Technician License Class – Black Forest, CO

Time: Saturday Sept 30 and Saturday Oct 7th (8 AM to 5 PM) 2017

Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1
(intersection of Burgess Rd. & Teachout Rd., Black Forest, Colorado)
Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association

The FCC Technician license is your gateway to the world-wide excitement of Amateur Radio, and the very best emergency communications capability available!

  • 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
  • See 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

For more background on ham radio, see Getting Started in Ham Radio.

Registration fee: $30 adults, $20 under age 18
In addition, students must have the required study guide: Technician License Course
Second Edition, effective 2014 – 2018, $21.95

Advance registration is required (No later than one week before the first session, earlier is better, first-come sign up basis until class is full.)

To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR
Email: or Phone: 719/659-3727

Using 1.2 GHz for SOTA

One of the cool things about the Summits On The Air program is that it has many different awards available. The SOTA database records the QSOs of everyone involved in the program and is used to qualify for the awards. QSL cards are not required. The most coveted awards are Shack Sloth (reaching 1000 points as a “chaser”) and Mountain Goat (reaching 1000 points as an “activator”). There are so many SOTA activators on the air these days, reaching Shack Sloth is not too difficult. Just get on the air and make the contacts. (Last year, I completed Shack Sloth using VHF and higher frequencies only.) Mountain Goat is much more of a challenge because you have to physically go out and activate each summit, one at a time. Currently, there are 9 radio hams that achieved Mountain Goat status in Colorado. I have a long way to go for Mountain Goat.

Most of my SOTA contacts have been on the 2 meter band (144 MHz) using FM, SSB and CW. Recently, I put additional emphasis on making QSOs on two of the UHF bands: 70 cm (433 MHz) and 23 cm (1.2 GHz). With the SOTA scoring system, there are no extra points or credit for working the same station on additional bands. Still, I’ll often check with the other station on 2m to see if they want to make a QSO on one of the other bands…just because. The SOTA database does keep track of these QSOs separately so you can go in and look at your results on, say, just the 70 cm band.

For some unexplained reason, 1.2 GHz has my interest right now and I’ve been trying out my capabilities on that band. The 23 cm amateur band is one huge hunk of spectrum: 1240 to 1300 MHz (US allocation). To put this in perspective, this 60 MHz swath of spectrum is 171 times the size of the 20m amateur band. (Yeah, I grant you, the propagation on 20m is usually a lot more interesting.)  So the first thing I ran into on this band is the lack of commercially available equipment. I think the number of radios that will do 1.2 GHz has actually declined in the last decade. I ended up buying a pair of Alinco DJ-G7T handheld tranceivers that put out 1W of RF power on 1.2 GHz.The second thing I ran into is the lack of other hams that have 1.2 GHz gear. But when you do find them, they usually are interested in making a contact! (I suppose it gets lonely on that band.)

Initially, Joyce K0JJW and I made some short-range SOTA contacts on 1.2 GHz using the two handheld radios, on the 1294.5 MHz FM calling frequency. Then I started looking for DX contacts from local stations that have 23 cm gear. To provide some additional antenna gain, I used a 4-foot yagi antenna (Comet CYA-1216E), specified as 16.6 dBi. One of the cool things about UHF and higher is that compact antennas can provide some serious gain. My best DX so far is 54 km (33.5 miles) but I expect to be able to do distances 3 to 4 times that. The SOTA awards system considers the 23 cm band to be “microwave” so my 54 km QSO just barely qualifies me for the 50 km award. (The microwave awards are based on distance worked, unlike the other SOTA awards.)

Just another fun thing to do on the ham bands, pursuing the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio.

73, Bob K0NR

Easy SOTA: Blue Mountain (W0C/SP-123)

Joyce K0JJW and I were preparing to drive back home from the mountains and began to consider what Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks might be on the way and easy to access. I consulted with Steve WG0AT, who had a number of good suggestions but we ultimately decided on Blue Mountain (W0C/SP-123). This is an easy summit to get to and an easy summit to hike.

I found Carey’s (KX0R) trip report to be helpful, so I suggest reading that information. A Pike National Forest map is very helpful. To get to Blue Mountain, just get on Blue Mountain Road (CR 61) heading south out of Lake George (see map above). You’ll see that CR 61 passes by Blue Mountain on the east side and then turns west. Take forest service road FS 244 to the right (north), which takes you up to the west side of Blue Mountain. This road turns into easy 4WD (challenging 2WD with high clearance). We just kept going on FS 244 (ignoring the side roads) and parked at the very last turn, as shown on the map below (38.93108N, 105.35597W). Going any further on the road just takes you to a spot that is a bit tight to turnaround in.

At this point, you can just take aim at the summit (40.33530N, 105.28100W) and hike your way up. Approaching the slope at an angle makes it not quite so steep. Actually, precision isn’t required for any of this, just keep heading for the summit and you’ll likely get there.

For this activation, we took along gear for 2m, 70cm and 23cm, FM only. Basically, this amounts to a pile of HTs and a few compact antennas. All of our contacts were on 2m FM except I did work Paul W0RW on Wilkerson Pass using 1.2 GHz (23 cm). At an elevation of 9230 feet, this location does pretty well on VHF and higher, so we easily worked stations in Buena Vista (W0BV), Woodland Park (WA6TTY) and Como (KD0VHD). We also worked a hiker (Jim, KD0MRC) on the side of Mount Yale, about 50 miles away.

The photo on the left shows my portable 2m FM station: Yaesu FT-1DR handheld transceiver, 1/2-wave Flex antenna (Smiley Antenna), and the dismantled 3-element Yagi (Arrow Antenna). I recently started using the Smiley halfwave antenna because it flexes on the connector end, making it more resilient to on trail use.

In the photo to the left, I’ve got the yagi antenna assembled and I’m using it to make contacts. With a little practice, the Arrow antenna screws together quickly and provides some useful gain over the halfwave vertical (about 6 dB).

We had excellent weather today so that helped make for a fun day. If you are in the Lake George, CO area consider Blue Mountain for an easy and fun activation.

73, Bob K0NR

2017 June VHF Contest (K0NR)

Last weekend, I was able to participate in the ARRL June VHF Contest, my favorite ham radio operating event. I thought conditions were pretty good…mostly I am satisfied if we have some decent sporadic-e propagation on 50 MHz, which we did. (The DX spotting map indicated that the eastern half of the US had better conditions.) Once again, I entered in the Single Operator – 3 Band category with a claimed score of 34,969.

This is the first contest where I used WSJT modes and was successful but certainly not highly skilled. I know I blew a couple of MS144 contacts due to operator error on my part. As I prepared for the contest, I was really focused on getting the computer/radio connections sorted out in advance, which I did accomplish. I made some JT65 and MSK144 contacts a few days ahead of the contest, so I was good to go. The issue that I totally missed was thinking through the operating position so that I could switch modes/bands easily. Instead, I had lots of cable plugging and unplugging as I moved things around. More to learn and improve on next time.

K0NR Single Op - 3 Band
Band QSOs Mults
 6:   254 110
 2:    29 10
 432:   3 1
Total: 286 121
Total Score = 34,969

I made a dozen JT65 QSOs, all on the 6 meter band. These contacts were with very weak signals so I probably would have missed them on SSB. I have concluded that the main purpose of JT65 is to give bored operators something to fiddle with when band conditions are poor. It always seemed like there was just enough signal present for me to keep trying, sometimes with success, sometimes not.

I was very pleased to work K5QE for my first 2m meteor scatter QSO (MSK144). My intent is to spend more time with this mode in the coming year and focus on chasing grids on 2 meters. Thanks to the rovers that I worked: AB0YM, W0ETT, AL1VE, K6LMN, VE3WJ, N0LD, N6GP, AG4V, W5VY and WD9HBF. My best DX was XE2X, XE2JS and XE2NBW.

I looked back at my previous scores in the 3-band category. My best score (48,117) was back in 2013, the first year there was a 3-band category. Looking at my blog posting from that year, at the time I didn’t think the band conditions were very good. But I also came across this article by W0VG which indicates that stations from Colorado scored pretty well that year compared to other parts of the country. The results article in QST for that contest provides more detail. I have to conclude that this year’s conditions were not the best I’ve seen. But I’ll go back to my earlier statement that any June VHF contest with some decent sporadic-e openings on 50 MHz is a win.

Thanks to everyone that came out and played radio on the VHF bands.

73, Bob K0NR

Pursue Radio Operating Goals

Operating goals or awards are a fun way to keep focused on accomplishing something via ham radio. Really, it’s a specific reason to get on the air and make radio contacts. I am not big on idle chit chat via the radio (“the weather here is 65 deg and raining”) so having a reason to make contacts helps me get on the air. I’ve tended to pursue awards in a serial manner…once I hit some level of accomplishment, I usually declare victory and move on to something else.

Way back in the wayback machine, the first award I pursued was Worked All States (WAS). It does take some effort but I was pretty active on the HF bands at the time, so many of the states just showed up in my log. But to really drive it home, I kept track of which states I still needed and actively looked for opportunities to work them.

Next up was Worked All Continents (WAC), which obviously requires working some DX. But then I decided that if I was going to have any DX cred at all, I needed to get DX Century Club (DXCC). This turned out to be a bit of a challenge with my modest station (100 watts and a dipole) but I found that working DX contests to be very helpful. The big hassle was collecting the QSL cards and getting them checked by the ARRL (back before the Logbook of the World was a thing). Once I checked the box on DXCC at just over 100 countries, I was satisfied and went on to other things. Serious DXers chase all available countries/entities to get Honor Roll and other bragging rights.

The VHF and higher bands have always been a passion for me, so I pursued the VHF/UHF Century Club (VUCC) awards. First, it was 6 meter VUCC, the easiest one to get. A really good run during the ARRL June VHF contest can produce the 100 grids you need for the award in one weekend. For me, it took a few more contests than that after factoring in the fallout that occurs when trying to get confirmation QSLs. The 10 GHz VUCC only requires 5 grids which turned out to be not too difficult. My VHF collaborator at the time, Doug W0AH (now W4LY) and I took turns operating from Pikes Peak while the other guy went out and activated the required 5 grids. It helps to have a big honkin’ mountain nearby to use for 10 GHz operating. About this time, I got into working the LEO satellites and worked the required 100 grids for satellite VUCC. I still don’t have very many grids confirmed on 2 meters, so that one is still calling to me.

Recently, I spent some effort going for the CQ WPX Award (worked prefixes award). This is an intriguing award structure because every new callsign prefix counts as a new one. For the basic mixed-mode award, you need to work at least 400 different callsign prefixes. I found this format to be a lot of fun because “everyone is DX” so to speak, but DX prefixes are also very valuable. This scoring approach is used for the WPX contests, which naturally brings out stations with less common callsign prefixes. A big motivator for me was when the ARRL announced Logbook of the World (LoTW) support for the CQ WPX awards. I mean, there was no way I was going to collect 400 QSL cards to submit for this award, but using LoTW made this very efficient. More on that story here: CQ WPX, LoTW and the End of QSL Cards.

Summits On The Air

Lately, I’ve been active in the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program, both activating and chasing summits. This is a natural fit for me as I’ve enjoyed mountaintop operating in various forms, mostly on VHF and UHF. (See my SOTA blog postings.) The SOTA program has a wide variety of awards, supported by a very powerful database used to record SOTA radio contacts and keep track of the scores. It is not really a competition but there is friendly rivalry between SOTA enthusiasts as they monitor each other’s posted scores.

I’ve been using VHF (and UHF) exclusively for SOTA and managed to qualify for the Shack Sloth Award using just those bands. (Shack Sloth is achieved with 1000 chaser points.) Shack Sloth is a bit of a misnomer for me as many of my SOTA chasing contacts were done while hiking, mobile or portable (not sitting at home in a shack). The Mountain Goat Award is taking a bit longer because I have to drag myself up enough summits to reach 1000 points as a summit activator.

Here’s the current scores for the Colorado (W0C) SOTA activators:
At the top of the list, we find Carey KX0R totally killing it with 2808 points. These folks have all reached the coveted Mountain Goat status: KX0R, K0MOS, K0JQZ, W0CCA, KC0YQF, W0CP, KC5CW.  I am further down the list, tied with AD0KE at 302 points. Now, remember this is not a competition 🙂 Honestly, I wish I were further along the path to Mountain Goat but I’ve decided to not fret too much, keep working at it and enjoy the journey. Walt W0CP recently gave me some excellent advice: just keep making progress.

Other Goals

You may not find the awards and goals I’ve mentioned to be very interesting, but there are many other options. In 2016, the ARRL sponsored the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, which created a lot of interest and activity. I did just three activations for NPOTA but many people really got into it.

You might also set your own personal goal, not associated with any award. I know one ham that decided his goal was to make a ham radio contact every day of the entire year. This sounds simple but if you have a full-time job and other responsibilities, it takes some persistence to make this happen. Perhaps you are public service oriented; you might set a goal for the number of ARES events you support this year. I challenge you to think about what it is you are trying to do with ham radio and set a goal that is consistent with that.

Those are my thoughts, what do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

2017 Hamvention Report (K0NR)

After missing it for several years, I managed to attend the Dayton Hamvention this year. This is the largest amateur radio event in the world, so definitely an event to attend if you are into ham radio. I had some concern about going the first year in the new Xenia location, but frankly I was never a fan of Hara Arena so I figured I’d give it a try. I met up with best budd Denny (KB9DPF) in Fort Wayne and we drove down Friday night, attending the event on Saturday and Sunday.

KB9DPF and K0NR selfie at Hamvention

The short story is that we had a blast and the new location is an improvement over Hara (which is, of course, an easy compare).

We went early on Saturday morning, arriving at the fairgrounds around 8 AM (for a 9 AM start time). No traffic issues, easy access to parking. On Sunday we left a little later, arrived at 8:30 AM, again no traffic issues. (I suspect the traffic problems we’ve heard about were associated with arriving from the west, coming from Dayton. Also, that problem seemed to be mostly on Friday morning.)


  • Most of the buildings were in good shape [insert disparaging comment about Hara].
  • Most of the buildings are not air conditioned but it seemed to be comfortable enough.
  • The usual vendors were there…I couldn’t think of any didn’t show.
  • The food selection was very good…basically “county fair style” vendors. For example, I had Louisiana style chicken, red beans and rice for lunch on Saturday.
  • The forum rooms were pretty decent, as in large and convenient  [insert disparaging comment about Hara]
  • I attended a few forums (all good): contesting, AMSAT, NPOTA
  • Parking was convenient and no charge.


  • The flea market was a muddy mess, so we skipped that completely. Those that went out there came back with shoes covered with mud. (I saw one guy that came prepared with 18-inch high rubber boots. Smart move.) I’ve seen lots of comments on the web about “well, you can’t control the weather so you just have to deal with the mud.” Yes, you can’t control the weather but even Hara had a paved parking lot for the flea market. Read: no mud.
  • All of the food vendors were outside and there was little to no sheltered seating. If the rain had hit around lunch time, I am not sure where people would have eaten.

All in all, not too bad.

I’m sure they’ll be getting lots of feedback and will be working on the problem areas. I think you have to accept the fact that on a weekend in May in Ohio, you will get some rain. So something has to be done about the flea market, else its mud city most years.

Seriously, I think the Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA) pulled off a minor miracle getting Hamvention moved to a new location without a major problem. They had a well-oiled machine that knew how to make it happen at Hara but everything had to be reworked this year.

People often ask “well, why do they even hold such a major event in Dayton?”
The answer: because that’s where DARA is.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #34

0511-0701-3118-0930Here’s some more wonderful stuff flowing from the internet.

The FCC slams police radio jammer with a $400k fine. Yay, FCC.

Gary KN4AQ ( explains that YOU SHOULD NOT CALL CQ ON A REPEATER. Or something like that.

Remember, if Summits On The Air is taking over your life, SOTANA May Be Right For You. Ask your doctor before taking any medication.

Here’s a fun video from Keysight Technologies that explains electrical current. What is Electric Current?

Check out the Yaesu FT-65 product review on

If you are using DMR, take a look at this list of DMR talkgroups on the Utah DMR web site.

I wrote a Shack Talk article about radio frequency nomenclature: HF/VHF/UHF…stuff like that. What the Heck is UHF Anyway?

The Dayton/Xenia Hamvention is coming up next weekend. There’s some good info available on the Hamvention web site.

Field Day is coming up June 24-25, see the full information here.  Get your Field Day supplies from the ARRL here. Check out the professional Field Day promotional video from the ARRL. Nice job, ARRL HQ!

First SOTA Activation: H-44 Benchmark (W0C/SP-130)

With the most recent release of the W0C ARM, there were 61 summits added to the Colorado SOTA list. I noticed that one of the new summits, H-44 Benchmark (W0C/SP-130) was easy to access, easy to climb and was in the vicinity of our mountain cabin. Surely, we needed to check it out and perhaps be the first ones to activate it.

To get there, take Highway 285 south out of Buena Vista (or north from Salida), exiting at County Road 194 clearly marked as Hecla Junction. As you travel east, the road climbs then tops out. Soon after the road started to descend, Joyce K0JJW and I stopped and parked at lat/lon: N38.64998 deg, W106.06747. I don’t think where you park is critical but be aware that this road can get busy during the summer with the many rafting outfitters taking out at Hecla Junction (on the Arkansas River). There are two driveways heading south near where the road crests…we opted to stay to the east of these. One of them appears to be a campsite and the other leads to a house/cabin.

View of the summit, approaching from the north

We proceeded south towards the visible summit, looking ahead to find a route that did not have too many ups and downs. There are many options and there was not much downed timber to deal with. We found a nice route that hit the main ridge about 0.2 miles west of the actual summit. We did cross a old logging road which had some recent dirt bike tracks on it, so that may be another option.

Joyce K0JJW had the honor of activating this SOTA summit for the very first time. As usual, we were working VHF//UHF, mostly 2m FM, but we also made some contacts on 440 MHz and 1.2 GHz. I managed to work Jay W9RM near Olathe, CO on the west side of the state using 2m CW. (We couldn’t quite make the contact on SSB, so we switched to CW to get the job done.)

Joyce K0JJW displays the SOTA flag after completing the first activation of SP-130

I’ve noticed a few other SOTA peaks are named “something benchmark.” I think that’s essentially an unnamed peak that happens to have a survey benchmark on it. So I looked around for the benchmark and found this marker at the summit:

This appears to be the “benchmark.”

Of course, like many of the lower summits in the Arkansas Valley, this one has a great view of the Collegiate Peaks to the west.

Looking west from H-44 Benchmark summit.

I expect this summit to be a popular SOTA activation because its easy to get to and has a great view. I estimate our total distance traveled as 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of 500 to 600 feet. Sorry, it’s only 2 points.

73, Bob K0NR

2017 Colorado 14er Event with SOTA

Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Well, last year we celebrated the 25th annual event so this year it must be the 26th. We are continuing the all weekend approach on August 5 and 6. However, many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early in the morning with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.

We still have the very cool 25 Year Anniversary t-shirts (and other great stuff) available at

The 14er event includes Summits On the Air (SOTA) peaks, which add over 1700 now 1805 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from (with a wide range of difficulty). See the W0C SOTA web page at

Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should post their intent on the ham14er Yahoo Group. To subscribe to the “ham14er” email list, visit the Yahoo groups site at . Also, be sure to check out the event information at It is also a great idea to post an ALERT on the website.

Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF, VHF and UHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz. At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz. We try to stay off 146.52 MHz, the National Simplex Calling Frequency to avoid overload, but if you need to make a call there, go for it…and be brief.

Frequency (MHz) Comments Frequency (MHz) Comments
147.42 Primary 2m FM Frequency, then up in 30 kHz steps 7.032 40m CW Frequency
147.45 Alternate 2m FM frequency 7.185 40m SSB Frequency
147.48 Alternate 2m FM frequency 10.110 30m CW Frequency
147.51 Alternate 2m FM frequency 14.060 20m CW Frequency
446.000 Primary 70 cm FM frequency 14.345 20m SSB Frequency
446.025 Alternate 70 cm FM frequency 18.092 17m CW Frequency
144.200 2m SSB calling frequency 18.158 17m SSB Frequency
50.125 6m SSB calling frequency 21.060 15m CW Frequency
1294.50 23 cm FM calling frequency 21.330 15m SSB Frequency
Other Bands/Modes Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply. 28.060 10m CW Frequency
28.350 10m SSB Frequency

Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.

Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force

Download the one-page flyer for the event: Colorado 14er Event Flyer 2017

We’ve Got Some Explaining to Do

There was a fun interaction on twitter the other day about how we represent amateur radio to the general public. It started with this tweet from @FaradayRF:

This refers to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper where the author decided to use the theme of “ham radio is retro” to tell the story of a ham radio gathering at NAB. I really hate it when ham radio gets positioned as “old technology” in the world of awesome wireless stuff. Clearly, some of our technology is dated, but the amateur service includes lots of new technology and experimentation. (Actually, the tone of the article was very positive, so we shouldn’t complain too loudly.)

So I replied, along with a few other folks:

So KB6NU and KC4YLV took the discussion back to good old Part 97 of the FCC rules. (You ever notice how often radio hams like to quote Part 97? It’s right up there with the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.) I tried to recall from memory the five things listed in 97.1 as the Basis and Purpose of the Amateur Radio Service, but failed.

I had to look them up, so I’ll save you the trouble and list them here. Actually, I am going to provide the KØNR Abbreviated Version (go here to see the full text):

Part 97.1 Basis and Purpose of Amateur Radio
a) Voluntary public service, including emergency communications
b) Advancement of the radio art
c) Advancement of communication and technical skills
d) Expansion of trained radio/electronics enthusiasts
e) Enhancement of international good will

These five things are still relevant and are being pursued today. Not all radio amateurs contribute to every one of these but as a group we are doing these things. The good news is that many non-hams do understand the When All Else Fails aspect of ham radio…most have had their cellphone become a useless brick during major incidents. Items b, c and d are all about learning new things, building skills and expanding the number of radio hams. We should talk more about that. Enhancing international good will may seem a bit quaint but this crazy world can always use another dose of that.

Part 97 does leave out one thing that is the ultimate attraction and, in fact, the universal purpose of ham radio:

To Have Fun Messing Around with Radios.

73, Bob KØNR

Capulin Mountain (W5N/SG-009) VHF SOTA

Joyce (K0JJW) and I were driving back to Colorado from Texas on Highway 87 that goes right past Capulin Mountain in the Capulin Volcano National Monument.  Capulin is a dormant volcano with a large crater on top, a great place to visit if you ever in the area. Oh, and it’s a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak, too (W5N/SG-009). Obviously, I thought it was a great opportunity to activate it for SOTA. There’s only one problem: this summit is out in the middle of nowhere so making some contacts on 2 meters was not going to be easy. (Yeah, I have been doing SOTA activations only on VHF.)  In many locations, I just put out a call (or many calls) on 146.52 MHz and I eventually get my 4 QSOs to qualify for SOTA activation points. This works near populated areas and places where there is significant tourist traffic.

Capulin Mountain is in NE New Mexico, about 150 miles from Colorado Springs, 200 miles from Denver and about 190 miles to Albuquerque. These distances are all workable with a decent weak-signal station on 2 meters. But I was going to be operating at QRP power levels and a small 3-element yagi antenna. I concluded that this activation was still possible but it depended on getting some of the weak-signal VHF guys on the air so I had someone to work.  So I put the word out to some of the VHF enthusiasts in the Rocky Mountain area asking for help. I received a good response which was encouraging so I published a schedule for Tuesday afternoon, starting at 19:30 UTC, 1:30 pm local.

The national monument is easy to access, just a few miles from the highway. I have an annual national parks pass, so we did not have to pay an entrance fee. This satellite photo of the monument, shows the crater and the access road that winds around it. The parking area is visible on the west side of the crater (zoom in).

The parking lot is not within the SOTA activation zone, but an easy hike up the ridge got us to the summit. For VHF, I wanted to be as high as possible anyway with a 360-degree view. There is a trail that goes completely around the crater rim, also crossing the summit. It is a short hike on a paved trail, a bit steep in spots but nothing difficult. We did encounter some extremely annoying gnats that swarmed around us the entire time.

Looking east from the parking lot, the summit is just a short hike up the ridge (from the left side).

We got to the summit earlier than planned, around 17:30 UTC, started calling on 146.52 fm and 144.200 ssb without much luck. Finally, I caught WE7L in Elizabeth, CO (DM79) on 2m cw at 19:05 utc. He was weak but very readable. I think I was pointing the antenna a little too far east…later he came in stronger when I directed the antenna further west. After that I worked Arne N7KA (DM65) near Albuquerque and K9VSW (DM76) near Taos. Once I got my antenna zero’d in on K9VSW, I was able to work him on ssb. Some time later, I heard Lou K0RI calling from the Colorado Springs area. He was loud enough that I heard him off the side of the antenna, still pointed at Albuquerque. Lou was running 160w to a 17-element 2M5WL yagi at 75 feet.

Time Call Band Mode Grid
19:05z WE7L 144MHz CW DM79
19:10z N7KA 144MHz CW DM65
19:12z K9VSW 144MHz CW DM76
19:15z K9VSW 144MHz SSB DM76
19:53z K0RI 144MHz SSB DM78

I heard some other stations but was not able to work them. The challenge was quite clear: most VHF enthusiasts are running 150W or more of RF power, while I had the FT-817 max’d out at 5W. This is quite an imbalance, easier for me to hear them than they could hear me. Clearly, cw saved the day, punching through with minimal signal levels.

The antenna setup at N7KA includes a 2M12 yagi for 2 meters, driven by a Kenwood TS-2000 and 700W amplifier. (Photo: N7KA)

My best DX for the day was N7KA at 229 miles. Actually, this is an all time best distance for me on 2m while doing a SOTA activation. I recently worked W9RM from Mount Herman at 170 miles and was pretty happy with that. We had signal to spare that day, so I figured I could do better. Also, I had previously worked 160 miles using FM between two Colorado 14ers. See
Pikes Peak to Mt Sneffels – 160 Miles.

I really, really, really appreciate the hams that got on the air to try and work me on Capulin. I could not have activated the summit without those skilled radio operators and their capable VHF stations.

73, Bob K0NR

That’s Not Real Ham Radio

Things had been pretty quiet on the ham front lately but then I ran into a string of “That’s Not Real Ham Radio” discussions. This happens from time to time…I usually ignore it…but this time I got sucked into the topic.

It started with some HF enthusiasts I know talking about how “digital modes” are just not very satisfying. Their point is that with CW and SSB, there is an audio connection to your ear that makes you an integral part of the radio communication. The extreme-DSP modes such as JT65 insert serious signal processing that essentially removes the human connection.  This can quickly lead to the generalization that these digital modes “aren’t real ham radio.”

I think its fair to say that most hams think of the HF bands as the center of the hobby…getting on the air, bouncing signals off the ionosphere to talk to someone over the horizon. Some hams will go even further and say that CW is the only way to go. Anything less is just phone. FM and repeaters? Forget that stuff…not enough skill required. And certainly, don’t get stuck on 2 meters.

In a previous post, I argued we should not confuse religion with modulation. I do occasionally make snarky comments about the continued use of AM (AKA Ancient Modulation), but I’ve tried to tone that down in recent years.

What About DMR?

Just last week, I was playing around with a DMR hotspot on the Brandmeister network. It really struck me that people on the system were having a blast talking to each other across North America and around the world. But then that nagging little voice in the back of my head said “hey, wait a minute…this is not real DX…the RF signal might only be traveling 20 feet or so from an HT to a hotspot.”

This caused me to put out a plea for insight on twitter:

I received a lot of good replies with the answers tending to clump into these three categories:

  • I don’t know (“That’s Not Real Ham Radio”)
  • It’s fun, new technology
  • It’s a digital network that brings ham radio operators together

My interest seems to fall into the second category: this is fun, new technology. Which does make me wonder how long this new technology will remain interesting to me. Well, that is difficult to predict but I’ll invoke the principle of try not to overthink it. The idea that DMR is a digital network that brings ham radio operators together makes some sense. In the past, I have argued that amateur radio is not for talking. In other words, if you just want to talk someone, there are much more convenient ways of doing that. Still, there is something attractive about this ham-radio-only digital network.

It really is important to not overthink this kind of stuff. Ham radio is supposed to be fun, so if you are having fun, you are probably doing it right. If you are not having fun, then you might want to examine what you are doing. See my post on the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio.

Sometimes hams can get a little spun up about those other guys that don’t appreciate our way of doing ham radio. What the heck is wrong with them anyway? I’ve always been inspired by the Noise Blankers Mission Statement:

Do radio stuff.
Have fun doing it.
Show people just how fun it is.

If your preferred form of ham radio is so superior, it ought to be easy to show other hams how cool it is. If not, then maybe you aren’t doing it right. Conversely, as long as other hams are having fun and operating legally, don’t knock what they are doing. In fact, encourage them. We need more people having fun with ham radio, even if it’s not your favorite kind of fun.

That’s my opinion. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

DMR Codeplug for Tytera MD-380

At our radio club meeting on Monday night, I talked about DMR radio, the fastest growing digital format on VHF/UHF. Wow, did I get a positive response! There is a lot of interest in this topic and many of our members are out buying DMR radios and getting on the air. My presentation is available here: DMR W0TLM Meeting Presentation.

Most folks are buying the UHF Tytera MD-380 due to its attractive price point. The price on Amazon seems to fluctuate but it is typically around $100: TYT MD-380 – UHF DMR Ham Radio.  Main Trading Company usually has a good price on the radio, too.

A good source of codeplugs for Colorado is the Rocky Mountain Ham Radio web site. I adapted a recent MD-380 codeplug for use in the Monument area: W0TLM MD380 Codeplug

You’ll need to use the MD-380 software to load/edit this codeplug. See the VA3XPR web site if you need the software. Under General Setting, you must change these entries:

Radio Name – enter your callsign
Radio ID – enter your DMR-MARC radio ID number
Intro Screen – recommend putting your name and callsign there (or whatever you want)

In the codeplug, I created the W0TLM zone for use in the Monument area which should cover most of your needs. After you get used to the programming software, you can add/modify channels and zones. But be careful as there are many parameters that need to be entered correctly.

I will be updating this codeplug from time to time. Let me know how it works for you.

73, Bob K0NR

Where are Those New Hams Coming From?

The Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association just completed another successful Technician license class resulting in 21 new Technicians plus one person that passed both the Technician and General exams. We survey the class a week or two later to get their feedback and capture some demographic information. In recent years, our Technician class has consistently filled to capacity, causing us to ask the question “Where are those new hams coming from?”

The key relevant question on the survey is:

I’ve abbreviated the response choices so they read better on the graph. For example, “Comms during disasters/event” actually says “For communications during disasters or other major events” on the survey. These 18 responses represent over half of the students so they are representative of the class. However, it is a small sample size overall, representing just one class at one time at one location in the US. I will add that the survey results from our other classes are very similar.

The two highest responses, both with 67%, are Comms During Disasters/Event and Backcountry Comms. It was no surprise that communications during a disaster would be a prime motivation for getting a ham radio license. Per FCC Part 97, this is one of the stated purposes of the Amateur Radio Service.  Here in Colorado, many people have had the recent experience of wildfires disrupting communications causing them to look for alternatives. In general, the prepper movement is causing people to think in terms of disaster preparedness. Communications in the backcountry includes hikers, climbers, fishermen, dirt bike riders, four-wheel drive enthusiasts and anyone who spends time in the mountains. There are many locations in Colorado that don’t have cellphone coverage, so people are looking for alternative communications. This is likely a regional phenomenon…I don’t think you’d see “backcountry communications” on the short list of amateur radio interest in downtown Chicago.

Radio as a hobby gathers 50% of the responses, followed by 39% interested in learning about radio communications. This says that about half of the students are pursuing ham radio as a hobby. I wonder if this is different that the historical average from 20 years ago? I suspect it used to be higher but I don’t have any data to support that. This would likely be a leading indicator for how many of these new licensees get deeply involved in ham radio activities. I have seen students start out with a narrow focus on emergency preparedness but then discover there’s a lot more to ham radio that they choose to pursue.

What do you think about these results?

73, Bob K0NR

Winter SOTA on Monarch Ridge South

Joyce KØJJW and I were out for a little snowshoe activity near Monarch Pass in the San Isabel National Forest. Initially, we were headed to Old Monarch Pass when we noticed that the snow and weather conditions looked favorable on Monarch Ridge (also called Monarch Crest). Last winter, we tried snowshoeing Monarch Ridge twice, failing both times, once due to blizzard conditions that blew us off the summit.

There was quite a bit of snow on most of the route, so snowshoes were required.

Monarch Ridge South (W0C/SP-058) is the high point and a Summits On The Air (SOTA) summit, so of course it was a great idea to showshoe up there. In August of 2016, we road to the top using the tram. Take a look at that posting for more information on the summit.

For SOTA, Monarch Crest South is a versatile and very accessible peak. The slacker method is to ride the tram up during the summer months. It also can be an easy summer hike. Monarch Pass is at 11,312 feet in elevation and Monarch Crest South rises to 11,898 so the vertical gain is about 600 feet. In winter, it is a reasonable snowshoe trip. However, watch the weather carefully: you might get blown off the summit.

Here’s the view from the summit which did not have much snow on it.

We started from the Monarch Pass parking lot and snowshoed straight up to the summit, roughly following the tram line. This route is simple but steep. Near the top, the ground was bare, so we removed the snowshoes and hiked on bare ground and rocks. I had not really planned for a SOTA activation that day but I did have my Yaesu FT-1DR transceiver and a half-wave antenna for 2 meters. Rather minimal equipment, but sufficient. I did not have cellphone coverage at the parking lot but I did get “one bar” about halfway up the mountain. I used this to post a SOTAwatch alert and send an email notice to hams in the area.

I had minimal radio gear with me, so I made contacts on 2m fm using my HT and a half-wave vertical.

Just like last time, I did have some minor interference on 2m fm from the radio site at the summit, which seemed to peak up right around 146.52 MHz. Lovely. But it did not keep me from making contacts.

As you can see from the photos, it was a gorgeous day. The temperature hung around 35 degrees F with some wind at the summit, so no problem with that. Another great day in the mountains, playing with ham radio.

73, Bob K0NR

DMR Hotspot from SharkRF

Amateur adoption of Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) continues to increase, with a number of new innovations playing out. It was way back in 2012 when I wrote this article about DMR for CQ VHF Magazine: TRBO Hits the Amateur Bands. 

A few years ago, I picked up some used MOTOTRBO gear to use on our local DMR repeater system (MOTOTRBO is Motorola’s version of DMR). Here in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Ham Radio group has been instrumental in establishing a great network of DMR repeaters, a real asset for Colorado radio amateurs. See Rocky Mountain Ham Radio TRBO/DMR Network.  Worldwide, the DMR-MARC organization has created a robust network of MOTOTRBO repeaters in over 60 countries.

A more recent development is the establishment of the BrandMeister Network, which promotes more of a homebrew approach to DMR. This evening, the BrandMeister dashboard shows 634 industrial repeaters (commercial equipment), 263 homebrew repeaters and over 1300 hotspots of various types.  A variety of DMR hotspots are available, including the DV4mini. I’m not going try to list all of the hotspots available as I’m sure I’ll miss something.  The SharkRF openSPOT caught my attention because of this excellent review by John ‘Miklor’ K3NXU. Because of its popularity, the openSPOT is on backorder (price: 182.5 Euro).

This HamRadioConcepts video walks through the setup and basic operation.

I thought the openSPOT would be a good widget to have around the shack. It is a standalone hotspot, so I don’t have to dedicate a computer to it. Also, it is very turnkey…no assembly required…but some configuration to work out. Its user interface is a web page that you access via your local network…nicely done. I got it working in less than one hour and have been fiddling around with it ever since.

Hotspots are a funny item. They have very limited RF range, so their main purpose is to provide local RF access into the network (just like your Wi-Fi hotspot). One role they play is to provide fill-in coverage when no repeater is available. Another role they fill is being a personal device that can be connected to your favorite reflector or talk group.

I should point out that the openSPOT also operates as a D-STAR and Yaesu Fusion (YSF) hotspot. You just change the configuration of the modem and it starts speaking the selected modulation. More surprising is that I was able to use a YSF handheld radio to talk to the openSPOT which routed me to a DMR talkgroup. Yes, a Yaesu YSF radio talking on DMR.

The first thing I noticed when listening to some of the more active talk groups is that it seems like every person getting on the system said “I just got this Tytera MD-380 radio and you are my first DMR contact.” OK, sometimes it was a Connect Systems or Motorola radio but the MD-380 at around $100 is having a big impact. I picked up an MD-380 and while its not quite as nice as my Motorola, I really do like the radio. (Note that there are other low cost DMR radios that have serious technical issues.) There will be other radios on the market…the technology will keep improving and improved models will hit the market. Right now, everyone is wondering who will create a good dualband 2m / 70cm transceiver for DMR.

I see some very strong technology and market trends in play here that are going to impact the ham radio world. First off, DMR is a true industry standard (ETSI),  well designed and documented. Second, we are seeing multiple radio vendors offering competitive, low cost transceivers. Third, there is high quality commercial repeater gear available from land mobile providers such as Motorola and Hytera. But there’s one more thing that really tops this off: the number of ham-built products emerging that are focused on DMR. This is classic ham radio adaptation and innovation that leverages commercial gear for ham radio use.

Stay tuned…this is going to be interesting!

73, Bob K0NR

2017 Mt Herman Winter Activation

On Saturday, we returned to the Most Radio Active Mountain in Colorado, Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063), for a combination VHF contest, SOTA activation and winter hike. Our radio crew consisted of Steve/WGØAT, Caleb/W4XEN, Joyce/KØJJW and me. I’ve worked Steve forty times on various summits and often when he was activating Mount Herman, but this is the first time we did an activation together. What a treat be on the same summit as the Goathiker! Not only that, Peanut goat came along to supervise the entire operation.

Bob K0NR installs the SOTA flag under the supervision of Peanut (photo: wg0at)

My objective for the day was to chalk up another VHF SOTA activation, while also making some Qs in the VHF contest. For most SOTA activations, I just focus on 2 meters. During a VHF contest, I bring more gear to cover the other bands. The main rig for SSB/CW was my FT-817 driving an Arrow II dualband yagi for 2m and 70 cm. For 6m, I used an inverted Vee dipole supported by a crappie pole. I also had two FT-1D handheld radios listening on 146.52 and 446.0 MHz.

I made 21 contacts on 6m, 2m and 70cm, with 7 grids/mults and a Single Operator Portable score of 164. Not that great of a contest score but it was only a few hours of operating. From a SOTA perspective, this is an attractive number of VHF QSOs in a relatively short time.

Surprisingly, even during a VHF contest, most of the contacts were on FM with the usual SSB contest stations rather scarce. It was very handy to be able to use 146.52 MHz for the contest, finding a number of casual contesters on that frequency.

The high point of the day was working Jay W9RM on the other side of the state in DM58 using 2m CW on 144.210 MHz. The distance was about 170 miles on a path that went over or through several mountain ranges. Not too bad for QRP. (Oh, I guess it doesn’t hurt that W9RM has a serious weak-signal VHF station: 2M-5WL yagi at 50 feet.)  This contact demonstrates the advantage of CW and SSB on 2 meters. Most VHF SOTA action is on FM due to the convenience of a 2m FM HT. But FM has poor weak-signal performance so much better range can be achieved with both CW and SSB. When is the last time you made a 170 mile QSO with an FM handheld?

Caleb W4XEN running a pileup on 20m phone

This was the first SOTA activation for Caleb/W4XEN. Judging by the smile on his face, it won’t be his last one either. While I played on VHF, Steve did his usual thing on HF using CW, using a KX3 to drive an end-fed antenna. Caleb did a bit of both HF and VHF, managing to get a nice pile up going on 20m SSB, using a Yaesu FT-450 driving a BuddiStick antenna. Joyce made a few contacts on 2m FM but mostly took pictures and occasionally tossed GORP in my direction.

Bob K0NR and Steve WG0AT on their first ever joint SOTA activation (photo: k0jjw)

On my last winter activation, my iPhone quit in the cold, so I did not want to rely on it for logging this time. I had a clipboard with my paper log on it, also holding the dual-paddle key. The key moved around a bit and my Morse code sending was sloppy.  I don’t work a lot of CW for SOTA but it does come in handy at times, so I’ll be looking at improving my setup.

The 6m inverted Vee worked out OK but it was a little inconvenient to run the coaxial cable to the apex of the antenna. I’ll be looking to swap that antenna out for an end-fed half wave, which is so common on the HF bands for SOTA.

Steve brought along a large umbrella for use as an instant-up wind shelter. That looks like a practical way to block the wind.

Steve WG0AT operating his KX3 under the protection of the innovative hiking umbrella

The weather was not great…we had a few patches of blue sky but it was mostly overcast and cold (probably 25 degrees F). We lasted about 2 hours before the cold started to take its toll, then we scooted on down the mountain.

Peanut goat and Caleb W4XEN. (photo: wg0at)

Thanks to Joyce, Steve and Caleb for a great day playing radio in the mountains.

73, Bob KØNR

2017 North America SOTA Events

Here’s your handy list of North American Summits On The Air (SOTA) activities for 2017, as supplied by Guy N7UN:

Top Five K0NR Blog Posts For 2016

blog graphicAs we approach the end of the year, it is fun to look back to see which blog posts were read the most. It turns out these five blog postings were written in previous years but they are the ones that got the most hits in 2016.

The most read post on was Choose Your 2m Frequency Wisely, an article I wrote that explains the 2m band plan in Colorado. I wrote this one years ago after encountering quite a few folks that did not understand how the band plan is set up. (If you are outside of Colorado, see What Frequency Do I Use on 2 Meters? over on  The second most read post concerns the use of amateur gear outside the ham bands: Can I Use My Ham Radio on Public Safety Frequencies? Actually, I have two blog postings that cover the same topic but I’ve linked to the one that is up to date.  This is a hot topic as many people still believe strongly that no ham gear is legal on Part 90 frequencies (read through the comments on that post). This is why I took the time to write about it, attempting to explain it and educate the ham community.

Another perennial favorite is: Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem. There is a really frustrating problem with how the Windows driver works with certain USB interface chips. Many folks who went out and bought low cost Baofeng (and other) radios got totally hosed up by this. Hence, the need for and the popularity of this blog posting.

Next up is my classic article FM/VHF Operating Guide, written many years ago and continually updated over the years. Mobile radio installations are always a bit of an exploration, so I try to share what I learn when doing one. People seem to appreciate this kind of article and often ask followup questions via email. For whatever reason, my 2012 Jeep Wrangler Radio Install post continues to be a popular post on my blog.

Hey, thanks for stopping by Best of luck to you in the New Year.

73, Bob K0NR

GMRS: The Other UHF Band

I’ve always had a liking for the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). It’s a licensed radio service but does not require a technical exam so it works great for basic personal communications. When our kids were young we made good use of GMRS communications. This was back in the Pre-Cellphone Era, shortly after the dinosaurs left the earth. I still have my GMRS license: KAF1068

Midland MicroMobile GMRS Transceiver

GMRS uses frequencies in the general vicinity of 462 and 467 MHz. When the FCC created the Family Radio Service, they intermingled the FRS and GMRS channels, creating a real mess. See this page for a good explanation of how FRS and GMRS frequencies are arranged. Many of the low cost walkie-talkie radios sold in stores are combination FRS/GMRS radios.

I recently came across this really sweet little GMRS rig, the Midland MXT-100 Micro Mobile GMRS Radio. This thing is nice and small with an external mag-mount antenna for the roof of the car. It only has 5W of output power, which is not much more than a typical FRS/GMRS handheld radio but the external antenna should help a lot. (I’ve heard there are newer models on the way so stay tuned for that.)

I’ve encountered 4WD / Jeep clubs that use FRS radios for on the trail communications. This Midland radio would be a good upgrade for that kind of use, providing additional radio range. Some of these 4WD enthusiasts have gotten their ham ticket via our Technician license class. Ham radio provides a lot more capability but not everyone in their club is likely to get their ham license. GMRS is a great alternative…the other UHF band. It will work for other outdoor, community and club activities that involve “non radio” people.

FCC recently reduced the cost of the GMRS license to $65 for 5 years. I suspect that most people don’t bother with getting a license…but they should. For more detail on GMRS, see the FCC GMRS Page or for some good bedtime reading see the FCC Part 95 Rules.

73, Bob KØNR