New Categories for ARRL VHF Contests

The April 25th issue of Contest Update from the ARRL had this item:

The ARRL Programs and Services Committee has approved a rule change for ARRL VHF+ contests effective beginning in 2013 (not this year) to create a Single-Op FM-only category (100 W max, 50/144/222/440 MHz) and a three-band Single-Op category (100 W PEP on 50 and 144 MHz, 50 W PEP on 432 MHz). These changes will apply to the January, June, and September contests – again, beginning with the 2013 January VHF Sweepstakes.

I am always looking for ways to get more people involved in VHF contests and these two new categories may help. The basic idea is to create categories for simpler stations to participate in the contests without having to be in the same category as The Big Guns.

73, Bob K0NR

The World’s First Disposable HT

Baofeng UV-5RA few weeks back, I was wasting time doing important research on the internetz when I came across the Baofeng UV-5R Dualband Handheld Transceiver.  This radio seemed to have a boat load of features but the sale price was $65. So I am thinking to myself, just how good is a $65 radio?

The last time I went out to a nice restaurant, I blew through $65 pretty quickly so this was not going to be a large purchase. In fact, I realized that we now have HT’s priced low enough to be an impulse buy. As one of my ham buds told me, “filling up the gas tank of my truck costs more than this radio!”

So, of course, I soon broke down and ordered one and it showed up on my doorstep a few days later. I’ve been using it off and on for a few weeks now. I’ve also noticed that there is a real buzz on the interwebz about this little radio. There is usual Yahoo Group (baofeng_uv5r) and youtube videos.

Here’s the short story:

While not perfect, for $65, this radio is impressive.

Besides using the radio and receiving good signal reports, I did check the receive sensitivity, transmit power and frequency — all good. There are quite a few reviews out there, so take a look at articles by W0HC, PD0AC and OE1RFC. Also, there have been quite a few reports of quality problems with this radio…probably more defects than equipment from the more established ham equipment vendors. See the Yahoo Group discussion to understand this better.

Similar to other radios from China, this radio has a quirky user interface…not as easy to use as my Yaesu FT-60. This means that the programming software is a necessity to get the radio set up correctly, which is the major downfall of the rig. The free software program is crapware, with many people reporting a variety of problems with installation and operation. I did finally get it to work, but it was very frustrating.

I find myself grabbing this HT when I head out the door and leaving my other radios sitting in the desk charger. Someone pointed out to me that the low price of this radio makes it an easy choice — if it gets dropped, broken, lost or stolen, I am only out a tank of gas. While I am kidding about the “disposable radio” idea, the low cost does affect how I use it.

73, Bob K0NR

Part II: Say Goodbye to the BNC

I had previously commented on the how most of the handheld radios are adopting SMA connectors instead of BNC connectors. See Say Goodbye to the BNC. For example, the Yaesu FT-60 uses a female SMA connector for the antenna connection. I’d say this is the standard approach for the amateur radio market.

Female SMA on Yaesu FT-60

A few manufacturers have decided to use the male SMA connector as the antenna connection for their handheld radios. I suspect that these manufacturers are following the lead of commercial manufacturers (e.g., Motorola) who use the male connector.

Male SMA on Wouxun KG-UV2D

Many hams will want to adapt these SMA connectors back to the good old BNC, to connect to existing BNC connectors or HT antennas. I had commented that these adapters are mechanically weak but recently I have come across some more sturdy adapters.

SMA-BNC Adapters

The adapter in the center is the common adapter for cable use but arguably mechanically weak for adapting HT antennas. The adapter on the left adapts BNC antennas to an HT with a male SMA connector. The adapter fits snugly on the top of the HT and provides mechanical support. Similarly, the adapter on the right adapts BNC antennas to an HT with a female SMA connector.

The adapter on the left is available from Import Communications. The other two adapters came from Affordable Radio.

I have just started to use these more capable adapters so I am not sure how reliable they are in regular use. In any case, it makes sense to be careful to minimize the strain on any radio connector.

73, Bob K0NR

The Next Step in Electronic Communication

It figures: I just get done blogging about the history of electronic communications and Google takes the topic to the next level. Recognizing the inherent problem of cramming a QWERTY keyboard onto a Smart Phone, Google has gone back to the future by adopting a simple binary input device that uses DOTS and DASHES. That’s right, the new Gmail Tap uses Morse Code.

Google has apparently rediscovered what CW operators knew all along: Morse Code is extremely efficient for text communication.

Go to the Gmail Tap web page to get the full story.

73, Bob K0NR