Operating notes: A productive day down at the museum

WA2HOM QSLI wasn’t able to get down to WA2HOM, our club station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum on Saturday, but I did make it on Sunday. It was a very productive—and fun—day.

I arrived at the museum at about 1:15 pm, and when I got up to the shack, there was a guy looking over the station. I asked if he had any questions, and we had a nice chat about what we do at the museum. He told me that he’d always wanted to get an amateur radio license, but for whatever reason, had never gotten around to it. I handed him one of my Getting Into Amateur (Ham) Radio flyers, and got a real good feeling that I gave him the push he needed to get over the hump.

Next, I tuned to 15m CW, and, in short order, found both W1AW/7 (WA) and W1AW/0 (KS). They both had strong signals, and I worked them on my second or third call.

Two new “countries”
Tuning down the band, I happened upon EA9UG in Ceuta. According to Wikipedia, Ceuta is an “autonomous city of Spain and an exclave located on the north coast of Africa, sharing a western border with Morocco.” It is a DXCC entity. There are less than 100 amateur radio operators in Ceuta/Melilla. Not only was this a new country for us at the museum, I worked and EA9 myself from home just a few days before.

After that contact, an Italian ham, now living in the U.S. dropped in for a visit. He’s lived here for several months now, but hasn’t yet operated from here, as he was unsure of what he could do and what he couldn’t do. I assured him that the U.S. and Italy had a reciprocal operating agreement and that he should feel free to operate here. I also pointed him at the W8SRC Repeater Guide.

Finally, just before leaving, I thought I should make at least one contact in the ARRL DX SSB Contest. I switched up to the phone portion of the band, swung the beam south, and heard FY5FY calling CQ. French Guiana just happened to be a new one for us. I’m not sure what our count is, but we have to be getting close to 100 countries by now. I guess that my next task will be to get the log uploaded to LOTW and then see where we’re at.

I really love interacting with the museum visitors and encouraging them to either get their tickets or have more fun with ham radio if they do have one. Throw in all the great contacts that I made, and you can see how I had such a great day down at the museum.

WA2HOM Report – 10/6/13

Last week, we purchased a new (to us, anyway) rig for our station at WA2HOM—an Icom IC-756PROIII. After using it a bit on Thursday evening, and for a couple of hours on Saturday and a couple more today, I must say that I’m enjoying this radio.

WA2HOM

I spent my four hours mainly working the CA QSO Party. I tallied 106 QSOs and scored just over 10,000 points. I also happened upon G100RSGB calling CQ on 21.375 MHz, and had a delightful conversation with Roger, who was operating from the Rolls Royce engineering center near Nottingham. That will be a nice QSL card to add to our collection.

Ovide, K8EV, is as well. He e-mailed me yesterday:

I had a terrific radio session Saturday morning. Though band conditions were unsettled, and noise was high on 20m, I was able to adjust our new (to us) IC-756PROIII’s noise reduction (NR) circuit to turn marginal signals into a quality contacts. The audio from the transceiver is outstanding. It’s clear even in a large, noisy room.

The sound of the new radio attracted visitors to the shack at regular intervals. Two hams and two mothers wandered by, one with a cute first grader who has the distinction of being the first kid operator on our new transceiver. Denis, my friend in New Mexico, was the radio docent.

The second mom, who lives in farm country in Santa Clara Valley CA and has been trying to decide whether to home-school her child, had an extended conversation with Denis on the topic. Denis, it turns out, is an excellent resource, having home-schooled two boys, one of whom went to Oxford University to get a Ph.D. in mathematics! The mom, who is visiting her husband’s family in Dexter, was delighted to find unexpected help on an issue she has been struggling with on a visit to the Hands On Museum.

There are a few accessories that we still need to purchase, including a CI-V cable to connect the rig to the computer and a cable to connect the rig to the Signalink interface. So far, though, it looks like we’ve made a good purchase.

Lots of (ham) visitors at WA2HOM this weekend

This weekend down at the museum we had a number of hams  stop by and visit:

  • Pete, KD8TBW. Pete had contacted me earlier in the week and asked if I could help him with some things. I gave him the grand tour of our HF station and then helped him program his HT. I hope this gives him the jumpstart he needed to really get into amateur radio.
  • Henry, K8HLD, and Sarah, KD8JOB. As I was standing outside waiting for Pete, the W8UM repeater blurted out its ID in Morse Code. When he heard the Morse Code, a guy who was waiting for some members of his family, asked me if that was a ham radio. When I said yes, he told me that his father and mother were hams, and that he would send them up to visit the station. We gave them the tour, and then I asked if Sarah had a QSL card for my collection. Unfortunately, she did not.
  • a father and son who are both hams, and whose callsigns I wrote down, but can’t remember at this point. The son just started at U-M and plans to join the U-M Amateur Radio Club. I encouraged both to get their General tickets, and tried to impress them by showing off our DX capabilities. As it turns out, there was a European DX contest in progress as we were chatting, and so I tuned around, found DF0HQ calling CQ, and worked him on the first call. They were duly impressed.
  • Paul, KC8QAY and Rebecca, KC8WWP.  This couple was accompanied by their cute little, two-year-old son, who apparently isn’t mic-shy at all and could rattle off his father’s call sign very nice.
  • Brad, N8VI. Brad came with Paul and Rebecca.

Oh, and Ovide, K8EV, was there, too. He’s not really a visitor, though. :)

Operating Notes
In addition to impressing visitors with our DX prowess, I worked as many Route 66 on the Air stations as I could. In the end, I managed to work nine of the 18 stations, ranging from St. Louis, MO to Barstow, CA. I’ll be trying to get as many of these QSLs as I can.

Operating Notes: I really had a ball down at the museum last night

It’s been very hot and humid here in SE Michigan this week, making me verrrry lazy. So, I almost decided not to head down to the Hands-On Museum and operate WA2HOM last night. I’m sure glad I forced myself to do it, though.

I got there about 5:45 pm, turned the rig on, and right away I could tell it was going to be a good night. IK2CIO was just blasting in at at least 10 dB over S9. Over the next half hour, I worked four other European stations, including OK7MD, DF6HA, and SN0H.

At that point, I decided to give 15m a whirl. Tuning around, the only station I could hear was JM7OLW. He was a decent S6, so I was sure that I could reach him. After swinging the beam around, I got him on the second try. If you go to JM7OLW’s QRZ page, you’ll note that he lives in Fukushima–yes that Fukushima. He lives just 35 miles from the nuclear plant that was damaged by the tsunami a couple of years ago.

After working JM7OLW, I still couldn’t hear anyone, but decided to call CQ. Boy, was I surprised when Dennis, KE7DZ, came right back to me. We had a nice 20-minute chat, which was a nice change from the short DX contacts.

After the contact with Dennis, I tuned around some more, and it appeared that the band had come to life. I could hear a bunch of stations in the Northwest, and then worked ZL1ALZ. It was nice to add another ZL to the log.

I guess the moral of this story is that 15m is open to the Asia in the evenings, at least lately. I was hoping to find a BY, but no luck with that.

At that point, Ralph, AA8RK, showed up. I gave him the operator’s chair, and we tried our hand at phone. After no replies to CQs on 15m, he QSYed to 20m, where we had a lot better luck.

We worked a bunch of U.S. stations on 20m, but the highlight–for me, anyway–was working KJ6HOT. Not only is this another station to add to my collection of QSLs from stations whose callsigns spell words, his QTH was very near to where I used to live in San Diego. Unfortunately, he was only using 5W, so we had to let him go after a short QSO, but that was fun, anyway.

I had a great time and Ralph had a great time. I just wish that I could get more of the local hams to come down and operate the station. That three-element Yagi really makes it a great station.

Operating notes: public service, helping people have fun with amateur radio

Bicycle TourThis past weekend was a big weekend here at KB6NU. On Saturday, I and more than a dozen of my ham radio brethren provided communications for the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society’s One Helluva Ride. There were close to 2,000 riders, and our efforts helped keeped the ride running smoothly.

Of course, it helped that the weather was just perfect. It was sunny and the high temperature for the day was in the low 80s. That helped keep the number of flat tires and exhausted riders to a minimum.

Even so, kudos to Jeff, W8SGZ, the ARROW organizer for the event. He did a great job of organizing the event.

An old friend on the repeater
Yesterday, while walking down to the museum,  I happened to catch an old friend, Chuck, K8HBI, on the ARROW repeater. I hadn’t heard Chuck on the air for quite a while, and I didn’t recognize him at first, partly because he’d changed callsigns. K8HBI used to be his father’s callsign. Chuck was K9HBI.

I don’t know if his father has passed or just let his license expire (although I suspect the former), but Chuck now has his dad’s callsign. Since I talked with him last, Chuck has retired, and now has more time for amateur radio. I was happy to offer my assistance in getting him back on the air.

As we were talking, Chuck happened to mention that his daughter had gotten a tattoo with both callsigns in honor of her father and grandfather. I suggested to Chuck that now his daughter should get her license and then the K9HBI callsign.

New friends
At the museum, I met what I hope will be a new friend – eleven year-old Alex. His mother had e-mailed me, saying that her son had expressed some interest in amateur radio and could they come down to the museum to see our station. Of course, I replied!

Alex and his mother stayed for over an hour. He asked me to make a CW contact, and he seemed at least somewhat interested in learning the code. We also made a phone contact, and he had fun chatting with Bob, N2AF, in New Jersey.

As they were about to leave, his mother leaned over and said to me, “Thanks so much. He rarely sits still for so long. He really must be interested in amateur radio.”

On the way home, I met another new friend on the ARROW repeater. After giving out a call, Fred, WA8LJL, came back to me. Fred’s not a newbie, but he said that he has been off the air for a while. He just purchased a new handheld and was in the process of programming its channels when he heard my call. I was his first contact in many years.

All of this was very enjoyable for me. While I certainly do enjoy the technology, I enjoy helping other people get into the hobby and get more out of the hobby even more.

Over the weekend at KB6NU/WA2HOM: poor propagation and a jammed copier

Last Saturday was a real bust down at WA2HOM.

First of all, the weather’s been really overcast and rainy around here the past week or so. Saturday was no exception. We didn’t get a lot of rain, but it was overcast and dark all day.

Second, when I got down to the museum, I found that the relatively new keyer wouldn’t key the radio. I tried resetting the keyer, changing the keyer output (the WKUSB keyer has two different outputs), and some other things, all to no avail. Then, it occurred to me to change the batteries. I hadn’t thought about that right off because I could hear the sidetone OK. Anyway, changing the batteries worked like a charm, but I wasted at least 45 minutes goofing around with it.

As it turned out, I needn’t have bothered. The bands were so bad on Saturday, due to some kind of solar disturbance, I guess, that I only managed to eke out one contact.

Then, Tim, KT8K, showed up. No, that wasn’t a bad thing, but the weekend before, I’d been bragging about what a great station we had, with our three-element Yagi and all, and that he should come down and visit sometime. Well, of course, when he does make it down there, that bands were so dead, it wouldn’t have mattered much what kind of antenna we had.

Finally, just to add insult to injury, when I tried making copies of the brochure that I hand out, Getting Into Ham Radio, the copy machine jammed on me! This is only the second time that this has ever happened to me down at the museum.

Sunday, I fared much better. I pointed the beam southwest and made three really nice CW QSOs  with N5KY, KB5GXD, and KB0KIE. All three of them were just a few degrees of the beam heading, and all three had good signals. Morgan, KB0KIE, is just getting back into amateur radio and was a bit apologetic about his fist, but I told him not to worry. We need all the CW ops we can muster.

Sunday night, I got sucked into the RAC Canada Day contest. I got started late, and by that time, many of the contestants already had hundreds of contacts. That didn’t stop me from claiming and running a frequency for a while. I pulled the plug about 0315Z, with just over 1,000 points.

Operating Notes: DX @WA2HOM, 4/25/13

The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is open Thursday evenings, but from September though April I bowl on Thursday nights, so never get to take advantage of that.  We’ve finished for the year now, though, so yesterday, I walked down to the museum and put WA2HOM on the air for a couple of hours.

One of my first contacts was with Marco, IZ8LJZ. The contact itself was the standard DX contact, i.e. short and kind of boring, but when I looked him up on QRZ.Com, I found this photo below. What a lovely spot!

Marco, IZ8LJZ lives in Praiano, on the beautiful Amalfi Coast.

Marco, IZ8LJZ lives in Praiano, on the beautiful Amalfi Coast.

20m was open to Europe, so I made several more DX contacts before I left for the day. One of them was with Tom, G3HGE. We were both 599, and we had a not-so-normal DX contact, chatting for nearly 30 minutes.

Tom’s QRZ page said that he used to be a manufacturer of amateur radio gear, so earlier today, I Googled him. As it turns out, Tom was the man behind TW Electronics, a manufacturer of VHF gear from 1958 – 2000. There’s a nice history of the company on the TW website.

Now in his 80s, Tom now makes paddles and bugs. I don’t know if he’d like this comparison, but you might call him the “English Begali.” His latest creation, the TW Olympic shown below is a dual-lever bug that uses magnetic tension. He was using this bug for our QSO, and it sounded great. I’m already thinking that maybe I could get the XYL to put that on my Christmas list.

The TW Olympic is a two-lever "bug" that uses magnetic tension and has a speed range of 14 - 28 wpm.

The TW Olympic is a two-lever “bug” that uses magnetic tension and has a speed range of 14 – 28 wpm.

On the air this weekend at WA2HOM

WA2HOM is our club station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. I go down there nearly every weekend and operate for anywhere from two to eight hours. This weekend, I had a lot of fun down there.

This photo, from the Boy Scouts of America website, shows one Cub Scout sending code to another.

Late last week, I was contacted by a woman who was a Cub Scout pack leader, asking if she could bring some Scouts by. Silly question. Of course, she could! We arranged to meet around 1:45 on Saturday. Well, right on time, she arrived with three Cub Scouts in tow.

Fortunately, I had just made contact with Jim, K0JIM, and he had a really solid signal here in Ann Arbor. That’s important because it’s sometimes difficult for inexperienced operators to hear a weak signal or one that’s accompanied by a lot of noise. When signals are weak or hard to copy for any reason, the kids get frustrated.

We were doubly fortunate in that Jim was just great with the kids. He asked each their name and got them to tell him a little bit about themselves. And, none of the kids were mike-shy, so it was a good experience for everyone involved. In addition to having them talk on the air, I took them over to our Morse Code display and showed them how to send their names in Morse Code.

I really hadn’t planned to go down on Sunday, but after doing some things around the house, I decided to zip down there about 2:30 pm to check into the Rotarians on Amateur Radio net. It’s so much easier to do from down at the museum because of the beam antenna. I didn’t hear a peep on the net frequency (14287 kHz) at either 3 pm or 4 pm (2000Z, which is the time listed on the ROAR website), though, so I’m not sure what’s going on there.

When I’m at the museum, I’m usually also tweeting. (I’m @kb6nu on Twitter.) I tweeted that 20m sounded kind of quiet, and got a reply from @hamradioireland, EI2KC, suggesting that we give it a try. After agreeing on a frequency, I pointed the beam northeast and gave him a call. Unfortunately, the propagation didn’t cooperate, and we could barely hear one another. Even so, it was still pretty cool using Twitter to arrange a DX QSO.

Tuning around after my short QSO with EI2KC, I found a couple of interesting nets. The first was the Collins Collectors Association Net on 14263 kHz. I could really only hear the net control station, but it sounded as though everyone checking in was running some kind of Collins gear. It was interesting to listen to, but not being a Collins operator, I didn’t check in.

Around 4 pm, I started looking for the ROAR net again. I never did find that net, but I did find the Heathkit Net on 14293 kHz. According to the Web page Heathkit Resources, the net starts at 2030Z, but I’m guessing that it really started at 1930Z.

Since I have a bunch of Heathkits—several that I still use regularly—I did check into this net. They’re a great group of guys, and I will definitely be checking into this net again. Who knows? It may even spur me to get my HW-101 back on the air.

More on getting kids into amateur radio

My recent post, “Another take on getting kids into amateur radio,” garnered nearly a dozen comments, so there certainly seems to be a fair amount of interest in the topic. Coincidentally, I recently came across two items on the Internet on this topic:

  1. WS4FSM @ the South Florida Science MuseumAmateur Radio at the South Florida Science Museum. This effort is very similar to our station, WA2HOM, at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. They’re exposing kids to amateur radio, with a view towards getting them interested in the hobby. Unfortunately, they’re having trouble raising funds. I e-mailed Tom, AJ4XM, about how we were fortunate to get grants from the IEEE and the ARRL and have encouraged him to try as well. In the meantime, he’s trying to raise funds by getting hams to donate on the Net. If you have a few bucks, you might consider donating something.
  2. International Electronic and Ham Radio Camp 2012 in the Czech Republic. This article appears on the IARU Region 1 website. It describes a very cool camp conducted by a group of Czech hams. The ten-day camp drew a group of 40 kids from Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Activities included kit-building, contesting, and a number of field trips. Anyone know of something like this being held here in the U.S.?

Beam fixed!

A week and a half ago, my friend, Bob, WD8BNA, came  up to me at our Rotary Club meeting and said, “Have you taken a look at your beam lately?” referring to the three-element Yagi at WA2HOM, our club station down at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

“No,” I replied, “what’s up?”

“Part of the antenna’s missing,” he said. “It must have come off during the high winds we had last week.” I drove by the next day, and sure enough, we were missing half the reflector.

Jack, WT8N, who was majorly responsible for us getting the beam up in the air in the first place, jumped right on this. He got up onto the roof, found the missing element, and organized a work party to re-attach it.

The work party was this afternoon. Jack; Ovide, K8EV; yours truly; and Jerry, head of maintenance for the museum and the son of a ham headed up to the roof to lower the antenna and fix the antenna.

Lowering the antenna proved easier than I expected. We unbolted the tilt-over tower from the mounting bracket and it came down relatively easily. Re-attaching the errant element was also pretty straightforward. All the bolts were there. It looks like we just didn’t tighten it down well enough the first time.

Tilting the tower back up proved to be a little more difficult. We first tried it with two men pushing and two men pulling on one of the guy wires.  When that didn’t work, we tried three guys pushing it, and one pulling. That didn’t work either.

Ovide then went in search of another helper. He returned shortly thereafter with one young museum employee, and with four guys pushing, we finally got the tower into an upright position. We inserted and tightened the bolts, and now we’re back in business with all of the elements in the right position. Overall, this took just an hour to do.

Despite missing half of the reflector, the beam seemed to work just fine. It tuned up just fine, and was still quite directional. I’m sure with the complete reflector, it works even better, though. If I knew more about antenna modeling, I’d run a simulation and figure out how much directionality we were actually using.

Has anyone done this? If you have, or have some idea what the effect of losing half of a reflector has on a three-element Yagi, I’d like to hear from you.