January 2012 Column:
The New Year has arrived and just in time. As ham operators
formulate their New Years resolutions and continue to adjust whatever goodies Santa dropped off last week, it is appropriate
to look ahead to the factors that may figure into 2012.
While we are six months away from the 2012 Hurricane
Season, it is still a good idea to make preparations now without the stress of a fast approaching deadline. If you are thinking
of building an NVIS antenna for use in an emergency, now is the time to build it and test it out at a leisurely pace. With
the cooler temperatures presently upon us, it is much easier to work outside without the risk of sunstroke. Similarly, if
you have been putting off checking the antennas on your tower or tilting down that mast to repair or maintain, it will be
much more comfortable at 70 degrees than it will be in July at 103.
Another aspect of Amateur Radio that comes into
focus now is hamfest season. Up North, hamfests usually occur in the summer. Down here in Florida,
they start in November and continue all through the winter months until late May. In addition, the second biggest Hamfest
in North America is in Orlando in early February. Vendors
and manufacturers flock to this event at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. If you have your pennies saved up, Orlando is a great hamfest to find what you need/want whatever mode or area of interest you
Speaking of comfort, as I did a paragraph or
so before, now is a perfect time to get out and do a little “Ham Radio Alfresco”. There are so many parks and
beaches in Florida that if you can’t find a place
to throw a little wire in a tree and operate with low power off a battery, you aren’t looking hard enough. Your “portable”
station can be anything from a QRP homebrew single band rig to one of the big three’s latest 100 watt wonder radios
that do everything from DC to Daylight. Just turn the power down so the battery lasts more than 10 minutes and you too can
get a tan while adding another few DX entities to your log book.
Those New Years resolutions can be accomplished
now too. If you are thinking about trying for an upgrade to your license, now is the time to start studying. If your storage
shed has a ton of old radio stuff in it, get busy and drag it all out into the sunlight and sort it out or throw it out. If
you find you have a working radio or accessory that you do not need any more, consider donating it to your local Amateur Radio
Emergency Services group. They may be able to use it as is, or they may be able to sell it and gain a few dollars towards
the maintenance costs of their response unit. All that radio, gear and antenna masts is a significant cost to most ARES groups
and since they do not charge dues to their members, few have anything more than a really bare-bones budget. A donation of
radio gear or funds will greatly improve their ability to respond quickly when the 2012 Hurricane Season arrives. If you have
put off joining your local ARES group, now is the time to do it. There is some training to be accomplished, it is free, and
online for the FEMA mandated courses, and there is plenty of time if one starts now to get adjusted to the local group’s
training regimen. Make no mistake, while amateur radio is an “amateur” service, the responders from ARES are as
professional as they come. Joining this group will not only assist your community, but also crank up your skill level in all
areas of “amateur radio”.
February 2012 Column:
The month of February is upon us and “snowbird”
season is in full swing. Personally, I like this time of year because, apart from the heavier traffic woes, this is the time
of year when everything is in high gear. There are more art exhibitions, more entertainment mega-stars performing here etc.
Almost any hobby or other avocation one can think of has more going on at this time of year than at any other. Great weather
only adds to the enjoyment of the Sarasota-Bradenton area.
This includes the interest that I write about,
Amateur Radio. There are more ham-fests in South-central Florida from December through April
than at any other time of year. A “Hamfest is kind of like a flea market and trade show combined all devoted to one
area of interest, Amateur Radio. It is where many “Hams” (Licensed Amateur Radio Operators) go to buy radios,
parts, antennas, test gear, cables, wire, and any number of other devices that will advance their enjoyment of this incredible
hobby. They also go to meet friends they talk to on the radio perhaps every day. The weird part is they often develop close
friendships with people they only actually see once or twice a year. Hams have friends all over the world because of their
contacts made by amateur radio. A ham fest is often the only time they will get together in person.
They also attend the bigger events so that they
can participate in and learn from various forums that are held at these major ham fests. There are forums on Contesting, on
Digital modes, on DIY radio or “Homebrewing” gear. There are forums on the use of computers in amateur radio.
Computers have become vital in ham radio, not to replace the radio but to add to it.
Several years ago, some “experts” were sounding the death
knell for Amateur Radio. They said that the Internet and computers would kill off Amateur Radio. Sorry guys, you were dead
wrong! Amateur Radio just admitted its largest number of licensed operators ever. The count of active licenses just in the
United States is now somewhere North of
780,000 and growing every day. This is the highest number of amateur radio operators EVER. Amateur radio is alive and very
healthy, due in no small part to the incredible variety of different things one can do as a ham operator.
with an “entry-level” license, a ham has access to a very large span of the spectrum. They can talk through satellites
to hams in other countries, they can visit, electronically, the International Space Station, they can build their own gear
such as antennas, amplifiers, accessories for the radio and many more. Hams are vital to this nation’s response in time
of disaster, whether that event be natural or human caused. The various emergency teams like CERT, Red Cross, Salvation Army,
React, Catholic Charities and many others are tied together in communications by amateur radio. Most Emergency Operations
Centers have amateur radio as an integral part of their communications systems.
quote a publicity brochure put out by the American Radio Relay League a while back- “This is not your grandfather’s
ham radio anymore”. Modern ham radio makes extensive use of the latest in technology to improve and strengthen the capabilities
that only amateur radio has. Ham radio needs no infrastructure, no cell towers, no hugely expensive and vulnerable governmental
communications systems. Just dedicated and unpaid volunteer operators with their own radios, their own antennas and their
own emergency power can keep the communications going between the responding agencies and the populace they need to help.
fests are where these dedicated people go to get the equipment and supplies they know they need to keep all this service up
and running. It is also where they go to meet other people with similar interests and add to their skills. I love going anywhere
to talk to other people about amateur radio. I always come away having learned something new and interesting. Sometimes I
am the guest speaker, other times I go to hear another speaker, but I always learn from others every time I go. Hopefully
your hobby is like that too. If not, maybe you should take another look at amateur radio.
March 2012 Column.
March is a month, when I lived up North, that
had very little to recommend it. March was always blustery, cold and usually wet. The snow was gone but the lousy conditions
were still there. It wasn’t until I moved to Florida
that I found out that March can also be a great month. Down here, the temperatures are very nice, the sunshine is abundant
and rain only falls, apparently, on the day of the Daytona 500.
What, you may ask does that have to do with Ham
Radio? Lots, as you will see in a moment. Ham fest season is still in full swing and the weather is perfect for doing a little
alfresco amateur radio. Rather than being cooped up in the radio room (some people call it a radio shack, but my radio room
is no shack and so I tend to use a more appropriate term) the ham operator can get out and go to the beach or a park, set
up a simple antenna, generally made of wire, hook up the radio to a battery and do a few hours of DX (long distance communicating)
with stations all over the world. A convenient tree serves as the antenna support, a picnic table makes a fine operating position
and one can even get a tan while doing an activity they enjoy.
Ham radio in the “field” is a most
enjoyable activity. There are groups within the hobby that focus on things such as lighthouses. There is even an international
association that supports this activity with awards and specialized events. Other groups such as radio clubs operate “special
event stations” for a wide variety of mostly non-radio related events. One such event is the annual “Sun and Fun”
fly-in held annually in Lakeland, FL. The event lasts all
week and the special event station will be there the whole time. Often, a unique QSL card (a verification of a radio contact)
is sent to every station that contacts the special event station. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) even issues
special temporary call signs to special event stations that request it. Special event stations are associated with innumerable
functions. The opening of a new park or museum, an anniversary of some important person’s birth, a public event like
a fair or carnival, all are frequent reasons for a special event station.
One of the best aspects of a special event station
is that in most cases, the station is right in the middle of all the public activities. This gives the general public a golden
opportunity to see and hear amateur radio in action. Many times, a member of the public who might have been interested in
amateur radio years ago, before career and family needs pushed it to the back, has their interest reignited at one of these
stations. Almost every time a club runs a special event station, at the next club meeting there are a few new faces who are
returning to or joining a hobby they had almost forgotten. Amateur Radio is stronger than ever. Just recently, the FCC announced
that the number of active licenses for amateur radio operators has passed 800,000 in the US alone. The “doom and gloomers” have been saying ham radio was dead.
NOT BY A LONG SHOT! The ham radio hobby is very much alive and well. There are countless operating modes and aspects of amateur
radio such that almost anyone, regardless of their focus in life, can find an enjoyable and interesting facet of amateur radio
in which to find a home.
Check out the American Radio Relay League’s
web site at: www.arrl.org to find a local club meeting or special event station close to you. Then go and find
out what amateur radio has to offer you. You will not be disappointed.
April is here and the time is coming for both
amateur radio operators and everyone else to start thinking about and preparing for --- Wait for it----Hurricane Season. Nobody
really wants to right now, because the weather is the best it has been all year and June 1st seems a long way off.
Most if not all of us would rather go to the beach and work on our tan than get prepared for what right now seems to be a
The people who are the very first to respond
if a hurricane hits the State of Florida cannot delay their
preparations at all. Just last week, the state held its 2012 Hurricane Conference in Orlando.
Amateur radio operators were a major part of that event, as they are every year. If the authorities are already knee deep
in preparations for the coming weather season, it only makes sense that we should also be making plan for our own families.
Where would we go? What do we need to have on hand? What will we do about the medications we need every day? What and where
will we be able to eat? If we have a generator, how much gas will we need to stock up on? If we have family members dependent
on medical devices like oxygen concentrators or a ventilator, how will we keep them alive?
The answers to these questions and more need
to be considered and answered now. The actual stocking up process can probably wait a few more weeks, but the planning must
take place now. Here are a few things to consider when you sit down to make those plans and lists. Depending on the severity
of the damage caused by a storm there may not be ANY cell phone service at all. The same goes for regular land line phone
service and the Internet. There probably will be few if any gas stations open or grocery stores either. Your pharmacy will
be closed, if it still stands at all after a major hurricane. The street signs will be gone. Similarly, any traffic signal
lights will be out, if they didn’t get blown away entirely. Debris will fill many roads making them impassable. That
means that not only will you not be able to get out, but also the first responders like ambulances and fire services will
not be able to get to you. If you think I am painting an overly dark picture of what may happen, just think back to New Orleans and Katrina. Locally, think about Punta Gorda a few years
In order to keep you and your loved ones out
of the panic mode it pays to start now to plan and prepare for the coming hurricane season. There are plenty of resources
on the Internet and available from your county and municipal authorities. You can find lists of shelters, suggested packing
lists, what to do about medications, etc from many local sources. Every year, commercial entities like TV stations and newspapers
provide guides to assist you in planning for your unique situation when a hurricane or tornado strikes. Get ready. It is much
better to be a survivor than a statistic. Be part of the solution otherwise you are part of the problem. Here are just a couple
of web sites that can be of help:
May 2012 Column
As May begins I would like to tell you about
a very interesting and fun activity that took place this past Friday. For the past 4 years, The Imagine School at Lakewood
Ranch and the Coast Guard Auxiliary have presented “First Responders Day” at the school. This year, our Amateur
Radio Emergency Service unit was asked to participate. We happily accepted and began making plans for how best to demonstrate
amateur radio and the work of our ARES unit to 700 schoolchildren.
Many members of ARES turned out for the event
which lasted from 9:00 AM to almost 2:00 PM. Sixteen amateur radio operators were on hand for the display, most equipped with
hand held ham radios or walkie-talkies. That fact was of great importance as you will learn in a bit. The ARES team set up
the trailer with generator power and several antennas for the various bands we planned on using for the display starting around
8:30 AM. By the time the first class of kids came to visit our display we were all ready.
As each group of students arrived, a tag team
of ham operators was ready to briefly explain what we do and who we provide support to in a disaster. Originally, this duty
was to be rotated amongst all of the operators on site but once we saw how well the students responded to Jim Woodson, KE4INM
and Roger Byron, KR4WS as the narrators of our display, we left them in control of that aspect and supported them in other
ways. After a brief explanation of amateur radio and our role in a disaster, Jim and Roger broke up the kids into smaller
groups of 3 to 5 kids and acting as control operators, they proceeded to get all of them on the air. Roger would call for
a station to talk to the kids and one of the many ARES members in the area would answer. Each child heard his or her name
over the radio and got to say a few words to the other operator. That is why so many of our group were equipped with walkie-talkies.
We kept the transmissions brief and used a simplex frequency so we did not tie up any local repeaters. It was a busy time
but I am very proud to say that virtually every student who came by got to talk to a ham operator over the radio. Jim and
Roger did a fantastic job keeping the kids interested and the rest of us provided the voices at the other end of the radio.
In addition to the thrill of actually talking
over the radio, the kids were exposed to satellite communications and HF digital modes. Watching the words of an operator
half a world away stream across the computer monitor was quite a wow factor for the kids and the fact that we could see as
many as 8 or 9 conversations going on at the same time enthralled them.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary and the school even
fed our crew at lunch time which was unexpected but much appreciated. The Coast Guard demonstrated their HH-60 helicopter
and one of their larger rigid inflatable boats. When the helicopter landed the entire school came out to watch. Local Fire
Departments also displayed their vehicles and gear and even the TSA showed up with their K-9 units. From the comments I heard,
all of the students had a great time and I know the members of ARES did as well.
A side benefit to the day was that some of our
members were able to inform the teachers at the school about the many resources available in amateur radio through the American
Radio Relay League’s in school programs to enhance the teaching of science at the elementary, middle and high school
levels. With the ubiquity of electronics in daily life, it is vitally important that students at all levels gain some understanding
of how these devices work. The ARRL programs for teachers aid in this task and are well known for the quality of the instruction
You can find out more about these programs and
indeed about any aspect of amateur radio by going to www.arrl.org and spending some time there. The web site is quite large so just take it in manageable
bites and come back often