On the last day of the year, it seemed like a good idea to get in one more SOTA activation. It turns out that I had not been up Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063) all year, even though it’s close by. See this page for the trail description. Joyce KØJJW and I decided to hike up in the morning, reaching the summit around 11 AM local time. This was my third SOTA activation of Mt Herman, but I’ve operated from there many more times in various VHF contests (back before SOTA was a thing in Colorado).
The road to the trailhead (Mt Herman Road, FS 320) was in very good condition but snowpacked and icy. This road is not plowed during the winter but it is often passable with a decent 4WD vehicle. Today, you could make it to the trailhead with 2WD and some careful driving. The trail conditions were typical for winter time: almost completely covered in snow with a few bare spots showing here and there. The trail was packed powder and not particularly icy. Still, we appreciated having traction devices on our boots. This trail can be downright treacherous when it ices up, so traction devices (Yaktrax, Microspikes, etc.) are highly recommended. Trekking poles can be helpful, too.
Once at the summit, I used my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and a half-wave vertical antenna to work people on 146.52 MHz. Having notified a number of people that I would be on the air, I actually had a bit of a pile up on 2m fm. In short order, I worked KE5QNG, WA6MM, KH7AL, WG0AT, W7AWH, K9MAP, K0JQZ, K9DBX, W0STU, KD0MFO, WB0ROK, KD0VHD and KL7IZW. Best DX was about 50 miles with W7AWH in Pueblo West. Thanks to everyone that got on the air to work me.
The weather was cold, about 15 deg F, so we didn’t stay too long on the summit and headed back down the trail. OK, maybe “winter assault” is a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s call it a fun hike in cold weather.
This recycled post from 2008 is still accurate, but I do have my HF antenna up and recently used it for the CQ WW SSB Contest.
I was looking out the window the other day and noticed that my wire HF antenna is laying on the ground. Hmmm, probably doesn’t radiate very well that way. But if I put a long, lossy coaxial cable in line, the SWR will still be good at the transmitter. And I can tell my buddies that it works just fine because “I can work everyone that I hear.” (What a dumb thing to say.)
This made me realize that most of my ham radio activity lately has been on 2m FM. Actually it has been on 2m and 70cm FM, as I tend to lump these two activities together. These days, my VHF/UHF FM rigs have at least 146 MHz and 440 MHz in them (FT-7800, FT-8900, etc.). I cruise down the road and flip on the rig, talk to the locals, talk to the XYL, etc. It is just too easy and too convenient. It fits the mobile lifestyle, whether it means operating a mobile rig in the car or grabbing an HT to take along on a business trip. (I used to run HF and SSB VHF mobile but found that the rigs were rarely used, so I removed the gear from my vehicle.)
Of course, I need to apologize to the rest of the ham community for this failure to act according to accepted social norms. You know how it is…Real Hams operate HF, weak-signal VHF, microwaves, etc……almost anything that is not 2m FM. Every so often I hear that comment about “well, those techs just hang out on 2m FM,” implying that those guys are permanently stuck in ham radio middle school, unable to graduate to the next level. Or sometimes the FM operators are referred to as having “shacks on the belt” which are dependent on the “box on the hill.” The main message is that 2m FM is just too easy, too plug-n-play, too much like an appliance….too convenient. We certainly can’t have that!
Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy HF, DXing, contesting, digital modes, almost anything to do with amateur radio. That’s the cool thing about the hobby…so many bands, so many modes. One of my favorite activities is operating the major VHF contests. (I’ve even been known to make a few CW contacts.) But on a day-to-day basis 2m FM just seems to fit in better.
Some people call 2m FM the Utility Mode, because it is the mode that gets the job done. Last week, we had a weather net activated to track thunderstorms and a few tornadoes. Did this happen on 40m? I don’t think so. Two meters carried the load. Where do most of the ARES and RACES nets meet? Two meters. How is most public service communications handled? Two meter FM. Even some hard core HF DX enthusiasts are known to flip over to 2m FM to tell their buddies that the DXpedition to a rare country is on the air. It is the Utility Mode.
Over the weekend, I was driving through the mountains and heard an aeronautical mobile working stations simplex on 146.52 MHz…lots of fun. Another time, I heard a station calling about 80 miles away (I was in a high spot) and I had the pleasure of making that contact….again, on 2m FM. A few weeks ago, I operated in the Colorado 14er Event from the summit of Pikes Peak. Since many of the mountaintop stations had hiked up, the most popular mode of the day was (you guessed it) 2m FM.
So sorry, I have been hanging out on 2m FM. I’ll try to get that HF antenna back in the air one of these days.
On Sunday, I noticed that Brad WA6MM posted that he planned to activate Dakota Hill (W0C/SR-051) for Summits On The Air (SOTA). Dakota is not a good VHF shot from my house but I was planning to be mobile out east towards Black Forest that morning, so it was worth a try. I texted Brad to let him know I’d be looking for him on 2m fm.
Heading south on Highway 83, the road was gaining elevation when Brad let me know he would soon be on the air. Dakota Hill is 10,929 feet and set back into the mountains, so I wasn’t sure if I could make the RF trip over Palmer Divide to work him. I pulled over at the crest of the hill and made a call. Brad had moved off 146.52 MHz due to some intermod interference and was on 146.55 MHz. Brad was using his trusty handheld radio running 5 watts into a half-wave antenna while I had a 50 watt mobile with a 1/4-wave antenna on the roof of the SUV. We made the contact without too much trouble…his signal was half scale on my meter. I listened to Brad work another station as I drove on, losing elevation and losing Brad’s signal on the other side of the hill. That was apparently THE SPOT to make the contact. Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) is a key factor for VHF SOTA.
I put WA6MM into the log, scoring 6 SOTA chaser points for the 70 mile QSO. No, this wasn’t a rare DX station, no new record set, nothing that exceptional to report, actually. But it was a fun contact, with Brad hiking to a summit in December and me trying to find a location to work him.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we had one digital communications format for the VHF/UHF amateur bands with all equipment manufacturers offering compatible products? The basic modulation and transport protocol would be standard with manufacturers and experimenters able to innovate on top of that basic capability. There would be plenty of room to compete based on special features but all radios would interoperate at a basic level. You know, kind of like analog FM.
Congratulations to AMSAT for the successful launch and initial deployment of the Fox-1A amateur radio satellite.This bird has been designated AO-85 and has an FM transponder on board (435.180 MHz uplink, 145.980 MHz downlink).
I have not heard or worked this satellite yet but early reports indicate that it has a strong signal on the downlink. So start out by trying to hear the bird on 145.980 MHz. To find out when it will be overhead, use the AMSAT pass prediction page or your favorite satellite tracking software.
For the 2015 Colorado 14er Event, Joyce K0JJW and I activated Mount Antero (W0C/SR-003) on the 2m and 70 cm bands. Alan NM5S joined us on the summit, operating mostly HF plus some 2m fm.
We took our Jeep Wrangler up the moderate 4WD road and parked at 13,800 feet. This makes for a very manageable hike to the 14,269 foot summit. Of course, you can always choose to start the hike from lower on the mountain, but you’ll end up walking along the road. This web site provides a good overview of the 4WD road. The 14ers.com web site and summitpost.org are additional sources of summit info.
Here’s a short video of our operation on the summit.
Here’s the K0NR log on the 2m band, fm and ssb:
August 2, 2015 K0NR Log, time in UTC
15:09 144MHz FM K0JJW
15:13 144MHz FM W0CP
15:16 144MHz FM KC5JKU Mt Elbert
15:17 144MHz FM KD0WHB Grays Peak
15:21 144MHz FM N0XDW Pikes Peak
15:37 144MHz FM KD5HGD Mt Elbert
15:42 144MHz FM KD0MRC
15:42 144MHz FM KE0DMT
15:44 144MHz FM NQ0L Franktown
15:45 144MHz FM KE0EUO Mt Democrat
15:46 144MHz FM K7SO Mt Democrat
15:50 144MHz SSB KD0YOB W0C/PR-005
15:53 144MHz SSB W0BV Buena Vista
15:53 144MHz SSB K0YV Buena Vista
15:57 144MHz SSB W0STU Monument
16:06 144MHz FM KD0WHB Torreys
16:13 144MHz FM KI6YMZ Mt Elbert
16:19 144MHz FM KE0EKT Mt Elbert
16:29 144MHz FM WZ0N
16:29 144MHz FM KE0DAL
16:31 144MHz FM WO9S
16:33 144MHz FM K0UO
17:10 144MHz FM KD2FHB Pikes Peak
I used my Yaesu FT-817 driving a 3 element Arrow yagi antenna (shown in video) for both FM and SSB 2m operation. It was a great day on the mountain with quite a few Summit-to-Summit (S2S) SOTA contacts. See you next year on a Colorado mountaintop!
The certificate for my entry in the 2014 ARRL September VHF Contest arrived in the mail last week. Given that it has been 11 months after the contest, I had pretty much forgotten about the effort. The ARRL VHF contest certificates look great, even if they do take a while to get issued. It turns out this contest entry was the combination VHF contest plus Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation from Mt Herman that I blogged about.
My blog posting said my score was 767 but the actual score was 780. Not a big score by any standard but not bad for ~4 hours of operating on a Saturday afternoon. As I suspected, this sets a new record for the Single Operator Portable category in the Colorado Section. What I did not expect is placing sixth in the overall contest (for my category). For the most part, this was just a really fun SOTA activation that included some VHF contest action.
Summary: The score doesn’t matter; any day having fun with ham radio is a good day.
Buffalo Peaks are a pair of 13er summits that stick up quite prominently on the west side of South Park in Colorado. West Buffalo Peak is the taller of the pair (13,326 feet) and the SOTA summit (W0C/SP-018). I’ve had my eye on these peaks for a while, wanting to climb then and also do a SOTA activation. Here’s a winter view of the summits, as seen from the south near Trout Creek Pass.
Joyce K0JJW and I hiked in from the north, off of Buffalo Peaks Road (FS 431). The trailhead is not marked and is easy to miss but this trip report on the 13ers.com web site is very helpful. Pay special attention to the photo of the trailhead. This trip report describes doing both East and West Buffalo in a bit of a loop. We opted to focus on just West Buffalo, skipping East Buffalo.
Here’s my favorite hiking partner on the trail near the trailhead. The “trail” is not very well marked, following various old logging roads. We roughly followed the route indicate on 13ers.com. Once we cleared the trees we had a good view of both peaks and aimed for West Buffalo. We did make a critical error by going for the summit too early and got onto some very steep talus. Not fun. So the main route finding advice I am going to provide is make sure you approach the summit from the (more) gentle saddle on the northwest side. I marked this waypoint (N 38.99444, W 106.12866) as a good point to aim for on the way up so that you stay far enough west.
Once on the summit, I worked the following stations on 146.52 MHz: KD0MRC, KJ6NES, AF5KS, W9GYA, KE0DMT, W0BV and K5UK.
On the descent we stayed west of the route marked on the 13ers.com trip report with the intent of having an easier route. However, mostly what we did was encounter additional off trail hiking, so that is probably not recommended. It would have been better to just retrace our ascent route. Eventually, we found a different trail that led back to FS 431, popping out about a quarter mile west of where we parked. I had the location of our Jeep marked in the GPS, so it was easy to backtrack to the vehicle.
This was the first SOTA activation for West Buffalo Peak, so it was great to get that in the log. Thanks to everyone that got on the air to work me.
During my presentation on Mountaintop VHF for SOTA at the Central States VHF Society Conference in Denver today, I mentioned this is an issue. Basically, I pointed out that Summits On The Air (SOTA) operators often default to the 2m fm calling frequency, which is prohibited for use in the ARRL contests. This gets in the way when mountaintop stations do a combination SOTA and VHF Contest operation.
During my presentation, Brian Mileshosky N5ZGT, ARRL Director of the Rocky Mountain Division, reported that the ARRL has decided to remove the prohibition of 146.52 MHz in VHF contests. It will take some time for this to work its way into the actual rules, so stayed tuned for further developments.
This is great news…a cleanup of an unnecessary impediment to VHF contesting. Now, will the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest do the same?
Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around world. Join in on the fun on the first full weekend in August and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. The prime operating hours are on Sunday August 2nd from 9 AM to noon local time (1500 to 1800 UTC), but activity can occur throughout the weekend.
Now including Summits On the Air (SOTA), which adds over 1700 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from (with a wide variety of difficulty). See the W0C SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org
Frequencies used during the event Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. 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, 147.51, 147.54 MHz.
147.42 Primary 2m FM Frequency, then up in 30 kHz steps
223.5 Primary 222 MHz FM frequency
446.000 Primary 70 cm FM frequency
446.025 Alternate 70 cm FM frequency
52.525 Primary 6m FM frequency
144.200 2m SSB calling frequency
50.125 6m SSB calling frequency
14.060 20m CW Frequency
14.345 20m SSB Frequency
18.092 17m CW Frequency
18.158 17m SSB Frequency
21.060 15m CW Frequency
21.330 15m SSB Frequency
28.060 10m CW Frequency
28.350 10m SSB Frequency
Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply.
Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity. Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.
It was the Saturday of ARRL Field Day, so I planned to be out at our FD site in Black Forest. Brad and I had coordinated in advance and pretty much concluded that it would be difficult or impossible to make the contact on FM. Brad decided to take his FT-817 along with a homebrew 4-element yagi to give him 2m SSB capability. Out at the FD site, I saw that Brad was spotted on Bald Mountain (W0C/PR-019) via SOTAwatch early in the morning, so I borrowed the FD VHF station to try to work him. It was an FT-897 pushing 50 watts to a 4-element yagi up about 30 feet. I heard Brad clearly on 144.200 MHz (SSB calling frequency) and we made the contact.
I estimate that the contact was about 75 miles. I did not do a careful analysis of the terrain but the the signal had to get over the Rampart Range and quite a few other mountains to get from Black Forest to Bald Mountain. The summit of Bald Mountain is at 13,684 feet, so that certainly helps.
A few hours later, Brad showed up on the summit of Boreas Mountain (W0C/SP-030), another 13er near Breckenridge. By now, the Field Day station was in use, so I pulled out my own FT-817 and a 3-element Arrow yagi. Holding it in my hand, I pointed it towards Boreas Mountain and tuned to 144.200 MHz USB. This time Brad was even weaker but still readable, so we completed the contact.
In both cases, Brad was fair to good copy but just above the noise, I am sure that using FM would not have gotten the job done. For serious VHF work, 75 miles is not that great of a distance but we were running QRP power levels with small yagi antennas.
Brad and I are both concluding we need to encourage the use of SSB for 2m SOTA here in Colorado. It is common to end up on a high peak in the Colorado backcountry and not have enough range to reach the larger population centers. Sure there are more people active on 2m FM, but if no one is within range, it does not matter.
Congratulations to WA6MM for first activations of two more challenging summits in Colorado and thanks for 18 chaser points!
Last weekend was the ARRL June VHF Contest, my favorite ham radio event of the year. For me, this is “vhf activity weekend” when all of the vhf radio enthusiasts come out to play on the bands above 50 MHz. The sporadic-e propagation that is (almost) always present during the contest means that 6 meters will be hopping.
I entered in the 3-Band Single Operator category, using 6m, 2m and 70cm. My 6m rig is a Yaesu FT-950 driving a 6M5XHP Yagi antenna. For 2m and 70cm, I use a Yaesu FT-847 to drive a 2M9SSB Yagi on 2m and a similar Yagi for 70 cm. I set up portable masts at our cabin in DM78av, near Trout Creek Pass, Colorado (9600 feet).
This year, propagation seemed OK but not great. My score turned out to be about the same as last year with similar effort and same equipment, but down from previous years. 6m had sporadic-e openings very late both evenings, about the time I was ready to give up. Fortunately, I stuck with it and made quite a few contacts late into the evening.
The rovers kept things from getting too boring when 6m was not cooperating. Thanks to W3DHJ/R, ABØYM/R and WE7L/R for roving in eastern Colorado. WBØGAZ/R passed through South Park heading towards Denver and give me a few contacts. I also got a few contacts from KØCS/R and KØJJW/R. Thanks for roving!
Best DX was ZF1EJ in EK99, a new country for me on 6m.
73, Bob KØNR
K0NR June VHF Contest Summary:
Band QSOs Mults
6: 190 83
2: 30 13
432: 11 6
Total: 231 102 Total Score = 24,684
For Field Day this year, the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association (WØTLM) is planning a one day event that combines our Tech Day training activities with normal Field Day radio operating. This Tech Field Day will have a strong emphasis on radio education and training, including an opportunity to make contacts on the HF bands under the supervision of an experienced radio ham.
Sat June 27th, 2015 (8:00 AM to 5 PM)
Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1
11445 Teachout Road, Colorado Springs
Come to our one-day education and radio operating event and learn from informative presentations of amateur radio topics. Operate a high frequency (HF) radio station with the helpful guidance of an experienced radio ham. Learn about emergency communications and public service. Most of all, have a bunch of fun messing around with ham radio stuff!
We have quite a few licensed radio amateurs that are members of public safety agencies, including fire departments, law enforcement agencies and search and rescue. Since they are authorized users of those public safety channels, they often ask this question:
Can I use my VHF/UHF ham radio on the fire, police or SAR channel?
It is widely known that many amateur radios can be modified to transmit outside the ham bands. The answer to this question used to be that amateur radio equipment cannot be used legally on public safety channels because it is not approved for use under Part 90 of the FCC Rules. (Part 90 covers the Private Land Mobile Radio Services.) The only option was to buy a commercial radio with Part 90 approval and a frequency range that covered the desired amateur band. Some commercial radios tune easily to the adjacent ham band but some do not. The commercial gear is usually two to three times as expensive as the amateur gear, and just as important, does not have the features and controls that ham operators expect. Usually, the commercial radios do not have a VFO and are completely channelized, typically changeable only with the required programming software.
The situation has changed dramatically in the past few years. Several wireless manufacturers in China (Wouxun, Baofeng, Anytone, etc.) have introduced low cost handheld transceivers into the US amateur market that are approved for Part 90 use. These radios offer keypad frequency entry and all of the usual features of a ham radio. It seems that these radios are a viable option for dual use: public safety and amateur radio, with some caveats.
New radios are being introduced frequently, so I won’t try to list them here. However, you might want to do a search on Wouxun, Baofeng and Anytone for the latest models. I will highlight the Anytone NSTIG-8R radio which I have been using. It seems to be a well-designed but still affordable (<$75) handheld radio. See the review by PD0AC.
Some Things to Consider When Buying These Radios
The manufacturers offer several different radios under the same model number. Also, they are improving the radios every few months with firmware changes and feature updates. This causes confusion in the marketplace, so buy carefully.
Make sure the vendor selling the radio indicates that the radio is approved for Part 90 use. I have seen some radios show up in the US without an FCC Part 90 label.
Make sure the radio is specified to tune to the channels that you need.
The 2.5-kHz tuning step is required for some public safety channels. For example, a 5-kHz frequency step can be used to select frequencies such as 155.1600 MHz and 154.2650 MHz. However, a 2.5 kHz step size is needed to select frequencies such as 155.7525 MHz. There are a number of Public Safety Interoperability Channels that require the 2.5-kHz step (e.g., VCALL10 155.7525 MHz, VCALL11 151.1375 MHz, VFIRE24 154.2725). The best thing to do for public safety use is to get a radio that tunes the 2.5-kHz steps.
Many of these radios have two frequencies in the display, but only have one receiver, which scans back and forth between the two selected frequencies. This can be confusing when the radio locks onto a signal on one of the frequencies and ignores the other. Read the radio specifications carefully.
There are a number of reasonably good radios out there from various manufacturers. My favorite right now is the Anytone NSTIG-8R but I also like the Wouxun KG-UV6D. The Baofeng UV-5R continues to be popular in the amateur community as the low cost leader. However if you show up at an incident with the Baofeng, your fellow first responders will think it is a toy. Which leads to a really important point: the established commercial radio manufacturers such as Motorola, Vertex, etc. build very rugged radios. They are made for frequent, heavy use by people whose main job is putting out fires, rescuing people in trouble and dealing with criminals. These low cost radios from China are not in the same league. However, they can still serve in a less demanding physical environment while covering the Amateur Radio Service (FCC Part 97) and the Private Land Mobile Radio Services (FCC Part 90).
I’ve written before about the flexibility of Field Day and the need to season to taste to make it your own. I have always thought that one of the great things about Field Day is that it can be tuned to whatever interests you or your club. It can be a serious radio contest (well, almost); it can be an emcomm drill. It can be a radio campout; it can be a foodfest, it can be a beer-drinking party. Insert your idea here.
This year, our local club, the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association is going to try a new approach that we call Tech Field Day. We previously have held a one-day educational event that we call Tech Day, that featured a series of presentations and hands-on demonstrations. The main theme of Tech Day was to help the Technician level hams gain more knowledge and help them move on up to General class operating.
We are taking the basic idea of Tech Day and combining with a shortened one-day version of Field Day. So on Saturday June 27th, we’ll offer a series of educational presentations along with some classic Field Day radio operating. The operating emphasis will be on giving newer hams a chance to get on the air, probably on both HF and VHF. (Our plans are still coming together.) We will also promote the theme of emergency communications, operating off a emergency power source, etc.
There are a number of things that we are intentionally leaving out. We won’t operate the entire 24 hour period…in fact, we’ll probably just be on the air Saturday afternoon. We won’t worry about making a lot of contacts or running up the score. Our stations will be relatively simple (no towers, no amplifiers).
So that’s our idea of a fun Field Day. What are you planning to do?
Anytone Tech is shaking things up in the low cost handheld radio market. They have introduced three new dualband transceivers with features including dual receive, crossband repeater and legal operation on MURS, GMRS and commercial (Part 90) frequencies. See the excellent reviews on the Hans PD0AC blog:
HamRadioNow reports on some very interesting developments of digital voice technology. See the video interview with David Rowe VK5DGR, who is developing some amazing technology (codec2 and related work).
This hilarious video will show you some good safety tips for working with high voltage…not really.
On the topic of operating events for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, Guy N7UN suggested focusing on six major events for 2015. Most of these are VHF-oriented but HF activity can also occur on these days.
Jan 24-26: ARRL Jan VHF Contest + NA SOTA Winter Activity Weekend
(oops, I guess we already missed that one)
Apr 18-19: North America SOTA Spring Activity Weekend
Of course, any day is a good day for SOTA activity. I also think six weekends are a great way to focus our operating activity and create S2S (summit to summit) radio contacts. The August 1-2 weekend looks to be the alignment of the planets with four events happening on that weekend. Early August usually offers excellent conditions for hiking the highest peaks in Colorado, so come on out and play.
After acquiring a Ford F-150 truck last year, I’ve been working on getting a ham radio installed in it. At times, I have loaded up my vehicle with multiple radios covering HF through 70 cm but lately I am content with just having a reasonable dualband 2m/70 cm FM rig in the mobile. Actually, I used a Yaesu FT-8900 that does FM on 10m, 6m, 2m and 70 cm but just set it up for the two bands.
One of the most critical questions for a mobile installation is what kind of antenna to install and where to put it. In the end, the antenna is going to be the main determinant of mobile performance. Ideally, I’d like to have the antenna on the roof of the cab but the truck will not fit in my garage in that configuration. Another option I considered was mounting a longer dualband antenna using one of the stake pocket mounts from Breedlove. I prefer NMO mounts for VHF/UHF antennas and the stake pocket looked like a good way to go. However, a little measuring revealed that a 1/2-wave or 5/8-wave 2m antenna on the stack pocket was not going to clear my garage door. So it seemed that I was limited to a shorter antenna. I may still use the stake pocket mount for an additional antenna for road trips or to add 6m and 10m antennas.
At this point, the F-150 bracket offered by The Antenna Farm looked like a good option. They have a number of these brackets made specifically for various vehicles, so check them out. This made the antenna installation quite simple. <click on any of the photos for a larger view>
The antenna is an NMO-mount dualband that I had laying around the hamshack. I don’t recall the exact model number but these are very common, about 19-inch long for 1/4-wave operation on 2m and a small loading coil to make it work on the 70cm band.
The F-150 has several precut holes for passing wires through the firewall. I used one that is on the passenger side just below a large module, as shown in the photo. It took a stiff wire and some force to punch my way through the rubber plug and into the cab compartment.
I don’t have a photo of the battery connection but I connected the positive lead right onto the battery terminal while the negative lead was attached to the truck chassis near the battery. You may have been told to always connect directly to the battery terminals but that advice no longer applies to some newer cars because there is a current monitoring device in the negative battery lead. To avoid confusing the vehicle battery monitoring system, the negative connection to your transceiver needs to be on the chassis side of the current monitor. Alan K0BG explains this issue on his web site. Actually, Alan has a wealth of information on mobile installations on his web site: www.k0bg.com. Oh, of course, I used inline fuses on both the positive and negative power cables.
I mounted the FT-8900 transceiver on the floor under the back seat. To route the power cables and antenna coax, I pulled up the flat plastic trim piece that runs along the floor at the passenger door. I started from the front and did some careful prying (and praying) to remove the trim without breaking it. This exposes a trough with a factory wiring harness in it but there’s room for more. A few other plastic trim pieces were removed to get access to the wires coming through the firewall. All in all, this was not that difficult. (Yea, Ford!)
The photo to the left shows the FT-8900 radio installed under the passenger side rear seat. I drilled holes through the floor and mounted the radio with hefty sheet metal screws. The screws go right through the metal floor and and can be seen from under the truck. (Check that out before drilling!) Because the radio body is under the rear seat, I am using a small external speaker mounted near the drivers seat.
The radio control head is mounted inside a little door/shelf that normally pops open to reveal the USB port for plugging in a smartphone. (Note that Ford has multiple seat / dashboard configurations.)
The FT-8900 control head just fits inside this little shelf, even when the door is closed (see photo). The microphone does have to be removed to close the door. I mounted a microphone hanger with a couple of sheet metal screws, as shown in the photo. I don’t like the crappy little hanger that usually comes with a ham transceiver so I bought some higher quality hangers on Amazon.
Overall, I am pleased with the radio install. The antenna location is clearly a compromise and I notice the performance is not as good as my previous vehicle (which was a small SUV with an NMO mount antenna in the middle of the roof.) But the antenna is “low profile” and sufficient for “around town” mobile operating. I am getting a little noise on the 2m band which needs some investigation. The 70cm band is very clean and is the band I use the most.
One continuing discussion in the VHF community is how to promote more activity, especially during the major VHF contests. One central theme that always emerges is how to modify the VHF contest rules to make them better, to make them fairer and to encourage new contesters. (Let me say up front that there is room for improvement in the contest rules but I don’t think rule changes alone will change contest participation significantly.)
In 2013, the ARRL contests added the Three-Band Single Operator and Single Operator FM Only entry categories. In January 2015, the ARRL added three more categories: Single Operator Unlimited High Power, Single Operator Unlimited Low Power, and Single Operator Unlimited Portable. These “unlimited” categories allow “passive use of spotting assistance” which roughly means these operators can monitor the various DX spotting networks but not spot themselves. The CQ Worldwide VHF Contest already allows passive assistance for all participants and self-spotting for digital EME and meteor scatter contacts. See the CQ WW VHF rules.
In January, the ARRL announced additional changes:
The Board … adopted amendments to the General Rules for ARRL Contests Above 50 MHz to encourage greater participation and band utilization. The changes become effective with the 2015 June ARRL VHF Contest. The revisions stemmed from recommendations offered by the Board’s Programs and Services Committee’s ad-hoc VHF and Above Revitalization subcommittee, composed of active VHF/UHF contesters, and they received strong support from the VHF/UHF community.
The subcommittee was charged with developing recommendations to increase the level and breadth of ARRL VHF and above contest participation and encourage operation on lesser-used bands. As a start to the process, the Board approved three changes that will permit assistance for all operator categories, with no effect on entry category; permit self-spotting for all operator categories, and allow single operators to transmit on more than one band at a time.
The changes will permit assistance in arranging contacts, but not in conducting contacts. They will, for example, allow a station to announce its location in a chat room, on a repeater, or even via e-mail.
The self-spotting/assistance issue is a hotly debated issue among VHFers, with two main schools of thought:
1) Contacts should be made completely independent of non-amateur assistance. Sometimes passive spotting assistance is allowed, but some folks want to eliminate that practice as well.
2) Contacts can be made with non-amateur assistance (spotting networks, chat rooms, etc.) as long as a complete radio contact occurs over the ham bands. This follows the common practice of internet spotting for EME and meteor scatter. Also, some rover stations have requested the ability to spot themselves when they enter a new grid.
There are a number of shades of gray positions between these two points of view (see the CQ WW VHF rules, for example), but I won’t try to explain them here. In general, I support the move to loosening up the restrictions on assistance (#2). Without good 6m propagation, VHF contests tend to be “QSO poor” and expanded use of spotting will allow for additional contacts. The potential risk is that we’ll get sloppy with what constitutes a legitimate contact. Once I know the exact frequency and call sign of the other station, it will be easier to “hear” the other station even when the path is not there. Of course, we already have this situation when we complete a QSO on one band and QSY to another band to work the same station. We know the frequency and call sign (and the grid)…did we really hear the other guy or just think we did? In the end, it all comes down to the integrity of the radio hams involved in the contact.