DX, Artificial Scarcity and The List

dxEconomists see scarcity, supply and demand as fundamental forces in a market. Items that are scarce demand a higher price while items that are easy to obtain tend to have a lower price.  A diamond is an example of something that is relatively scarce (and in demand) so it commands a high price. In contrast, wood is generally available and is much less expensive than diamonds.

Then there’s the concept of artificial scarcity. If some items can be made scarce (or even just appear scarce), the price will tend to increase. For example, if I own all of the banana trees on an isolated island, I could reduce the available supply of bananas and command a higher price from all of the banana eaters there. Or maybe I start screening bananas for quality and I put a special sticker on them to brand them as special.

bananaWe have a case of artificial scarcity in ham radio, called the DXCC list. This list defines what is considered a separate country when chasing DX. (Actually, the correct term is entity, not country.) For example, Hawaii (KH6) and Alaska (KL7) are considered separate entities even though they are part of the United States. (See Is Alaska a Country?) For someone chasing DXCC entities, because Alaska is on The List, a radio contact with Alaska becomes more desirable. It’s kind of like putting a “premium sticker” on a banana to indicate that it is special.

In my imagination, the DXCC list resulted from a bunch of hams sitting around drinking beer and bragging about how many countries they had worked. One guy, Larry says he just worked Hawaii, bringing his total to 125 countries. His buddy Leroy says, “You can’t count Hawaii because it’s part of the US of A.”  To which Larry says, “You bet I can count Hawaii…and Texas too. It’s a whole ‘nuther country.” Clearly, we are going to need an official list to keep track of what counts as a country.  A more credible version of how the list got established is captured in this article from the October 1935 QST.

Of course, the two main factors that drive scarcity of DXCC entities is the ham radio population and ease of access. Radio contacts are easy to make with entities that have an active ham population. If an entity doesn’t have many active hams but is easy to get to, someone will probably put that location on the air once in a while.  On the other hand, some locations are unpopulated and really difficult to get to. These are not only on The List, they are on The Most Wanted List.

Kingman Reef (KH5) was just deleted from The List, instantly changing it from one of the most desired contacts in amateur radio to a big giant Why Bother. You see, there used to be 340 countries on the list but now there’s only 339. Kingman Reef will now be considered part of Palmyra/Jarvis, so it still has value for DXCC, just a lot less.

As I write this article, there is a major DXpedition (VKØEK) operating from Heard Island, an unpopulated island near Antartica. The only reason those guys are there is that Heard Island is on The List. Take a look at their web site and you’ll see how much time and energy has gone into activating this lonely island. Drop it from the list and suddenly a radio contact with this location is a lot less in demand.

So try to keep this all in perspective. There are lots of radio contacts out there to be made, some more interesting and desirable than others. It is appropriate and necessary that we have the DXCC list, to provide consistency in how we count countries, I mean entities. But really, it all traces back to Larry and Leroy arguing about who worked the most countries.

Thanks to the dedicated DXpeditioners that put these rare locations on the air.

73, Bob K0NR

Yaesu FT-1DR: A Trail Friendly SOTA HT

A common topic in the QRP community is the Trail Friendly Radio (TFR) concept for backpack-style operating on the high-frequency bands. I’ve adapted the concept for the VHF/UHF bands, calling it the VHF Trail Friendly Radio (VTFR).

IMG_0728edit

Strong candidates for the best VTFR include the Elecraft KX3 (with 2m option) and the Yaesu FT-817. Heck, both of these radios deliver all of the HF bands, 6m and 2m in one portable package. (The FT-817 also has 70cm.) See my blog post that compares the two rigs.

But the other set of strong contenders for the best VTFR is one of the many dualband HTs available on the market. It is hard to beat the compact, portable attributes of these great little radios for casual use on the trail. I’m not going to review them all but instead talk about my current favorite: the Yaesu FT-1DR. (Yaesu has recently replaced the FT-1DR with the newer model FT1XDR, which is the same design but with an improved GPS receiver and larger battery pack.)

My main usage of the radio is when hiking and doing Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations. This radio has a lot to offer in terms of capability and features, but the main things that stand out are 2m/70cm band coverage, two independent receivers and built-in GPS/APRS capability. Most SOTA VHF operating is on 2m fm so that band is critical, but I also make contacts on 70cm. More important is that together 2m and 70cm covers that vast majority of fm repeaters in my state, providing the best backcountry repeater coverage. The built-in APRS features allow the HT to be an effective tracking device as I move down the trail. SOTA chasers can see my position in real-time and anticipate when I’ll be on the summit. The radio has two separate receivers which turns out to be very useful when on the trail. With two receivers, I can monitor 146.52 MHz (2m fm calling frequency, often used for SOTA) while also keeping an ear on a local 2m or 70cm repeater. Another configuration is using one side of the radio to ping my location via APRS while the other side monitors 146.52 MHz.

The extended receive capability of the radio opens up lots of listening options: AM broadcast, FM broadcast, airband, shortwave and NOAA weather radio. I don’t use these very often but there are times that I want to tune to weather or news.

I am not a huge fan of Yaesu’s C4FM digital mode but do use it on occasion. The DN (digital narrow) mode supports voice and position information simultaneously, so Joyce KØJJW and have been using it to keep track of each other on the trail. The radio provides a basic indication of distance and direction to another C4FM radio.

A few other tips: if you buy an FT-1DR, I recommend upgrading the belt clip to the BC-102 clip from Batteries America. It is way better than the standard one from Yaesu. Michael KX6A created a very handy quick reference card for operating the FT-1D, so consider putting one in your pack.

73, Bob KØNR

Winter SOTA Activation of Kaufman Ridge North

Today, Joyce KØJJW and I activated Kaufman Ridge North (W0C/SP-085) for Summits On The Air (SOTA). We’ve been on the summit before, including the first ever SOTA activation back in September of 2012. This summit is close to our cabin, so it made for a convenient hike. The mountain is not that difficult of a climb but we encountered quite a bit of snow in March, up to three feet in places, which we tromped across with snowshoes.

IMG_0720edit
Joyce K0JJW on snowshoes in typical trail conditions

My blog posting about the next mountain to the south, Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081), outlines a good way to access both summits during the summer. However, a seasonal gate closure (December to April) means we needed to find a different route. We approached the mountain from the north, parking our vehicle on Castle Court (a short side road off of Kaufman Road). We quickly crossed what appears to be private property (empty lot, no signs) to get to the US Forest Service boundary. Once we hopped the fence we were on public lands. We intentionally routed to the east to avoid some houses.

Snowshoe route shown to summit of Kaufman Ridge North
Snowshoe route shown to summit of Kaufman Ridge North. We parked at Castle Court, the unlabeled road that connects with Kaufman Road.

I don’t claim that this route is optimal. We had to break a lot of trail, pushing through the snow. We found a section of trail that had recent snowshoe traffic on it but it wasn’t of much use to us heading to the summit. We followed numerous game trails which appeared and disappeared on the side of the mountain. Mostly, we busted through the snow on our own. Surprisingly, the last quarter mile to the summit had little snow, so we removed our snowshoes at that point and just hiked in boots.

IMG_0728editMy Yaesu FT-1DR has become my favorite rig for SOTA activations. It covers both 2m and 70cm with dual-receiver capability. it has a built-in GPS receiver and APRS capability that facilitates easy APRS tracking. Joyce and I have a pair of these which we’ve been using to track each other’s positions on the few occasions we get separated on the trail.

 

 

Bob K0NR knocks out a few 2m fm contacts from the summit
Bob K0NR knocks out a few 2m fm contacts from the summit

After we made the summit, I made a few contacts on 146.52 MHz. Thanks to Jim KDØMRC, Dave KØHTX, Carl K5UK and Candy KEØDMT for giving me my four required SOTA contacts.

The weather turned out to be better than predicted…partly cloudy and temps around 50 degrees F. On the way back down, we retraced our ascent path so we had more of a snowshoe trail to follow. I have to admit that this trip was a good lesson in how off-trail snowshoeing can really be a challenge. This was many times more difficult than a summer trail hike of equal length and elevation gain. Trip stats: 2.6 total miles, 1300 vertical feet.

At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

73, Bob K0NR

V29RW: Slacker DXpedition to Antigua

Recently, I had another opportunity to take ham radio along on vacation to a Caribbean island, this time to Antigua. This was not a super-gonzo turbo-charged DXpedition. I just worked in some radio action in between snorkeling and beach walking. This is referred to as a “holiday style” DXpedition, or maybe it’s just the slacker approach.

qsl card beach
V29RW QSL Card

Radio Equipment

The radio gear needed to fit easily into my luggage. After all, we’ve got snorkel gear to take along. I wanted to put out a healthy signal from the island, so I rejected the idea of running QRP, opting instead for a 100W transmitter. Ultimately, I chose to take a Yaesu FT-991 which is full-power and full-featured but still relatively compact. It easily fit into my carry-on bag along with some other items. Having a built-in antenna tuner was a real plus and it was also good to have the 2m and 70 cm bands.

operating position
Patio operating position with FT-991 and logging computer

Choosing an antenna was a critical item. My first thought was to take my Buddistick antenna which covers the HF bands I was interested in working: 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m. I used that antenna from the Virgin Islands and it was really handy for taking to the beach. This time I wanted something bigger under the theory that size does matter. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to take full size yagis for each of the bands. I finally settled in on using End-Fed Half Wave (EFHW) antennas for the 4 bands (from LNR Precision). This gave me a simple half-wave antenna on each band with no coils, no traps, nothing funny going on. These antennas radiate well and have decent bandwidth…any SWR degradation can be tweaked up quickly using the FT-991 antenna tuner.

antenna pole
End-fed half-wave antenna supported by SOTABeams pole

Steve WGØAT suggested I use the SOTABEAMS 30-foot mast to support the EFHW antennas. It is an incredible mast that collapses to 26.5 inches, small enough to fit into my bag. This antenna set up is common with the SOTA activators: EFHW supported by some kind of lightweight pole. I also tossed in a 19-inch magmount antenna for 2m and 70cm. (I did find a good repeater on on 147.0 MHz but did not spend much time on it.)

end fed half wave
Close up of the EFHW antenna matching network

Rounding out the kit was an Astron switching power supply, a 25-foot length of RG-8X coaxial cable, a Heil Traveler headset and a few patch cords. I found it tempting to keep throwing more stuff in the bag so I adopted the backpacker mentality of taking just what I needed and not much more. For computer logging, I chose N1MM Plus software, with the log type set to “DX”.

I have to confess that I did manage to break the 30-foot mast early in the trip. The house was on a hill and we always had a strong breeze coming through. One day it flexed the mast enough to break it. This was quickly repaired with duct tape. After that, I did not use the 3 top sections of the mast which reduced the amount of sway in the wind (and stress on the mast).

On The Air

Bob K0NR
Bob KØNR operating as V29RW in Antigua

My operating time was a bit sporadic and my operating strategy was simple: work the highest band (of 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m) that had some decent propagation to somewhere. Antigua is not extremely rare but it seemed to attract attention. Typically, I called CQ, worked a few stations and then a big pileup would develop. I made lots of QSOs with stations in North America, South America and Europe. I also made a few contacts into Africa but none with Asia. Signal reports were generally good (S9 +), so the antennas were doing the job.

All in all, I was pleased with the contacts I made, given the slacker effort. I especially enjoyed working 17m, a band I have not spent that much time on. The propagation is similar to 20m but noticeably less jammed with signals.

  Band  QSOs DXCC
    14   309   36
    18   162   13
    21    21   10
    28    91    6
 Total   583   65

QSLs for V29RW should be sent to my home callsign: KØNR (direct or via the bureau). Logbook of the World contacts have already been confirmed. Instant gratification, baby!

73, Bob KØNR, V29RW

Licensing info: It was relatively easy to get a ham radio license in Antigua, based on my US license (fees were $30 US). See this web page.

16 Mar 2016: V29RW QSLs have been sent out via US mail based on cards received

January VHF Contest Plus SOTA

A view of Pikes Peak from Mt Herman.
A view of Pikes Peak from Mt Herman.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a January VHF contest from a mountaintop so I decided to give it a try from Mount Herman this year. The ARRL recently changed the contest rules to allow the use of the national 2m fm calling frequency for contests. See Coming Soon: 146.52 MHz in ARRL VHF Contests. I wanted to see how this change would play out in practice when doing a combination VHF Contest plus SOTA activation. In previous attempts, I had to vector the SOTA activity to another 2m fm frequency for it to be a legal contact for the contest. The SOTA + Contest operation is attractive because it has all the elements of a fun SOTA hike coupled with the increased activity of a VHF contest. The contest brings out the weak-signal folks with very capable stations, increasing the probability of making some good DX contacts.

Bob K0NR using an HT to make contacts on 446.0 MHz FM.
Bob K0NR using an HT to make contacts on 446.0 MHz FM.

 

Joyce KØJJW and I hit the trail at 10:30 AM local with the goal of being at the summit around noon (1900 UTC) for the start of the ARRL contest. The trail was icy, but manageable with the gripping devices on our boots. The weather was chilly but not bad for January. At the summit, I configured my FT-60 handheld radio for 146.52 MHz using a 2m half-wave vertical. My first call netted a QSO with Tim, KAØMWA in Castle Rock. I worked a few other stations on 2m fm and then set up the 2m ssb station (FT-817 plus Arrow II antenna). On 144.200 MHz SSB, I contacted two Wyoming stations in grid DN71, about 140 miles away. I also gave a call on 446.0 MHz fm and worked W3DHJ and KE0HBW mobile.

Freq    Mode    UTC     Call     Grid
146.52    FM    1900    KA0MWA   DM79
146.52    FM    1902    N0AXK    DM79
146.52    FM    1905    N0LP     DM79
146.52    FM    1905    K0GPA    DM79
146.52    FM    1905    WG0AT    DM79
146.52    FM    1920    N0ISB    DM78
146.52    FM    1923    N0LEA    DN70
144.2    SSB    1932    WY7KY    DN71
144.2    SSB    1935    K0ALE    DM79
144.2    SSB    1938    AB0YM/R  DM79
144.2    SSB    1939    KG0RP    DN70
144.2    SSB    1940    WA7KYM   DN71
144.2    SSB    1942    KC4YLV   DM79
446.0    FM     1948    W3DHJ    DM78
144.2    SSB    1949    WE7L     DM79
144.2    SSB    1951    N0SP     DM79
446.0    FM     2000    KE0HBW   DM79

The wind was strong at the summit and kept blowing everything around, making it difficult to operate the radio and manage the antennas. After an hour of operating, I decided to QRT and head on down. I know I missed a bunch of potential contacts, especially having not gotten on 70 cm and 6m ssb.

Except for the short operating time, the operation played out as expected. I was able to work the SOTA folks and 2m fm enthusiasts on 146.52 MHz. I made it a point to not hog the calling frequency, as there are quite a few folks that monitor there. Switching over to 2m ssb, I worked the contest crowd, typically with more capable vhf stations. My score is a whopping 114 points, in the single-op portable category.

Thanks to everyone that got on the air to play radio that day!

73, Bob KØNR

2016 SOTA Activity Days

Bob summitSummits On The Air (SOTA) operating events are a great way to promote activity and create opportunities for summit-to-summit radio contacts. Here’s the 2016 calendar, an update of the 2015 list suggested by Guy N7UN. Many of these dates are aligned with VHF events but there will be HF activity as well.

IMG_1836Of course, any day is a good day for SOTA activity.  The August 6-7 weekend looks to be the alignment of the planets with four events happening around that weekend. Early August usually offers excellent conditions for hiking the highest peaks in Colorado, so come on out and play.

For more info on VHF SOTA, see How To Do a VHF SOTA Activation.

Get off the couch, put on your hiking boots, grab your backpack, grab your radio but most important: get on the air!

73, Bob K0NR

ISO-TIP 7700 Soldering Iron Review

Model 7700
Model 7700 soldering iron

I recently had the opportunity to try out a new ISO-TIP 7700 soldering iron. This is a rechargeable soldering iron without a lot of extra features but it is plenty capable for small soldering tasks. Here’s a few specs from the ISO-TIP web site:

MODEL #7700
– Fully recharges in 3.5 to 4.0 hours
– Partially charged battery to full capacity in one to two hours
– Up to 125 soldering joints per charge during continuous use
– Withstands high-rate charging without damage
I’ve been on the lookout for a simple construction project for our local radio club and had acquired a Blinkey Kit from rainbowkits.com. This is a simple two-LED flasher circuit using the venerable 555 timer. I decided it was also a great little project to try out the 7700 soldering iron. Assembly was very simple, requiring 24 solder joints. The iron did a find job of heating up those joints. It takes about 2 to 3 seconds for the tip to heat up, plenty fast for my needs.
IMG_0414soldering
Soldering iron in action

Here’s a short video of the circuit blinking away, proving that I can solder together a simple circuit: Video of circuit blinking Yes, the circuit did work the first time.

The soldering iron performed well, no complaints at all. With only 24 joints to solder, I did not stress the capacity of the iron (which is rated at 125 joints). This is a relatively light duty iron, so I wondered how well it would do against a physically large soldering task. Soldering a PL-259 coaxial connector is a common task for amateur radio work, one that takes a lot of heat. I was surprised to find that the 7700 was able to heat up the center pin of the connector quite nicely. I was not surprised that it struggled with heating the body of the connector. I think that is asking too much of this size soldering iron. The only nit I would pick is I’d really like a LED power/charging indicator. I am always nervous about whether a device is plugged in, getting power, really charging and a simple indicator would solve that. But that is a very minor issue and probably speaks more about my personal paranoia than the soldering iron.
This iron has quickly become my “Go To” tool for quick soldering jobs. I don’t do major kit assembly and other big soldering tasks. I just need a little soldering here and there and this baby is always in the charging stand ready to go. To order the soldering iron (and see other products), visit http://www.iso-tip.com/products-page/
Use discount code YT1510 to get 10% off store wide.
73, Bob K0NR
Disclosure: this soldering iron was provided to me by ISO-TIP at no charge.

The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado

K0NR Operating VHF on Mt Herman
K0NR Operating VHF on Mt Herman (Photo: Ken Wyatt WA6TTY)

I’ve often said that Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) is the most (ham) radio active mountain in Colorado. Many of us have operated from that summit for VHF contests, QRP events and Summits On The Air (SOTA). Of course, I didn’t have any data to back that claim…until now. A review of the cumulative SOTA activations in Colorado through Jan 1, 2016 shows these four summits as the most-activated SOTA peaks.

Summit SOTA Designator Number of Activations
Mount Herman W0C/FR-063 95
Pikes Peak W0C/FR-004 53
Mount Evans W0C/FR-003 33
Squaw Mountain W0C/PR-082 31

All of these summits are relatively close to the large population centers in the state. Also, they not that difficult to get to and some of them have roads that go to the top. Pikes and Evans are both 14ers but can be accessed via 2WD vehicles.

But what makes Mount Herman so special? It does not have a road to the summit — you definitely have to hike it, a little bit more than a mile one way with elevation gain of ~1000 feet. What makes the difference for Herman is that it is in the backyard of the well-known radio ham, goat hiker and SOTA enthusiast, Steve WGØAT. Steve has personally activated the summit more than 30 times AND he drags along mentors encourages other radio hams to join him. Frank KØJQZ did 22 activations, some with Steve and many on his own. (Frank just achieved SOTA Mountain Goat status, activating enough summits to earn 1000 SOTA points.) Fortunately for me, Mt Herman is about 4 miles as the GPS flies from my house, so I have worked that summit 31 times (usually Steve or Frank and always on 2 meters). I’ve also activated Mt Herman for SOTA three times, as described here: A Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation, Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest and Winter Assault on Mt Herman.

Here’s one of Steve’s fun videos that captures the first SOTA activation of Mt Herman, with his goat crew Peanut and Rooster (SK).

Frank and Steve, thanks for all of the Q’s from Mt Herman over the past years! See you on the air and on the trail.

73, Bob KØNR

Winter Assault on Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063)

On the last day of the year, it seemed like a good idea to get in one more SOTA activation. It turns out that I had not been up Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063) all year, even though it’s close by. See this page for the trail description. Joyce KØJJW and I decided to hike up in the morning, reaching the summit around 11 AM local time.  This was my third SOTA activation of Mt Herman, but I’ve operated from there many more times in various VHF contests (back before SOTA was a thing in Colorado).

Trail conditions
Winter conditions on Mount Herman trail.

The road to the trailhead (Mt Herman Road, FS 320) was in very good condition but snowpacked and icy. This road is not plowed during the winter but it is often passable with a decent 4WD vehicle. Today, you could make it to the trailhead with 2WD and some careful driving. The trail conditions were typical for winter time: almost completely covered in snow with a few bare spots showing here and there. The trail was packed powder and not particularly icy. Still, we appreciated having traction devices on our boots. This trail can be downright treacherous when it ices up, so traction devices (Yaktrax, Microspikes, etc.) are highly recommended. Trekking poles can be helpful, too.

K0JJW K0NR
Joyce K0JJW and Bob K0NR on the trail.

Once at the summit, I used my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and a half-wave vertical antenna to work people on 146.52 MHz. Having notified a number of people that I would be on the air, I actually had a bit of a pile up on 2m fm. In short order, I worked KE5QNG, WA6MM, KH7AL, WG0AT, W7AWH, K9MAP, K0JQZ, K9DBX, W0STU, KD0MFO, WB0ROK, KD0VHD and KL7IZW. Best DX was about 50 miles with W7AWH in Pueblo West. Thanks to everyone that got on the air to work me.

The weather was cold, about 15 deg F, so we didn’t stay too long on the summit and headed back down the trail. OK, maybe “winter assault” is a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s call it a fun hike in cold weather.

73, Bob K0NR

Other postings on SOTA activation of Mt Herman:
Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation (W0C/FR-063)
Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest

Top Five K0NR Blog Posts from 2015

blog graphicAs we approach the end of the year, it is fun to look back to see which blog posts were read the most. WordPress has some great tools that make this easy to do.

The most read post on k0nr.com concerns the use of amateur gear outside the ham bands: Can I Use My Ham Radio on Public Safety Frequencies? Actually, I have two blog postings that cover the same topic but one of them is a bit out of date. They both get lots of hits, but I’ve linked to the one that is updated. This is a hot topic as many people still believe strongly that no ham gear is legal on Part 90 frequencies (read through the comments on that post). This is why I took the time to write about it, attempting to explain it and educate the ham community.

The second hottest post was quite controversial: Are Kids the Future of Ham Radio? I got a ton of feedback on this one. People either resonated with its message or just thought it was crazy. I wanted to start a discussion on the topic so I guess it met that objective. Although it is hard to have a discussion when someone says your post is ridiculous. (Disclosure: the original title of the posting was Kids Are Not the Future of Ham Radio, which I later toned down.)

It’s a bit sad that this next post is still so popular: Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem. There is a really frustrating problem with how the Windows driver works with certain USB interface chips. Many folks who went out and bought low cost Baofeng (and other) radios got totally hosed up by this. Hence, the need for and the popularity of this blog posting.

Mobile radio installations are always a bit of an exploration, so I try to share what I learn when doing one. People seem to appreciate this kind of article and often ask followup questions via email. For whatever reason, my 2012 Jeep Wrangler Radio Install post continues to be a popular post on my blog.

One of my classic articles is the FM/VHF Operating Guide, just some basic information to help people get started with FM and repeater operating. I update it from time to time and it gets quite a few hits.

Hey, thanks for stopping by k0nr.com. Best of luck to you in the New Year.

73, Bob K0NR

Ten Year Trends in US Ham Licenses

fcc-1In November 2005, I took a look at some statistics on FCC amateur radio licenses. At that time, I compared the number of ham licenses to such things as the US population, number of cell phones in use and the number of birdwatchers in the US. Interesting stuff.

Ten years later, we can take a look at the how the composition of FCC licenses has changed. The total number of licenses has grown to over 733k, increasing 11% over 10 years. This is a small growth rate, only 1% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).

Extra Advanced General Technician Novice Total
Nov 2005 107,177 74,351 135,023 317,839 26,882 661,272
16% 11% 20% 48% 4% 100%
Nov 2015 139,515 48,272 172,239 362,580 10,988 733,594
19% 7% 23% 49% 1% 100%
% Change 30% -35% 28% 14% -59% 11%

Source: www.ah0a.org

No surprise that the number of Advanced and Novice licenses has decreased because the FCC stopped issuing those licenses. Technicians represent about half of the licenses, a proportion that has remained steady over the decade, increasing 1 point.  The percent of Generals increased by 3 points, to 23%. Similarly, Extra Class licenses increased by 3 points to 19%.

I reported the ARRL membership as approximately 152k in 2005. The 2014 ARRL Annual Report shows 165,663 members resulting in a growth rate of about 9% over 9 years (not ten). I’ll go ahead and “spot them” another point of growth in the tenth year and call it 10% over ten years. So it seems that ARRL membership is roughly keeping pace with the growth in amateur radio licenses, put probably not gaining on it.

Another question is how are amateur radio licenses keeping pace with US population growth? During the period of 2005 to 2015, the US population grew about 9%, which means that the number of FCC licenses is actually growing slightly faster than the overall population. Source: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/

At this point, many of us will ask how many of those FCC license holders are actually active in ham radio. Hard to say…perhaps a topic for another post.

73, Bob K0NR

Sorry, I’ve Been On 2m FM Again

This recycled post from 2008 is still accurate, but I do have my HF antenna up and recently used it for the CQ WW SSB Contest.

FT-7900R_thumbI was looking out the window the other day and noticed that my wire HF antenna is laying on the ground. Hmmm, probably doesn’t radiate very well that way. But if I put a long, lossy coaxial cable in line, the SWR will still be good at the transmitter. And I can tell my buddies that it works just fine because “I can work everyone that I hear.” (What a dumb thing to say.)

This made me realize that most of my ham radio activity lately has been on 2m FM. Actually it has been on 2m and 70cm FM, as I tend to lump these two activities together. These days, my VHF/UHF FM rigs have at least 146 MHz and 440 MHz in them (FT-7800, FT-8900, etc.). I cruise down the road and flip on the rig, talk to the locals, talk to the XYL, etc. It is just too easy and too convenient. It fits the mobile lifestyle, whether it means operating a mobile rig in the car or grabbing an HT to take along on a business trip. (I used to run HF and SSB VHF mobile but found that the rigs were rarely used, so I removed the gear from my vehicle.)

Of course, I need to apologize to the rest of the ham community for this failure to act according to accepted social norms. You know how it is…Real Hams operate HF, weak-signal VHF, microwaves, etc……almost anything that is not 2m FM. Every so often I hear that comment about “well, those techs just hang out on 2m FM,” implying that those guys are permanently stuck in ham radio middle school, unable to graduate to the next level. Or sometimes the FM operators are referred to as having “shacks on the belt” which are dependent on the “box on the hill.” The main message is that 2m FM is just too easy, too plug-n-play, too much like an appliance….too convenient. We certainly can’t have that!

Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy HF, DXing, contesting, digital modes, almost anything to do with amateur radio. That’s the cool thing about the hobby…so many bands, so many modes. One of my favorite activities is operating the major VHF contests. (I’ve even been known to make a few CW contacts.) But on a day-to-day basis 2m FM just seems to fit in better.

Some people call 2m FM the Utility Mode, because it is the mode that gets the job done. Last week, we had a weather net activated to track thunderstorms and a few tornadoes. Did this happen on 40m? I don’t think so. Two meters carried the load. Where do most of the ARES and RACES nets meet? Two meters. How is most public service communications handled? Two meter FM. Even some hard core HF DX enthusiasts are known to flip over to 2m FM to tell their buddies that the DXpedition to a rare country is on the air. It is the Utility Mode.

Over the weekend, I was driving through the mountains and heard an aeronautical mobile working stations simplex on 146.52 MHz…lots of fun. Another time, I heard a station calling about 80 miles away (I was in a high spot) and I had the pleasure of making that contact….again, on 2m FM. A few weeks ago, I operated in the Colorado 14er Event from the summit of Pikes Peak. Since many of the mountaintop stations had hiked up, the most popular mode of the day was (you guessed it) 2m FM.

So sorry, I have been hanging out on 2m FM. I’ll try to get that HF antenna back in the air one of these days.

73, Bob K0NR

Announcing: Technician License Class (Black Forest, CO)

W0TLMHam Radio Two-Day License Class

Sat Feb 27 and Sat Mar 5 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2016
Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1, Black Forest, CO

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 a non-refundable $30 registration fee for the class ($20 for students under 18).

In addition, students must have the required study guide and read it before attending the two-day class: HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course $20.95
(make sure you get the most recent edition of this book, updated for the new FCC exam questions)

Advance registration is required (no later than one week before the first session, earlier is better! This class usually fills up weeks in advance.)

To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR
Email: bob@k0nr.com

Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association
For more information on amateur (ham) radio visit www.arrl.org or www.wedothat-radio.org

Just Another VHF SOTA Contact

On Sunday, I noticed that Brad WA6MM posted that he planned to activate Dakota Hill (W0C/SR-051) for Summits On The Air (SOTA). Dakota is not a good VHF shot from my house but I was planning to be mobile out east towards Black Forest that morning, so it was worth a try. I texted Brad to let him know I’d be looking for him on 2m fm.

WA6MM to K0NR map - Dakota HillHeading south on Highway 83, the road was gaining elevation when Brad let me know he would soon be on the air. Dakota Hill is 10,929 feet and set back into the mountains, so I wasn’t sure if I could make the RF trip over Palmer Divide to work him. I pulled over at the crest of the hill and made a call. Brad had moved off 146.52 MHz due to some intermod interference and was on 146.55 MHz. Brad was using his trusty handheld radio running 5 watts into a half-wave antenna while I had a 50 watt mobile with a 1/4-wave antenna on the roof of the SUV. We made the contact without too much trouble…his signal was half scale on my meter. I listened to Brad work another station as I drove on, losing elevation and losing Brad’s signal on the other side of the hill. That was apparently THE SPOT to make the contact. Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) is a key factor for VHF SOTA.

I put WA6MM into the log, scoring 6 SOTA chaser points for the 70 mile QSO. No, this wasn’t a rare DX station, no new record set, nothing that exceptional to report, actually. But it was a fun contact, with Brad hiking to a summit in December and me trying to find a location to work him.

This is why I like VHF on SOTA. Just another example of having fun messing around with radios.

73, Bob K0NR

POW Canteen Radio

Earlier this year, I was talking ham radio stuff with Brian Hutchison, AI6GH. Brian mentioned that his father was a Prisoner of War (POW) in World War II and built a radio while in a Japanese prison camp. I’ve read articles about vintage and spy radios from WWII, but I’ve never been that interested in the topic. When Brian told me about his father, I thought “Holy Grid Current! He built a radio as a POW? Now that’s interesting.” The more I learned about the story, the more I became fascinated by it.

canteen radio drawing - signal corp book
Canteen radio drawing from the book: The Signal Corps: The Outcome.

Brian pointed me to some great resources that tell the story. I started with the March 2013 Newsletter of the Palo Alto Amateur Radio Association. Hiro Kato AH6CY has an interesting article describing two different clandestine radios, one of them built by Captain Russell J. Hutchison, Brian’s father. It was a one-tube shortwave receiver intended to keep the prisoners informed about the progress of the war. Mostly, they wanted to know when the invasion of Japan would occur. The radio was built into and disguised as an ordinary water canteen, obtaining its power from an electric light socket.

The book Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific by Gavan Daws provides some insight into Hutchison’s parts procurement:

At Davao the Japanese camp commandant put out a call for a prisoner who could fix radios. Hutchison got the job, plus a commission from the senior POW officer to build a secret shortwave set. The camp machine shop was a happy hunting ground for him. He fixed the commandant’s personal radio, an American Zenith. The other Japanese brought in their looted sets, Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward brands, also a 35-millimeter Simplex movie projector with a sound amplifier that needed work. Every chance Hutchison got, he liberated parts. From a broken-down car radio he lifted a couple of tube sockets. He scrounged capacitors and condensers and resistors and a voltage meter, a headset that had survived a fire, everything up to four new tubes still in their packages.

My next stop was the website of Tim Sammons N6CC,  who built a replica of the shortwave canteen receiver. This single-tube regenerative receiver has a regeneration control, a main tuning capacitor, bandspread tuning capacitor and an antenna tuning capacitor. See N6CC’s webpage for a schematic and other interesting technical details.

N6CC Replica Canteen Radio
N6CC Replica Canteen Radio

This book is available online: The Signal Corps: The Outcome by Thompson and Harris that provided further background (and the figure at the top of this article). Another valuable resource is First Into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War

This is a intrigung story of technological innovation under the most extreme circumstances. Most of us have never experienced such adversity that these POWs endured. Some of them managed to also built clandestine radios. A truly amazing story to consider as we enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.

73, Bob K0NR

Are Kids the Future of Ham Radio?

ham radio kidsYou’ve heard it a million times: our kids are the future. That statement gets applied to almost everything, including amateur radio. How can you argue with an obvious fact like that?

But I am starting to think it is incorrect.

We’ve had really good success on creating new hams of all ages in our Technician License Class (at the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association). We’ve been doing this for a while now and I think I am seeing a pattern emerge. We’ve been able to attract middle schoolers to the class and help them get their ham radio license. I’ve talked to many of them on the air. They’ve helped out with public service events. They seem to have fun playing with radios.

Then this thing called high school happens. The high school phase in the US is filled with tons of stuff to do: studying, homework, AP classes, science competitions, sports, dating, movies, driving and after school jobs. Way too much stuff. Ham radio starts to take a backseat to these normal high school activities. Then we don’t see the kids at the radio club meetings or chatting on the local repeater because they are busy doing other things. Have we lost them forever? Not sure.

High school is often followed by college which has its own set of challenges: a totally new environment, away from home, a new set of people, new studies, etc. There might be a ham radio club on campus but maybe not. If a kid is not off to college they are (hopefully) out doing something to establish themselves in this world. Eventually they emerge on the other side, get a job, get themselves established, sometimes with a spouse and maybe a kid or two. By this time they are 25 to 30 years old, depending on the individual.

I recently posted about the demographics of our students in the Tech License Class. The chart below shows the age distribution of our students from our most recent class. Hmmm, clearly most of our students are 30 or older. (Sorry, we have not collected age data with finer resolution.) This particular class is light on the under 18 crowd…sometimes we have a clump of kids in the mix.

chart1For whatever reason, it seems that most people find themselves in a situation as an adult that causes them to say “I want to get my ham radio license.” When asked why they want to get their ham license, the top response is always emergency/disaster communications, followed by backcountry communications, pursuing electronics as a hobby and learning about radio communications. I suspect that starting to be established in a community and having some disposable income also play a role.

My hypothesis is that the most effective way of growing a vibrant ham radio community is to target adults ages 25 to 40.

This age range is more equipped and ready to be ham radio operators and are still young enough that they will be around for a while. Of course, we still want to work with all age groups, including kids and retirees. We’ve all seen very young hams get the bug for ham radio early and carry it throughout their life. And we also see plenty of older folks get interested in the hobby as they approach or enter retirement. We don’t want to miss out on either of those groups.

So that’s my read on the situation. I’ve got some data to support my theory but I can’t really prove it. What do you think? What are you seeing in your ham radio community?

73, Bob KØNR

Where Are The New Technicians Coming From?

W0TLMWe just wrapped up our Technician license class sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association. Thirty people took the Technician exam with 27 passing (90%). Four people went on to pass the General exam.

We offer the class twice per year and it always fills to capacity. Invariably, we wonder “where are these new hams coming from?” and instituted a survey to try to find out. Here’s the data from the most recent class, which is typical of previous classes.

Demographics

The class was almost all male (90%) and mostly above the age of 30. From time to time, we’ve had groups of Boy Scouts come through the class which shifts the age profile a bit lower.

chart1We ask about how they found out about the class. These responses overlap so we have them check all that apply. Most of these people find out about the class through normal “ham radio channels”, including the ARRL web site. A few people in the “other” category mentioned notices published in local weekly newspapers.

chart 2Here’s where it gets interesting. Why do they want to get their amateur radio license? Disaster and emergency communications continues to be the most common answer at almost 90%. This is followed by the closely-related Backcountry/Remote Communications (about 80%). About 60% of the respondents selected radio and electronics as a hobby. More than half said they want to learn about radio communications.

chart 3Not to be overlooked is the influence of family and friends at 45%. We often see family members of current radio hams that were badgered encouraged to get their radio license. We do see more than 20% that see a ham radio benefit to their involvement with fire, search and rescue, law enforcement and similar agencies.

Summary

Emergency and disaster preparedness rank high in the reasons why these people are interested in amateur radio. This may be fueled locally due to the recent devastating wildfires in Colorado. Many people experienced first hand what happens to the mobile phone and landline systems when disaster strikes. When All Else Fails. The other major motivation is the traditional hobby aspect of amateur radio. People like to learn about technology and have fun experimenting with it. Lately, this has taken the form of the Maker Movement.

73, Bob K0NR

HF Slacker Operation for CQ WW SSB

The CQ Worldwide DX SSB contest was last weekend and I applied my signature HF Slacker™ operating methodology to this event. Most of the HF gear I have is kept at our cabin in the mountains but I had to be at the house this weekend due to some commitments. I decided to apply Field Day principles and rig up whatever I could with equipment on hand.

FT-847I dug out the Yaesu FT-847 transceiver, an MFJ antenna tuner and a half-size G5RV antenna to configure a basic HF station. Using a fishing pole to cast a steel washer over a tall tree in the back yard, I rigged up the antenna between the tree and the house. The G5RV is a compromise antenna…I’d much rather have something like a trap or fan dipole. But it’s what I had on hand, so I made it work. The impedance presented by this antenna is all over the map, so a decent antenna tuner is a must.

G5RV editI started out on 15m with a few contacts to Europe and Central America. Later I moved up to 10m and made even more contacts there. I was mostly searching around for the best DX but still working a few stateside stations. Later in the afternoon, the bands swung towards the west and I managed to work KH7CW and JR3NZC before going QRT for the day.

Sunday morning brought more propagation, first to Europe, then the Caribbean and South America. The high point was working AHØBT in the Mariana Islands and VK2GGC in Australia. AHØBT was not real strong, maybe S5 at my location so I thought I’d struggle to punch through the noise and QRM on the band. However, it only took a couple of calls to make the contact. That’s what I like about the 10m band!

I used the N1MM logging program during the contest. A snapshot of the log is shown below.CQ WW SSB 2015 K0NR LogI only worked the contest intermittently on Saturday and Sunday, maybe 5 or 6 hours total operating time. Still, I managed to work 49 countries and 30 CQ Zones. That’s half way to DXCC on one weekend with a very basic HF station. Radio contests stimulate activity and DX contests bring out the DX. I point this out to encourage others to give it a try, even if they don’t have huge antennas on a tower and a linear amplifier.  Almost all of my contacts were on 15m and 10m, which tend to be more productive when conditions cooperate. Twenty meters gets jammed with high power stations so it is often tough going for the little pistols.

 Band     QSOs     Pts  Zone  Country
    14       2       3    2    2
    21      30      70   13   21
    28      52     136   15   26
 Total      84     209   30   49
Score: 16,511

Another weekend of having fun messing around with radios. Even if I’m an HF Slacker™. :-)

73, Bob K0NR

Digital Voice Balkanization

Digital transmissionWouldn’t it be cool if we had one digital communications format for the VHF/UHF amateur bands with all equipment manufacturers offering compatible products? The basic modulation and transport protocol would be standard with manufacturers and experimenters  able to innovate on top of that basic capability. There would be plenty of room to compete based on special features but all radios would interoperate at a basic level. You know, kind of like analog FM.

Yeah, we don’t have that. :-(

73, Bob K0NR

Graphic: Adapted from HamRadioSchool.com

Religion and Ham Radio

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgWe need to get the religion out of ham radio. No, I am not talking about the HF nets that support missionaries or similar activities. (Those people might actually be doing something good for the world.) I am talking about the religious debates concerning new technology…this technology is better than that technology.

Amateur radio is a technical hobby, one based on technology, hobbyist pursuits and mutual interest. One might think that this means issues are looked at objectively and discussions are based on logic, scientific principles and facts. Of course, this is completely wrong. What often shows up in ham radio are religious debates about technology or operating modes.

Here’s a definition of Religion:

a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

You can tell when you are stuck in a religious debate…the facts quickly fade and statements like “this is the right way to do it” become louder. Underneath this is a fundamental belief trying to come out that the person may not even be aware they have.

A long running example of a religious debate is Linux versus Windows. On the surface, people argue about which one has more defects, which one is more secure and which one ultimately serves their needs better. Underneath the surface is the religious belief: software should be free, Microsoft is evil, etc. Then there are those Mac enthusiasts (you know who you are)….these folks tend to act like a cult as they attempt to convert other people to their group. (Where is the line between enthusiast and cult member?)

The latest one on the ham radio front is the debate over digital technology in the VHF and higher bands: D-STAR versus DMR (and now Fusion). The debate starts out rational with a discussion of the merits of each but soon the deeply-held beliefs come out: D-STAR is bad because ICOM is pushing it, DMR is good because it is the commercial standard, D-STAR is good because it is an amateur radio standard, D-STAR uses a proprietary vocoder chip so it is bad, etc. Then don’t forget the guys that say “all digital is bad, analog FM is good.”

Again, you can tell when the religion kicks in because the facts start to fade and the beliefs rise to the surface. Usually, these arguments can’t be resolved because you can’t really debate beliefs. What you get instead are flame wars on the various email groups.

What other religious debates are out there? Android versus iOS, Open Source Software versus Commercial Software, My favorite rig versus Your favorite rig, … what else?

-73, Bob K0NR

This post is recycled and updated from a 2007 post. Some things never change.