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!

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.

Video documents state of the ham radio art in the 1970s

This ARRL video from the 1970s, narrated by Roy Neal, K6DUE (sk), and featuring such 1970s notables as Dick Van Dyke, Barry Goldwater, K7UGA (sk), Arthur Godfrey, K4LIB (sk), King Hussein, JY1 (sk), and many others extol the virtues of amateur radio in this vintage film. It’s quite long—more than 25 minutes long—but quite an interesting period piece. Just look at the size of those HTs!

Ham Radio at the Detroit Maker Faire

This Saturday, I was part of the ham radio booth at the 2011 Detroit Maker Faire. What a blast. As I’ve preached before, Makers are our kind of people. That is to say they are people interested in actually doing stuff. And that includes both the exhibitors and the attendees.

KB6NU @ 2011 Detroit Maker Faire

Yours truly at the 2011 Detroit Maker Faire. Seated is Dave, N8SBE, enjoying lunch. Photo courtesy of Roger Rayle.

To be honest, I didn’t get to see much of the Faire myself. If you take a look at the website, though, and some of the pictures taken by Roger Rayle, you’ll get an idea of what was being exhibited, and how much fun it was.

As far as ham radio goes, we had quite an operation, thanks in no small part to  James, W8ISS, who was our organizer. It included two HF stations, my Morse Code display, and a satellite station. The real coup here was that James got museum personnel to erect two antennas for us up on the museum roof. One was an R8 vertical; \;the other a multi-band dipole.

We were so lucky with radio conditions. Conditions on both 40m and 20m were really good on Saturday afternoon, and we generated pileups on both CW and phone. It was a real blast to be on the other side of a pileup and get to work stations one right after the other.

As I mentioned, my contribution was a Morse Code setup. I had my touch keyer, a bug, my J-37 straight key with leg clamp, and my Kent paddle all on display. As I usually do, I tried to induce people to step up and send their names in Morse Code. With this crowd, it wasn’t too difficult to do.

What I would do is ask them the initial of their first name, and then show them how to send that using the touch keyer. Then, I’d encourage them to look up the other letters of their name on the chart I had on the table. If they were able to successfully do this in a more or less understandable fashion, I would extend my hand and say, “Nice to meet you, Lindsay (or Julius or Aidan or whatever their name happened to be).” That would usually get a surprised smile out of them.

Perhaps even more important than teaching people something about Morse Code or ham radio, the “send your name in Morse Code” display gave me a chance to make contact with people. I passed out a lot of cards at this event, and invited many to attend our next one-day Tech class.

One interesting contact I made was with a woman who was home-schooling her two children. While the boy and girl played with the keys, I had a discussion with her about why I thought ham radio was a good fit with home schooling. I noted that it not only taught kids something about science and technology, but also about geography and social skills.

She agreed and noted that she thought that many other home schoolers would be interested in getting their kids into ham radio. She gave me her e-mail address and said that she would be willing to plug me into the home schooling movement. Stay tuned for how that goes.

In nearly every way, the Detroit Maker Faire was a great event. We made lots of contacts, both on-the-air and in person, we taught a lot of people about ham radio, and had a lot of fun in the process. The only thing that could have been better was that it could have been about ten degrees cooler, but that’s something we could deal with.

GB4FUN Looks Like It Would Be a Lot of Fun!

While surfing around earlier, I happened across the Web page of GB4FUN. What a great project this is! According to the website:


GB4FUN is a mobile fully self-contained communications centre that is already visiting schools and events up and down the country. The project is primarily aimed at supporting those studying for GCSEs and inspiring them into science based careers.

And, as the website points out:

It should also be remembered that GB4FUN not only teaches communications science but also can be used to assist in language studies, increase geographical knowledge and develop social skills.

I really love this idea. Anyone have any ideas about how we might do  something like this here in the U.S.? Do you think we could convince telecom and electronics companies to pony up some funding?

Connect with ARRL and Amateur Radio via Social Media?

This from the latest ARRL Letter. Do any of you follow the ARRL on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter?  What do you get out of it?

ARRL participates on many of the popular social networking sites to share news, photos, events and videos. Check out these sites for communities of ARRL members who share your interests in Amateur Radio. We’ll share everything with you — and you can share with us, too!

Find Us on Facebook

  • www.facebook.com/ARRL.org — With almost 20,000 fans, the ARRL’s Facebook page is the largest Amateur Radio site in social media.
  • www.facebook.com/LogbookOfTheWorld — A nifty way to follow the latest LoTW news. LoTW is an exciting way for radio amateurs to confirm two-way contacts they have made and use the confirmations as credit toward various ARRL awards.

Follow Us on Twitter

  • arrl — Find all of the latest information in the Amateur Radio community with this Amateur Radio newsfeed.
  • ARRL_EMCOMM — Interested in Emergency Communications? Then be sure to follow all the latest EmComm and ARES® happenings.
  • ARRL_PR – Geared toward the ARRL Public Information Coordinators and Pubic Information Officers in the League’s Field Organization, this Twitter feed focuses on public relations and media issues involving Amateur Radio.
  • ARRL_DXCC — The Twitter home of the ARRL’s DXCC awards program.
  • ARRL_Youth — For the young and young-at-heart, this Twitter feed delves into how youth can have fun with Amateur Radio.

Watch Us on YouTube

  • www.youtube.com/ARRLHQ — Catch the latest videos from the ARRL – including monthly Product Reviews and event highlights — on the League’s YouTube channel.

Listen to Us on iTunes

  • www.arrl.org/arrlletter/audio/aan.rss — Listen and download the latest ARRL news, uploaded as a podcast to iTunes. Click here for instructions on how to subscribe to this weekly feature.

Yet Another Silly Post Calling Ham Radio an “Obsolete” Technology

Ars Technica has posted yet another silly article, “Dead media walking? ‘Obsolete’ communications systems live on,” declaring amateur radio to be an outdated technology. Fortunately, many hams, like myself, have commented on the article to set the record straight. One comment that I liked was from someone using the name cream wobbly:

I like the way you completely gloss over the rise of Internet-like technologies over the amateur radio bands, packet radio being at the inception of this; and any other developments that have arisen from amateur radio, such as SDR, the basis of the Joint Tactical Radio System. Others have commented on the disaster preparedness of radio amateurs, too. If this were /. you’d’ve been instructed to hand in your geek card, Mr. Lasar. Sheesh.

I’d encourage everyone who reads this to head on over there and add a comment of your own.

Ham Radio in the News

One of the ways I gather information for this blog is Google Alerts. It sends me an e-mail every day with references to stories or web pages that have ham radio content. This includes newspaper stories that have found their way into online editions of the newspaper.

I’ve been slightly surprised by the number of articles. Every day, there seems to be one or two. Here are two that showed up today, for example:

  • Ham radio hangs on. This story from the Christian Science Monitor captures some of the essence of ham radio, including the do-it-yourself nature of our hobby and the camaraderie of our hobby.
  • Young ‘ham’ finds words are golden in radio contest. This story describes the efforts of 16-year old Matthew E. Morrison of Landisburg, who won several thousand dollars worth of amateur radio equipment from a radio club as a prize for an essay he wrote. He’s already licensed, but the story fails to give his callsign.

These are just two examples, and there are many more. If you all are interested, I’ll post links from time to time.

From Our Director

Jim Weaver, K8JE, regularly sends out an e-mail to ARRL members in the Great Lakes Division (MI, OH, KY).  Here are a few nuggets from the latest one:

+++ Homebrew Challenge Issued +++
The art of homebrewing amateur equipment is not dead. To help keep it strong, ARRL sponsors homebrewing contests annually. The following information relates to the 2011 contest.

“The ARRL has sponsored two Homebrew Challenges in the past, designed to test our members’ design and construction skills by making useful amateur gear at low cost — and sharing their results with our members. Our first ARRL Homebrew Challenge, announced in QST for August 2006, required the construction of a 40 meter, 5 W voice and CW transceiver built for less than $50 of new parts. The Second Homebrew Challenge, announced in February 2009, resulted in a number of creative designs of low cost 50 W linear amplifiers to follow the transceiver — two for about $30, as well as a multiband amplifier with many features for somewhat more.

“For 2011, the ARRL has issued a challenge to build a transceiver in celebration of the (slow) return of sunspots. This challenge will be in two parts and hams can enter either or both options:

“Option 1: A single band 25 W SSB and CW transceiver for 10 or 6 meters, with a prize of $200. Option 2: A 25 W SSB and CW transceiver that can be switched between 10 and 6 meters, using one or two switches, with a prize of $300.

“Instead of challenging entrants to make the transceiver at the lowest cost, the ARRL will instead challenge builders to provide the highest quality, best performance and most features within the cost target of $150 for Option 1 and $200 for Option 2. In addition to the cash prize, the winners of these challenges will have articles describing their designs in QST and will receive the usual page rate for the published articles. Additional entrants who meet the minimum requirements — and have interesting design features — may also be considered for QST or ARRL Web articles.

“Entries for either option must be received at ARRL Headquarters no later than November 1, 2011. To be considered, each entrant must submit a working transceiver that is suitable for testing in the ARRL Lab and for on-the-air judging by the ARRL staff judges. Documentation required includes a priced parts list indicating the source and purchase price of each part, an article draft including a design description, construction hints, alignment instruction, block diagrams and schematic diagrams. Photographs may be provided, but final magazine photos will be taken by ARRL staff.

“For more information, including specific requirements and evaluation criteria, please visit the ARRL Homebrew Challenge web page.”

+++ Amateur Radio Comic Books Available +++
Writing in The Ham Radio Promoter, Dee Logan, W1HEO, reminds that several Amateur Radio comic books are available for use with youngsters. These are available online from ICOM. The comics may be read online, downloaded and printed, or copies may be requested from ICOM.

By the way, the Ham Radio Project newsletters are available online and contain some good information on promoting ham radio in general……Dan

+++ The Status of HR 607 +++
HR 607 is titled the Broadband for First Responders bill. Unfortunately, one of the bill’s clauses would take the amateur 420-440 MHz frequencies in achieving its otherwise excellent objective.

Upon being introduced into the House, the bill was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. To date, the subcommittee has taken no action. In addition, in a meeting with a group of amateur constituents the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Peter King of New York, has stated he no longer favors taking the amateur frequencies. Finally, alternative bills having the same objective as HR 607, but that do not involve amateur frequencies, have been introduced into the House as well as the US Senate.

Considering the above facts, one can easily speculate that the present threat to 420-440 MHz may be over. Using only the letter generating utility developed by Rick Haltermon, KD4PYR, amateurs are known to have generated over 13,000 letters in opposition to the potential frequency grab. What a great response to the call for action!

As tempting as it is to speculate on victory, it is more important that amateurs keep an eye on HR 607 and other bills that could impact our frequencies. This is precisely what is being done by legislation watchers at ARRL.

For now, it is appropriate to sheathe our pens, but to keep them primed and handy to use if the need arises.

+++ Division Convention Coming +++
September 11, the day of the Great Lakes Division Convention at the Findlay Hamfest will be on us soon. In particular, the time for submitting nominations for Division Awards is approaching rapidly. Nominations must be received by August 1. There are five Award open for nomination. These are:

  • the George S. Wilson III (W4OYI, SK) Lifetime Achievement Award
  • the Amateur of the Year Award
  • the Technical Achievement Award
  • the DX Achievement Award
  • the Young Radio Amateur of the Year Award

Also to be presented is the Joseph J. Phillips (K8QOE, SK) Newsletter Award. This award is selected from the newsletters that have been judged, previously, to be the best in each Section in the Division.

For additional information about the awards and how to nominate people for them, please go to the Great Lakes Division web site and click on the AWARDS icon at the left of the opening screen. Nominations may be made as hard copy or using the online form on the web site.

The Great Lakes Division Convention is being held on the grounds of the Findlay Hamfest. Admission to the hamfest provides admission to the convention. An interesting series of forums will begin at 9 AM. The convention will end with presentation of the awards at an informal luncheon near the hamfest grounds.

Last Saturday on the Radio at KB6NU

I had a busy ham radio Saturday here at KB6NU. It started early Saturday morning as I headed out to the Ann Arbor Mini-Maker Faire. It’s a small, locally-organized version of Make: magazine’s Maker Faires that take place in San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX.

This year’s exhibits included:

  • Learn to Solder
  • DIY Satellites
  • See neural electrical activity
  • Silkscreen what you’re wearing
  • Electric Allis-Chalmers Tractor
  • Marshall Stack Touchscreen Jukebox
  • Hands-on activities from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
  • Amateur Radio
  • Sustainable Technology
  • Pedal Power Pavilion
  • Return of the Giant Vortex Cannon
  • Electric Scooters
  • Robots
  • Paper folding and pop-up books

Basically, it’s a bunch of geeks showing off the geeky things they’re working on and demonstrating the geeky things that they like to do.

I organized the amateur radio exhibit, which, like last year, consisted of me getting people to send their names in Morse Code, and Dave, N8SBE, demonstrating the capabilities of his Elecraft K3. Dave’s K3 was really the hit of the show, with its panadapter and digital modes display.


KB6NU trying to get yet another person to send their name in Morse Code at the 2011 Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire. It was pretty hot in the shed we were in, and right about this time, I was ready for a nap.Photo: Roger Rayle

This being a geeky kind of event, I was quite successful at getting people to send their names in Morse Code. After showing them how to use the touch keyer that I’d brought, a lot of them really got into it. I even managed to amaze a few of them, when after they’d sent their name, I was able to say, “Well, nice to meet you Sally or Joe or whatever name it was they’d sent.”

All in all, there was quite a bit of interest in our display, amongst both kids and adults. We had one girl, for example, who I’m guessing was about 11 or 12, come by several times, looking at everything we had with intense interest. One time, she even dragged her parents along with her.

After all was said and done, I ended up passing out quite a few brochures and handing out quite a few business cards. As far as PR goes, it was a very successful event.

You can see more of Roger Rayle’s photos of the event here.

More Stations Whose Callsigns Spell Words
After the Faire, I went out to dinner with my wife and in-laws, but later that evening, I got back on the radio. I tuned around for the AL QSO Party, and only made about a dozen contacts, but two of them—W4HOD and W4CUE—are stations whose callsigns spell words. Both are club stations, too. My cards are in the mail, and I’m hoping to get their replies soon.