TyMD380toolz for Tytera MD-380

The Tytera MD-380 is a low cost radio for analog FM and DMR on the 70cm band (see video here). One of the limitations with the radio is that it only holds 1000 contacts…which seems like a lot of contacts but it fills up quickly. With DMR, each radio or user has a unique 7-digit radio ID number. For ham radio use, the DMR-MARC organization maintains a database that maps radio ID number to user name and callsign. If a user is in your contact list, the user’s name and callsign pops up in your radio’s display. Otherwise, you just see the radio ID which is not very helpful. There are over 63,000 users in the database with more being added on a daily basis.

There are a number of firmware updates to the MD380 and I have not checked them all out. I heard some guys talking about the TyMD380Toolz on one of the DMR talkgroups, so I decided to give it a try. This software was developed by KG5RKI (go here) and is easily installed from Windows without a lot of messing around. This firmware upgrade loads the entire DMR-MARC database into the radio.

 

Now that I have the worldwide database of DMR users loaded onto the radio, its like having caller ID on my HT (see photo below). Actually, its better than that, it pulls up the other ham’s full name, callsign and location information.

This may not seem like a big deal but I’ve found it to be surprisingly useful. I am often scanning a few channels or talkgroups with my radio and just listening casually. I may not be tracking who’s talking but I can just look at the radio to see who’s on the air. It’s one of those convenience features that makes me think “why don’t all of my radios do this?”

The TyMD380Toolz implements a bunch of other features but increasing the number of contacts has been the most important one for me. This is a great example of radio amateurs adapting (“hacking”) commercial gear with improvements for ham radio use. KK4VCZ, DL4YHF and others contributed to this code. Check out the software…seems to work great.

73, Bob K0NR

Editor note: I’ve seen this software referred to as both TyMD380Tools and TyMD380Toolz. My HT says TyMD380Toolz, so I’ve used that spelling in this post.

This Spewed Out of the Internet #35

0511-0701-3118-0930I noticed that I’ve been blogging mostly about SOTA activations, so here’s something completely different: a bunch of exciting stuff flowing forth from the interwebz.

From the Why Do They Do That Department, Jeff/VA2SS shared this article on the origin of the radio term “Roger That.”  See The story of why pilots say “Roger that”

This reminds me of the classic scene from the movie Airplane, with the flight crew named Roger, Victor and Clarence.

I recently came across the Wikipedia web page on Etymology of Ham Radio, which explains the origin of the term “ham radio.”  Etymology: the origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning. About the same time, Dan/KB6NU wrote about the use of the term “ham radio”: HAM? HAM radio? ham radio? Amateur Radio? amateur radio! I have to admit that I do get annoyed by people that write “HAM” in all caps. What the heck is that?

The ARRL recently published a series of six posters promoting the value of amateur radio. I’m not quite sure where to deploy these but I do like them.

I was checking on electrical voltages and plugs in various countries and came across this site: Power Plugs and Sockets of the World  Very handy and easy to use.

Icom IC-9700

Twitter was abuzz with news about a new VHF/UHF transceiver from ICOM: the IC-9700. This is the first new radio in a long while aimed at VHF-and-up enthusiasts. I try not to get excited about these early product teasers and wait until the product is shipping in quantity but I have to admit that this radio has my attention. I don’t have a lot of Icom gear in the shack but this radio may change that.

The DX Engineering web site shows these key features for this unreleased product:

Direct-Sampling SDR design
Three bands: 144 and 432 MHz (50 Watts), 1.2 GHz (10 Watts)
High definition Real-Time TFT display
Main and Sub RX
Dual Real-Time Spectrum and Waterfall displays
Dual Watch (with Spectrum/Waterfall displays)
Touchscreen interface (LCD touch-screen control)

That’s some good stuff spewing from the internet. What did I miss?

73, Bob K0NR

SOTA Activation: North Kaufman Ridge (W0C/SP-085)

K0NR operating 2m fm from the summit of North Kaufman Ridge

Kaufman Ridge is a ridge line that runs along the border of Park and Chaffee Counties in Colorado, near Trout Creek Pass. There are two Summits On The Air (SOTA) summits on this ridge: Kaufman Ridge (W0C/SP-081), formerly Kaufman Ridge HP, and North Kaufman Ridge (W0C/SP-085), formerly Kaufman Ridge North. I have activated these summits before including a winter activation of North Kaufman Ridge. These summits have turned out to be popular SOTA activations because they are easy to access, easy to hike and have outstanding views of the surrounding area.

Joyce/K0JJW and I decided to do a SOTA activation on a pleasant September day. On previous trips, we approached the summit from the east without much thought to the route. This time we approached from the north, based on a tip from other SOTA activators. This route is a little bit longer than coming from the east but it turned out to have fewer steep spots and less downed timber to navigate.

The hiking route to SP-085 approaching from the north

To get to the start of the hike, we went south on Windmill Drive to FS 318, entering the San Isabel National Forest. There is a gate at the entrance to the forest that is closed from December to April. We turned right onto FS329, which may not be marked but is an obvious 4WD road heading to the north. We drove to the end of the road and parked near the National Forest boundary. These are really easy 4WD roads such that a high-clearance 2WD vehicle should have no problem.

At this point, we aimed straight at the summit and started hiking. We found only bits and pieces of a trail here and there. Someone has attempted to mark the trail in places but it was difficult to follow. No worries though as the route was relatively smooth without many obstacles such as rock formations and difficult downed timber. We had to do some minor route finding but just looking ahead for obstacles was sufficient. The one-way distance was 1.1 miles with a vertical gain of 800 feet.

This is typical of the route: a mix of aspen and pine trees, some downed timber but an easy hike if you pay attention

On top, we both snagged plenty of radio contacts on VHF/UHF and enjoyed the excellent views in all directions.  This made for a nice SOTA activation on a sunny fall day!

73, Bob K0NR

Mount White: Easy SOTA With A Jeep

View of Mount White from the west on FS 278

Mount White (W0C/SR-021) is 13,667 feet in elevation, just south of its big brother Mount Antero (W0C/SR-003) at 14,269 feet. Joyce/K0JJW and I activated this summit on SOTA using VHF/UHF. There had only been 4 activations of Mount White, which is a bit surprising. It is not that difficult to get to…if you have a decent 4WD vehicle. We have a stock Jeep Wrangler that handled the road just fine, but I would suspect that a AWD crossover (e.g., Subaru) or similar would not be adequate. We saw a number of hikers on the road (probably headed to Antero), so that is always another option.

The Mount White / Mount Antero area is covered with mining claims and old mining roads. This may degrade the hiking experience but does provide some decent 4WD roads to access the area. The Summitpost.org posting on Mount White has some interesting geological information about Mount White and Mount Antero. There are two summits on Mount White and Summitpost says the actual summit of Mount White is the eastern one. However, the SOTA database indicates the western one. Some other maps also indicate Mount White as the summit to the east but I believe the SOTA information is correct. I guess for SOTA purposes, it is correct, by definition.

Joyce K0JJW and Bob K0NR on the summit of Mount White

A San Isabel National Forest map is very helpful for figuring out access to this summit. Basically, you head west on County Road 162 towards Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Eventually, you’ll get to FS 277 which is a moderate 4WD road marked as the road to Mount Antero. Take a left turn onto FS 278 and follow that uphill to eventually take a left turn onto FS 278A. Stay on 278A for a very short time, then take a right onto FS 278B which takes you to the saddle below Mount White. (See map below.) This route does require good vehicle ground clearance. There are two stream crossings and many tight switchbacks. All in all, it was an easy-peasy fun trip with our stock Jeep Wrangler.

Road detail close to Mount White

The hiking route is not difficult: 0.35 Miles one way and 450 feet vertical. But you are above 13k feet, so expect the oxygen to be thin. We started out by following a road along the north side of the peak, then scrambled up the talus to the summit. There are bits of pieces of “trail” but we did not find an established hiking route. The day we were there in September it was extremely windy so we did not stay long.

Mount Antero is close by so you could do both summits on the same trip, assuming the weather cooperates.

73, Bob K0NR

Smoky Mountain Summits On The Air

Bob K0NR operating 70 cm FM from Brasstown Bald

Joyce/K0JJW and I were getting prepared for a trip to Gatlinburg, TN in August with some of her family. Gatlinburg is the gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding area. I had hiked and camped in the Smokies years ago and this was a great opportunity to visit that area again. Of course, we needed to get in a little Summits On The Air (SOTA) action during this trip.

We decided to pick out some easy-to-access summits in the area so we could weave them into the trip without too much disruption. My first step was to consult the SOTA database for potential summits in Tennessee and North Carolina, looking at the summits with the most activations. This is usually a good indication of easy access and not too difficult of a climb. I did pick out two iconic summits to activate: Clingmans Dome (this highest summit in the national park) and Mount Mitchell (the highest summit east of the Mississippi river in the US). After checking the various trip reports logged on the SOTA web site, I created a list of potential target summits. Clingmans Dome and Mount Mitchell were Must Do but any other summits would be more opportunistic based on available time and location.

We are using VHF/UHF for SOTA activations and opted for a basic FM station for this trip: a pair of Yaesu FT-1D handhelds, a couple of vertical antennas and a 3-element Arrow yagi antenna for 2 meters. I debated about whether to bring along the yagi but the split-boom design fits into my luggage without any problem. In the end, I am glad we had the yagi as several of the contacts would have been missed without it.

Greentop

Use of two handheld radios on Greentop to mitigate strong RF interference

Greentop (W4T/SU-076) was our first summit…basically a driveup mountain with radio towers and a lookout tower on top. I noticed quite a bit of interference on the 2 meter band, something I’ve encountered in previous activations near transmitter sites. It turns out that putting a more effective antenna on an HT (such as a half-wave vertical) couples more of the interference into the receiver and degrades its performance. On the other hand, the standard rubber duck antenna picks up less of the interference and performs better then the “good” antenna. After I realized this was happening, I tried using two HTs with reasonable results: one radio with a rubber duck was used for receive on 146.52 MHz while another radio with a half-wave antenna was used for transmitting. The net result was reasonable performance that allowed us to make contacts on 2m fm.

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome (W4C/WM-001) is a popular tourist spot in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Parking is a challenge and there are quite a few people on the short trail to the summit.

W2SE and WI2W on Clingmans Dome

Although it sits right on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, it is in the W4C (Carolinas) Association for SOTA purposes. As I approached the summit, I saw a fishing pole sticking up in the air. I thought “huh, I wonder what the rangers are demonstrating today.” Followed by “Hey, wait a minute, that looks like a SOTA activation.” Sure enough, I met W2SE and WI2W setting up on 20m CW. Joyce and I headed to the observation tower and worked 2m from up there. There were quite a few people on the observation tower so I considered just operating from down below. I decided to leave the yagi in the backpack and just use the half-wave vertical. We fit right in with the chaos of tourists on the tower.

The observation tower on Clingmans Dome

Mount Mitchell

Summit sign for Mount Mitchell

At 6684 feet in elevation, Mount Mitchell (W4C/CM-001) is the highest point in the USA east of Mississippi River. (Interesting perspective: our house in Colorado is 800 feet higher than this summit.) We started with just the 2m vertical but switched to using the yagi when we had trouble copying a few stations. It definitely made a difference…probably 6 dB or so. When signals are near the FM threshold, this can pull them out of the noise.

One of the highlights on Mitchell was working Kevin/K4KPK on Walnut Mountain, summit to summit. Kevin is very active in SOTA and has contributed many SOTA summit guides in the area. I made good use of these reports when planning our trip. He is also the top activator in the W4G association, a Mountain Goat approaching 2000 points.

Richland Balsam and Waterrock Knob

Joyce K0JJW at the summit sign on Richland Balsam

We discovered a number of summits right along the Blue Ridge Parkway and we ended up working these two: Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003) and Waterrock Knob (W4C/WM-004). Another flashback for us was driving sections of the parkway, which is a lovely drive (typically 45 MPH speed limit) that winds through the mountains. It has been years since we’ve been on that road. This route is something I’d like to explore further on a future trip as you could spend a week wandering along the parkway and knocking out summits.

We worked Pat/KI4SVM on 2m fm from Watterock. I recognized his callsign from the trip reports he has submitted to the SOTA web site. Later, I looked up his SOTA score and found that he is a double Mountain Goat (> 2000 activation points) and the highest scoring activator in the W4C association.

Brasstown Bald

The Mountain Explorer Award is a SOTA award for activating in different SOTA Associations (regions). Activating in Tennessee (W4T association) and North Carolina (W4C association) got my total to 6. Joyce pointed out that we might be able to also hit Georgia on the trip, so we added Brasstown Bald (W4G/NG-001) to the list. This is the highest summit in Georgia, so it rounded out our collection of state high spots for TN, NC and GA.

Brasstown Bald is an easy hike up summit with a significant observation tower on top, including a visitors center. This is another location where we experienced interference from radio gear on the summit, so we chose our position carefully and used the 2m yagi to point away from the interference sources.

Bob K0NR holding the 2m yagi while Joyce K0JJW works the radio.

This trip worked out really well. We managed to activate 6 summits for a total of 58 points, operate from three new SOTA associations (W4T, W4C and W4G), enjoy some really nice hikes and see some great scenery. I was a little concerned whether we would find enough random activity on 2m fm for our SOTA activations but it all worked out. Actually, there were a few times that 146.52 MHz was busy and we had to standby to make a call. Some of our contacts were less than 25 miles but many covered 100 miles or more. Yes, the 3-element yagi made a difference.

If you are in the Gatlinburg area, it certainly makes sense to try a few SOTA activations. I am also thinking about a return trip to enjoy the area more fully including some longer hikes. We really liked hiking the trails and summits there. The elevation is lower than Colorado (read: you have oxygen to breath), the forests have lots of deciduous trees (not just evergreens) and the trails are less rocky. I am sure we will be back.

73, Bob K0NR

Another Black Mountain SOTA (W0C/FR-031)

There are (at least) 20 different summits named “Black Mountain” just in the state of Colorado. I’m sure there are many more nationwide. It seems to be a popular, if unimaginative, name. This is why we have a numbering system for Summits On The Air, else we would forever be talking about “which Black Mountain was that anyway?”  Or Deer Peak or Sheep Mountain or …

The view of Black Mountain from the north, driving on FS 107.

On Thursday, Joyce K0JJW and I activated another Black Mountain, this one with Summits On The Air (SOTA) designator: W0C/FR-031. I’m not sure why it has an FR or Front Range designation, as the summit is actually in the South Park region of the state. I can tell you that it is an awesome summit with great views.

To get to Black Mountain, take Highway 9 south out of Hartsel, CO (or come north on Highway 9 from the south). The Pike National Forest map is very helpful with getting into the vicinity of the mountain.  Turn west on FS 108. (This is the same road that leads to Dicks Peak W0C/FR-041.) This road has a sign that indicated “Dicks Peak” and “Black Mountain”. Follow FS 108 S/SW and then take FS 107 to the south (right turn). Follow FS 107 to FS 268, then follow FS 268. About this time, you should have an excellent view of Black Mountain to the south. The roads were muddy and rutted, definitely 4WD. Our Jeep Wrangler had no problem but a AWD crossover/Subaru may be challenged to get through.

Black Mountain has a steep vertical rock face to the north, which is visible as we approached from the north (see photo). At this point, we wondered if we signed up for a difficult climb…but not so. FS 268 turns west, kind of parallel to Black Mountain, then heads away from it. At this point, we wondered if we were on the wrong road. Not so. At this point, the Pike National Forest map failed us…it is incomplete in this area. Instead we used the gaiagps.com app on my smartphone which had a representation of the terrain and roads. As we headed west on FS 268 we saw a road heading off to the south. (I don’t recall if it is marked, but see map below.) Take this road south for about one and a half miles…looking for an unmarked road heading off to the east. The intersection with this road is easy to miss as it is not that distinct. But the road is very visible heading off to the east, so you’ll probably spot it later if you miss the turn and can circle back.

The red line shows our hike up Black Mountain. (Click to enlarge.)

We took the unmarked road east until it deadended at a camping spot. We parked there and started the climb up to the summit. There are only random bits of a trail here and there, so we mostly just followed the GPS towards the summit. The route is forested with some downed timber but not difficult to navigate. The steep north side of Black Mountain provided some nice views. The hike is about 1.5 miles and 1000 feet vertical.

On top, we worked stations on 2m and 70cm fm without much trouble. It is an excellent VHF/UHF site and we found a number of locals hanging out on 146.52 MHz. We reversed our route on the way down and drove the Jeep out.

W0C/FR-222

Steve WG0AT suggested that we could do an nearby unnamed peak (W0C/FR-222) on the same day. This is an excellent idea and we did just that. We headed back north and took FS 269 west,  parking just south of FR-222. FR-222 is not shown on the Pike National Forest map but the Gaiagps.com app and other maps show it. The summit is easily seen from the road and a short hike gets you to the top (about 1/3 mile and 500 vertical feet).

Location of unnamed summit FR-222

73, Bob K0NR

First SOTA Activation for W0C/SP-055

Bob K0NR and Joyce K0JJW at the trailhead.

For several years, I’ve had my eye on an unnamed summit (12132) in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area (W0C/SP-055). No one had activated it for Summits On The Air (SOTA) probably because the summit is somewhat remote.  I originally thought I would have to do many miles of bushwhacking from the north to get to get to the top. After studying a few maps and trail descriptions, I eventually found a route from the east that is not too difficult.

My hiking partner Joyce/K0JJW and I started at Lynch Creek Trailhead, which is about 9 miles west of Highway 285 on FS 431, also known as Buffalo Peaks Road. The USFS Pike National Forest map is a good reference for finding the trailhead. We followed Salt Creek Trail #618 for about 1 mile to connect to the Tumble Creek Trail #617. These are well-used and well-maintained trails and a joy to walk on. We had been doing too much off-trail hiking lately, so this was a very nice change. The trails are marked by signs at the junction and are easy to follow.

Click to enlarge

We considered ascending the east side of the mountain but concluded that we’d end up hiking through some dense forest, which usually means downed timber and slow progress. Instead, we approached the summit from the south, leaving Trail 617 about three miles in from the trailhead, and heading uphill through a grassy meadow. There is a large beaver pond to the south at the point where we left the trail, so that makes for a good landmark. You can’t completely avoid the trees on this path but they are sparse enough to easily walk through. Near the summit, the easiest path hooks around to approach the summit from the west, avoiding some steep rocks on the south side of the summit. (Actually, we went straight up the rocks on the ascent and decided to avoid them on the descent.)

View of the summit from Trail 617, looking north.

The summit is above treeline and relatively flat, offering excellent views in all directions.

View from the summit, looking west.

Joyce and I both got on the air and made calls on 146.52 and 446.00 MHz using handheld VHF/UHF radios. We just used vertical antennas and didn’t bother to assemble the yagi antennas. Thanks to these stations that we worked that day: W0BV, W0DLE, N0VXE, K0RCW, K9LNH and KD0VHD.

Bob K0NR displaying the SOTA flag on the summit, with Buffalo Peaks in the background.

The GPS app on my smartphone indicated the one-way distance at just under 4 miles, with an elevation gain of 2000 feet. The actual elevation gain may be slightly more than that due to some ups and downs on the trail. This is one of those hikes that we’ll probably do again in the future. It has an enjoyable mix of good trails, rolling streams, green meadows, great views and a pleasant summit.

73, Bob K0NR

Using 1.2 GHz for SOTA

One of the cool things about the Summits On The Air program is that it has many different awards available. The SOTA database records the QSOs of everyone involved in the program and is used to qualify for the awards. QSL cards are not required. The most coveted awards are Shack Sloth (reaching 1000 points as a “chaser”) and Mountain Goat (reaching 1000 points as an “activator”). There are so many SOTA activators on the air these days, reaching Shack Sloth is not too difficult. Just get on the air and make the contacts. (Last year, I completed Shack Sloth using VHF and higher frequencies only.) Mountain Goat is much more of a challenge because you have to physically go out and activate each summit, one at a time. Currently, there are 9 radio hams that achieved Mountain Goat status in Colorado. I have a long way to go for Mountain Goat.

Most of my SOTA contacts have been on the 2 meter band (144 MHz) using FM, SSB and CW. Recently, I put additional emphasis on making QSOs on two of the UHF bands: 70 cm (433 MHz) and 23 cm (1.2 GHz). With the SOTA scoring system, there are no extra points or credit for working the same station on additional bands. Still, I’ll often check with the other station on 2m to see if they want to make a QSO on one of the other bands…just because. The SOTA database does keep track of these QSOs separately so you can go in and look at your results on, say, just the 70 cm band.

For some unexplained reason, 1.2 GHz has my interest right now and I’ve been trying out my capabilities on that band. The 23 cm amateur band is one huge hunk of spectrum: 1240 to 1300 MHz (US allocation). To put this in perspective, this 60 MHz swath of spectrum is 171 times the size of the 20m amateur band. (Yeah, I grant you, the propagation on 20m is usually a lot more interesting.)  So the first thing I ran into on this band is the lack of commercially available equipment. I think the number of radios that will do 1.2 GHz has actually declined in the last decade. I ended up buying a pair of Alinco DJ-G7T handheld tranceivers that put out 1W of RF power on 1.2 GHz.The second thing I ran into is the lack of other hams that have 1.2 GHz gear. But when you do find them, they usually are interested in making a contact! (I suppose it gets lonely on that band.)

Initially, Joyce K0JJW and I made some short-range SOTA contacts on 1.2 GHz using the two handheld radios, on the 1294.5 MHz FM calling frequency. Then I started looking for DX contacts from local stations that have 23 cm gear. To provide some additional antenna gain, I used a 4-foot yagi antenna (Comet CYA-1216E), specified as 16.6 dBi. One of the cool things about UHF and higher is that compact antennas can provide some serious gain. My best DX so far is 54 km (33.5 miles) but I expect to be able to do distances 3 to 4 times that. The SOTA awards system considers the 23 cm band to be “microwave” so my 54 km QSO just barely qualifies me for the 50 km award. (The microwave awards are based on distance worked, unlike the other SOTA awards.)

Just another fun thing to do on the ham bands, pursuing the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio.

73, Bob K0NR

Easy SOTA: Blue Mountain (W0C/SP-123)

Joyce K0JJW and I were preparing to drive back home from the mountains and began to consider what Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks might be on the way and easy to access. I consulted with Steve WG0AT, who had a number of good suggestions but we ultimately decided on Blue Mountain (W0C/SP-123). This is an easy summit to get to and an easy summit to hike.

I found Carey’s (KX0R) trip report to be helpful, so I suggest reading that information. A Pike National Forest map is very helpful. To get to Blue Mountain, just get on Blue Mountain Road (CR 61) heading south out of Lake George (see map above). You’ll see that CR 61 passes by Blue Mountain on the east side and then turns west. Take forest service road FS 244 to the right (north), which takes you up to the west side of Blue Mountain. This road turns into easy 4WD (challenging 2WD with high clearance). We just kept going on FS 244 (ignoring the side roads) and parked at the very last turn, as shown on the map below (38.93108N, 105.35597W). Going any further on the road just takes you to a spot that is a bit tight to turnaround in.

At this point, you can just take aim at the summit (40.33530N, 105.28100W) and hike your way up. Approaching the slope at an angle makes it not quite so steep. Actually, precision isn’t required for any of this, just keep heading for the summit and you’ll likely get there.

For this activation, we took along gear for 2m, 70cm and 23cm, FM only. Basically, this amounts to a pile of HTs and a few compact antennas. All of our contacts were on 2m FM except I did work Paul W0RW on Wilkerson Pass using 1.2 GHz (23 cm). At an elevation of 9230 feet, this location does pretty well on VHF and higher, so we easily worked stations in Buena Vista (W0BV), Woodland Park (WA6TTY) and Como (KD0VHD). We also worked a hiker (Jim, KD0MRC) on the side of Mount Yale, about 50 miles away.

The photo on the left shows my portable 2m FM station: Yaesu FT-1DR handheld transceiver, 1/2-wave Flex antenna (Smiley Antenna), and the dismantled 3-element Yagi (Arrow Antenna). I recently started using the Smiley halfwave antenna because it flexes on the connector end, making it more resilient to on trail use.

In the photo to the left, I’ve got the yagi antenna assembled and I’m using it to make contacts. With a little practice, the Arrow antenna screws together quickly and provides some useful gain over the halfwave vertical (about 6 dB).

We had excellent weather today so that helped make for a fun day. If you are in the Lake George, CO area consider Blue Mountain for an easy and fun activation.

73, Bob K0NR

2017 June VHF Contest (K0NR)

Last weekend, I was able to participate in the ARRL June VHF Contest, my favorite ham radio operating event. I thought conditions were pretty good…mostly I am satisfied if we have some decent sporadic-e propagation on 50 MHz, which we did. (The DX spotting map indicated that the eastern half of the US had better conditions.) Once again, I entered in the Single Operator – 3 Band category with a claimed score of 34,969.

This is the first contest where I used WSJT modes and was successful but certainly not highly skilled. I know I blew a couple of MS144 contacts due to operator error on my part. As I prepared for the contest, I was really focused on getting the computer/radio connections sorted out in advance, which I did accomplish. I made some JT65 and MSK144 contacts a few days ahead of the contest, so I was good to go. The issue that I totally missed was thinking through the operating position so that I could switch modes/bands easily. Instead, I had lots of cable plugging and unplugging as I moved things around. More to learn and improve on next time.

K0NR Single Op - 3 Band
Band QSOs Mults
-------------------
 6:   254 110
 2:    29 10
 222:
 432:   3 1
-------------------
Total: 286 121
Total Score = 34,969

I made a dozen JT65 QSOs, all on the 6 meter band. These contacts were with very weak signals so I probably would have missed them on SSB. I have concluded that the main purpose of JT65 is to give bored operators something to fiddle with when band conditions are poor. It always seemed like there was just enough signal present for me to keep trying, sometimes with success, sometimes not.

I was very pleased to work K5QE for my first 2m meteor scatter QSO (MSK144). My intent is to spend more time with this mode in the coming year and focus on chasing grids on 2 meters. Thanks to the rovers that I worked: AB0YM, W0ETT, AL1VE, K6LMN, VE3WJ, N0LD, N6GP, AG4V, W5VY and WD9HBF. My best DX was XE2X, XE2JS and XE2NBW.

I looked back at my previous scores in the 3-band category. My best score (48,117) was back in 2013, the first year there was a 3-band category. Looking at my blog posting from that year, at the time I didn’t think the band conditions were very good. But I also came across this article by W0VG which indicates that stations from Colorado scored pretty well that year compared to other parts of the country. The results article in QST for that contest provides more detail. I have to conclude that this year’s conditions were not the best I’ve seen. But I’ll go back to my earlier statement that any June VHF contest with some decent sporadic-e openings on 50 MHz is a win.

Thanks to everyone that came out and played radio on the VHF bands.

73, Bob K0NR

Pursue Radio Operating Goals

Operating goals or awards are a fun way to keep focused on accomplishing something via ham radio. Really, it’s a specific reason to get on the air and make radio contacts. I am not big on idle chit chat via the radio (“the weather here is 65 deg and raining”) so having a reason to make contacts helps me get on the air. I’ve tended to pursue awards in a serial manner…once I hit some level of accomplishment, I usually declare victory and move on to something else.

Way back in the wayback machine, the first award I pursued was Worked All States (WAS). It does take some effort but I was pretty active on the HF bands at the time, so many of the states just showed up in my log. But to really drive it home, I kept track of which states I still needed and actively looked for opportunities to work them.

Next up was Worked All Continents (WAC), which obviously requires working some DX. But then I decided that if I was going to have any DX cred at all, I needed to get DX Century Club (DXCC). This turned out to be a bit of a challenge with my modest station (100 watts and a dipole) but I found that working DX contests to be very helpful. The big hassle was collecting the QSL cards and getting them checked by the ARRL (back before the Logbook of the World was a thing). Once I checked the box on DXCC at just over 100 countries, I was satisfied and went on to other things. Serious DXers chase all available countries/entities to get Honor Roll and other bragging rights.

The VHF and higher bands have always been a passion for me, so I pursued the VHF/UHF Century Club (VUCC) awards. First, it was 6 meter VUCC, the easiest one to get. A really good run during the ARRL June VHF contest can produce the 100 grids you need for the award in one weekend. For me, it took a few more contests than that after factoring in the fallout that occurs when trying to get confirmation QSLs. The 10 GHz VUCC only requires 5 grids which turned out to be not too difficult. My VHF collaborator at the time, Doug W0AH (now W4LY) and I took turns operating from Pikes Peak while the other guy went out and activated the required 5 grids. It helps to have a big honkin’ mountain nearby to use for 10 GHz operating. About this time, I got into working the LEO satellites and worked the required 100 grids for satellite VUCC. I still don’t have very many grids confirmed on 2 meters, so that one is still calling to me.

Recently, I spent some effort going for the CQ WPX Award (worked prefixes award). This is an intriguing award structure because every new callsign prefix counts as a new one. For the basic mixed-mode award, you need to work at least 400 different callsign prefixes. I found this format to be a lot of fun because “everyone is DX” so to speak, but DX prefixes are also very valuable. This scoring approach is used for the WPX contests, which naturally brings out stations with less common callsign prefixes. A big motivator for me was when the ARRL announced Logbook of the World (LoTW) support for the CQ WPX awards. I mean, there was no way I was going to collect 400 QSL cards to submit for this award, but using LoTW made this very efficient. More on that story here: CQ WPX, LoTW and the End of QSL Cards.

Summits On The Air

Lately, I’ve been active in the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program, both activating and chasing summits. This is a natural fit for me as I’ve enjoyed mountaintop operating in various forms, mostly on VHF and UHF. (See my SOTA blog postings.) The SOTA program has a wide variety of awards, supported by a very powerful database used to record SOTA radio contacts and keep track of the scores. It is not really a competition but there is friendly rivalry between SOTA enthusiasts as they monitor each other’s posted scores.

I’ve been using VHF (and UHF) exclusively for SOTA and managed to qualify for the Shack Sloth Award using just those bands. (Shack Sloth is achieved with 1000 chaser points.) Shack Sloth is a bit of a misnomer for me as many of my SOTA chasing contacts were done while hiking, mobile or portable (not sitting at home in a shack). The Mountain Goat Award is taking a bit longer because I have to drag myself up enough summits to reach 1000 points as a summit activator.

Here’s the current scores for the Colorado (W0C) SOTA activators:
At the top of the list, we find Carey KX0R totally killing it with 2808 points. These folks have all reached the coveted Mountain Goat status: KX0R, K0MOS, K0JQZ, W0CCA, KC0YQF, W0CP, KC5CW.  I am further down the list, tied with AD0KE at 302 points. Now, remember this is not a competition 🙂 Honestly, I wish I were further along the path to Mountain Goat but I’ve decided to not fret too much, keep working at it and enjoy the journey. Walt W0CP recently gave me some excellent advice: just keep making progress.

Other Goals

You may not find the awards and goals I’ve mentioned to be very interesting, but there are many other options. In 2016, the ARRL sponsored the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, which created a lot of interest and activity. I did just three activations for NPOTA but many people really got into it.

You might also set your own personal goal, not associated with any award. I know one ham that decided his goal was to make a ham radio contact every day of the entire year. This sounds simple but if you have a full-time job and other responsibilities, it takes some persistence to make this happen. Perhaps you are public service oriented; you might set a goal for the number of ARES events you support this year. I challenge you to think about what it is you are trying to do with ham radio and set a goal that is consistent with that.

Those are my thoughts, what do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

First SOTA Activation: H-44 Benchmark (W0C/SP-130)

With the most recent release of the W0C ARM, there were 61 summits added to the Colorado SOTA list. I noticed that one of the new summits, H-44 Benchmark (W0C/SP-130) was easy to access, easy to climb and was in the vicinity of our mountain cabin. Surely, we needed to check it out and perhaps be the first ones to activate it.

To get there, take Highway 285 south out of Buena Vista (or north from Salida), exiting at County Road 194 clearly marked as Hecla Junction. As you travel east, the road climbs then tops out. Soon after the road started to descend, Joyce K0JJW and I stopped and parked at lat/lon: N38.64998 deg, W106.06747. I don’t think where you park is critical but be aware that this road can get busy during the summer with the many rafting outfitters taking out at Hecla Junction (on the Arkansas River). There are two driveways heading south near where the road crests…we opted to stay to the east of these. One of them appears to be a campsite and the other leads to a house/cabin.

View of the summit, approaching from the north

We proceeded south towards the visible summit, looking ahead to find a route that did not have too many ups and downs. There are many options and there was not much downed timber to deal with. We found a nice route that hit the main ridge about 0.2 miles west of the actual summit. We did cross a old logging road which had some recent dirt bike tracks on it, so that may be another option.

Joyce K0JJW had the honor of activating this SOTA summit for the very first time. As usual, we were working VHF//UHF, mostly 2m FM, but we also made some contacts on 440 MHz and 1.2 GHz. I managed to work Jay W9RM near Olathe, CO on the west side of the state using 2m CW. (We couldn’t quite make the contact on SSB, so we switched to CW to get the job done.)

Joyce K0JJW displays the SOTA flag after completing the first activation of SP-130

I’ve noticed a few other SOTA peaks are named “something benchmark.” I think that’s essentially an unnamed peak that happens to have a survey benchmark on it. So I looked around for the benchmark and found this marker at the summit:

This appears to be the “benchmark.”

Of course, like many of the lower summits in the Arkansas Valley, this one has a great view of the Collegiate Peaks to the west.

Looking west from H-44 Benchmark summit.

I expect this summit to be a popular SOTA activation because its easy to get to and has a great view. I estimate our total distance traveled as 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of 500 to 600 feet. Sorry, it’s only 2 points.

73, Bob K0NR

2017 Colorado 14er Event with SOTA

Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Well, last year we celebrated the 25th annual event so this year it must be the 26th. We are continuing the all weekend approach on August 5 and 6. However, many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early in the morning with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.

We still have the very cool 25 Year Anniversary t-shirts (and other great stuff) available at http://www.cafepress.com/wg0at

The 14er event includes Summits On the Air (SOTA) peaks, which add over 1700 now 1805 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from (with a wide range of difficulty). See the W0C SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org

Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should post their intent on the ham14er Yahoo Group. To subscribe to the “ham14er” email list, visit the Yahoo groups site at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ham14er/ . Also, be sure to check out the event information at http://www.ham14er.org It is also a great idea to post an ALERT on the SOTAwatch.org website.

Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF, VHF and UHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz. At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz. We try to stay off 146.52 MHz, the National Simplex Calling Frequency to avoid overload, but if you need to make a call there, go for it…and be brief.

Frequency (MHz) Comments Frequency (MHz) Comments
147.42 Primary 2m FM Frequency, then up in 30 kHz steps 7.032 40m CW Frequency
147.45 Alternate 2m FM frequency 7.185 40m SSB Frequency
147.48 Alternate 2m FM frequency 10.110 30m CW Frequency
147.51 Alternate 2m FM frequency 14.060 20m CW Frequency
446.000 Primary 70 cm FM frequency 14.345 20m SSB Frequency
446.025 Alternate 70 cm FM frequency 18.092 17m CW Frequency
144.200 2m SSB calling frequency 18.158 17m SSB Frequency
50.125 6m SSB calling frequency 21.060 15m CW Frequency
1294.50 23 cm FM calling frequency 21.330 15m SSB Frequency
Other Bands/Modes Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply. 28.060 10m CW Frequency
28.350 10m SSB Frequency

Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.

Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force

Download the one-page flyer for the event: Colorado 14er Event Flyer 2017

Capulin Mountain (W5N/SG-009) VHF SOTA

Joyce (K0JJW) and I were driving back to Colorado from Texas on Highway 87 that goes right past Capulin Mountain in the Capulin Volcano National Monument.  Capulin is a dormant volcano with a large crater on top, a great place to visit if you ever in the area. Oh, and it’s a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak, too (W5N/SG-009). Obviously, I thought it was a great opportunity to activate it for SOTA. There’s only one problem: this summit is out in the middle of nowhere so making some contacts on 2 meters was not going to be easy. (Yeah, I have been doing SOTA activations only on VHF.)  In many locations, I just put out a call (or many calls) on 146.52 MHz and I eventually get my 4 QSOs to qualify for SOTA activation points. This works near populated areas and places where there is significant tourist traffic.

Capulin Mountain is in NE New Mexico, about 150 miles from Colorado Springs, 200 miles from Denver and about 190 miles to Albuquerque. These distances are all workable with a decent weak-signal station on 2 meters. But I was going to be operating at QRP power levels and a small 3-element yagi antenna. I concluded that this activation was still possible but it depended on getting some of the weak-signal VHF guys on the air so I had someone to work.  So I put the word out to some of the VHF enthusiasts in the Rocky Mountain area asking for help. I received a good response which was encouraging so I published a schedule for Tuesday afternoon, starting at 19:30 UTC, 1:30 pm local.

The national monument is easy to access, just a few miles from the highway. I have an annual national parks pass, so we did not have to pay an entrance fee. This satellite photo of the monument, shows the crater and the access road that winds around it. The parking area is visible on the west side of the crater (zoom in).

The parking lot is not within the SOTA activation zone, but an easy hike up the ridge got us to the summit. For VHF, I wanted to be as high as possible anyway with a 360-degree view. There is a trail that goes completely around the crater rim, also crossing the summit. It is a short hike on a paved trail, a bit steep in spots but nothing difficult. We did encounter some extremely annoying gnats that swarmed around us the entire time.

Looking east from the parking lot, the summit is just a short hike up the ridge (from the left side).

We got to the summit earlier than planned, around 17:30 UTC, started calling on 146.52 fm and 144.200 ssb without much luck. Finally, I caught WE7L in Elizabeth, CO (DM79) on 2m cw at 19:05 utc. He was weak but very readable. I think I was pointing the antenna a little too far east…later he came in stronger when I directed the antenna further west. After that I worked Arne N7KA (DM65) near Albuquerque and K9VSW (DM76) near Taos. Once I got my antenna zero’d in on K9VSW, I was able to work him on ssb. Some time later, I heard Lou K0RI calling from the Colorado Springs area. He was loud enough that I heard him off the side of the antenna, still pointed at Albuquerque. Lou was running 160w to a 17-element 2M5WL yagi at 75 feet.

Time Call Band Mode Grid
19:05z WE7L 144MHz CW DM79
19:10z N7KA 144MHz CW DM65
19:12z K9VSW 144MHz CW DM76
19:15z K9VSW 144MHz SSB DM76
19:53z K0RI 144MHz SSB DM78

I heard some other stations but was not able to work them. The challenge was quite clear: most VHF enthusiasts are running 150W or more of RF power, while I had the FT-817 max’d out at 5W. This is quite an imbalance, easier for me to hear them than they could hear me. Clearly, cw saved the day, punching through with minimal signal levels.

The antenna setup at N7KA includes a 2M12 yagi for 2 meters, driven by a Kenwood TS-2000 and 700W amplifier. (Photo: N7KA)

My best DX for the day was N7KA at 229 miles. Actually, this is an all time best distance for me on 2m while doing a SOTA activation. I recently worked W9RM from Mount Herman at 170 miles and was pretty happy with that. We had signal to spare that day, so I figured I could do better. Also, I had previously worked 160 miles using FM between two Colorado 14ers. See
Pikes Peak to Mt Sneffels – 160 Miles.

I really, really, really appreciate the hams that got on the air to try and work me on Capulin. I could not have activated the summit without those skilled radio operators and their capable VHF stations.

73, Bob K0NR

DMR Codeplug for Tytera MD-380

At our radio club meeting on Monday night, I talked about DMR radio, the fastest growing digital format on VHF/UHF. Wow, did I get a positive response! There is a lot of interest in this topic and many of our members are out buying DMR radios and getting on the air. My presentation is available here: DMR W0TLM Meeting Presentation.

Most folks are buying the UHF Tytera MD-380 due to its attractive price point. The price on Amazon seems to fluctuate but it is typically around $100: TYT MD-380 – UHF DMR Ham Radio.  Main Trading Company usually has a good price on the radio, too.

A good source of codeplugs for Colorado is the Rocky Mountain Ham Radio web site. I adapted a recent MD-380 codeplug for use in the Monument area: W0TLM MD380 Codeplug

You’ll need to use the MD-380 software to load/edit this codeplug. See the VA3XPR web site if you need the software. Under General Setting, you must change these entries:

Radio Name – enter your callsign
Radio ID – enter your DMR-MARC radio ID number
Intro Screen – recommend putting your name and callsign there (or whatever you want)

In the codeplug, I created the W0TLM zone for use in the Monument area which should cover most of your needs. After you get used to the programming software, you can add/modify channels and zones. But be careful as there are many parameters that need to be entered correctly.

I will be updating this codeplug from time to time. Let me know how it works for you.

73, Bob K0NR

Winter SOTA on Monarch Ridge South

Joyce KØJJW and I were out for a little snowshoe activity near Monarch Pass in the San Isabel National Forest. Initially, we were headed to Old Monarch Pass when we noticed that the snow and weather conditions looked favorable on Monarch Ridge (also called Monarch Crest). Last winter, we tried snowshoeing Monarch Ridge twice, failing both times, once due to blizzard conditions that blew us off the summit.

There was quite a bit of snow on most of the route, so snowshoes were required.

Monarch Ridge South (W0C/SP-058) is the high point and a Summits On The Air (SOTA) summit, so of course it was a great idea to showshoe up there. In August of 2016, we road to the top using the tram. Take a look at that posting for more information on the summit.

For SOTA, Monarch Crest South is a versatile and very accessible peak. The slacker method is to ride the tram up during the summer months. It also can be an easy summer hike. Monarch Pass is at 11,312 feet in elevation and Monarch Crest South rises to 11,898 so the vertical gain is about 600 feet. In winter, it is a reasonable snowshoe trip. However, watch the weather carefully: you might get blown off the summit.

Here’s the view from the summit which did not have much snow on it.

We started from the Monarch Pass parking lot and snowshoed straight up to the summit, roughly following the tram line. This route is simple but steep. Near the top, the ground was bare, so we removed the snowshoes and hiked on bare ground and rocks. I had not really planned for a SOTA activation that day but I did have my Yaesu FT-1DR transceiver and a half-wave antenna for 2 meters. Rather minimal equipment, but sufficient. I did not have cellphone coverage at the parking lot but I did get “one bar” about halfway up the mountain. I used this to post a SOTAwatch alert and send an email notice to hams in the area.

I had minimal radio gear with me, so I made contacts on 2m fm using my HT and a half-wave vertical.

Just like last time, I did have some minor interference on 2m fm from the radio site at the summit, which seemed to peak up right around 146.52 MHz. Lovely. But it did not keep me from making contacts.

As you can see from the photos, it was a gorgeous day. The temperature hung around 35 degrees F with some wind at the summit, so no problem with that. Another great day in the mountains, playing with ham radio.

73, Bob K0NR

DMR Hotspot from SharkRF

Amateur adoption of Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) continues to increase, with a number of new innovations playing out. It was way back in 2012 when I wrote this article about DMR for CQ VHF Magazine: TRBO Hits the Amateur Bands. 

A few years ago, I picked up some used MOTOTRBO gear to use on our local DMR repeater system (MOTOTRBO is Motorola’s version of DMR). Here in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Ham Radio group has been instrumental in establishing a great network of DMR repeaters, a real asset for Colorado radio amateurs. See Rocky Mountain Ham Radio TRBO/DMR Network.  Worldwide, the DMR-MARC organization has created a robust network of MOTOTRBO repeaters in over 60 countries.

A more recent development is the establishment of the BrandMeister Network, which promotes more of a homebrew approach to DMR. This evening, the BrandMeister dashboard shows 634 industrial repeaters (commercial equipment), 263 homebrew repeaters and over 1300 hotspots of various types.  A variety of DMR hotspots are available, including the DV4mini. I’m not going try to list all of the hotspots available as I’m sure I’ll miss something.  The SharkRF openSPOT caught my attention because of this excellent review by John ‘Miklor’ K3NXU. Because of its popularity, the openSPOT is on backorder (price: 182.5 Euro).

This HamRadioConcepts video walks through the setup and basic operation.

I thought the openSPOT would be a good widget to have around the shack. It is a standalone hotspot, so I don’t have to dedicate a computer to it. Also, it is very turnkey…no assembly required…but some configuration to work out. Its user interface is a web page that you access via your local network…nicely done. I got it working in less than one hour and have been fiddling around with it ever since.

Hotspots are a funny item. They have very limited RF range, so their main purpose is to provide local RF access into the network (just like your Wi-Fi hotspot). One role they play is to provide fill-in coverage when no repeater is available. Another role they fill is being a personal device that can be connected to your favorite reflector or talk group.

I should point out that the openSPOT also operates as a D-STAR and Yaesu Fusion (YSF) hotspot. You just change the configuration of the modem and it starts speaking the selected modulation. More surprising is that I was able to use a YSF handheld radio to talk to the openSPOT which routed me to a DMR talkgroup. Yes, a Yaesu YSF radio talking on DMR.

The first thing I noticed when listening to some of the more active talk groups is that it seems like every person getting on the system said “I just got this Tytera MD-380 radio and you are my first DMR contact.” OK, sometimes it was a Connect Systems or Motorola radio but the MD-380 at around $100 is having a big impact. I picked up an MD-380 and while its not quite as nice as my Motorola, I really do like the radio. (Note that there are other low cost DMR radios that have serious technical issues.) There will be other radios on the market…the technology will keep improving and improved models will hit the market. Right now, everyone is wondering who will create a good dualband 2m / 70cm transceiver for DMR.

I see some very strong technology and market trends in play here that are going to impact the ham radio world. First off, DMR is a true industry standard (ETSI),  well designed and documented. Second, we are seeing multiple radio vendors offering competitive, low cost transceivers. Third, there is high quality commercial repeater gear available from land mobile providers such as Motorola and Hytera. But there’s one more thing that really tops this off: the number of ham-built products emerging that are focused on DMR. This is classic ham radio adaptation and innovation that leverages commercial gear for ham radio use.

Stay tuned…this is going to be interesting!

73, Bob K0NR

2017 Mt Herman Winter Activation

On Saturday, we returned to the Most Radio Active Mountain in Colorado, Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063), for a combination VHF contest, SOTA activation and winter hike. Our radio crew consisted of Steve/WGØAT, Caleb/W4XEN, Joyce/KØJJW and me. I’ve worked Steve forty times on various summits and often when he was activating Mount Herman, but this is the first time we did an activation together. What a treat be on the same summit as the Goathiker! Not only that, Peanut goat came along to supervise the entire operation.

Bob K0NR installs the SOTA flag under the supervision of Peanut (photo: wg0at)

My objective for the day was to chalk up another VHF SOTA activation, while also making some Qs in the VHF contest. For most SOTA activations, I just focus on 2 meters. During a VHF contest, I bring more gear to cover the other bands. The main rig for SSB/CW was my FT-817 driving an Arrow II dualband yagi for 2m and 70 cm. For 6m, I used an inverted Vee dipole supported by a crappie pole. I also had two FT-1D handheld radios listening on 146.52 and 446.0 MHz.

I made 21 contacts on 6m, 2m and 70cm, with 7 grids/mults and a Single Operator Portable score of 164. Not that great of a contest score but it was only a few hours of operating. From a SOTA perspective, this is an attractive number of VHF QSOs in a relatively short time.

Surprisingly, even during a VHF contest, most of the contacts were on FM with the usual SSB contest stations rather scarce. It was very handy to be able to use 146.52 MHz for the contest, finding a number of casual contesters on that frequency.

The high point of the day was working Jay W9RM on the other side of the state in DM58 using 2m CW on 144.210 MHz. The distance was about 170 miles on a path that went over or through several mountain ranges. Not too bad for QRP. (Oh, I guess it doesn’t hurt that W9RM has a serious weak-signal VHF station: 2M-5WL yagi at 50 feet.)  This contact demonstrates the advantage of CW and SSB on 2 meters. Most VHF SOTA action is on FM due to the convenience of a 2m FM HT. But FM has poor weak-signal performance so much better range can be achieved with both CW and SSB. When is the last time you made a 170 mile QSO with an FM handheld?

Caleb W4XEN running a pileup on 20m phone

This was the first SOTA activation for Caleb/W4XEN. Judging by the smile on his face, it won’t be his last one either. While I played on VHF, Steve did his usual thing on HF using CW, using a KX3 to drive an end-fed antenna. Caleb did a bit of both HF and VHF, managing to get a nice pile up going on 20m SSB, using a Yaesu FT-450 driving a BuddiStick antenna. Joyce made a few contacts on 2m FM but mostly took pictures and occasionally tossed GORP in my direction.

Bob K0NR and Steve WG0AT on their first ever joint SOTA activation (photo: k0jjw)

On my last winter activation, my iPhone quit in the cold, so I did not want to rely on it for logging this time. I had a clipboard with my paper log on it, also holding the dual-paddle key. The key moved around a bit and my Morse code sending was sloppy.  I don’t work a lot of CW for SOTA but it does come in handy at times, so I’ll be looking at improving my setup.

The 6m inverted Vee worked out OK but it was a little inconvenient to run the coaxial cable to the apex of the antenna. I’ll be looking to swap that antenna out for an end-fed half wave, which is so common on the HF bands for SOTA.

Steve brought along a large umbrella for use as an instant-up wind shelter. That looks like a practical way to block the wind.

Steve WG0AT operating his KX3 under the protection of the innovative hiking umbrella

The weather was not great…we had a few patches of blue sky but it was mostly overcast and cold (probably 25 degrees F). We lasted about 2 hours before the cold started to take its toll, then we scooted on down the mountain.

Peanut goat and Caleb W4XEN. (photo: wg0at)

Thanks to Joyce, Steve and Caleb for a great day playing radio in the mountains.

73, Bob KØNR

2017 North America SOTA Events

Here’s your handy list of North American Summits On The Air (SOTA) activities for 2017, as supplied by Guy N7UN:

The Cacophony of Digital Voice Continues (Part 2)

Digital transmissionThis post is a continuation of The Cacophony of Digital Voice Continues (Part 1), so you probably should read that one first.

All of the popular amateur digital voice (DV) systems (D-STAR, DMR and YSF) use the AMBE vocoder (voice codec) technology. This technology was developed by Digital Voice Systems, Inc. and is proprietary technology covered by various patents. The use of proprietary technology on the ham bands causes some folks to get worked up about it, especially proponents of an open source world. See my blog posting: Digital Voice at Pacificon and this presentation by Bruce Parens K6BP: AMBE Exposed. Codec2 is an alternative open voice codec developed by David Rowe, VK5DGR. David is doing some excellent work in this space, which has already produced an open codec that is being used on the ham bands. FreeDV is an umbrella term for this open codec work. Here’s a recent video of a presentation on FreeDV by VK5DGR.

It will be interesting to see if and how Codec2 gets adopted in a DV world already dominated by AMBE. After all, a new codec is another contributor to the digital cacophony. On the HF bands, it is easier to adopt a new mode if it can be implemented via a soundcard interface (which FreeDV can do). Any two hams can load up the right software and start having a QSO. The same is true for weak-signal VHF/UHF via simplex. (Note that Flexradio also supports FreeDV, showing how Software Defined Radio (SDR) has an advantage with adopting new technology.)  VHF/UHF repeaters are trickier because you must have a solution for both the infrastructure (repeaters and networks) as well as the user radios.

The vast majority of digital repeaters support just one digital format. For example, a D-STAR repeater does not usually repeat DMR or YSF transmissions. Interestingly, DMR and YSF repeaters often support analog FM via mixed mode operation for backward compatibility. It is definitely possible to support multiple digital formats in one repeater, but the question is will large numbers of repeater owners/operators choose to do that? With existing DV systems, the networking of repeaters is unique to each format which represents another barrier to interchangeability. In particular, most of the DMR infrastructure in the US is MOTOTRBO, which won’t ever support D-STAR or YSF.

In the case of a new vocoder, we can think of that as just a new format of bits being transported by the existing DV protocol. DMR, for example, does not actually specify a particular vocoder, it’s just that the manufacturers developing DMR equipment have chosen to use AMBE technology. So from a technical viewpoint, it is easy to imagine dropping in a new vocoder into the user radio and having it work with other identical radios. Of course, these radios would be incompatible with the existing installed base. Or would they? Perhaps we’d have a backwards compatibility mode that supports communication with the older radios. This is another example of putting more flexibility into the user radio to compensate for DV incompatibilities.

One objection to AMBE is the cost of the technology, especially when compared to free. When D-STAR radios first started using AMBE codec chips, the chip cost was rumored to be $25 to $50, but I don’t have a solid source on that. Now, I see that Tytera is selling a DMR handheld at around $100, including AMBE technology inside, so the codec can’t be very expensive. If a free codec starts to be a credible threat, it will put additional pricing pressure on the AMBE solution.

A potential advantage of Codec2 is superior performance at very low signal-to-noise ratio. We’ve all experienced the not-too-graceful breakup of existing DV transmissions when signals get weak. Some of the Codec2 implementations have shown significant improvement over AMBE at low signal levels.

Conclusions

Repeating a key conclusion from Part 1:

  • For the foreseeable future, we will have D-STAR, DMR and YSF technologies being used in amateur radio. I don’t see one of them dominating or any of them disappearing any time soon.

Adding in these conclusions for Part 2:

  • Codec2 will struggle to displace the proprietary AMBE vocoder, which is well-established and works. The open source folks will promote codec2 but it will take more than that to get it into widespread use. Perhaps superior performance at low signal levels will make the difference.
  • Repeater owner/operators will continue to deploy single-DV-format repeaters. This will make multiformat radios such as the DV4mobile be very attractive. In other words, we will deal with the digital cacophony by having more flexible user radios. This will come at a higher price initially but should drop over time.

Repeating this one from Part 1:

  • A wild card here is DMR. It benefits from being a commercial land mobile standard, so high quality infrastructure equipment is available (both new and used gear). And DMR is being embraced by both land mobile providers (i.e., Motorola, Hytera) and suppliers of low cost radios (i.e., Tytera, Connect Systems). This combination may prove to be very powerful.

Well, those are my thoughts on the topic. I wish the DV world was less fragmented but I don’t see that changing any time soon. What do you think is going to happen?

73, Bob KØNR