May 2, 2007
or more properly, the Amateur Radio Service, is a service that is governed by Federal Communications Commission rules and
regulations to provide the nation with a reserve of trained radio operators and has existed since the earliest days of radio.
In fact, the early radio pioneers were all "amateurs" since in those early days there were no regulations at all. When the
government stepped in to bring order to the chaos that ensued, several areas of the spectrum were set aside for the use of
amateur radio operators to hone their skills. These became the "Ham Bands". These amateurs took exams given by the FCC to
demonstrate their understanding of the principles and practice of radio communication. Upon passing these exams they were
issued a license.
structure still exists today, almost 100 years later. The exams are now administered by the amateurs themselves and indeed
the requirements have changed mightily over the years. Morse Code, once a linchpin of the service, while still used by many
hams, is no longer required for any license class. Transmission modes that are in common use today and tested for on the exams
did not even exist back then.
So, you may
ask, why should I care? The answer to that question comes in many forms.
foremost, amateur radio provides the last line of communications when disaster strikes. When hurricanes strike, ham radio
is often the only method of communication left. Cell phone systems jam or are destroyed, power is lost, and the internet is
out because the phone lines are down. All of these have happened in the past and will happen again. Meanwhile, amateur radio
continues to work, passing vital messages for the responding agencies and for the victims. Even without disasters, ham radio's
importance is still there. Hams provide vital links for mariners on the open sea, for missionaries in remote jungle environments
and many others around the world.
is also a force for international understanding around the world, and even into outer space. Amateurs can talk to and receive
from the International Space Station (ISS). Talking around the world to amateurs in other countries fosters international
understanding and friendships.
aspects of amateur radio should not deter anyone from becoming a ham. The entry level Technician license requires very little
knowledge of electronics. That will come with experience in a pleasant and painless manner.
With the advent
of the internet and computer gaming, one might have expected ham radio to fade from the scene. Just the reverse is true. Computers
have allowed ham radio to blossom and grow with many new methods of communication, some using the sound cards found in almost
all computers. These modes allow reliable communication both locally and around the world, sending text to the farthest parts
of the Earth and even into outer space to the International Space Station and other satellites. Amateur radio even has many
satellites of their own in orbit, allowing even entry level licensees to talk around the world. Computers using various Voice
Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) programs allow even entry level amateurs to connect to stations called "repeaters" anywhere
on the Earth and talk to fellow hams in other countries.
radio is alive and well, providing vital links in communication world-wide. There are aspects of the hobby to attract anyone
no matter what their interest, public service, international relations or technology. To see if amateur radio is right for
you, check out the web for sites like www.arrl.org. or just Google "amateur radio". Come to any amateur radio club meeting,
like the Manatee Amateur Radio Club, which meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7 pm at the American Red Cross on 59th
Street West in Bradenton. We will be happy to meet you and help you get started in amateur radio.
May 9, 2007
In my last
column, I tried to give you, the reader, a very brief overview of what ham radio is about. This time, I would like to expand
a bit on some of those points. Since hurricane season is almost upon us, it probably is a good idea to explain just what amateur
radio does during hurricane season.
larger scope of amateur radio there is an organization called Amateur Radio Emergency Services or ARES for short. ARES groups
exist in most counties in Florida and indeed across the country. These are volunteer ham operators who train to provide
communications when the normal means of contact like phones and the internet are down. This even applies to governmental communications
such as public safety, although that function sometimes falls under another similar organization called RACES. Many hams belong
to both and indeed in Manatee County
the functions are combined within one group.
operators provide backup communications for the county EOC
Center), the Red Cross, shelters where citizens would be protected and
fed during the disaster. After the storm is over, these same amateur operators would assist the recovery effort with communications
for search teams, damage assessment teams, county workers, even police and fire apparatus until the normal county radio systems
are repaired and working.
provides a way for residents to notify their loved ones elsewhere as to their situation, health and welfare until the normal
phone services are restored.
They do all
this by providing their own two-way radios, their own emergency antennas and their own emergency power. Using the radio frequencies
that under normal conditions they use to chat with one another during the daily commute, they create local, regional, and
national networks of amateur radio operators to pass radio traffic for whatever is necessary to solve the problem. Whether
it be letting the EOC know that blankets and cots are needed at a certain shelter, or calling for EMT's to come to the aid
of a victim, they do what is needed. If more help is needed in a certain area and normal methods don't work, the ham operators
will get the message through.
Operators do all this without pay because they know that when they need help, other hams will come to their aid as well. They
do it because that is one of the core purposes of the Amateur Radio Service. To provide a trained core of communicators to
assist the country in time of need.
Charley hit Florida a few years ago, we had amateur operators coming from as far away as
California to assist. Many local hams lost their antennas
because of the hurricane, but as soon as they were able to rig up temporary antennas they were back on the air passing vital
messages for the emergency responders. In one well remembered situation, two ham operators were able to get a public safety
emergency radio system up and running when the state technician was unable to get into the area. Such are the benefits of
having a strong amateur radio presence in any community.
I'll tell you how amateur radio assists the National Weather Service with a program called SKYWARN. Even non-hams can help
in that program. Until then-
May 16, 2007
the topic is SKYWARN. Skywarn is a program run by the National Weather Service for the purpose of providing a very important
aspect of weather reporting. That is the reports from human eyes on the ground. The Weather Service has many devices for detecting
severe weather such as radar, satellite and lightning detection networks but the most important tool for observing severe
weather is still the trained eye of the storm spotter.
radar, while a big improvement in detecting wind patterns in storms, has a blind spot of sorts. The further away from the
radar unit the storm is, there is a bigger area close to the ground that can not be seen by the radar. To fill in the missing
information, the meteorologists need the reports from people on the ground. Sometimes the radar shows severe weather that
is in fact not there. Other times the reverse is true. Only reports from spotters on the ground can verify what is actually
happening at ground level. This information is very valuable to the meteorologists, increasing the accuracy of their information.
The data that
a trained spotter sends to the Weather Service Office increases the accuracy of any warnings issued by the office and provides
the citizens of the community with life saving information. Amateur Radio operators provide the backbone of many spotter networks.
Most NWS offices have ham operators and stations right in the office. These people coordinate the reports from the field so
that the weather office staff get the information quickly and accurately. Law enforcement and fire departments also serve
as spotters in many areas. Their dispatcher will transmit their observations to the NWS. Even private citizens can be Skywarn
Spotters with the appropriate training from the NWS.
I have been
talking a lot about training, so how hard is it? The answer is you can do it. The local office of the National Weather Service
in Ruskin offers courses many times throughout the year. The Basic Spotter Course takes about one hour and the Advanced Course
another hour. They are usually given one after the other in one two to two and one half hour session. In the course the student
learns about cloud types, thunderstorms, tornados, hail, super cells and all aspects of severe weather.
spotter is required to retake the course at least every three years to renew their qualification. These courses are usually
given in the evening, but can be arranged for almost any time that a group of people is available and wants the course. When
the course is completed, a spotter will have a Spotter ID number, charts indicating reporting criteria and definitions of
severe weather and phone numbers and procedures to report severe weather. Ham operators who are trained spotters will also
get a list of frequencies and networks to use to report directly to Ruskin.
If you own
a home weather station, you can report its data directly to the weather service via the Citizen Weather Observer Program.
In this program, your computer is connected to your home weather station and sends the data directly to the NWS through the
internet. You must register with the program, of course, but it is not difficult. Ham operators can do this as well using
a program called APRS (automatic Position Reporting System). This system can send weather data directly.
many ways to assist your community in time of need. Becoming a Ham Operator and a Skywarn Weather Spotter are two very good
ones. Next week I will explain how to get your Amateur Radio License.
May 23, 2007
the Ham Radio Page, I thought I should explain how you go about getting a Ham Radio License. It is not difficult, but it does
take a little study and a little time. There are three classes of license for amateur radio issued by the Federal Communications
Commission. The Technician License, which is the entry level for all ham operators now, The General License, which permits
the holder to access the HF bands, and the Extra Class License, which gives the holder access to all frequencies that are
authorized to the Amateur Radio Service.
are obtained by taking tests offered by many amateur radio groups called Volunteer Examiners. The Volunteer Examiner Coordinator
(the national coordinator for these groups) sets the fee for taking the exam each year. Currently it is approximately $14
dollars. There is no charge for the license itself, only for the examination. There is an exception to that statement, but
I will tell you about that in a minute.
take the test officially, you will have to do some studying. You can purchase the Technician Level textbook from many bookstores,
amateur radio retailers, and from the American Radio Relay League itself. Their web site, http://www.arrl.org is a gold mine of information for the prospective ham operator. On
the home page, you will find a link called "getting started". This will give you loads of information on how to get your license.
Also on the header of the ARRL's home page you will be able to look up testing sessions in your area and the people to contact.
Some clubs also run classes for the entry level license on a regular basis. Again, the ARRL web site will allow you to look
up clubs in your area with contact information you can use.
Amateur Radio Club, even before you get your license, is a very good idea. The club members are a super resource for answering
the inevitable questions you will have. The concept of helping prospective new hams understand and enjoy amateur radio is
absolutely central to the amateur radio community. Somewhere along the way, the term for such a mentor to the newcomer became
"Elmer" which is both a noun and a verb. To "Elmer" someone is to assist them with getting a license and also, once the license
is attained, to help the newcomer as they advance into the technology and procedures of Amateur Radio.
You can also
take practice exams online without cost, as many times as you need to become confident of your ability to pass the real exam.
The real one is given by the Volunteer Examiner Team of at least three members. They will give you the test which consists
of 35 to 50 questions depending on the class of license you are testing for. They will grade your test right there (it is
a multiple choice test with 4 possible answers for each question) and if you pass, you will be informed immediately. The VE
Team will give you a form called a CSCE (Confirmation of Successful Completion of Examination) and will submit your application
for a license directly to the FCC via their VE Coordinator. As soon as your name and callsign appear in the FCC's database
you are an Amateur Radio Operator. A paper copy of your license will arrive later in the mail from the FCC. The whole process
from test to license will take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on how busy the applications office
is at the FCC.
You will be
issued what is called a sequential call sign. That is like an ordinary car license plate, the next combination of letters
and number available. Once you have that, you can, if you wish, apply for a vanity call sign. This works just like a vanity
tag for your car, and is the exception to the no fee license I mentioned before. The FCC is required by law to cover the cost
of administering the vanity call sign program, so your fee for a vanity call will be whatever the FCC decides for a given
year. Your license, vanity or sequential, lasts for ten years, and can be renewed only when there is less than 90 days to
its expiration. The fee for a vanity renewal is the same as for a new vanity call in that year and of course there is no fee
for renewing a normal call sign. I hope all this helps you; next week we will talk more about why you should join an amateur
radio club. Enjoy Memorial Day and remember why we have a Memorial Day. "Lest we Forget"
you join an Amateur Radio Club? I can think of many, many reasons. First and foremost among them, the opportunity to meet
and get to know other ham operators in your community. There are over one million amateur radio operators in The United States,
but within your local community they are probably not on every block. Ham radio is no different than any other hobby, be it
model aircraft builders or Civil War re-enactors. We are a small minority of the general public, so we band together to assist
each other with our hobby, and to socialize with like minded individuals. Particularly for the newcomer, joining a club is
almost a given, and here is why.
first gets into a hobby, they have questions, lots of questions. Some of the answers can be found in books or on line, but
like any hobby, ham radio has a lingo all it's own. For the neophyte, the lingo can be very intimidating. Being in a club
allows one to absorb some of the language just by hearing it in context. Most hams are only to happy to explain it to someone
else as well.
question of equipment is concerned, the choices are overwhelming. Club members can make sense of the choices and direct the
tyro to solutions that make sense for his or her unique situation. People live in different kinds of communities and have
different restrictions on what they can put up for antennas. Within the home, the space available for amateur radio might
be a whole room, or it might be just a little space on a desk somewhere. Spouses also have different ideas on what and where
they will be happy with radios in the house or the car. Since family always must come first, the advice of more experienced
operators can be invaluable in getting amateur radio and your own personal zoning board to co-exist happily.
at some point the new ham operator is going to come up against a problem. It could be equipment related or antenna related
or any of dozens of other problems. Trying to work it out alone can be difficult to say the least. If you belong to a club,
it is a simple task to ask another member with more experience for help or advice. Down the road, someone will be asking you
similar questions and suddenly you realize that you have become the expert that newcomers look to for help.
Most ham operators
have more interests than just amateur radio. They may be expert gardeners or woodworkers or collectors. By joining a club
and participating actively in it, you can avail yourself of the friendships and social contacts that the club provides. Who
knows, you likely bring a skill or an experience level to the club that others will see as valuable too.
where belonging to a club brings benefits is in the area of what I call "the big project". If there is a need for a tower
to be erected, or some other large job, club members can be counted on to band together to get it done, whether for the club
as a group, or for the benefit of an individual member. Just remember to reciprocate on the next "big project" for someone
To find an
ARRL affiliated club in your area, go to http://www.arrl.org and look up clubs in your area by zip code, section or state. Also,
and very important, join the ARRL. The services provided to the members
and the excellent publications they put out are a cornerstone of the hobby. The ARRL is amateur radio's representative to
the FCC and to the world. They protect our spectrum from encroachment by vested interests and speak for us to the government.
They also do much more, but that would take a whole book to describe. Just a few are available insurance on your radio equipment,
awards, email forwarding, license renewal, technical information, regulatory information and on and on. The cost is only 39
dollars per year, less if you are over 65 and no better bargain is to be had anywhere.
June 6, 2007
first amateur radio to purchase can be an overwhelming decision. Being new to the hobby, it appears that there is a bewildering
array of choices to look at. For the Technician Licensee, however, it is not as difficult as it first appears. Applying a
few logical ground rules can cut hundreds of options down to three or four pretty quickly.
thing to look at is your personal situation. How much can you afford to spend? A new dual band mobile radio will cost from
$250 to $400. The antenna with coax cable to connect it to the radio can cost anywhere from $20 to $60. This sounds like a
lot of money, but this is a purchase that should last for a long time, so its cost is spread over several years. You can pay
less for a single band radio, but since there are many repeaters in the area on both 2 meters and 70 centimeters it kind of
makes sense to get the most flexibility for the cost.
The next aspect
to consider is what kind of radio. It used to be conventional wisdom that the first ham radio for the Technician would be
a handheld or HT type unit. These are very convenient; there is no setup for power, just program and go. The problem is that
the community is expanding all the time and this means longer distances between you and the repeater. Sometimes that means
that the HT, with a maximum of 5 to 6 watts output power, may be too far away to make reliable contacts. For those living
close in to town, an HT is OK, but if you are well east of I-75, a mobile radio with 40 to 50 watts may be a better choice.
of course, that it has to be installed in your car or in your house. Either way there are important things to consider. If
mounted in the house, as what is termed "a base rig", you will need a power supply to provide the 13.8 volts DC to the radio.
In your car, that is available from the battery. In either case you will also need an antenna for the radio to transmit and
receive through. Let's consider the power supply first. It needs to be able to provide 13.8 Volts DC at amperage that will
operate the radio properly. That little 3 amp supply you have in the garage just will not cut it here. You will need at least
10 to 15 amps of available power at 13.8 v. to let the radio work. Less is not only poor procedure but may even damage the
consider the antenna. This seemingly simple device looks like nothing more than a metal stick on a mount with coax cable like
TV cable to connect it to the radio. Nothing could be further from the truth. The radio antenna for the usual VHF/UHF ham
radio is a very complex piece of engineering. It has to closely match the "impedance" of the antenna to the "impedance" of
the radio and the "impedance" of the coaxial cable. Television, whether cable, satellite or over the airwaves, uses a characteristic
impedance of 75 ohms. Communications equipment uses a characteristic of 50 ohms. The two are NOT compatible. The proper antenna
for amateur radio in your car can be mounted on a magnetic mount, to a hole drilled in the body, or in the case of pickups
to a suitable mirror mount. The antenna for a base installation can be big or small, mounted on a mast or hidden on a porch
or a balcony. The cable has to be run in a certain way so that the radio does not interfere with the computers built into
the modern car. Having said that and probably having scared you half to death, I must point out that all major car manufacturers
have built their products to safely handle amateur radios up to 100 watts of power. They also have published guidelines to
assist people in safely and properly mounting amateur equipment in their cars and trucks. Otherwise, every time you drove
past a commercial radio station, your car would stall. It doesn't, so don't worry. Properly installed ham radio gear
will not interfere with anything unless something is wrong with the consumer device that is getting the interference.
every vendor of amateur radio equipment has a web site you can view. Prices, availability, shipping charges and often advice
and comparisons between brands are available. Here is where my comments last week about joining a club come home. You may
be confused and unsure. Ask a fellow club member for suggestions; in fact ask more than one. Find out which brand and model
works well for them. Which ones are easiest to program? How does it hold up? Etc. etc. The answers can make your decision
easy. Next time we will talk about ham radio and computers, the combination is so much more than the sum of the parts.
June 13, 2007
I was going to write about computers in amateur radio this week, but then I remembered that Field Day is coming up
soon. What's Field Day, you ask? Well, let me tell you. For an amateur radio operator dedicated to public service, it is the
biggest weekend event of the year. On the fourth full weekend in June each year, ham operators all over North
America come together in groups to demonstrate their ability to communicate via radio under field conditions.
That is, off the normal power grid, using batteries, generators, solar power, even hydrogen fuel cells in a few places. They
do this because when disaster strikes, that is what they will have to do anyway. Field Day gives hams the opportunity to test
their abilities to the limit without the actual presence of a disaster. It kind of operates like a contest, with groups all
over making contact with each other by radio on any and all of the frequencies available to amateur radio. Each contact is
worth points with multipliers for unusual modes and other reasons.
There are no prizes, this is just for "bragging rights", but many regard it as the biggest contest of the year. Equipment
to be used when an emergency really happens get exercised and tuned up, new methods of raising antenna get tried out and evaluated.
Lots of picnic style food is consumed and a generally great time is had by all. It sounds like a lot of fun and it is, but
it has a serious purpose. As I noted before, the stations are operating
just as they would if a disaster struck and there was no power, no telephone, no TV, no cell phones, no nothing. The groups
which can be clubs, ARES groups or individual hams operate for 24 hours straight through Saturday night into Sunday. The stations
they set up are classified as to the number of transmitters, the number of operators on at any one time, the source of their
power and so on. When the points are tallied, each class of station is competing only against similar stations.
The public is welcome, indeed encouraged to come out and see what all the fuss is about. Most Field Day sites even
have a station called GOTA for Get On The Air. Even non hams can pick up the microphone, under supervision of a control operator,
and make a contact with someone halfway around the country just to see what it feels like. Literature is available at most
Field Day sites so that visitors can learn more about amateur radio and its service to the community.
Field Day sites can be in city parks, farmer's fields, shopping mall parking lots, just about anywhere, so come out
and visit, you will be welcome
June 20, 2007
I am going to write about a subject close to my heart since it happens to be my Technical Specialty within the ARRL. That
is installing an amateur radio in a vehicle. I have been doing it in a variety of capacities both as a ham operator and as
a communicator for The Civil Air Patrol (the auxiliary of the USAF) for more than twenty years. It is not particularly difficult
as long as you follow a few simple rules. By the way, these rules also apply to CB radios, FRS mobiles or any other two-way
radio that gets permanently mounted in any vehicle.
the unit directly from the battery. Do not use the little cigarette lighter type power jack in the car. There are several
reasons for this. It does not have enough capacity at the jack to power any high wattage equipment. The jack and plug of the
cigarette lighter type is not secure enough to prevent loss of power due to slippage. The wiring from the jack goes through
the vehicle wiring picking up all kinds of motor noise and interference. Just do not do it, period.
fuse holders and fuses as close to the battery as possible on both the positive and negative wires going to the radio. The
reason for this is very simple. Should a short circuit occur, in the radio or in the car, you want the power cut off as close
to the battery as possible. Melting, smoking wire is not something you want anywhere, certainly not in the engine compartment
or the passenger cabin of your car.
the wires through the firewall safely. That means drilling a hole in a suitable place, not through the air conditioner or
other very expensive car components. Stay as far away as possible from the car's ECU or computer module. In some cases it
is best to take the car to a stereo installer and ask them to do the job of running the wire. They know how to do it quickly
and properly and if you provide the wire and the grommet to protect the wire from the sharp sheet metal it will usually cost
less than $20,
the radio using brackets, they usually come with the radio. Do not depend on Velcro or double-sided tape. Use sheet metal
screws or nuts and bolts. In an accident, a loose radio is like a lethal weapon and can injure you or worse. Also secure the
external speaker, if used. DO NOT place the radio in front of any air bag device. If the air bag deploys, the radio will become
a deadly projectile.
the antenna in accordance with the vehicle manufacturer's instructions. These are available at:
for Daimler-Chrysler products
for Ford Motor Company products
for General Motors products.
and cover not only antenna placement, but the entire installation.
Those of you with foreign cars will be on your own, but following the same general principles as the above instructions
will usually work. Generally, you should mount the antenna in the middle of the roof or the middle of the rear deck lid. Never
on the hood or front fenders. You can use a magnetic mount or drill the required hole and permanently mount the antenna. When
it comes time to sell the vehicle, a simple plug from the auto parts store will fill the hole neatly.
the power wires and coax and any speaker wires as neatly as possible. Run them under carpeting if possible or at least under
mats so no one can trip on them and damage themselves or the radio. If you know your car well, you can usually hide the wires
and cables behind the trim or carpeting so that nothing shows but the radio itself.
Make sure that
the SWR (Standing Wave Ratio) of the antenna is less than 1:1.5. This will allow full power to be transmitted and lessen the
effect of any reflected power on the car. For a full explanation of SWR and how to measure and adjust it, go to: http://ham-shack.com/swr.html
your radio with all of the local repeater and simplex frequencies you are likely to use and go have some fun with amateur
June 27, 2007
After my necessarily
long-winded explanation last week of how to install a ham radio in your car, I feel it is important to mention a few suggestions
on how you should safely operate while driving,
amateur radio while in motion is really no different than talking on your cell phone. Both can distract you from the only
thing that is really important: Driving The Car! You must make sure that your first responsibility is to know what you and
the car are doing and where you are driving. Nothing else can be permitted to even come close. If the conversation on the
radio or the cell phone is distracting you, pull over and stop the car. Finish the conversation and then devote all your attention
to driving safely. The life you save might be your own, or mine come to think of it.
Make your choice
of a frequency before you pull away from the curb or your parking spot. Make sure you have the volume set so you can hear
it easily. Have the microphone placed in the car so you can pick it up and put it back without having to take your eyes off
the road. If you do have to change frequencies, either stop and park out of traffic or know your radio's programming well
enough to do it by feel or by counting clicks. Whatever you do, do not take your eyes off the road.
One of the
tenets of amateur radio is to only use enough power to make the contact. By the same token, using too little power and making
your signal scratchy and difficult for the other party to understand is no good either, Use enough power to get the job done
well. In the VHF/UHF area this usually means leaving your transmitter on it's highest power setting unless you are stopped
for a long period of time and know that lower settings will work reliably.
Do not try
to write anything down while driving. Just tell the other operator that you are mobile and will ask for the information when
you have found a place to park safely. They will understand.
about it for amateur radio this week.
One of the
ways that amateur radio operators can make sure that the information they are sending is understood properly at the other
end of the contact is by using the Phonetic Alphabet for important items like names and call signs. Just the same way that
the military uses it in their radio communications, hams use a version that has been standardized by the International Amateur
Radio Union (IARU) This organization coordinates many amateur radio aspects at the international level so that hams in different
countries have a common frame of reference. The Phonetic Alphabet and certain abbreviations called Q signals actually make
it possible for two hams to communicate even if they do not speak a common language. I will explain Q signals another time.
The specific words used to indicate the letters of the alphabet were selected after much research and experience for over
100 years to be the best for clarity and understanding. Some hams like to make up their own alphabet but when used in important
situations or with vital communications it is best to stick to the official version. So here they are:
F-Foxtrot (FOX TROT),
I- India (IN-DEE-AH),
The boldfaced syllables are emphasized,
This list comes from the ARRL Operating Manual and is used with permission.
July 11, 2007
I think it
is time to discuss a topic that is very important in any kind of radio communications. 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 can be kind of rude 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 conversation 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 normally will do so.
There are some
subjects that are not normally considered suitable for amateur radio because they usually engender strong responses: Politics,
religion, sexual preferences, among others are best left to other modes of communication. If someone adds an aspect to the
conversation that you find unpleasant or causes anger, just sign off appropriately to the FCC rules. It takes two to argue,
try not to be the other half of the problem. Do not try to be the radio police, no one appreciates that. Just change frequencies
and find someone else to have a pleasant conversation with.
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". In amateur radio, the word "Break" is used only to indicate that
you have an important emergency communication to pass. While I am on that subject, there are no 10-codes either, not even
10-4. The FCC forbids the use of any kind of verbal codes that may hide the meaning of the verbiage on the air.
Ok, well what
about "Mayday"? Mayday is an internationally recognized word that is only used when you or someone with you is in an immediate
life or death situation. For example, you come across a car crash on a lonely road and there are serious injuries and there
is no one else around to respond. 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 am sure you get my drift on that.
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 ways to minimize the problem, First
one calls "This is" and then listens. 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.
July 18, 2007
Once you have
your amateur radio license, your next move is to obtain some radios. Along with the radios, you will need at a minimum, antenna(s),
a power supply, wire, connectors, coax, and all the other stuff that comes with this newfound hobby. Unfortunately, amateur
radio is not like, scrapbooking or sewing. There are no big chains of "box" stores that sell the stuff you need. To purchase
a new radio or antenna in West Central Florida, you have few choices. You can drive to Orlando
and visit Amateur Electronic Supply http://www.aesham.com. You can find a few small dealers in the greater Tampa Area that might have some used gear, or you can use the Internet or
the phone to call any of the larger mail-order houses in the country like Ham Radio Outlet
http://www.hamradio.com/ , Texas Towers http://www.texastowers.comwhich sells much more than just towers. Another is HamPROs http://www.hampros.comwhich is a loose confederation of individual stores that combine for better buying power.
I have used all of these companies successfully over the years, so I am
not advocating one over the others.
is to save up your pennies and wait for one of several large "Hamfests" to occur. Here in West Central Florida, there are
a number of these events where dealers will set up shop to display and sell the latest gear. Often even at special "Hamfest"
sale prices. The two biggest ones occur in December (The Tampa Bay Hamfest) http://www.fgcarc.org and February (The Orlando Hamcation) http://www.hamcation.com/ The first time you go to a hamfest, I suggest you go with a more experienced ham as a mentor. This is a good way to avoid
spending money on junk and find real bargains. There are also many others around the area throughout the year. To find out
where and when, go to the West Central Florida web site http://www.arrlwcf.org/and look for the Hamfest and Tailgate listings.
best way to see all of the gear that is available is to join the American Radio Relay League http://www.arrl.org/ and thus receive QST every month. QST is absolutely the preeminent ham radio publication today. It is read all over the world,
has great articles and evaluations of new gear, and even the ads are spectacular. Believe me, if anyone is trying to sell
a new radio, antenna, or any kind of "frammis" for ham radio, you will see it and read about it in "QST" The $39 yearly membership
fee is the best value in amateur radio. The ARRL has so many benefits for it's members in terms of representation in Washington, contacts and working relationships with the FCC, coordination
of frequency plans, on and on, too many to mention here. It is very difficult for me to imagine where amateur radio would
be today, if it was not for the efforts of the ARRL.
radio is a hobby where you can start small and work up to any level of equipment you want over a period of years. You do not
have to buy all of it all at once. Even after many years in the hobby, I still have a constantly changing "wish list". You
August 22, 2007
This week, 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 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 your favorite ham radio magazine for articles detailing simple little projects
like J-pole antennas, wire antennas and the like. They are there, 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 am not suggesting that anyone try to compete with the likes of Kenwood or Icom and build the latest all mode all
band transceiver cum food processor. 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.
The experience gained and the confidence realized will make you a better ham, and you will have more fun than you can
So grab that soldering iron by the cool end and
start playing with homebrewing. I guaranty that you will have fun and more importantly, you can say, “yeah, I built
August 29, 2007
This week, a brief explanation of Amateur Radio's
National Traffic System, the method amateur radio uses to send messages for hams and non-hams alike to others during emergencies
and during normal times
The purpose of the
National Traffic System, or “NTS” was initiated in 1914 with the formation of the American Radio Relay League.
In the early days of radio, the technology was so primitive that Hiram Percy Maxim began the League as a way to enable the
transmission of radio messages across longer distances than the usual equipment could accomplish. Hence the term “Relay”
in the name of our organization. With modern equipment of course, the relaying of messages from one radio operator to another
is no longer the necessity it once was, except for one or two areas of the communications system.
first is the area of emergency communications. When the phone system and the internet go belly up because of weather or other
natural or man made disasters, who ya gonna call? Amateur Radio, with its ability to communicate over long distances while
using battery or alternative power provides the answer. The other area is that of third party communications for medical or
ARRL, even all the way back to Hiram Percy Maxim, saw the need, and sponsored the formation of various nets and systems of
nets to move such message traffic expeditiously across the country and across the world.
of the modern examples of such net systems is the National Traffic System. This entity starts with a local net like the Eagle
net on every night at 8:30pm local time on the NI4CE repeater system. Traffic in the form of formal written messages is brought
to this net and hundreds of other local nets across the US and Canada. Stations who participate as liaison stations take
these messages and bring them to regional nets on the HF bands. From there these messages are directed to national and international
traffic nets until they arrive in the area for which they are intended. From there the messages go back down the chain of
nets to the local level. At this point an operator in the local area would take the traffic and either by telephone or other
means deliver the message to the intended recipient.
kinds of messages a ham operator might hear on the Eagle Net are usually routine net reports, friendly reminders to renew
a license or “having a wonderful time, wish you were here” types of traffic. This is what is known as Routine
Traffic. Apart from the information conveyed, their purpose is to maintain the traffic handling skills of the participants.
weather or other disaster strikes, the messages take on a more important tone. Then one might hear Welfare traffic. These
are messages to let someone know that the writer is safe, or injured and being treated. The kind of messages one would send
by phone, if only the phone system was not out of action due to the disaster.
next level of message traffic is Priority. These messages are usually sent from or to an EOC or other emergency service provider.
Examples of this kind of message might be damage assessments or requests for supplies such as cots, blankets, food, water
and the like.
highest level of message traffic is Emergency. This traffic has priority over all other levels and normally would not be used
unless lives are in immediate danger.
All of these messages
are sent using a standardized message form developed by the system over many years. The form codifies the message into a standard
format that minimizes errors and makes sending and receiving the message as simple as possible. This form is available on
the ARRL website for downloading to your computer to be printed out and used when handling NTS traffic. The instructions for
filling it out are also available there. In addition, the NTS has developed a series of shortcuts called ARL numbered messages.
These reduce the writing of frequently used messages to just a couple of words, saving time and effort. The list of ARL numbered
messages is also available at the ARRL website, as are detailed descriptions and manuals for operating in the NTS system.
join us on the Eagle Net at 8:30pm local time every evening. The frequencies are 145.43 and 442.95 in our local area. Offset
is 600 KHz down on 2 meters and 5 MHz up on 440. Both repeaters use a tone of 100Hz. The net runs every evening, seven days
a week. Unless we have a major influx of messages the net usually lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, and a good time is had by
September 5, 2007
I just want to give a short overview of a web site that I think is seriously underutilized by the hams in West Central Florida.
It is the Section Web site, http://www.arrlwcf.org/ Let me tell you a little about what is available on the site.
On the home
page you can find the current weather conditions in 4 cities in the section, Tampa, St. Pete,
Clearwater and Sarasota. The
navigation bar on the left side will take you to Section Staff, Section Programs, WCF Clubs, The Calendar of events and WCF
Information. The links bar on the far right will take you to the User Group Forums - yahoo groups specific to various aspects
of the WCF, The Section Appointments Database, The VE Exam Schedule, The Section-wide Net List, The Section-wide Repeater
List, N4MC's Vanity Call HQ and many other links to other pages of interest to hams.
Right on the
home page is a large area with current amateur radio news headlines from the ARRL service. Each of these is linked to the
full story with one click of your mouse. Below the headlines are more local stories from various events within the Section.
Below those are reports and links to various e-publications put out by various section groups and/or clubs.
are things like the hamfest schedule, section net schedules, DX News and finally opportunity to provide feedback to the webmaster.
All of this and you are still on the Home Page.
If you click
on, say, the Section Programs tab in the left hand navigation bar, the page changes to show you things like ARES, NTS, Volunteer
Monitoring, Support for Affiliated Clubs, Government Liaison, The Tech Specialist Program and their Resources, RFI Policy
and Information, etc. Just double click on any of these hyperlinks will take you to a wealth of information.
if you click on The Tech Specialist Program, that page contains links to, among other things, info on Coax cable, a repair
service database, information about erecting a tower in your county, a downloadable version of the Tech Specialist Field Manual,
and a hyperlink to the Technical Information Service of the ARRL. There are also links to Emergency Communications, Message
Traffic, the Official Observer program and many others.
that page you will find archived PDF files with all the back issues of "The Experimenter" the e-publication of the Technical
Group in the WCF Section. There are some excellent articles in there, dating back to 2000, when the WCF first came into being.
Back on the
Home page, a click on WCF Clubs will take you to a listing of all of the Amateur Radio Clubs in the WCF that are affiliated
with the ARRL. These are arranged by county and even by Specialty such as DX Clubs. Within each listing available hyperlinks
will take you to that specific club's web page or to an e-mail link to a contact person for the club.
link will take you to actually two calendars. One is the Ham fest calendar, the other is WA7BNM's Contest Calendar
The right hand
navigation or links bar will take you to many different sites, some with databases that you access directly and some links
will take you to other links pages for the ARRL, Florida
ham radio links, the FCC, and many other organizations within ham radio.
Like any website,
the home page is just the beginning. Spend a little time exploring the site. I am confident you will find information of interest
that will be of help.
September 12, 2007
your amateur radio station have emergency power? This is a question I have seen many times in various surveys or questionnaires
in ham radio. Certain groups, notably ARES/RACES or SKYWARN ask whether you have emergency power or not. Emergency power can
take a number of forms. If you only operate mobile or an HT, your operation does not depend on the electric companies 110
volt AC. Therefore you have Emergency Power. If you have access to a gas-powered generator and fuel to run it then you do
have Emergency Power.
those of us who have a Base Station, and who normally use an AC power supply to run our radios, if we do not have an alternate
source of power to the radio station, then we do NOT have Emergency Power. My solution to this problem was to use a system
I found described on the Internet. It is very simple, very reliable, and for a simple home station has plenty of capacity
for at least 24-48 hrs of intermittent operation.
system consists of a 12 volt Deep-Cycle Marine Battery, maintained at full charge by a 1.5 amp Charger/Maintainer commercially
available at Sears, Wal-Mart, and others. Basically, I ran 10-gauge power zip-line; you know the red and black paired wire
we have been using for eons, from the battery terminals to a Double Pole-Double Throw- Center Off (DPDT Center OFF) heavy-duty switch. This switch is easily available at Radio Shack or any auto parts store.
The wire pair from the battery goes to one pair of connections on one side of the switch. Another wire pair comes from the
normal DC power supply terminals to the other side of the switch. More wire pair then goes from the remaining or center connections
on the switch to the DC power bus that supplies 12 volt DC to all of my radios, interfaces, tuners and other electronic devices
in my shack.
did not include 12-volt room lighting or other accessories on the power feed to reduce the load and increase the endurance
of the battery.
charger/maintainer I mentioned earlier is of course plugged into regular AC power and does its job very well without any interference
from me. I do check the battery fluid levels once a month, just to make sure I don’t dry it out. In order to prevent
any accidental shorts across the battery terminals I bought an inexpensive battery box, same sources as before, and placed
the Deep Cycle Battery in it. This covers the terminals and neatens the whole thing up to the point that it can sit under
my desk in the Radio Room and my XYL doesn’t even complain. My radio room is quite drafty, being in a "Florida Room".
If your radio room is better sealed, you should mount the battery outside so that any Hydrogen gas from the battery will not
build up in the room. I mounted the switch in the Control Panel of my Radio Console.
upshot of the whole project is that I can now go from commercial power to emergency power at the flip of a switch. I can also
shut everything off the same way if desired. The LED’s on the Charger/Maintainer tell me what I need to know about the
present state of charge. I don’t think I could make it much easier than that.
September 19, 2007
One of the things that eased my entry into
amateur radio back in the early 90's was the presence of a few experienced amateur operators who were always willing to assist
the newbie with advice, assistance, and occasionally, the loan of a test instrument or a radio until mine came back from the
repair shop. I have always remembered fondly the "old-timers", some of whom were younger than me, who aided "the new guy"
in getting his mind around ham radio.
Some of us
in this room probably have similar stories to tell about hams, known as "Elmers" who got them interested in ham radio, or
at least assisted them with setting up that first station or antenna.
changed. It has become much more difficult to find the local neighborhood ham operator. The WCF Technical Net seems to me
to be a partial answer, not only for new hams, but also for those of us, myself most definitely included, who are anxious
to try out new modes of communication. An experienced ham, perhaps, but one can feel just the same as the newest Technician
level licensee, if one has no experience with, say, PSK31 or APRS. The Tech Net, then, is a place to come with any question
about amateur radio: Any Mode, any band, any piece of equipment.
The next question
you may ask is "So who's going to answer my question?" Good point. The Tech Net is an offshoot of the Section Technical Specialist
Program. In The West Central Florida Section, we have more than 25 people who have been appointed as Technical Specialists
in various aspects of Amateur Radio. You can find contact information on all of them at http://www.arrlwcf.org/
Some of these
fine people show up on Thursday night at 9 pm to answer any question that is within their area of expertise. But they are
not our only resource. Many of the hams that check in are not Tech Specialists, but they have their own experiences to draw
on, and often the answer to a question comes from a ham that has experienced the same problem and solved it.
As you check
in you tell the net control (usually me) if you have a question or comment for the net. After we have taken the first round
of check in's the net control will go back to those that had a question or comment
and have that operator give his or her question to the net. If a Tech Specialist with the needed specialty is on the net,
the control will direct him or her to answer the question. Once that is done, or if there is no TS with the needed specialty
on the air, the question will be thrown out for anyone to answer. If there is no one who can answer, then the net control
will give the email address of the appropriate TS to the ham with the question and let them contact them. Occasionally, I
or one of the other Tech Specialists will present a short talk on some aspect of the hobby. The whole thing can run from 45
minutes to well over an hour in length. All have a good time and hopefully leave with their questions answered.
join us on Thursday Evenings at 9 PM for the Tech Net. Frequencies locally in the Bradenton-Sarasota area are 145.430-, and
442.950+. All of the NI4CE repeaters require a 100 Hz tone. We would love to have your participation in what has become a
really fun net.
September 26, 2007
I have been a member of the ARRL for a number
of years. Some of those years were not consecutive, but even when I was not a paid up member, I always knew that I should
be. Now that I am an ARRL Section Official, I know that the rest of my years in the organization will not have any more gaps.
I have talked to some hams who don’t belong
to the ARRL and I always find their reasons for not joining to be more like excuses. Even if someone disagrees with the ARRL’s
position on one topic or another, the overall worth of the group and it’s membership is so vital to our avocation as
to be absolutely necessary. To put it bluntly, the publication QST alone is worth the price of admission. Add to that the
other periodicals like QEX and the various books and other materials that the ARRL makes possible, and the value quotient
goes off the scale. But that is not the real reason you should join this fine organization.
That is because the most important function of
the ARRL is to represent us in Washington D.C.
and to the F.C.C. Their efforts on behalf of every amateur radio operator, ARRL member or not, have secured our rights to
the amateur bands instead of having the spectrum sold off to special interests. This is an ongoing struggle, not only to retain
the frequency bands, but also to keep them free of the blight of uncontrolled RFI from various devices that the business world
keeps thinking up like RFIDs and BPL.
The ARRL also assists ham operators with a full
range of services, from advice on operating overseas to renewing your license. The organization has volunteers who can assist
with everything from successfully operating a new mode to getting a permit for your dream tower and everything in between.
Hams who remain outside the ARRL are missing the point entirely. There will always be more than one viewpoint on any given
subject, the important thing is to band together in spite of those differences to present a forceful presence to those who
would be only too happy to see us disappear forever.
The American Radio Relay League is our voice
and our strength. It keeps our hobby vital and refreshed so that there is always something new to master, some new mode to
try, some new antenna to build. Amateur radio would not exist without the ARRL and the ARRL will be stronger with YOU in it
October 3, 2007
A point was raised by another operator last night about the proper terms to use on the amateur bands. The amateur bands
are an inclusive area and a certain amount of freedom to use individual examples of terminology has always been a hallmark
of the hobby. Having said that, however, there are good reasons to use a certain amount of standardized terms. Particularly
when we are participating in disaster communications, this concept becomes vital. Even in non-emergency communications, however,
the use of standard phrases makes the information we are attempting to convey easier to understand.
First, and foremost in my mind, is CLARITY. We want our message, be it a call sign, a name, or a location to be clearly
heard and understood by the other operator. If we use terms or phonetics of our own design, we risk having the person listening
to us get confused or get the message incorrect. For this reason alone we as operators should learn, use and stick to the
accepted phonetic alphabet as published by the ARRL and other radio organizations.
Second, the use of terms peculiar to another service, such as "Personal" when we mean "Name", mark us to other operators,
sometimes unfairly. Here again, the ARRL has stated in many publications, that the use of misunderstood "lingo" is poor operating
practice. Even the ubiquitous "Q" signs of CW are not appropriate to phone operations. Their original purpose, as a kind of
shorthand that shortened the time necessary to send a message in Morse Code, still exists, but ONLY in Morse Code. The use
of QRM or QTH may be very frequent on the voice ham bands since most operators know the meaning of these terms, but a few
operators insist on using arcane Q signs. All this does is confuse the other operator. If these individuals are doing this
to make it appear that they are super hams, they should stop. All it does is irritate the rest of us, and slow the passage
of information down due to having to repeat the term in plain English. Why not do it in plain English to begin with.
Third, as the operator who brought the subject up noted, we are under observation very often. Government agencies,
relief organizations, law enforcement, fire and EMS entities are the very clients we serve
when disaster strikes. We, as radio operators, must be cognizant of how we present ourselves to these agencies. That means
being as professional as we can while we do our "thing", Radio Communications.
As a reminder to all amateur radio operators, here is the phonetic alphabet
in its proper form, courtesy of the ARRL.
ALFA, BRAVO, CHARLIE, DELTA, ECHO, FOXTROT, GOLF,
HOTEL, INDIA, JULIET, KILO, LIMA, MIKE, NOVEMBER, OSCAR, PAPA, QUEBEC, ROMEO, SIERRA, TANGO, UNIFORM, VICTOR, WHISKEY, X-RAY,
If you are telling someone your name, it is your NAME, not your "personal". If you are telling someone where you live,
it is your address, not your QTH, unless of course, you are using Morse Code. Same thing for QRU. You are asking if the other
operator has anything for you so just say that. Don't make the other operator puzzle around the shack trying to figure out
what the heck QRU means. Same thing for QRL, QRO, QTB etc. These terms are appropriate for Morse Code, not voice comms on
FM. Please do NOT use the "10-code" on amateur radio. Not even 10-4! Q-signs or codes have their place in the CW mode, but
they are not really appropriate for voice communications. By the way, a frequently heard term on amateur radio is the term
"73". Note please that I said "73", not 73's. The term which is shorthand for "best regards" per the latest definition from
the ARRL originated with telegraphers in the 19th century. It should not be pluralized. It is "73".
OK, I have made a pest out of myself for long enough. Just remember, the purpose is to get the message across clearly,
not to confound us by trying too hard to sound like an old hand. When in doubt, just say it in plain English, that usually
Back on August 1st, we talked about tools for
the Ham Operator. Now, let’s talk about a basic test kit. That is, what instruments the amateur operator should have
available to him or her for use in maintaining and or repairing an amateur station. The basic list isn't very long, but there
are a few necessities, a couple of nice to haves, and many luxuries.
First and foremost, the amateur operator needs
a VOM or DVM. That is an instrument that belongs in every ham's toolbox. You need it to check continuity, voltages, current
(with suitable shunt circuitry), resistance, etc, etc. A multimeter gets used
very frequently, so get the best that you can afford. Pay particular attention to the probes that come with it. They should
be equipped with handles long enough to keep your fingers well away from the circuit you are testing. They should have flexible
wire running to the instrument and the connection to the plug at the instrument end should be strong. There is nothing good
about trying to make a test measurement only to find that you have to stop and solder the test probe back onto the plug. Cost
varies from less than $5 to more than $200. Get the best you can afford. The ARRL Handbook has plenty of ideas for simple
devices you can build and use to expand the capabilities of the DVM. See Chapter 26, Test Procedures and Projects.
The second major instrument is an SWR or power
meter. Again these come in many flavors, from very basic and inexpensive to very complex and expensive. They also come in
varying degrees of accuracy from wishful thinking to spot on. Some require you to push a button to read reflected power or
SWR; others come with two meters combined on a single dial to read both forward and reflected power at once. These are known
as "cross-needle" displays. Still others will display SWR and/or power digitally. A fancier and more expensive group of instruments
are called antenna analyzers. These give much more information but again depending on the quality, the accuracy ranges from
good to wishful thinking. Some SWR meters are capable of being left in line. That is, connected between the transmitter and
the antenna so that every time you key the mike, you can read the SWR or forward power. While this is great for "Golly Gee
Whiz Martha, lookit all them dials a quiverin'", it is actually unnecessary. Put it in line to take the measurement of SWR,
adjust the antenna to make the SWR acceptable and remove it and plug the antenna directly into the radio or tuner as necessary.
Please note, an SWR meter
calibrated for HF will not tell you the correct answer if you use it on 144 MHz. Nor will one set for 144 MHz tell you the
SWR of a 440 MHz antenna. Match the meter to the band. Radio Shack still sells SWR meters for CB. Unless you are a QRPer this
meter will not work for hams at all. Besides it's accuracy falls into the wishful thinking category.
The above, a good Multimeter and a good SWR meter
are what I call necessities in the ham shack. The antenna analyzer type of instrument falls into the category of nice to have,
but only if you really need it. For most average hams the list stops here. The next category is either nice to have if you
do a lot of home brewing or kit building, or necessary if you hope to do your own repair work on your rigs or someone else's.
The Frequency Counter is a handy piece of equipment.
You can check to see that your transmitter is actually putting out the frequency it says it is. Again the cost is related
to the accuracy of the instrument. Prices start at about $90 dollars and can run upwards of $300. Nice to have but not a unit
you need to use every day.
An Oscilloscope is another device that is handy,
particularly if you build a lot of kits or homebrew your radios. They come in analog or digital format and today are even
available as software driven programs for a computer. Costs vary widely, but be prepared for sticker shock with most. New
ones will cost more than most high end HF radios. Used scopes are available at every hamfest but you kind of have to know
what you are doing before you take on refurbishing a scope so go slowly. Scopes contain lethal voltages within. Treat a scope
like a full gallon amplifier. GENTLY!
Signal Generators are handy for testing the accuracy
of your receiver. However, the cost/benefit ratio would indicate that unless you really do a lot of repair or construction
work, you really won't use it that much.
Spectrum analyzers are similar to oscilloscopes
in that both provide a visual indication of an electrical signal. However, where scopes measure that signal against time,
Spectrum Analyzers measure it against frequency. The training required to properly use a spectrum analyzer and the cost, several
thousands of dollars, relegate the Spectrum Analyzer to the professional shop and the very few hams who have a need for such
a device in the home environment.
That pretty much covers the test gear subject
for tonight. Anyone looking for more information would be advised to get a copy of the ARRL Handbook and read on. The ARRL
covers the subject in detail. The average amateur operator gets along perfectly
well with just a DVM or Multimeter and a good SWR/Power meter. With most modern rigs, if it shows signs of difficulty, it
probably needs to go to the repair shop. Before it goes there, however, use the above mentioned devices to make sure that
it isn't just a bad antenna or coax or low or no power getting to the radio. Check the fuse before you pack up the radio!
Check the coax before you reach for the phone!
October 17, 2007
This week I want to tell you a little known fact
about the equipment used in Amateur Radio. That’s right, it doesn’t have to be expensive or hard to find. For
example, I just built several microphone selectors with built in adaptive circuits to enable the use of universal cellular
head sets. These are the little earpieces with a short boom mic that so many cell phone owners are using these days. Actually,
most of them have moved on to “Bluetooth” headsets, but that is OK too. The result is that the older style headsets
that plug into the bottom of most cell phones have plummeted in price. I have personally purchased these “universal”
headsets (or earsets, if you like) at prices as low as $2.00. Even Radio Shack has one model which even comes with adjustable
volume and adjustable microphone sensitivity for less than $7.00! The audio quality of these units is excellent compared to
a lot of communications grade microphones and they are very unobtrusive when worn. Unlike some of the headsets marketed specifically
for amateur radio, they do not interfere with eating or drinking while they are worn. The mic element is out of the way just
in front of and below the ear.
Now, I can already hear the moans, “It
will be too expensive to adapt to my radio”. Not so, grasshopper. Read on. To adapt a cellular headset to a normal ham
radio takes only a few easily obtained components. One polarized capacitor, one or two resistors, a cable with a connector
to fit the radio, another cable with a connector to fit the external speaker jack or “phones” jack on the radio,
a connector to fit the cellular headset, one or more momentary push button switches depending on how many functions of the
original hand mic you want to include, and a small enclosure to hide all the ugly bits. This can be purchased, or if you are
creative, be an old mints box, an empty pill bottle or whatever. The 2.5mm stereo jack to fit the headset can be found at
Radio Shack along with all the other components. If you have a well stocked “junque” drawer, you may not have
to buy anything. Gee, what a concept!
You can even combine the adapter for the cellular
headset with a mic selector so you can use either the stock hand mic or the little headset with the flip of a switch. The
selector circuit is easily made out of an old A-B Data switch like we used to use to select the printer or the scanner for
the computer back in the days before everything came in one package.
Antennas are another area where ham radio operators
can save lots and lots of cash. Home made (or home-brewed, as we are fond of saying) antennas can be as simple as a couple
of pieces of wire and a few insulating connectors. The technology behind antennas can be very sophisticated but the construction
doesn’t have to be at all. With a little reading of the internet or books, you can find excellent designs for almost
every situation. They can be as cheap to build as you like, there are thousands of designs out there.
(For a few examples of the projects I have been
telling you about, just go to some of the other pages on this web site)
October 31, 2007
Any time the general public thinks about Ham
Radio, one thing above all comes to mind. The public’s picture of ham radio seems to center on a guy with earphones
on, talking to another guy with earphones on, usually half way around the world. While this is not he only thing amateur radio
operators do, it does give a reasonably good picture of what interests many hams. The earphones probably are really a full
function headset with the microphone on a boom, The radio is probably capable of doing much more than just send and receive
voice signals, and the radio is not the only way the operator communicates with fellow hams around the world, but the visual
image is often pretty accurate. So, what’s all the attraction about talking to others around the world.
To put it in a nutshell, it’s curiosity!
Ham operators are curious about people in other places. How they live, what they do for a career, what they eat, what they
care about, in short all the same things everyone else is curious about too. The difference is, that while most people only
read about such things, or see a program on TV, the ham radio operator actually talks to these people and listens to them
as they describe that which interests them. Even language is not much of a barrier. Long ago, the amateur community developed
a kind of shorthand that means the same thing in all languages, called the Q-signal. Even better than the old police and CB
10-codes, the Q-signals can be sent by voice, Morse Code or any digital medium. The various combinations of three letter groups,
all starting with the letter Q, cover things like location, radio transmitter power, questions and answers in the conversation.
Examples like QTH for home location, QRM for atmospheric interference, QRU for “are you ready?” when phrased as
a question or “I am ready” when phrased as a statement, mean that even hams that do not speak one word of each
other’s language can communicate easily via amateur radio. ( For a complete list of the Q-signals, go to the ARRL web
site www.arrl.org and look up Q-Signals with the search feature.
Some hams contact other hams just for the fun
of it, some like to collect QSL Cards (another Q-signal) from around the world and others do it in a form of a contest to
see who can contact the most and/or rarest stations in a set amount of time. I will have more to say about contests in a future
Interestingly, amateur radio is not subject to
some of the restrictions that politics places on travel. For example, even during the “Cold War” there were lots
of contacts between Soviet amateurs and Western ones. One of the significant contributors to the ham radio hobby in the USA is a Cuban living in Havana.
Articles about the hobby come from everywhere in the world and are read by hams all over the Earth. Many of the software programs
that hams world-wide use to communicate come from Poland, England, Russia, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and many other
countries as well as the United States.
November 7, 2007
This week I want to tell you about a specific event coming December 1st and 2nd. 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.
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
1st and 2nd 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.
November 14, 2007
What to get the Ham Radio Operator for the holidays? That question has been asked by spouses, children, parents and
friends of amateur operators for years and years. The answer varies widely. Unless the gift giver is experienced in amateur
radio or has a specific wish-list to work from, I would advise not trying to surprise the recipient of the gift. What the
giver thought would be a really cool gift sometimes turns out to be a complete dud for the recipient.
I mentioned a wish-list before and this is an excellent idea. Ask your ham operator to make a list of possible goodies
that he or she would like to have along with approximate prices and sources so that you can make a selection based both on
their needs and your budget. Cash is always good. I know, you hate to give cash, but would you rather have the ham operator
remember the giver for enabling their purchase of that fancy new widget they had to have but couldn’t afford or for
that awful tie that hangs in the back of the closet.
A gift certificate from the American Radio Relay League Store www.arrl.org is always a good choice as are gift certificates from various amateur radio supply stores around the country.
The ham always appreciates that the non-ham thought enough to give something really useful to them. For the dedicated “home-brewer”
(a person who builds their own ham radio gadgets) even a gift card to the local Radio Shack store or home improvement store
is welcome, since many of the items they use to build their widgets come from those locations.
If you really insist on buying and giving a specific gift rather than a gift card or cash, make sure you scout out
the hams real needs and/or wants before making your selection. Most hams also have a computer in their radio room, so computer
accessories may be a good choice. Even printer or computer supplies make good gifts to the right recipient. These could be
printer paper, ink cartridges, blank CD-ROMs and the like. Gifts specific to the hobby that most hams need from time to time
that will not put too big a dent in the budget include communications grade speakers, power supplies, microphones, headsets
and the like. Just make sure that the gift you buy will actually work with the gear that the ham already has. The best way
to do that destroys the element of surprise but results in a great gift. Just ask! Yup, ask the ham what he or she wants for
the holiday. Make sure they know your budget limit (if any) and as I mentioned before, try to get more than one suggestion
so you make the final selection. This will retain some of the surprise and the ham operator will really appreciate
that you got them something they really wanted.
Of course all that I have said applies to any hobbyist, not just amateur radio. The concept is the same whether it
is someone who works in stained glass, collects postage stamps or computer games. Getting the right gift for someone involves
learning enough about their interest to make a smart choice.
N ovember 21,2007
The proliferation of what I call “bells and whistles” incorporated into modern amateur radio gear became
a topic for my column after a situation which occurred some weeks ago. Actually, it occurred this morning as I write this
since I write these columns several weeks in advance of their publication dates.
A visiting ham came up on the repeater and every transmission he made was preceded by a series of DTMF tones that blocked
out the first several words he transmitted. I knew at once that he was using a Yaesu brand radio. Yaesu has decided that all
of their current products should have a function called “Wires”. This is a function that permits hams using the
Yaesu proprietary internet linking program by the same name to connect into it automatically. Unfortunately, when not using
“Wires”, having that feature activated just interferes with the user’s transmission and generally irritates
everyone else. Virtually every owner of a modern Yaesu rig has done it at one time or another and we all feel dumb afterward.
However, the fault is only partly ours.
Many amateur radio makers feel that to retain or improve market share (sales) they must add in more and more esoteric
features to any new radio. These complicate the learning curve when one buys a new rig and truth be told most owners will
never use even one quarter of these fancy add-ons that the manufacturers insist on including. A backlash is developing against
these “full feature” rigs, with more and more hams pleading for an easy to use radio with only the features we
actually use. This would most likely result in a decrease in the cost of the radio and a much simpler instruction book. It
would also result in a “one button-one function” radio, unlike some modern rigs (are you listening, Vertex-Standard/Yaesu)
in which each button can have at least three separate functions depending on how long you push the button and/or what other
buttons you push at the same time. This is not just a rant from an “old timer” with failing eyesight and dismal
motor skills. The overabundance of “features” affects most if not all radio operators at one time or another.
I hear “I had to go back to the manual to figure out what I did wrong” more times than I can count, from all ages
and experience levels.
The only functions most ham operators “need” on a continuing basis are few in number:
(perhaps just 2 or 3 steps- high, medium and low)
DTMF pad (to
control access to repeater control functions etc.)
200 is plenty, even 100 should be more than enough)
control (+, -, and off)
(to access most repeaters these days)
Dual Band (we are rapidly running out of 2 meter
repeater pairs and thus most new repeaters are 440MHz)
There may be a few other features
that might be nice to have in certain specific areas of the country. If so, let them be optional add-ons that could be plugged
in by the retailer or the ham himself (or herself) for a reasonable extra cost. One of the things that most confuses the new
ham operator is the mind-numbing number of features that must be avoided in normal operations. Many new hams are enthusiastic
until they get a look at the instruction manual that came with their new radio. They either throw up their hands in dismay
or dampen their enthusiasm with the number of inadvertent mistakes they make trying to work around extraneous “features”
they will never use. For many more experienced hams, the story is much the same- “Feature overload”.
It is not just that these features are un-needed. Many times the errant feature in question was not even selected by
the operator. It was selected by a bump in a carry-on bag, or a brush of the finger while selecting something else. Removing
these “features” from the front panel would simplify operations significantly. Here are a few guidelines to the
manufacturers of amateur radio gear beyond the list I wrote earlier:
One Button = One Function!
Keep “Extra” Features in a Menu Format with the Default OFF
the DTMF Pad on the Microphone - always!
Always give us direct frequency entry and direct tone entry.
Give us lots of memories but make them easy to access.
If a feature is proprietary, leave it OUT or as an option.If you really think a new feature is important,
make it available to your competitors and push for open source programming.
put the mic connector on the Control Head if the unit is remote-able!
put the external speaker jack on the control head as well.
NOT charge us $80.00 for a $5.00 cable! If the radio control head is remote-able, include the remote kit at no charge!
things like microphone pin-outs and connectors between all manufacturers. Make it easy for the inventive ham to build his
(or her) own accessories for the radio. Standardize back panel connectors for accessory control like TNCs and computer interfaces.
This does nothing to restrict your design ingenuity and it makes it much easier for the end-user to make full use of your
Well, I have said my piece. If you agree with me, write the manufacturers and tell them what you DON’T want on your
next rig, and what you DO want. Maybe they will listen to you.
November 28, 2007
Some people may think you need an FCC license to enjoy ham radio. While this is true if you want to transmit your signal
to others, it is not true for some aspects of the hobby. Short wave listening (SWL) is one example, Direction Finding or “Fox
Hunting” is another. So what is this “Fox Hunting” thing all about?
“Fox Hunting” or “DFing” is an aspect of amateur radio that many find extremely enjoyable and
interesting. You do not need a license since you are only listening to someone else’s transmission (they do need a license)
and trying to home in on the signal and “find the fox”. These contests can range over a small area like a city
or county park, or over a larger area like an entire town. The object can be just to find the hidden transmitter or to find
it in the least amount of time and/or distance traveled.
The equipment used to home in on the signal can range from the ridiculously simple to the sublimely complex and while
fancy equipment can give an edge to some players, common sense and smart strategy is always more important than the amount
of money spent on gear.
Directional antennas like “Yagi’s” (antennas that sometimes remind me of old TV antennas can be built
for mere pennies. Attenuators that turn down the signal strength when you get close to the target are similarly inexpensive
depending on design. There are even techniques for figuring out where the signal is coming from that require no additional
equipment at all, just your body to shield the receiver from the incoming signal. This is called the “body block”
method. Attenuation can be had by just removing the antenna from the receiver or by shielding it and the radio inside a cardboard
tube wrapped in aluminum foil.
If you find that you like “Fox Hunting”, you can go on to fancier equipment with built in attenuators and
more exotic antenna arrays. You can also compete in contests that range from Sunday afternoons in a local park to full blown
international championships held in various countries around the world just like the Olympics.
As I said before, only the target transmitter needs a license. All of the competitors are listening only so they do
not require any license, just the competitive urge and the training that comes with experience. Start simply with local competitions
and you can work your way up to world championships merely by using your experience well.
Some of these local and regional competitions require driving a vehicle to search for the “fox” so make
sure that there are at least two people in each team, one to drive and one to do the direction finding. Never, ever, try to
do both at once. That is a serious accident waiting to happen. If you are on foot, pay attention to your surroundings. Walking
into the path of even a bicycle while watching the S-Meter on your receiver is guaranteed to spoil your day and probably the
other person’s too. Safety concerns aside, the sport of “Direction Finding” is a fun activity that is open
to people of all ages and all physical fitness levels. It requires little in the way of financial expenditure to gear up and
provides valuable training for other aspect of the amateur radio hobby. Call your local amateur radio club and find out when
the next “Fox Hunt” is scheduled. You will have a ball!
December 5, 2007
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about DX, or Ham Radio used to communicate with faraway people and places. The amateur
radio community recognizes almost 400 different “entities” that qualify as separate “countries” around
the world. Some are legally territories of another country, but are separated by so much distance from that nation that for
ham radio, they qualify as a separate “entity”. Often these places are very small islands or other difficult to
reach spots on the globe. Many of these little “dots on the map” have no ham radio operators on them and thus
would be impossible to add to a ham’s contact list (i.e.: log book) without the DXpedition.
The desire to put these remote places in the “log” is so powerful for some hams that they will mount an
expedition to the spot with several other hams (at great expense, I might add) and go to the sometimes desolate little island
in the middle of nowhere solely for the purpose of setting up several radio stations on a temporary basis. They do this so
that their fellow hams can contact them and thus add this very rare contact to their log book. These expeditions are often
supported by the contributions of many amateurs and the loan of equipment from some of the manufacturers of ham radio gear.
Needless to say, because of the very temporary nature of these stations, the contacts they participate in are very
brief, usually just an exchange of call signs and signal reports. Logs are kept electronically and QSL cards are sent out
by an associate back home once the expedition’s logs are emailed to him or her. It is not unusual for a multi-operator
DX expedition to spend as little as one week on what amounts to a rock in the middle of the ocean and come back with 70 or
80,000 entries in the log. Listening to a DX expedition for a really rare one is like listening to absolute chaos, but these
experienced operators pull contacts out at the rate of several per minute.
Organization is the key to one of these events, and they are well publicized well in advance of the actual trip. When
they get to the “entity” and set up, there are thousands of hams from all over the globe just waiting for that
first call from the expedition. For those in the hobby who live for DX, there is no better fun than breaking through a huge
“pile-up” and getting that rare one in the log.
Awards are available from many different organizations including the ARRL and CQ magazine for making a specific number
of contacts with DX “entities” around the world. The awards also include reference to making contacts on more
than one frequency band with the same or different “entities”.
If this aspect of amateur radio appeals to you, then visit www.arrl.org and look up “DX” with the search function. The amount of information will astound you.
December 12, 2007
When one gets their first amateur radio license, it is usually not the highest level of license. Most people start
out as a Technician Licensee and then move up to a General license and on to an Extra rating as they gain more experience.
Some never do upgrade, they are either happy with the privileges of their current rating or they became a ham for a specific
reason that does not require more than their present license allows. Others would like to upgrade but they are worried about
how much study is required. They may feel that they cannot master the more technical material in the tests for an upgrade.
There are probably as many reasons as there are hams and my answer to all of them is simple.
TRY IT, You will LIKE IT! There, I said it. Getting an upgrade in amateur radio really isn’t that difficult.
A little application of study, a little practice, a little boning up on the questions to be asked and you will find that it
really is not that bad at all.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not a freebie. You will have to put forth some serious effort to learn the info
you need to know. Read the material, ask your fellow hams about areas you find confusing, take the practice exams available
at many on line sites. The bottom line, however, is that you can do it. I should know, I did it too. I have no particular
background in electronics, I spent my professional career in health care and teaching health care. The electronic theory one
needs to know for a upgraded license in amateur radio is relatively basic and easy to master. As with the entry level
exam for ham radio, the Technician License, the main things that one is tested on are the areas of what can one do and where
in the spectrum can one do it. Band plans, frequencies and modes of transmission are more important than deep knowledge of
electronic theory. Rules of proper operation are more pertinent than calculations of esoteric aspects of radio performance
and antenna gain. These things are nice to know if they affect your enjoyment of the hobby, but they are not as important
as knowing how to operate your station in a way that brings credit to amateur radio. You can take the exams at the same VE
sessions where you tested for your Technician License.
You may ask well, OK, just what do I get if I upgrade from Technician to General? Good question, I reply, the answer
is relatively simple. That upgrade allows you access to the HF spectrum. The bands from 160 meters to 10 meters are the province of General
and Extra Class licensees, Technicians only have access to a small sliver of 10 meters on SSB and even smaller slivers of
some other bands using CW only. To be able to talk on the HF bands you need at least a General ticket. The upgrade from General
to Extra gets you even more spectrum on HF, expanding some of the bands. The difference between the privileges of a General
and those of an Extra are relatively minor so some people consider the upgrade as more cosmetic than real. But it demonstrates
that you have attained the highest level of license class available from the FCC to an amateur. Whether to upgrade is up to you. It depends on what you want to do in the hobby. Beyond the frequency allocations
there is very little difference in what one license class can do versus another. It is a personal decision and only you can
decide. Just don’t make the decision based on unrealistic expectations of how difficult it will be. You can do it!
December 19, 2007
A few weeks ago, I discussed one of the competitive aspects of amateur radio, the Direction Finding Contest or “Fox
Hunt”. This week I want to mention another. It is called, strangely enough, Contesting, and some hams enjoy it as their
main aspect of the hobby. Others pick and choose the contests they enter in a much more laid back approach. OK, you respond,
what the heck is “Contesting”?
Radio contests basically consist of a specific amount of time, during which ham operator participants try to make more
contacts than the other contesters in the contest. The operator with the most contacts during the contest which may last only
a few hours or a couple of days is recognized as the winner and results are published by major ham radio publications when
they are tabulated. The contest may be restricted to a specific band or mode of operation. Sometimes points or “multipliers”
are added for contacts that are more difficult to obtain or for making contacts with the same station on multiple bands. The
scope of the contest can vary as widely as the hobby itself.
Because the very nature of the contest places a premium on amassing as many contacts as possible, the individual contact
is usually very short. Normally just an exchange of call signs and locations and signal strength is the sum of the conversation.
Hams have developed a kind of shorthand to deal with these bits of information such as just giving the “Grid Square” information for the location. Each contact
can take only seconds in the hands of an experienced contester.
High level contesters tend to have stations with big power available, trying to ensure that they get heard and answered
first. Stations with amplifiers that can put out the maximum allowable power are common, as are multiple radios so that the
operator(s) can listen to one frequency while working another. Computer assisted logging of contacts is pretty routine at
this level also as well as a second operator called the logger who listens to the contact being made and enters the data into
the log, freeing the primary operator to make contacts and operate his radio. People just starting in contesting are well
advised to take it slow, build experience and build your station as you figure out what you need. The outlay of funds to build
your station should proceed in lock-step with your experience so that you do not overspend and regret it later.
By the very nature of the contest it results in what hams refer to as a “pileup”. Many stations, all calling
at the same time, trying to make a contact with a station, perhaps rare, half way around the world will create quite a mess.
Thus the term “pileup”. Using strategy with things like transmitting your call sign at just the right time, or
using a frequency that the needed station may be listening on, can get your call answered while others will not. There are
whole books on the subject of Contesting and Contesters. Check out the ARRL publications and those of other ham radio magazines
for more. Also, do not forget the resources available on line. Just type Ham Radio Contests into your browser and see what
comes up. You will be amazed.
At this time of year, let me wish every one a Happy Holiday Season and a great New Year in 2008.
December 26, 2007
As the end of 2007 approaches, rather quickly I might add, thoughts turn to resolutions for 2008. We all make New Years
Resolutions, even if we keep very few for very long when it comes to diet and such. Ham Radio Operators are no different than
other folks, we keep on making them and try every year to keep them with varying degrees of success or failure. Here then
are a few suggestions for 2008:
Try harder to treat other operators on the frequency as you would like to be treated.
Turn up the volume slightly or use earphones so that you don’t have to ask the other station to repeat
his or her call sign three times before you get it.
Speak more clearly into the microphone and perhaps try a little more power so that the other station doesn’t
have to ask you to repeat it three times before they get it.
Participate in more local and regional nets. You need the training and experience and they need the numbers
to make the nets feasible.
Volunteer to be a Net Control Station for a net. Your skills will improve and the old adage of many hands making
light work was never truer.
If you hear a new ham having trouble with his station or its operation, offer to help him fix the problem, don’t
just rant about the “newbie’s”, help them become experienced operators.
If you must rant and rave, take it to the internet where we can ignore you. We do not share your
dislike of everyone and everything so keep it off the airwaves.
Remember, someone is always listening, whether it be another operator, the FCC or a representative of one of
the agencies we serve in an emergency. Consider what and who you talk about, it might come back to haunt you.
Try a new mode of operation. It may be just the thing you didn’t know you were looking for to reinvigorate
your enjoyment of the hobby.
If you only operate on HF, try a little VHF/UHF work. The people on the repeaters live ham radio just as much
as you do and they might teach you something or vice/versa.
Build something! It doesn’t matter what. Maybe a new mic selector, maybe adapt a headset to your newest
radio, maybe an antenna, just build something. You will be very surprised at how good it feels when you see it working.
Learn something new every day and APPLY it to your life and your ham radio operations.