2013 Ford F-150 Ham Radio Installation

After acquiring a Ford F-150 truck last year, I’ve been working on getting a ham radio installed in it. At times, I have loaded up my vehicle with multiple radios covering HF through 70 cm but lately I am content with just having a reasonable dualband 2m/70 cm FM rig in the mobile. Actually, I used a Yaesu FT-8900 that does FM on 10m, 6m, 2m and 70 cm but just set it up for the two bands.

Figure 1 IMG_2206

Ford F-150 with 2m/70cm antenna on the front fender

One of the most critical questions for a mobile installation is what kind of antenna to install and where to put it. In the end, the antenna is going to be the main determinant of mobile performance. Ideally, I’d like to have the antenna on the roof of the cab but the truck will not fit in my garage in that configuration. Another option I considered was mounting a longer dualband antenna using one of the stake pocket mounts from Breedlove. I prefer NMO mounts for VHF/UHF antennas and the stake pocket looked like a good way to go. However, a little measuring revealed that a 1/2-wave or 5/8-wave 2m antenna on the stack pocket was not going to clear my garage door. So it seemed that I was limited to a shorter antenna. I may still use the stake pocket mount for an additional antenna for road trips or to add 6m and 10m antennas.

Figure 2 IMG_2036

At this point, the F-150 bracket offered by The Antenna Farm looked like a good option. They have a number of these brackets made specifically for various vehicles, so check them out. This made the antenna installation quite simple. <click on any of the photos for a larger view>

 

Figure 3 IMG_2041

The antenna is an NMO-mount dualband that I had laying around the hamshack. I don’t recall the exact model number but these are very common, about 19-inch long for 1/4-wave operation on 2m and a small loading coil to make it work on the 70cm band.

 

 

Figure 4 IMG_2163

The F-150 has several precut holes for passing wires through the firewall. I used one that is on the passenger side just  below a large module, as shown in the photo. It took a stiff wire and some force to punch my way through the rubber plug and into the cab compartment.

I don’t have a photo of the battery connection but I connected the positive lead right onto the battery terminal while the negative lead was attached to the truck chassis near the battery. You may have been told to always connect directly to the battery terminals but that advice no longer applies to some newer cars because there is a current monitoring device in the negative battery lead. To avoid confusing the vehicle battery monitoring system, the negative connection to your transceiver needs to be on the chassis side of the current monitor. Alan K0BG explains this issue on his web site. Actually, Alan has a wealth of information on mobile installations on his web site: www.k0bg.com. Oh, of course, I used inline fuses on both the positive and negative power cables.

Figure 5 IMG_2166

I mounted the FT-8900 transceiver on the floor under the back seat. To route the power cables and antenna coax, I pulled up the flat plastic trim piece that runs along the floor at the passenger door. I started from the front and did some careful prying (and praying) to remove the trim without breaking it. This exposes a trough with a factory wiring harness in it but there’s room for more. A few other plastic trim pieces were removed to get access to the wires coming through the firewall. All in all, this was not that difficult. (Yea, Ford!)

Figure 6 IMG_2197

The photo to the left shows the FT-8900 radio installed under the passenger side rear seat. I drilled holes through the floor and mounted the radio with hefty sheet metal screws. The screws go right through the metal floor and and can be seen from under the truck. (Check that out before drilling!) Because the radio body is under the rear seat, I am using a small external speaker mounted near the drivers seat.

Figure 7 IMG_2200

The radio control head is mounted inside a little door/shelf that normally pops open to reveal the USB port for plugging in a smartphone. (Note that Ford has multiple seat / dashboard configurations.)

 

Figure 8 IMG_2201The FT-8900 control head just fits inside this little shelf, even when the door is closed (see photo). The microphone does have to be removed to close the door. I mounted a microphone hanger with a couple of sheet metal screws, as shown in the photo. I don’t like the crappy little hanger that usually comes with a ham transceiver so I bought some higher quality hangers on Amazon.

Overall, I am pleased with the radio install. The antenna location is clearly a compromise and I notice the performance is not as good as my previous vehicle (which was a small SUV with an NMO mount antenna in the middle of the roof.) But the antenna is “low profile” and sufficient for “around town” mobile operating. I am getting a little noise on the 2m band which needs some investigation. The 70cm band is very clean and is the band I use the most.

73, Bob K0NR

Dorking With VHF Contest Rules

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgOne continuing discussion in the VHF community is how to promote more activity, especially during the major VHF contests. One central theme that always emerges is how to modify the VHF contest rules to make them better, to make them fairer and to encourage new contesters. (Let me say up front that there is room for improvement in the contest rules but I don’t think rule changes alone will change contest participation significantly.)

In 2013, the ARRL contests added the Three-Band Single Operator and Single Operator FM Only entry categories. In January 2015, the ARRL added three more categories: Single Operator Unlimited High Power, Single Operator Unlimited Low Power, and Single Operator Unlimited Portable. These “unlimited” categories allow “passive use of spotting assistance” which roughly means these operators can monitor the various DX spotting networks but not spot themselves. The CQ Worldwide VHF Contest already allows passive assistance for all participants and self-spotting for digital EME and meteor scatter contacts. See the CQ WW VHF rules.

In January, the ARRL announced additional changes:

The Board … adopted amendments to the General Rules for ARRL Contests Above 50 MHz to encourage greater participation and band utilization. The changes become effective with the 2015 June ARRL VHF Contest. The revisions stemmed from recommendations offered by the Board’s Programs and Services Committee’s ad-hoc VHF and Above Revitalization subcommittee, composed of active VHF/UHF contesters, and they received strong support from the VHF/UHF community.

The subcommittee was charged with developing recommendations to increase the level and breadth of ARRL VHF and above contest participation and encourage operation on lesser-used bands. As a start to the process, the Board approved three changes that will permit assistance for all operator categories, with no effect on entry category; permit self-spotting for all operator categories, and allow single operators to transmit on more than one band at a time.

The changes will permit assistance in arranging contacts, but not in conducting contacts. They will, for example, allow a station to announce its location in a chat room, on a repeater, or even via e-mail.

The self-spotting/assistance issue is a hotly debated issue among VHFers, with two main schools of thought:

1) Contacts should be made completely independent of non-amateur assistance. Sometimes passive spotting assistance is allowed, but some folks want to eliminate that practice as well.

2) Contacts can be made with non-amateur assistance (spotting networks, chat rooms, etc.) as long as a complete radio contact occurs over the ham bands. This follows the common practice of internet spotting for EME and meteor scatter. Also, some rover stations have requested the ability to spot themselves when they enter a new grid.

There are a number of shades of gray positions between these two points of view (see the CQ WW VHF rules, for example), but I won’t try to explain them here. In general, I support the move to loosening up the restrictions on assistance (#2). Without good 6m propagation, VHF contests tend to be “QSO poor” and expanded use of spotting will allow for additional contacts. The potential risk is that we’ll get sloppy with what constitutes a legitimate contact. Once I know the exact frequency and call sign of the other station, it will be easier to “hear” the other station even when the path is not there. Of course, we already have this situation when we complete a QSO on one band and QSY to another band to work the same station. We know the frequency and call sign (and the grid)…did we really hear the other guy or just think we did? In the end, it all comes down to the integrity of the radio hams involved in the contact.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

Top Five K0NR Blog Posts from 2014

Bob hiking- K0NR 2It’s always interesting to see which of my blog posts are getting the most attention. According to my website stats, these posts got the most views in 2014. It turns out that most of these were written before 2014 but they are still getting lots of hits.

The top post was 2012 Jeep Wrangler Radio Install. When it comes to doing mobile radio installations, I’ve often found it helpful to search the web for information. There’s nothing like seeing how someone else did their radio install to get some help and guidance. With this post, I tried to repay the favor and it seems that lots of people have gotten use out of it.

The second most popular post is Can I Use My Ham Radio on Public Safety Frequencies?  I wrote this one back in 2012 but always seems to get a lot of hits. It is getting a bit out of date, so I should probably update it.

Next up is Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem. This article explains how to solve one of the biggest challenges of programming those low cost HTs from China. Also on the subject of low cost HTs is this popular post: Yet Another HT From China (Baofeng UV-B5).

Another popular post is my list of favorite ham radio iPhone apps: The Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps.  This post from 2011 is definitely out of date but keeps getting lots of hits. I’ve updated this list a couple of times now and the most recent post is here: The Completely Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps. For some reason, the obsolete post still gets viewed the most.

Well, that is the top five posts but I am including a sixth bonus post at no extra charge. The FM/VHF Operating Guide is arguably one of the best time-tested articles I’ve written, originating way back in the twentieth century. It has taken many forms and revisions over the years and is now a static page on k0nr.com.

Thanks for stopping by k0nr.com and have a Happy New Year.

73, Bob K0NR

Hey, Should I Buy the Baofeng Radio?

Baofeng-UV-5R-150x300I keep getting asked about the Baofeng radios. Usually, it’s a new ham asking “hey, should I buy the Baofeng?” Even though I own several of them and make good use of them, I have been a little reluctant to recommend them as a first radio. I put together my thoughts on these radios plus a few tips to help people get started with them. Read the full story here on HamRadioSchool.com.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #30

0511-0701-3118-0930Reporting on more critical information spewing forth from the interwebz, here’s some stuff you just can’t live without.

In a surprise move, Baofeng introduces yet another dualband HT, but this one might be the best yet. Maybe. See the PD0AC first impressions of the GT-3 Mark II.

Yaesu has announced a new dualband HT, the FT2DR, that has a Big Honking Display and touchscreen interface.

The crack reporting team over at Ham Hijinks keeps cranking out ham radio news: Turkey Takes Toll on Ham.

The ARRL is looking into changing some of the VHF contest rules. The first proposal includes allowing self-spotting and the use of non-amateur assistance. I say “heck yeah!”

If you ever thought it would be a good idea to use a banana as a Morse code keyer, check out this video. Meanwhile, Burger King has recognized the importance of ham radio for space communications (video).

The QRZNow web site got caught “borrowing” content from other ham radio web sites without permission or providing attribution.

Stu W0STU over at HamRadioSchool.com has been straining his brain on the topic of complex impedance. If you need some help understanding this (ahem) complex topic, take a look at his three part article on the subject: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

If you are worried about exposure to excessive EMF (Electromagnetic Field), you’ll want to consider this device over at Amazon.com. Be sure to read the reviews to get the full entertainment value.

73, Bob K0NR

How About a New 12 Volt Automotive Connector?

12v automotic plugStandard power connections are a great thing. A while back, I wrote about how the micro-USB connector became the standard power/data connector for mobile phones. (Well, that is unless you own an iPhone.)

The good news is that we do have a standard power connector for 12 VDC in automobiles. The bad news is that it is an ugly behemoth derived from — can you believe it? — a cigarette lighter. For some background and history, see the Wikipedia article. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) even has a standard that describes this power connector (SAE J563). Alan K0BG correctly warns us to “never, ever use existing vehicle wiring to power any amateur radio gear” including the 12 volt accessory plug. (I always follow this advice, except in the cases when I don’t.) I also found this piece by Bill W8LV on eham.net that describes the crappiness of these connectors. Various innovations have improved electrical connections in many applications (USB, HDMI, Powerpole, etc.) but we are still stuck with this clunky automotive power plug.

Well, there is a new standard power connector showing up in cars: the USB port. These ports provide the data and power interface for mobile phones, integrating them into the auto’s audio system. Standard USB ports (USB 1.x or 2.0) have a 5V output that can deliver up to 0.5A, resulting in 2.5W of power. A USB Charging Port can source up to 1.5A at 5V,  for 7.5 W of power. This is not that great for powering even low power (QRP) ham radio equipment.

Now a new standard, USB Power Delivery, is being developed that will source up to 100W of power. The plan is for the interface to negotiate a higher voltage output (up to 20V) with 5A of current. Wow, now that is some serious power. We will have to see if this standard is broadly adopted.

Two things are obvious to me: 1) the old cigarette lighter connector needs to go away and 2) it is not clear what the replacement will be.

What do you think? Any ideas for the next generation of 12V automotive connector?

73, Bob K0NR

Announcing the January 2015 WØTLM Technician License Class

W0TLMHam Radio Two-Day License Class

Sat Jan 31 and Sat Feb 7 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2015
Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1, Black Forest, 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 non-refundable $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 weeks in advance.)

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

Twisted Phonetic Alphabet

abc blocksStu W0STU just posted an article on HamRadioSchool.com about the use of phonetic alphabets. I had previously posted a Shack Talk article on the same subject.

The “standard” phonetic alphabet is the ITU alphabet but I am starting to think that we might need to get a little more creative on our use of phonetics. Why not innovate in this area, just like we innovate on the technical front?

Towards that end, I was reminded of his phonetic alphabet listed over at netfunny.com:

        A  Are               N  Nine
        B  Bee               O  Owe
        C  Cite              P  Pseudonym
        D  Double-U          Q  Queue
        E  Eye               R  Rap
        F  Five              S  Sea
        G  Genre             T  Tsunami
        H  Hoe               U  Understand?
        I  I                 V  Vie
        J  Junta             W  Why
        K  Knot              X  Xylophone
        L  Lye               Y  You
        M  Me                Z  Zero

Even this creative alphabet can be improved on. For example, I think H should be Honor.

What do you think?

73, Bob

SOTA Activation: Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081)

It was a nice fall day, so Joyce K0JJW and I decided to go for an easy hike up Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081) and do some SOTA operating. Well, maybe the hike was her idea and the Summits On The Air thing was my contribution to the plan. The hike is less than a mile with about 900 feet of elevation gain, depending on where you start.

This was definitely a slacker operation: easy access, easy hike, great weather and 2m FM activation via a handheld radio and the 1/2-wave whip.

Bob K0NR Kaufman Ridge SOTA 1

Note that there are two SOTA peaks with the “Kaufman Ridge” name: Kaufman Ridge North (W0C/SP-085) and Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081), located near Trout Creek Pass in Colorado. Today we headed to SP-081 which we reached by following County Road 318 from Trout Creek Pass, which is also called Buckrake Drive and then Windmill Drive. These roads pass through private property to reach the San Isabel National Forest, where there is a gate that is closed from December to April (see map). At this point, the road is easy 4WD; most 2WD high clearance vehicles will do fine. You can also approach from the south on FS 308 through Mushroom Gulch. 

We turned left onto FS 308 and then took a short side road FS 308B toward the summit. There are several other turn offs but 308B seems the best (shown in black on map). The road is blocked for vehicular traffic at 38.858659° N / 105.933921°W. You can continue walking on the road a ways or just head straight for the summit (blue on map). While the hike is short and not very steep, there are plenty of downed logs to give you a challenge.

You never know who is going to show up on 146.52 MHz in the mountains but I had put the word out via email to some of the local hams to let them know I was doing a SOTA activation. When I got to the summit, I had a few stations already calling me and I quickly worked Ron N0MQJ, Jerry N0VXE, Dave K0HTX, Jim KD0MRC, Bob W0BV and Don K0DRJ. Don was my “best DX”, about 60 miles away in Woodland Park with a few mountains in the way. Thanks to everyone that came on frequency and contacted me.

Side note: if you want to activate SP-085, go north on a forest service road (shown in black on the map) near where 318 and 308 intersect. Just drive a short ways north, find a parking spot and bushwack your way up the summit. (NM5S provides some tips on finding a trail.) You could easily activate both summits in one day.

73, Bob K0NR

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, local time and grid locator. 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 my favorite app for SOTA activity (finding summits, checking/posting spots and alerts, etc.)

 

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.

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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.

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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