Six Excellent Summertime Radio Activities

Next weekend is Memorial Day in the US, which means it is time to get serious about summer activities.  Here’s what I am plugging into my calendar. You will note a clear emphasis on activities here in Colorado but most of these events are nationwide:

ARRL June VHF QSO Party (June 11-12) This is the best VHF/UHF/Microwave contest of the year, because we almost always have some nice openings on 50 MHz. I think of this as “VHF activity weekend” that happens to be a contest. My favorite amateur radio event of the year.

ARRL Field Day (June 25-26) This is arguably the most popular ham radio event in North America. The great thing about FD is that you can make it whatever you want it to be: make it a contest, use it for public relations, just go camping, etc.

CQ Worldwide VHF Contest (July 16-17) This is the only Real VHF Contest, since it is limited to the 6 Meter and 2 Meter bands. (The ARRL contests include the UHF and higher bands and the scoring emphasizes these bands.) We usually get some 6 Meter openings on this weekend, as well, making it a lot of fun.

Colorado 14er Event (August 7) The Premier Mountaintop Ham Radio Event, with a Colorado emphasis. The concept is simple: activate the 14,000 foot mountains and have fun working everyone you can.

Colorado QSO Party (Sept 3-4) A state QSO party focused on working stations in Colorado. There will be lots of mobile and portable operators out to activate Colorado counties. Contacts are valid on HF, VHF and higher.

Colorado FM Sprint (Sept 10) This FM-only contest runs concurrently with the ARRL September VHF QSO Party. The FM Sprint runs for 5 hours on Saturday afternoon, so it is another great opportunity for some mountaintop operating. The Sprint rules are compatible with the ARRL contest, so you can always work both of them!

I hope to work you during these events.

– 73, Bob K0NR

This Just In: 70 cm Band is Safe

This just in: According to the New York Long Island ARRL Section, the threat to the 70 cm band has been resolved. That is to say (these are my words), rational thought has prevailed. The NLI web site says:

May 19, 2011, Massapequa Park, NY – A delegation of Amateur Radio operators from the Long Island / New York City area met this morning with Congressman Peter T. King (R-NY) to discuss his recent proposed legislation, HR 607, and its impact on Amateur Radio.

Congressman King said that he fully understands and appreciates the importance of Amateur Radio and the service it provides to the community, and that he would see to the modification of the bill so that the 420 – 440 MHz band would be excluded from the spectrum to be auctioned. The delegation included Mike Lisenco, N2YBB, ARRL Section Manager for New York City / Long Island (NLI), Peter Portanova, WB2OQQ, NLI Local Government Liaison (LGL), George Tranos, N2GA, NLI State Government Liaison (SGL), and Jim Mezey, W2KFV, NLI ARES Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC).

Read the full story at the NLI web site.

73, Bob K0NR


Radio Hams are Not First Responders

It happened again. A disaster hits — this time a series of storms in the southeast— and the amateur radio community rises to the occasion to supply emergency communications. See
Tornadoes and Thunderstorms Keep Radio Amateurs Busy in Midwest, Southeast.

I’ve noticed that there is a tendency for some members of the amateur radio community to characterize this activity as a being a “first responder”. (Most recently: Amateur Radio Newsline, 6 May 2011)  This may make for a more exciting story about how amateur radio operators assist during a disaster, but I think it is just sloppy terminology. Here’s one definition of a first responder from

first responder
a person who is certified to provide medical care in emergencies before more highly trained medical personnel arrive on the scene.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA) has a 342-page standard that describes the training required to be a First Responder.  Similarly, the wikipedia entry for Certified First Responder describes the skills necessary to be considered a First Responder. Most hams won’t even come close to meeting this level of training, unless they happen to have it for reasons other than ham radio.

Why does this matter? By telling radio hams they are “first responders”, it puts entirely the wrong emphasis on the Emergency Communications (EmComm) role. The EmComm role is, well, uh, providing emergency communications… in support of First Responders (Fire, Police, EMS)  and agencies that support First Responders (Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc.). Where hams can really make a difference is making sure effective communications are established when disaster occurs. The “I am a first responder” mindset can lead to some behavior that makes some radio amateurs look silly. The folks over at have made a hobby out of ridiculing the so-called whackers that try to make ham radio into a lights-n-siren kind of operation. An even more serious issue is having radio hams engaging in dangerous activity without proper training.

Now, should radio hams get training on skills such as CPR and First Aid? Absolutely. Actually, everyone should have that training…you might find yourself in the situation of saving someone’s life. But don’t confuse that with being a trained First Responder.

That’s my opinion, what do you think?

– 73, Bob K0NR

P.S. I fully appreciate the role that ham radio volunteers play in providing emergency communications during disasters. It is real, important work.

Ham Radio Comes to TWiT Network

Leo Laporte first caught my attention when he hosted the cable TV show, The Screen Savers, on ZDTV. He has a great way of talking about technology topics, using his own personal knowledge and leveraging his team of bright techies. Recently, he has been focused on creating the TWiT Network, named for the flagship netcast, This Week in Tech. (TWiT calls the shows netcasts, not podcasts.) Leo saw the opportunity that came with the technology shift to streaming audio and video over the internet as an alternative to conventional radio and TV broadcasting.

There are a number of ham radio podcasts out available, although many have struggled to stay current. The phenomenon of podfading is very real, since it is a real challenge to produce interesting content week after week, month after month. See my previous posts on ham radio podcasts here and here.

The TWiT network has been expanding, moving from audio to video technology. Loic Le Meur shot a very interesting video of Leo touring his new studio which is still under construction. This gives a good idea of where Leo is headed with TWiT.

I often wondered whether TWiT would try doing a ham radio netcast. According to this press release, the answer is YES.  Leo has tapped Bob Heil, well-known ham radio dude and founder of Heil Sound to lead HamNation. Leo recently interviewed Bob on the Triangulation show. (Watch this video, really good.) Bob Heil is an excellent choice for HamNation—he has the passion and knowledge of a real ham radio enthusiast. His first guest is scheduled to be legendary Joe Walsh, ham radio operator (WB6ACU) and screaming guitar player for the Eagles.

This could be a really good thing for the amateur radio hobby, so I wish them well.

– 73, Bob K0NR

Finally, the Universal USB Cable

I have been grousing for some time now about the lack of USB connections on ham radio and other electronic devices. Finally, there is a solution…the USB-It cable can add USB to any device!

Six Completely Useless Nerd Apps for the iPhone

One of the main uses of an iPhone is to load completely useless apps that you can use to annoy your friends. As a service to the nerd techie community, I have reviewed all available most some of the free (or at least cheap) apps available for the iPhone platform and selected the top six useless but fun apps.

Here they are:

FreqCounter (Author: Tang Peng Lab, Cost: Free) A clever little app that displays the time domain waveform of the phone’s microphone audio, displays the sound level and calculates the frequency of the waveform. This is my favorite of the list.

Sound Check Tone Generator (Author: Joe Voelker, Cost: Free) A simple app that generates audio tones (just sine waves).

Tone Generator Pro (Author: Performance Audio, Cost: $0.99) This is a tone generator that can create sine waves, square waves, triangle waves and sawtooth waveforms. Also does white and pink noise and frequency sweeps.

Nerd Noise (Author: Brian Shumate, Cost: $1.99) This app produces some really important, but of course, useless sounds: computer modem tones, Morse code, RTTY, MFSK, telephone busy signal, dial tone, etc. This is a MUST HAVE for the true techie.

Piano Free (Author: Better Day Wireless, Cost: Free) One of those piano keyboard apps.

Cowbell (Author: CTS MobileSoft, Cost: Free) Makes a cowbell sound. Because you always need “more cowbell”!

Just to be clear, some of these apps might actually be useful. Or maybe not. Your mileage may vary.

– 73, Bob K0NR

Added 6 May 2011:

At no extra charge, I decided to add a 7th app:

SpectraSound (Author: Francois Guilleme, Cost: $1.99) This app shows the time domain waveform from the microphone plus the FFT spectrum of the signal. This is a fun way to look at the frequency content of an audio signal.