K0NR – ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes

For the last four years, I have operated a backpack portable QRP station in the ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes. I am not sure how I got hooked on this but the basic idea is to hike up to the summit of Mt Herman (~9000 feet in elevation, grid locator DM79mb) and operate for the afternoon. The contest goes all weekend but I am not signed up for a mountaintop camp out in January. So for me this contest becomes a hike-the-mountain-then-make-some-contacts event.

The first three years, the weather was amazingly good. It was so sunny and warm that I worried about sunscreen more than about having sufficient clothing. Last year, we had serious snow on the trail but it was still a reasonable hike. See my ARRL Soapbox comments here.

But Colorado has experienced record snow fall this year….and it is not melting any time soon. When I woke up on the morning of the contest, it was once again snowing at my house. My good sense said “Bob, you are not going up the mountain today.” The other part of my brain (the one that likes a good challenge), said “This has now reached the status of Official Challenge to be Overcome.”

My wife Joyce (K0JJW) and I loaded up The Big SUV and headed to the trailhead. A US Forest Service road that is not maintained (read: not plowed) in the winter is the only way to get to the trailhead. We carefully drove up the road and got within 1/4 mile of the trailhead. The road was blocked by various vehicles that had gotten stuck. We found a place to park that did not block the road, grabbed the snowshoes and started our climb.

We slogged our way up the trail through heavy snow and eventually arrived at the summit. It was not that bad of a climb, but the snowshoes were essential and the deep snow slowed us down. We arrived at the summit around 1 PM, one hour after the contest started.

At the top, I had about 25 QSOs before the cold started to get to me. It was difficult to operate the radio in the snowy conditions….and it was pretty dang cold. I did not bother to assemble the 2M yagi antenna, operating just off the vertical whip antennas. At first, I thought I was going to just work my own grid (bummer). As the afternoon progressed, I picked up 4 adjacent grids on various bands, so I was feeling OK about that. (Not rare DX but at least I got outside my grid.)

More information on VHF contests can be found here: How to Work a VHF Contest

73, Bob K0NR

The PJ4/K0NR Story

I finally got around to putting together the PJ4/K0NR DXpedition story on my web site.

My wife (Joyce K0JJW) and I were looking for a great place for an island vacation and someone recommended Bonaire as a quiet little island with world class diving and snorkeling. We checked into it further and confirmed that this was a great place to spend 2 weeks just hanging out.

See the rest of the article here.

Morse Code Testing: Irrelevant

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to write anything else about the FCC’s decision to eliminate the Morse Code testing requirement for amateur radio licenses. The issue has been debated for decades, all of the arguments have been made and I am quite weary of the topic.

Then I came across the Long Delayed Echoes blog, where Jeff KE9V made his 2007 New Years predictions, which included this:

Having thrown the gates wide open by eliminating the Morse code requirement for all amateur testing we learn that there’s nobody out there waiting to join the party. I predict no significant increase of new licensees in 2007.

This really struck me as likely and it made me realize something important: eliminating the Morse Code testing requirement is not good or bad….it is irrelevant. I seriously doubt there are thousands of potential hams just waiting to get their license, if and only if the FCC removes this hurdle. At the same time, this 5 Word Per Minute requirement is not much of a barrier to keeping out the undesirables. (There are plenty of LIDs that have their Extra Class license, even when the requirement was 20 WPM.) This change is not going to add significant numbers of radio amateurs, nor will it ruin the amateur radio service. It just doesn’t matter.

The fact that much of the ham community is vehemently in favor of or against this change is an indication that we are focused on the wrong question. We have lost perspective on the basis and purpose of the amateur radio service and how it fits into the 21st century. Ham radio is about tinkering with new technology, exploring the magic of radio, performing public service and having a whole bunch of fun. Let’s focus on that, rather than licensing requirements.

73, Bob K0NR

P.S. In case you wonder, I received my Extra class license when it required 20 wpm code. Big deal.

Counterfeit ICOM Handheld Radios

ICOM has issued a notice on its web site that counterfeit versions of their basic VHF handheld radio, the IC-V8, are showing up at various locations on the internet. ICOM says that “Some of them look almost identical to genuine ICOM products. It has been reported recently that these products are also being sold through internet shopping sites at very low price.”

Apparently, these radios are showing up on eBay and a product review has been published warning potential buyers of these radios. This product review describes how to tell whether the radio is a fake. (I am not able to verify the accuracy of this information.)

I don’t recall a “knock off” of a popular ham rig before. Certainly, many items in the mainstream consumer electronics market have had cheap copies made, but the ham market is relatively small and doesn’t usually attract this kind of attention. Also, this radio can probably be used for land mobile applications (not necessarily legally, see your local government radio law.)

Buyer beware.

73, Bob K0NR