, the ARRL’s Media and PR Manager, posted this:

Does your ham group have a website?  Is it a non-profit? [Then, sign up for] Google Grants for Nonprofit Group Advertising.

Steve, W5SMP, spotted this option.  While I can’t use it with the main ARRL website (due to advertising – “Your website cannot display revenue generating ads, such as Google AdSense or affiliate advertising links, while participating in Google Grants.”)  many of the section and divisions have their own sites that should fit the requirements.

Being listed high up and getting free ads on Google is a definite plus.

You should have your Public Information Officer (PIO) look into this. It takes some work, but  this program is free, so why not take advantage of it?

And, finally, if your club doesn’t have a PIO, you should appoint one. Not having one limits you. The ARRL has many resources for PIOs, making the job easier.

150 freshmen to get tickets at Cal Poly

From a Cal Poly press release:

A record 150 electrical engineering freshman students from Cal Poly will take their FCC amateur radio technician-class license exam this November in the largest amateur radio licensing event ever held in San Luis Obispo County.

Hosted by the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club (CPARC), this session may be the largest Amateur Radio License Testing Session ever held at the collegiate level. These 150 potential amateur radio operators will join over 700,000 other hams in the U.S. in providing volunteer and emergency communications support for everything from local bike rides and parades to global disaster relief, including the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Dennis Derickson (AC0P), Cal Poly Electrical Engineering (EE) department chair, conceived the Freshman Licensing Initiative which gives every EE 111 student a chance to get their radio license. As part of the EE 111 curriculum, this test session will be administered during the 50-minute class period and count as one of the midterm exams for the freshmen students.

“CPARC members have been hosting review sessions to help students prepare to pass their exam and get introductory knowledge on a wide variety of electrical engineering topics,” said CPARC member Javen O’Neal. “Getting an amateur radio license is the first step towards many career opportunities in the communications industry, from engineering UAVs and integrating Wi-Fi on the Amazon Kindle, to creating 4G cell phone networks and designing communication subsystems on DirecTV satellites.”

CPARC members learn about radios by retuning filters on radios, building directional antennas for transmitter hunts, and putting together an emergency vehicle tracking network for Wildflower Triathlon using two dozen radios and GPS units, digital repeaters, and internet gateways.

Founded in 1947, the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club has a long tradition of communications service on campus and in the San Luis Obispo community. The club maintains Emergency Communications Station No. 16 on the Cal Poly Campus for the San Luis Obispo Emergency Communications Council (SLOECC) which is equipped with emergency power and radio equipment to support various public safety agencies in the event of a disaster. More information about the club can be found at www.w6bhz.org.

Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club

Construction night a success

Back when I was ARROW president, I started a tradition of using one of our monthly meetings as a “construction night.” The first year we built a little keyer kit. In subsequent years, we built ladder-line J-poles, Arduino microcontrollers, and other little projects like that.

I’m happy to say that that tradition continues today. This month’s meeting, which took place on Wednesday evening, was the 2011 episode of construction night. This year, we built the Sure PS-LP11111 5~16 VDC Linear DC Voltage Power Supply Kit.

Sure PS-LP11111 5~16 VDC Linear DC Voltage Power Supply Kit

The Sure PS-LP11111 5~16 VDC Linear DC Voltage Power Supply Kit isn't a complete power supply, but the addition of a cheap AC wall wart makes it one.

This kit met all my criteria for a club construction project:

  • It was inexpensive. PartExpress sold me 15 of them for $9 each.
  • It was easy to build. As you can see from the photo above, the kit has less than 20 parts. It took me less than a half hour to build, and most of the club members had theirs put together in less than 45 minutes.
  • Those that built it have something useful that they can actually use in their shacks.  I plan to use mine to power the little QRP radio kits that I’ve built over the years. This thing should easily supply an amp at 9 V or 12 V.

As I said, this was a real success. So much so, that several of our club members said that we should do this more often. We even discussed other projects that might we might want to tackle.

One final note: Only one of our kit builders had any problem with his kit. Despite pointing out that the electrolytic capacitor, full-wave bridge, and the LED were polarized and had to be inserted properly, this fellow managed to insert his electrolytic capacitor in backwards. It worked for about two minutes before the capacitor exploded with a loud bang. We all got a big kick out of this because this fellow happened to be one of most experienced hams. :)

Ham Radio in the News – July 17, 2001

Here’s another installment of “Ham Radio in the News.”

Denver's Inside Out ProgramTeaching radio in the digital age. This is a great article on the Denver school district’s Inside/Out program, which offers additional learning to gifted and talented students. As part of this program, Bob Sterner, the district’s senior telecom engineer, introduced them to amateur radio.

I really liked this article. It makes me wish that I had better skills for working with kids. All of my attempts at implementing kids’ programs have so far fallen flat, but it’s good to know that there are others out there who seem to be able to get kids interested and motivated.

Ham radio users still play vital role in communications. Just one example of the dozens of articles on Field Day activities.

The Sky is Not the Limit for the Fethiye Radio Amateurs Club. A member of the recently-formed club FARAD discusses ham radio and club activities. Even though this interview is in a Turkish newspaper, the article is in English.

 

Ham Radio Organizations, Revisited

About a month ago, I posted some ideas about how we might change the way ham radio is organized locally.  You can read that post, but basically, I think that we need are “real” nonprofit organizations, with paid staff, to promote ham radio and conduct ham radio activities.

I talk up this idea whenever I can, most recently in an e-mail exchange with my friend, Ralph, AA8RK. He challenged me, “What, in simple terms, would be the mission of this nonprofit? What would the money be used for?”

I replied, “A simple mission statement might be ‘to provide opportunities for people to become amateur radio operators and to become better amateur radio operators.’” Thinking about this some more, I think a good mission statement could be crafted around the five bases of amateur radio as spelled out in Part 97.1, “Basis and Purpose.” Each of those are great goals to strive for.

As for how we would use the money, I came up with the following list off the top of my head:

  • Provide more training than just quarterly one-day Tech classes, such as General and Extra classes, basic electronics and antenna classes, and emergency communication training.
  • Provide leadership training and perhaps other types of support services to ham radio clubs.
  • Operate publicly-accessible ham radio stations and workspaces, such as our station at the Hands-On Museum.
  • Run a “lending library” of equipment, such as beginner transceivers, antenna analyzers, and other test equipment.

These are things that clubs or the sections could do, but rarely do because they’re all-volunteer organizations. All-volunteer organizations can only do so much.

Anyone have any thoughts about this? Anyone good at fund raising that might want to join with me and start raising some dough?