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.


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

SOTA Activation: Ormes Peak (W0C/FR-052)

I’ve been thinking about activating Ormes Peak (W0C/FR-052) for a while now. It is not too difficult to get to and is not a difficult climb. After the Waldo Canyon fire (2012), the area was closed for several years, so I needed to be patient. Then I noticed that Don KØDRJ put an alert on SOTAwatch indicating that he was going to activate the summit, so I gave a listen on 146.52 MHz. Sure enough, around mid-morning I heard Don on the frequency and worked him without any problem from my home location.

Then I got to thinking. Joyce KØJJW and I had talked about going for a walk this afternoon, so I did a little checking on Ormes Peak and concluded that it was an option. My fractured ankle is still on the mend so I am not back to 100% of my hiking ability. Ormes seemed like a good next step that would keep me progressing.

bob-k0nr-ormes-peakWe hopped in the Jeep and headed to Rampart Range. To get to Ormes Peak, take USFS road 300 from the north (which is what we did, via Mount Herman Road) or from the south via Garden of the Gods. You’ll want to have a Pike National Forest map for this trip.

ormes-peak-mapTurn East onto USFS road 303 and then follow USFS 302 (these roads are easy 4WD, probably OK for high clearance 2WD). These roads go through the Waldo burn area so you see what a burned forest looks like. Ormes Peak was not directly affected by the fire but we did see a few burned trees on the mountain. According to the Summit Post info, the best approach is from the south but we continued on around to the east and parked at the marked parking area here: 38.948680 deg N, 104.929677 deg W. From there, we bushwacked westward up the side of the hill without too much trouble (about half a mile and 600 feet vertical).

Once on top, I started calling on 146.52 MHz using the FT-1D handheld transceiver. I assembled my 2m yagi antenna hoping to work Brad WA6MM headed up Mt Antero but I found out later he did not summit. We had excellent visibility in all directions: great view of Pikes Peak to the south, Mt Yale and a sliver of Mt Princeton to the west and Mt Evans to the northwest. This really is a great spot to just sit and enjoy the view.

After making 7 contacts on 2m fm, we packed up the gear and headed down the mountain. Ormes Peak is a good “close in” summit accessible from Colorado Springs area.

73, Bob KØNR

The Cacophony of Digital Voice Continues (Part 1)

Digital transmission

It wasn’t that long ago that I commented on the state of digital voice on the VHF/UHF ham bands: Digital Voice Balkanization. We have three main competing (incompatible) standards in the running: D-STAR, DMR and Yaesu System Fusion (YSF). At a high level, these three formats all do the same thing but there are significant differences in implementation (See Comparison of Amateur Radio DV by Roland Kraatz W9HPX.) All three of these are (arguably) open standards, allowing anyone to implement equipment that supports the standard. However, the reality is that D-STAR is still largely an ICOM system (with Kenwood joining the party), YSF is mostly a Yaesu system and DMR is…well, DMR is not deeply embraced by any large amateur radio equipment supplier. Instead, DMR is promoted heavily by Motorola for the commercial market via their MOTOTRBO product line. Another big factor is the availability of DMR radios from some of the low cost providers in the ham market: Connect Systems, Tytera MD-380. Baofeng has also announced a DMR radio but it has some potential shortcomings.

D-STAR has a clear head start versus the other DV standards and is well-entrenched across the US and around the world. DMR and YSF are the late comers that are quickly catching up. To put some numbers on the adoption of DV technology, I took at the digital repeater listings in the August issue of the SERA Repeater Journal. SERA is the coordinating body for Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. This is a large region that includes rural and large urban areas, so perhaps it is a good proxy for the rest of the country. I just considered the listings for D-STAR, DMR and YSF repeaters, some of which are set up as mixed-mode analog and digital repeaters.

D-STAR   161    39%
DMR      136    33%
YSF      121    29%
Total:   418   100%
SERA Repeater Journal - August 2016

I was definitely surprised at how the DMR and YSF numbers are in the ballpark with D-STAR. Of course, we don’t know for sure how many of these repeaters are actually on the air or how many users are active on each one. Still, pretty impressive numbers. (And I did not bother to count the analog FM repeaters but those numbers are way higher, of course.)

It is the repeater clubs and repeater owners that drive the deployment of infrastructure for new technology. To some extent, they are driven by what their users want but also by their own technical interests and biases. One of the positive factors for DMR is that most of these systems are Motorola MOTOTRBO. Hams involved in commercial land mobile radio are exposed to that technology and naturally port it into the amateur radio world. MOTOTRBO is actually not that expensive and it’s built for commercial use. YSF received a big boost when Yaesu offered their repeater for $500 to clubs and owners that would put them on the air. By using Yaesu’s mixed analog/digital mode, it was an easy and attractive upgrade for aging repeater equipment.

Disruption From New Players

Early on in the world of D-STAR, the DV Dongle and DV Access Point by Robin AA4RC allowed hams to access the D-STAR network without needing a local repeater. This basic idea has continued and evolved in several different directions. For example, the DV4Mini is a cute little USB stick that implements a hot spot for…wait for it…D-STAR, DMR and YSF. This is very affordable technology (darn right cheap) that lets any ham develop his or her own local infrastructure. We don’t need no stinkin’ repeater. DV MEGA is another hot spot, supporting D-STAR, DMR and YSF. Oh, and then there’s openSPOT…don’t want to leave them out. I guess somebody forgot to tell these guys they have to choose one format and religiously support only that one.

DV4 Mobile Transceiver as shown in Dayton 2016

OK, so that’s one way to solve the babel fish problem…support all three formats in one device. And that’s what the DV4 mobile radio promises to do as well: “This DV4mobile is a tri-band VHF/UHF transceiver (2m, 1.25m and 70cm) that supports DMR, D-STAR and C4FM ( or “fusion”) all in one box.” Heck, let’s throw in LTE while we are at it, it’s only software. This site says the radio will be available Q4 2016. Well, it’s Q4, so maybe it will be here soon.


So let’s wrap up Part 1 of this story. What can we conclude?

  • 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.
  • Equipment that handles all three of those DV modes will be highly desirable. It is the most obvious way to deal with the multiple formats. Software-defined radios will play a key role here.
  • 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.

SOTA Activation: Bald Mountain (W0C/SP-115)

On Saturday, I activated Bald Mountain (W0C/SP-115) for Summits On The Air. It was an awesome fall day here in the Rockies, so Joyce KØJJW and I were ready for some outdoor fun. When you say you are going to the summit of Bald Mountain, the usual response is “which Bald Mountain?” Fortunately, for SOTA purposes we can use the designator (W0C/SP-115) to drive out the ambiguity. Else, you have to deal with the fact there are 32 summits in Colorado known as Bald Mountain. And I am sure there are many more in other states.

SP-115 is a drive-up summit if you have a reasonable 4WD vehicle. For us, this meant taking the Jeep Wrangler to the top. (I am still recovering from a fractured ankle and just starting to hike a bit, so a drive-up opportunity sounded good to me.) Many maps do not show the road up Bald Mountain, so I included a portion of the map for the area (below). These recreational maps are excellent quality so I recommend you get one for exploring the area.

Salida – Buena Vista Map

To get to this Bald Mountain, take Highway 285 south from Buena Vista, exit at Fisherman’s Bridge, then head towards FS road 300. (Refer to the San Isabel National Forest or Latitude 40 map for details.) We followed FS 300 east which is easy 4WD.  About 2 miles in, we took FS 300B (marked) to the north which winds its way up Bald Mountain.

At 0.6 miles from the intersection of 300 and 300B, an unmarked 4WD road leads off to the left and proceeds around the west side of the mountain. Taking this route provides a much easier path than the main route leading to the east side of the mountain. (We had taken the main route on our previous activation.) The preferred road does one big switchback out to the west and then returns east to the summit. This road is easy 4WD but is a bit narrow so a full size SUV or truck may have trouble. Of course, you can always hike to the summit…most likely just following the road.

bald-mountain I got out my trusty Arrow 2m yagi antenna, connected it to the Yaesu FT-1D and started calling on 146.52 MHz. It took a while to get my four contacts but I kept at it. Actually, I worked five stations on 2m fm: KEØDMT, KDØMRC, K5UK, KAØABV and NØVXE. Thanks for the contacts! I was hoping to work WGØAT who was on the summit of Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063), but I was unable to copy him.

The summit has awesome views of the Collegiate Peaks to the west and it’s worth the trip just for the view. Mount Princeton with some light snow on it is shown just left of center in the photograph.

73, Bob KØNR

Rehab for the KØNR Repeater

My UHF repeater has been operating on 447.725 MHz here in Monument for a couple of decades now. It started out as a classic “pet repeater” project and has been operating from my basement all this time. Over time it has picked up additional users and has turned into the de facto hangout for our local radio club.

The repeater system has gone through a number of revisions over the years, including the RF transmitter and receiver. I wanted to retire the pair of Motorola Mitrek mobile radios I have been using when they started to exhibit a few lose connections. Really though, I thought it was time for some synthesized, modern RF gear in a compact package.

k0nr-repeater3When Yaesu offered an attractive price on their DR-1X Fusion repeater, I jumped at the chance. Initially, I put it on the air in mixed analog-digital mode with the repeater automatically switching modes to handle either analog FM or C4FM digital. I used the internal controller of the DR-1X which is quite simple and has limited functionality. (The SCOM 7K controller got put on the shelf for a while.) The DR-1X supports using an external controller but implementing the mixed analog-digital mode is…well…challenging. (Various people have figured out ways to do it with modifications to the DR-1X or using additional hardware.)  After 10 months of operation, I decided to reinstall the full-featured SCOM 7K controller, enabling quite a few features including a 2m remote base, synthesized speech, automatic scheduling and weather alerts. This does mean giving up the C4FM mode but usage was minimal anyway.

The SCOM 7K repeater controller has been in service for decades, handling multiple receivers and transmitters, very configurable with programmable macros. SCOM has long since moved on to a newer, improved model but my 7K just keeps on ticking. The 7K has the voice synthesis and autopatch options installed, so, yes the repeater has an autopatch (not that anyone cares). A Yaesu FT-7800R is used as a 2m remote base and the duplexer is a classic Decibel Products. Not shown in the photo is a Bearcat WX100 weather receiver that is used to transmit weather information when an alert occurs in our area.

I’ve documented the wiring diagram and configuration used here: k0nr-repeater-construction-notes

This was a good opportunity to clean up some of the cabling and physical mounting that had degraded over time. (A kluge here, a kluge there and entropy takes over.) I am happy with the result.

73, Bob K0NR

Introducing The Android HT


Some exciting news wandered into my inbox this past week concerning a handheld radio driven by the Android operating system. The RFinder H1 is an FM plus DMR radio to be released at the end of this month. Click to enlarge the photo to the left to get a better view. I had proposed a similar concept back in 2012: The Android HT, so this radio immediately grabbed my attention.

Details are still a bit thin on the RFinder H1 (pronounced “Ar Finder H 1”) but this video gives you a glimpse of its operation. The 70cm band radio apparently also supports GSM and 4G/LTE mobile phone formats.

There are a few other YouTube videos available, one of which emphasizes the easy programming of the radio using the RFinder online repeater directory. This makes perfect sense and is a great example of the power of a connected device. This feature would be very handy for programming up FM repeaters on the fly and outstanding for dealing with the complexity of DMR settings.

The RFinder H1 includes DMR capability, something I wasn’t thinking of back in 2012. That also makes perfect sense…embracing the growing amateur radio format that is based on industry standards.

Very cool development. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

NPOTA: Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain

arrl_npTo celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service, the ARRL is sponsoring National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) during 2016. Joyce KØJJW and I happened to have a trip planned to visit several of the National Parks, so it was great opportunity to take along some radio gear and operate portable from the parks.

Grand Teton National Park

First stop was the Grand Teton National Park (NP23) in Wyoming. I operated from Signal Mountain, which is also a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak. See my previous blog posting: SOTA plus NPOTA on Signal Mountain.

Two of the 3700 buffalo that inhabit Yellowstone NP

We continued on to Yellowstone NP (NP57), where we saw lots of wildlife: buffalo, elk, deer, bear and antelope. (Click on any of the photos to get a larger image.)

NPOTA station operating in Yellowstone NP.

As described in the Signal Mountain post, my portable station was a Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed halfwave antenna on 20m. I used a SOTABEAMS pole to support the antenna, lashing the pole to whatever posts I found available. It was not too difficult to find a suitable parking spot close to mounting post. I was prepared to operate on other bands but 20m seemed to be the best choice based on current band conditions. I made 48 contacts on 20m ssb in about 30 minutes.

As we headed back home to Colorado, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park (NP48). We entered the park from the west side and crossed over to the east entrance via Trail Ridge Road. Love that drive! But first we stopped on the west side to do another NPOTA activation. Again, 20m phone was the operating mode and I made 33 contacts with stations across the US and Canada.

Rocky Mountain NP elk.

We took our time leaving the park around dusk so that we could spot some elk. The strategy paid off as we saw more than 20 elk in various locations.

Our top priority was enjoying the parks and viewing wildlife so we did not spend a huge amount of time doing NPOTA activations. Still, we activated three of our favorite National Parks, making 121 QSOs. We also worked in two SOTA activations on the trip as a bonus. All in all, it was a great trip with some fun ham radio activity included.

The SOTA and NPOTA logs have all been submitted (SOTA database and Logbook of The World, respectively.)

73, Bob K0NR

SOTA plus NPOTA on Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161)

Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161) is now my favorite spot in the Grand Teton National Park. The summit is well-marked on the Grand Teton NP map, on the east side of Jackson Lake. It has a paved road to the top and it provides excellent views of Jackson Hole and the surrounding mountains. Oh, and it’s a great location for ham radio.

On this summit, I did a combination Summits On The Air (SOTA) and National Parks On the Air (NPOTA) activation. Well, sort of. It turns out that when I packed for the trip, I included my usual SOTA gear, which is all VHF. For NPOTA, I loaded up my HF DXpedition gear that needs a pretty hefty power source. These means that the HF stuff uses my car battery, so it is not SOTA-compliant. Oh well.

Bob K0NR works stations on 2m fm for a SOTA activation.

For the SOTA activation, I used the Yaesu FT-1DR and my 3-element Arrow yagi antenna to work a handful of stations on 146.52 MHz. I was a little concerned about finding enough stations listening on 52, but once again a little bit of patience payed off and I made my four QSOs.

Bob K0NR using the “back of the SUV” operating position. The 20m end-fed half-wave antenna is supported by a SOTABEAMS pole.

Then I set up the NPOTA station to activate Grand Teton National Park (NP23). My equipment was a Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed half-wave for 20m from LNR Precision. I’ve tried a number of different portable antennas over the years but have found that a half-wave radiator up in the air is a pretty effective antenna. This could be a center-fed dipole antenna but that can be a challenge to support, depending on the physical location.

The end-fed half-waves (EFHW) from LNR Precision are easily supported using a non-conductive pole such as the 10m SOTABEAMS pole. The top two sections of the pole are too thin to support much of antenna, so I have removed them. This makes my pole about 9 meters in length which is still long enough to support a 20m halfwave.  (The antenna angles out a bit as shown in the photo but its pretty much vertical.) I attached the pole to a fence post using some hook/loop straps. I don’t fiddle with the length of the antenna, I just let the antenna tuner in the FT-991 trim up the match. This is the same configuration I used in Antigua (V29RW), where it worked great.

The FT-991 is a great little radio for this kind of operation. The SUV we were driving is not set up for HF operation so I just located the radio in the back of the vehicle and plopped down on a folding camp chair. For power, I clipped directly onto the vehicle battery with fused 10 gauge wires.

I started by making a few calls on 20m ssb. As soon as I was “spotted” on the usual web sites, I had a good pileup going. I worked 40 stations in about 40 minutes, so averaged one QSO per minute overall. Thanks to everyone that worked me; all contacts have been uploaded to Logbook of The World.

Oh, and it was a lot of fun.

73, Bob K0NR

Slacker SOTA Activation in the Tetons (W7Y/TT-061)

The Grand Teton National Park has plenty of mountains for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, so I wanted to activate a few of them as we enjoyed the park. I am still recovering from a fractured ankle, so I was definitely looking for an easy-peasy summit to activate on our trip. It turns out there is a summit right at the top of the Jackson Hole Arial Tram that operates during the summer months (W7Y/TT-061). (This tram serves the ski area during the winter.)

The SOTA database shows this summit as unnamed and refers to it by elevation, 10450. The locals may refer to this as Rendezvous Mountain, not to be confused with Rendezvous Peak (W7Y/TT-035). For SOTA purposes its just “10450”.

The bottom of the Arial Tram is accessed in Teton Village and is easy to find. However, don’t confuse the it with Bridger Gondola, which goes to another peak.

Joyce K0JJW at the top of the tram. Yes, that’s snow on the ground.

Well, this sounds pretty awesome…ride the tram to the top and play ham radio. Now the bad news: the ticket for the tram is $42. It’s an all day pass that gives you access to other lifts and plenty of hiking trails but still it is expensive. OK, slightly better news: if you purchase online you can get the pass for $32. There are senior and other pricing options, so check out the web site for the latest info.

This map shows trails available for hiking from the tram and lifts. Click on this photo to see the detail.

The September weather was overcast and cold at the summit. I opted for a simple VHF activation using my Yaesu FT-1DR and a half-wave vertical antenna. I had my 3-element 2m yagi with me but I didn’t deploy it. I figured that my ability to contact folks on 2m fm would be limited more by who happens to be monitoring…signal strength would not be a major factor.

K0NR using the innovative “sit on the ground” operating position. Note the Official SOTA hat.

It was cold at the top and I was glad that I packed my gloves, hat and a decent jacket. I made five contacts by calling on 146.52 MHz. Corbet’s Cabin at the top of the tram offers basic food and drinks and warm place to sit.

The tram ride was quite enjoyable with good views of the Jackson Hole area. However, this may go down in history as my most expensive SOTA activation.

73, Bob K0NR

Monarch Ridge South SOTA Activation (W0C/SP-058)

For the 2016 Colorado 14er Event, I chose really easy SOTA summits to activate because I had fractured my ankle earlier in the summer. At this point, I was able to hobble around with a protective boot but walking more than a few hundred feet was difficult. On Saturday, our radio crew (Bob K0NR, Joyce K0JJW, Denny KB9DPF and Kathy KB9GVC) drove up Pikes Peak and took a short stroll away from the vehicle to operate. On Sunday, we decided to activate Monarch Ridge South (W0C/SP-058), using the sight-seeing tram that goes to the top.

Trailhead signAccess is right off Monarch Pass (Hwy 50), where there is a large parking lot. There is a trail that goes to the top and we’ll be back to hike that some other time. (Actually, Joyce K0JJW and I already tried to snowshoe to the top in blizzard conditions but that is another story for another day.) The trail is a popular mountain bike route, part of the Continental Divide Trail (CTD). Monarch Pass is oriented north/south and the trail heads off to the east (behind the tram building). At some point, you need to turn left off the main trail to ascend the summit.

Tram lower buildingBut we opted for the tram, boarding it inside this building near the parking lot. We purchased tickets in the nearby gift shop, which is worth a look if you need a map, book, ice cream cone or trinkets. See their website for latest schedule and pricing.




Tram going up mountainHere’s a photo of the tram going up the side of the mountain. Of course, the views are great and the ride takes about 10 minutes. The tram car holds four people and a reasonable amount of SOTA gear.




KB9DPF operating 2m fmAt the top, Denny KB9DPF made contacts on 2m FM, aided by expert logger Kathy KB9GVC. The actual summit is about a tenth of a mile to the south but we operated from a concrete pad on the north side. The ridge is flat and we judged the activation area to be very large.

We made a total of 13 contacts on 2m and 70cm, including 5 other SOTA summits (S2S).



K0NR operating 70cmI used my Yaesu FT-817 to call on 432.100 MHz SSB, hoping to find someone in the UHF contest that was happening concurrently with the 14er event. I didn’t work anyone on 70cm SSB but I did work K3ILC in Colorado Springs on FM at a distance of ~90 miles. Not too bad. The Arrow antenna is attached to my hiking stick via the camera mount thread.




Radio SiteThere is a substantial radio site on Monarch Ridge that did provide some RF interference to us on 2 meters. The 70 cm band seemed to be unaffected but I can’t be sure. The “bad boy” transmitter is the KMYP automated weather station (AWOS) transmitting continuously on 124.175 MHz. Well, at least we could receive current weather information. We did relocate to put some distance between us and the transmitters but my lack of mobility kept us from going very far.

If you are looking for an easy access SOTA summit near Monarch Pass with excellent views, this is it. The hike up should not be very difficult but the tram makes it even easier. If you plan to operate 2 meters, expect some interference. Next time, I’ll try locating even further away from the transmitter site. I might even bring along some bandpass filters. Other SOTA enthusiasts have reported no problems on the HF bands.

At the time of this post, there are plans to put a 2m amateur repeater at this site on 145.325 MHz.

73, Bob K0NR

What’s In Your Rubber Duck?

rubber-duckyAnyone with a VHF or UHF handheld transceiver (HT) probably uses the standard “rubber duck” antenna for casual use. I often refer to the rubber duck as The World’s Most Convenient Crappy Antenna. To be fair, all antennas are a compromise…the rubber duck optimizes small size and convenience at the expense of performance. The Wikipedia entry describes the rubber duck antenna as “an electrically short monopole antenna…[that] consists of a springy wire in the shape of a narrow helix, sealed in a rubber or plastic jacket to protect the antenna.

Being curious about what really is hiding inside the typical rubber duck antenna, I decided to take a few of them apart. I did not try to assess the performance of the antennas but just examine their construction.

Baofeng UV-5R Stock Antenna

Baofeng UV-5R rubber duck
Baofeng UV-5R Antenna

I started by dissecting a Baofeng UV-5R antenna, which took some aggressive action with a diagonal wire cutters to split the rubberized jacket near the bottom. After that, the jacket slid off to reveal the classic spiral antenna element inside. You can see some white adhesive near the top of the spiral element (upper right in the photo).

The Baofeng antenna had a female SMA connector.

Note: You can access high resolution versions of the photos in this article by clicking on them, allowing you to see lots of detail.



Yaesu FT-1DR Stock Antenna

Yaesu FT-1DR antenna
Yaesu FT-1DR antenna

The Yaesu antenna was easy to disassemble. In fact, I chose this antenna because I noticed that the outside jacket had come loose and was starting to slide off the antenna. A steady pull on the cover exposed the antenna elements without any further antenna abuse. (I plan to reinstall the cover with a few dabs of glue and expect that it will continue to work fine.)

The construction of this antenna is quite different from the Baofeng. The main element is a very tightly-wound spring…so tight that I expect that it acts like a solid wire electrically. In other words, it doesn’t have the spiral configuration that makes the antenna act longer electrically. At the bottom of the antenna, there is a coil inserted in series with the radiating element (connects radiating element with the center pin of the SMA connector).

Yaesu FT-1DR coil closeup
Close up of antenna coil


The photo to the right shows a closeup view of the male SMA connector and the coil.






Laird VHF Antenna

Laird antenna peeling coating
Peeling back the outer coating of the Laird antenna

Next, I wondered if antennas for commercial radios used different design or construction techniques. Laird makes high-quality antennas for the mobile radio and other commercial markets, so I purchased one of their VHF rubber duck antennas to dissect. This model is intended for use with Motorola radios requiring a threaded antenna stud.

This antenna was a challenge to cut open. I used a sharp knife and diagonal pliers to cut the rubberized jacket and peeled it back using a needle-nose pliers. The rubberized coating was embedded into the spiral antenna element, so it did not come apart easily. It took over an hour fighting with the antenna and I gave up before getting the entire spiral element exposed.


Laird VHF antenna
Laird VHF antenna

The Laird antenna is clearly the sturdiest of the three antennas. The spiral element is much thicker than the Baofeng and the rubberized coating is tougher and molded tightly into the spiral element.

The Baofeng and Laird antennas use the same design concept…just take a spiral antenna element and apply a protective cover. However, the Laird construction was far superior, but not a surprise given that Baofeng is a low-cost provider in the ham radio (consumer) market.

My disappointment is with the Yaesu antenna. The antenna came apart after one year of not very heavy use. I expect I can put it back together with some adhesive, improving on the design in the process.

Anyway, I found this interesting and wanted to share it with you. What’s in your rubber duck?

73, Bob KØNR

All VHF Shack Sloth

w0sotaOn June 21st, I worked Steve K7PX on Mount Garfield (W0C/FR-040) using 2m fm to push me over 1000 points to quality for the SOTA Shack Sloth Award using only VHF. This is my first significant SOTA award, which I have been working towards for several years now. I decided to pursue Shack Sloth using only the VHF bands, which is much more difficult than using HF. Why did I choose that? Something about mountains, Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) and VHF radio has always intrigued me.

Here’s the line up of my top chased summits, with Mt Herman and Pikes Peak taking the clear lead. Mt Herman is The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado and it is in my backyard. Most of those contacts were with Steve WGØAT and Frank KØJQZ. Thanks, guys! Pikes Peak is also a clear VHF shot from my house and many SOTA activators and tourists like to activate that summit. No surprise, the rest of the summits are various peaks in Colorado, worked from my house or from our cabin near Trout Creek Pass. Quite a few of these are Summit-to-Summit contacts made when activating peaks, often during the Colorado 14er Event.

chased summitsMost of my thousand points were contacts made using plain old 2m fm, The Utility Mode. A few contacts were made on 2m ssb along with some 70 cm fm and ssb contacts. I have been encouraging folks to try 2m ssb for huge improvements in weak-signal performance but the universal nature of 2m fm seems to be winning out.

My next goal is Mountain Goat with VHF only. I’ll need to activate a lot of summits to get that done, so it will take me a while. It’s always good to have something to work towards.

73, Bob KØNR

How About an Updated FT-817?

The Elecraft KX2 made a big splash with QRP enthusiasts at the Dayton Hamvention this year. HamRadio360 had some good coverage of the product introduction. Basically, the KX2 is a shrunken version of the KX3, covering the HF bands 80m through 10m.

The Yaesu FT-817ND
The Yaesu FT-817ND

There were rumors circulating that Yaesu would introduce a replacement for the FT-817ND, but that turned out to not be true. It is a good rumor because the original FT-817 was introduced way back in 2001 (according to Wikipedia). Also, Chris Wilson NØCSW was actively soliciting inputs for an 817 replacement at the Central States VHF Conference last summer.

A while back, I did a comparison of the FT-817 and the KX3 (big brother to the KX2). I evaluated the two radios from a VHF/UHF point of view. The FT-817 is the only portable single-radio solution for 50 MHz, 144 MHz and 432 MHz. The KX3 includes 50 MHz standard and 144 MHz is an option. The KX2 leaves out the VHF bands completely to achieve a smaller size.

What’s Next for the FT-817?

Its always fun to speculate on what might be coming in new gear. I expect Yaesu will maintain its position as the QRP transceiver that covers HF/VHF/UHF. It has a long history of delivering cost-effective “do everything” radios. We can look to recent product introductions from Yaesu to get a hint of what might be coming.

The FT-2DR, FT-400DR and FT-991 have all adopted larger touch-screen displays so we can probably expect that for the 817 replacement. However, this will challenge the existing form factor…you can’t just drop a larger display into the existing 817 design. The three newer radios include the System Fusion C4FM digital mode…at this point, I don’t think Yaesu would introduce a VHF/UHF radio without it.

Which raises another question: will the new radio also include a GPS receiver? This capability is a good complement to the C4FM mode in a portable radio. The FT-991 requires you to enter your location manually, which the FT-2DR and FT-400DR use a built-in GPS. But it adds circuitry and complexity so I am going to guess they will leave that out.

I am expecting (hoping?) Yaesu will improve the battery life of the transceiver. (Receive standby current is spec’d at 450 mA.)  Even if they don’t improve the current drain, newer battery technology could be used to improve operating time. Also, depending on the form factor changes, it may be wise to dedicate more space for a physically larger battery.

Yaesu will probably improve the overall receiver performance, including advanced DSP features. Many 817 users have complained about the lack of coverage of 162 MHz weather radio in the US. On the transmit side, a little more output power would be nice…maybe match the KX3’s 10 watts on HF. Yaesu could really make the VHF crowd happy (in the US) if they included the 222 MHz band.

Take One Tablet

The radio will surely have a computer I/O port with USB being the most flexible choice. There is an opportunity to innovate a bit here by coupling the radio with Android and iOS tablets. I could see a really nice app that handles logging, CW, PSK31, RTTY, bandscope, and other advanced features. This could take the pressure off having a larger display and loading tons of features into the radio. The most convenient I/O would be wireless, most likely Bluetooth or maybe WiFi.  Many of the SOTA and QRP operators already take along a smartphone or tablet for logging and other tasks, so it would be a good fit to that market. The key to this idea is careful human factors design and tight integration with the radio. Do I expect this from Yaesu? Not really. So surprise me and knock my socks off.

Those are my thoughts. Your turn.

73, Bob KØNR

Summits On The Air – Colorado Style

14erLOGOsmallSummits On The Air – Colorado Style is the title of my presentation at Hamcon Colorado, 2 pm Friday May 13th. I will be discussing the Summits On The Air program and the Colorado 14er Event.

The slides are available here:
Summits On The Air -Colorado Style

The conference will be excellent. I hope to see you there!

73, Bob KØNR