What? A Record Level of US Ham Licenses?

The ARRL just reported that the number of FCC amateur radio licenses hit an all time high of 717,201 at the end of 2013. Since we all know that the interwebz has made ham radio communication obsolete :-), this is a difficult statistic to comprehend. Joe Speroni AH0A keeps a useful collection of ham licensing statistics including the ability to generate plots of the data. I used Joe’s site to generate this plot of total US amateur licenses versus time. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero, so the plot tends to exaggerate the amount of change.

 

USA-X

Click to expand

From this plot, we see that the number of licenses was in decline from about 2003 to 2007. The no code Technician license was introduced in 1991 which is earlier than the data on this chart. The FCC completely dropped the Morse Code requirement from all license classes in 2007, as indicated on the chart. (See Wikipedia for the exact dates.) The decline in licenses was reversed at that time and has been growing ever since.  There is an interesting inflection point in 2010 that coincides with the release of a new Technician License question pool. The line is noticeably less steep after this point, which seems to imply that something happened to slow down the rate of new licenses.

Over the last ten years, Technician licenses have grown slightly as a percent of the total, going from 47% to 49%. So about half of US licenses are Technician. The grandfathered Novice and Advanced class licenses are in a slow decline and currently represent 2% and 8% (respectively) of the total licenses. The percent of General licenses has grown slightly over the past ten years, from 21% to 23%. Extra class licenses showed the most growth over the decade, going from 15% to 19% of total licenses.

While it’s encouraging to see continued growth in the number of ham radio licenses, these statistics immediately raise a number of questions:

  • How many of these licensees are Silent Keys and their FCC license is just clocking time until it hits the 10 year expiration date?
  • Given the aging ham population, when will we hit a demographic brick wall and see the number of licenses decline?
  • How many of these licensees are actively involved in ham radio? I have a number of friends that keep their FCC license current but are never on the air.

Clearly, the 10 year license term will tend to mask any decline for a while but it seems that sooner or later the numbers will flatten off and probably start to decline. I don’t know of anyone that has collected and analyzed the age distribution of hams, so I am basing this on what I see at radio club meetings and major ham radio events.

How many of these licensees are active? Really difficult to say. It seems that in the 21st century, people have many activities to choose from and their interest in any one of them may fade in and out. Not everyone is a Full Up 24/7 Ham Radio Enthusiast.

In the mean time, I am going to keep teaching Tech license classes and helping people get started in a hobby that I find to be a lot of fun. Remember the The Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio: To Have Fun Messing Around with Radios.

73, Bob K0NR

Top Five K0NR Blog Posts for 2013

0511-0701-3118-0930Here’s the top 5 blog postings for 2013 on the K0NR Blog, based on number of views.

1. The Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps – my short list of preferred iPhone apps for ham radio use

2. Digital Voice at Pacificon – a report on a few of the presentations at the Pacificon ham radio convention in Santa Clara

3. Yet Another HT From China (Baofeng UV-B5) - a look at one of the best low cost HTs from China

4. A Great Bag for the FT-817 – description of a really good bag for the Yaesu portable QRP rig

5. When All Else Fails or SHTF? – a discussion of “preppers” getting interested in amateur radio for emergency use

Also, these articles continue to get a large number of hits, even though they are a bit older:

FM/VHF Operating Guide – a guide to ham radio activity on 2m FM and other bands

Choose Your 2m Frequency Wisely – an explanation of the 2 meter band plan with Colorado emphasis

— 73, Bob K0NR

Announcing April 2014 Technician License Class

W0TLMHam Radio Two-Day License Class

Monument, Colorado
Sat April 12 and Sat April 19 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2014

Location: Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Station 1

 The Technician license is your gateway to the world-wide excitement of Amateur Radio …

  • Earn your ham radio Technician class radio privileges
  • Pass your FCC amateur radio license exam right in class on the second day
  • Multiple-choice exam, No Morse Code Required
  • Live equipment demonstrations
  • Learn to operate on the ham bands, 10 Meters and higher
  • Learn to use the many VHF/UHF FM repeaters in Colorado
  • Find out how to participate in emergency communications

There is a $25 registration fee for the class.

In addition, students must have the required study guide:

HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course $19.95

Advance registration is required (no later than one week before the first session, earlier is better!)

To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR

Email: bob@k0nr.com  or Phone: 719 659-3727

Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Radio Association

For more information on amateur (ham) radio visit www.arrl.org  or www.wedothat-radio.org

Adios to CQ VHF

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

From the ARRL web site:

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

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

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

This Spewed Out of the Internet #26

0511-0701-3118-0930Here’s another update of interesting important stuff spewing forth from the internet.

The Ham Hijinks crew continues to pound out some provocative ham radio reporting.  I can really relate to this story: Man Climbs Tower, Won’t Come Down Until Family Leaves. It was great to hear about this breakthrough: World Issues Solved On Local 2m Repeater. This one is destined to be a Christmas classic: Ham Op Gets CB Radio Christmas Gift Again  Warning: Do not take these guys seriously.

The HamRadioSchool.com team has been busy as well. Check out Stu’s article: Introduction to UHF/VHF FM Repeaters and my article: Practical Signal Reports.

You may have heard about the ARRL petition (FCC RM-11708) to modernize how Part 97 regulates the bandwidth of digital signals.  I’ve reviewed the proceeding and filed brief comments in favor of it. As I read through the filed comments, I found that some hams think this rule change is a threat to everything good in ham radio. I don’t know where they get this idea and I wonder if they’ve actually read the petition before commenting. For more on this, see: ARRL’s “Symbol Rate” Petition Nears Top of FCC’s “Most Active Proceedings” List .

Sverre LA3ZA posted a nice piece comparing the low cost Baofeng handheld radios: The best of the Baofeng handhelds . I don’t agree with his conclusion though…I find the UV-B5 to be the best choice due to the improved receiver, better antenna, improved S meter and rotary dial. But his article does a great job of comparing the radios so you can make your own decision.

Merry Christmas and 73, Bob K0NR

More On 73

73 Shirt from ThinkGeekA recent edition of the ARRL Contest Update highlighted the availability of this shirt with the number 73 on it. Since this shirt is offered by Think Geek, I figured it had to be ham radio related. After all, we own the number 73! See my previous posting on the topic.

Well, it turns out that this shirt is actually derived from The Big Bang Theory television show, when Sheldon explains that 73 is The Best Number.

Check out this video clip:

Well, it doesn’t stop there. Using my friend Google, I found a number of web pages on the topic of the number 73. Wikipedia even has a page dedicated to it. (Who edits a Wikipedia page about a number anyway?)

Here are some fun facts about 73:

  • 73 is the 21st prime number
  • Reversing the digits of 73, produces another prime number, 37, which means 73 is an Emirp
  • The PT boat in the television show McHale’s Navy was PT-73.
  • In Morse code, 73 is a palindrome

But to me, 73 is still just Best Regards.

73, Bob K0NR

Social Media Noise

notebookcomputer1A few weeks back, I had a Too Much Information meltdown, because I was being overrun with information spewing forth from various sources. To be specific, I regularly get communications from these feeds: email, SMS text, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus. The amount of “stuff” that was coming in was getting out of hand so I sprang into action.

First, I asked myself, how did I get into this mess? The general trend I see is that when I first start using a particular communications tool, my goal is to connect up with as many interesting feeds as possible. For old school email, this usually means subscribing to email lists, mostly via Yahoo Groups. For Twitter, this means Following other people that have interesting tweets. As more people engage in these media, the available stuff grows rapidly. Then Google Plus comes along, which tries to improve on Twitter but is somewhat redundant with the other social media. That is, I get Google Plus postings that are the same as ones from Twitter and Facebook.

The big trap I fell into is the fear of missing something. There’s so much interesting stuff out there, I wanted to grab it all. In reality, I was still missing stuff because I was being overrun with superfluous information. Ah! This is really the classic communication problem of signal-to-noise ratio. Some of these feeds have too much noise in them so I was losing the signal!

What constitutes noise? Lots of things: Foursquare check ins, Fitbit updates,  off topic posts in email lists, etc., etc. Of course, noise is in the eye of the beholder, so what is noise to me may be valuable information to you. Also, a few “noise bursts” are OK but lots of noise degrades the signal-to-noise ratio.

With signal-to-noise ratio as the primary measure, I ruthlessly slashed my collection of information sources. I dropped out of many of the Yahoo Groups (actually, I moved them to web only), I reduced the number of SMS text alerts, I pulled back on the number of Facebook friends, deleted less interesting RSS feeds. On Twitter, I started to pay attention to noisy tweets…if someone has a tendency to send noise and not so much signal, they are gone.

If I dropped you from Twitter or the other social media, please don’t take it personally. It’s just me unclogging my digital life.

Those are my thoughts…what are you doing to manage your digital life?

73, Bob K0NR

 

Contest Results Are In

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Hey, My Yaesu Beeps When I Transmit!

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

 

When All Else Fails or SHTF?

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are web sites devoted to prepping with radio communications:

Prepared Ham
RadioSurvivalist.com
RadioMaster Reports

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

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

shtf_frequency_list_2013e_500

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

73, Bob K0NR

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

Farewell, Rooster

Many of you have gotten to know Rooster and Peanut, through the videos by Steve WG0AT, the Alpha Goat. Some of you have been fortunate enough to meet the goats in person, which is always a real treat. I blogged about Steve and his goats a number of times, see this posting that highlights one of Steve’s videos.

Today we received the sad news that Rooster has died, a Silent Key in ham radio jargon.

Rooster and Peanut, the most famous SOTA Goats in the entire world

Rooster and Peanut, the most famous SOTA Goats in the entire world

Steve sent this message:

It’s with deep sorrow I have to make this announcement …”Rooster” goat died suddenly last night of unknown causes …his trail buddies will soon be scattering Rooster’s ashes on many SOTA peaks throughout western NA

Rooster, we sure are going to miss you!

73, Bob K0NR

A Great Bag for the FT-817

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Lost Island DX Society Mysteriously Reappears

LIDSAs reported here in this blog, the Lost Island DX Society has been missing in action for over a year. Various rumors propagated around the internet and amateur radio community concerning what happened to these LIDS. Recently, the Fi-Ni Report came to life and reported that the LIDS are actively planning (or at least discussing) working the CQ Worldwide DX Contest. Of course, this is the SSB version of the contest.

No explanation has been given for the year long absence of the LIDS and the Fi-Ni Report.

73, Bob K0NR

Digital Voice at Pacificon

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

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

K6BP photo

Bruce Perens K6BP talking about FreeDV

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

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Better Than Duct Tape

Whenever you get a bunch of guys together to build, fix or mess with something, duct tape seems to be a universal tool. Sometimes though, one of The Guys chimes in with the comment about “well, duct tape is OK but gaffer tape is much better.”  See the Wikipedia entry for Gaffer Tape.

gaffers tape

Well, I finally listened to those guys and bought some gaffer tape on Amazon.com. I used this at a recent ham radio event to secure cables, support various masts and lash things together. You know, basic duct tape stuff.

I have to admit that this gaffer tape is really, really good. It is more cloth and less vinyl than duct tape and the adhesive does not leave a residue. Yes, it is more expensive than duct tape. Funny, how that always seems to be the case for higher quality products.

-  73, Bob K0NR

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

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

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

Midland Hill route

GPS track for Midland Hill

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

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

Bob K0NR on the trail

Bob K0NR on the trail

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

How To Do a SOTA Activation On Pikes Peak

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

Pikes Peak 2

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

Pikes Peak map

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

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

It takes about an hour to drive to the summit, assuming you don’t dawdle. It is best to drive up during the morning and avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. (Check this web site for when the gate opens, usually 7:30 am in the summer.) Once you get to the summit, you’ll find a large circular parking area, the summit house and a few other buildings. The W0C Association Reference Manual (the SOTA rules for Colorado) used to suggest a “qualifying hike” of 100 vertical feet but this item has been removed from the manual. If you decide to do such a hike, I suggest you proceed down Barr Trail which is the main hiking trail coming up from the east side of the peak. Do not try to walk along the road, as the rangers will stop you. The trail starts on the east side of the summit house (towards Colorado Springs) and is marked with a sign. You have to cross over the cog rail tracks to get to it. (Please try to avoid getting run over by the train as it scares the tourists and makes a mess.)

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Resources

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

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

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

Mt Herman map

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

K0NR HT in the rain

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Lost Island DX Society Still Lost

LIDSWe are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of the strange disappearance of the Lost Island DX Society (LIDS) as first reported on this blog. The LIDS were last heard from via the  Fi-Ni Report on September 18, 2012, reporting on the Talk Like A Pirate Contest.

Most people have given up the search for the LIDS, given the extended period of time they have been missing. One consistent rumor circulating in the DX community is that the LIDS were trying to join the Amsterdam Island DXpedition (FT5ZM) for a January 2014 activation of that island. Unfortunately, the LIDS did not realize that the island is in the middle of the Indian Ocean and not in Amsterdam. As the story goes, they had already bought nonrefundable airline tickets to Europe before they found this out. It seems that they may try to recover with a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation, if they can find a hill high enough within walking distance of their Amsterdam hotel.

Fearing that the LIDS are simply lost somewhere in Europe, a group of hams is petitioning the White House to launch a surveillance drone to find them. As one ham said, “They’ve got them dang drones flying around spying on everyone, they might as well do some good.”

I agree completely. If nothing else, Do It For The Children.

73, Bob K0NR