This Spewed Out of the Internet #28

0511-0701-3118-0930More important things have spewed forth from the interwebz:

HamRadioNow interviews the Ham Hijinks guys and has the nerve to actually publish the video. Later the Hijinks crew posted this article about changes being made to Field Day.

Baofeng is going to change its name. Or is this just another Ham Hijinks article?

WE2F writes: 146.52 Reasons to Monitor VHF Simplex but whatever you do, do not use 146.52 MHz on Field Day. Mike AD5A posts Why Operate QRP from Summits? The FCC kicks the butt of a cell phone jammer manufacturer, to the tune of $34.9M and also fines a couple of 14.313 MHz problem children.

A Broadband Over Powerline (BPL) provider bites the dust. Did I mention that it is a really dumb idea to transmit bits over AC power lines?

I did a little explaining about those antenna connectors on handheld radios. Randy (K7AGE) has a neat video showing some basic 2m FM portable operating.

I knew it: Digital is overrated and vinyl is making a comeback. Really.

Due to popular demand, I updated the VHF QRP page. Yes, some radio hams do operate QRP above 50 MHz…apparently for the same reasons that people operate HF QRP. Which is to say we really don’t know why.

I also found that the domain name for the Colorado 14er Event was broken, so I fixed it. See ham14er.org  This event is the most fun you can have dorking around with radios in the Colorado mountains. Also, be sure to check out these operating tips.

73, Bob K0NR

Making Plans for the Colorado 14er Event

Colo14er SOTA logoThe Colorado 14er Event (Aug 3) is less than a month away so it is time to get ready. This event was born out of the basic observation that many hiking hams were taking along their radios (typically, a VHF/UHF handheld) when they climbed the Colorado 14,000 foot mountains. So we thought “let’s all climb on the same day and see who we can contact.” The typical 2m FM contacts have expanded to other frequencies and modes, including the high frequency bands, with the potential for worldwide propagation. We’ve also embraced the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program, opening up over 1700 summits in Colorado for ham radio activity.

How can you join in the fun? The most active way to participate is to operate from a summit. If you are interested in climbing 14ers, then you may want to operate from one of the 54 14,000 foot mountains. In my opinion, all of the 14ers are strenuous hikes, so be sure to assess your ability and check out the challenge of any summit you attempt. There are a few that you can drive up, Pikes Peak, Mount Evans and Mount Bross (4WD only). Note that a “non-motorized final ascent” is required if you want to qualify as a SOTA activation, which is encouraged. See this web page for some great tips on activating a SOTA peak. If you want to try something less difficult, consider one of the easier SOTA peaks (more than 1700 in Colorado). Everyone can find a SOTA peak that fits their particular hiking ability.

If you can’t get out and operate from a summit, you can still have fun trying to contact the radio hams on the various summits. There will be quite a bit of activity on 2m FM, starting with 147.42 MHz and moving up from there using the standard Colorado band plan. You’ll want to be roughly within “line of sight” to as many peaks as possible for working them on VHF. Many radio operators will be on the HF bands, too. See the recommended frequency list here.

Summits On The Air has some great infrastructure that we can use during the event. The SOTAwatch web site is using for “spotting” SOTA stations so that you know who is on the air. Spotting yourself is encouraged and can be done from many peaks using a mobile phone. SOTA Goat is a great iOS app for making and tracking spots.

Take a look at this posting for some additional SOTA resources. There’s quite a bit of information out there so take advantage of it. Remember, the Colorado 14er Event is based on the fundamental purpose of ham radio: to have fun messing around with radios. But  be careful out there, we don’t want anyone to get hurt.

Questions, comments, let me know.

73, Bob K0NR

Disclaimer: Climbing mountains in Colorado can be dangerous. Only you are responsible for your safety. In particular, be very aware of the lightning danger if you are hiking above treeline.

SOTA Activation: W0C/SP-089 Unnamed Summit

With the summer season definitely here, Joyce (K0JJW) and I climbed W0C/SP-089, an unnamed summit east of Buena Vista near Trout Creek Pass, for a Summits On The Air activation.  This summit is also referred to by its elevation: 10525. The mountain is quite majestic with a large rock face that rock climbers enjoy climbing.

View of W0C/SP-089

View of W0C/SP-089

To reach the summit, we drove a 4WD truck from Trout Creek Pass on Forest Service Road 311, connecting to FS Road 373. Four wheel drive is required for this road due to the steep sections, which may not be passable in muddy conditions. You can also approach from the Buena Vista side, see the San Isabel Forest Service Map. From 373 we took a side road (shown in blue on the map below) that is not always shown on maps. I believe it is marked 373A but I am not sure. We parked the truck at the lat/lon shown.

From there we hiked a non-technical route to the west of the summit, working our way up through the draw shown on the map. There were a few faint game trails here and there but mostly it was some challenging bushwhacking up that draw. The willows and sticker bushes made us glad that we had long pants on.  Also, there was quite a bit of downed timber to step over. The route got quite a bit easier once we got to the top of the draw, but still no trail. The elevation gain was only 1100 feet but it felt like a lot more work than that.

Map 10525As we neared the summit, I heard Bob (W0BV) calling me on 146.52 MHz. I had put out an email alert to some of the hams in the area so Bob and some others knew I was going to be out climbing. Once I got to the summit, I contacted Bob (W0BV) and quickly had a mini-pileup with several stations calling me. Mark (KF5WCY) visiting from TX gave me a call, followed by Carl (K5UK) near Mount Yale. Then I worked Jim (KD0MRC) in Buena Vista and Larry (KL7GLK) in Leadville. Thanks, guys, for getting on the air and contacting me!

I used my Yaesu FT-60 handheld transceiver and a 1/2-wave vertical antenna for these contacts. While I had my 3-element Yagi antenna with me, I did not bother to set it up.

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Bob (K0NR) and Joyce (K0JJW) on the summit

My spouse and hiking companion Joyce (K0JJW) and I have worked out a standard SOTA activating procedure. As we get close to the summit, she stops below the activation zone and I continue to the top. Then I work her on 146.52 MHz which guarantees a successful activation. It is possible to get skunked on 2m fm in the backcountry, so this is good insurance. This one QSO does not result in any SOTA points, since the rules require a minimum of four contacts for activation points. Next, Joyce joins me on the summit and we work whoever is out there. Lately, I’ve had pretty good luck getting at least 4 contacts on 2m fm. On the descent, she stays on the summit and I go down the mountain and work her once I am outside of the activation zone. That way, I am able to work the summit, too.  Then she leaves the summit, catches up with me and we descend the rest of the way together.

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

73, Bob K0NR

The One Frequency You Should Never Use on Field Day

2014_Field_Day_Logo_333_X_220“Based on Actual Events”

 

At the local radio club meeting, I encouraged everyone to get on the air during Field Day, which led to this conversation:

New Tech: I just have a 2 meter fm radio. Can I still make Field Day contacts?

Me: Sure, VHF contacts are encouraged during Field Day.

New Tech: So I just call on 146.52 MHz and see who’s out there?

Me: Well, no, the 2m fm calling frequency is not allowed for Field Day.

New Tech: Really? We can’t use any of the calling frequencies we learned during our license class?

Me: Well, no, all of the other standard calling frequencies are fine, just 146.52 MHz is prohibited.

New Tech: That seems really dumb.

Me: No comment.

Complete Field Day information is here : http://www.arrl.org/field-day

73, Bob K0NR

How To Do a VHF SOTA Activation

The Summits On The Air (SOTA) program has really taken off in North America. SOTA originated in the UK in 2002, so it took a little while for it to make it across the Atlantic to this continent. The basic idea of SOTA is to operate from a designated list of summits or to work other radio operators when they activate the summits. The list of designated summits are assigned scoring points based on elevation and there are scoring systems for both activators (radio operators on a summit) and chasers (radio operators working someone on a summit). See this blog posting for links to tons of information.

Most of the operating is on the HF bands but there are quite a few VHF contacts on SOTA. Obviously, HF has the advantage of being able to work longer distances without too much trouble. Typically, the HF station is your classic portable QRP rig, portable antenna and battery power. (A portable power source is required and the use of fossil fuels is prohibited.) Being a VHF enthusiast, I prefer the challenge of making contacts above 50 MHz, so my SOTA contacts are usually on 2 Meters or 70 cm.

HT with half wave

Handheld radio with 1/2-wave antenna

My basic VHF SOTA station is a handheld FM transceiver with a ½-wave telescoping antenna. The standard rubber duck on a handheld transceiver (HT) is generally a poor radiator so using a ½-wave antenna is a huge improvement. This simple station is an easy addition to my normal hiking routine…just stuff the HT and antenna in my backpack along with the usual hiking essentials and head for the summit.

To count as a SOTA activation, you need to make a minimum of 4 contacts from the summit. If I am hiking a summit within range of a major city, I can usually just make some random contacts by calling CQ on the National Simplex Calling Frequency, 146.52 MHz. However, operating in more remote areas requires a little more planning. I’d hate to hike all that way and come up short on the required contacts, so I use a few tactics to rustle up some VHF contacts. Of course, I will post my planned activation on the SOTAwatch site in advance, to let people know that I’ll be on the air. While this goes out worldwide, it may not reach the right radio amateurs within VHF range. The next thing I do is send an email to some of VHF-equipped hams I know will be within range. Many people respond to such a request to work a summit, even if they are active in SOTA. When on the summit, my first call is on 146.52 MHz or some other popular simplex frequency. If I don’t raise anyone there, I will make a call on a few of the 2M repeaters in the area to see if someone will come over to “five two” to make a contact. SOTA does not recognize repeater contacts but it is OK to solicit simplex contacts using a repeater. These techniques and a little patience have always gotten me at least four contacts, and usually quite a few more.

K0NR on Sneffels

K0NR operating with 2M yagi antenna on Mt Sneffels

The omnidirectional antenna of the basic VHF SOTA station will make some contacts, adding some antenna gain can really help your signal. There are a number of compact directional antennas that are easy to take hiking. Elk Antennas makes a log-periodic antenna that covers 2 Meters and 70 cm. Another popular antenna is the 2 Meter / 70 cm Yagi antenna made by Arrow Antenna. These antennas are lightweight and assemble/dissemble easily, which is important to hiking radio operators.

So far, most of the SOTA VHF activity in North America is on on 2m FM, the utility mode. Everyone seems to have a 2m HT, so tossing it in a backpack and heading out is a natural thing to do. Using my FT-817, I have made some VHF contacts on CW and SSB. See this posting about a recent SSB activation. These modes are much efficient than FM and the station on the other end is likely to be a big weak-signal station. Nothing like a big gun station with huge antennas to help pull your QRP signal out of the noise! I expect the use of CW and SSB to increase on VHF as SOTA becomes more popular. While FM activity uses vertical polarization (antenna elements are vertical), most SSB/CW activity uses horizontal polarization (antenna elements are horizontal).

Summits On The Air is a great way to take ham radio outdoors. So get off the couch, find a summit and have some fun with ham radio.

See my other SOTA postings here.

73, Bob K0NR

K0NR June VHF Contest 2013

My award certificate for the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest arrived in the mail this past week. The new VHF contest certificates look great, don’t you think? Nice job, ARRL!  Similar to other years, I operated from the family cabin at 9600 feet elevation in DM78 near Trout Creek Pass with temporary antennas (see my previous blog posting.) I knew that I scored OK in the contest but I’ve had higher scores in the past. The June VHF results article is a good summary of the national activity.

2013 June VHF0002

 

This was the first year for the Single Operator Three Band category, defined as operating on 50 MHz (100W limit), 144 MHz (100W limit) and 432 MHz (50W limit). I found this category to be very attractive because my interests are focused on VHF and not the higher bands. Often, I’ll just run 6m and 2m during VHF contests but with the three-band category it was not a big stretch to add in 70cm. The scoring system for the normal single operator categories provides a large incentive to operate on 1.2 GHz and higher, which makes it more difficult for a “VHF only” station to win in those categories. Some guys like the challenge of operating more bands and pushing the limits of going higher in frequency. I totally get that, so more power to them…it is just not that interesting to me.

It was not a big surprise that I took first place in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Division because there were only a handful of entries in my category. I was pleased to place third in the overall contest. I expect that competition in this category will get more intense as other single-op stations realize they can win in this category.  But limited to three bands and 100W, this competition will be more about propagation and operator skill, and less about deploying lots of gear.

The 2014 June VHF Contest is just around the corner (June 14-15), so time to get the station ready!

73, Bob K0NR

SSB Makes the Difference on Prospect Mountain

Spring is finally making an appearance in the Rocky Mountain region which means it is time to get on top of some SOTA peaks and transmit some RF energy. On Saturday, Joyce K0JJW and I had planned to drive through the Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park and also sneak in a quick SOTA activation. Matt K0MOS suggested a few peaks and we chose Prospect Mountain (W0C/FR-069) just south of Estes Park. See Matt’s trip report for a good overview of the hike.

Bob Prospect Mtn SOTA

For a low hassle SOTA activation, I usually just take my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and operate 2m FM. Most of the VHF activity is on FM anyway and I usually rustle up some SOTA contacts that way. On this trip, I also brought along my Yaesu FT-817 so that I could operate 2m ssb, to provide better weak signal options.  For SSB operation, my 3-element Arrow yagi antenna was mounted on my walking stick for easier pointing, with horizontal polarization.

FT-817 on a rockThe above photo shows the FT-817 in its Sitting-On-A-Big-Rock operating position, using the AMP-3 carrying case with lead-acid battery inside.

I had arranged a sked with Stu W0STU who was located ~100 miles away with a group of Scouts at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch. There wasn’t a solid radio path between our two locations, so I wasn’t sure if we’d make it or not. I did not think we could make the contact on FM but the efficiency of SSB should do better. He had a small yagi pointed in my direction driven by an FT-857 transceiver but we tried working on 144.200 MHz SSB without any success. Another station W6LEV near Loveland came up on the calling frequency so I worked him.

After working a few stations on 146.52 MHz using a half-wave whip on the FT-60, I decided to try to work W0STU one more time. I sent him a text message and confirmed that he was available. However, snow was moving into his location (welcome to spring) so  he had dismantled his yagi antenna and only had a vertical antenna on his truck. I told him to give me a call on 144.200 SSB and I’d try to find him. I flipped my yagi to vertical polarization and pointed in his direction.

At first, I heard nothing but noise. I was about to give up when I rotated my antenna around to see if the signal peaked up in another direction. Sure enough, when pointed S/SW, I could hear Stu’s signal rise to just above my noise floor. His actual direction from me was SE, so we were probably getting a reflection off one of the mountains to the south.  My signal was right at his noise floor, so we just barely completed a contact. Without the weak-signal performance of SSB and the gain of the yagi antenna, I am sure we would have never completed the contact. Another lesson is that it pays to point your antenna in different directions, since you don’t always know what the best propagation path will be.

Another fun day messing around with ham radio.

73, Bob K0NR

The KP2 Slacker DXpedition Guide

I’ve had several opportunities to take amateur radio along on vacation and do a little radio operating from other countries. I try not to focus too much on ham radio during such a trip, as it has a tendency to create marital discord and can suck the fun out of the vacation. Some people call this a “holiday style” DXpedition, or maybe it’s just the slacker approach.

IMG_2798

The marine yellow Baofeng UV-5R handheld transceiver got a lot of use.

St John USVI

Joyce (K0JJW) and I were planning a vacation with three other couples that we’ve known for years. It turns out that six of the eight have their ham licenses. (We’re still working on the last two.) Our primary goal was to find an island location with great beaches and snorkeling. Someone proposed the island of St John in the US Virgin Islands  and the idea took hold.

IMG_2528

The Buddistick antenna is mounted on the railing of the patio, overlooking the sea.

From a ham radio perspective, USVI is an interesting choice since it does count as a DXCC entity (“country”), even though it is a US possession. See my article on HamRadioSchool.com for more information on how that works. Anyone with an FCC license can operate from there without any special licensing or approval. KP2 is the prefix for USVI, so identify as KP2/<callsign> to indicate that you are operating from USVI.

Radio Gear

We were trying to pack light, so the radio equipment had to fit into our normal luggage. I took my Yaesu FT-817 and a Buddistick™ antenna. Paul (KF9EY) took along a Yaesu FT-100D, while Denny (KB9DPF) transported his FT-817 and a G5RV Junior antenna. Our primary operating mode was using the FT-100D (more power, baby) to drive the Buddistick, which was attached to the railing on the patio.

IMG_2586

The FT-100D was the primary operating rig, carefully placed on a random table out by the pool, with the St John Guidebook nearby.

I decided that the true slacker approach required some Official Beach QRP contacts in the style of Buddies in the Caribbean (see the video). One day on the beach, I took along my FT-817 and the Buddistick and set up for some QRP action.

IMG_2773

Some slacker beach operating (Bob K0NR).

The Buddistick was mounted on a Dolica WT-1003 camera monopod stuck into the sand, with the radial trailing off into the vegetation. My compact Heil headset was a convenient way to make some phone contacts without blasting my fellow beach bums with noisy audio.

IMG_2787

The view looking out from the beach operating location.

How did we do on the HF bands? We managed to make a number of contacts on 20m, 15m and 10m into the Americas and Europe. I was a bit disappointed that we never really got a pileup going. I think our signal was plenty strong but KP2 is maybe just not that rare.

IMG_2784

The innovative “plop the rig on top of a backpack” operating configuration.

We spent quite a bit of time exploring the island, driving around in two rental Jeeps. For mobile communications, we chatted back and forth on 146.58 MHz, the Golf-November-Tango frequency, using handheld transceivers. In the end, these radios probably got the most use during the trip. (Did I mention this was a slacker DXpedition?) There are a few 2m repeaters in the islands but we did not make use of them.

I brought a Yaesu FT-60 and a Baofeng UV-5R along on the trip, but mostly ended up using the Baofeng radio. If was the perfect radio to take to the beach — does the job and not that big of a loss if it landed in the ocean. Using the dual receive feature of the HT, I monitored the marine calling frequency, 156.80 MHz, listening to the boat traffic.

So if you are looking for a great place to go to enjoy the sand and water, I highly recommend St. John. Go ahead and take along some ham gear and do some slacker DXing. For more information on KP2 ham radio, see the ARRL Virgin Islands Section web site.

— 73, Bob KP2/K0NR

QSL to KP2/K0NR via Logbook of the World or to K0NR via Buro or Direct with SASE

Get Your Mobile Frequency Sticker On

One of the things I try to do is monitor the National Simplex Calling Frequency for 2 meter FM: 146.52 MHz, especially when mobile. It is fun to see who might show up on 2m simplex: SOTA operators, hikers, mobile stations, campers, etc. See these two posts on operating ideas: A Simple Wilderness Protocol: 146.52 MHz and The Use of 146.52 MHz.

14652_decalIt is also fun to say hello to another ham when you pass them on the highway. While you may see their call letter license plates or notice their mobile antenna, you may not know what frequency they are monitoring. The Noise Blankers Radio Club has solved this problem — just put this sticker on your vehicle.

After poking around cafepress.com, I found some additional options for indicating your radio frequency:

The 2meter SSB calling frequency:

2_meter_ssb_calling_frequency

 

 

 

 

 

The APRS frequency:
digital_position_reporting_on_board

 

 

 

 

 

And there’s this magnet for your refrigerator:

oval_simplex_sticker_rectangle_magnet

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there’s this option, 73 the coolest number

73 sticker

 

 

 

 

 

If you don’t like any of these, cafepress.com makes it easy to create your own. Go for it!

73, Bob K0NR

Colorado 14er Event – August 3, 2014

Colo14er SOTA logoDuring the Colorado 14er Event, Amateur Radio operators will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and SOTA summits to set up amateur radio stations to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun on Sunday August 3 and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact.

The new Colorado 14er Event logo is now available on t-shirts and more.

Starting in 2012, Summits on The Air (SOTA) is part of this event. This means there are over 1700 summits that you can activate in Colorado, with a wide variety of hiking difficulty. This opens up the event to a lot more people and a lot more summits. See the new SOTA page.

Radio operators with 14er climbing experience who plan to activate a summit should log their name and intended peak at the Ham14er Yahoo group. This is also the email list for discussing the event and asking questions.

Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem

baofeng b5The various models of Baofeng handheld transceivers keep popping up everywhere. At prices less than $50, radio amateurs (including veterans and newbies) are scarfing up these radios. See my postings or check out PD0AC’s blog for more information.

Also very frequently, the new owner of such a radio finds that they cannot figure out how to program it. Of course, the solution is “use the programming software” which is often helpful (and often not). The really gnarly problem that usually surfaces is getting the programming cable to work.

It appears that many of the cheap Baofeng USB programming cables use a clone of the Prolific PL-2303 chip that is not supported by the latest Windows driver. This Miklor web page does a good job of explaining the driver problem and giving some helpful advice. (Actually the Miklor site has tons of information on these radios, so check it out.) I’ll also note that the same cable can be used to program a Wouxun radio, so the same remedies apply. Using the info on the Miklor site allowed me to get my Baofeng/Wouxun cable working with my old Windows XP computer. When I bought a new notebook PC, it came with Windows 8 installed, which I later “upgraded” to Win 8.1. (I will spare you the sad story of dealing with Win 8 and 8.1)  Anyway, I have not gotten the Baofeng cables to work on Win 8 or 8.1, even following the Miklor advice.

I started using the Chirp programming software, an open source application that supports a wide variety of radios. (I have found the supplied Baofeng and Wouxun software to be, uh, well, crapware. It can be made to work but it is a pain.) While the Chirp software is not bug free and is in perpetual beta, it basically works well and does a great job of supporting a wide range of radios. I noticed that the Chirp Cableguide recommends the use of programming cables with an FTDI USB chip. I found this one on Amazon for $19, a little more expensive than the cheapo cables but not bad.  I plugged it into my Win8.1 computer and it started working immediately. I did not load any drivers, Windows actually did its job and took care of it for me. In minutes, I was programming a variety of Baofeng and Wouxun radios. Success!!!

My strong recommendation at this point is to use the Chirp software and get a FTDI-based programming cable. You will be a much happier Baofeng or Wouxun owner.

73, Bob K0NR

Adios to CQ VHF

CQ VHF Another “dead trees” publication is coming to an end. CQ VHF Magazine is ceasing publication, with some content being rolled into a new online publication.

From the ARRL web site:

CQ Communications Inc has announced plans to realign its publications lineup and to launch a new online supplement to its flagship magazine, CQ Amateur Radio.

“The hobby radio market is changing,” said CQ Communications President and Publisher Dick Ross, K2MGA, “and we are changing what we do and how we do it in order to continue providing leadership to all segments of the radio hobby.”

Effective with the February 2014 issue of CQ, said Ross, content from the magazine’s three sister publications — Popular Communications, CQ VHF and WorldRadio Onlinewill be incorporated into CQ’s digital edition as a supplement to be called CQ Plus. The print editions of Popular Communications and CQ VHF will be phased out, and WorldRadio Online will no longer exist as a separate online publication. Current Popular Communications, CQ VHF and WorldRadio Online subscribers will be converted to CQ subscribers and receive CQ Plus at no additional charge. Details will be posted on each magazine’s website.

As the name implies, CQ VHF was focused on amateur radio activities above 50 MHz, which was well aligned with my interests.  I’ve been writing the FM column for CQ VHF magazine since the summer of 2005 (wow, has it really been eight years?).  I have really enjoyed this opportunity and found the four-times-a-year schedule to be just about right for me as an author.

All good things come to an end and it was not a surprise that CQ VHF would cease publication. Clearly, print media is struggling in most markets and a niche publication like CQ VHF was feeling the pressure. My thanks go to Joe Lynch N6CL for his leadership as editor and also to my fellow authors for the great content they produced over many years. I am going to miss having the magazine around but it is time to move on.

73, Bob K0NR

Update Jan 2, 2014: See this information at cq-vhf.com

Contest Results Are In

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgIn the past two weeks, the results of several ham radio contests from last summer were posted. The typical contest takes months for the official results to be finalized and I have usually forgotten about the contest by then. The more serious contesters share their results via the 3830 web site so they can get an early read on how they did relative to their peers. But you need to be patient for the official results.

In the ARRL June VHF Contest, I placed in the top ten for the new Single Operator 3 Band category. This category is restricted to 50, 144 and 432 MHz, which is a good match to my radio interests. We had good 50 MHz conditions in Colorado (relative to other parts of the country), so CO stations seemed to score well.

Speaking of Colorado, in the Colorado QSO Party I finished first in the Phone – Low Power – Single-Op category. I was actually not that pleased with my score this year (45,500), which was considerably less than my score from last year (76,464). Oh well, I will invoke the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio and say I had a great time in the contest, regardless of the score. Thanks to the Pikes Peak Radio Amateur Association for sponsoring this event.

The ARRL Field Day results are also posted. Joyce K0JJW and I did a one transmitter (1B) operation from the cabin using the club call KVØCO, resulting in a modest score (454). We mostly made phone contacts on 20m, 15m and 6m. We had some nice sporadic-e on 50 MHz, which is always a treat. Remember, the key to a fun Field Day is: Season To Taste.

73, Bob K0NR

Hey, My Yaesu Beeps When I Transmit!

FT-8800R_thumbI own a variety of Yaesu ham radio transceivers and like them a lot. Except for that one little annoying feature that the FM rigs have: WIRES.

About once every two weeks, one of the local radio hams gets on the repeater with a DTMF beep at the start of every transmission. We’ve come to expect it now, so the first question to the ham is “are you by chance using a Yaesu radio?” They always say “yes” and then we talk them through the process of turning off the WIRES “feature.”

The WIRES function sends a DTMF signal at the start of every transmission for use with Yaesu’s version of internet repeater linking (which is not used much in the US).  The problem is that it is very easy to bump the wrong button on your radio and accidently get it into this mode. This means that this is mostly a nuisance feature in the US.

I recently came across a way to disable this feature on your Yaesu radio so that it won’t sent the DTMF tone even if you activate it by accident. Basically, you set the WIRES tone to be empty, so nothing is transmitted if you accidentally turn on WIRES. I did not come up with this clever hack…in fact, I am not sure who put this together. (If you do, let me know and I’ll give them credit.) Take a look at this pdf file and follow the instructions to de-WIRES your radio: Turn Off Wires

73, Bob K0NR

 

When All Else Fails or SHTF?

when-all-else-fails-logoA while back, Dan KB6NU noted the increasing number of preppers getting involved in ham radioPreppers are people who are actively preparing for emergencies, natural disasters and disruption of social order. In our Technician license course, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people identifying themselves as preppers.

Of course, amateur (ham) radio has a long history of emergency service and disaster preparedness. FCC Rules Part 97 says this is one of the purposes of the Amateur Radio Service: Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

Historically, most radio amateurs approach the hobby from a technical or radio operating point of view, then find ways to apply it to emergency preparedness. The prepper tends to work the equation the other way…starting with the desire to have emergency communication capability and then working to get an amateur radio license.

Many prepper sites just give a quick overview of ham radio, positioning it with GMRS, FRS and CB radio. See Prepper Communications. Articles like this one give a more complete introduction to ham radio: The Skinny On Ham: Getting Licensed.  This one, too: Every Prepper Should Be A Ham.

You may run into some creative acronyms on these prepper sites:

SHTF = “Stuff” Hits The Fan
EOTW = End Of The World
TEOTWAWKI = The End Of The World As We Know It
YOYO – You’re On Your Own

There are web sites devoted to prepping with radio communications:

Prepared Ham
RadioSurvivalist.com
RadioMaster Reports

Many of these sites have useful information that may stretch your thinking on “being prepared.” Of course, some of these prepper sites (not the ones listed above) are a bit over the top and may have resulted from people going off their meds. Draw your own conclusions.

I’ve noticed a pattern of people creating prepper frequency lists, such as the one shown below. (Note that some of the ham frequencies listed do not conform to generally accepted band plans.) I can see the usefulness of having some assigned frequencies but its not clear to me how they’ll actually get used. I think the challenge for new prepper hams is to think through who they are going to communicate with and for what purpose. It’s also important to get familiar with the equipment and gain experience on the air, so when the EOTW happens you aren’t sitting there reading the radio manual.

shtf_frequency_list_2013e_500

Whether you think of emergency communications as “When All Else Fails” or when SHTF, amateur radio is a resilient communication tool.

73, Bob K0NR

Added 7 Dec 2013: I came across this video that does a good job of introducing ham radio to the prepper crowd:  So you want a ham radio for emergency communications!

A Great Bag for the FT-817

One of my favorite rigs is the Yaesu FT-817, the QRP transceiver that covers HF through 70 cm. I use it for mountaintop VHF, including Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations.

At Pacificon, I came across this bag by AMP-3 which is custom designed for the FT-817. David KF7ETX did a great job designing this bag, which he explains in this video.

There are cheaper solutions out there but this is the best one I’ve seen.

73, Bob K0NR

Digital Voice at Pacificon

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Pacificon amateur radio convention in Santa Clara, something I have been trying to do for several years now. It is a great event, with good technical programs and a super venue.

The most interesting presentation I saw was the one on digital voice (DV) technology by Bruce Perens K6BP. The presentation was mostly about the digital voice known as FreeDV,  an open source approach to DV that uses the Codec 2 voice codec for digitally processing/compressing speech.

K6BP photo

Bruce Perens K6BP talking about FreeDV

I won’t cover all of the technical details here but you can follow the links above to go deeper on the topic. The initial FreeDV efforts are focused on the HF bands, using the sound card plus computer approach to implementing DV. This is a good approach since it is a relatively easy way to adopt this technology. (Compare this to VHF/UHF where you need to solve the repeater infrastructure problem to make progress.) FreeDV operates with a bandwidth of  1.25 kHz, narrower that the standard 3 kHz or so SSB signal. FreeDV also has the benefit of degrading gracefully as the  signal-to-noise ratio is decreased, with less of a digital dropoff that we see with D-STAR and other DV technologies.

Like many hams, Bruce pointed out the concerns and limitations of the proprietary AMBE chip used in D-STAR, DMR and now the new Yaesu DV system. I totally get this point and support the idea of a an open source codec. On the other hand, this work is coming more than a decade later than the creation of D-STAR. I like to refer to this phenomenon as “our ideas are better than their products.”

Bruce introduced Chris Testa KB2BMH to talk about the “HT of the Future”. This is a handheld transceiver implemented using Software Defined Radio (SDR) and inspirations from the world of smartphones. As Bruce said, “Why isn’t your HT as smart as your smart phone?” This is similar to the Android HT idea that I blogged about a while back. See Chris’s blog and this HamRadioNow video for more information.

Another presentation that I attended was about D-STAR with several speakers, including Robin AA4RC. The innovation continues to happen in the D-STAR world with a strong theme of using Raspberry Pi computers to create D-STAR hotspots and repeaters. Robin described the “DV Pi” being developed…a DVAP-like daughter board that plugs into a Raspberry Pi. Jim Moen K6JM talked about the many ways you can implement a D-STAR Hotspot. For more info on that see his D-STAR Hotspot page.

There’s much innovation happening in the area of Digital Voice. It got me thinking about it again so I dug out my ICOM D-STAR HT and put my DVAP back on the air.

73, Bob K0NR

A Classic SOTA Hike: Midland Hill (W0C/SP-117)

Today, Joyce K0JJW and I decided to hike Midland Hill (W0C/SP-117) near Buena Vista, CO (otherwise known as “BV”) and do a SOTA activation on VHF. I call this a “classic SOTA hike” because it is a real hike that requires some exertion, a well-maintained trail to the summit and some great views at the top. By my GPS, it was 2.4 miles one way, with 1600 feet elevation gain.

This hike starts at the trailhead on the east side of BV, where a footbridge crosses the Arkansas River. The SummitPost trail description is very helpful, so be sure to check it out. I checked quite a few topo maps of the area and most of them do not show the trails accurately. I found them more confusing that helpful. I’ve included my GPS track on the map below.

Midland Hill route

GPS track for Midland Hill

We started at the trailhead, immediately crossing the footbridge to the east side of the river. Then we followed the Midland Bike Trail which parallels the river. Very soon after the bridge, there is a trail leading off to the left (east) uphill that is tempting but we stayed on the main trail that parallels the river. At about 0.5 miles in, we crossed County Road 304 (38.843508 deg N, 106.112297 deg W) onto the clearly marked 6032 trail, which goes up to Midland Hill. Just follow the trail and do not turn onto 6032A trail as it goes off to the left.

If you are pressed for time, you can start the hike where 6032 intersects CR 304, but that only saves 0.5 miles. You’ll miss the bridge and great views of the Arkansas River.

Bob K0NR on the trail

Bob K0NR on the trail

Once we reached the summit, I set up on 146.52 MHz using my VX-8G connected to the 2M Arrow Yagi. Joyce stayed back outside of the activation zone, so I worked her as soon as I made the summit. Then Walt WZ0N came up on frequency and gave me a second contact.  I contacted a couple of mobile stations: Ryan KD7OHA on Highway 50 near Texas Creek and Bud NP2CT on Highway 285. Other contacts where with some of the local hams: N0OFQ near Nathrop, Jerry N0VXE and Skip W9GYA near Salida. Not bad for a Monday afternoon in the mountains. Thanks, guys, for the contacts!

Lately, some of the SOTA hikes I’ve done have involved bushwacking up the side of a steep hill to get to the summit. It was great to have a real trail this time. The 1600 vertical feet did get me huffing and puffing but that’s part of the experience. I highly recommend this summit!

73, Bob K0NR

How To Do a SOTA Activation On Pikes Peak

Perhaps this should be called The Slacker’s Guide to Activating Pikes Peak since I am going to describe the easy way to do a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation on America’s Mountain. If you plan to hike up, you have my complete support but this post is not meant for you.

Pikes Peak 2

Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004) is about 10 miles straight west of downtown Colorado Springs. See the Pikes Peak web site for useful tourist information. At an elevation of 14,115 feet, the mountain towers over Colorado Springs and the other front range cities. (You may see the elevation listed as 14,110 but it was revised upward in 2002 by the USGS.) This means that is has an excellent radio horizon to large populated areas. On VHF, it is common to work stations in Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico. See VHF Distance From Pikes Peak  and Pikes Peak to Mt Sneffels. On HF, you’ll do even better.

Pikes Peak map

Access to the summit has three options: hike up, drive up via the Pikes Peak Highway or ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Most people will probably choose the highway since the cog rail only gives you 30 to 40 minutes on the summit. (Normally, you return on the same train that takes you to the top. You can try to schedule two one-way trips but that is a challenge.)

The highway is at a well-marked exit off Highway 24, west of Colorado Springs. There is a “toll” to use the highway (~$12 per person, check the Pikes Peak Highway web site for the latest information and a $2 discount coupon.) The road is now paved all of the way to the top and is usually in good shape. The only caution on driving up is that some people get freaked out by sections of the road that have steep drop-offs without guard rails. It is very safe but I know some folks just can’t handle it. The main caution driving down is to use low gear and stay off your brakes. There are plenty of signs reminding you to do this and during the summer there is a brake check station at Glen Cove where the rangers check the temperature of your brakes.

It takes about an hour to drive to the summit, assuming you don’t dawdle. It is best to drive up during the morning and avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. Once you get to the summit, you’ll find a large circular parking area, the summit house and a few other buildings. To do a qualifying hike, I suggest you proceed down Barr Trail which is the main hiking trail coming up from the east side of the peak. Do not try to walk along the road, as the rangers will stop you. The trail starts on the east side of the summit house (towards Colorado Springs) and is marked with a sign. You have to cross over the cog rail tracks to get to it. (Please try to avoid getting run over by the train as it scares the tourists and makes a mess.)

The summit of Pikes is broad, flat and rocky, so pick out a spot away from the buildings for your SOTA adventure. There are quite a few radio transmitters on the peak so expect some interference. Since this is way above treeline, your antennas will have to be self supporting. For VHF, giving a call on 146.52 MHz FM will usually get you a few contacts and sometimes a bit of a pileup. Be aware that on top of Pikes you are hearing everyone but they can’t always hear each other. It can get confusing. Some other VHF simplex frequencies worth trying are 147.42 MHz (The Colorado 14er frequency) and  146.46 MHz (a local 2M hangout frequency). If you have 2m SSB, call on 144.200 MHz USB.  On the HF bands, pray for good ionospheric conditions and do your normal SOTA thing.

Your body and your brain will likely be moving a little slower at 14,000 due to the lack of oxygen. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble deciphering and logging callsigns. Take it slow and monitor your physical condition on the peak.

Bring warm, layered clothes even in the summer, since Pikes Peak can have artic conditions any time of the year. Keep a close eye on the weather since thunderstorms are quite common during the summer months. Lightning is a very real danger, so abandon the peak before the storms arrive.

73, Bob K0NR

Resources

SOTAwatch web site
Pikes Peak Tourist Information
Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004) SOTA Page
Pikes Peak Web Cam
Pikes Peak Highway Information 

A Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation (W0C/FR-063)

Although I’ve operated a number of VHF contests from the summit of Mount Herman, I had not yet activated it as a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak. Mount Herman is a 9063 foot mountain just to the west of Monument, Colorado, pretty much in “my back yard.” Steve WG0AT did the first SOTA activation of Mount Herman, back in May 2010, chronicled here in one of his famous videos.  There is a sometimes rough Forest Service Road 320 that leads to the trailhead, then it’s a little more than a one mile hike to the top with 1000 feet of elevation gain. I call it a tourist hike, since it has just enough challenge to make it feel like a climb and there’s a great view at the top. At least on most days.

Mt Herman map

I was not expecting much of a view today since low rain clouds were dominating the sky. I was just hoping I would not get completely drenched by rain. The weather was definitely marginal but from my house I saw the clouds lift a bit, so I thought it was worth a try. The ARRL September VHF Contest is also this weekend, so it was a great combo opportunity: SOTA + VHF Contest.

K0NR HT in the rain

I hopped in the Jeep and quickly made the drive to the trailhead. Then I scooted on up the trail, making it to the summit in about 30 minutes. Just as I reached the summit, the rain really kicked in. I set my gear down under a tree, got out my HT, attached the 1/2-wave antenna and started calling on 147.42 MHz. I wanted to bag my four SOTA qualifying contacts in case the weather turned worse. I quickly worked Frank K0JQZ and Steve WG0AT. Then George AB0YM, operating as a rover in the VHF contest called me from grid DM78, so I worked him as well.

I had my trusty Arrow Yagi antenna with me but I didn’t want to bother with assembling it in the rain. I got out the FT-817, put a vertical antenna on it and called on 144.200 USB. I found stations working the VHF contest and completed QSOs with them: WB0RRU and K3ILC.

The rain intensified so I abandoned the summit and headed back down. All in all, it was not a great hike but I was successful in activating Mount Herman.

73, Bob K0NR