Awesome June VHF Contest!

It didn’t start out all that great. First, my boss decides that I need to be in Scotland the week before the contest weekend. I have nothing against Scotland, I just preferred to not be there right before the biggest VHF contest of the year (ARRL June VHF QSO Party). I needed to be home putting together antennas, repairing cables, loading software, etc. ahead of the contest weekend.

At the last minute, I piled all of the gear (well, most of it) into the SUV and we head to the mountains. I planned to set up my portable station at our antenna-less cabin in the western part of grid DM78. (Gotta get that tower up for next year.) My station consisted of an FT-847 on 2M and 70 cm, driving decent yagi antennas on those bands. On 2M, a linear amplifier boosted the output to 170W, so I had a decent signal on that band. For 6 Meters, I used an FT-100 running 100W to a 3-element yagi and on 222 MHz I just had an ICOM FM transceiver feeding a small yagi.

I downloaded N1MM logging software at the last minute and attempted to install it on my new Windows Vista PC. Turns out that Vista doesn’t seem to like N1MM or vice versa. (I am bumping into this on occasion where some software aps are not fully checked out on Vista.) I bailed on N1MM and grabbed VHFLog by W3KM. It was the first time I have used it but it worked well for me.

There was very good sporadic-e propagation on 6M for a large portion of the contest, occasionally extending to 2M. This is the way the June contest is supposed to be! Six meters kept me quite busy and I am sure I missed some good rover contacts on the other bands. This is the downside of a single-op station when six is open. Most contacts were on SSB but I did use CW to grab a few grids on 2M and 6M (N0KE in DM69 and K0YW in DM67). Wow, my CW is getting rusty and it was tough going but I made the contacts.

I had 206 contacts on 6M, which I thought was quite good until I saw some of the other guys scores on the local email reflector….many of them did a lot better. Worked XE2YW in Mexico and a number of VE’s in Canada. I was happy with the 15 grids on 2M, including a new grid via sporadic-e (W4VC EM81). I snagged KB0HH up in EM06 and N0YK in DM98.

Band       QSOs X pt =  QSO pts.  X   Grids   =     Points
50         206    1      206           125           25750
144        34     1      34            15            510
222        1      2      2             1             2
432        12     2      24            6             144
TOTALS     253           266           147           39102
                                         Claimed score =  39102

This contest has reinforced the notion that for me, VHF is all about 2M and 6M. The Magic Band provides the excitement and 2M provides the challenge (with enough local activity to keep some interest going). The practice of moving on up to 222 MHz, 432 MHz and higher and just working the same guys over again doesn’t seem as much fun. It definitely generates contest points but I am thinking more about VUCC and grid chasing. I will be optimizing my station to do better on 2M and 6M….upgrade the antennas, amplifiers, transceivers, etc.

73, Bob K0NR

My First D-STAR Contact

At Dayton, I picked up an ICOM IC-91AD handheld radio, with D-STAR capability. The thing is, there are no D-STAR repeaters within range of my house. Fortunately, Elliott KB0RFC also picked up a D-STAR handheld and we arranged a sked on 2M simplex. The de facto calling frequency for D-STAR is shaping up to be 145.67 MHz, so that is what we used.

I have to admit that the audio quality was better than I expected. When the radio is not dropping bits, the audio is quite clean and clear. When the Signal-to-Noise Ratio degrades, you do start to hear that digital twang as the vocoder does its best to recover the audio in the face of digital errors. Overall, I was favorably impressed.

Tonight, we did some additional testing with DV mode and were surprised at the range of the handheld on 2M. The 70 cm band seemed even better, apparently due to the improved efficiency of the handheld antennas on that band.

There is lots more stuff to play around with, so stay tuned.

Digital voice on the ham bands? Must be the 21st Century!

For more info on D-STAR, see my article from CQ VHF.

73, Bob K0NR

FCC Says No to Digital Repeater Subband

As reported on the ARRL web site, the FCC rejected the proposal from Ken Chafin, W6CPA, and Leon Brown, KC6JAR to create a 2M subband for digital voice repeaters. This proposal was apparently a good-intentioned approach to opening up new spectrum for digital machines (D-STAR, P25, etc.). Chafin and Brown jointly filed a PRM in October 2007 requesting that the FCC “propose to expand the frequencies on which an amateur station operating as a repeater (repeater station) may operate,” specifically Section 97.205(b) to allow repeater stations to transmit in the 145.5-145.8 MHz frequency segment of the 2 meter amateur service band.

The FCC correctly rejected this proposal, indicating that the Amateur Radio Service does not need additional 2M spectrum for repeaters. Also, the FCC rejected the notion of a subband that is dedicated to a particular modulation format.

I appreciate the problem of trying to open up repeater frequency pairs for digital voice repeaters. We are struggling with that issue here in Colorado. It seems that all of the 2M repeater pairs are “full” in the front range. (Full but not necessary well-used.) The Colorado Council of Amateur Radio Clubs (CCARC) took action to open up digital voice repeater pairs on the 440 MHz and 1.2 GHz bands, but we haven’t figured out what to do on 2 Meters.

Technically-oriented hams want to put up repeaters using the new digital technology, so we want to find a way to support that effort. One answer is to expand the repeater subband. But let’s be honest….in most locations the 2M repeater subband are filled with repeaters that largely sit there doing nothing. I find it very difficult to justify adding additional spectrum to amateur repeater usage.

Also, what is the big freaking deal with 2 Meters? Why does everyone insist on having a D-STAR machine on 2M? There is generally much more room on 70 cm (440 MHz), so let’s give that a go. I think the ham community is stuck in the 2-meter rut. (I understand this, sort of, for good old FM, but digital voice means buying new gear, so let’s do it on 440 MHz.)

73, Bob K0NR