Well, the hamfest season is well upon us here in Florida
again. Coming up in February is the Orlando Hamcation on the 9th and 10th of next month. This hamfest
is one of the biggest in the US and while
not quite the size of the Dayton Hamvention it is still a pretty big “shew” as Ed Sullivan used to say.
An event like this is a great hamfest to attend,
at least for one of the two days. There is so much to see and do, it might take both days to do it right. Between the vendors
of new equipment, antennas, parts and other stuff inside the fairground buildings and the parking lots full of tailgaters
with all sorts of new and used gear, if you can’t find something to buy, you just aren’t looking hard enough.
Hamfests are a source, sometimes the only source,
of parts, connectors, tubes, wire, coax, in short all the stuff that ham operators need to have on hand back in their radio
rooms all the rest of the year. That oddball connector for your ancient but still operating radio, it’s here. That spare
battery pack that the manufacturer of your HT quit supplying four years ago, it’s here too. There are antennas of every
stripe from manufacturers large and small, not to mention towers, masts, guy wire, antenna rotators, ground rods, guy anchors,
just about anything you could look for, it’s here.
Another important aspect of big hamfests is that
they have forums, boy do they have forums. Pick a subject, any subject, there is likely to be a forum on at some time during
the hamfest on that very topic. You can learn about APRS, D-Star, satellite operations, weather spotting, disaster recovery
operations, Military Amateur Radio Service operations (MARS), Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Morse Code, RTTY, PSK-31,
SSTV, etc, etc, etc. Experts speak on these topics and many more. At a big hamfest like Orlando
and Dayton, guest speakers and/or gurus of ham radio will show up from places like ARRL HQ
in Connecticut, hotbeds of Direction Finding like California
and many other places. People whose work you have only read about in QST or CQ will be there in person and you can ask your
questions face to face.
Probably though, the most important aspect of
any hamfest is the chance to socialize with hams that you talk to on the radio all year long. As hams we form friendships
with other hams and yet we may never have actually met them in person. At a hamfest you put faces to names and call signs
you are very familiar with throughout the year. That fact alone, that you can actually find out what Joe, AA7CRX (I made that
name and call up) looks like. Sometimes it can be a real surprise. The guy with the “made for TV” voice turns
out to be nothing like you imagined him. So next time you see an ad for a hamfest, go!
I guarantee you will have a great time.
January 23, 2008
Since the FCC removed the requirement to take
an exam on CW or Morse Code effective last February 23rd, many hams have upgraded to a General or even an Extra
class license. Recently one of them, Steve Handler, N9ABC, wrote a feature for the ARRL web site about his experiences. I
have paraphrased his comments here for editorial brevity, but what Steve has to say is worth hearing by all amateur operators
of any license class.
Lesson 1: Courtesy
and patience are the golden rules.
Lesson 2: You do need
an “Elmer”; an experienced ham who can guide you through the questions and problems that any new operator has.
Find your “Elmer” at your local ham radio club.
Lesson 3: Propagation
can vary not only from day to day but even from hour to hour. See part two of lesson # 1.
Lesson 4: Where DX
is concerned, timing is everything. Operate like an ant dancing with elephants. Find the gap in the pattern of the pileup
and time your call to hit the gap.
Lesson 5: Every region
of the world has a specific time of day when they are heard better in the USA
than at other times
Lesson 6: Pick a band
and stick to it at first. Learn the ins and outs of say 20 meters. If you want DX stay away from the parts of the band that
have a lot of nets.
Lesson 7: Try a contest.
They are great places for DX
Lesson 8: Listen,
listen, listen. Make sure you know the other stations call sign before you call them. Avoid embarrassment. Again see Lesson
Lesson 9: Make sure
you are not the cause of your interference problem. RFI can be cured with careful use of good practices.
Lesson 10: CQ Whirlpool.
If using an indoor antenna avoid causing interference to the household appliances like TVs and washing machines. Have due
regard for others in the household when you operate.
Thanks Steve, for
these excellent lessons about ham radio. They are applicable to all areas of amateur radio.
January 30, 2008
This week, I thought it might be a good idea
to run through a few of the questions amateur radio operators get asked by non-hams. So consider this the ham version of the
Frequently Asked Questions files one sees on the internet all the time.
Don’t I have to learn the Morse Code?
Actually, the Federal Communications Commission ceased testing for Morse Code proficiency on February 23rd
2007. While Morse Code is still used on certain bands by many operators, learning to send and receive the code is now purely
Isn’t ham radio an expensive hobby?
Well, that depends on how fancy or complicated you want your radio gear to be. A basic VHF handheld radio or HT can
be purchased brand new for less than $150. Antennas can run the gamut from pennies to many hundreds of dollars. Shortwave
radios, what the ham operator calls HF range from a couple of hundred dollars to the price of a good used car. These prices
are no different than what some people spend on golf clubs or video game systems or home entertainment systems. By comparison,
amateur radio is no more expensive than many other hobbies. Then again, when you really have to get that vital message through
in a disaster, ham radio works a whole lot better than a golf club. You decide.
Why do I need a license?
One of the purposes of the Amateur Radio Service, and it is a “Service” when it was first set up almost
100 years ago, was to provide the nation with a trained group of radio operators, a resource that could be put to use
in time of emergency. Notice the emphasis on the word “trained”. In order to demonstrate that you are properly
educated in the proper procedures and rules of radio communication, you take a test administered by a volunteer examiner.
Passing the test demonstrates to the FCC that you are prepared for the responsibility and the FCC will then issue your license.
Make no mistake about it, the license is a privilege and if you abuse the privilege, the FCC will terminate your license and
may even fine you. The fines can range as high as several thousand dollars. The FCC can also fine non-licensed operators for
using frequencies set aside for the Amateur Radio Service.
What can I do with Amateur Radio?
That is up to you. There are so many different aspects to ham radio, it would take hours to cover them all, so lets
just hit the high points. Emergency Services during and after disaster, Slow scan TV, fast scan TV, digital communication,
talking around the world to other hams in other countries, talking to astronauts on the shuttle and the International Space
Station, building accessories or even whole radios yourself, assisting the scientists investigating outer space, talking to
other hams via the internet combined with your radio, providing communications at public events such as bike races, parades
and the like. The choices are almost endless, and each amateur operator is free to concentrate on the choices that give him
or her the most enjoyment.
How do I start?
Just check out the American Radio Relay League web site at: www.arrl.org . There are navigation buttons on the home page for clubs in your area, for exam sessions,
for how to study for the tests, etc, etc. In short, everything you need to know to get going toward your own amateur radio
license is available at that web site.
Good luck and 73,
Februar 6, 2008
Many of the people who move to Florida every winter,
we call them “Snowbirds”, choose to reside in RVs while they are down South. Many more use this type of vehicle
all year round, if not as a permanent residence, at least on weekend getaways and vacations. With a little planning, amateur
radio can easily come along. There are even organizations devoted to “Ham Radio and the RV lifestyle”. These groups
sponsor regular HF nets to keep their members in contact with one another along their travels. See the web site: www.rvweb.net/club/fmcarc/index.html for just one example. Another is: www.rvweb.net/club/gsrvnet/index.html . These fine organizations, some devoted to those who own motor homes and some for motor home and/or trailer owners provide
great information to the roving amateur radio enthusiast.
Installing a ham radio station in an RV is a little different than setting one up in a fixed home. The installation
has aspects from mobile operations and others from the more stationary side of things. Your station can vary from a single
transceiver mounted in or on the dash to a fairly major system built in with computers and digital gear. The choice is up
to you. Even if you only plan to operate while parked, you will have to secure all of your radio gear safely, screwing or
bolting it to the RV structure so that it will not become a dangerous missile in an accident. Running the coaxial cable from
the rig(s) to the antenna(s) also means securing the coax so that it will not interfere with or become damaged by heat or
abrasion from the RV.
Now we can get to the antennas. While RVs have a height advantage over the ordinary car or pickup truck, that very
height can create a problem. Some RVs can be 12 feet tall. With the normal bridge or overpass height at 131/2 to 141/2 feet,
there isn’t much room for an antenna on top. The VHF and UHF antennas can easily be mounted on the mirrors at the side
of the RV, but HF antennas present a thornier problem. More about that in a minute, for now let me note that most VHF and
UHF antennas designed for use on cars require a metallic ground plane to operate properly. That may not be easy to find when
many RVs are made with a great deal of fiberglass or other composite material. The problem can often be solved by using an
antenna called a ½ wave antenna for the particular band of interest since it does not require said ground plane. You can also
provide a decent ground plane through the use of metal coated tape in a radial pattern around the base of the antenna.
Going back to the subject of HF antennas, there are almost as many solutions as there are hams with RVs. Some choose
a temporary wire antenna that they erect using convenient trees after settling into the RV Park for the night. Others make
use of mast mounted antennas that they unpack and erect after stopping. Some brave souls have created powered or manual tilting
mechanisms that they mount on top of the RV permanently so that when they stop, a simple push of a button or a quick trip
to the rear bumper of the RV is all it takes to get the antenna vertical and on the air. This type of antenna is stowed on
a kind of cradle on top of the RV while in motion. With the advent of the “screwdriver” type of antenna, many
RVers are mounting them to the usual ladder at the back of most motor homes and some trailers. Sometimes they fabricate elevating
mechanisms that allow for more height when stopped than when moving. One ham I heard of even figured out a way to use the
ladder on the back of his RV as the antenna, loading it through an automatic antenna coupler.
Any way you look at it, ham radio and the RV lifestyle can and do complement each other very well. With the advent
of email and limited internet connection through
amateur radio, RV owners no longer have to be out of touch with ham friends and family while on the road. The ability to call
for assistance while well out of range of cellular service, particularly in the western parts of the USA, can add a needed measure of safety and confidence to traveling in this manner.
The ability to continue to enjoy amateur radio while traveling can bring much joy to the ham operator who also likes to travel.
February 13, 2008
Well, I just came back from Orlando having attended the Hamcation this past weekend. I saw some great new radios and
other gadgets almost everywhere at the show. The Orlando Hamcation is billed as a combination Hamfest and Computer Show, but
I saw only a few vendors who were selling computer hardware and software exclusively.
There were several great ideas at the show. Icom had their IC-7000 hooked up to one of those video/DVD displays. The
stock IC-7000 display, it turns out, is a miniature video display, and there is a jack on the back of the 7000 that allows
you to feed the display to any larger video monitor. Great for those who want or need a larger display.
Elecraft, makers of the widely appreciated K1 and K2 transceiver kits are out with the new K3. This time they will
even put it all together for you. This is a very nice HF transceiver in the same size class as many of the offerings from
Kenwood or Yaesu. It is also American Made.
Software defined radios were in evidence from several vendors and the digital radio system called D-Star from Icom
has apparently had a price drop on some of their models although I could not find out if this was a "Hamfest Only" deal or
a permanent change.
The tailgating area at the hamfest seemed sparse by comparison with previous events at Orlando, but it was spread out
over an even wider area than before. As I get older, I wish even more that hamfests would do more to tighten up the tailgate
areas so that an older ham like myself can walk less and still see everything. It seemed as though more space was allotted
to RVs that used to be for a second or even third row of tailgaters closer to the buildings.
I saw some old friends from up north at the Hamcation and met new ones as well. That really is what hamfests are all
about. The new gear is nice, and the chance to find that one piece of old gear that you need is fun too, but the real reason
we go to hamfests is to put faces to names and calls of fellow hams we talk to all year long.
I didn't buy any new radios at this years Hamcation, but I restocked my parts bins and added an antenna or two. I saw
others walking around with big bags full to the brim with new transceivers; however, so a big hamfest is a great place to
"try and buy" that new radio you have had your eye on. It is also the best place to restock the parts box for that next project
in "homebrewing". Just make sure you are getting the "good stuff" and not some cheap third world knockoff. There is a difference
in quality, and it is worth it.
Well, next Saturday I am off to the Sebring Hamfest. It is a lot smaller than Orlando, but just as much fun in a different
way. It is at the intersection of Route 27 and George Blvd. just South of Sebring at the Agri-Civic Center. See you there!
February 20, 2008
One of the disquieting things that I see happening all too often in amateur radio is the propensity for newly licensed
amateurs to “drop out” before they have even begun. They go to the trouble of studying and taking the examination
for a license, pass with flying colors and then never get on the air. Why is this happening? Last year, I participated as
an instructor in a course to prepare students (all of whom were adults) to take the Technician License exam. All of them passed
the test given at the conclusion of the course, and all of them were issued licenses by the FCC. All of them were given free
membership in the local amateur radio club. Several of them even purchased handheld or mobile radios. All were offered assistance
with the installation and programming of their rigs. As of the writing of this column, only ONE is heard on the air with any
frequency at all and only ONE other of these licensees has even contacted anyone for any help.
Based on that one contact, it would appear that some of them have a very skewed idea of what they would be able to
do with amateur radio. In spite of the information that was presented to them during the course, the apparent desire of these
parties was to use unlicensed radio services in a cross-band repeater mode with amateur radio equipment. When it was explained
that this was not only technically not possible, but also illegal under current FCC regulations, they apparently lost all
interest in amateur radio. They appeared to be interested in using amateur radio in support of volunteer emergency response
teams but obviously were not listening when we explained how amateur radio is
used in that situation.
Now that is just one example of “dropping out”. Far more often, I suspect that the individuals who study,
test, get licensed, but never get on the air are simply overwhelmed by the vast number of possible routes into and through
amateur radio. There are so many different modes to use, so many different rigs to consider, even for the entry level licensee,
that some simply get kind of a blackout and instead of opting for a few possibilities or even one, simply put the license
in a drawer and choose none.
So, what do we do about this unfortunate situation? There are several routes to follow. All of them require action
by current members of the hobby, licensed amateur operators. We must encourage anyone who expresses interest in amateur radio
to first get a good idea of what amateur radio is. Invite the interested party to your radio room, particularly if you are
going to be checking into an interesting net or participating in a special event station. Let them see what accessories or
gadgets you personnaly have built over the last few months. Get them involved in the operations as a “third party”.
Put a microphone in their hand and guide them through a short QSO with you as the control operator. Show them some of the
fun you have doing PSK-31 or SSTV if those modes are within your interests.
Then, assist them in getting into a class and/or a VE session and mentor them to get a license. We are not done yet.
After they get their “ticket”, we must continue to mentor them as they pick a rig, get it set up, and get on the
air. Help them get over that initial “mic fright” and become a seasoned operator. Doing all this has a much more
beneficial effect than just getting another operator on the air. By “Passing it Forward” they will one day do
the same for another interested person, just like you did for them. By being a mentor you guarantee that the amateur radio
hobby will remain strong and vital, and you ensure that newcomers to the hobby will feel welcome. Someone did it for you,
now it is time you did it too.
February 27, 2008
This week, let’s talk about a subject that is of a fair bit of importance to the new ham, or the ham on a budget,
for that matter. Do you buy new radios or used radios? What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of each? What is the difference
in cost? What do I risk by buying used gear? The questions just keep coming from both newly minted Technicians and from hams
upgrading to General.
The answers to these questions are not easy to articulate. For one thing, the answers may depend on the questioner’s
experience level. They also depend, heavily, on the intended use for the equipment. Another factor can best be stated as how
old is old? In the next few paragraphs, I am going to try to impart, not an answer, but a methodology of how to determine
the answers for your particular situation.
First, and foremost, the question you must ask yourself is “How much can I afford to spend on the hobby?”
I know of some hams who, for one reason or another, purchased expensive fancy rigs and later had to sell them at a loss because
they needed money for the rent or car payments or other household needs that were far more important than ham radio. They
lost money they could ill afford to lose because they did not answer that first question properly. Spend only what you can
easily afford. If necessary, save up a few dollars a week until you can afford the rig you want to buy. Amateur Radio, for
all its importance to the emergency response during a disaster, is still a hobby. Your spending should reflect that.
The second question you must ask yourself is “what do I want to do within the greater hobby of Amateur Radio?”
Do you want to talk to others around the world, or do you want to help with disaster recovery after a major weather incident?
Do you like to build things, or do you just want to go to a store and buy what you need? Are you interested in esoteric modes
of radio communication? All of these questions, only you can answer, and your answers will determine which transceiver is
right for you. They will also tell you, to a degree, how deeply you will be involved with Amateur Radio.
The third question to be answered, is how much space do you have available to devote to the hobby? There are amateurs
who have an entire building devoted to ham radio and others who have only a hand-held radio sitting in a charger on the computer
desk. Most fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Will your “station” be visible to the casual visitor
or is it in a back bedroom or den, or even out in the garage?
All of these questions, when answered honestly and completely, will point you towards which rig(s) to buy and how much
to pay for them. There are older radios which still work just fine, but may lack “bells and whistles” you might
find vital except in certain jobs. There are brand new rigs with a multitude of “bells and whistles” that some
hams find difficult to use, simply because they are so complex. There are simple, inexpensive radios that may be just the
ticket now, but later will be found wanting in the technology department. The choice really is up to you. Just remember, hams
are kind of like golfers, they always want to try a different club(radio) just to see how it feels. They are always buying
golf balls (accessories and parts) because they always want more. The hobby of Amateur Radio can easily become a lifestyle
with all that that suggests.
How much importance you place on Amateur Radio depends greatly on how much enjoyment you get out of it. The wise selection
of gear is only one part of that equation. The other part is how much of yourself you put into it.
March 5, 2008
There are literally thousands
and thousands of web sites that are devoted to Amateur Radio. This week, I thought I would mention a few that show up on my
monitor frequently and where I get a great deal of information about ham radio.
www.arrl.org Probably the premier site for amateur radio in the world. If you do not belong
to the ARRL, you should. As the largest amateur radio organization on the entire planet, they provide more services and information
to the ham community than any other group. They also speak for us in Washington
D.C. trying to keep our spectrum free from encroachment by commercial interests.
www.arrlwcf.org This is the web site for our local ARRL Section. With lots of information
and contacts for amateurs in the West Central Florida area, it is a great resource for all ham radio operators living in the
www.ni4ce.org The “Big Stick” repeater system in this area is one
of the finest repeater systems anywhere in the country. With 8 repeaters (currently, more are coming) all linked together
24/7, it covers all of West Central Florida and beyond. Using the appropriate frequencies you can stay on the system from
Orlando to North Ft. Myers and up past New Port Richey while
mobile, often using just an HT. The system offers many nets during the evening hours and provides a vital link for SKYWARN
to all of the EOCs in the area.
www.ac6v.com This is a huge “links” site. With links to hundreds and hundreds
of ham oriented web sites around the world. There are a few broken links but with the wealth of resources available you can
still find your required information there.
www.hamuniverse.com Another site with information on many, many amateur radio subjects.
www.nhc.noaa.gov The web site for the National Hurricane Center in Miami,
FL. Come summer time you will want (no, need) to have this site in your favorites. You KNOW WHY.
This is just a few of the many sites I check
on a regular basis. Never let it be said that the computer is not a learning tool. Much of what I know about amateur radio
has come through the monitor of my PC. Some of that information, and my take on it, I have placed on the web myself at: mysite.verizon.net/cpthaines/ Every once in a while I load up a new project or my take on a particular subject,
just like I do in this column.
March 12, 2008
Recently, I wrote about my annual trip to Orlando for the big hamfest that occurs there each year. This week, I want
to tell you about the smaller hamfests that happen many times during the year as well. These smaller hamfests do not attract
the big vendors of amateur radio gear like Orlando and Dayton do, but they are just as much fun in their own way.
Because our hobby falls into the category of a "niche" hobby, chances are that if you are a ham operator, you are the
only one on your block, maybe the only one in the entire neighborhood. The chances are also pretty good that when you are
"plying your craft" in amateur radio, that you are the only one in the room. So, where do you go to meet and socialize with
the other hams that you talk to on the air all the time? One possible spot is the monthly club meeting. You do belong to the
local amateur radio club, don't you? Another site is the local hamfest.
Now, "local" means different things in different areas. When I lived up North in New England, it seemed that there
was a hamfest almost every couple of weeks during the summer. Not only that but I could probably drive to each one from my
home in less than 45 minutes. Down here in sunny Florida,
there are still plenty of hamfests, its just that they occur in the winter. Duh! Distances are a tad different too. I went
to the Sebring Hamfest a few weeks ago and it took me almost an hour and a half to get there. That is to be expected when
you live in a state that is almost 900 miles long. I noticed the same thing when I lived in Illinois.
The commute may be a little longer, but the destination is still the same, a gathering of the faithful. Ham radio operators
from all over convene at one spot for one day to trade stories, gear, techniques and tall tales. One visits with fellow operators
whom we talk to all year long, but never get to see unless we come to a hamfest.
It is very important to support your "local" hamfest. For some clubs it is a major fundraiser, perhaps the only one
for them all year. It is also important because the vendors who sell their wares here base their future schedules on how they
did last year. If amateur operators do not come, then neither will the vendors. With the loss of the vendors, we also lose
a vital source for the parts and accessories that we need to make our hobby enjoyable. Just try to find an "N" connector at
Radio Shack! The hamfest vendor has thousands of them. Unless you mail order or online order, there is no other place to get
GOOD coax cable than the vendors at a hamfest. I could go on and on, but you get my drift.
Even if you do not need a thing for your station, go anyway. You will meet lots of fellow hams and you never know,
something you had not even thought about might catch your eye and be added to your station. If the numbers rise, so will the
number of vendors that attend, and so will the enjoyment you get out of going to a hamfest.
March 19, 2008
If you belong to the local amateur radio club, here is a suggestion that might well improve the mind set of the club
members. First let me give you a little background.
The very reason people join clubs is to associate with other people who have similar interests and to some extent philosophies
of life. These members share their interest in whatever avocation they have, and assist each other in gaining expertise in
their chosen hobby. This is true whether we are talking about amateur radio or gardening.
It is likely then, that when away from the club meeting
room, perhaps at an event or function, that they want to be able to instantly recognize fellow hobbyists. One way to accomplish
this is through the use of some article of clothing. This could be as simple as a hat or ball cap, or it could extend to wearing
shirts or jackets of the same color, perhaps with a club logo embroidered or screen printed on them.
The use of such items is a great amplifier of club solidarity and esprit de corps. It also instantly identifies the
members to others within a "served agency". This "served agency" might be the organizers of a parade or other event where
your club is helping with communications. It might also be the general public when you do a demonstration of amateur radio
at a local shopping mall or at Field Day.
The use of matching articles of clothing does not in any way suggest a "uniform" but it does indicate a certain level
of organization and professionalism within the group. If there is an identifying cap or shirt on the operator, then anyone
with a question or item of information or message to be sent, knows immediately who to pass it to. It also points out to all
who are the "doers" and who are the "watchers".
This identification does not have to be expensive. A ball cap with a simple club logo can be purchased in quantities
suitable for the size of the group and resold to the individual members. The same is true for golf shirts or tee shirts. If
the club logo is kept simple, the individual items are no more costly than ordinary clothing. The use of an identifying article
of clothing can enhance club cohesiveness and indeed, draw new members into the group that they see as professional and worthy
of their respect.
Do a little research into custom hats and/or clothing for your club. It might just be the fuse that starts a burst
of growth for your club.
March 26, 2008
Once in a while, I get the urge to brag about Amateur Radio. This is one of those times. Most people are familiar with
the multitude of electronic devices we use in our lives every day. I am thinking of stuff like "On-Star" and package tracking
used by UPS and others. The ability, just coming to market now, of being able to track your child's cell phone and know where
they are. Well, wonder of wonders, these amazing technologies were not invented by some nameless engineer at some big technology
firm like Motorola or Microsoft.
No, they were invented by amateur radio operators, working in their basements or garages, doing it for the pleasure
of inventing and to satisfy a particular need they saw for their invention within the hobby. All of these locating technologies
were born from an amalgamation of amateur radio and computer programming called APRS. The acronym stands for Automatic Position
Reporting System and was developed by Bob Bruninga, WB4APR. Initially developed to allow the tracking of volunteer ham operators
providing communication services to other agencies such as the American Red Cross. By connecting a GPS receiver to the system,
Bob was able to develop software that combines the signals from amateur radios with mapping software thus displaying the position
of the radio and therefore the operator on a map. The principle was not lost on the business community and within a few years
virtually every transport mode vehicle, be it a semi, an airplane, or an ambulance is equipped with a commercial variant of
APRS. Every GM car comes with "On-Star" which is simply a built in cell phone combined with APRS and connected into the vehicle
electronics. Every trucking firm knows exactly where all of their trucks are because of APRS. Every law enforcement or emergency
vehicle knows where it is and where all of its fellow vehicles are because of APRS. You can track that present you Fed-Exed
to Aunt Martha because of APRS.
APRS has been expanded into weather reporting as well. Operating in concert with the "Skywarn" program under the auspices
of the National Weather Service, there are thousands of weather stations around the country that are connected to, and download
their data to, the weather service. They provide "ground truth" for the service that enables them to make their forecasts
more accurately and make their warnings more timely. Few of these APRS weather stations are owned by the NWS. They are owned,
operated and paid for by local amateur radio operators. They voluntarily assist the NWS in gathering the data that is vital
to our understanding and managing of weather related information.
APRS is just one example of how amateur radio has had an effect on your life. There are lots of others. Most of the
advances in modern technology that we take for granted now, were once a glimmer in the eye of some ham operator at some point
in their development. Most of the professional broadcast engineers I know were, and still are hams. Many of the individuals who are most active in emergency management are amateur radio operators.
So, don't wonder what ever happened to amateur radio, it is all around you. Why don't you check out your local amateur
radio club and become one of us too.
April 2, 2008
This week, I thought I would cover a really neat accessory for any home, whether that home belongs to a ham radio operator
or not, a weather station. Everybody talks about and is concerned with the weather. Wouldn't it be nice to know what the weather
is doing right at your home, not just what is happening across the broad area that the TV weatherman describes on the evening
news. Plus, the TV station only can tell you about the weather two or three times a day. With your own weather station, you
can know what is happening at any time.
Home weather stations come in a variety of forms. At the low end is the very simple electronic device that can sit
on any location in the home and tell you the temperature, the barometric pressure and the dew point. These set up as simply
as a clock radio or an alarm clock. They are available from many sources including your local department store.
A little more pricey, but still with a price range well within the budget of most families is the complete weather
station. In addition to the information I mentioned in the previous paragraph, these will tell you wind speed and direction,
rainfall, inside and outside temperature, wind chill factor, and so on. Prices range from over $800 dollars down to a street
price of about $150. In some cases, careful perusing of places like E-Bay and Craig's List will find them for less than $100.
So, what is the difference between the higher price and the less expensive variety? In most cases, nothing that is
going to concern the casual weather buff. In fact, for the non-professional weather watcher, the less expensive unit may actually
be better, because in some cases, they come with software that allows one to display and store the information from the device
on their home computer. The more expensive units may need not only third party software, but also an optional device to translate
the raw data into a form that the software can deal with. This is fine for the professional, where the slightly more precise
data is of importance, but for the average home user, the difference between a temperature of say, 79.8 and 79.85 is negligible.
The set-up of this kind of weather station is not difficult at all. You can even get units that connect wirelessly
so no wires or cable have to be used to connect them. Just mount the anemometer (that twirling gadget that measures the wind
speed and direction) somewhere outside that is clear of any obstructions and high enough to get an accurate reading. Mount
the rain gauge similarly so that it reads true rainfall and not the runoff from the trees or something else. If you are going
wireless, you just add batteries to each unit and you should be all set. The base unit receives the data from all of the battery
powered units outside and displays it for you to view. As I mentioned before, some stations actually come with a cable that
can be plugged into your PC to log and display all of the data at once. The software even graphs the results on the screen
so you can see trends while they happen. It also records the daily highs and lows for things like temperature, wind speed,
and other data sets.
All of this would be nice to know for you and your family, but there is more. The National Weather Service has programs
called Skywarn and CWOP. If you get trained by the weather service (for free) you are issued a Skywarn Spotter ID number and
when severe weather strikes you can make reports to the NWS via amateur radio, if you are a licensed operator or via an 800
number if not. It is all voluntary and it gives the NWS what is called "ground truth". The NWS needs to know what they are
seeing on radar is actually doing on the ground. The Skywarn system does that for them. It also gives them many more eyes
on the weather for immediate warning of things like tornados, hail and flooding. The CWOP program is a way of tying your home
weather station directly into the network of weather stations that they use to see the weather. The home station has to meet
their standards (for performance, not price) and you need a high speed connection to the Internet. Again, this is totally
voluntary on your part, you are not locked into anything. However, it is good to remember just how vital your information
might be, not only to the NWS but also to you and your neighbors. Check these programs out on the web, you could be an important
link in the efforts to bring accurate weather information to everyone around you.
April 9, 2008
This week, we are going to have a few comments on the subject of Ham Radio and Time. It occurs to me that amateur radio
operators, just like their professional counterparts, have a very close relationship with time. The professional needs to
have accurate timekeeping to ensure that programs run their proper length, that commercials are run at the correct instant
and that feeds from national or global networks fit seamlessly with local programming. They attach great importance to keeping
very accurate time and go to much trouble to calibrate their station clocks with national and international standards.
While most amateur operators do not have the professional's requirement for super exact timing, their standard is not
that much different. While our transmissions are not continuous like the commercial broadcaster, amateur radio has many situations
where accurate timekeeping is very important.
For example, many amateurs participate in on-air meetings called "nets".
These "nets" are scheduled for specific times of the day. The operator who runs the net needs to know exactly what time to
start the net so that others can rely on the net to start on time. Every operator should know when the net is due to start
on the frequency he or she is using so that they can relinquish the frequency to the net at the appropriate time. Some repeater
systems here in West Central Florida may have two or three nets running consecutively on some evenings so it is vital that
the nets are not delayed or otherwise compromised.
Another significant area of Ham Radio that needs correct timekeeping is the part of the hobby called DX. Stations that
are widely separated, sometimes by thousands of miles, make contact and pass information to each other. These contacts are
recorded in both operators log books. Often QSL cards are mailed to each other to verify the contact. It is critical that
both verifications show the time of the contact accurately, otherwise the contact cannot be proven and both operators lose
the right to claim the contact for awards or other recognition. Since the two operators are likely in widely different time
zones, both use UTC or "Zulu" Time to record the contact. UTC or Greenwich Mean Time is the same all over the world. The time
of the contact is recorded as the time at Greenwich England no matter where the two stations may be located.
Amateur Satellite operations also need accurate timekeeping. Even with email notification of upcoming satellite passes
over your area, you need to know the accurate time in order to aim your antennas at the right area of the sky to make contact
with the orbiting device. Just a minute or two off and the antenna is pointed at empty space.
Thus, the amateur operator ideally needs two clocks. One set to local time in 12 or 24 hour format and another set
to 24 hour format for UTC, Zulu, or GMT. Most electronic clocks made today are quite accurate enough for amateur purposes.
There are consumer grade "atomic" clocks available at almost any store that sells clocks. "Atomic" does not mean you need
a Geiger Counter as part of your station equipment. It just means that the clock contains a small radio receiver that listens
to the national time standard called WWV which broadcasts a time standard continuously on several different frequencies. Since
the WWV time is maintained with a Cesium Standard, the time has garnered the nickname "Atomic Time". One can also manually
adjust any clock using the time readout available on the Internet at several sites including http://nist.time.gov/ the website of the National Institute of Standards.
The station clock set to local time is adjusted for Daylight Saving twice each year while the UTC clock is kept on
its standard all year. That way you always have the correct time to use for either local net schedules or for recording the
times in your log book of DX contacts around the world.
April 16, 2008
Almost one year ago, I wrote a column about SKYWARN, a program run by the National Weather Service that trains citizens
to recognize severe weather indicators and to send their observations directly to the local Weather Service Office. Seeing
that Florida's Hurricane Season is just around the corner, it is probably a good time to mention it again.
SKYWARN training costs nothing but a couple of hours of your time. The courses, both Basic and Advanced are given many
times during the year by meteorologists from the NWS at many sites around the state. You will learn how to recognize an impending
severe weather event from the shape of the clouds that precede such events and other markers. You will be taught how to accurately
estimate the size of hail, rainfall and damaging winds. You will learn how to contact the NWS to relay this information to
the proper authorities so that warnings can be issued to residents at risk. Remember, we are talking about the indicators
that precede a dangerous weather event, not the actual event itself. No one expects or wants you to put yourself at
risk when the weather arrives. The NWS wants you to stay safe and secure. However, by knowing the warning signs that an impending
tornado or other severe weather event is close, you increase your chances of taking appropriate cover before it gets there.
You also improve everyone else's chances when you report your observations to the National Weather Service.
So, check out the SKYWARN program, take the course, get your SKYWARN SPOTTER ID number and assist your community by
expanding the eyes and ears of the NWS. You do not have to be a meteorologist or a ham operator, just be a concerned and active
citizen. You can find all the information you need at: http://www.skywarn.org/ . Get involved, be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
April 23, 2008
Last week, I wrote about the SKYWARN program. I said then that one did not have to be a licensed ham operator to participate
in that program. That is true, however, there are many excellent reasons for getting your amateur radio license. After the
severe weather event has passed, then what? The telephone lines are down, the power lines are destroyed, the cellular network
is jammed and unusable, flooding, damage to homes and businesses has occurred, street signs are gone, etc, etc. What are you
going to do? How are you going to let your loved ones know you survived? How are you going to get help?
The only form of communication that will survive relatively undamaged after a major severe weather event is amateur
radio. That is because each operator depends only on his or her own radios and antennas that can be erected within minutes
after the emergency. They rely on battery or generator power to run their equipment.
All of the other forms of communication, cellular, Internet, land line,
and even the municipal and state radio systems rely to one degree or another on infrastructure. Towers can be felled by storms,
power disappears when the lines fall, cellular systems jam up and fail when everyone tries to call at once. They all depend
on stuff that is outside the control of the individual user.
Amateur radio depends only on the equipment under the control of the individual operator. Each operator provides their
own power via batteries or generator. Each operator has their own radio gear. Each operator has their own antenna and supporting
structure (mast). Each operator has a list of frequencies that they know other operators will monitor during and after an
emergency. They immediately dial up those frequencies and instantly can talk to other amateur operators. That is why amateur
radio works when all the others do not.
Some of those operators are staffing state and local Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs). Some are staffing shelters,
some are staffing feeding centers and hospitals. Thus the information needed to respond to the needs of the community still
flows from shelters to the EOC, from the EOC to the hospitals, from the responders back to the EOC and vice versa. That is
what happens after a disaster, and amateur radio plays a major part in the response.
Unfortunately, in these times of "me first" and "I want it all and I want it now", people no longer seem to care as
much as they once did about their community. While the number of amateur radio licenses continues to climb, the number of
individuals who participate in Amateur Radio Emergency Services continues to fall. We cannot cover all of the shelters we
would like to. We simply do NOT have enough people to do so. Thus the overall response suffers.
If YOU want to help, get your entry level amateur radio license, join your local ARES group, train with us, and the
next time the community needs help, Participate. It is not hard, it does not take years and all the information you
need to get started is available at: http://www.arrl.org/ Be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.
May 1, 2008
Writing this column, I keep encouraging you, the reader, to get your amateur radio license. it is probably time that
I explained a bit about exactly what that entails. It really is not all that difficult. Here then is the 10 cent tour of the
The first thing to do is check with your local amateur radio club to see if they offer a licensing course. This may
be given over a weekend or in several shorter sessions over a number of week-nights. The "textbook" for the course is published
by the American Radio Relay League and usually the club putting on the course will be able to sell you the book. If not, it
is easily obtainable from the ARRL direct or from almost any dealer in Amateur Radio equipment.
You should plan on reading the book from cover to cover and formulating a series of questions about any material which
is not clear to you. Bring these questions to the course and get them answered by the instructor(s). Once the instructors
have gone over every aspect of the text, they will usually give you a practice exam. Take the results of that exam and study
up on any questions that you missed. The course will generally terminate by giving the actual test, administered by a Volunteer
Examiner Team that was not involved with your instruction.
The VE Team will send the results to the FCC (and also tell you if you passed (or failed)). A few days after the FCC
receives the results of the test, your new call sign should appear on their database. That appearance is in fact your actual
license. The FCC will also send you a paper copy by mail. The license is good for 10 years, and unless you opt for a "vanity"
call, is free. So are the renewals. The vanity call program will be explained in a future column. For now, you will get what
the FCC calls a sequential call sign. Kind of like a license plate for your car, it will consist of two letters, a number,
and three more letters. Hams call this a 2x3 call sign.
For the entry level or "Technician" license, the test is 50 multiple choice questions. These questions cover all of
the areas about amateur radio that the FCC expects an entry level operator to know. You are required to get about 76% of the
questions correct in order to pass the test. The test will cover such areas as the frequency bands that you as a Technician
license holder are permitted to use, the proper identification of your station, proper procedures to follow in an emergency,
maximum power levels you are permitted to use and the combinations of frequencies
and transmission modes you are allowed to use. It will also ask you about certain things that no amateur is permitted to do,
such as playing music, using foul language, or interfering with anyone else's transmission.
These questions are formulated by a national volunteer committee into a Question Pool every few years. The exam you
take will contain 50 of the more than 600 questions in the pool. Each exam must contain a set number of questions from each
aspect of amateur radio within the pool, kind of like the stereotype of the Chinese restaurant menu, you know, 1 from column
A and 2 from column B and so on. The tests can be built this way by the VE Team but are usually set by one of several VE Coordinators
like the ARRL. This allows the VE Team to use preprinted tests and answer keys so they can give and grade your test quickly.
Believe me, the process is much easier and smoother than I can convey here. If you have been holding off because you
thought you had to have specialized training in electronics to even consider the license, do not hold off any longer. Amateur
Radio operators come from all walks of life, from rock star to housewife, from doctors to clerks, truck drivers to rocket
builders. It is a very inclusive hobby, not an exclusive one. Join us in the wonderful hobby of Amateur Radio.
I have been writing this column for one year now, and I have enjoyed the task immensely. Recently, the Section Manager
for The West Central Florida Section of The American Radio Relay League, Dee Turner, N4GD, saw fit to appoint me as an Assistant
Section Manager. For this and other reasons, I feel strongly that I cannot devote sufficient time to the column on a weekly
basis. Beginning with this column, the rate of new columns will change to monthly, rather than weekly. Look for a new column
around the first Wednesday of each month. I will do my best to maintain the editorial standards set during the first year.
Thank you for your readership over the past year, and I hope you will continue to read about Amateur Radio on this site.
May 7, 2008
Field Day is coming! "What is Field Day?" you ask. During the course of the year, there are many challenges facing
our communities. Severe weather is one example. After a hurricane or tornado, there are situations where communications are
severely compromised. Amateur Radio steps into that void, to provide communications to towns and cities, emergency responders,
disaster recovery workers, and the general public until the normal communications infrastructure is repaired.
In order to do that, we, as amateur radio operators, must periodically test and verify that our equipment can and does
function "off the grid". Many years ago, the ARRL established one weekend out of the year when everyone across North America
would do this, called Field Day.
We are not permitted to set up early, we only have 24 hours to do all of our testing, and just to add a little competitive
edge to the event, scores are kept based on the total number of contacts that are made. Various multipliers are available
to those clubs or organizations that make use of alternative power sources such as batteries or generators instead of regular
AC line current. Most antennas are temporary in nature, just as they would be in a real emergency. Organizations use all forms
of temporary shelter from tents to motor homes, again just as they would be if the emergency was real.
One of the neat things about this event is that clubs are encouraged to make their operations open to the public and
provide someone to guide members of the public around the site and demonstrate the many different modes of communication in
use. The Manatee Amateur Radio Club Inc., along with members from other clubs in the area will have their site set up near
the 59th Street West entrance to G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton. Parking is available so come out and see what Amateur Radio
is all about. The date is June 28 and 29, 2008. The ARRL has a web-map that will
show where many of the sites around the country will be, so if you can't come to see us, there is a site close to anywhere
you are going to be, and if you want to visit, you can find them on the web at http://www.arrl.org/contests/announcements/fd/locator.php
June 4, 2008
Last month I wrote a short column about Field Day. This month is when Field Day happens, so let me tell you a little
more. Field Day is an astounding event. This June 28th and 29th, all over the world, amateur operators, acting within
the framework of a club, another entity such as a contest group, or even just by themselves, move their operations out of
the comfort of their home station, with its air conditioning and easy access to the refrigerator. They go not to another
similarly well equipped location, but outside, in the heat and humidity. They may go to a public park, a farmer's field
or a parking lot near the local shopping center. Why would they do that?
They (We) do it because one of the primary purposes of the Amateur Radio Licensing System is to provide the nation
with a group of trained communicators in time of need. When the hurricane strikes, or the tornado touches down, or the river
floods, one of the first parts of the infrastructure to be hit is communications. The power fails, telephone lines
go down, cell phone towers die and even governmental lines of communication, with all their back-ups are subject to overload
and malfunction. The thousands of amateur radio operators stand ready to fill the gap.
Because we do not need "infrastructure" like the internet and the phone companies do, we can still communicate with
each other using our radios powered by batteries or a generator. Some even power their equipment using solar or wind power.
We can set up temporary antennas in minutes and provide a working mode of communication to the authorities much more
quickly than the "infrastructure" can be repaired.
Thus, damage assessments, calls for help, messages to loved ones away from the scene of the disaster, can all be made
through the efforts of Amateur Radio Operators. Hams are put to work in all the important sites after a disaster. The town,
county or state Emergency Operations Center, the marshalling points for supplies and food, the hospitals, the shelters, and
even sometimes with the agents of law enforcement or the fire service. They provide the communications that link all of these
agencies and more until the normal methods of communication are repaired. After the safety needs are managed, this same system
is available to the general public to send messages to loved ones outside the affected area.
Field Day provides a unique opportunity for ham operators to test and verify that all of their equipment that they
would use in a disaster is working. By making the day a kind of contest between themselves and other amateurs around the country
and indeed around the world, the spirit of friendly competition creates an extra incentive to excel. It also provides the
other side of the radio communication, an operator on the other end of the signal to receive it. The performance of emergency
antennas, radios, power sources, and operators can be tested and evaluated while the only thing at risk is ones score in the
event. By doing it this way we ensure that when the "big one" comes, Amateur Radio will be ready!
Another neat side of Field Day relates directly to the public. Most, if not all, Field Day sites welcome the general
public to their operations. You can just look around and marvel at the ingenuity of the hams, or you can actually send a message
to a loved one far away. You can even get on the air yourself, with a ham as your control operator. Most Field Day sites have
a GOTA station (Get On The Air) for that very purpose.
So, join us for Field Day. The American Radio Relay League (our national organization) has a web site where you can
see where Field Day operations are being held: http://www.arrl.org/contests/announcements/fd/locator.php Look up the sites in your area just by entering the name of the community and
clicking on "search". The club I belong to, The Manatee Amateur Radio Club, Inc. will be holding our Field Day operation in
Bradenton, FL. next to the 59th Street West Entrance to G.T. Bray Park. We will be in the parking lot just South of the American
Red Cross Building on the East side of 59th Street. Just look for the gaggle of RVs and antennas. I hope to see you on "Field
July 2, 2008
The peak part of Hurricane Season is still ahead of us, here in Florida. September, traditionally is the most active
month for severe weather, although the season stretches from June through October. It would seem to behoove us, therefore,
to make sure that we are prepared as best as we can be. Now I am not going to list here all the things one should do. Those
lists have been published by virtually every news outlet from the local paper to radio and TV stations in the area. Pamphlets
are widely available to inform you of what you need to do to prepare for "The Big One".
We, as Licensed Amateur Radio Operators, bear an additional responsibility. In addition to all the preparations we
do as members of the general public, we also have to make sure that our communications equipment is in working order and that
we have our response gear ready to go at a moments notice.
Update the information you will need to have ready. Frequencies, repeater tones, emergency plans, procedures and so
Make sure your emergency power sources, whether they be batteries or generators, are working and fully ready for the
Make sure your vehicle is up to the task of getting you where you will need to go without a breakdown. There will be
no Auto Club service until well after the emergency is over.
Make certain that you have enough emergency rations to tide you over for several days. Food and water will be priorities
for the responding agencies, but we all know how bureaucracies work and we all remember Katrina.
Your "Go Kit" should include spares for anything important, as well as the tools to install them. Murphy's Law always
applies to ham radio.
Another item to consider is clothing. Most of our disasters here in Florida have some component of rain. Operating
your station is soaking wet clothes is a guaranteed way to get very uncomfortable if not deathly ill. Stock up with at least
one complete change of clothing in that "Go Kit".
The previously mentioned "Murphy's Law" suggests that if you make all these preparations, you will probably never need
them. Making all of these preparations sounds like an easy way to keep the disaster away from your doorstep, don't you think?
August 6, 2008
As life would have it, over the summer, the hobby has gained several newly minted Technician Licensees. In talking
to these fine people, I discovered that their most frequent question was "What kind of a radio should I get?". The answer
to that vital query depends on where you reside.
If you live right in the town or city where you are located, often an HT or "Handi-Talky" is more than adequate, since
the repeaters you will be using are often located on top of tall buildings in the downtown area. If, on the other hand, you
live out in the "country", such as East of I-75 around here, you may be much better off with a more powerful "mobile" rig.
The power of the average "mobile" transceiver is generally about ten times more than the average HT. The extra power will
enable you to "hit" many more repeaters in your area. Of course, that means that you do have to mount the radio in your car.
Luckily, this is a relatively simple task. Most mobile radios offered today are capable of having the control head separated
from the main body of the radio. This lets you mount the main body safely under a seat or in the trunk of the car with only
a small cable running under the carpeting forward to the control head which is usually small enough to be situated anywhere
you would have room for say an I-Pod. This can be on the dash or even on the windshield. The center console also makes a good
site for mounting. Just do not mount it anywhere in the area of an airbag. If the airbag deploys because of a minor accident,
you do not want major injuries because your radio suddenly became a projectile.
Another aspect of your choice of radio will be the number of "Bands" you want to cover. There are a lot of 2-meter
repeaters around this area, but the 2-meter allocations got used up a long time ago. Now any new repeaters are generally in
the 70-centimeter band, or what most hams call "440". The best choice, therefore, if you can afford it, is to buy a "dual-band"
radio. The prices are not all that different for an HT or a mobile rig. Good dual band units can be had new for around $260.
That may seem like a lot, but have you priced new golf clubs lately, or HD TVs? The antenna for the mobile rig will run another
$30 or so and if you are not a DIYer, drilling the hole in the firewall of your car to get the power wires to and from the
battery will cost another $20 or so at your local stereo installer. Installing the HT of course, is a matter of charging the
battery pack for a few hours and away you go.
Having been a ham for a number of years, and having worked with similar gear for even longer, I can make a few recommendations.
Stay within your budget. None of us purchased all of our radios at one time. Like a stamp collection, we gradually
increased our radio collection over years of planning, saving, choosing, etc. Buy a rig that is going to do what
you need it to do. A small HT will not satisfy a ham who lives miles away from the nearest repeater, nor will a powerful
mobile rig be right for someone who cannot mount it in a car or at home. I have saved my most important recommendation for
Get on the air! Whatever kind of radio you buy, you have to use it to get good at it. The best set of golf clubs
in the world will do nothing for your handicap unless you practice. The same is true of amateur radio. You can spend as much
or as little money as you want, but unless you get out there and make contacts and check into nets regularly, your license
is just another piece of paper. Whether you became a ham for the opportunity to serve in times of emergency, or just because
you like the electronic aspects of the hobby, or just so you could talk to other hams around the world, if you do not get
on the air and communicate, you might as well have taken up knitting. Your Amateur Radio License is not the end,
it's just the beginning of your learning in amateur radio.
September 3, 2008
There seems to be a major misconception on the part of the general public about amateur radio. When I talk to a non-ham,
I get the impression sometimes that they think that because some of us choose to operate using "Morse Code", that the amateur
Radio hobby is firmly stuck in the early 20th century. They put us right up there with the manual typewriter and the use of
a telephone operator to complete a local telephone call.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are amateur radio operators out there who enjoy the code and old
tube-type radio equipment, there are a vast majority who have the latest state-of-the-art sophisticated radios, some of which
are computer-based and software defined. The amateur radio hobby is very little different than say the car hobby. Some like
the really old cars from the pre-1920's, some like the classic cars from the 40's and 50's and some will not be satisfied
with anything less than the latest offering from the manufactures or people like Chip Foose, the hot-rod/custom car guru.
Amateur Radio Operators use every possible bit of technology to create the devices they utilize. Computers are an integral
part of most amateur radio stations. Some are even integrated into the transmitters and receivers themselves. The recent spate
of advances in the range of Wi-Fi devices owes much to the efforts of amateur radio operators designing antenna systems that
enabled these systems to work well at ranges that only a few years ago would be considered science-fiction.
It may be a surprise to some non-hams, but many of the devices they think of as "cutting edge" like GPS mapping devices
were made possible by amateur radio operators who developed the basic framework for these devices. Programs like "On-Star"
from GM and similar systems from other manufacturers are all based on a system called APRS which was developed by a ham radio
operator by the name of Bob Bruninga. Even that icon of modernity, the Cell-Phone is really just a two way radio connected
to the telephone system, something ham radio operators have been doing for over 50 years with a device called a "Phone-Patch".
In fact, it would not be much of a stretch to suggest that most of the technology we take for granted today had it's
beginnings as an experiment on the workbench of some ham radio operator, somewhere in the world, sometime in the past.
Even in the space program, ham radio has it's place. The International Space Station, and most shuttle missions have
an amateur radio mission package in place. One use for that package is to talk to school children all over the world directly
from space. Most of the astronauts are amateur radio operators, not only within NASA but within all of the various space programs
around the world. One can assume that just as in a disaster situation on earth, should the normal NASA com links to a space
vehicle be out of action, amateur radio will be there to restore communications to the spacecraft until repairs can be made.
When the public thinks of amateur radio, they should not be thinking of the hobby "in the old days", but what that
hobby has evolved to: A state of the art technology demonstrator and training ground for a group of skilled communicators
who stand ready to provide the rest of us with reliable communications when all of our "modern" stuff has been put out of
action by a storm or other disaster.
October 1, 2008
It has been over a year since I last wrote about
the topic for this month, and with all of the new hams that the VE's (Volunteer Examiners) have been testing over the past
few months, I think it is time to mention it again. I want to make a few comments about homebrewing or making radio gear yourself.
Many hams are fearful of going that route because
they think that they lack the skills necessary. The truth is that very little “skill” is required. I say that
because I have been homebrewing for several years, and God knows, I have as little skill as anyone.
The secret is to recognize which projects are
within your grasp. At first, go for simple projects that have little or no electronics involved. Say a simple antenna to give
your hand held greater range. Then, as you gain experience, move up to something with a little wiring like a mic selector
switch. Still with no capacitors, resistors, or the like. When you feel ready, try a few components and build a simple project
such as a sound card interface. They really only have about four or five components, the rest is all just cables and plugs,
most if not all of which you can get pre-assembled.
To start, look through the pages of QST magazine
for articles detailing simple little projects like J-pole antennas, wire antennas and the like. They are there, at least one
or two per month in profusion. Also check the Internet. Just plug “ simple ham antennas” into your search engine
and see what comes back. Try “J-pole” or “ham radio antennas”. You will be amazed at the neat and
easy projects that are out there. Several of the projects I have built came from the Internet. I have also published several
of my pet projects on my web site, www.n1gy.com. Another web site with links to thousands of neat DIY projects for Amateur Radio is www.ac6v.com . The ham operator who created that links site has unfortunately passed on or gone SK as we say in Amateur Radio, but members
of his family are committed to keeping the web site going.
I am not suggesting that anyone try to compete
with the likes of Kenwood or Icom or Yaesu and build the latest all mode all band transceiver. Rather, I encourage you to start small and work your way up slowly and comfortably to building accessories
and gadgets that make the commercially available gear work better for you. Many of the projects I have built are little more
than connecting wire A to wire B and so on. Even so, the projects I have built have added immeasurably to my enjoyment of
the hobby and to the ease of operation of my station.
The experience gained and the confidence realized
will make you a better ham, and you will have more fun than you can imagine.
So grab that soldering iron
by the cool end and start playing with homebrewing. I guarantee that you will have fun and more importantly, you can say,
“yeah, I built it myself”.
November 2, 2008
Every once in a while it makes sense to rerun
a column from the past that still is relevant today. This month's column is one of those times.
I want to discuss a topic that is very important
in any kind of radio communications. That's right, Courtesy. Being courteous at any time is vital, and nowhere more so than
when communicating with individuals you have not met except over the airwaves. There courtesy takes more forms than just being
polite in what you say and how you say it. There are procedures to follow when "on the air" as it were, ways of ensuring that
you do not interfere with someone else's conversation. Transmitting while someone else is doing so on the same frequency is
called "stepping" on them. This is a very rude thing to do, and the solution is very simple. Just listen before you transmit.
That is all it takes. If you have something important to add to the communication already in progress, instead of just jumping
in with both feet, wait until there is a natural break in the conversation, When one operator releases his Push to Talk switch,
and before the other operator presses his, just give your call sign and go back to listening. One or the other of the operators
will have heard you and when there is an opportunity to invite you into the conversation they will do so.
If the situation involves a serious emergency,
such as you just witnessed an accident and want someone to call 911, there is a different procedure, You wait for the same
gap in the conversation and then call "Break Break". The other operators should immediately turn the frequency over to you
and ask if they can help you. This is the ONLY time the word "Break" should ever be used on the air. Amateur Radio is not
like CB radio, there are no "Breakers", no 10 codes ever. In amateur radio, the word "Break" is used only to indicate that
you have an important emergency communication to pass.
Ok, well what about "Mayday"? Mayday is only
used when you or someone with you is in an immediate life or death situation. For example, you crash your car on a lonely
road and you have possibly serious injuries and there is no one else around to come to your aid. Or maybe you are on a boat
in the Gulf of Mexico, and the boat begins to sink. It should not be used if you have a flat tire and need to have someone call the AAA. I think you can get my drift
During a net ( a time and place on a frequency
where a group of operators will assemble for a common purpose such as passing messages to each other or informing the group
about new development of interest to the group) the chances of "stepping" on one another increase dramatically. While the
problem will never be solved completely, there are a few hints to minimize the problem, First one calls "This is" and then
stops. If no one else is transmitting then you go ahead and transmit your call sign. If someone else is transmitting then
you wait until they are done and try again the same way. All it takes is a little patience and courtesy, and the frequency
is much more fun for everybody.
December 1, 2008
This week I want to tell you about a specific event coming December 6th and 7th. The Tampa Bay Hamfest will be held
then at the Manatee Civic
Center off Route 41 and Haben
Boulevard in Palmetto. As the biggest hamfest in the area, it is a must see for all amateur operators.
Various vendors of amateur radio related stuff will be there along with literally dozens of ham operators who want to sell
their excess equipment so they can buy more. If you keep a sharp eye peeled for a real find, great bargains are possible.
I am told that this year, for the first time, Icom will have a manufacturers display in addition to being represented
by one or more of their dealers.
In addition to the vendors and the
“tailgate” or “flea market” stuff outside, there are forums to attend on a number of topics such as
home brewing your ham radio accessories and digital radio like D-Star, among many others. There will also be an opportunity
to take tests to upgrade your license or get your first license. Just remember to bring two forms of ID and if you are upgrading
an existing license, bring a copy of your current one.
There will be food available from
the concession at the Civic Center
and your admission ticket entitles you to get in for both days. There will be plenty of door prizes to win and a good time
will be had by all. For information about the Tampa Bay Hamfest, go to http://www.fgcarc.org/ . This is the website of the council of clubs that put on the event and ticket
prices, times, and directions along with lots of other good info can be found there.
This is a great opportunity to put
faces with call signs that you talk to on the radio all year long. It also provides the best local opportunity to check out
the latest gear from the “Big Three” manufacturers (Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu) as well as many others. There are
a multitude of used gear available as well as new antennas and accessories. Just walking through the parking lot will show
you tons of ways that other hams have mounted their antennas.
So, join us on December 6th and 7th
for the Tampa Bay Hamfest. You certainly will have a great time, and you might learn a little or come away with that particular
item that has been on you wish list for years