From the Mailbag

Here are some items of interest that have been discussed on the many ham radio mailing lists I’m on.

  • KISS-SSBKISS-SSB. The KISS-SSB is a counterpoise designed to be used with a marine SSB transceiver. It’s a nice compact design that claims to operate from 2-30 MHz, when used with an automatic antenna tuner. Basically, it’s a ten-ft. long tube stuffed with bunch of radials. At $145, this seems a bit expensive, but this device, or a homebrew version of it, might be just the ticket for someone operating stealthily.
  • Field Day PR. The June issue of Contact! is loaded with new ideas, links and materials you can use for Field Day.
  • SWR Video. This awesome video from the AT&T archives looks like it was produced in 1959, and explains wave behavior using a mechanical machine. As the presenter, Dr. J. N. Shive, points out, though, electrical waves behave just like mechanical waves. Shive is really having fun presenting this topic. So much so, that it makes me wish I’d had him for my physics professor back at the University of Detroit!
  • Elecraft K3. Wayne Burdick, N6KR, of Elecraft shows the new Elecraft KX3 at the QRP ARCI ‘Four Days In May’at Dayton this year.

I was also going to post a couple of links to YouTube videos showing the sewer line explosion at Hara Arena during the recent Dayton Hamvention, but there’s a little too much profanity in them. If you really want to see them, go to YouTube, search for “2011 Dayton Hamvention,” and you’ll find them. It’s really amazing, and yet another reason that the Dayton Amateur Radio Association should move the Hamvention from Hara. It’s just a terrible facility, and it’s undoubtedly dissuaded many from ever returning to the Hamvention.

Ham Radio Show to be Broadcast on twit.tv

TWITThis Week In Technology announces the launch of “HAM Nation,” a weekly HD video webcast about ham radio featuring interesting guests. Hosted by Bob Heil, K9EID, the show will cover many fascinating aspects of amateur radio each week.

The webcast will be broadcast on Tuesday evenings at 8:00 pm CDT (Central) starting May 24. The first episode will have special guests Joe Walsh, WB6ACU and Dave Jennings,  WJ6W.

Presumably, you can view the webcast by going to twit.tv. twit.tv is also available on Roku, if you have a Roku box.  I do, and will see if I can stream it there.  I think this could be a very cool thing for ham radio.

NPR: Ham Radio Volunteers Worry About Spectrum Plan

This evening, NPR aired a spot titled, “Ham Radio Volunteers Worry About Spectrum Plan,” on the HR607 controversy. There’s both the audio that was broadcast and a transcript.

The spot starts,

Across Alabama, emergency communications systems fell silent this week when tornadoes knocked down antennas and cell phone towers. Amateur radio operators are helping to restore emergency communication in some of the areas hardest hit by the storms. But those volunteers say their ability to provide that help is threatened by a new bill in Congress.

Click over to NPR and listen.

Want to Know What the Media Think About Ham Radio?

If you’re interested in how the media views ham radio these days, then go to the ARRL’s Media Hits page. On this page, Allen, W1AGP, the ARRL Media & Public Relations Manager, is collecting information about media coverage of amateur radio, and where appropriate, links to the coverage. There are many more media hits on this page than there is space for in the Media Hits column in QST.

Drumming Up Interest in Ham Radio

This morning, I got a e-mail from a ham who says:

At our meeting last week, we decided to investigate an attempt to do something similar to your one-day licensing class. Being a bunch of careful planners, we have come to the conclusion that, rather than jumping right in, we should try to drum up some local interest in amateur radio by educating the public. Beyond the idea of an article or two in the local newspaper, we have no further ideas.

I replied:

  1. Why wait? Even if you only get one or two people to sign up for the class, it will be worth the effort, and having only a few people in the class will help you work the bugs out.
  2. Give a talk on amateur radio to as many community groups as you can find including public library, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, middle schools, high schools, senior groups, government emergency management folks, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, university groups (engineering school?), Chamber of Commerce, etc.
  3. Set up a special event station at the local mall, library, state park, science museum, etc. Work that station all day. Pass out flyers. When you do this, set up a code oscillator and key and teach people how to send their names in Morse Code. Kids, especially, love this.
  4. If no one in your club is an ARRL Public Information Officer (http://www.arrl.org/public-information-officer), twist a few arms until someone “volunteers.” Being a registered PIO has several advantages, including being able to get ARRL brochures for just the cost of shipping.

Well, that’s all I could think of off the top of my head. Please help us out here and tell us what’s worked for your club.  Thanks!

The Perennial Debate: Is Ham Radio Dying?

If you’ve been around ham radio for even a year or two, you’ve no doubt heard or participated in the debate as to whether or not ham radio is dying.  The question is as perennial as the grass.

Recently, this was a topic of discussion on the ARRL PR mailing list. Allen, W1AGP, the ARRL’s Media & PR Manager, generated this chart to show that ham radio is NOT dying:

Ham Radio is Not DyingThis chart is fairy dramatic, until you not the values on the y axis.  Even so, the good news is that the number of licensees is quickly approaching 700,000, and should surpass that number shortly.

Upon seeing this chart, Jerry, N9TU, did a little statistical analysis of his own, producing this chart, which shows the distribution of licensees in his zip code.

From this data, he deduces, “If this is an average sampling of deceased members, expired members and club licenses there are roughly 90,000 fewer licensees than shown in the data nationwide. I have no clue of the error rate involved with my data. Your results may vary.” My guess is that his zip code is probably pretty typical, and that his analysis is essentially correct.

There’s also the question of activity. Previously, I’ve guessed that nearly half of all licensees are inactive, and that if we could figure out a way to activate those hams, then we’d really be able to say that our hobby is not dying. It’s something worth thinking about, but there’s certainly no easy answer to this problem.  As  Yogi Berra is purported to have said, “If people don’t want to come out to the ball park, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.”

Overall, though, I think the numbers are headed in the right direction. Let’s all keep up the good work.

2011: Year of the Elmer?

Here’s another thought-provoking article from Mike, W2JMZ. Think you can find someone to Elmer in 2011? Should we really strive to get to the one million mark, or is quality better than quantity?

Dan KB6NU

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2011: Year of the Elmer?

By Mike Zydiak, W2JMZ

If it hasn’t happened already, there will soon be more than 700,000 licensed radio amateurs in the U.S. While that may seem an impressive number, we really need to hit the one million mark to ensure the future of our hobby and to prevent commercial interests from stealing our frequencies. That number will give amateur radio the serious political juice required to impress our elected officials and the agencies which regulate and/or have some effect upon our ham radio activities.

So, how are we going to recruit 300,000 brand new hams? By making the effort to do so. I hereby declare that 2011 be designated the “Year of the Elmer.” Furthermore, I am going to declare that it is the responsibility of each and every able-bodied amateur radio operator to bring at least one new ham into the fold so that the new license statistics for the year 2012 are blown off of the chart.

Unfortunately, we can’t all be Elmers:

  • Silent Keys (SKs). Every month, QST lists between 150 and 250 deceased hams–also known as “Silent Keys”–and unfortunately, not all SKs are listed there. In all, I estimate that 5,000 licensees become SKs each year.
  • Other elderly hams. We also know that there are many elderly hams who are no longer active for one reason or another. I would guess that there may be up to 40,000 hams who are no longer physically able to get on the air or live somewhere where they cannot set up a station or put up an antenna.
  • Those who have lost interest. There are also many hams out there who once embraced the hobby, but who have since lost interest. Their names appear in the FCC database, but they are hams in name only. They will disappear as soon as their license expires. A conservative estimate of the number of hams in this category is 75,000.
  • Hams in name only. There are many hams who renew their licenses whenever they expire, but as a result of circumstance, are not really active at all. There may be up to 100,000 hams who are just too busy taking care of kids, serving in the military, going to school, or simply making ends meet to be active.
  • Newcomers. I would guess that there are perhaps 25,000 hams who need a little more seasoning, i.e. experience, before they can become effective Elmers.
  • Those we don’t want to be Elmers. Here, I’m referring to those nasty, mean, unsociable, and perhaps even criminally-inclined, hams who we don’t want to come anywhere near a newbie. I’ll guess that there are 35,000 in this category.

If you add up those numbers, you get 280,000, and if you subtract that from 700,000, we are left with perhaps 420,000 or so amateur radio operators who are currently active to some degree. Recognizing that not everyone of those 420,000 will want to Elmer someone or be able to Elmer someone, I’m going to be optimistic here and say that out of those 420,000 active hams, we can get 250,000 Elmers, and if each one of those 250,000 Elmers recruits just one new ham in 2011, we’ll be awfully close to the magic number of 1 million.

Now will everybody stop laughing so hard and think about this seriously for just a moment. I’m not kidding here… this is really doable.

It could be one of your friends that sees your shack for the very first time, and is totally mesmerized by the toys and what you can do with them. It could be one of your own kids, or one of their friends, both of whom really really need to be distracted from their Nintendos, the trashier parts of the Web, texting their buds day and night, or hanging out with who knows who at who knows where.

It could be any number of those inquisitive people who wander over at Field Day, or at some public place where you are set up, or who might simply stop by unannounced at your next ham club meeting. These are folks that are easy to entice into the hobby, if only someone remembers to get their name, address, phone number and email address, and then carefully follows up a few days later.

For me, it’s the people I work with that are searching for some serious wholesome activities to do with their children. This month, I am helping one of the men that works for me and his thirteen-year-old son get their Technician licenses. With any luck, I’ll have two new hams to my credit by the end of summer.

There are many opportunities out there. You just have to recognize them. For example, one of my very close friends is a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader. He occasionally wakes me up way too early on a Saturday morning to participate in some sort of hike in the area. I’ve promised my friend that this season I’m going to put together a few pounds of QRP in a knapsack, and with a lot of very impressionable onlookers, I’m going to make some four watt HF CW contacts out in the middle of nowhere. As I’ll have an eager bunch of strong healthy kids with lots of woodcraft under their belts, I won’t even have to do very much to get things set up, or to work very hard at all to string up the antenna in and over the trees.

Remember, all I’m asking is that each one of you gets just one spouse, friend, neighbor, or colleague interested in ham radio.

If any of you are graphically inclined, perhaps you could design a really slick “Elmer Patch” with a space for a pin that would indicate the number of new hams that the wearer has responsible for. I would be more than glad to arrange to get the patches and pins made, and then distributed at cost through the clubs. Sort of like an Elmer Honor Roll.

This really is doable. WATSA, OMs?

A2 Mini-Maker Faire Was a Blast…..But Tiring

Yesterday, was the second annual A2 Mini-Maker Faire. It was a blast, but man, was I beat afterwards.

One reason I was so tired, is that I stayed up kind of late Friday night working on my display. The thing I brought was an updated version of the code practice oscillator that I’ve been hauling around for the last couple of years.

Instead of the No-Solder Code Practice Oscillator that I had been using for this demo, I built a touch paddle and connected that to my WinKeyer. Since the sidetone on the WinKeyer is just a wimpy, little piezo transducer, I added an audio output to the keyer and plugged in the amplified speaker that I use with my KX-1. When I was finished with that, I had enough amplitude to compete with pretty much anything at the Faire.

I got there just a little after 8am to set up, but that was way too early. It didn’t open to the public until 10am, and way before 9am, I had my Morse Code demo set up, the literature out, and my QSL cards displayed. Dave, N8SBE, arrived about 10:45 am with his K3 and panadapter and set up a nice display on his half of the table. He ran a coax cable out to the screwdriver antenna on his car, which he parked just outside the door we were next to.

Racking Up Some Points
At one point, I just couldn’t help myself. Dave was tuning through the CW portion of the 20m band and ran across the Alabama QSO Party. This made a good demonstration of the panadapater as there were quite a few signals in a relatively small bandwidth.

I told Dave that he should work some of those stations. Instead, he invited me to sit down and work them, which I proceeded to do. I made about ten contacts before I quit. It was kind of amusing trying to explain to people about contesting, and about the Alabama QSO Party in particular, but hey, that’s what we do. :)

More Than Worthwhile
Overall, I was kind of surprised at the level of interest, to be honest. I wasn’t able to attend last year’s event, so the only point of comparison I have is the folks who come to the Hands-On Museum. At the museum, we occasionally get someone to show some interest, and even more occasionally, someone who’s really interested.

Yesterday, was a completely different experience. Just about everyone who came up to our table yesterday had a real interest, and it was a pleasure to tell them about ham radio, demonstrate the touch keyer and K3, and talk to them about our classes and station at the museum. I’m sure that as a result, we’ll have a couple more folks—including several kids—getting their licenses. I’d been kind of dubious about participating earlier in the day, but I’ve changed my mind completely on this. It was more than worthwhile.

By the time 4pm rolled around, I was pretty tired. So, even thought the Faire was supposed to be open until 5, I packed up and headed home. Dave stuck around, though, and even though the crowd had noticeably thinned, he told me this morning that our booth attracted a fair number of visitors during that last hour.

Ham Radio a “Critical Link”

In the May 2010 issue, Emergency Management has published an article on amateur radio. Titled “A Critical Link: Amateur radio operators fill communication gaps and provide situational awareness to emergency managers during and after disasters,” it’s very complimentary to amateur radio. The article is not on the website, per se, but rather it’s part of the digital edition of the magazine (page 58).

The article covers material that most hams already know, but it may be beneficial to pass it on to the emergency managers that you’re currently working with. This is especially true if they’re not completely sold on the advantages of amateur radio. It covers three or four situations where amateur radio was truly “a critical link.”

For example, the article describes how amateurs supported emergence efforts during the “Great Coastal Gale of 2007″ in Oregon:

In Oregon, about 1,800 RACES volunteers are authorized to work in state and county EOCs facilitating communication during disasters. For example, during the Great Coastal Gale of 2007 that knocked out communications to the state’s Columbia, Clatsop and Tillamook counties, ham radio operators used a radio frequency messag- ing system called Winlink to transmit the counties’ requests for assistance to the state’s Office of Emergency Management. “Monday morning the governor came in and we were briefing and later on called amateur radio operators ‘angels’ because that was the only source of communication we had to the coast,” said Marshall McKillip, the Emergency Management Office’s communications officer.

Following the storm, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski funded improvements to the state’s amateur radio infrastructure with a $250,000 grant for Winlink systems in each of the state’s 36 county-level EOCs. “We bought the appropriate equipment and then organized the delivery, the set up, the training and everything with amateur radio resources,” McKillip said. “It was quite a task for the amateurs to take on, but they did a great job.”

Friday at Dayton Was Forum Day

  • Friday at Dayton was “forum day.” By that I mean that I attended a slew of forums and could have attended several more. That left little time to actually scour the flea market or visit vendor booths.

    I started out in the TAPR forum, but only spent a couple of minutes there. I quickly switched over to the ARRL Public Relations forum. There I got to meet Diana Eng (see previous post). I also:

  • learned about the PR resources on the new ARRL website,
  • received a “Talk on a Disk” CD that includes materials to help you prepare a presentation on ham radio for non-technical groups, and
  • received free materials from Gordon West, including an instructor’s guide for both Tech and General classes, and CD-ROMS with a number audio clips on a variety of topics.
  • En route to the Teacher’s Forum, I passed by the Antenna Forum, which looked to be very popular. There were guys standing out in the hallway trying to hear the presentation.

    The Teacher’s Forum has been moderated by Carole Perry, WB2MGP, for as long as I can remember. She always has good speakers. This year, the lineup included Gordon West and Bob Heil.

    One idea that I picked up is to use a flashing light or LED to demonstrate the idea of duty cycle. By hooking it up to a variable duty cycle oscillator, you could vary the amount of on time versus the amount of off time, and this would make a very good visual demonstration.

    This year’s presenters mostly talked about teaching kids. This fall, I plan to teach a class for seniors. If it goes well, I’m thinking that I could talk about that class at next year’s teacher forum.

    In the afternoon, I attended the Software-Defined Radio Forum. This forum was also packed. We first heard about the new FlexRadio 1500, which is a $650 SDR. Its output is only 5W, but this looks like a real bargain.

    Next up was Lyle, KK7P, from Elecraft. He gave us the Elecraft perspective on what an SDR is and what it’s not. It was interesting, but not very technical.

    After Lyle, the TAPR VP (whose name and call I forget) talked about developments with the SDR projects at TAPR. My initial impression is that while all of these developments are well-done, it’s still much less expensive to simply buy a Flex 1500. I haven’t checked the specs, though, to see if they are comparable.

    Finally, there was a talk on MacHPSDR, a native Mac implementation of a receiver for OpenHPSDR hardware. I wish that I’d been able to stay, as I am a Mac person, but I had to leave. Despite the availability of this software, you really do need to have a PC to run a software-defined radio. I don’t expect this to change in the near future.

    Well, that was certainly enough for one day. On Saturday, there were some equally interesting forums, including forums on RTTY, SSTV, antenna-modeling software, and the AMSAT forum. Despite this, I decided to not attend a single one and walk the fleamarket and visit vendor booths. More about that in the next post.