One of the things I try to do is monitor the National Simplex Calling Frequency for 2 meter FM: 146.52 MHz, especially when mobile. It is fun to see who might show up on 2m simplex: SOTA operators, hikers, mobile stations, campers, etc. See these two posts on operating ideas: A Simple Wilderness Protocol: 146.52 MHz and The Use of 146.52 MHz.
It is also fun to say hello to another ham when you pass them on the highway. While you may see their call letter license plates or notice their mobile antenna, you may not know what frequency they are monitoring. The Noise Blankers Radio Club has solved this problem — just put this sticker on your vehicle.
After poking around cafepress.com, I found some additional options for indicating your radio frequency:
The APRS frequency:
And there’s this magnet for your refrigerator:
If you don’t like any of these, cafepress.com makes it easy to create your own. Go for it!
73, Bob K0NR
Unfortunately, if you look at ham radio gear, we are in even worse shape than the consumer market. Heck, even the freaking microphone connectors are unique to each manufacturer.
During the Colorado 14er Event, Amateur Radio operators will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and SOTA summits to set up amateur radio stations to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun on Sunday August 3 and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact.
The new Colorado 14er Event logo is now available on t-shirts and more.
Starting in 2012, Summits on The Air (SOTA) is part of this event. This means there are over 1700 summits that you can activate in Colorado, with a wide variety of hiking difficulty. This opens up the event to a lot more people and a lot more summits. See the new SOTA page.
Radio operators with 14er climbing experience who plan to activate a summit should log their name and intended peak at the Ham14er Yahoo group. This is also the email list for discussing the event and asking questions.
The various models of Baofeng handheld transceivers keep popping up everywhere. At prices less than $50, radio amateurs (including veterans and newbies) are scarfing up these radios. See my postings or check out PD0AC’s blog for more information.
Also very frequently, the new owner of such a radio finds that they cannot figure out how to program it. Of course, the solution is “use the programming software” which is often helpful (and often not). The really gnarly problem that usually surfaces is getting the programming cable to work.
It appears that many of the cheap Baofeng USB programming cables use a clone of the Prolific PL-2303 chip that is not supported by the latest Windows driver. This Miklor web page does a good job of explaining the driver problem and giving some helpful advice. (Actually the Miklor site has tons of information on these radios, so check it out.) I’ll also note that the same cable can be used to program a Wouxun radio, so the same remedies apply. Using the info on the Miklor site allowed me to get my Baofeng/Wouxun cable working with my old Windows XP computer. When I bought a new notebook PC, it came with Windows 8 installed, which I later “upgraded” to Win 8.1. (I will spare you the sad story of dealing with Win 8 and 8.1) Anyway, I have not gotten the Baofeng cables to work on Win 8 or 8.1, even following the Miklor advice.
I started using the Chirp programming software, an open source application that supports a wide variety of radios. (I have found the supplied Baofeng and Wouxun software to be, uh, well, crapware. It can be made to work but it is a pain.) While the Chirp software is not bug free and is in perpetual beta, it basically works well and does a great job of supporting a wide range of radios. I noticed that the Chirp Cableguide recommends the use of programming cables with an FTDI USB chip. I found this one on Amazon for $19, a little more expensive than the cheapo cables but not bad. I plugged it into my Win8.1 computer and it started working immediately. I did not load any drivers, Windows actually did its job and took care of it for me. In minutes, I was programming a variety of Baofeng and Wouxun radios. Success!!!
My strong recommendation at this point is to use the Chirp software and get a FTDI-based programming cable. You will be a much happier Baofeng or Wouxun owner.
73, Bob K0NR
I recently came across this iPhone app that generates Morse Code ring tones called…wait for it…Morse Code Ringtone. I’ve used some other methods for generating Morse ring tones but I’ve found this one to be particularly easy to use. The app costs $1.99 so it is quite affordable.
Well, there is one thing that is kind of tricky: actually getting the ring tone onto your iPhone. It appears that Apple has not made this very easy for app programmers, so it is a little tricky to do. The method I found to work is 1) use the app to create the ring tone on the iPhone 2) email it to my computer 3) save it somewhere on the computer 4) import it into iTunes using “File” “Add File to Library”. At this point, the ring tone should appear in iTunes and will be transferred to your iPhone the next time you sync.
After playing around with Morse Code tone and speed, I found that I really liked the sound of a 700 Hz tone sent at 30 wpm. My code speed is a somewhat reliable 15 wpm, so 30 wpm is well above my normal copy speed. Still, I like the sound of this quick burp of CW. I set up these short Morse bursts to indicate various messages:
You can play these ringtones by clicking on the name above, or do a right-click to download them to your PC. Windows Media Player can play these files, but it gave me an error when I tried it. I just clicked through and it worked fine.
But you should really get the app and create some ring tones of your own.
73, Bob K0NR
The ARRL just reported that the number of FCC amateur radio licenses hit an all time high of 717,201 at the end of 2013. Since we all know that the interwebz has made ham radio communication obsolete :-), this is a difficult statistic to comprehend. Joe Speroni AH0A keeps a useful collection of ham licensing statistics including the ability to generate plots of the data. I used Joe’s site to generate this plot of total US amateur licenses versus time. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero, so the plot tends to exaggerate the amount of change.
From this plot, we see that the number of licenses was in decline from about 2003 to 2007. The no code Technician license was introduced in 1991 which is earlier than the data on this chart. The FCC completely dropped the Morse Code requirement from all license classes in 2007, as indicated on the chart. (See Wikipedia for the exact dates.) The decline in licenses was reversed at that time and has been growing ever since. There is an interesting inflection point in 2010 that coincides with the release of a new Technician License question pool. The line is noticeably less steep after this point, which seems to imply that something happened to slow down the rate of new licenses.
Over the last ten years, Technician licenses have grown slightly as a percent of the total, going from 47% to 49%. So about half of US licenses are Technician. The grandfathered Novice and Advanced class licenses are in a slow decline and currently represent 2% and 8% (respectively) of the total licenses. The percent of General licenses has grown slightly over the past ten years, from 21% to 23%. Extra class licenses showed the most growth over the decade, going from 15% to 19% of total licenses.
While it’s encouraging to see continued growth in the number of ham radio licenses, these statistics immediately raise a number of questions:
- How many of these licensees are Silent Keys and their FCC license is just clocking time until it hits the 10 year expiration date?
- Given the aging ham population, when will we hit a demographic brick wall and see the number of licenses decline?
- How many of these licensees are actively involved in ham radio? I have a number of friends that keep their FCC license current but are never on the air.
Clearly, the 10 year license term will tend to mask any decline for a while but it seems that sooner or later the numbers will flatten off and probably start to decline. I don’t know of anyone that has collected and analyzed the age distribution of hams, so I am basing this on what I see at radio club meetings and major ham radio events.
How many of these licensees are active? Really difficult to say. It seems that in the 21st century, people have many activities to choose from and their interest in any one of them may fade in and out. Not everyone is a Full Up 24/7 Ham Radio Enthusiast.
In the mean time, I am going to keep teaching Tech license classes and helping people get started in a hobby that I find to be a lot of fun. Remember the The Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio: To Have Fun Messing Around with Radios.
73, Bob K0NR
Here’s the top 5 blog postings for 2013 on the K0NR Blog, based on number of views.
1. The Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps – my short list of preferred iPhone apps for ham radio use
2. Digital Voice at Pacificon – a report on a few of the presentations at the Pacificon ham radio convention in Santa Clara
3. Yet Another HT From China (Baofeng UV-B5) - a look at one of the best low cost HTs from China
4. A Great Bag for the FT-817 – description of a really good bag for the Yaesu portable QRP rig
5. When All Else Fails or SHTF? – a discussion of “preppers” getting interested in amateur radio for emergency use
Also, these articles continue to get a large number of hits, even though they are a bit older:
FM/VHF Operating Guide – a guide to ham radio activity on 2m FM and other bands
Choose Your 2m Frequency Wisely – an explanation of the 2 meter band plan with Colorado emphasis
— 73, Bob K0NR
Sat April 12 and Sat April 19 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2014
Location: Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Station 1
The Technician license is your gateway to the world-wide excitement of Amateur Radio …
- Earn your ham radio Technician class radio privileges
- Pass your FCC amateur radio license exam right in class on the second day
- Multiple-choice exam, No Morse Code Required
- Live equipment demonstrations
- Learn to operate on the ham bands, 10 Meters and higher
- Learn to use the many VHF/UHF FM repeaters in Colorado
- Find out how to participate in emergency communications
There is a $25 registration fee for the class.
In addition, students must have the required study guide:
HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course $19.95
Advance registration is required (no later than one week before the first session, earlier is better!)
To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR
Email: email@example.com or Phone: 719 659-3727
Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Radio Association
From the ARRL web site:
CQ Communications Inc has announced plans to realign its publications lineup and to launch a new online supplement to its flagship magazine, CQ Amateur Radio.
“The hobby radio market is changing,” said CQ Communications President and Publisher Dick Ross, K2MGA, “and we are changing what we do and how we do it in order to continue providing leadership to all segments of the radio hobby.”
Effective with the February 2014 issue of CQ, said Ross, content from the magazine’s three sister publications — Popular Communications, CQ VHF and WorldRadio Online — will be incorporated into CQ’s digital edition as a supplement to be called CQ Plus. The print editions of Popular Communications and CQ VHF will be phased out, and WorldRadio Online will no longer exist as a separate online publication. Current Popular Communications, CQ VHF and WorldRadio Online subscribers will be converted to CQ subscribers and receive CQ Plus at no additional charge. Details will be posted on each magazine’s website.
As the name implies, CQ VHF was focused on amateur radio activities above 50 MHz, which was well aligned with my interests. I’ve been writing the FM column for CQ VHF magazine since the summer of 2005 (wow, has it really been eight years?). I have really enjoyed this opportunity and found the four-times-a-year schedule to be just about right for me as an author.
All good things come to an end and it was not a surprise that CQ VHF would cease publication. Clearly, print media is struggling in most markets and a niche publication like CQ VHF was feeling the pressure. My thanks go to Joe Lynch N6CL for his leadership as editor and also to my fellow authors for the great content they produced over many years. I am going to miss having the magazine around but it is time to move on.
73, Bob K0NR
Update Jan 2, 2014: See this information at cq-vhf.com
The Ham Hijinks crew continues to pound out some provocative ham radio reporting. I can really relate to this story: Man Climbs Tower, Won’t Come Down Until Family Leaves. It was great to hear about this breakthrough: World Issues Solved On Local 2m Repeater. This one is destined to be a Christmas classic: Ham Op Gets CB Radio Christmas Gift Again Warning: Do not take these guys seriously.
You may have heard about the ARRL petition (FCC RM-11708) to modernize how Part 97 regulates the bandwidth of digital signals. I’ve reviewed the proceeding and filed brief comments in favor of it. As I read through the filed comments, I found that some hams think this rule change is a threat to everything good in ham radio. I don’t know where they get this idea and I wonder if they’ve actually read the petition before commenting. For more on this, see: ARRL’s “Symbol Rate” Petition Nears Top of FCC’s “Most Active Proceedings” List .
Sverre LA3ZA posted a nice piece comparing the low cost Baofeng handheld radios: The best of the Baofeng handhelds . I don’t agree with his conclusion though…I find the UV-B5 to be the best choice due to the improved receiver, better antenna, improved S meter and rotary dial. But his article does a great job of comparing the radios so you can make your own decision.
Merry Christmas and 73, Bob K0NR
A recent edition of the ARRL Contest Update highlighted the availability of this shirt with the number 73 on it. Since this shirt is offered by Think Geek, I figured it had to be ham radio related. After all, we own the number 73! See my previous posting on the topic.
Well, it turns out that this shirt is actually derived from The Big Bang Theory television show, when Sheldon explains that 73 is The Best Number.
Check out this video clip:
Well, it doesn’t stop there. Using my friend Google, I found a number of web pages on the topic of the number 73. Wikipedia even has a page dedicated to it. (Who edits a Wikipedia page about a number anyway?)
Here are some fun facts about 73:
- 73 is the 21st prime number
- Reversing the digits of 73, produces another prime number, 37, which means 73 is an Emirp
- The PT boat in the television show McHale’s Navy was PT-73.
- In Morse code, 73 is a palindrome
But to me, 73 is still just Best Regards.
73, Bob K0NR
After losing Rooster, the alleged brains of the WG0AT SOTA team, we have great news from Steve, WGØAT.
Two new goats have joined the herd, getting trained up for more Summits On The Air (SOTA) action.
Meet Acorn and Barley, or is it Barley and Acorn? Watch out, Peanut, you’ve got company.
A few weeks back, I had a Too Much Information meltdown, because I was being overrun with information spewing forth from various sources. To be specific, I regularly get communications from these feeds: email, SMS text, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus. The amount of “stuff” that was coming in was getting out of hand so I sprang into action.
First, I asked myself, how did I get into this mess? The general trend I see is that when I first start using a particular communications tool, my goal is to connect up with as many interesting feeds as possible. For old school email, this usually means subscribing to email lists, mostly via Yahoo Groups. For Twitter, this means Following other people that have interesting tweets. As more people engage in these media, the available stuff grows rapidly. Then Google Plus comes along, which tries to improve on Twitter but is somewhat redundant with the other social media. That is, I get Google Plus postings that are the same as ones from Twitter and Facebook.
The big trap I fell into is the fear of missing something. There’s so much interesting stuff out there, I wanted to grab it all. In reality, I was still missing stuff because I was being overrun with superfluous information. Ah! This is really the classic communication problem of signal-to-noise ratio. Some of these feeds have too much noise in them so I was losing the signal!
What constitutes noise? Lots of things: Foursquare check ins, Fitbit updates, off topic posts in email lists, etc., etc. Of course, noise is in the eye of the beholder, so what is noise to me may be valuable information to you. Also, a few “noise bursts” are OK but lots of noise degrades the signal-to-noise ratio.
With signal-to-noise ratio as the primary measure, I ruthlessly slashed my collection of information sources. I dropped out of many of the Yahoo Groups (actually, I moved them to web only), I reduced the number of SMS text alerts, I pulled back on the number of Facebook friends, deleted less interesting RSS feeds. On Twitter, I started to pay attention to noisy tweets…if someone has a tendency to send noise and not so much signal, they are gone.
If I dropped you from Twitter or the other social media, please don’t take it personally. It’s just me unclogging my digital life.
Those are my thoughts…what are you doing to manage your digital life?
73, Bob K0NR
In the past two weeks, the results of several ham radio contests from last summer were posted. The typical contest takes months for the official results to be finalized and I have usually forgotten about the contest by then. The more serious contesters share their results via the 3830 web site so they can get an early read on how they did relative to their peers. But you need to be patient for the official results.
In the ARRL June VHF Contest, I placed in the top ten for the new Single Operator 3 Band category. This category is restricted to 50, 144 and 432 MHz, which is a good match to my radio interests. We had good 50 MHz conditions in Colorado (relative to other parts of the country), so CO stations seemed to score well.
Speaking of Colorado, in the Colorado QSO Party I finished first in the Phone – Low Power – Single-Op category. I was actually not that pleased with my score this year (45,500), which was considerably less than my score from last year (76,464). Oh well, I will invoke the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio and say I had a great time in the contest, regardless of the score. Thanks to the Pikes Peak Radio Amateur Association for sponsoring this event.
The ARRL Field Day results are also posted. Joyce K0JJW and I did a one transmitter (1B) operation from the cabin using the club call KVØCO, resulting in a modest score (454). We mostly made phone contacts on 20m, 15m and 6m. We had some nice sporadic-e on 50 MHz, which is always a treat. Remember, the key to a fun Field Day is: Season To Taste.
73, Bob K0NR
About once every two weeks, one of the local radio hams gets on the repeater with a DTMF beep at the start of every transmission. We’ve come to expect it now, so the first question to the ham is “are you by chance using a Yaesu radio?” They always say “yes” and then we talk them through the process of turning off the WIRES “feature.”
The WIRES function sends a DTMF signal at the start of every transmission for use with Yaesu’s version of internet repeater linking (which is not used much in the US). The problem is that it is very easy to bump the wrong button on your radio and accidently get it into this mode. This means that this is mostly a nuisance feature in the US.
I recently came across a way to disable this feature on your Yaesu radio so that it won’t sent the DTMF tone even if you activate it by accident. Basically, you set the WIRES tone to be empty, so nothing is transmitted if you accidentally turn on WIRES. I did not come up with this clever hack…in fact, I am not sure who put this together. (If you do, let me know and I’ll give them credit.) Take a look at this pdf file and follow the instructions to de-WIRES your radio: Turn Off Wires
73, Bob K0NR
A while back, Dan KB6NU noted the increasing number of preppers getting involved in ham radio. Preppers are people who are actively preparing for emergencies, natural disasters and disruption of social order. In our Technician license course, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people identifying themselves as preppers.
Of course, amateur (ham) radio has a long history of emergency service and disaster preparedness. FCC Rules Part 97 says this is one of the purposes of the Amateur Radio Service: Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
Historically, most radio amateurs approach the hobby from a technical or radio operating point of view, then find ways to apply it to emergency preparedness. The prepper tends to work the equation the other way…starting with the desire to have emergency communication capability and then working to get an amateur radio license.
Many prepper sites just give a quick overview of ham radio, positioning it with GMRS, FRS and CB radio. See Prepper Communications. Articles like this one give a more complete introduction to ham radio: The Skinny On Ham: Getting Licensed. This one, too: Every Prepper Should Be A Ham.
You may run into some creative acronyms on these prepper sites:
SHTF = ”Stuff” Hits The Fan
EOTW = End Of The World
TEOTWAWKI = The End Of The World As We Know It
YOYO – You’re On Your Own
There are web sites devoted to prepping with radio communications:
Many of these sites have useful information that may stretch your thinking on “being prepared.” Of course, some of these prepper sites (not the ones listed above) are a bit over the top and may have resulted from people going off their meds. Draw your own conclusions.
I’ve noticed a pattern of people creating prepper frequency lists, such as the one shown below. (Note that some of the ham frequencies listed do not conform to generally accepted band plans.) I can see the usefulness of having some assigned frequencies but its not clear to me how they’ll actually get used. I think the challenge for new prepper hams is to think through who they are going to communicate with and for what purpose. It’s also important to get familiar with the equipment and gain experience on the air, so when the EOTW happens you aren’t sitting there reading the radio manual.
Whether you think of emergency communications as “When All Else Fails” or when SHTF, amateur radio is a resilient communication tool.
73, Bob K0NR
Added 7 Dec 2013: I came across this video that does a good job of introducing ham radio to the prepper crowd: So you want a ham radio for emergency communications!
Many of you have gotten to know Rooster and Peanut, through the videos by Steve WG0AT, the Alpha Goat. Some of you have been fortunate enough to meet the goats in person, which is always a real treat. I blogged about Steve and his goats a number of times, see this posting that highlights one of Steve’s videos.
Today we received the sad news that Rooster has died, a Silent Key in ham radio jargon.
Steve sent this message:
It’s with deep sorrow I have to make this announcement …”Rooster” goat died suddenly last night of unknown causes …his trail buddies will soon be scattering Rooster’s ashes on many SOTA peaks throughout western NA
73, Bob K0NR
One of my favorite rigs is the Yaesu FT-817, the QRP transceiver that covers HF through 70 cm. I use it for mountaintop VHF, including Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations.
There are cheaper solutions out there but this is the best one I’ve seen.
73, Bob K0NR
As reported here in this blog, the Lost Island DX Society has been missing in action for over a year. Various rumors propagated around the internet and amateur radio community concerning what happened to these LIDS. Recently, the Fi-Ni Report came to life and reported that the LIDS are actively planning (or at least discussing) working the CQ Worldwide DX Contest. Of course, this is the SSB version of the contest.
No explanation has been given for the year long absence of the LIDS and the Fi-Ni Report.
73, Bob K0NR
Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Pacificon amateur radio convention in Santa Clara, something I have been trying to do for several years now. It is a great event, with good technical programs and a super venue.
The most interesting presentation I saw was the one on digital voice (DV) technology by Bruce Perens K6BP. The presentation was mostly about the digital voice known as FreeDV, an open source approach to DV that uses the Codec 2 voice codec for digitally processing/compressing speech.
I won’t cover all of the technical details here but you can follow the links above to go deeper on the topic. The initial FreeDV efforts are focused on the HF bands, using the sound card plus computer approach to implementing DV. This is a good approach since it is a relatively easy way to adopt this technology. (Compare this to VHF/UHF where you need to solve the repeater infrastructure problem to make progress.) FreeDV operates with a bandwidth of 1.25 kHz, narrower that the standard 3 kHz or so SSB signal. FreeDV also has the benefit of degrading gracefully as the signal-to-noise ratio is decreased, with less of a digital dropoff that we see with D-STAR and other DV technologies.
Like many hams, Bruce pointed out the concerns and limitations of the proprietary AMBE chip used in D-STAR, DMR and now the new Yaesu DV system. I totally get this point and support the idea of a an open source codec. On the other hand, this work is coming more than a decade later than the creation of D-STAR. I like to refer to this phenomenon as ”our ideas are better than their products.”
Bruce introduced Chris Testa KB2BMH to talk about the “HT of the Future”. This is a handheld transceiver implemented using Software Defined Radio (SDR) and inspirations from the world of smartphones. As Bruce said, “Why isn’t your HT as smart as your smart phone?” This is similar to the Android HT idea that I blogged about a while back. See Chris’s blog and this HamRadioNow video for more information.
Another presentation that I attended was about D-STAR with several speakers, including Robin AA4RC. The innovation continues to happen in the D-STAR world with a strong theme of using Raspberry Pi computers to create D-STAR hotspots and repeaters. Robin described the “DV Pi” being developed…a DVAP-like daughter board that plugs into a Raspberry Pi. Jim Moen K6JM talked about the many ways you can implement a D-STAR Hotspot. For more info on that see his D-STAR Hotspot page.
There’s much innovation happening in the area of Digital Voice. It got me thinking about it again so I dug out my ICOM D-STAR HT and put my DVAP back on the air.
73, Bob K0NR