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.

Broadband-Hamnet adds Ubiquiti, 5.8 GHz support

broadband-hamnet-logo

BROADBAND-HAMNET™
July 7 2014
Austin, TX/San Diego, CA

Broadband-Hamnet is proud to announce a new firmware release, an update to the original Linksys WRT54G/GL/GS gear, and for the Ubiquiti firmware originally released for the 2.4GHz Ham band this past February.
With this release, Broadband-Hamnet now supports the Ubiquiti M5-series hardware, giving Hams use of the 5.8 GHz band for mesh networking.

Among the release’s many new features are the ability to easily connect collocated nodes into clusters and to span the mesh across both ham bands.

About Broadband-Hamnet™
Broadband-Hamnet™ (formerly called HSMM-Mesh™)  is a high speed, self discovering, self configuring, fault-tolerant, wireless computer network. It uses special firmware that transforms consumer wireless gear to a specialized amateur radio network. For more information and to download the firmware, please visit the Broadband-Hamnet website.

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.

Field Day media hits

Here are some Field Day “media hits,” i.e. coverage of Field Day from different media around the country as reported on the ARRL Public Relations mailing list.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Radio operators can be a big help in a serious emergency. This weekend, HAM radio operators showed just how much of an impact they can have when disaster strikes. The Austin Amateur Radio club held a field day this weekend at the Central Texas American Red Cross, training people how to get emergency messages out when cell phones are down and power is out.

WISCONSIN RAPIDS (WSAW) Wisconsin Rapids HAMS are ready to prove, once again, they’re prepared for a national emergency. Today, the Amateur Radio Relay League sponsored the annual U.S. and Canada Amateur Radio Field Day Contest.

When all else fails, we rely on ham radio. “Amateur radio operators don’t need an infrastructure because we have antennas,” said Mary Joseph, a member of the Ak-Sar-Ben Amateur Radio Club. “If everyone picks up the phone at the same time, the cell towers are overwhelmed and you cannot communicate, but we can.” Joseph and her husband, Pat, were among about 25 club members participating Sunday in the annual American Radio Relay League Field Day. They joined thousands of ham radio enthusiasts all across North America in attempting to contact as many other operators as possible.

ARISS to go quiet this winter

From Weaver’s Words, the e-mail newsletter of Jim Weaver, K8JE, Great Lakes Division Director.

Charlie Sufana, AJ9N, of the ARISS program reports there will be no amateur radio operations from the International Space Station beginning 10 November through 7 December this year. The reason for the quiet hours is there will not be a radio amateur on board. Amateur operations continue until 10 November and will resume after 7 December when a new crew comes on board the station.

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?

Amateur radio in the news: emergency communications in FL, Museum Ships Weekend

This TV report highlights the emergency preparedness of hams in Tampa Bay, FL.

This TV report highlights the emergency preparedness of hams in Tampa Bay, FL.

Amateur radio operators ‘vital’ to emergency response. They’re some of the most critical people for a hurricane response, but you may be surprised, even concerned, when you first hear who they are: amateurs. 10 News looked at the people our rescuers rely on when the power goes out and the phones go silent.

Master of the airwaves. John Sluymer has been social networking since 1972. There was no Twitter or Facebook when the Grassie resident first picked up a radio unit a little more than four decades ago. Instead of hashtags and status updates, Sluymer would either talk into his mic or tap out his message in Morse code. Just like today’s social networks offer users a chance to interact with people on all sides of the world, Sluymer’s hobby has allowed him to reach — both physically and through radio waves — even the most remote areas of the planet.

Museum Ships Radio Weekend USS Lexington (video). They say its like finding a needle in a hay stack. All weekend long volunteers on board the USS Lexington are reaching out and talking to other museum ships around the world.  Its part of the annual Museum Ships Weekend. It’s a competition where the point is to make contact with at least fifteen other Museum ships by using a ham radio.  Those museum ships who are actually able to contact at least 15 other ships by using a Ham radio receive a certificate.

Station Notes: June 6 – June 9, 2014

While going through some boxes last Friday, I came across a Heathkit IG-102 signal generator. It was in pretty good shape, so I thought I’d fire it up and see if it was still working. I fired up my Tek 2215 scope and connected to to the IG-102. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting any output.

I pulled the cover off the signal generator, and was going to start poking around, when I heard some arcing, and then saw a puff of smoke come out the back of the scope. I quickly pulled the scope plug, but of course, the damage had probably already been done.

Today, I finally got around to getting the Torx screwdriver that I needed to take the covers off the Tek. After removing more than a half dozen screws, I was finally able to get the power supply shield off to look for damage. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find any obvious signs of arcing or burnt components, and the scope seems to power up and work.

Even so, I’m hesitant to just button it up and start using it again. There must be a problem in there that’s just waiting to happen. If you have any experience with Tek 2215s, I’d love to hear from you.

Museum ships ahoy!
On Saturday, I operated the Museum Ships Weekend special event. This was a lot of fun. In a couple of hours, I worked 15 of the museum stations, which qualifies me for some kind of certificate.

One of the more interesting contacts was with AC0TX, operating from the SS Grandcamp Memorial. This ship was the site of one of the worst industrial disasters in the U.S. The Grandcamp had docked in Texas City to pick up a load of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

Just before the longshoremen finished loading the fertilizer, a fire broke out aboard ship. It eventually got so hot that the ammonium nitrate exploded. Hundreds of employees, pedestrians and bystanders were killed. This was truly a disaster.

Alabama QSO Party
Kind of surprisingly, I was the high scorer from Michigan in the 2013 Alabama QSO Party. I don’t think I’m going to repeat this year. Last year, I scored over 2,000 points. This year, I barely broke 200. I guess I spent too much time working the museum ships.

What are you doing for Field Day?

2014_Field_Day_Logo_333_X_220My club here in Ann Arbor, ARROW, is still debating what to do about Field Day. We are unable to return to the site it was held at last year, so the organizers are still looking for a site. In addition, they have been talking about downsizing from 4A or 5A to 2A or 3A. I don’t think that decision’s been made yet, either.

That prompted me to ask my Twitter followers what they’re doing. Here’s what they had to say:

@NR4CB: My club sets up in a field adjacent to a city municipal building. I’ll visit them for a while during the event.

@imabug: @NR4CB and i’ll be playing FD with my club from the USS Yorktown in the #chs harbour

@waltham845: Trying to get myself to the top a mountain pass do some qrp. barring that qrp out in the field both battery powered hopefully.

@NS0D: I will be a CW operator for the combined FD operation at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, MO, using call WW1USA

@W1MSW: @HampdenCountyRA 4 towers, 2 tribndrs, 2 40m monobndrs, 3plexrs, networked stns, N1MM & a whole lot of fun!

@jmurphy7411: Taking part in Formidable Footprint ex w/COARES R1D1. Better to train 4 an exp event than HV fun in a contest

@VA3QV: be operating a 1B station (FT 817 qrp and an end fed wire with 12ah battery and solar panel) somewhere TBD from the Ottawa area

@twintiermedia: Spending it with KB3EIB, his 10 yr old son KD2EVP, his unlicensed son, and our dogs in the woods in Allegany County NY QRPing

@M0PZT: May be out /P on the Sunday to make a racket across the pond. Not sure about this QRP stuff though!

@KD8SRF suggested that we hold it in an Ann Arbor municipal park. The guys looked into that, and not only does the city want money to let us do that, they’re not keen on people staying overnight in the parks.

@KD8SRF then suggested: “If you wanted to go all in, might I suggest Belle isle. State police everywhere. They allow after dark special event. It’s cleaned up.” Belle Isle is the jewel of the Detroit park system. It really used to be fabulous, and the city of Detroit, which has been going through some “restructuring,” has now allowed the state of Michigan to take it over and operate it as a state park.

I actually like this idea a lot, but this is an idea for next year, I think. I would want to make it a SE Michigan event and invite hams from all over the region to participate, not just hams from any one club. Maybe I can even get KD8SRF to help organize this.

So, I’ll put it to you now. What are you doing for Field Day?

Operating notes: FAT, ragchews, newbies on 2m

FAT. I’ve added yet another station to my collection of QSOs with stations whose callsigns spell words. WA4FAT, who subscribes to my tip-of-the-week mailing list, volunteered to work me and did so on 40m this last week. Now, I’m waiting for the card.

Two nice ragchews. Last night, I had a couple of nice ragchews. The first was with Bill, WB4DB0. I’ve worked him several times, and it’s always been a nice conversation. Last night, I mentioned that I was going to a Civil War re-enactment on Monday, and as it turns out, he used to be a big Civil War buff.

Later on, I worked Steve, KF7YRL in Lame Deer, MT. On his QRZ.Com page, he says, “You may think you’re boring, but I don’t. I want to hear about your family, your career, your military service, your ham-life, your other hobbies, what it’s like where you live, or crazy stuff you’ve lived through. Give me something that helps me remember you.” Now that’s the attitude you should bring to a QSO. Talk about real stuff. Make it memorable.

During the course of our QSO, I mentioned that I’d written some study guides. This morning, I receive an e-mail from him. He says, “Great to meet you.  Got curious about your study guides, so I looked in my folder of ham stuff on my computer, and sure enough, the ones my bro had sent me a couple of years ago were yours.  High five on that effort.  Very nice guides.” It’s nice to make connections like that.

Newbies on 2m. Possibly the silliest situation we have in amateur radio is that nearly all newcomers buy 2m handhelds only to find that they can’t hit that many repeaters, there aren’t that many guys on 2m anymore, and the old farts that are on 2m won’t talk to them, anyway.

We should all try to do something about this. If you have a 2m radio in the shack, turn it on while you’re down there. If you here a guy give his call sign, return the call, even if you don’t recognize the callsign. You could be missing an interesting conversation, and you’re certainly missing a chance to improve amateur radio in your area.

Last night, I did just that. Shortly after turning on the rig, I heard “KD8YQZ listening.” I was putzing around with something and thought about not calling him back, but then decided that whatever it was I was doing, was certainly not important enough to not talk to this guy.

As it turned out, Tom had just passed the test at Dayton last Saturday, and his callsign appeared in the FCC database on Tuesday. How cool is that?

Shortly after we started talking Todd, KD8WPX, broke in and we started a round-robin QSO. These were two younger guys, and not only were they interested in amateur radio, but also in the local “maker” groups. I was able to point them in the right direction on both counts.

It was also an “Elmer” moment. I taught the about the courtesy tone and about round-robin QSOs. I hope that it was as positive an experience for both of those guys as it was for me.

What I want you to take away from this is that you should turn the radio on when you’re in your shack or out in the garage, and monitor the repeaters. Not only that, return the call when you hear someone come on. If you don’t, I don’t want to hear any complaints from you about how there’s no 2m activity anymore or how ham radio is getting to be just a bunch of old guys.