December 2011 Column
December is here again
and thankfully Hurricane Season ended on a whimper. While severe weather can strike any time, I think we are out of the woods
for the moment. December brings with it a much more pleasant topic. What to buy your favorite ham radio operator for the holidays.
Luckily, the last month of the year also coincides with the start of Hamfest season. Hamfests are kind of like craft shows
except that the main products are stuff specifically related to amateur radio. Antennas, radios, cables, and all the variety
of gadgets and accessories that bring joy to the hearts of amateur radio aficionados will be found in profusion at the nearest
hamfest. A listing of the upcoming events can be found at the American Radio Relay League’s web site at: www.arrl.org and also on the local section web site: www.arrlwcf.org These two sites will point you in the right direction and admission to any of the local events will be a very
I should point out that
the non-ham’s idea of the perfect gift for the licensed operator will often be very far a field of the choices the operator
themselves would make. Therefore, it is wise to ask your ham for a shopping list before heading out to make your purchases.
Sometimes the safest bet is the gift of money and let the ham do his or her own choosing. That is what I have requested of
my family, even though my wife is also a ham radio operator.
Going to a hamfest is one of the most fun things an amateur radio operator can do. They get to put faces with call
signs they may have talked to over the airwaves almost on a daily basis. They get to see and touch the latest in gear from
the manufacturers and they get to pick up the various parts, gadgets, and supplies that are often unavailable anywhere else.
They also find time to sit in on the various forums that are part and parcel of any large event of this type. There will be
presentations on different modes of transmission, both digital and analog. There are meetings of the many organizations that
are underpinned by amateur radio. There are talks on building your own gear and talks on how to operate with more skill and
the list goes on forever.
For anyone who is not a ham, the whole event can be a little daunting, but all hams enjoy answering questions about
their hobby and you may even find an aspect of amateur radio that appeals to you directly. Ham radio is deeply involved in
public service. Indeed that was the original purpose for amateur radio. Many people who started their avocation in radio eventually
turned it into a full time career as electronics engineers or professional broadcasting. In the mean time, most hams are dedicated
to public service as communicators with their local Emergency Management operations. Amateur radio does not require any separate
infrastructure unlike cell phones or the Internet, so amateur radio operators can communicate with each other and the outside
world even when the phones are out and the power lines are on the ground.
Another source for gifts for the radio operator is the ARRL (American Radio Relay League). They have a very well stocked
book store on line and even stock various items of clothing, (think shirts, vests, jackets and hats) that will appeal to the
ham operator. Even Radio Shack seems to have rediscovered their roots in ham radio and is re-emphasizing component parts and
kits aimed at the ham radio market.
So, if you are shopping for a ham this year, or if you are one yourself, visit your local hamfest and have a ball.
November 2011 Column
November has arrived again this year, and ham radio operator’s
thoughts turn once again to “Ham fest Season”. Up North, Hamfest season is usually the summertime but down here
it starts up when the weather finally gets less than hot and muggy and continues through the “Snowbird Season”.
This is not surprising, the population of Florida probably
triples in the winter and that applies to the number of ham radio enthusiasts as well.
There are all kinds of “ham fest” in Florida, just as in the rest of the country. Like any “niche”
hobby, the places to buy or trade the gear you need for the gear or money you have are few and far between. Thus local and
regional amateur radio clubs put on these events for a dual purpose. The club gets to make a little money for the club treasury
from admissions and table sales. The local ham community gets to partake of a large number of somewhat itinerant vendors who
sell the devices and components they need in the furtherance of their hobby. Ham fests are somewhat like flea markets in the
sense that the vendors often do not have brick and mortar stores. Only the flea market usually sets up in the same place every
week and ham fests are in the same place only once or twice a year.
Some of these events get pretty large. As an example, the
Orlando Hamcation in February rivals the biggest ham fest of all, Dayton,
Ohio. It covers most of the Central Florida Fairgrounds for three days. Hundreds
of vendors, big and small come from as far away as Connecticut and California
to sell their wares in Orlando. Even the major manufacturers
of amateur radios set up expansive booths to show off their latest goods.
Most ham fests are smaller affairs, but all have their place
in the scheme of things. The kinds of gadgets and parts that a ham radio operator needs to keep his or her station running
are often available nowhere else other than the Internet and who wants to pay shipping charges when you can attend a ham fest
and see and touch the parts you need in person.
Another big draw at a ham fest is the “tailgate area”.
This is not tailgating like one finds at a football game. In the tailgate area, hams try to sell and look for used gear that
they either no longer need or want to buy so they do not have to pay the higher prices for the brand new stuff. Ham radio
gear, more than in almost any other hobby, gets passed down or passed on to another ham. The new owner might be a tyro just
getting started or an experienced ham who likes making used gear work like brand new. With the cost of certain test gear like
oscilloscopes and spectrum analyzers up in the thousands for new units, often the only way an amateur operator can afford
them is to buy at a local ham fest and restore it to like new condition.
Ham fests have another vital function. They are where ham
operators go to talk face to face with other hams they may talk to by radio on a daily basis. Strong friendships are made
over the airwaves but sometimes a ham fest is the only time these friends get together to chat “eyeball to eyeball”.
Many hams have and send QSL cards to each other by mail to confirm a radio contact, some also have “business”
cards that they refer to as “eyeball QSLs”. There are even vendors at some ham fests that will print up a quantity
of either type card for a “nominal” fee. Some hams enjoy making their own cards using the home computer and a
Whether you are new to amateur radio or an old hand, it is
important that you make an effort to attend as many of these ham fests as you can. The only way clubs will be able to keep
putting them on is if enough people show up to make it worth the while for the vendors to attend. No buyers means no vendors
which means no ham fests. If that happens, get used to paying shipping charges for everything you buy and not really knowing
what your pal on the other end of the airwaves even looks like.
You can find a list of all the hamfests in your area by going
to www.arrlwcf.org or www.arrl.org , both have lists of ham fests by date and location. The arrlwcf site covers West Central Florida and beyond,
the arrl site covers all of the country.
is here and Hurricane Season is drawing to a close. So far, in Florida,
we have escaped the worst of the weather emergencies this year. However, the experiences of other parts of the US should be a lesson to all of us. The Northeast had several
bouts of severe flooding, with roads washed out and communities cut off from the outside world for days if not weeks. In Vermont, helicopters were dropping supplies from the air to small towns
that were completely cut off from assistance via the usual ground access. The power in various parts of Connecticut were out
for a week or more as the winds on top of saturated soil meant that fallen trees decimated the power grids delivery system.
In other parts of the country, like Texas and the
far West, the problem was not too much rain, but too little. Severe drought was responsible for very dry conditions which
enabled huge forest fires to destroy not only the trees but also several thousand homes as well. All of these disasters have
one thing in common: the need for reliable communications. Even when the authorities responding to the situations have their
communication networks up and running, often the small towns and rural areas have no way to even let the responders know that
they need help.
Recently, a disaster of a different
kind befell a 911 center. Around 9 PM on September 5, a cable cut completely
isolated the Johnson County 911 Center in Warrensburg, Missouri,
impacting landline, Internet and cellular service. Johnson County
-- home to Whiteman Air Force Base -- is located just east of the Kansas City
metro area. When an equipment problem at Henry County’s
center prevented the transfer from Johnson County
from completing successfully calls were then routed to the Benton County 911 Center in Warsaw,
Missouri; Benton County
is the next county west of Henry County.
This transfer was successful and calls started coming in to Warsaw.
Unfortunately, Warsaw is more than 40 miles from Warrensburg, and the two centers were unable
to establish communication using the county VHF
It was then that radio amateurs were brought in to provide communications support. Amateur Radio operators reported
to their respective Emergency Operations Centers, and using a VHF repeater, quickly established reliable communications. Hams
relayed the 911 calls between the two centers, with the hams in Benton
County handing the calls off to Warrensburg officials for dispatch. (Edited
from a report on ARRL.org)
Amateur radio can and does assist their “served agencies” such as local and regional EOCs, the Red Cross,
and other disaster response groups. The one problem that amateur radio has is probably numbers. There are usually far more
served agencies needing assistance with communications than there are amateur operators available to fill that need. Our own
local area has almost thirty shelters for use during a hurricane. Our local ARES group does not have that many operators.
When one adds in the need for some of those operators to be at the EOC itself and at the Red Cross Ops
Center, the number of operators available for the shelters gets even
smaller. What usually saves the day is that not all of the shelters are opened in any given emergency. However, if the “big
one” hits, the need for more trained communicators becomes quite evident.
Many people have a desire to be of service to their community during a disaster. By becoming a licensed amateur radio
operator, you can provide a vital service to your fellow citizens. The course work to get your Technician level amateur radio
license is easy to complete. Classes that take only one weekend are available from many ham radio clubs. The materials like
a course book and the fee for the test will total less than a decent dinner for two and be useful for a whole lot longer.
Even the equipment you will need to communicate with is not all that expensive. Excellent 5-watt dual band walkie-talkies
are available from some dealers for about what it costs to take your significant other to dinner and the movies. After you
get your license, there are lots of resources to aid you in picking the right radio to buy, and lots of opportunities to practice
and gain skill in being a communicator. When a disaster strikes, everyone is looking for someone to help them. How about being
one of the people that can provide that help. Get your amateur radio license and join your local Amateur Radio Emergency Service.
Be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. You can find more information at the following web sites:
The ARES Information Page on this web site,
The month of September is upon us and already Florida has dodged a major blow. Hurricane Irene barely missed a direct hit on our state.
Without a bit of luck (or divine providence, if you like) we would still be recovering from a hit that probably would have
made Andrew in the early 90’s look like a summer squall. Once again we are reminded that when disasters of any sort
strikes there are consequences. On August 23 this year an earthquake hit near Washington DC and was felt as far away as New York and Pennsylvania. Although there was some damage, it was relatively minor and in general power,
phones and the internet were not interrupted. In spite of that, it was immediately reported that the cellular networks were
immediately clogged with calls and it was very difficult for the authorities to manage their response because it seemed like
everyone with a cell phone just had to call a relative right now.
This fact demonstrates clearly just
how fragile our infrastructure is. Even without widespread damage to respond to, the cellular system was useless for several
hours. Just imagine what would happen with a significant hurricane where it is normal to lose power, land lines and the internet
for several days if not weeks. Couple that with the usual result of fallen trees and debris clogging roads and access to the
injured and others left homeless and you can begin to see the enormity of such an event.
The authorities are not “blowing
smoke” when they suggest that one prepare adequately for emergencies. Food, shelter, first aid and any of the necessities
of life will be in very short supply for an extended period of time. By preparing an adequate supply of the things that your
family will need to survive, you ensure that they will do just that, survive. Failure to do so may only mean hardship or it
could be the difference between life and death for your loved ones and yourself. If you think I am being overdramatic, I refer
you to Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.
Amateur radio operators cannot help
you with your preparation for a disaster but they can get your message out when the time comes. After every major disaster,
amateur radio operators handle thousands of “health and welfare” messages for the public affected by the situation.
Whether it is telling Aunt Clara in Indiana that you are
OK or letting cousin Fred know you will be visiting him until your house is repaired, amateur radio can get the message through.
How can they do this when everything else is out of order? They can because our radio systems do not depend on any infrastructure.
We do not need cell phone towers to make our radios work. Our radios run on 12 volt batteries or solar power. We will happily
use a generator if one is handy but all we need is a car battery and a place to erect an antenna. We do not need the power
company to feed our equipment in an emergency. Many ham operators have two way radios installed in their automobiles. Making
a call to another ham is a matter of picking up the microphone and selecting the appropriate frequency. Unlike Citizens Band
radios, amateur radios are not limited to 5 watts so with the right equipment it is possible to send a message halfway round
the world in an instant.
Various organizations have formed
over the years to make the best use of this capability. Amateur Radio Emergency Service is sponsored by the American Radio
Relay League. ARES groups have formed in almost every county in the United
States. They train in message handling, disaster response, damage assessment, and other skills
so that the governmental authorities can depend on a trained cadre of communicators to handle the deluge of messages that
always follows a disaster. In fact, that is one of the primary reasons amateur radio exists at all. There are other groups
such as CERT (Citizens Emergency Response Teams) that have formed all over the country. They all have discovered after much
dithering about with CB’s and FRS radios that the only radio systems that really work are those of amateur radio.
This has led to a significant upturn
in the number of people studying for and taking the test for an amateur radio license. No, ham radio is not dead. In fact
there are more active licensees today than at any time in history. The rules have changed slightly; you no longer have to
know Morse Code to get a license. The test costs less than a decent meal and the study guide book is available at most bookstores.
If you are involved in any way with responding when a local disaster strikes, or even if you just like the idea of communicating
without having to pay a monthly bill to your local Telco, think about getting your amateur radio license and join in a wonderful
way to have fun and be useful at the same time. Ham Radio is not any more expensive than any other hobby. Most of us spend
less money on radios than you might imagine. A complete station can cost less than the computer you are reading this on. Not
only that, but it will not be obsolete in 18 months like your computer.
When disaster strikes, ham radio operators
are everywhere. You will find them in storm shelters, maintaining contact with the EOC. They can be found at that EOC, relaying
information to the appropriate departments as the reports come in from other hams out in the disaster area. They have ridden
with fire trucks when the municipal radio system went off the air. They have provided communications to EMS
under similar circumstances.
You can be part of that team. Classes
to prepare you to take the test for your FCC amateur license are offered by many radio clubs in your area. Go to: www.arrl.org and you can look up to see who is offering classes and test sessions in your area. This is not your grandfather’s ham
radio! In this modern era, amateur radio encompasses modern technology like digital modes (kind of like instant messaging
without the ISP), television (both slow scan (still pictures) and fast scan (just like regular TV but without the commercials,
sort of). Amateur radio even has satellites in space, including the International Space Station (most of the astronauts are
also hams). Join me and the other 900,000 hams in providing a vital service to your community, and having a whale of a time
with an outstanding hobby.
August is a month with very little to recommend it. It is very hot, very humid and the risk from Hurricane Season starts
to increase. Thus, most amateur radio operators tend to look for things to do indoors with its air conditioning and the availability
of something cold to drink. So this month I would like to write about some of the things that hams find fun to do.
Obviously, one of the things ham radio operators enjoy most is making contacts with fellow hams around the world. In
addition, hams can also make contact with astronauts on the International Space Station or ISS and there are amateur satellites
in orbit that permit hams to enjoy brief contacts with others over great distances using relatively low powered hand held
radios and simple antennas.
Another aspect of amateur radio that is enjoying resurgence is the fine art of “homebrewing”, the term
we hams use for building our own gear such as receivers, transmitters, and accessories to make our enjoyment of amateur radio
even better. Progressing from simple gadgets to more complex circuits, ham radio operators do not need a degree in electronics
engineering to build even very complex multi-mode transceivers. Kits are available for all levels of complexity, making the
task of “homebrewing” not only enjoyable but also affordable.
Many people are probably not aware that ham radio also includes television. There are two different modes available.
Many hams enjoy Slow Scan TV or the sending of single pictures line by line from one ham to another. Hams also have available
the ability to send regular TV (also called Fast Scan TV) from one to another using amateur frequencies. Using a laptop computer
and a small, inexpensive interface module to connect it to the transceiver SSTV pictures can be sent all over the world in
just a few seconds.
The computer together with the Internet was once cast as being the death of amateur radio. In fact just the opposite
has occurred. The Internet has enabled the rapid dissemination of all sorts of projects so that many other hams can build
them. There are sites that exist to disseminate up to the minute information on many of the factors that affect radio reception.
Collectively these factors are referred to as “Propagation”. Similar sites can tell an operator when the next
amateur satellite is going to pass within range and what frequencies to use. In addition, there are thousands of sites that
offer a wide range of services to the ham community. Social sites, project sites, classified ad sites, the list is almost
endless. In addition, the computer can be connected to the radio to do digital modes which allow one to send text messages
around the earth.
One may ask “what does all this cost? Isn’t ham radio an expensive hobby?” The answer to those questions
varies. Getting started can cost as little as less than $200. Operators rarely go out and spend large quantities of cash just
to get started. They start small and add more gear over time. A very few operators have many thousands of dollars invested
in their stations. Most operators spend much less, just like any other hobby.
Finally, it is important to put to rest one of the assumptions that many members of the general public make:”Ham
radio is a dying art”. Not a chance! Ham radio is enjoying a rate of growth that is the most rapid of its long history.
There are almost one million licensed amateur radio operators in the United
States alone. All are bound together by the camaraderie of being part of an interesting and
enjoyable hobby that transcends borders and language. To find out how to get your amateur radio license, go to: www.arrl.org or you can visit my web site at: www.n1gy.com
Field Day has come and gone for another year. At the Manatee Amateur Radio Club/ ARES site in a parking lot at the
entrance to G.T. Bray Park
in Bradenton, the results were mixed. With plenty of help
from club members young and old, the antenna raising for the club station went very well. Radios and antennas were tuned up
and in short order the site was ready to send and receive contacts from around the country. The GOTA (Get On The Air) station
had a few more problems, but by the start of Field Day at 2 PM local time all was ready.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature threw us a few curveballs. It rained, sometimes heavily, off and on throughout the 24
hours of the event. Propagation, the atmospheric factor in determining whether we got contacts or not, remained stubbornly
one way the whole time. The operators at the radios could hear stations from around the USA
from Washington State to Connecticut. The down side was that they could not hear us. I have no doubt that some of
the stations we heard were using major power adders like linear amplifiers and really big antenna arrays. Since we were using
only 100 watts instead of the 1500 available with a linear amp, we tended to get lost in the pileups that occur with any contest
event like Field Day.
The satisfaction we can take away comes from the fact that the radios and antennas we used were all working properly,
the generator ran flawlessly throughout the event and so all of the readiness tests we set for the unit went well. The nature
of an event that is scheduled for the same weekend every year is that weather and propagation pay no attention to the plans
of mere humans.
During a real emergency, of course, the frequencies we would use would be devoid of operators not involved in the recovery
effort, either from common courtesy or by fiat from the FCC who might declare certain frequencies for the use of responders
only. The traffic level might be just as heavy, depending on the needs of the situation, but it would be between assigned
radio operators and stations directly involved in the disaster response.
Still, it was a very fun event. One of our club officers showed up with donuts and coffee in the morning on Saturday.
Another showed up with a large tray of cookies. Another club member made two huge pots of chili for lunch. She even included
salad and Italian bread. On Sunday morning, another club officer made pancakes for all in attendance. The members who worked
so hard were very appreciative. Thanks to Mike, KI4WAY, Jonelle, KI4WSN, Audrey, KJ4YMX and Frank, AC4MK. Other members brought
bottled water and snacks at various times throughout the weekend. I don’t remember who they were but they were appreciated
When nature cooperates, Field Day can be a roaring success, with thousands of contacts. However, it is good to remember
that the purpose of Field Day is not the contest aspect. It is to get our radios and antennas away from the house and away
from the power company’s grid. To prove that we can communicate without outside infrastructure because when the “big
one” (choose your own disaster here) hits, that entire infrastructure will be unusable for days, perhaps weeks. There
will be no cellular service, there will be no Internet, and there will be no power lines or phone lines. There probably won’t
even be any street signs and most of the streets will be blocked with downed trees or debris. This year we at least proved
that we can communicate without any help from the grid or the other parts of the infrastructure we normally depend upon. Field
Day was therefore a success. 73
June is here and with it the “Official” start of “Hurricane Season”. As I have been writing
for the past few columns, extreme weather can arrive at any time in West Central Florida, but officially, the period from
the 1st of June to the 30th of November is “Hurricane Season”. The mavens who are responsible
for such things are saying that this year will be an active one for severe weather. How that will affect us in WCF remains
to be seen, but I would not bet against them.
What does this mean for amateur radio operators in our area? For starters, it means making very sure that the systems
we have assembled to operate without normal power still are in working condition. If you have a generator, check it out, change
the oil and the spark plug(s). Make sure the fuel has not gone bad. Yes, gasoline does go bad if left unused in the tank for
a long time. A fuel preservation additive added to a good load of gas will keep this from happening, but most of us forget
to do that when we store the genset. Make certain that the batteries for your hand-held radio are charged up and ready to
go. Use and recharge them regularly. If you do not, you will be bitterly disappointed when you go to use them in a real emergency.
It also means that your “GO-Kit” should be restocked with all the necessities that will keep you going
for several days when that major storm hits and you have no power, no internet and no cell phone. Not to mention no grocery
store and no discount store to buy more clothing. As we have seen in years past, being unprepared to deal with the effects
of a major natural disaster can mean real hardship. Not only for the unprepared person, but also for the people who have to
come to their rescue at considerable risk to life and limb. There are many web sites and brochures available that list what
you should have in a “GO-Kit”. Read and follow their instructions. This paragraph applies to everyone, not just
the amateur radio operators among us.
The hams in our area, and indeed, hams all over North America, will be gathering, each in their own communities, on
the forth full weekend in June (June 25 and 26 this year) to set up and test their radio equipment in a multinational exercise
called “Field Day”. They will demonstrate their ability to make contact with each other all across the US and Canada
without depending on the power company to supply any electricity. Using batteries, generators, solar power and even fuel cells
for power, they will operate in parks, fields and parking lots using portable antennas and field expedient shelters such as
tents, RVs, and the occasional pavilion if they happen to be located in a park. Logbooks will be duly filled out and records
of contacts sent off to the ARRL in a kind of “bragging rights” contest to see who made the most contacts. There
are no trophies, and the real reason for the weekend is simply to make sure that all of our equipment indeed works and works
As hams, we invite the general public to join us and see how we do what we do. We can maintain contact between an EOC
and the shelters where the population has gone to be safe from the storm. We can maintain contact between the EOC and officials
outside the disaster area so that supplies can be requested and mutual aid from outside the affected area can know where to
go to do the most good. We can even send messages out for those affected to let loved ones know that they are safe.
comes as a major shock to most non-hams when they find out that after a severe weather disaster like a hurricane, none of
the stuff they depend upon still works. In point of fact, there will be NO Internet, NO cell phone service, NO power, NO gas
stations, NO Wal-Mart, NO street signs, NO traffic
lights, NO refrigeration, NO lift stations in operation, NO nothing. For several hours to several weeks there will be no services
of any kind if a major hurricane hits in our area. Roads will be blocked with fallen trees or flooding. First Responders like
Police and Fire Services will be swamped with calls that they cannot answer.
It is vital that everyone make a real
effort to be able to survive a major disaster on their own. You can do this by making sure you have a sufficient supply of
non-perishable food on hand for at least one week. You can make sure you have a “GO-Kit” stocked and ready so
if you have to evacuate to a shelter or another location, you will at least have a change of clothes, a toothbrush, medicines,
and money that you can carry easily. Most cars can go about 300 to 400 miles on a tank of gas, so tank up when it gets below
a half tank. Remember, the gas stations may have gas in the tank in the ground, but they cannot fill your car’s tank
I realize that this all sounds sort
of apocalyptic. Unfortunately, the truth is that for several days or perhaps weeks, the apocalypse is going to look like a
vacation. Remember New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Need
I say more?
With the arrival of the month of May, our thinking should be focused
more sharply on the coming of Hurricane Season. There are only about eight weeks until the severe weather season arrives.
Of course, some would say it is already here after the damage caused by the storms that tore through our area at the very
end of March.
That is quite true. Florida can have severe and
damaging weather almost any time. With the media's preoccupation with "Hurricane Season", we tend to forget that damaging
storms can crop up any time of the year and while they may not cause the widespread damage that a hurricane can, that is little
consolation if it was your roof that was carried away by a "small" tornado.
For the amateur radio operators in our local
area, now is the time to test our response capability in the event of a disaster. Recently, the West Central Florida Section
of the ARRL did just that. An exercise called a SET (Simulated Emergency Test) was run on the first weekend in April. Valuable
lessons were learned and will be acted upon. Overall the SET showed that we are ready, but it also showed that some improvements
can be made.
The same kinds of lessons can be applied to our
individual situations as licensed radio operators. Are the batteries for our radios up to snuff? Do we have enough non-perishable
food items in our "Go Kit"? Do we have the right paperwork to receive and send messages to the EOC or out of the region. Do
we have a working antenna and support structure to deploy anywhere at a moment's notice? Are our radios programmed with the
correct frequencies and tones for access to various repeaters? Do we have sufficient foul weather clothing for ourselves?
All these questions and many others must be answered now, not after the animal excrement has hit the rotary air mover.
Another major test of our communication capability
will come the last full weekend in June. Field Day is an international test of our capabilities in which many thousands of
ham operators will set up stations "off the grid" in parks and parking lots around North America and elsewhere. By making
as many contacts as they can in one 24 hour period, they all test their ability and more importantly, their readiness to provide
vital communications in time of disaster.
Make no mistake, if a really big named storm
hits any area of the US, cell phones will be useless, the Internet will not work, phone lines and power lines will be down,
sometimes for weeks. At that point, the only communication mode that will work reliably will be Amateur Radio. EOCs and emergency
managers across the country are well aware of that and most have amateur radio stations in their emergency operations centers.
The old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared", applies
to each and every person. If you are, you are part of the solution. If not, you are part of the problem.
April has arrived and that is a very good thing.
The last few days of March saw a major "Unnamed" storm come ashore from the Gulf of Mexico which did some serious damage to
the area. I listened to, and checked into, the Skywarn Net that was activated on Thursday morning, the 31st of March and the
reports coming in certainly were enough to make one think it might be "Hurricane Season". Trees were blown down, a structure
at the Lakeland airport collapsed with 70 people inside, tornados were sighted at several points and verified, several houses
sustained damage and the Skyway Bridge was closed to any high vehicles. As I drove to the Tampa airport that afternoon, I
personally saw an overturned trailer on the side of I-275. All in all, it was a very nasty storm.
During the entire event, the Skywarn Net was
in full swing, taking reports of damage and severe weather from ham operators with special training from the National Weather
Service. These Skywarn Spotters are your neighbors, trained by the NWS to recognize and report severe weather to the Ruskin
NWS Office. This is a very important service to the meteorologists at the NWS. The spotters serve to provide what is known
as "ground truth". That is, they verify or amplify what the meteorologists are seeing on their radar. The further away one
gets from the radar site in Ruskin, Florida, the greater the gap between the bottom of the radar sweep and the ground. What
the radar sees at say 3,000 feet above ground may not be exactly what is happening at the "street level". The spotters provide
information to fill that gap, and they do it very, very well. The NWS has their own amateur radio station at the office in
Ruskin, WX4TOR. They take the reports that come in and pass them to the staff of meteorologists who then integrate the information
into their work. WX4TOR will also make announcements as the NWS issues the various watches and warnings that are necessary
when severe weather hits.
How do you get to be a Skywarn Spotter? A very
informative one or two hour seminar will give you all the training you need to get started. Upon completion of the seminar
or training sessions, you will be issued a Skywarn Spotter ID and a certificate. You will also get a toll free number to call
to make your reports if you are not a licensed amateur radio operator. If you are a licensed ham operator, you will be told
how to join and if need be, activate a Skywarn Net. The entire process takes only a few hours of your time and makes you an
integral part of the effort to protect and inform your fellow citizens during severe weather outbreaks. Become a Skywarn Spotter,
be part of the solution, not part of the problem. You can find information on upcoming classes at: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/tbw/?n=tampabayskywarntraining
73 for now.
March has rolled around, as it does every year
at this time. When I lived "up North", March was a time not much good for anything. It was cold, wet, blustery and generally
the second worst month of the year.
Down here, in what I usually call "Paradise East",
March is much, much different. Now is the time that the weather gets really nice. Not too cold, not too hot, usually sunny,
in short, just about perfect weather for any activity one would consider doing outdoors. In the amateur radio community that
can mean many things.
Some of us have been known to mount a hand-held
radio or "walky-talky on the handlebars of a bicycle to do a little "bicycle mobile". Others get great fun out of taking a
transceiver and its associated accessories to a park or beach. With a simple wire antenna tossed up into a nearby tree, it
is possible to talk around the world on less than 5 watts of transmit power and get a decent tan while doing it.
Because March is within our peak "Snowbird" season,
many charities plan and run various fundraising events this month. Amateur radio operators are often asked, and readily accept,
the opportunity to provide communications for some aspect of these events. Whether the event is a 5K run or a 100K bike-a-thon,
amateur radio stands ready to let the organizers know where the last participant is, who needs more water at which way point
along the route, even where the EMT's are needed if someone suffers an injury on the course.
These events are a "win-win" for both the organizers
and the amateur radio community. The organizers get communications coverage without having to rent expensive radios and train
their staff how to use them. The amateur operators get a chance to test out those neat portable antennas and self powered
radio systems that they built over the winter. In a few months, Hurricane Season will be upon us. These same portable set-ups
will be put to a totally different use during and after the disaster. In March they can be adjusted and tuned up during beautiful
weather instead of waiting until the proverbial hits the fan down the road.
This is also a perfect time to make those projects
we have been thinking about for some time. If new radials are needed for that backyard vertical antenna, now is the time to
install them. Don't wait until the temperature is over 100 degrees to do work outside, do it now while the temperature is
in the 70's. Similarly, if you live in a deed restricted development and have to put your antennas in the attic, now is the
time to venture up there. In June or July, the attic may get to 140 degrees in the direct sun. Where would you rather be working
For the radio clubs this is also a perfect time
to think about setting up a display at a local mall (with permission, of course). Tourist season and the aforementioned "Snowbirds"
are at their peak. They are outside because the weather is good and they might just be interested in what amateur radio has
to offer. Many retirees are looking for an activity to replace the wage earning job they used to do (They are bored with retirement).
Amateur radio is a hobby with so many facets that almost anyone can find a home somewhere in this amazing avocation. Analog,
digital, video, Morse code, public service, DX (international conversations that have nothing to do with AT and T), space
communications, DIY radio, etc. There are literally thousands of different ways
to enjoy amateur radio.
So, get outside and do some Ham Radio Alfresco.
You will have a blast and you might just encourage a non-ham to take another look at the hobby.
February is an interesting month for Ham Operators
in Florida. There are several hamfests, both large and small, all around our area in the second month of 2011. By far the
largest is the Orlando Hamcation, February 11, 12 and 13 at the Central Florida Fairgrounds on State Route 50 in Orlando.
This is a very big event with three or more buildings at the fairgrounds full of vendors and groups all angling for your attention
and your dollars. All of the major amateur radio manufacturers will have booths along side all of the major ham radio organizations.
There will be literally hundreds of smaller vendors with their stocks of everything from Antennas to Zulu Time clocks.
If you are in the mood to spend a little money
on amateur radio, there is probably no better place to be that February weekend. But that is not the only reason to go to
a hamfest. There will be thousands of fellow amateur radio enthusiasts in attendance. You will be able to faces with voices
you have talked to many times on the radio. Operators with similar interests will gather together for forums on their favorite
modes of operation and also for dinners and lunches all formed around their favorite group or mode of amateur radio.
Orlando is not the only hamfest, and there are
just as compelling reasons to attend the smaller one-day hamfests in the area as well. Many of these smaller hamfests are
fund-raisers for the local clubs or repeater associations around the area. Your participation means that the local repeater,
that you use so freely, will stay on the air for another year. It means that every successful hamfest ensures that more vendors
will come next year when you will probably really need the widgets that they sell, even if you do not this year. Attending
any hamfest is not just about getting the stuff you cannot find at the local store, it is also about encouraging hamfest organizers
and vendors to return year after year. If they don't make any money, they won't come back. Then where will you get that special
part that the local Radio Shack has never even heard of.
All hamfests are also about hams getting together
to trade stories and explain their latest project and just enjoy the company of others with similar interests. Amateur radio
is very much a "niche hobby". Unlike scrapbooking or woodworking or even hot rodding, there are very few brick and mortar
stores that cater to the ham radio hobby. The nearest one to where I live (Bradenton, FL.) is a three hour drive away in Orlando.
Ham Operators are similarly spread far and wide. If you are a ham, I'll bet you are the only one in your neighborhood. Getting
together at a hamfest is almost like going to an amateur radio club meeting except you can also buy lots of goodies for the
hobby at the same time.
Even if you say "well I have no interest in other
modes, I am happy with what I do" that is no reason to stay home. Get out of your self-imposed strait-jacket and see what
else is going on. Since you last looked, years ago, many things have changed. There might be a new mode or device out there
you know nothing about. It might just change the way you look at the hobby in a whole new way.
The arrival of the new year gives us opportunities
to think about how we would like to have the new year turn out. These thoughts are usually referred to as "Resolutions". In
many cases these "Resolutions" are specific to the careers or hobbies that we are involved in. Here, therefore are some resolutions
for the Amateur Radio Hobby. You, the reader, may freely take any or all of these to heart in your own situation.
New Year's Resolutions
I resolve to spend more time actually operating my radios and less time complaining about how little time I can find
to do so.
I resolve to build something. It could be an antenna, or an accessory for my radio room, anything. I will just do it.
I resolve to devote more energy and time to the public service aspects of amateur radio. I will get more involved with
the Amateur Radio Emergency Service and the National Traffic Net.
I resolve to pay more attention to how my local repeater gets funded and maintained. All too often it falls to a small
group of operators to maintain and fund a repeater used by hundreds of hams every year. The rest of us use the repeater and
never give any thoughts as to how
it came to be or what keeps it going.
I resolve to get more involved with the happenings in my local ARRL Section. The staff members of the section, all
volunteers, give up much free time and energy to assist the hams in their area, I should reciprocate that assistance.
I resolve to be a mentor to any new operator I hear on the air or meet at our local club meeting. First impressions
are lasting and a new ham's first impression of the other members of the hobby may depend on their interaction with me.
I resolve to keep my station in tip-top condition so that mechanical or electronic mishaps there will not affect how
others hear my signals.
I resolve to keep myself up to date on operating rules and procedures so that I will not pass on bad habits to others.
I resolve to explore new operating modes. Just because I have always been a SSB or FM operator is no reason not to
at least sample the fun of digital modes or CW. There are many alternative modes of operation available in the hobby. I will
try at least a few outside my usual comfort zone.
I resolve to be a better friend to my fellow operators. We all need help sometime, whether it be to put up a new antenna
or take down an old tower. Help from fellow hams makes the work more fun and most importantly, much safer.
That is all I can think of for now. Remember,
this is "Hamfest" season in Florida. There are quite a few events coming up over the next few months. The schedule can be
found at www.arrlwcf.org Your attendance and participation will make any event stronger and more enjoyable for
all the amateur radio operators in the area.
December has arrived, and with it comes the end
of Hurricane Season, the start of the Christmas shopping wars, and the Tampa Bay Hamfest. The hamfest is one of the larger
amateur radio events in Florida, only exceeded by the Orlando Ham-cation in February and maybe the Melbourne Hamfest. The
first full weekend in December is the first real opportunity for many ham operators in the area to meet fellow amateurs that
they talk to almost daily, but never actually meet face to face for months or even years on end.
In addition to the social aspects of a major
hamfest, there are many other reasons for amateur radio operators, young or old, to head for the Manatee Civic Center on the
4th and 5th of December. For some, this event allows them to actually see and examine that new transceiver they have been
saving up for. For others, it is a chance to stock up on various parts and materials they will use to build any number of
"home-brewed" electronic gadgets and accessories in the furtherance of the amateur radio hobby. Many also come to take advantage
of the many forums that take place at a major event like this.
There will be forums
on operating modes like D-Star, a digital radio operating mode not unlike the digital radios that many government agencies
use, but with a hobbyist twist. Other forums will delve into amateur satellite operations, or "homebrewing" your own radio
gear. Guest speakers will be local hams with expertise in a given area of ham radio and also nationally renowned representatives
from the amateur radio media like QST, the monthly publication of the American Radio Relay League, the national organization
that serves and protects the interests of Amateur Radio.
In the parking lot outside the Civic Center,
a large ham flea market or "Tailgate" will have assembled to offer used radio gear as well as many other components for the
ham operator like antennas, parts, tuners and just about anything under the ham radio sun, from solder and heatshrink insulation
to entire towers, antenna masts, guy rope, antenna wire, insulators etc. If you need it, it is a fair bet that someone at
the hamfest will have at least one example for sale. It only remains for you, the buyer, to get to it before somebody else
who is looking for that same "thingamajig".
Food will be available at the event, along with
the opportunity to interact with others who are interested in the same aspects of amateur radio that brought you into the
hobby. Many conversations at a hamfest can be both serious and entertaining and educational all at the same time. The interplay
of ideas, situations, and budgets that takes place at one of these events can provide a ham with enough ideas and projects
to last until the next hamfest where it starts all over again.
With the holidays almost upon us, it is obvious
that if you have a ham operator on your Christmas List, a hamfest is a great place to find that special gift that will be
truly appreciated for years to come. So, join me and literally hundreds of other hams this coming weekend, December 4th and
5th, at the Tampa Bay Hamfest at the Manatee Civic Center in Palmetto, Florida. I hope to see you there.
With the 2010 Hurricane Season in it's last month it is well to remember that the actual storms do not read nor often
pay attention to what humans call "Hurricane Season". As I write this there are two hurricanes on the map at one time. One
is forecast to simply race off into the North Atlantic without contacting any major land mass. The other is expected to affect
the Central Caribbean including Haiti and surrounding nations.
One must remain alert. Even though we have been very lucky so far this year, we still could get hit before the end
of the year. Keep your radio gear batteries up to snuff and recheck your go-kit to make sure it will be there when and if
you need it. With the seasonal residents of our area beginning to return for the winter there is another season beginning.
Yes, that's right, it's Hamfest Season again.
Hamfests are wondrous things. On any given weekend, somewhere in Florida, a small shopping mall of sorts rises overnight.
This mall is not of brick and steel, it is usually a series of tables in an arena or a parking lot. Its vendors include amateur
operators who are simply trying to sell one or two items that are surplus to their needs. It also includes mobile vendors
who make the rounds of several hamfests per month all the while continuing to operate an on-line store. There are various
specialty organizations such as AMSAT (the amateur radio equivalent of NASA), the QCWA (the Quarter Century Wireless Assn.
for operators who have been licensed for over 25 years) and many others. Often, a repeater association will have a table asking
for donations or selling donated gear to raise money for maintenance of their repeater system. Other clubs may have tables
where they hope to recruit new members. In addition to all of the ham radio gear for sale, many hamfests hold "Forums". In
smaller rooms around the main hamfest, volunteer speakers hold forth on many different topics from Satellite Operations to
the art of Homebrewing (building your own radio gear or accessories).
I strongly encourage any ham operator to attend any and all of the hamfests you are able to. The new ham will, with
the aid of a more experienced mentor, be able to find gear at a lower price than normally possible. The experienced operator
may well find a new device or operating mode never seen before. Both will benefit from the information available in the forums.
Just as importantly, both will meet and talk to other operators who, up to now, they have only met via the radio. The interplay
of ideas and conversation during any hamfest makes long-lasting changes in how one approaches amateur radio.
I hope to see many of you at the Tampa Bay Hamfest on December 4 and 5 this year at the Manatee Civic Center in Palmetto
or at any of the other local hamfests that will occur from November through May every year.
As the 2010 Hurricane season continues, it is worth noting that the prognosticators from the various weather services
and their collegiate allies have not been very far off in their predictions. Although none of the cyclonic activity has actually
hit our area YET, the numbers are very close to the predictions so far. We have another month or two to go yet and there is
still a good chance that West Central Florida could take it on the chin before the end of the season. Stay alert and ready,
it ain't over yet.
On another note, this is the start of the "Hamfest" season. Here in Florida, that encompasses from late September through
April and there are lots of venues big and small to attract amateur operators eager to purchase, sell or trade all kinds of
ham radio gear. With the major retail parts source getting out of the electronics business almost entirely and reverting to
a cell-phone store (are you listening Radio Shack?) hamfests become even more important for hams who like to build and work
on their gear. Some of the parts needed are available at commercial electronic parts stores, but their prices tend to be higher
and there are not too many of them. In the Sarasota-Bradenton area, I can find only one; Sarasota Electronics. They are in
the phone book if you need the address. They stock a lot of what I generally need, but even then, there are parts for amateur
radio that are not generally available anywhere but a hamfest or a ham radio dealer. Now there is a vanishing breed! The only
dealer I know of is in Orlando, several hours away by car.
The solution, I find, is to stock up, over time, a supply of parts and components that I think I might need for projects
I have not even thought of yet. This is not something I accomplished overnight, nor should you. Each hamfest, I come home
with a few more bags of the little goodies that are not available locally. These might include microphone connectors, enclosures,
coaxial cable, resistors, capacitors, etc. Some components I have quite a lot of, because I got a good deal on a large quantity.
Others I have just a few, either because they are expensive, or I just do not need them very often. The projects you build
will determine what you will need to keep on hand. Heavy gauge zip cord, the red and black stuff that comes in many different
gauges, is not generally available at the local home improvement store in the 8, 10 and 12 gauge sizes we need. It is common
and relatively inexpensive at a hamfest.
The larger hamfests will generally have dealers in brand new radios at discount pricing. Here the prospective buyer
can actually touch and see the radio before purchase. With mail order or the internet one is forced to make a decision based
on what the seller tells you online or in the catalog. Particularly for the new ham, this is a purchase where seeing and touching
is very important. If one has expert advisors shopping with the new ham, there are great deals to be had in used equipment
Another aspect of the hamfest is that there are often forums going on at the same time. A forum is a presentation by
an individual or a group about some aspect of the hobby. It might be on D-Star (a digital voice mode) or on home-brewing your
own gear. It could be on Satellite Operations or Direction Finding. The possibilities are limitless and the opportunities
to expand your knowledge and skills likewise.
So participate in and attend your local and regional hamfests. You can find a list of them at: www.arrlwcf.org and in the pages of QST, the national journal for ham radio.
The summer has been a bit of a mixed bag of tricks. Here in West Central Florida, we have had periods with a lot of
rain. These storms have caused minor flooding (do course no flooding is minor if it floods your property) and various
wind events have caused damage to carports and lanais. However, we still have not seen the damage that can come with a hurricane.
This is not in itself unusual for this time of year. The peak hurricane season is just getting started.
Now is the time to revisit your preparations for 2010's hurricane season. Food, shelter, power, communications are
all areas that need renewed attention. For the amateur radio operator this means getting your family situation prepared and
getting your radio equipment set as well. Batteries need to be recharged, frequency lists need to be updated, antennas need
to be inspected, etc. It is vital that your radio gear be useful in an emergency. As previous seasons have shown (can anyone
say Katrina) the response by the authorities can be woefully inadequate if events do not go the way the bureaucrats expected.
It is therefore incumbent upon everyone to be adequately prepared to have to go it alone for at least several days.
There are many new ham operators who having just achieved their "ticket" are now looking for radio gear and getting
that gear set up. This is not the time to put off the purchase or delay getting the gear operational. If you need help with
entering the needed frequencies or installing that antenna, reach out to the ham community for assistance. We will respond.
Read the manual that came with your new rig. It may be a little confusing, but even the manual for a new TV can be confusing
too. Stick with it and ask for help. You can get your radio set up and ready to use relatively quickly if you just read the
The next thing to do is get on the air. Check into every net you can. Get familiar with the way experienced hams conduct
themselves on the air. Try to follow their example as best you can. A couple of general principles are worth reviewing: Keep
it short. Pass the required information clearly and leave out the extraneous verbiage. The ham you are communicating with
does not need to know what radio you are using nor the power level it is set at. He, or she, needs your call sign, your first
name and your general location. That together with the information you have to pass (perhaps the status of injuries on your
street or the fact that the house next door is blown down) is what the other ham needs to know. The second relates to the
first. Pass the required information. The EOC needs to know that the street is blocked by a fallen tree. They do not need
to know what kind of tree. They need to know that you need water. Not that you have an extra generator to sell. I think you
get my drift. If you do have important information to pass, they will need your exact location: Street and house number. Even
if all the street signs are gone, the responders will have GPS and that can guide them directly to your door.
Well, I have said enough to get you going. Hopefully you didn't need it and I am "preaching to the choir". If so, that's
great. If not, now you know what you have to do.
August has arrived, and with it the third named storm of the season. Colin appears to have deteriorated into a shadow
of itself for now, but it could reform in a few days and threaten the East coast of the US. So far we have been relatively
lucky, let's hope our luck continues. Make sure that you and your family are prepared for the time when the luck runs out.
Check on line or in one of the Hurricane Guides that the media puts out every year and follow the instructions therein.
On another note, I want to talk about an antenna for HF that can come in very handy in the aftermath of any disaster.
When amateur radio operators want to talk to their EOC or net control under normal circumstances, they normally key up a local
repeater on 2 meters or 70 centimeters and carry on. After a disaster, those local repeaters may or may not still be on the
air. The repeater antenna may be damaged, the back up power may be unavailable, the tower it is mounted on may have been destroyed
by the winds. What to do? The answer is switch to HF, what non hams often refer to as "short wave". There is still a problem,
however. Most normal HF antenna installations are built to emphasize long distance communications. The signal from the antenna
shoots out at a fairly low angle to the horizon so that it will bounce off the ionosphere in such a way that a ham hundreds
or even thousands of miles away can receive it. This characteristic of HF radio is great for talking to someone in Oregon
or England, but does nothing if your intent was to contact the EOC in the next county or even your own.
Luckily, there is a solution. It is called NVIS or Near Vertical Incident Skywave. The method is actually very simple.
If you have a wire antenna, usually a dipole, just lower it close to the ground. That's right; real close to the ground. Say
8 to 10 feet above the terrain. NVIS antennas have even been tested with good results at 6 inches above the dirt. The closeness
of the ground causes the signal from the antenna to go almost straight up. Why is that good? Because when it bounces off the
ionosphere, it comes right back down. forming a cone of signal that can be picked up in about a 300 mile circle around your
location. Thus anyone in that cones footprint, such as your local EOC or the EOC in a neighboring county can hear your communication.
The really neat thing about this idea is that most hams already have the necessary antenna. They put it up high on a tower
or between two trees to work the DX in Oregon and England and everywhere else in the world. All they have to do is lower the
antenna down to the previously mentioned 8 to 10 feet above ground. Now they have an NVIS antenna. How neat is that? This
idea also works with mobile antennas too. Just take some string and pull the antenna down from its normal vertical position
to a more horizontal one. Instant NVIS. If you look at the video of military operations, you will note that most of the vehicles
with radio antennas have them tied down in a mostly horizontal position. That is not to avoid hitting the roof of the take
out window at Wendy's. They are operating in NVIS mode.
Until next month, 73
It is now July, and the Hurricane Season is in full swing. As I write this, in the middle of June, we already have
the first weather event of the season on the map. Indications are that it has only a 40 % chance at becoming a class 1 hurricane.
Whether it will hit the mainland U.S. is not know as yet, but by the time you read this we will know for sure. The various
forecasters all have slightly different predictions on how many hurricanes there will be and how bad they will get, but they
all agree it will be a busy season.
Therefore, I strongly suggest that everybody get ready now. Make sure you have an evacuation plan and that everyone
in your family knows the details. Make sure you have sufficient non-perishable food and water on hand for at least one week.
If you have a generator, test it and make sure you have gas for it.
If you are an amateur radio operator, also ensure that you have good batteries, a field deployable antenna and that
your radios are programmed with the emergency frequencies that will be used during and after a severe weather event. Also
make sure that you are up to date on the emergency operations plan for your area. Other than a lack of power, one of the things
that can seriously derail a carefully prepared op plan is the arrival on the emergency frequency of operators who are not
only unfamiliar with the procedures for their area, but are also insistent upon doing it their own way. Offers of a spare
generator for sale, for example, have no place in emergency comms. Trying to bypass the net control station and call up a
buddy is way out of line. Check into the net, follow the instructions of net control and give the information requested without
adding a lot of extraneous verbiage. Join ARES (the Amateur Radio Emergency Service) and train
with them to become skilled at emergency communications. This way you become part of the solution, not part of the
If you are one of those wonderful people who want to be deployed to help in another area, thank you. However, please
make certain that you have your credentials and training in place and can prove it. At the very minimum you will have to have
several FEMA courses (available on line) under your belt as well as the basic level of ARRL EMCOMM training (level 1). You
will also have to have your identification and be prepared to work without any other supplies than what you carry yourself
for at least one to two weeks. If you do not have the training and the stamina and the supplies, please stay home. You will
not be deployed without the training and you will become a drain on limited resources without the supplies you carry in to
the field. I do not want to sound as though we do not want your help, we do. However, if you are not trained and prepared
adequately, then you are of little help and may become a liability in a disaster situation.
Hurricane Season is here! This is not a drill! Be prepared or prepare to be in trouble.
As I write this, I am reminded that my readers are probably not all amateur radio operators. I am sure there are quite
a few who are reading this that were drawn to the web site by other material on the site. For those readers, a little explanation
of the Amateur radio avocation is in order.
Many people seem to think that Amateur Radio is slowly fading away under the onslaught of the Internet and Wireless
telephone technology. Nothing could be further from the truth. Amateur Radio is not only growing by leaps and bounds, with
over 30,000 new hams licensed in the past year alone, but many of the technological "breakthroughs" that the cynics point
to as leading to the death of Amateur Radio were actually developed by amateur radio operators in the first place. Remember,
a cellular telephone is really just a two way radio with only one customer, the phone company. GPS tracking has been done
by hams for years under the moniker of APRS. APRS was the product of the fertile mind of a ham radio operator named Bob Bruninga,
who by the way has a "day job" as a professor at West Point.
All of these wild and wonderful new gadgets, like the cell phone, the Internet, Wi-Fi and the like have one major vulnerability.
They depend on permanent infrastructure to operate. A cell phone is useless if the cellular tower goes off the air. The Internet
does not work when the phone lines are down. Wi-Fi is useless if there is no electricity. Ham Radio is different.
Ham radio does not depend on any public infrastructure. Radios can run on batteries. Antennas can be put up on portable
masts or strung between two trees. The ham radio operator can maintain contact with his fellow operators in other parts of
the country or other continents without any of the stuff that is vital to more "modern" forms of communication. As a result,
most Emergency Operations Centers have a dedicated Amateur Radio station as part of their design.
Getting your Amateur Radio License is not difficult. A little study of the materials available, a short 35-question
test, mainly about the rules and operating procedures, and you are licensed. No Morse Code test is required at all. An entry-level
ham radio hand-held is in the same price class as some of the "I-Pod" like devices available today. Like any hobby, the sky
is the limit on the size and cost of a station setup, but that limit is one that you set. Like a golfer or a collector, the
amount you spend is determined by the thickness of your wallet, not by any technical need.
There are plenty of places to find out more about this great hobby. The first one that comes to mind is www.arrl.org.
Here you will find a wealth of information on the hobby, how to get started, where to meet other hams, etc.
Good luck and I will (as we hams sometimes say) see you down the log.
May has arrived and with it the warmer temperatures and higher humidity. If you followed my suggestions in last month's
column, you should be all set for some ham radio fun. However, the arrival of May also means that June is less than a month
away. And as we all know, June is the start of Hurricane Season. The peak month for severe weather will come with September,
but damaging weather can happen any time. The recent repairs to my home's roof were needed because of high winds in March,
Preparing properly for Hurricane Season is very important. One of the variations of Murphy's Law says that the preparations
you don't make are the very ones you will need most urgently in a disaster. Now is the time to get your plans and gear together
and make sure all of your important items are covered. Other public media will do a very good job of telling you what to do
with your lawn furniture and your home. I will concentrate on the amateur radio operator's "Go-Kit" and some other aspects
of Ham Radio.
First and foremost, make certain that your home and family are prepared for severe weather. No one can devote themselves
to providing communications in a disaster if they are worried about loved ones or their own residence.
Second, make certain that the radio gear that you will be using in any emergency is working properly and is programmed
with the correct frequencies, tones and offsets for the repeaters that you will need to communicate through. Repeater tones
do occasionally change. For example, the 147.195 repeater that used to be on top of Blake Hospital in Bradenton has recently
been moved to the top of the Manatee County Building on Manatee Avenue. The PL tone, which was 100 Hertz has also changed.
It is now 103.5 Hertz. Any amateur who hopes to make use of that repeater in an emergency will have to reprogram their radios
to reflect the changes.
Make sure you have sufficient battery power to operate your hand held radio for at least 24 hours. Put a fast-charger
in your "Go-Kit" so that you will be able to recharge the batteries if you have use of a generator during the event.
Your stock "rubber duck" antenna that came with your HT is not really a very good antenna. There is a reason that experienced
hams call them "rubber dummy loads". If you have not already done so, buy a good aftermarket HT antenna suitable for your
radio. If you have the skills, build an antenna that can be connected to your HT via coaxial cable and elevated to provide
reliable comms throughout the area. There are literally hundreds of designs on the Internet for such antennas. Just "Google"
"homebrewed HT antennas" to find many of them.
Make certain that your personal "Go-Kit" also contains materials to keep yourself in one piece during the disaster.
Energy bars, changes of clothes, necessary medications, etc are vital. Remember, you are supposed to be one of the responders,
not one of the victims.
Get familiarized with the paperwork that will be used during an emergency. There are message forms, log forms, personal
IDs that will be required and so on. Frequency lists, shelter lists, contact numbers etc. All of these may seem unimportant
now, but they will be absolutely vital when the proverbial animal excrement hits the oscillating rotary air mover, if you
get my drift.
Spring has finally arrived, and to paraphrase an old saw, a young (in spirit) ham's thoughts turn to the outdoor activities
of amateur radio. Last month, I wrote of "alfresco radio meaning radio activities outdoors. Beyond those kinds of activities,
there are lots of things to do at this time of year. Before the temperature gets too hot or the humidity gets too high there
are many radio related activities to occupy the amateur radio enthusiast.
Maybe you use a vertical antenna for HF. If so, it probably could use a few more radial wires tucked neatly under the
sod. This will improve the efficiency of your signal more than almost anything else you can do. Commercial radio stations
that use vertical antennas use a minimum of 118 radial wires at the base of the antenna. Most ham operators are satisfied
with 16. Trust me; a few more radials will improve your signal markedly.
If you use a different type of antenna, like a dipole or rotatable array, this will be the most pleasant time of the
year to pull it down, give it a healthy dose of TLC and put it back up again ready to function well for another year. All
antennas are adversely affected by the weather, a yearly checkup to make sure nothing is loose or about to break will ensure
not having to do a repair in the heat and moisture of the summer.
Your antenna is connected to your radio with transmission line. This can take the form of coaxial cable or ladder line.
In either case, a little preventive maintenance and inspection will vastly improve your chances that you will not have to
get up on the roof or the tower in the heat of July or August to replace the line. All the connections should be unwrapped,
carefully inspected and replaced if necessary. Then they should be re-weatherproofed and the cable or ladder line properly
secured in a safe position. Check the coax for evidence of being chewed by animals and replace as necessary. For some reason,
rabbits and mice seem to think coax was put there as a treat for them.
All of this sounds like a great deal of work, and it is. However, doing that work in 70 degree weather with low humidity
is a lot better than having to do it when the temp is 97+ and the humidity is hovering around the same number. By doing the
maintenance work now, you improve the probability that you can sit back in air conditioned comfort at the height of the summer
and just have fun on the radio.
As the year continues to grow, our thoughts turn to warmer weather and the multitude of activities within amateur radio
that are available to all in this wonderful hobby. Florida, at least here in the West Central Florida Section, has had a great
deal of unseasonably cold weather this winter, forcing us to confine much of our activities to the home. One of the best aspects
of amateur radio is that one can participate almost anywhere. Small, light radio transceivers and battery power, together
with antennas that are not only light but easy to build DIY style mean that many outdoor sites are great for getting on the
The old hands among the readers of this column may say "oh, he's talking about QRP, but they would be only partly correct.
QRP is a ham radio term meaning very low power. Radios built for this aspect of the hobby are usually home-built by their
operators and do indeed run on very low power, sometimes as little as a few milliwatts. In itself this is a great facet of
amateur radio, but it is not the only way to do "alfresco radio".
Several major manufacturers of ham radio equipment make transceivers that are literally totable in one hand and yet
generate as much as 100 watts of power. Icom has the IC-703 and several versions over the years of the IC-706, plus the relatively
new IC-7000. The first puts out only 5 watts but is really built to be battery powered. The others are 100 watt rigs that
can be adjusted easily to temporarily put out as little as 5 watts. The battery might have to be a little bigger, but still
easily transported by one person.
Yaesu also has several small rigs that can be used in the field. The FT-718 is similar to the IC-703. The FT-857 is
about the same size as the IC-706 series of radios. All of these rigs, from both manufacturers, not only operate on the HF
bands, but also transmit and receive on 2 meters and in most cases on 70 centimeters as well.
Beyond the HF side of the hobby, Technician level licensees are certainly not ill supplied either. Every major manufacturer
has a complete line of small radios that run from 2 to 5 watt handheld "walkie-talkie" units to 50 and in some cases even
70 watt VHF or VHF/UHF radios. We usually call the latter units "mobiles" since they are specifically designed to be mounted
in a car or truck, but most also find a place in the radio room at home as well. Even so, a small motorcycle type lead acid
battery will power these radios for a whole afternoon or more.
Antennas for any of these radios can be as simple or complex as the budget allows. On HF, a simple wire dipole, strung
between two trees can get you around the world while still rolling up to fit in your pocket at the end of the day. On VHF
or UHF the antenna can be as simple as a roll-up unit built from TV-twin lead or one made from PVC pipe and metal duct tape
that can double as a hiking stick. There are literally thousands of designs all over the Internet that even a beginner can
construct easily. See my web site, n1gy.com for a couple of these as well as a links page that can direct you to many more.
This is also the season when many charities need help with the various outdoor fund-raising events they put on. Bike-a-thons,
half-marathons and the like all have one thing in common. They need communications. Often, they turn to the amateur radio
community to assist them. Volunteer to be a radio operator for these events. They are a lot of outright fun and also display
amateur radio to the public, maybe tweaking the interest of those who might be interested in joining this incredible hobby.
February has arrived, and with it comes the biggest Hamfest outside of Dayton. That's right; Orlando Hamcation is less
than two weeks away. February 12, 13, and 14 is right around the corner. As usual, Hamcation will be held at the Central Florida
Fairgrounds on State Route 50 (Otherwise known as West Colonial Drive) in Orlando. Every ham should make a serious effort
to be there on at least one of the three days it will run.
Why, you may ask? I answer because every major player in the amateur electronics industry will be there. Not to mention
a huge tailgate area. Whether you are looking for a new radio or just some arcane parts to complete your latest project, this
is the show where you will find them. That is, unless somebody beats you to the punch and gets the last known example of the
frammis you were looking for.
Beyond the simply huge size of the hamfest, there are all kinds of things going on throughout the entire event. Prizes,
demonstrations, testing, etc. If you want to see it, no matter what "it" is, you can probably find it at Orlando Hamcation.
I will be there for one day at least, maybe more.
A few words are in order for the many new hams among us. 2009 was a banner year for people entering the hobby. Most
of you are looking for a "new to you" radio or other device such as an antenna or power supply. Take the advice of someone
who was there not all that long ago. Buy your first few rigs and stuff new. The prices on the used stuff may be very appealing,
but there is a reason that $1200 radio is now going for $400. Usually, it will cost a lot more than the difference in price
to get it fixed. Believe me; I have been on the losing end of that kind of a deal more than once. With money for hobby spending
in short supply, I recommend not gambling with it. Go for the new gear, with a warranty and a dealer you can call on if something
does go belly up. Leave the "diamonds in the rough" to the experienced operators who are better able to recognize the one
"silk purse" in that pile of "sows ears". As you develop as an amateur operator, you will develop the skills to differentiate
the goods from the garbage and be able to safely tour the tailgate area without losing your shirt.
The lone exception to that rule is if you go with an experienced ham as your guide. If money really is a problem, take
an experienced fellow club member with you. He can help with the sorting of trash from treasure and make knowledgeable evaluations
of the stuff that strikes your eye.
There is going to be a plethora of new gear at Orlando, so you will have no trouble filling your time at the show.
I have been going since 1998 and have never seen all there is to see in one day, ever. I'll see you there.
2010 has arrived. Hopefully, it will be a better year than 2009. For ham operators, the tradition of making New Year's
Resolutions takes a bit of a technological turn. The usual resolutions about losing some weight or being nicer to your relatives
are joined by ones with a more electronic bent. Here then are some suggestions for New Year's Resolutions for the amateur
1. Try out a new mode. There
are literally hundreds to choose from in our hobby. PSK-31, RTTY, Hellschreiber, SSTV, FSTV, Satellites, you name it, there
is a mode out there that you have not tried yet. So give it a test, see if you like it, you might be very surprised at how
much fun there is in a new way of communicating.
2. Take a careful look at your
ham shack. Maybe it could be organized in a better way.
3. Clean up the radio room. Put all
those QST magazines and CQ issues neatly on the shelves so you can find that article you wanted to read again.
4. Build something! While few
of us are capable of constructing a new all-band, all-mode 100 watt transceiver from scratch, there are all sorts of accessories
that anyone can put together with a very low parts count and the materials are as close as your nearest Radio Shack store.
Yes they still stock the parts you will need. Another place to look for parts, particularly cables and enclosures, is your
local home improvement chain store.
5. Get your tools in some kind
of order. That way you will be able to find the tool you need when you need it. If you already have a work shop, it may be
as simple as just putting the tools back where they belong.
6. If you don't have a proper work
space, create one. It could be as simple as a roll-around cart with a plywood top and some shelves to store your tools. It
can easily fit in a closet until needed.
7. Make a serious effort to check
into more nets. Either on your local repeater or a regional linked repeater system, most repeaters have one or more nets in
the evening. Some repeater systems, like the NI4CE system here in West Central Florida have many nights of the week with two
or more nets per night. Some are quite specific in their purpose, like the NTS Traffic Net or "Eagle Net" which is on every
night of the week all year long. Others occur once a week for general information or some specific content like satellite
comms or technical assistance. All of them need you to check in and participate.
8. Get involved with your local
ham radio club. As society drifts away from "do it yourself" and active participation in all sorts of things, it is important
to get to know those other people in your area who share your interest in amateur radio. A club is not only a social activity,
but also a source of information and assistance with your hobby.
9. Join your local ARES group.
The Amateur Radio Emergency Service is a valuable resource to your community. After a disaster, whether natural or man-made,
the first problem is usually restoring the ability to communicate. Amateur radio fills that need and fills it very well. The
training to be an emergency communicator is normally free and involves only a bit of your time.
10. Upgrade your amateur radio license. If
you are a Technician or General licensee, the upgrade to an Extra class license will educate you just by studying for the
test. If you are already an Extra class licensee, get a book or other source of information and educate yourself about some
area of amateur radio you need to know more about. Your new knowledge will make you a better ham and a better person.
Well, I think ten suggestions is about enough for now. If you think of any others, take them to heart and act on them.
You will enjoy amateur radio more as a result.
The astute reader will notice that the order of the monthly columns has changed. The more recent columns are in reverse
order but from 2009 on back they will be in chronologic order: from January to December. No particular reason, it just worked
a little easier this way. N1GY
My January Column was supposed to
be about something completely different, but a major catastrophe struck the Haines household in mid December. A water line
broke during the night and by the time we realized what had happened (when we awoke several hours later) the damage was too
great to repair easily. We had to move to another house in our MHP. While we are thankful that only the floor was damaged,
the move and subsequent search for a buyer for our "handy-man special" has taken a real toll on both of us.
While my wife and I rebuild our surroundings in our new home, the radio room has been put on the back burner for a
while. I will have a spare bedroom to use as the new radio room, just as soon as we sell the huge bunk-bed set that is in
the room now. The question of antennas is vexing since the new place has power lines even closer than the old one. VHF and
UHF will not be much of a problem since the antennas are short and do not need to be too high, but HF is a different story.
My current HF antenna is a GAP Eagle multi-band vertical and there just is no good site for it at the new house. So, I am
planning to erect a "Flagpole Vertical" in its place. There are several good designs for this type of vertical antenna, so
we are not starting from scratch.
Although the new home has significantly more space than the old one, strangely it has far less storage space, fewer
closets, etc. So a process known in some circles as culling has begun. Pots, clothes, tools, radios, parts, indeed anything
that we haven't used in a while is being ruthlessly examined with keep or go as the ultimate question. This applies to my
radio room just as much as the rest of the house. I used to collect old tins and boxes as alternative enclosures for my next
projects. They will have to go to the storage locker. Similarly, radios that I have hung on to for the sentimental value or
that I was going to get around to repairing "some day" must fall to the culling process as well.
The new radio room will have a new design and a new look. There will finally be wall space to display a few trophies
from the past and new book cases to hold the magazines and binders as well.
As time and space permits, I will fill you in on the progress of the new N1GY as the work progresses. As soon as the
room is cleared, I hope to get at least one radio back on the air and rejoin the nets that I used to act as a net control
for. The rest will come with time and effort. Join me on the journey if you like. I could use the company,
It is February 1st as I write this, Super Bowl Sunday. I figured I would write this column before the big game as it
is probably the only football game I will watch all year. Besides Amateur Radio, my interests tend towards NASCAR and Formula
I wrote last month that I would keep you posted on the progress of the new radio room, so here is installment 2. Thanks
to several dear friends from the Manatee Amateur Radio Club, my VHF/UHF antennas are up and the coax is run. I now have two
radios up and running on the Two Meter and Seventy Centimeter Bands. I have returned to my normal nets and the like. HF is
The layout of our new home is totally different than our old place. The house is turned 90 degrees compared to the
previous one. The lot is different too. All of this has necessitated a complete change in how I rig up my HF antenna. The
GAP Eagle vertical is out. It is up for sale and hopefully will find a buyer soon. Wire antennas are similarly out, due to
the presence of power lines, telephone and cable TV wires directly behind the house. Not to mention the close proximity of
our neighbors. All of these problems have resulted in the notion of one solution. Put the antenna in the middle of the front
lawn. Egad! you say, can you get away with that? Well, sort of. The solution is to disguise the antenna as a flagpole.
This has been done many times before. There is even a company that sells
a flagpole already configured as an antenna. Their product is excellent, but a little expensive for my budget. A brand called
Hustler offers a series of antennas of varying heights that can be relatively easily be disguised as flagpoles, the 6BTV,
5BTV and 4BTV. The model numbers refer to the number of bands covered by each antenna and they vary from 21 feet to 25 feet
high. Covering them with PVC pipe and adding a flag and hoisting system completes the transformation. because they are "trap
verticals" the tuner is only needed to tweak the SWR on most bands and thus can stay in the radio room next to the radio,
not out at the base of the antenna/flagpole where it would have to be weatherproofed.
I am still looking for a good used 6BTV to build into my flagpole. With Hamfest Season upon us, chances are good I
will find the right one. The Sebring Hamfest is on Feb. 7 at the Lake Placid American Legion Post at 1490 US 27 in Lake Placid. The Orlando Hamcation is the following
weekend at the fairgrounds in Orlando for 3 days. Friday,
Saturday and Sunday, the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Feb. The Orlando event rivals Dayton Ohio for the title of biggest hamfest in the country.
The radio room itself is going to undergo another redo. The present setup has resulted in some RFI (Radio Frequency
Interference) between the desktop computer and the radios, mainly because they are closer together than they used to be. There
is also some interference of another type between my chair and some filing cabinets, resulting in my decision to redesign
This may sound a little obsessive, but I have found that a little planning and forethought can make a project go much
smoother. Originally, the idea was to just get things hooked up and running (Ham Radio can be a little addictive!). Now the
plan is to make the space really work properly. Some people call this ergonomics, others may refer to it as "fung-shwei".
I think of it as making me comfortable, since I spend a great deal of time in the room, writing and doing ham radio. Better
design results in more comfort and that results in better performance. That is
true not only for Amateur Radio and writing, it is also true about almost anything we do.
I created a 1" to the foot scale drawing of the room and cut little pieces of cardstock out in the same scale, shaped
like the various items of furniture such as file cabinets, desks, bookcases, computers and the TV. These were shifted around
on the floor plan until a suitable location was found for all. All that remains is to execute the plan and put the stuff where
it needs to go. It sounds simple, but almost everything that was hooked up has to be unhooked, almost every book that was
put on a shelf has to come down, be moved and reset. Yes, the radios and the computers will be out of service again, but hopefully
only for a day or so.
Life goes on, the home is pretty much done, my wife has moved on from furniture placement and decor to the gardens
and gardening, I now have some time to rebuild the Radio Room the way it will work best. Hopefully I will meet some of you
at a local hamfest this season, if not maybe we will talk on one of the many nets on the various repeaters in our area.
Last month, I told you about some of the changes to my radio room necessitated by our recent move. Well, there are
even more changes to tell you about this month. First, the plan to use a Hustler 6BTV vertical antenna for HF has been abandoned.
Why, you may ask, it sounded like a good plan at the time. It was a good plan, and still is for anyone who has a similar situation
as I was facing then. What caused me to rethink the plan was the very kind offer from another ham of a 22 foot aluminum boat
mast, for free, no less. I reasoned that the cost of an antenna coupler, placed at the base of what, to all intents and purposes,
is a flagpole, might be cheaper and easier.
It has not quite worked out that way. The total cost of the antenna/flagpole is probably about the same as the previous
plan. The mast had to be modified slightly, basically adding one more foot to its length, to be compatible with the tuner/coupler.
Because I wanted a tilt-over mount so I could easily lower the "flagpole" to the ground if severe weather loomed, I had to
have a custom mount fabricated. There are several "tilt-over" mounts available on the market these days, but they all take
a maximum two inch diameter mast. Since my mast is two and a half inches in diameter, custom fabrication was the only route.
As it turned out, the custom mount was no more expensive than the smaller commercial mount, and indeed is somewhat easier
At present, all the parts are in hand. Due to a vexing medical problem that has arisen, It will be awhile before all
of the parts get assembled into the designed antenna system. This is not a great problem, and it will allow me to install
my "flagpole" without a lot of questions from the snowbirds that inhabit our park during the season. I have been kept quite
busy with my "honeydew" list anyway.
Inside the radio room, progress of a sort has been made in dealing with a few RFI problems. The telephone that whined
every time I transmitted on two meters has been silenced by placing a ferrite choke on the connecting cable to the phone.
The ugly noises emanating from the computer speakers when transmitting are still in evidence, but shutting the amplified speakers
off and using a simple cellular "earset" for computer audio has eliminated that problem. I do wonder if an isolation transformer
on the AC input to the speakers might help, but I have not had time to follow that line of experimentation up yet.
As far as operations are concerned, the usual net control duties that I had before all this started are back unchanged.
Actually, that is not quite true. I now have the able assistance of Chuck, W4CLL, over in Plant
City, FL who has cheerfully agreed to share the Net Control duties
on the Technical Net every other week. I still check into the net almost every week as a Technical Specialist for Mobile Radio
Installations, and as the Technical Coordinator, but only having to actually run the net every two weeks is a big help. I
am also available to give presentations to amateur radio clubs on a variety of topics such as Mobile Installations, The National
Traffic Net, Homebrewing and the like. I am still having a great time with amateur radio, and I highly recommend the hobby
to anyone looking for a challenge. There are so many different facets to amateur radio that I am confident that no matter
what your interest, there is a place in amateur radio for you.
There is a reason that I tell you about the experiences I have in building my Radio Room and my antennas over a period
of months. I consider myself at best to be just an average ham radio operator. I have no special training or innate skill
when it comes to electronics or design. Therefore, I figure that if I can do something, then anyone can.
My flagpole (the subject of at least one previous column) is finally up. Right now that is all it is, just a flagpole.
The conversion to an antenna will come over the next few months. There is going to be a lot of cutting slits into the lawn
to bury the radial wires. The plan at present is to bury 15 in all, perhaps more, perhaps less, but a total of 300 feet of
18 gauge wire will be interred under the sod. There is also the matter of digging a slit trench to bury the coaxial cable
and the control cable for the automatic coupler/tuner. I plan, as I have mentioned before, to do all of this work after most
of my neighbors have gone North for the summer. After all, a disguised antenna that everyone knows about isn't much of a disguise.
The arrival of the rainy season is much awaited because of our current drought conditions. That hope is tempered by
the fact that hurricane season will not be far behind. Now is the time for everyone, not just ham operators, to take stock
of their emergency preparations and supplies. Add that which is needed, replace that which has aged too far to be of use,
and make sure that equipment like generators, radios and the like is in good operating condition. It is also important to
update your emergency plans. Jobs change, phone numbers change, best route to shelter may be affected by construction or the
growth of your locale.
If you are an amateur radio operator, it is also time to check out your radios, batteries, operating accessories and
other gear. An antenna that has corroded over the winter will be of little use when you go to deploy it. The same holds true
for coaxial cable and connectors. Look it all over and make the needed fixes before the gear is truly needed. The 5P adage
covers all of this: "Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance"
It is a several weeks away at this time, but it is not too early to mention "Field Day". The fourth full weekend in
June is traditionally the weekend when ham radio operators all over North America and some
parts of the rest of the world get together to field test their portable and deployable equipment. Think of it as a practice
run for any kind of a disaster that might occur. The primary thrust of Field Day is that all operations are run OFF the Grid.
That is, except for one small category, all the radios, computers, lights, in short, anything electrically operated, gets
its power from somewhere other than an electrical outlet. This could mean a generator, batteries, solar power, wind power,
fuel cells, anything that can provide electricity except the usual power grid.
Why do that?, you may ask. Because the first thing that usually goes out in a hurricane or other disaster is the infrastructure.
Electric power, telephone lines, the internet, any or all of them can and will be affected by a disaster. That leaves cell
phones, right? Wrong. In a disaster, the cellular system immediately becomes overloaded and shuts down. Cell phone towers
are just as susceptible to high winds as television antennas and carports. Some will fail and fall down, some will run out
of power. Even just the effect of too many people trying to make calls simultaneously can cause a shutdown. The general public
may well have no way to communicate their situations and needs to others, including the emergency responders from the authorities.
When that happens, note that I said when, not if, licensed amateur radio operators and their equipment will be one
of very few ways that communications can be maintained. I therefore suggest that whether you are a Ham or a non-Ham, pay a
visit to your local Field Day Site. Check the American Radio Relay League web site: www.arrl.org starting around the first
of June, and look up the Field Day Site Locator. You can find the closest Field Day Site to your location, complete with maps
and directions right there. Visit the operation and see what hams are doing to protect you and your loved ones during a disaster.
Who knows, you might even give some thought to becoming a licensed amateur radio operator yourself. The gear is no more expensive
than a set of golf clubs, and a license and a working radio will be of much more use when the water is coming through the
door or the roof blows off.
Just something to think about.
Today, I want to 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.
In the United States, these licenses
are obtained by taking tests offered by many amateur radio groups called Volunteer Examiners. The Volunteer Examiner Coordinator
(the national coordinator for these groups) may charge a fee for taking the exam. Each year the FCC (Federal Communications
Commission) sets this fee. Currently it is approximately $15 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.
Before you 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, 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
Joining an 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
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 call sign 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 few 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.
The next question that I am sure is on your mind, is "OK, so I get a license, what the heck can I do with that?" The
answer to that question has many facets. With a General Class Amateur Radio License, you can talk around the world, to other
amateurs anywhere on the globe. Ham radio operators here in the U.S.
frequently provide phone patch services to overseas deployed service members so that they can talk to loved ones here in the
U.S. Beyond that there is a whole galaxy of possibilities. A hobby is a hobby, and you get out of it exactly what you put
in. A stamp collector may concentrate on one country or one aspect of the mail like air-mail. A ham operator may like to collect
countries by collecting QSL cards (verification of a contact with another ham) or they might want to concentrate on satellite
communications. They may find the most pleasure in building their own radios or perhaps just accessories for a store-bought
rig. There are digital modes, antique radios, Morse code, public service communications, the list goes on and on. There are
as many facets to explore in amateur radio as there are amateur radio operators. These facets change as one progresses in
the hobby. A so called appliance operator may soon want to know more about the gear he or she is using and by starting small
and working up in complexity, may one day build an entire radio. Another who got into ham radio for the international aspects
of the hobby may find fulfillment in providing communications during and after some disaster like a hurricane or an ice storm.
Amateur Radio is a whole world of possibilities, and one of those possibilities may have your name on it. Without an Amateur
Radio License you might never find it.
Last month, I wrote on the subject of how to get your amateur radio license. This month I would like to concentrate
on what you do once you have the license. Because just getting your license is not the end, it is just the start. In a way,
it is kind of similar to getting your first drivers license. A person can pass the written test in almost any state without
ever having gotten behind the wheel of a car. having passed the written exam does not make you a driver any more than passing
the FCC exam makes you a ham operator. It really is just a permission to begin training.
My first rule for becoming a good ham radio operator is very simple. Listen. On a scanner or if you have already
purchased a suitable first transceiver, your very first task is to listen to what other hams say and how they say it. Discounting
for the moment all the jargon that gets tossed around, you want to understand the proper procedure for initiating and ending
a two way conversation on the air. The FCC has a few definite rules about that, but the real learning is to use the terms
that allow you to fit right in with more experienced operators. Hams that have been around for a while always are welcoming
to new hams. They really appreciate a new ham who has listened and picked up the correct way to behave on the air. They will
try to help any new ham who has not learned those ways yet, but it gets old real fast when the new ham does not appear to
have made any effort to learn the ways of ham radio.
My second rule for becoming a good ham radio operator is just as simple. Get on the air. Just like driving is
a practiced art, ham radio demands lots of practice. The only way you really get good at anything, be it driving or tennis
or ham radio, is to get on the air and practice the learning you have obtained. Check into local and regional nets that occur
every evening on repeaters in your area. If you have installed a ham radio in your car, use it on the drive to and from work.
Talk to other hams about the weather, your interests in ham radio, almost anything. There are a few areas it is best to stay
away from when you are using ham radio. Religion, politics, sexual preferences, things like that. Why? Basically because those
subjects create an opportunity for deeply held feelings to come to the surface. There are better places than ham radio to
explore the divisions within our society. Ham radio is, by its very nature, an inclusive hobby. We hams thus tend to want
to talk about those things that bring us together, like ham radio, rather than those things which sometimes drive us apart.
My third rule for becoming a good ham radio operator is also simple. Explore. Ham radio operators come from all walks
of life. Doctors, truck drivers, computer programmers, ditch diggers, housewives, teenagers, and so on. Not everyone has a
background in electronics, indeed, very few started out in ham radio that way. Most of us had an interest in what ham radio
could do for us. That doesn't sound quite right, so let me explain. Some of us came to ham radio because we saw the benefits
of being able to use a good means of communication during and after a disaster. Some of us came to ham radio because talking
to other people around the world sounded like a lot of fun. Others wanted to talk to the International Space Station or through
amateur satellites in space. There are as many reasons as there are ham operators. The point is, that all of us learned some
simple electronic principles along the way as we progressed as ham operators. Many of us have put those very simple principles
to good use by building our own antennas or other accessories for our enjoyment of ham radio. A few have gone on to construct
entire radios using the skills they learned as licensed amateur radio operators. That is exactly what the government had in
mind when they codified the amateur radio service many years ago. To have a trained and skilled group of citizens who could
provide communications to benefit the people of this country when needed. This is demonstrated every year as disasters like
tornados, hurricanes and forest fires bring out ham operators in droves to temporarily replace and augment the normal communications
infrastructure like the phone service, the internet and or systems for the responders like police and fire services that depend
on fixed infrastructure that can be damaged or destroyed in a disaster.
When times are better, and the disaster has passed, the ham radio community goes back to what it was doing before the
event. Namely, having fun with amateur radio. They talk to people all over the world and even in space. They collect QSL cards
from other hams they have talked to. They prepare for the next disaster. They build stuff. In short, they go on with life
secure in the knowledge that their efforts in amateur radio have made a difference in the lives of the rest of the community.
And that is why you, as a new ham radio operator, must practice your new skill and hone it to be the best that you can be.
On a slightly different subject, June is of course the month for Field Day. What is Field Day you ask, well, at least
once a year, ham operators all over North America get out into the outdoors and set up their
radio stations just as they would if a major disaster struck. They operate using power from batteries, from generators, even
solar panels and fuel cells. The whole point is to not use any kind of power from the normal grid, because when the hurricane
or the tornado or in more northerly climbs, the ice storm, hits we won't be getting any power from the utility company for
days or even weeks. In order to make this test more fun than it already is, they all do it on the same weekend. This year
it is to be held on June 27th and 28th.
In almost every town of any size, you will find a dedicated group of "Ham
Operators" clustered around a tent or trailer in some parking lot or open space, communicating feverishly with their compatriots
around the continent. The public is invited to come and see the equipment we use and how we use it. If you wish, you can even
get on the air under the guidance of a "control operator". Many people have gotten their start as amateur radio enthusiasts
in just this way. We try to use as many different radios and antennas as possible so that we know they will work in an emergency.
So, on Saturday June 27th and Sunday June 28th, come on out and see what all the fuss is about. The Field Day site
will be operational from 12 noon on Saturday to 12 noon on Sunday. In Manatee County, Field Day will be held in the parking area just next door to the American Red Cross building
on 59th Street West in Bradenton. Access is via the entrance to G.T.
Bray Park off 59th Street West. If you live elswhere, check out6 the Field Day Locator at: http://www.arrl.org/contests/announcements/fd/locator.php I guarantee you will be amazed at what can be done with the radios and other gear we will have operational that weekend.
July is upon us already, and if the recent weather patterns are any indication, we don't need a "real" hurricane to
cause damage and/or injuries. Just this morning (July 1) I received several reports from the National Weather Service of trees
falling on houses, people injured by a lightning strike and significant flooding in several areas. All this caused by a heavy
thunderstorm with an embedded tornado.
These events point out a fact that most people seem to ignore: We must be ready all the time for the effects of severe
weather. It is not enough to think that "my cell phone will get through" because if the power goes out because lightning hit
the cell tower in your area, it may not get through. If trees are down across the roads in your neighborhood you will not
be able to get to safety. If there is flooding on your street, you might lose your home. None of these catastrophes needs
a hurricane, just a decent thunderstorm.
Amateur radio just completed its annual "Field Day" event this past weekend. All across North
America, ham operators gathered in parks, fields, and other outdoor locations to test the effectiveness of their
communications equipment. Operating on battery or generator power, solar arrays or fuel cells, they talked to each other across
the state and across the nation, demonstrating once again that even if the infrastructure fails, amateur radio can get through.
In Bradenton, the hams were supported in this event by the
County Emergency Management, the Sheriff's Office, the American Red Cross and others. All of these agencies know that when
the "big one" comes, and even the "not so big one", amateur radio will be there to provide vital emergency communications.
You can be a part of this vital resource. Getting the entry level license (Technician) for amateur radio is not difficult.
A little study, a short multiple choice type written exam and you can get your "ticket". Entry level equipment is no more
expensive that some of the audio equipment you have in your car. Antennas can be home-made or purchased and for VHF and UHF
frequencies, can be so small that even if you live in a deed restricted community, no one need ever notice them.
Please do not think that is the end of it. In order to be useful, a radio operator must gain experience and skills
even after the license is obtained. Regular use of the radio, checking into "nets" ( a kind of meeting held over the air)
and joining a local amateur radio club are vital to gain the real knowledge and experience necessary to make a new licensee
a true "ham operator". Like any other avocation, skill does not come with the license, only the permission to achieve those
Well, August has arrived, and with it we start to hit the peak
of Hurricane Season. So far, Florida
has gotten away without a major weather catastrophe, although that may be small comfort to those residents who have had to
deal with the flooding and fallen trees caused by our usual summer storms. My point is that now is not the time to let down
our guard. An alphabetical listing of names is not necessary for weather to cause problems.
Last month, I mentioned that just passing the test to get an amateur radio license is not the end of becoming a ham
radio operator. It is just the beginning of attaining the skills necessary to become a valuable part of an amazing avocation.
One of the areas that amateur radio really makes a big, big difference is in severe weather reporting.
Taking a very short course, about two hours in total, called Skywarn, from the National Weather Service will give you
the training to recognize the various patterns of severe weather. Along with the course, you will learn about the several
ways you can pass your observations along to the local weather office in Ruskin,
As a ham radio operator, you can call the amateur radio station right
at the NWS office. You can also call them on a specific 800 number, given out only to Skywarn graduates. Many of the ham operators
in this area even operate their own personal weather stations. These can cost as little as $150 or up to $600 or more. The
important thing about them is that most can be connected through the Internet or through amateur radio directly to the NWS
The information obtained by these personal weather stations is then combined with the weather services own measurements
and radar images to verify what the weather forecasters call "Ground Truth". The forecasters cannot be everywhere at once
to see the actual weather at ground level. They have to depend on radar and satellite images to determine what to tell the
public about their local weather. The "Ground Truth" provided by the personal weather stations and by the reports from Skywarn
volunteers greatly improves the accuracy of both the forecasting and the various watches and warnings that the NWS issues
throughout the year.
Every Tuesday evening at 9:00 PM there is a Skywarn Net on the NI4CE repeater system. On this net, the NWS meteorologists
provide training and answer questions from the amateur operators that check into the net. As I mentioned last month, checking
into nets is an excellent way to become comfortable with being "on the air" once you have your license.
Should an actual weather emergency occur, these same Skywarn volunteers will automatically activate another kind of
net. This Skywarn Net can occur any time that severe weather makes it necessary. Here, the volunteers report from their local
areas to the NWS personnel the actual weather conditions at their locations. Damage reports are also taken here and if necessary,
that info is passed on to the appropriate responders. The responders might be Police, Fire, EMS
or Utility companies, depending on the specific situation. This aspect of the Skywarn program ensures that the protection
of the community is enhanced.
The web sites for information on Skywarn and the NI4CE repeater system are:
Skywarn - http://www.srh.noaa.gov/tbw/TampaBaySkywarnPage.htm
NI4CE Repeater System - http://www.ni4ce.org/
September has arrived, and with it the peak of Hurricane Season. So far, it has been a fairly quiet one, but that is no reason to let
our guard down. Now would be a good time to open up that "Go-Kit" you so carefully packed back in June and make sure the batteries
are still good etc. If you put any non-perishable food supplies in your kit, it would be smart to rotate them out and replace
them with newer items. Most ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) groups will be having practice sessions called SETs on
a fairly frequent schedule, make sure you attend all of them that you can. Often, assignments will change due to changes in
the shelter management programs, so keep yourself up to speed on where you are scheduled to go if a weather disaster should
On another note, my wife and I just got back from visiting family up North, and a belated Fathers Day present came
back with us. I am now the proud owner of one of the latest GPS units from Garmin. It was a great help on the way back from
Connecticut as we had a side trip to the Shelby NC hamfest
and the Nuvi 1300 handled all of the navigating chores like a pro. A GPS like this can come in very handy in the aftermath
of a severe weather situation. Street signs may be non-existent after even a moderate hurricane, and after a really big blow
even landmarks like buildings or businesses may be gone or unrecognizable. I have seen it take two hours to do what normally
would be a 20 minute trip because there were no street signs at all. The new class of GPS units can make navigating in this
kind of situation a snap. I only wish they had been available to us in the Punta Gorda area after Charlie a few years ago.
Navigating the streets of an area hit by a severe weather event can be very difficult. Navigating the radio spectrum
can likewise be a problem. Repeaters that were functional before the storm may be damaged or destroyed. Keep the list of available
frequencies updated and find out what backup frequencies are available. Program these into your radios now and keep the list
handy. You may have need to refer to it.
One of the easiest projects a new ham can take on is building a simple antenna. There is no shortage of designs available
on the Internet and having a quickly deployable emergency antenna can make the difference between solid communications or
none at all.
A few pieces of wire and an inexpensive collapsible pole
are about all one needs for an emergency antenna and the result can be stored in the trunk of your car until it is needed.
We will see you "down the log" as ham operators like to say, being prepared and not having to use all this stuff is
better than not being prepared and finding out that you absolutely need it right now.
October is upon us, and while our "Hurricane Season" is not quite over yet, so far it has been a relatively quiet one.
That could change any minute, so don't let your guard down just yet. October brings another "season" closer as well. No, I
am not talking about the return of the "Snowbirds". I am speaking of "Hamfest Season". While hamfests seem to occur mostly
in the summer up north, down here in Florida, the opposite
is true. Most hamfests occur in the winter months due to the weather being nicer and the obvious presence of many more customers
October is the month to definitely start saving up your cash for the hamfest season, if you have not done so already.
All those little parts, gadgets, accessories, and even radios that you have been wanting or needing will be available at your
nearest hamfest. Many of these parts like coaxial cable, connectors, wire ties, antenna wire and the like can be difficult
to find at other times of the year. Some of us rely on mail-order or the Internet to purchase this sort of stuff and then
have to pay for the shipping and handling as well. Any decent hamfest will have all of this stuff, probably from multiple
vendors, and usually less expensively than the prices in the catalogs.
Start making your lists now. That new antenna design you wanted to try is just waiting for the materials to put it
together. That new analyzer you are lusting after will be cheaper with "hamfest pricing" and that relic of a "boat anchor"
rig from the days of tubes and discrete components that you want to add to the mini-museum in your radio room will be right
there on somebody's table, maybe at a price you just can't pass up.
Another great reason for heading to all the hamfests you can is the camaraderie that comes from finally putting a face
with that call sign that you have been talking to on the radio all year long. It is also a great time for the devotees of
that particular ham radio mode like PSK-31 or RTTY to arrange to get together, perhaps over a meal, to trade war stories and
ideas and even just socialize. For much of the year, ham radio operators tend to be tucked away in their radio rooms, talking
over the air with other hams who may be half a world away or just in the next county. For some, the only time they get to
see their "radio pals" is at a hamfest. Get out there and meet your fellow operators. Talk to each other without the need
for the electronics and you may find a whole new slant on the hobby.
All ham radio operators are collectors. We tend to hold on to bits of stuff because "I may find a need for this some
day". Lengths of coax, insulators, old radios, etc, etc. We collect it all until that day when we realize that there is simply
no more room. We then get temporarily ruthless and clean out the room. However, we do not throw all this stuff out. We instead
take it to a hamfest and buy a space in the "tailgate" area. There we at least attempt to sell or trade this pile of stuff
to some other ham operator. The new owner will have a gleam in his or her eye because they have the perfect project to use
that stuff now. Meanwhile, having gotten rid of our stuff, and with a little coin of the realm in our pockets, what do we
do? Why we turn right around and buy somebody else's stuff with the identical gleam in our eye, because we found the stuff
that will let us work up our new project. I think you can see where all this is going.
The main thing about hamfests is that they are a blast. We hams buy stuff, sell stuff, meet fellow hams, see a lot
of gear that we want but maybe don't need, learn about new stuff, remember old stuff, and have more fun than should be legal.
An up-to-date list of hamfests in the West Central Florida Section and surrounding areas can be found on the West Central
Florida Section web site at www.arrlwcf.org I'll see you at the hamfest.
Halloween has come and gone, the Christmas stuff is already being piled on the shelves at the local big box stores
and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet. The Hurricane Season was unusually free of the big ones, at least in our area, and Hamfest
Season is about to hit West Central Florida.
Ah, yes, Hamfest Season, for a ham operator, the loveliest time of the year. Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, we
unfortunately do not have any full service ham radio stores. This means that many of us either order our stuff online or wait
for the opening day of the next hamfest. In the case of the smaller venues, we look for cables, parts, used gear or that next
great "trash to treasure" find. At the larger hamfests, like Tampa Bay and Orlando, we expect and look
forward to buying some of the same, but also to pick up that new state of the art radio we have been lusting over ever since
we saw it in the pages of QST or CQ magazine.
Buying used gear takes a lot of experience. There are good buys to be had out there for sure, but there are also lots
of what can only be referred to as junk. It is just a fact of life as a ham operator that sooner or later, one is going to
put down hard earned cash for what turns out to be a real disaster of a rig. It has happened to me, thankfully not too often,
and it probably has happened to every operator at one time or another. The chances of getting your money back are next to
zero, so you just chalk it up to experience and move on. Sometimes, after a little more time has passed and a little more
knowledge has been acquired, that pile of junk can be repaired or parted out for other projects, thereby saving at least some
of the cost.
Buying new gear is wonderful in the sense that it almost always works as advertised and once you get through the incomprehensibilities
of the owners manual, and get the rig set up in your "radio room", there is the fun of letting everyone you talk to on the
air know that you have the newest rig in town. It is kind of like buying a new car; you want to take it for a drive just to
show it off to all your neighbors. At a hamfest, generally, the vendor you can buy a new rig from is an established dealer.
The realities of selling amateur radios are such that anyone selling new rigs from any of the major manufacturers has made
a very big investment to do so. This, of course, means that they really want to stay in business and make you a happy repeat
customer. Even though they may have a brick and mortar store many miles away from the hamfest where you purchased the radio,
they will work with you to resolve any problems that might pop up.
Another aspect of the larger hamfest is that there are myriad opportunities for you to connect voices over the air
with the faces that belong to said voices. The social aspect of a hamfest is not to be underestimated. Getting to know the
person you interact with via radio several times a week, but have until now, never met in person, is great fun and often a
real learning experience. A voice over the radio often conveys a totally different picture in your mind of the person on the
other end of the ether than the reality of meeting the person at an event.
Hamfests also usually have meetings called "Forums". These can be as varied as the participants. General forums put
on by the formal organizations of ham radio like the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) the foremost national organization
for amateur radio cover many aspects of membership in those groups. Other forums may be devoted to a particular mode of communication
like "D-Star" (a digital form of voice communication) or a particular area of ham radio like "homebrewing" (building gear
yourself from components). At the largest hamfests, there are even programs for the spouses of ham operators. The larger shows
attract hams from hundreds of miles away so often a trip to a major hamfest is combined with a little "getaway vacation" for
the ham and his or her spouse.
Hamfests, even the smaller ones also are a golden opportunity to take the test to get your first license or upgrade
your existing license. VE (Volunteer Examiner) sessions are an integral part of most hamfests. With a little study and a little
cash, a person can walk into a hamfest being a non-ham and walk out with a new rig and the authorization to use it. Well,
almost, you still have to wait for the FCC to post your new ticket to the web before you can legally be on the air. Hams upgrading
their license to a higher class do not even have to wait for that. They just have to add a suffix to their call sign indicating
the new class of license. The wait for a newly minted Technician License varies from a few days to about a week or so. The
VE will tell you where to look on the Internet to find your call. A couple of weeks later the paper license will arrive from
the FCC, but as soon as it appears on the FCC web site you can legally operate your radio.
If all this is making you think that your humble scribe is trying to get you to come to the next hamfest, you are absolutely
correct. With the "instant" nature of the Internet becoming more pervasive all the time, attendance at hamfests is starting
to decline. Many times a hamfest is the major fundraiser for a local club or group of clubs. As the attendance figures decline,
some vendors choose to stay home and use the Internet to sell their wares. This causes a further decline in the numbers. Eventually,
the hamfest ceases to exist. If that happens, then there will be few places to actually touch any potential purchase before
you actually lay out the cash (or plastic) for it. There will be fewer and fewer opportunities for hams to interact face to
face and less venues where you can learn about new modes or ask questions directly and get answers the same way. So join me
and many other hams at the next hamfest. Here in West Central Florida, the next Tampa Bay Hamfest will be December 5th and
6th at the Manatee Civic Center on Haben Boulevard
in Palmetto FL. See you there.
The column this month is dedicated to Christmas. Since December is upon us, I thought it would be a good idea to write
about what the average ham operator will want for the Holidays. I am really directing this at the spouses and other relatives
of the amateur operator, since it is they who have the most trouble figuring out what to get their RF obsessed relative.
The first order of business is to take your cues from the ham. Has he or she been leaving ham radio catalogs around
the house, conveniently open to a particular page. Maybe there is a certain device on those pages mysteriously circled in
pen or pencil. Sometimes there are verbal clues, like the often used "I wish I had-------" (insert some arcane device in the
For those gift givers who are more remote from the daily life in the hams household, the problem is slightly more difficult
and yet in a way easier. Since the non-ham is unlikely to be in any way familiar with the needs of the aforementioned ham,
a gift of cash is always appreciated. Now I know some people will say that is the easy way out, look at it this way. What
the non ham may think is a really neat bit of electronic gizmology, the ham often looks at as an minimally useful hunk of
junk. On the other hand, cash allows the ham to go out right after the holidays and buy that new gizmo that they need to complete
their latest project.
A few hams have been known, on occasion, to care more about the gain of their latest home-brewed antenna than about
the stylish nature of their clothing. Giving the gift of a new shirt or hat or whatever may be more appropriate than a new
electronic whoozis for sartorially-challenged operators.
Books are always a good choice. The ARRL (American Radio Relay League) has an excellent web site (www.arrl.org) where
one can find many books on various aspects of amateur radio. Just scan the hams library of ham radio books and compare that
to the offerings from the ARRL. If his or her copy of a particular text, such as the ARRL Handbook is more than a couple of
years old, a new and updated version might be just the thing.
For the amateur radio operator contemplating the Holidays is a two way street. It is certainly a good idea to pay a
little more attention to the significant other's hobbies, likes and dislikes etc. at this time of year. Maybe you are not
the only one leaving catalogs around, open to a specific page. You are probably not the only one saying "I wish I had a -------".
A little thought and appreciation for what your spouse puts up with all year long will go a long way towards a happy New Year.
The columns for 2008 and 2007 were
a weekly affair. To avoid making this page too big to load properly, I have decided to add another page to the site for each
of these years. You will find the link on the Navigation panel which is present on all the pages on the site.