A Great Weekend on VHF

CQ VHFOne of the things that makes a VHF contest so much fun is that you never know how its going to play out. One of the major factors is sporadic-e propagation which is, well, sporadic. Sometimes we get rewarded with decent propagation and sometimes we get completely skunked.

In the morning, before the 2012 CQ World Wide VHF Contest started, the 6 Meter band was open from Colorado to the east. The band continued to be open to various locations for most of Saturday, even late into the evening. I made my last contact on 6 Meters to the Pacific Northwest after 10:30 PM local time.

On Sunday morning, 6 Meters gave us some more fun but it was not nearly as good as Saturday. Instead of strong signals and consistent runs, the signals were variable and QSOs were often a challenge. Sometimes it was like pulling teeth. This contest only uses two bands: 6 Meters (50 MHz) and 2 Meters (144 MHz).  As 6 Meters pooped out, the action moved to 2 Meters. Fortunately, we had a number of rovers out that helped activate some of the rarer grids. Thanks W3DHJ, AB0YM, KR5J and W0BL.

This is probably my best score ever in the CQ WW VHF Contest, due to the excellent propagation on Saturday and some station improvements I’ve made over the past couple of years.

     Band       QSOs X pt =  QSO pts.  X   Grids   =     Points
     50         337    1      337           130           43810
     144        34     2      68            13            884
     TOTALS     371           405           143           57915

                            Claimed score =  57915

All in all, a great weekend on the VHF bands.

73, Bob K0NR

Dear Yaesu, Please Make a VHF FT-950

About a year ago, I bought a Yaesu FT-950 transceiver with HF through 50 MHz. I’ve really enjoyed that radio. This weekend I am working the CQ WW VHF Contest and giving it a good workout on 6 Meters. It is set up quite nicely for contesting with a decent receiver, built-in antenna tuner, DSP processing, dual VFOs, built-in voice and CW keyers, etc. For 2 Meters, I use my trusty old FT-847, which has always been one of the favorite rigs. I have to admit that the 847’s receiver is a bit wimpy when it comes to operating on a crowded band with strong signals, and it only puts on 50 Watts on 2 Meters.

So here’s my request:

Dear Yaesu,

Please add 2 Meters to the FT-950 transceiver. When you obsoleted the FT-847, you left a big hole in the ham radio market. The FT-847 was supposed to be a satellite rig, which is nice but not required. I really just want a radio that can put out 100W on 2 Meters, with the great features of the FT-950. Note that I am not asking for 70 cm operation, but if you want to toss that in, it would be cool. You can even leave out some of the HF bands if that would make it easier.

Thanks and I await your reply.

73, Bob K0NR


SOTA Activation Without The Tears

I recently confessed blogged about a not-that-well-executed SOTA (Summits on The Air) activation, in How Not to Do a SOTA Activation. This past weekend, I made another run at it with much better results. Still, I did use a slacker low impact approach to the activation.

My hiking partner spouse and I decided to go for a hike on Sunday afternoon. It had been many years since we had climbed up to the fire lookout on Devils Head in Pike National Forest, so that sounded like a great destination. There is an excellent view at the top (fire lookouts tend to be like that) and the weather was awesome. I checked the SOTA list, and sure enough, Devils Head is a legitimate SOTA peak (W0/FR-051).

The hike is about 2.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 950 feet. I put this in the category of a good tourist hike…with just enough huffing and puffing to make you think you worked for it but not so much that it kills you. Here’s the topo map and route taken from everytrail.com

As I put together my daypack, I tossed in my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and a 1/2-wave vertical whip antenna. This was going to be a 2M FM operation only.  (I don’t have anything against HF, but there is something magic about VHF propagation with a little altitude.) Then I sent a quick message to a couple of the local email lists asking for people to try to work me on the summit. We drove to the trailhead and started our hike up the trail, which is heavily used but well maintained.

The fire lookout is not a tower. It sits on top of a large rock formation with stairs leading up the side of the rock.

When we got to the top, we spent some time enjoying the view and catching our breath. As the sign says, the stairs have 143 steps which take you to an elevation of 9748 feet.

I got out the radio and started calling CQ on 146.52 MHz. Ted (NØNKG) came right back to me…I think he probably saw my email message. Over the next half hour, I worked a total of 7 contacts: NØNKG, N2RL, NØGWM, W7RTX, WB9QDL, KØDEN and WXØPIX. I even remembered to bring along a log book and a pen to write it all down.

Bill Ellis staffs the fire lookout for the US Forest Service most of the time during the summer. He handed me a card that certifies that I climbed up to the lookout station. Note that this card indicates that it is the 100th anniversary of the fire lookout! And Bill’s been doing this for 26 years. Cool!

Various people have said that Devils Head is a must do hike in Colorado and I have to agree (whether you are doing a SOTA activation or not). It turns out that I was the second person to activate Devils Head as a SOTA summit, with Chuck (N6UHB) having done it in October 2011. I’ll probably do some more of this since it is a nice blend of ham radio, hiking and enjoying the view from a high spot.

   73, Bob K0NR

Introducing Ham Radio School

For several years now, I’ve been teaching a Technician License course with a team of instructors from our local radio club. We use a very successful 2-day format (90% success rate on the FCC exam), holding the class on 2 consecutive Saturdays at the local fire station. Our next session starts on Sept 29th.

For this compressed two-day class, we’ve been using the Gordon West Technician Class book and (optionally) encouraged the class to read the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual. The Gordon West book is very focused on the exam questions, with some explanation around each one. The ARRL book is more thorough and deeper technically, so it is a good reference to round out the student’s understanding. Basically, the Gordon West book is good for “teaching the exam questions” and the ARRL book is good for providing a more comprehensive understanding.

My fellow instructor, Stu Turner WØSTU, got the idea into his head that it would be good to create a license manual that gave a solid treatment of the material while still highlighting the specific questions on the exam. The next thing you know, he is off creating  a new book, Ham Radio School.com Technician License Course. Stu did an excellent job writing this book, keeping it focused on the relevant topics but going beyond just teaching the exam questions. He also has a good knack for keeping it interesting.

The story didn’t end there. One thing led to another and the book concept blossomed into a integrated learning system that includes a web site, iPhone/iPad app and (of course) the book.  The web site offers some written content and interesting videos that help people learn about amateur radio. I will be contributing some material to the web site from time to time.

The Ham Radio School iPhone app is really sweet…check it out on iTunes. All the questions from the current Technician question pool are included in both review-style quizzes and in properly weighted, full 35-question practice exams, just like the one you’ll take at your VE session.

The most important thing is that the book, the web site and the iPhone app are coordinated and work together as a system. We all have different learning styles, so the system approach allows the student to focus on what suits them best.

73, Bob K0NR

Technician License Class – Sept 2012

Monument, Colorado
Saturday Sept 29 and Saturday Oct 6 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2012

Location: Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Station 1
Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Radio Association

 The Technician license is your gateway to the world-wide excitement of Amateur Radio…

  • 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
  • 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

There is no cost for the class (donations accepted)
However, students must have the required study guide:
HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course $19.95
And pay the FCC Exam Fee: $15.00

Advance registration is required (no later than one week before the first session, earlier is better!)

To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR
Email: bob@k0nr.com  or Phone: 719 659-3727

For more information on amateur (ham) radio visit www.arrl.org or www.wedothat-radio.org

Waldo Canyon Wildfire in Colorado

You probably already heard about the terrible wildfire on the west side of Colorado Springs. The fire burned 18,247 acres, destroyed 346 homes and killed 2 people.

Here’s a map of how the fire progressed over time.

18,247 acres is a little more than 28 square miles of area burned. Think about a fire that consumes 28 square miles in your back yard. Pretty sobering.

Here’s a time lapse video that shows the fire from a distance.

The Denver Post has some of the best photos of the fire as it burned structures on the northwest side of Colorado Springs.

There were two major ham radio activities (that I am aware of) in response to the fire:

The RACES team (Special Communications Unit) attached to the El Paso County Sheriff’s office staffed the Emergency Operations Center in Colorado Springs. I did help out for one 12-hour shift, a relatively minor role.

Pikes Peak ARES  supported the Red Cross, who operated the emergency shelters for ~32,000 people that had to evacuate their homes. The Pueblo newspaper ran an article about this.

The real heroes are the firefighters that battled the blaze, especially on that terrible Tuesday night when so many houses were lost. Those guys and gals are awesome!

– 73, Bob K0NR

Colorado 14er Event – Now With SOTA!

Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. The prime operating hours on August 5th are from approximately 9 AM to noon local time (1500 to 1800 UTC), but activity may occur at other times during the day.

New this year: Summits On the Air (SOTA)  activity, which adds 1700 additional 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 W0 SOTA web page for details.

Radio operators that plan to activate a summit should register their name and intended peak at the ham14er Yahoo! group.  To subscribe to the event mailing list, visit the yahoo groups site at . Also, be sure to check out the event information at ham14er.og

Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2M FM band plan uses a “calling frequency and move up” approach. The 2M FM calling 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, operators should move up the frequency using the standard channel spacing used in Colorado (15 kHz). Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.435 MHz, followed by 147.45, 147.465, 147.480, 147.495, 147.51, 147.525, 147.54, 147.555, 147.57 MHz.

Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up and share the band.

Frequency (MHz) Comments
147.42 Primary 2M FM Frequency, then up in 15 kHz steps
223.5 Primary 222 MHz FM frequency
446.000 Primary 70 cm FM frequency
446.025 Alternate 70 cm FM frequency
52.525 Primary 6M FM frequency
1294.5 Primary 1.2 GHz FM frequency
144.200 2M SSB calling frequency
50.125 6M SSB calling frequency
14.060 20M CW Frequency
21.060 15M CW Frequency
28.060 10M CW Frequency
14.260 20M SSB Frequency
18.1575 17M SSB Frequency
21.330 15M SSB Frequency
28.350 10M SSB Frequency
Other Bands/Modes Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply.

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

Zero Ohm Resistors

Mark Frauenfelder innocently (or cleverly) asks the question “What are zero ohm resistors for?”  on BoingBoing. The fun really starts in the comments section, with replies such as “They’re a novelty gift for electronic engineers.”

Take a look at the article here.

Yes, zero ohm resistors really do exist. Think of them as jumpers on a PC board.

73, Bob K0NR