The Completely Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps

iphonesIt is about time I updated one of my more popular posts about my favorite ham radio apps on the iPhone and IPad. As usual, I will focus on free or low cost (less than $5) apps that I am actively using. Some apps have just disappeared from iTunes and new ones have emerged. While this list is completely updated, it is still incomplete, because there are so many apps to choose from.

 

From the Simple Utility Category:

Ham I Am (Author: Storke Brothers, Cost: Free) A handy app that covers some basic amateur radio reference material (Phonetic alphabet, Q Signals, Ham Jargon, Morse Code, RST System, etc.) Although I find the name to be silly, I like the app!
Maidenhead Converter (Author: Donald Hays, Cost: Free) Handy app that displays your grid locator, uses maps and does lat/lon to grid locator conversions.
HamClock (Author: Ben Sinclair, Cost: $0.99) A simple app that displays UTC time and local time. This one reads out to the second.

 

There are quite a few good apps for looking up amateur radio callsigns:

CallBook (Author: Dog Park Software, Cost: $1.99) Simple ham radio callbook lookup with map display.

Call Sign Lookup (Author: Technivations, Cost: $0.99) Another simple ham radio callsign lookup with map display.

 

There are a few repeater directory apps out there and my favorite is:

RepeaterBook (Author: ZBM2 Software, Cost: Free) This app is tied to the RepeaterBook.com web site, works well and is usually up to date.

 

For a mobile logbook (and other tools):

HamLog (Author: Pignology, Cost: $0.99) This app is much more than a logbook because it has a bunch of handy tools including UTC Clock, Callsign Lookup, Prefix list, Band Plans, Grid Calculator, Solar Data, SOTA Watch, Q Signals and much more.

 

To track propagation reports, both HF and VHF:

WaveGuide (Author: Rockwell Schrock, Cost: $2.99) This is an excellent tool for determining HF and VHF propagation conditions at the touch of a finger.

 

If you are an EchoLink user, then you’ll want this app:

EchoLink (Author: Synergenics, Cost: Free) The EchoLink app for the iPhone.

 

There are quite a few APRS apps out there. I tend to use this one because my needs are pretty simple….just track me, baby!

Ham Tracker (Author: Kram, Cost: $2.99) APRS app, works well, uses external maps such as Google and aprs.fi. “Share” feature allows you to send an SMS or email with your location information.

 

Satellite tracking is another useful app for a smartphone:

Space Station Lite (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: Free) A free satellite tracking app for just the International Space Station. It has annoying ads but its free.

ProSat Satellite Tracker (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: $9.99) This app is by the same author as ISS Lite, but is the full-featured “pro” version. Although it is a pricey compared to other apps, I recommend it.

 

For Summits On The Air (SOTA) activity, there are a few apps:

Pocket SOTA (Author: Pignology, Cost: $0.99) A good app for finding SOTA summits, checking spots and accessing other information.

SOTA Goat (Author: Rockwell Schrock, Cost: $4.99) This is a great app for SOTA activity. It works better when offline than Pocket SOTA (which often happens when you are activating a summit).

 

For ham radio license training, I like the HamRadioSchool.com apps. (OK, I am biased here as I contribute to that web site.)

HamRadioSchool Technician (Author: Peak Programming, Cost: $2.99) There are a lot of Technician practice exams out there but this is the best one, especially if you use the HamRadioSchool.com license book.

HamRadioSchool General (Author: Peak Programming, Cost: $2.99) This is the General class practice exam, especially good for use with the HamRadioSchool.com book.

 

Morse Code is always a fun area for software apps:

Morse-It (Author: Francis Bonnin, Cost: $0.99) This app decodes and sends Morse audio. There are fancier apps out there but this one does a lot for $1.

 

Well, that’s my list. Any other suggestions?

– Bob K0NR

Three Steps to Getting Your Ham Radio License

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgThese are the three basic steps to getting your USA amateur (ham) radio license: 1) Learn the Material 2) Take Practice Exams and 3) Pass the Real Exam.

This article is very short and to the point, for a more detailed discussion see Stu (WØSTU)’s article over at HamRadioSchool.com.

1. Learn The Material

The entry level ham radio license is the Technician License, so you’ll need to get a book that covers the theory, regulations and operating procedures required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). My recommendation is the Technician License Course over at HamRadioSchool.com, which offers an integrated learning system (web, book and smartphone app).

While you can learn the material on your own, many people find classroom instruction to be very helpful. Check the ARRL web site for courses in your area or just do an internet search for “ham radio license class” and your location.

2. Take Practice Exams

The question pool for the Technician Level Exam is made public, so you have access to every possible question that will be on the exam. Better yet, various organizations have created online practice exams so you can test yourself in advance. After you study the material, take these practice exams to test your knowledge. Go back and study any topics you are having trouble with on the exam. A passing grade is 74%, so you’ll want to be consistently above that before trying the real exam.

These are a few of the available online practice exams: qrz.com, eham.net and aa9pw.

3. Pass the Real Exam

The FCC exams are administered by radio hams known as Volunteer Examiners (VEs), so the exam session is sometimes called a VE session. In most areas, there are exam sessions given on a regular basis. Check the ARRL web site to find a license exam session in your area. If you are taking a class, there may be an exam session included in the schedule.

Be sure to follow the instructions of the local VE team, since policies and procedures do vary. If you’ve studied the material and checked your knowledge by taking the practice exams, you should have no problem passing the Technician level exam.

4. One More Thing

Actually, there is one more step to this process. Getting the required FCC license is just the start, a learners permit for amateur radio. You’ll need to get on the air and gain some practical experience. It is extremely helpful to have some assistance during this process, so I recommend that you connect up with a local ham radio club. If you can’t find a club then perhaps make contact with a local ham or two.

Of course, it would be even better if you can do Step 4 ahead of Step 1 and get some help along the way. There are many radio hams out there that are willing to assist. However, it may be a challenge to find one. You can always drop me an email and I will do my best to help out.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #29

0511-0701-3118-0930More important information insight stuff spewing forth from the interwebz:

The actor Tim Allen, who’s character on the TV show Last Man Standing is a ham radio operator, recently received his Technician License. According to Wikipedia, Allen holds the callsign KK6OTD under the name Tim Dick.

The FCC says that Marriott has been interfering with their customers’ use of WiFi hotspots at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. It seems that they wanted to “encourage” customers to pay for WiFi service.

ICOM has made available some cool amateur radio guides on their web site, including a World Map, USA Band Plan Chart and a USA VHF Grid Map. Oh, ICOM, please note that those grid locators are not actually “squares.”

Those Ham Hijinks guys must have bought a new ribbon for their typewriter since they’ve cranked our these articles: Obama Signs Ham Radio Executive Order and Man Creates Multi-Purpose Rotator.

Over at HamRadioSchool.com, I added another Shack Talk article, this one about ham radio awards: Operating Awards: Chasing Wallpaper.

73, Bob K0NR

Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest

The North America SOTA Weekend coincided with the ARRL September VHF Contest, which I interpreted as a great opportunity to do a combination SOTA activation and QRP VHF operation. A few other folks thought that was a good idea so we all got on the air from SOTA peaks on the Sunday of the weekend. I decided to operate from Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) in grid DM79. I hiked up the same mountain for last year’s September contest and got soaked by the rain. Fortunately, the weather was excellent this year, making it a great day.

View from the south side of Mt Herman

View from the south side of Mt Herman

For radio equipment, I took a couple of HTs for 2m and 70 cm FM and the FT-817 for CW/SSB on 6m, 2m and 70 cm. Most of the SOTA action would be on 2m FM but SSB is critical for working the VHF contest. I did put out the word to the usual VHF contesters that there would be FM activity and did work a few of them via 2m FM. The 2m FM calling frequency, 146.52 MHz, is commonly used for SOTA but is not allowed for contest use. (Another example of how this rule is just a barrier to contest activity.) We used 146.55 MHz for the contest contacts. FT-817 I had coordinated with Brad WA6MM who was going to be on Grays Peak (W0C/FR-002), one of the Colorado 14ers. When he made the summit, I had my 2m yagi antenna pointed in his direction and easily worked him on 2m FM at a distance of 65 miles.  Brad was using an HT with a 1/2-wave vertical antenna. Also, I worked Stu W0STU and Dan N0OLD on Bald Mountain (W0C/FR-093) , which sits on the east side of I-25 right at Monument Hill. Contest activity was light, as usual for the September contest in Colorado. We did have two rover stations that activated a few of the unpopulated grids in eastern Colorado: George AB0YM and Jonesy W3DHJ.

Band       QSOs X pt =  QSO pts.  X   Grids   =     Points
 -----------------------------------------------------------
 50         8      1      8             5             40
 144        23     1      23            5             115
 432        14     2      28            3             84
 -----------------------------------------------------------
 TOTALS     45            59            13            767

My contest score was not bad for a few hours of operating QRP portable. It turns out that I had set the Colorado section record for “single-op portable” back in 1990 with just 624 points (using my old callsign KB0CY). Oddly enough, 24 years later it appears that I set a new record. (This speaks more to the lack of QRP activity during the September contest and less about my incredible operating ability.)

All in all, it was a great day in the mountains to take a hike and play with radios. I will probably do the SOTA + VHF Contest activation again.

73, Bob K0NR

Portable All-Mode VHF Radio: FT-817 vs KX3

For truly portable mountaintop all-mode VHF operating, especially SOTA and VHF contests, the Yaesu FT-817ND has been my rig of choice. You might say that it is really the “only game in town” for a 6m/2m/70cm radio that fits in a backpack.

The Yaesu FT-817ND

The Yaesu FT-817ND

I’ve had my eye on the Elecraft KX3 transceiver ever since it was introduced, but really I have been waiting for the 2m module to become available. (The KX3 has HF plus 6m standard.) After being announced over a year ago, the 2m module is now shipping and radio amateurs are getting their hands on the unit.

I do enjoy getting on the HF bands but my radio passion has always been centered on 50 MHz and higher. For my purposes, the manufacturers could have left off the HF bands and just designed a portable rig that does 6m, 2m and 70 cm (and maybe 1.25m, too). Or how about a dualband HT that does SSB?

KX3_small1

The Elecraft KX3

I’ve used my 817 for many portable operations, so I have quite a bit of stick time on that rig. I’ve not really used a KX3, other than to play with it at hamfests. I’ve also talked with a number of KX3 owners that really like the rig. I was a bit surprised that the KX3 power is only 2.5W minimum (3W typical), compared to 5W with the FT-817. (Yeah, I know, that’s only 3 dB difference, blah, blah, blah.) One of the big complaints on the 817 is that it is a bit of a battery hog on receive (450 mA) but the KX3 is not that much better at 300 to 350 mA. Here’s my comparison table for the two radios — with the emphasis on VHF operation.

  FT-817ND KX3 with 2m Module
Bands HF + 6m, 2m, 70cm HF + 6m, 2m
6m Power Out 5W 8W
2m Power Out 5W 2.5 -3W
Standby rx current (2m) 450mA 300 to 350 mA
Transmit current (2m) 2A 1.7A
Weight 2.5 lbs, 1.2 kg 1.5 lbs, 0.7 kg
Price $690 KX3 assembled $900
Hand mic $60
2m module $260
Total: $1220

The price comparison is a bit tricky because the KX3 can be purchased in kit form for $100 less. Many hams will actually see the kit assembly as a plus, since they get the satisfaction of building their own radio. A microphone is not standard on the KX3, so I added that to the list. Also, there are several different variations on the 2m module, depending on whether the automatic antenna tuner for HF is installed and whether the factory installs the option. I just picked a price that was in middle of the range.

The table would lead you to conclude that the FT-817ND is the clear winner mostly based on price (and the 70cm band). But its not that simple. There is a lot to like about the KX3, including the nice big display and the trail friendly layout. It also has more features for CW, PSK31 and RTTY.

For me, the answer is clear: keep on keepin’ on with the 817, since there is not enough of an advantage to go to the KX3. But I will probably keep lusting after it anyway. This also raises the question: what does Yaesu have coming to replace the aging 817?

What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

SOTA Summit Activation: Sandia Crest (W5N/SI-001)

Joyce KØJJW and I were headed to the Duke City Hamfest in Albuquerque when we decided to make a side trip up Sandia Crest for a low overhead (read: slacker) Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation.

IMG_3266

The view of the summit when approaching via the Sandia Crest Road.

Sandia Crest pokes up 10,678 feet, towering over Albuquerque at roughly 5000 feet. Although the weather was rainy, we enjoyed the drive up the paved Sandia Crest Road through the Cibola National Forest. This looks like a great area to explore and we’ll probably be back sometime in the future.

At the parking lot, about 40 vertical feet below the summit, we paid the $3 per day use fee (self-service USFS station), grabbed the radio gear and headed up the walkway to the top. There is a gift shop and restaurant at the south end of the parking lot, along with several hiking trails. A large radio site on the north end of the parking lot has numerous towers and high power transmitters. The field strength is so strong that a sign has been placed there to warn of radio interference to car alarms and keyless remotes.

There is a large radio site with powerful transmitters near the summit.

There is a large radio site with powerful transmitters near the summit.

I pulled out the trusty Yaesu FT-60 handheld transceiver with the MJF-1714 1/2-wave antenna for 2 meters. I gave a few calls on 146.52 MHz and heard no replies. I am thinking, “surely with so many hams in town for the hamfest, someone is listening on five two.” Joyce was standing next to me with her FT-60 and a rubber duck antenna. We noticed that her radio was hearing signals that I could not hear.

Well, this sign did warn me of radio interference.

Well, this sign did warn me of radio interference.

Hmmm, the radio with the better antenna is not able to hear anything but the radio with a crummy rubber duck is working fine. At this point, I realized that my HT was being overloaded from the transmitter site with my high-efficiency antenna doing a great job of coupling those signals into my radio. I had to chuckle about this since I’ve often pointed out the poor performance of your typical rubber duck antenna. In this case, the less effective antenna was doing us the favor of reducing interference.

I swapped antennas and began making calls on 2m fm with the rubber duck. I also moved further away from the radio site to reduce the signal level. Yep, now I heard some guys coming back to me on 146.52 MHz. I could tell there was still some interference but it was workable. In short order, I had these stations in the log: KE7WOD, W5AOX, K5LXP, WB5QXD and K0JJW (after moving downhill outside of the activation zone),. Thanks for the QSOs!

I will admit that NM5SW mentioned the interference problems on this peak, so I had fair warning. Keep in mind that the FT-60 has reasonably good intermod performance, probably better than your average HT, and was getting completely blocked with the long antenna. I was glad that I was not using one of the Baofeng HTs. It made me wonder how well my FT-817 would do under the same conditions, but that will be a test for another day.

This sign shows the trail system at the summit and the location of the tram.

Another way to ascend the peak is via the Sandia Peak Tramway, which comes up from the Albuquerque side. We came across this sign that shows the trail system near the summit and indicates the top of the tram (click to expand). The tram drops passengers off some distance from the actual summit, so you’ll have about a 1.5 mile hike to the summit.

In summary, it was a successful activation although the weather could have been better. The big thing I learned was that a more efficient antenna is not always the best antenna. Sometimes a crummy rubber duck does better!

73, Bob K0NR

P.S. I later heard from Mike KD5KC that the Kiwanis Cabin (shown on the map) is a good place to operate from without radio interference issues on HF and VHF.

SOTA Summit W0C/SP-042 Activation

For the 2014 Colorado 14er Event, Joyce K0JJW and I decided to try a summit close to our cabin near Trout Creek Pass. The basic idea was to activate a non-14er SOTA peak with good VHF paths to all of the Colorado mountains. We also wanted to demonstrate the idea of activating Summits On The Air peaks during the 14er event.

SOTA summit W0C/SP-042

SOTA summit W0C/SP-042

We chose an unnamed peak (W0C/SP-042) that rises to 12,792 feet near Cottonwood Pass . This summit was already on my list of SOTA peaks to activate, so that was another plus. The trail starts at Cottonwood Pass, right on the continental divide and runs along the divide for about 2 miles.

Cottonwood Pass

Joyce (K0JJW) at the trail head, Cottonwood Pass.

In fact, we followed the Continental Divide Trail (CTD) to get to this SOTA peak. I’ve done several backpack trips on the CTD and its always a blast to be walking along the top of the continent enjoying the awesome views.

trail route

The trail starts at Cottonwood Pass and runs along the Continental Divide.

The main trail passes over the top of another summit at 12,400 feet before continuing on to SP-042. The trail does not go to the top of SP-042, passing it on the east side. We just stayed on the trail until we were due east of the summit, then climbed up the east side which turned out to be a bit steeper than it looked. On the way down, we left the summit by following the ridge a bit to the south and found a gentler route back to the trail. Also on the way back, we followed a side trail to the east of the 12,400 foot summit, saving some vertical gain and loss. My GPS app on the iPhone logged the one-way distance as 2.2 miles (including going over the first summit). It looks shorter on the map but the switchbacks add some distance.

Bob K0NR on the trail

Bob (K0NR) on the trail.

After we reached the summit around 9 am, I quickly assembled the 2m/70cm Arrow antenna and mounted it on my hiking stick. Once I had the FT-817 up and running, I spotted myself on Sotawatch.org using the SOTA Goat app. Logging was done with HamLog on my iPhone.

trail

Typical trail conditions on the CTD.

I worked a number of mountaintop stations on 2m fm (147.42 and adjacent simplex frequencies) with the best DX being N4MMI on Redcloud Peak, about 80 miles away. I tried calling on 2m and 70 cm SSB without any luck. Joyce made a few contacts on 446.0 MHz using an HT with a vertical antenna.

Bob summit

Bob (K0NR) pointing the 2m yagi (vertically polarized) for maximum signal strength.

The weather cooperated all morning with mostly white fluffy clouds. We stayed on the summit until noon and then hit the trail back to the pass. This hike is now one of our favorites, really good for visitors that want a taste of hiking above treeline with great views.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #28

0511-0701-3118-0930More important things have spewed forth from the interwebz:

HamRadioNow interviews the Ham Hijinks guys and has the nerve to actually publish the video. Later the Hijinks crew posted this article about changes being made to Field Day.

Baofeng is going to change its name. Or is this just another Ham Hijinks article?

WE2F writes: 146.52 Reasons to Monitor VHF Simplex but whatever you do, do not use 146.52 MHz on Field Day. Mike AD5A posts Why Operate QRP from Summits? The FCC kicks the butt of a cell phone jammer manufacturer, to the tune of $34.9M and also fines a couple of 14.313 MHz problem children.

A Broadband Over Powerline (BPL) provider bites the dust. Did I mention that it is a really dumb idea to transmit bits over AC power lines?

I did a little explaining about those antenna connectors on handheld radios. Randy (K7AGE) has a neat video showing some basic 2m FM portable operating.

I knew it: Digital is overrated and vinyl is making a comeback. Really.

Due to popular demand, I updated the VHF QRP page. Yes, some radio hams do operate QRP above 50 MHz…apparently for the same reasons that people operate HF QRP. Which is to say we really don’t know why.

I also found that the domain name for the Colorado 14er Event was broken, so I fixed it. See ham14er.org  This event is the most fun you can have dorking around with radios in the Colorado mountains. Also, be sure to check out these operating tips.

73, Bob K0NR

Announcing the October 2014 WØTLM Technician License Class

W0TLMHam Radio Two-Day License Class

Sat October 18 and Sat October 25 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2014
Location: Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Station 1, Monument, CO

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 and read it before attending the two-day class: HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course $20.95
(make sure you get the most recent edition of this book, updated for the new FCC exam questions)

Advance registration is required (no later than one week before the first session, earlier is better! This class usually fills up early.)

To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR
Email: bob@k0nr.com or Phone: 719 659-3727

Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Radio Association
For more information on amateur (ham) radio visit www.arrl.org or www.wedothat-radio.org

Making Plans for the Colorado 14er Event

Colo14er SOTA logoThe Colorado 14er Event (Aug 3) is less than a month away so it is time to get ready. This event was born out of the basic observation that many hiking hams were taking along their radios (typically, a VHF/UHF handheld) when they climbed the Colorado 14,000 foot mountains. So we thought “let’s all climb on the same day and see who we can contact.” The typical 2m FM contacts have expanded to other frequencies and modes, including the high frequency bands, with the potential for worldwide propagation. We’ve also embraced the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program, opening up over 1700 summits in Colorado for ham radio activity.

How can you join in the fun? The most active way to participate is to operate from a summit. If you are interested in climbing 14ers, then you may want to operate from one of the 54 14,000 foot mountains. In my opinion, all of the 14ers are strenuous hikes, so be sure to assess your ability and check out the challenge of any summit you attempt. There are a few that you can drive up, Pikes Peak, Mount Evans and Mount Bross (4WD only). Note that a “non-motorized final ascent” is required if you want to qualify as a SOTA activation, which is encouraged. See this web page for some great tips on activating a SOTA peak. If you want to try something less difficult, consider one of the easier SOTA peaks (more than 1700 in Colorado). Everyone can find a SOTA peak that fits their particular hiking ability.

If you can’t get out and operate from a summit, you can still have fun trying to contact the radio hams on the various summits. There will be quite a bit of activity on 2m FM, starting with 147.42 MHz and moving up from there using the standard Colorado band plan. You’ll want to be roughly within “line of sight” to as many peaks as possible for working them on VHF. Many radio operators will be on the HF bands, too. See the recommended frequency list here.

Summits On The Air has some great infrastructure that we can use during the event. The SOTAwatch web site is using for “spotting” SOTA stations so that you know who is on the air. Spotting yourself is encouraged and can be done from many peaks using a mobile phone. SOTA Goat is a great iOS app for making and tracking spots.

Take a look at this posting for some additional SOTA resources. There’s quite a bit of information out there so take advantage of it. Remember, the Colorado 14er Event is based on the fundamental purpose of ham radio: to have fun messing around with radios. But  be careful out there, we don’t want anyone to get hurt.

Questions, comments, let me know.

73, Bob K0NR

Disclaimer: Climbing mountains in Colorado can be dangerous. Only you are responsible for your safety. In particular, be very aware of the lightning danger if you are hiking above treeline.

SOTA Activation: W0C/SP-089 Unnamed Summit

With the summer season definitely here, Joyce (K0JJW) and I climbed W0C/SP-089, an unnamed summit east of Buena Vista near Trout Creek Pass, for a Summits On The Air activation.  This summit is also referred to by its elevation: 10525. The mountain is quite majestic with a large rock face that rock climbers enjoy climbing.

View of W0C/SP-089

View of W0C/SP-089

To reach the summit, we drove a 4WD truck from Trout Creek Pass on Forest Service Road 311, connecting to FS Road 373. Four wheel drive is required for this road due to the steep sections, which may not be passable in muddy conditions. You can also approach from the Buena Vista side, see the San Isabel Forest Service Map. From 373 we took a side road (shown in blue on the map below) that is not always shown on maps. I believe it is marked 373A but I am not sure. We parked the truck at the lat/lon shown.

From there we hiked a non-technical route to the west of the summit, working our way up through the draw shown on the map. There were a few faint game trails here and there but mostly it was some challenging bushwhacking up that draw. The willows and sticker bushes made us glad that we had long pants on.  Also, there was quite a bit of downed timber to step over. The route got quite a bit easier once we got to the top of the draw, but still no trail. The elevation gain was only 1100 feet but it felt like a lot more work than that.

Map 10525As we neared the summit, I heard Bob (W0BV) calling me on 146.52 MHz. I had put out an email alert to some of the hams in the area so Bob and some others knew I was going to be out climbing. Once I got to the summit, I contacted Bob (W0BV) and quickly had a mini-pileup with several stations calling me. Mark (KF5WCY) visiting from TX gave me a call, followed by Carl (K5UK) near Mount Yale. Then I worked Jim (KD0MRC) in Buena Vista and Larry (KL7GLK) in Leadville. Thanks, guys, for getting on the air and contacting me!

I used my Yaesu FT-60 handheld transceiver and a 1/2-wave vertical antenna for these contacts. While I had my 3-element Yagi antenna with me, I did not bother to set it up.

2014-06-21 16.47.00 small

Bob (K0NR) and Joyce (K0JJW) on the summit

My spouse and hiking companion Joyce (K0JJW) and I have worked out a standard SOTA activating procedure. As we get close to the summit, she stops below the activation zone and I continue to the top. Then I work her on 146.52 MHz which guarantees a successful activation. It is possible to get skunked on 2m fm in the backcountry, so this is good insurance. This one QSO does not result in any SOTA points, since the rules require a minimum of four contacts for activation points. Next, Joyce joins me on the summit and we work whoever is out there. Lately, I’ve had pretty good luck getting at least 4 contacts on 2m fm. On the descent, she stays on the summit and I go down the mountain and work her once I am outside of the activation zone. That way, I am able to work the summit, too.  Then she leaves the summit, catches up with me and we descend the rest of the way together.

For more information on VHF SOTA activations, see How To Do a VHF SOTA Activation.

73, Bob K0NR

The One Frequency You Should Never Use on Field Day

2014_Field_Day_Logo_333_X_220“Based on Actual Events”

 

At the local radio club meeting, I encouraged everyone to get on the air during Field Day, which led to this conversation:

New Tech: I just have a 2 meter fm radio. Can I still make Field Day contacts?

Me: Sure, VHF contacts are encouraged during Field Day.

New Tech: So I just call on 146.52 MHz and see who’s out there?

Me: Well, no, the 2m fm calling frequency is not allowed for Field Day.

New Tech: Really? We can’t use any of the calling frequencies we learned during our license class?

Me: Well, no, all of the other standard calling frequencies are fine, just 146.52 MHz is prohibited.

New Tech: That seems really dumb.

Me: No comment.

Complete Field Day information is here : http://www.arrl.org/field-day

73, Bob K0NR

How To Do a VHF SOTA Activation

The Summits On The Air (SOTA) program has really taken off in North America. SOTA originated in the UK in 2002, so it took a little while for it to make it across the Atlantic to this continent. The basic idea of SOTA is to operate from a designated list of summits or to work other radio operators when they activate the summits. The list of designated summits are assigned scoring points based on elevation and there are scoring systems for both activators (radio operators on a summit) and chasers (radio operators working someone on a summit). See this blog posting for links to tons of information.

Most of the operating is on the HF bands but there are quite a few VHF contacts on SOTA. Obviously, HF has the advantage of being able to work longer distances without too much trouble. Typically, the HF station is your classic portable QRP rig, portable antenna and battery power. (A portable power source is required and the use of fossil fuels is prohibited.) Being a VHF enthusiast, I prefer the challenge of making contacts above 50 MHz, so my SOTA contacts are usually on 2 Meters or 70 cm.

HT with half wave

Handheld radio with 1/2-wave antenna

My basic VHF SOTA station is a handheld FM transceiver with a ½-wave telescoping antenna. The standard rubber duck on a handheld transceiver (HT) is generally a poor radiator so using a ½-wave antenna is a huge improvement. This simple station is an easy addition to my normal hiking routine…just stuff the HT and antenna in my backpack along with the usual hiking essentials and head for the summit.

To count as a SOTA activation, you need to make a minimum of 4 contacts from the summit. If I am hiking a summit within range of a major city, I can usually just make some random contacts by calling CQ on the National Simplex Calling Frequency, 146.52 MHz. However, operating in more remote areas requires a little more planning. I’d hate to hike all that way and come up short on the required contacts, so I use a few tactics to rustle up some VHF contacts. Of course, I will post my planned activation on the SOTAwatch site in advance, to let people know that I’ll be on the air. While this goes out worldwide, it may not reach the right radio amateurs within VHF range. The next thing I do is send an email to some of VHF-equipped hams I know will be within range. Many people respond to such a request to work a summit, even if they are active in SOTA. When on the summit, my first call is on 146.52 MHz or some other popular simplex frequency. If I don’t raise anyone there, I will make a call on a few of the 2M repeaters in the area to see if someone will come over to “five two” to make a contact. SOTA does not recognize repeater contacts but it is OK to solicit simplex contacts using a repeater. These techniques and a little patience have always gotten me at least four contacts, and usually quite a few more.

K0NR on Sneffels

K0NR operating with 2M yagi antenna on Mt Sneffels

The omnidirectional antenna of the basic VHF SOTA station will make some contacts, adding some antenna gain can really help your signal. There are a number of compact directional antennas that are easy to take hiking. Elk Antennas makes a log-periodic antenna that covers 2 Meters and 70 cm. Another popular antenna is the 2 Meter / 70 cm Yagi antenna made by Arrow Antenna. These antennas are lightweight and assemble/dissemble easily, which is important to hiking radio operators.

So far, most of the SOTA VHF activity in North America is on on 2m FM, the utility mode. Everyone seems to have a 2m HT, so tossing it in a backpack and heading out is a natural thing to do. Using my FT-817, I have made some VHF contacts on CW and SSB. See this posting about a recent SSB activation. These modes are much efficient than FM and the station on the other end is likely to be a big weak-signal station. Nothing like a big gun station with huge antennas to help pull your QRP signal out of the noise! I expect the use of CW and SSB to increase on VHF as SOTA becomes more popular. While FM activity uses vertical polarization (antenna elements are vertical), most SSB/CW activity uses horizontal polarization (antenna elements are horizontal).

Summits On The Air is a great way to take ham radio outdoors. So get off the couch, find a summit and have some fun with ham radio.

See my other SOTA postings here.

73, Bob K0NR

K0NR June VHF Contest 2013

My award certificate for the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest arrived in the mail this past week. The new VHF contest certificates look great, don’t you think? Nice job, ARRL!  Similar to other years, I operated from the family cabin at 9600 feet elevation in DM78 near Trout Creek Pass with temporary antennas (see my previous blog posting.) I knew that I scored OK in the contest but I’ve had higher scores in the past. The June VHF results article is a good summary of the national activity.

2013 June VHF0002

 

This was the first year for the Single Operator Three Band category, defined as operating on 50 MHz (100W limit), 144 MHz (100W limit) and 432 MHz (50W limit). I found this category to be very attractive because my interests are focused on VHF and not the higher bands. Often, I’ll just run 6m and 2m during VHF contests but with the three-band category it was not a big stretch to add in 70cm. The scoring system for the normal single operator categories provides a large incentive to operate on 1.2 GHz and higher, which makes it more difficult for a “VHF only” station to win in those categories. Some guys like the challenge of operating more bands and pushing the limits of going higher in frequency. I totally get that, so more power to them…it is just not that interesting to me.

It was not a big surprise that I took first place in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Division because there were only a handful of entries in my category. I was pleased to place third in the overall contest. I expect that competition in this category will get more intense as other single-op stations realize they can win in this category.  But limited to three bands and 100W, this competition will be more about propagation and operator skill, and less about deploying lots of gear.

The 2014 June VHF Contest is just around the corner (June 14-15), so time to get the station ready!

73, Bob K0NR

SSB Makes the Difference on Prospect Mountain

Spring is finally making an appearance in the Rocky Mountain region which means it is time to get on top of some SOTA peaks and transmit some RF energy. On Saturday, Joyce K0JJW and I had planned to drive through the Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park and also sneak in a quick SOTA activation. Matt K0MOS suggested a few peaks and we chose Prospect Mountain (W0C/FR-069) just south of Estes Park. See Matt’s trip report for a good overview of the hike.

Bob Prospect Mtn SOTA

For a low hassle SOTA activation, I usually just take my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and operate 2m FM. Most of the VHF activity is on FM anyway and I usually rustle up some SOTA contacts that way. On this trip, I also brought along my Yaesu FT-817 so that I could operate 2m ssb, to provide better weak signal options.  For SSB operation, my 3-element Arrow yagi antenna was mounted on my walking stick for easier pointing, with horizontal polarization.

FT-817 on a rockThe above photo shows the FT-817 in its Sitting-On-A-Big-Rock operating position, using the AMP-3 carrying case with lead-acid battery inside.

I had arranged a sked with Stu W0STU who was located ~100 miles away with a group of Scouts at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch. There wasn’t a solid radio path between our two locations, so I wasn’t sure if we’d make it or not. I did not think we could make the contact on FM but the efficiency of SSB should do better. He had a small yagi pointed in my direction driven by an FT-857 transceiver but we tried working on 144.200 MHz SSB without any success. Another station W6LEV near Loveland came up on the calling frequency so I worked him.

After working a few stations on 146.52 MHz using a half-wave whip on the FT-60, I decided to try to work W0STU one more time. I sent him a text message and confirmed that he was available. However, snow was moving into his location (welcome to spring) so  he had dismantled his yagi antenna and only had a vertical antenna on his truck. I told him to give me a call on 144.200 SSB and I’d try to find him. I flipped my yagi to vertical polarization and pointed in his direction.

At first, I heard nothing but noise. I was about to give up when I rotated my antenna around to see if the signal peaked up in another direction. Sure enough, when pointed S/SW, I could hear Stu’s signal rise to just above my noise floor. His actual direction from me was SE, so we were probably getting a reflection off one of the mountains to the south.  My signal was right at his noise floor, so we just barely completed a contact. Without the weak-signal performance of SSB and the gain of the yagi antenna, I am sure we would have never completed the contact. Another lesson is that it pays to point your antenna in different directions, since you don’t always know what the best propagation path will be.

Another fun day messing around with ham radio.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #27

0511-0701-3118-0930More important things spewing forth from the interwebz:

The Ham Hijinks guys have been at it again, with this article: New Drug Aims To Get More Hams On The Air
Warning: Do Not Take These Guys Seriously, It Only Encourages Them

Chiming in on April 1st, Dan KB6NU reported that the FCC is going to reinstate the Morse Code test.

I posted an article about using UTC over at HamRadioSchool.com: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

KB9VBR has a nice article that explains the common types of antenna connectors used with ham radio.

Elliot KB0RFC has been writing some interesting stuff about D-STAR, DMR and other things digital on his blog. See his latest article: Developing a DMR / D-STAR radio

James R. Winstead, KD5OZY, of Coleman, Texas found out that sometimes the FCC does show up and bust radio amateurs that are causing problems on the air. See the ARRL article here. It always cracks me up when the FCC Engineer reports that during their station inspection, the offender’s radio is still tuned to the frequency where the problems were occurring.

Serious DXers all over the world are in severe depression after finding out that Crimea is Not a New DXCC Entity. Conspiracy Theory: the whole thing was instigated by a group of hams that believed Crimea would be a new one.

73, Bob K0NR

The KP2 Slacker DXpedition Guide

I’ve had several opportunities to take amateur radio along on vacation and do a little radio operating from other countries. I try not to focus too much on ham radio during such a trip, as it has a tendency to create marital discord and can suck the fun out of the vacation. Some people call this a “holiday style” DXpedition, or maybe it’s just the slacker approach.

IMG_2798

The marine yellow Baofeng UV-5R handheld transceiver got a lot of use.

St John USVI

Joyce (K0JJW) and I were planning a vacation with three other couples that we’ve known for years. It turns out that six of the eight have their ham licenses. (We’re still working on the last two.) Our primary goal was to find an island location with great beaches and snorkeling. Someone proposed the island of St John in the US Virgin Islands  and the idea took hold.

IMG_2528

The Buddistick antenna is mounted on the railing of the patio, overlooking the sea.

From a ham radio perspective, USVI is an interesting choice since it does count as a DXCC entity (“country”), even though it is a US possession. See my article on HamRadioSchool.com for more information on how that works. Anyone with an FCC license can operate from there without any special licensing or approval. KP2 is the prefix for USVI, so identify as KP2/<callsign> to indicate that you are operating from USVI.

Radio Gear

We were trying to pack light, so the radio equipment had to fit into our normal luggage. I took my Yaesu FT-817 and a Buddistick™ antenna. Paul (KF9EY) took along a Yaesu FT-100D, while Denny (KB9DPF) transported his FT-817 and a G5RV Junior antenna. Our primary operating mode was using the FT-100D (more power, baby) to drive the Buddistick, which was attached to the railing on the patio.

IMG_2586

The FT-100D was the primary operating rig, carefully placed on a random table out by the pool, with the St John Guidebook nearby.

I decided that the true slacker approach required some Official Beach QRP contacts in the style of Buddies in the Caribbean (see the video). One day on the beach, I took along my FT-817 and the Buddistick and set up for some QRP action.

IMG_2773

Some slacker beach operating (Bob K0NR).

The Buddistick was mounted on a Dolica WT-1003 camera monopod stuck into the sand, with the radial trailing off into the vegetation. My compact Heil headset was a convenient way to make some phone contacts without blasting my fellow beach bums with noisy audio.

IMG_2787

The view looking out from the beach operating location.

How did we do on the HF bands? We managed to make a number of contacts on 20m, 15m and 10m into the Americas and Europe. I was a bit disappointed that we never really got a pileup going. I think our signal was plenty strong but KP2 is maybe just not that rare.

IMG_2784

The innovative “plop the rig on top of a backpack” operating configuration.

We spent quite a bit of time exploring the island, driving around in two rental Jeeps. For mobile communications, we chatted back and forth on 146.58 MHz, the Golf-November-Tango frequency, using handheld transceivers. In the end, these radios probably got the most use during the trip. (Did I mention this was a slacker DXpedition?) There are a few 2m repeaters in the islands but we did not make use of them.

I brought a Yaesu FT-60 and a Baofeng UV-5R along on the trip, but mostly ended up using the Baofeng radio. If was the perfect radio to take to the beach — does the job and not that big of a loss if it landed in the ocean. Using the dual receive feature of the HT, I monitored the marine calling frequency, 156.80 MHz, listening to the boat traffic.

So if you are looking for a great place to go to enjoy the sand and water, I highly recommend St. John. Go ahead and take along some ham gear and do some slacker DXing. For more information on KP2 ham radio, see the ARRL Virgin Islands Section web site.

— 73, Bob KP2/K0NR

QSL to KP2/K0NR via Logbook of the World or to K0NR via Buro or Direct with SASE

Get Your Mobile Frequency Sticker On

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.

14652_decalIt 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 2meter SSB calling frequency:

2_meter_ssb_calling_frequency

 

 

 

 

 

The APRS frequency:
digital_position_reporting_on_board

 

 

 

 

 

And there’s this magnet for your refrigerator:

oval_simplex_sticker_rectangle_magnet

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there’s this option, 73 the coolest number

73 sticker

 

 

 

 

 

If you don’t like any of these, cafepress.com makes it easy to create your own. Go for it!

73, Bob K0NR