Field Day 2013: A low-key, high-Q affair

This year, Field Day was a low-key affair. One of the reasons for this—and I hate to admit this—is that I just wasn’t motivated to put all that much effort into it. So, when Tim, KT8K, suggested a two-man operation, I thought I’d give it a try.

We swapped several e-mails, trying to figure out how exactly to approach this. For example, one question was where to do this, his house or mine? Since Tim’s house is higher up than mine, and he has a better crop of antennas, we decided to do it at his house.

The next question was whether or not we’d run QRP (class 1B) or a more conventional class 1E. To run 1E, Tim would have to get his generator up and running. To operate class 1B QRP, we’d have to find some batteries and figure out a way to charge them with alternative power. (This year, the rules were changed so that to the the 5x multiplier for QRP contacts, you have to use some kind of alternative power.)

Even as late as Friday, we weren’t sure what source of power we were going to use. One of Tim’s co-workers volunteered to see if he could get the generator running. I took the small solar panel that Tim had and tried to charge a gel-cell with it.

I had no success with the small solar panel. If I’d been more motivated, and had thought twice about this, I could have probably found a more suitable solar panel. Indeed, after describing my travails, someone did volunteer a solar panel for next year, should we want it. This year, it was not to be, though.

Fortunately, Tim had more success with the generator. His co-worker cleaned out the gummy generator, and Saturday morning, Tim re-assembled it. The thing ran like a charm, and we were class 1E.

fd-2013-at-kt8k-450x360One order of business for me Saturday morning was to get acquainted with Tim’s Orion. That’s me above getting set up and finding my way around the rig’s controls.

The Orion is waaaay more transceiver than I’m used to operating. For one thing, it has two receivers. It’s a little quirky, too. Tim noted, for example, that the RIT never did work. After Tim’s instructions, I hooked up my Begali Simplex and Winkeyer, and racked up a bunch of QSOs. I was good to go.

For the first five hours, we swapped in and out every hour to hour and a half. About 7pm, I headed home for dinner, and to get some sleep. I returned about 2am to take the night shift, while Tim hit the sack. When he got up around 7:30, he once again took the controls, while I sacked out on his couch for a couple of hours. After that, we switched in and out again.

Overall, we made about 870 QSOs. While that’s pretty good, it was a little bit unsatisfying. We thought that we’d do better. We never really found the sweet spot, though. That is to say, we rarely found a frequency that we could run for very long.

Overall, though, it was a lot of fun, and I learned something about operating a radio with two receivers and the value of having two antennas that you can switch between while operating. It is kind of amazing, but with one antenna, a band can seem dead, while with another, it’s much more lively. Switching between Tim’s inverted vee and his vertical dipole allowed us to choose the better antenna for the operating conditions.

Next year, if we do this again, we really need to do more planning. If we had done a few more things beforehand, instead of just operating, we could have improved both our number of QSOs and our overall score, I think. These include:

  • Make a more concerted effort to charge a set of batteries with solar power. Like I noted above, we’ve already identified a beefier solar panel that we could use.
  • Do a little antenna work to improve the antennas. While the antennas we had worked well, Tim also had a loop antenna that had recently incurred some damage. If we could have gotten that up a little higher, that could have proved a valuable asset.
  • Invite more operators. In addition to Tim and I, Joe, N8OY, stopped over to operate some. He operated for a couple of hours or so, and made about 100 contacts. We would have been fresher, if we’d invited some other guys to join us. Might have had even more fun, too!
  • Work on some of the other bonus point opportunities. We didn’t even copy the fricking ARRL bulletin, for example.

Field Day Report

Field Day 2012I was holding off on reporting on my Field Day activities this year because I thought I would do a comprehensive report on the entire Field Day. Well, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, so here’s a report on the operating activities.

Unlike last year, I  operated with ARROW, our club here in Ann Arbor, MI. I was the main operator of the 40m CW station. We had 866 total QSOs. I made 540, KD8LWR had 197, N8OY made 109, and N8SBE pounded out 19. Here are the top runs as reported by N1MM:

  • 2012-06-23 1806 – 1849Z,    7022 kHz, 51 Qs, 70.5/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-23 1903 – 2245Z,    7021 kHz, 214 Qs, 58.1/hr KD8LWR
  • 2012-06-23 2245 – 2311Z,    7021 kHz, 25 Qs, 59.4/hr KD8LWR
  • 2012-06-23 2313 – 0040Z,    7017 kHz, 87 Qs, 60.1/hr KD8LWR
  • 2012-06-24 0051 – 0124Z,    7013 kHz, 37 Qs, 66.5/hr KD8LWR
  • 2012-06-24 0633 – 0655Z,    7023 kHz, 17 Qs, 46.6/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-24 0705 – 0909Z,    7035 kHz, 102 Qs, 49.4/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-24 0923 – 0938Z,    7023 kHz, 12 Qs, 49.2/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-24 0946 – 1033Z,    7036 kHz, 35 Qs, 44.8/hr KB6NU
  • 2012-06-24 1103 – 1211Z,    7030 kHz, 53 Qs, 47.0/hr N8OY

These are the top runs that included more than 10 QSOs.  I don’t know if you can ask it to give you 10-min. or 1-hr. rates, but that would have been interesting to see.

Unfortunately, this station did not operate for about three hours from 11:30pm – 2:30am, when I got back to the FD site. Next year, we’re going to have to find more CW ops and schedule better. It might have been possible to hit 1,000 Qs if it had been operated all 24 hours.

A Downsized Field Day

It seems like everyone (except for maybe Google) is downsizing these days. With that in mind, I thought that I’d downsize my Field Day. Instead of participating in the large 5A ARROW Field Day operation, the guys that hang around WA2HOM, our club station at the Hands-On Museum, decided to set up a much smaller operation.

Our first idea was to set up outside the museum. That seemed like it was going to work out until Quentin, KD8IPF, informed me that he couldn’t attend, as his wife was going to be out of town, and he needed to take care of his kids. I was concerned that without Quentin that we wouldn’t have enough operators to have two people there at all times.

Then, Quentin volunteered his backyard. This turned out to be a great venue. He has a fairly large, with a couple of big trees. Not only that, he lives next door to his mother-in-law, and she’s volunteered her trees as antenna supports. You gotta love a mother-in-law like that!

One of the advantages of downsizing is that you don’t have to spend so much time setting up. Instead of setting up antennas for five HF stations, a GOTA station, and a VHF/UHF station, all we had to do was set up antennas for our two HF stations. And, since we planned on using Quentin’s already-installed, multi-band dipole, we only really had one antenna to worry about.

That being the case, we decided that we really didn’t need to start setting up until noon on Saturday. Jim, K8ELR, and I actually arrived about 11:30 am, and that proved to be more than enough time. Jim brought with him a 40m dipole and a 30m, end-fed half-wave antenna, while I brought my BuddiStick. We quickly decided to put up the 40m dipole, and by 1pm, we were already on the air.

A Tale of Two Antennas
Of course, it wasn’t really as simple as all that. When we started operating, the two stations interfered with one another something terrible. So much so that my KX-1 was even causing Quentin’s LDG autotuner to retune itself when I transmitted.

The problem was that the 40m dipole and the multi-band dipole were running nearly parallel to one another. I should have known that this would occur, having been involved with more than a few Field Days by now, but it never even crossed my mind.

Fortunately, the solution was relatively simple. All we had to do was to take down the multi-band dipole and hang it from two different trees, one of them in the adjoining yard. After we did this, the two antennas were nearly perpendicular to one another, and the interference just went away. The phone station could not hear my little peanut whistle signal at all, and while I could hear the phone station transmit, it really didn’t affect my ability to make contacts.

I really didn’t think that this was going to work, but Ovide, K8EV, was quite confident that it would. I was the one that ate crow.

Did You Really Use a KX-1?
So, I can hear a lot of you asking, “Did you really use a KX-1 for Field Day?” Yes, I did. Our original idea was to run all QRP. The thinking behind this is that if you run all QRP, then you get 5 points for each QSO.

The other reason for doing this is so that we could run off batteries. Quentin had access to two, 66 Ahr batteries, and we’d planned to use these two batteries as our power source. I figured that with the 12V gel cell that I have for my KX-1, that would be plenty of power.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Quentin and Ovide were just not having any luck making any contact at 5W—and consequently not having much fun—so they decided to increase power. That blew our QRP multiplier, but what the heck, it multiplied our fun factor.

Plenty of Power
As it turned out, just one battery provided plenty of power for the phone station, even at 100W. Granted the station was off the air from about midnight Saturday through 9 am Sunday morning, but there was apparently plenty of juice to power that station throughout the entire 24 hours.

Likewise, my little gel cell provided enough power for the KX-1 over the 12 hours that I had it on the air, and I’d guess that the charge would have been good for the entire 24 hours. I have yet to run down that battery so low that it failed to power the radio.

What Did We Learn?
We learned several things from this Field Day:

  1. A downsized Field Day can be as much or more fun than a full-blown operation. Without a big crowd vying for just a few positions, everyone got a chance to operate. Plus, setup and teardown times were a lot shorter.
  2. You still have to pay attention to your antennas. If we’d done a little more planning and thinking about our antennas, we would have avoided the interference we experienced and possibly even been able to run QRP on phone.
    How, you might ask? Well, if I’d thought about rigging up some kind of wire beam or a Moxon beam for the phone station, they may have been able to run QRP and still make contacts. This is certainly something to think about for next year.
  3. The batteries worked great. Not only did they provide enough power for a 100W rig for more than 12  hours, they were quiet. The noise of a gas-powered generator can really get on your nerves over the course of a Field Day.
  4. While I probably wouldn’t want to run the KX-1 in a big DX contest, it worked pretty well for Field Day. I made more than 160 QSOs with it in about 12 hours of contesting.

So, What About Next Year?
Since it’s never too early to plan for next year’s Field Day, we’re already kicking around a few ideas:

  1. Find a campground to have Field Day at next year. The upside is that the scenery might be nicer. The downside is that we might not have the nice antenna supports, errrr trees, that Quentin has in his backyard.
  2. Be more competitive. Joe, N8OY, came by late Saturday evening, and racked up a bunch of points for us on 20m CW. He suggested that we organize some of the local hot-shot CW operators around here and set up a real competitive operation. The upside is that scoring a lot of points is fun. The downside is that being competitive excludes the less-experienced operators.

One thing is for sure. Running a smaller Field Day event in no way diminishes it as the “quintessential” amateur radio event. We still enjoyed all the camaraderie as well as all the technical aspects of  Field Day. Now, I can’t wait until next year.

Field Day Story #2: CW Fun and Inspiration

This story is from Lloyd, K3ESE, via the qrp-l.org mailing list:

I haven’t been on the air much of late; busy sailing my little sloop, playing the viola I bought with the proceeds of most of my ham-pelf, parenting my three lively and lovely children, fishing, doing yardwork, doing work-work…you get the picture.

But this past FD, I found myself once again driving to where the local club had set up, to offer my services as a CW op, which are generally well-received. This time was no different; they set me up with a Kenwood 570 @ 20 times the reasonable amount of power any sane person would want, and I set to work. Had a lot of fun for a few hours.

There I met the new club president, a ham who’s been licensed for only six-eight years or so, who got his General ticket as a no-coder.

BUT!

He LOVES CW. He was working a straight key at about 18 wpm when I got there, said paddles were too much of a challenge, but that he learned code to get on HF when he was still a Tech. There was an old chrome Bencher paddle there, which I adjusted as well as I could – and then I sent some test code to try it out, a CQ at about 25 wpm. He was very quiet, and I said, “See? you need to do this – what would you have to do with your entire arm to get these results, and how about the fact that I’m just moving one finger and one thumb, ever so slightly?”

He got it! He’ll be going there – and so will his wife, a newly-licensed Tech, and I offered to provide whatever elmering I can. It was heartwarming to this old CW hand to be around these folks who didn’t care that CW was “dead,” and who so obviously “get it!”

73/88 & cheers!

LL/K3ESE

FD PR

One of the purposes of Field Day is to get some PR for ham radio. As usual, Public Information Officers (PIOs) all across the country worked hard at getting us some attention from media and government. Here are some links:

Governors Show Support for Amateur Radio as ARRL Field Day Approaches
Governors across the United States have shown their support for Amateur Radio, with many proclaiming Amateur Radio Week in their states. Coinciding with ARRL Field Day, these proclamations show citizens that these states value the contributions made by radio amateurs.

A radio dish at Stanford is powerful enough to bounce signals off the moon, a tricky endeavor.
A radio dish at Stanford is powerful enough to bounce signals off the moon, a tricky endeavor.

A Ham Radio Weekend for Talking to the Moon
In a worldwide event, amateur radio operators will talk to each other by bouncing their messages off the craggy face of the moon.

Amateur radio operators sharpen emergency skills
For 24 straight hours on Saturday and Sunday, local ham radio operators are putting their skills on display by communicating with others across the nation under basic emergency type conditions.

Ham operators hone their skills in nationwide radio event
The veteran CBS audio engineer was hunched over a ham radio for hours yesterday, beating out regular rhythms on a Morse code transmitter, trying to help his team win a contest that was more about practice than taking home a trophy.

PRC Radio Club hosts Field Day
HENLEYFIELD — The Pearl River County Amateur Radio Club hosted their annual field day event over the weekend demonstrating their abilities …

Ham radio operators communicate with world
Belen At 17 years old, Phil Shaw of Tierra Grande already has a sprawling network of contacts around the world. Shaw isn’t your typical teenager who is always on his cell phone texting his friends, or on the Internet using Facebook or MySpace to contact his “network.” He’s one of many amateur radio operators, also known as hams, who participated in this year’s National Field Day for Amateur Radio on Saturday.

Ham radio comes to Riverfront Park for a day
For 24 hours at Riverfront Park in River Grove, the gazebo, which normally hosts concerts, resembled an electronics sale. People sat at wood picnic benches speaking into microphones, adjusting dials and writing down codes.

There are many, many more. Go to Google News and search for ‘Field Day.’ You’ll find lots of good PR for ham radio. Thanks to all the PIOs out there that worked so hard to get us in the news.

K0GQ–Raytown Amateur Radio Club–on Fox4 Kansas City
A compilation of various short TV spots on Fox4 News, Kansas City.

Field Day 2009: Stuart Makes His First Contact

One of the great things about Field Day are the stories. Every year, I add a story or two to my repertoire. This year is no exception.

Story #1 starts about 1:30 pm on Saturday. I was at my post at the public information table/GOTA station. We had been ready to rock and roll for at least a half hour, so a group of us were just sitting around chewing the fat when Stuart and his mother strolled up to the table.

Her son was a little on the shy side, so his mother explained that Stuart had seen a listing of our Field Day site on the Internet and had asked her to bring him out to see us. She mentioned that Stuart had been listening to ham radio operators on his little Yaesu handheld scanner for several years and was very excited to actually meet some ham radio operators and see ham radio in action.

Not only that, she said that he had taught himself Morse Code. A kid after my own heart! I quickly volunteered to give them a tour of our Field Day site. First, I showed him our VHF/UHF station, and he seemed really impressed with the five single-band radios.

Next, I took him into the 40m phone station. I asked how fast he could copy Morse Code, and he said 30 words per minute. I cranked the receiver down into the CW portion of the band, and sure enough, he could copy anything that I tuned in.

At this point, it was still only 1:45 pm, so I told him, “Let’s go over to one of the CW stations, and we’ll see if we can make a contact.” We marched over to the CW #2 station, and after getting clearance from the station captain, I tuned around for a clear frequency, then called CQ. Immediately, N5VV, replied.

At this point, Stuart was so excited, he was shaking a little bit. Since the contest was just about ready to start, I kept the contact short, but that didn’t matter. Stuart had finally gotten to see ham radio in action.

Stuart’s mother then inquired about taking the test. I explained that our Volunteer Examiners give the test every second Saturday of the month and gave her the URL of our website. She said that Stuart had been studying and was ready to take the test.

Unfortunately, they had to leave at that point. I told Stuart’s mother that we’d be there through 2pm Sunday and to come back any time. She said that they’d definitely be back the next day.

Stuart Makes His First Contact
Stuart and his mother returned about 1:30 pm on Sunday. He wanted to see the VHF/UHF station again, so that was our first stop. He took a couple of photos of the setup, and then I suggested we go over to the GOTA station. When we first got there, someone was at the mike, but shortly afterwards, they got up, and Stuart and I took the controls.

When we first sat down, I made a few contacts using my call to show him how to use the paddle. I noted that holding the levers down produces a series of dits or dahs, and that by tapping the other lever while holding down the first, you can produce a dit between dahs or a dah between dits.

Then, I asked him if he’d like to try it. He said yes, so just to see how it would go, I tuned up to above 7100 kHz. There was no activity up there, so I set the keyer speed to 15 wpm and told him to send my callsign a few times. He reached over with his left hand and sent it perfectly. Now, remember, this is someone who’d never touched a paddle of any kind before. Not only that, he even sent the K (dah-di-dah) iambically! That is to say that he held the dah paddle while tapping the dit paddle to slip in a dit between the two dahs.

Then, I asked if he’d like to make some contacts. He said yes, so I said, “Let’s switch seats.” We switched seats, and I said, “OK, tune around a little and find a strong station calling CQ.” We found K2ZR, and I coached him a little on how to reply. “Now, remember,” I said, “we’re going to use the W8PGW callsign.” When I gave him the nod to send, he reached over with his RIGHT hand and sent W8PGW perfectly! When K2ZR replied with our call and the exchange, I coached him to reply with “4A MI.” Not only did he do that, but he slipped in a “R” to denote that we’d copied the exchange. When K2ZR replied with a “TU,” I showed him how to log the contact.

That’s all the coaching I needed to do. After the first contact, I said, “OK. Now, tune around for another station calling CQ, and we’ll make another contact.” He was off to the races. As soon as he made a contact, he jumped up to type it into the log. His arms weren’t long enough to reach the computer from where he was seated.

When we started, the keyer speed was set to 15 wpm. After a couple of contacts, I asked if he might want to send faster. When he said OK, I bumped it up to 18 wpm. After a few QSOs with only a couple of mistakes, he asked if we could go faster, so I set it at 20 wpm. Again, only a couple of mistakes, so we bumped it up to 22 wpm. There, he started making more mistakes, but let me repeat, he never touched any kind of key before in his life. I have no doubt that with a little practice, he could easily do 30 wpm.

Overall, he made 12 contacts in the 21 minutes he operated the station. Not a bad rate for someone who’d never sent a character of Morse Code in his life, don’t you think?

As it turns out, Stuart can’t take the test in July, but his mother said that they would definitely do it in August. He has even picked out a vanity callsign. The kid is going to make a great ham radio operator. I can’t wait to get him in the operator’s seat next Field Day.

Field Day!

Field Day is just two weeks away. Part emergency-preparedness exercise, part contest, part PR opportunity, part club party, this is one of ham radio’s greatest events.

Wednesday evening, my club, ARROW, made its final plans for the event. We’re going to run 4A again this year, with two phone stations, two CW stations, one VHF/UHF station, and a GOTA station. I’m the captain of the GOTA station, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll be operating one or both of CW stations at some point.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Meeting

On the way to the meeting, I passed a car with the license plate “KTZ 73″. The funny thing about this is that my first callsign was WN/WB8KTZ.

After the planning session, Tim, KT8K, our Field Day Chair for many years, walked us through a slide show presented at Daytonby a couple of the top Field Day clubs. One of the presentations was by the Rochester DX Association. They were #1 in classification 3A and #4 overall in 2008, scoring 17,978 points.

Part of the secret to their success is that they review everything, including station allocation (bands and modes worked), station setup, and antenna layout. They also noted that an active GOTA station was key to their success. They maxed out the bonus points earned by their GOTA station in 2008. Page through the PDF if you want to get a feel for how a real top-notch club does it.

Suggestions Abound
As you might expect, the mailing lists have been abuzz with talk about Field Day. Subscribers to the PR mailing list have been especially forthcoming with suggestions. Here are a couple:

  • Jim, KB9LEI, suggests printing out some “first QSO certificates” and awarding them to anyone making their first contact.
  • Susan, AF4FO, says, “One thing I believe to be very helpful, particularly for the larger, more well-attended field day operations, is to have a supply of stick-on name tags at the welcome table. Club members should wear their usual name badges or club shirts with name and call sign, if possible, but if not, they get one of those stick-ons (whether they like it or not)!

    To differentiate members from visitors, tags for non-members can be of a different color. This paves the way for club members to easily identify visitors ( and former or inactive club members) so they can make an extra effort to make all visitors feel welcome…. i.e. be public relations ambassadors for amateur radio, in general, and for the hosting club, in particular.

    Also, the sign-in sheet have space for folks to write in their mailing addresses. Following field day, the hosting club can follow-up by sending a thank you card to each of the visitors… and invite them to come to the club meetings, join club nets, participate in club activities, etc. If the visitor is a non-ham, information can be sent to them about possible upcoming classes, as well. This “personal touch” goes a long way toward promoting good will and increasing club membership.

  • Angel, WP3GW, suggested having a video playing on a spare laptop for visitors to watch. He created one by combining a .jpg with an audio public service announcement available from the ARRL website.
  • Walt, W4ALT, suggests.” Google ‘famous hams’ to find a number of sites displaying names and calls of Kings, actors, heroes, inventors, astronauts, famous, infamous, politicians, musicians…. a list of real names from all walks of life. Makes a nice display especially if you add some eye candy photos of a few of the notables.

What I Learned Twittering Yesterday

If you’re an Internet geek, like me, you know that Twittter is all the rage lately. It’s sort of a combination of broadcast e-mail and BBS with an immediate RSS feed.

On Twitter, you follow people and have followers. When people you follow enter a post, which is limited to 140 characters, you immediately get that post. When you enter a post—sometimes called a “tweet”—your followers get the post. Sounds crazy, but it’s kind of cool and fun, too.

The trick is following people you have something interesting to say. The flip side, of course, is to contribute interesting stuff yourself. As kb6nu, I have 175 follwers and am following 101 people.

At an rate, yesterday, I got two tweets that I found interesting:

  • HamCon podcast. Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK, podcasts about his experiences at HamCon in CO.
  • Field Day Tips. Field Day is not supposed to be solely a contest—and it’s not, really—but it does have a big contest component and many hams who aren’t contesters participate. Here are some tips for those people.

    Tip #10, “Go for as many bonus points as you possibly can,” for example, is great advice. If you think about it, a 100-point bonus, such as copying the W1AW bulletin, counts for as much as 100 phone contacts.

These are two examples of links to websites, but Twitter can also bring you information on band conditions and ham radio events. If you’re already a Twitter user, you can follow me by going to www.twitter.com/kb6nu.