Explaining Standing Waves

When we teach the Technician License Class, we provide a simple explanation of Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) that emphasizes the concept of impedance matching. An SWR of 1:1 is a perfect match; anything higher is less than perfect.

SWR is an important amateur radio concept, one that is not that easy to explain so I am always on the lookout for training materials. HamRadioNow just republished this video of an excellent standing wave demonstration by Bill Hays, AE4QL. Bill actually goes well beyond just standing waves and shows some antenna and transmission line theory as well.

If you just want to learn about standing waves and basic antenna radiation, view the first 35 minutes. After that, it starts to get a little deep.

Grab a cup of your favorite beverage, settle in and get ready to learn from this video.

73, Bob K0NR

World’s Best Microphone Hanger

I am often disappointed by the crummy microphone hanger clips supplied with mobile ham transceivers. Typically, they are cheap metal clips with sharp edges waiting to impale your hand, that look like this:

cheap microphone clipI recently came across these microphone clips that are awesome! Available from Amazon for $7.49. microphone hanger

73, Bob K0NR

CQ WPX, LoTW and the End of QSL Cards

N1MM LoggerLast weekend, I had a fun time working the CQ WPX contest on SSB. I’ve always liked the format of the contest with the callsign prefix as the score multiplier (e.g., K1, K2, W1, W2, VE1, VE2 are all multipliers). Its like every new contact is a multiplier. This contest attracts plenty of DX but unlike some DX contests, everyone works everyone.

Consistent with the contest, the CQ WPX Awards Program issues operating awards based on callsign prefixes. The initial mixed mode (CW, SSB, digital) award requires confirmed contacts with 400 different prefixes. Back in the 20th century, I kept track of my confirmed contacts for WPX but lost interest along the way. I am sure I’ve worked more than 400 prefixes but the challenge was getting them all confirmed. More recently, the ARRL Logbook of the World (LoTW) added support for the CQ WPX Awards, so I started paying attention again, watching my CQ WPX total grow. I am not a big awards chaser but I have found value in using them as a specific goal to motivate me to get on the air.

Right before the CQ WPX contest, I had 380 prefixes confirmed via LoTW, so I figured that if I worked a few new ones during the contest, I could punch through 400 without too much trouble. I used my signature HF slacker approach at the cabin, using the Yaesu FT-950 to push 100 watts of RF power to wire antennas in the trees. For 40m, 20m and 15m, I used a trap-dipole antenna and for 10m I used a newly built ladder-line j-pole mounted vertically.

On Saturday, the propagation on the 10m band was smokin’ hot, strong signals from all continents. The 10m j-pole performed well. It was an absolute blast to easily work into Africa, Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.  The 15m and 20m bands were also very productive. My approach was to tune around, looking for new prefixes to add to my confirmed total. Propagation was not as good on Sunday but still respectable but I only operated a few hours.

After the contest, I submitted my log to the contest web site and loaded my contacts into LoTW (188 QSOs and 157 prefixes). Immediately, I received two new confirmed prefixes. Over the next few hours, I checked back to watch my CQ WPX confirmed total climb on LoTW. It did not take long before it passed through 400 (and the total is still climbing). I will admit that I really liked the instant gratification of seeing my QSOs immediately confirmed.

That’s when it hit me: I am done with paper QSL cards. The amount of time and effort it takes to get 400 paper cards in my hand is just not worth it. It is soooooo 20th century.

Disclaimer: Actually, I still enjoy and use paper QSL cards…but they are just obsolete for chasing awards.

WordPress Security

WordPressMy site has been down for a few days due to a “security problem” that I encountered. it seems that some malware showed up on the server and my host disabled the site. It took a bit of ftp’ing to get the offending files removed but we are back on the air.

I can’t say for certain how the bad guys got into the site but it would appear they were specifically targeting sites using WordPress. I was already running a security plugin for WordPress but since the attack I’ve tightened up the parameters considerably. If I inadvertently locked you out, my apologies.

It is interested to watch how many attacks are reported by the security plugin, mostly from locations outside of the US. If you are using WordPress and don’t have a security plugin installed, I highly recommend installing one and locking things down tight.

73, Bob K0NR

ARRL Field Day: Season To Taste

2015 Field Day Logo Red Design 1I’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?

73, Bob K0NR

ARRL Field Day Information Page
ARRL Field Day Site Locator

ARRL Field Day – Complete Information Packet

This Spewed Out of the Internet #30

0511-0701-3118-0930This is another update on important stuff spewing forth from the interwebz.

Belden has a good article about why most of our coaxial transmission lines are 50 Ω impedance. Microwaves and RF posted some interesting photos of coaxial cables.

The results are in for the ARRL September VHF Contest. Read about my combination SOTA + VHF Contest operation here.

The FCC fines K3VR and KZ8O for malicious interference on 14.313 MHz. I am filing this under “just a good start.”

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:

  • Anytone TERMN-8R dual receive, crossband repeater, MURS, GMRS, Part 90, shortwave receive
  • Anytone OBLTR-8R single receiver, MURS, GMRS, Part 90
  • Anytone NSTIG-8R single receiver, Part 90

Updated: Here’s a handy comparison chart at Miklor.com

I wrote a new ShackTalk article on HamRadioSchool.com about getting paid for operating your ham radio. Sort of.

Stu W0STU wrote a nice piece about using single sideband modulation including a really nice video that demonstrations SSB tuning. I piled on with a ShackTalk article about using SSB on the 2m band.

The leading-edge reporters at Ham Hijinks tell the story of the Overly Ambitious Ham Kicked From Club.

Think your tower is big? I came across this interesting article on a huge tower in North Dakota that rises to 2063 feet. This may require a road trip to ND.

From the Not Dead Yet Department: Once again, the number of ham radio licensees in the US hit a new high.

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.

73, Bob K0NR

2015 SOTA VHF Activity Days

Bob summitOn 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.

IMG_1836Of 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.

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

Get off the couch, put on your hiking boots, grab your backpack, grab your radio but most important: get on the air!

73, Bob K0NR

What’s All the Fuss About K1N?

If you have been paying any attention to the world of ham radio DX, you have heard about the DXpedition to Navassa Island. According to Wikipedia, Navassa Island is a unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States. Haiti (just 40 miles to the east) also claims ownership of the island but it appears that the US currently has control. The island is designated as the Navassa National Wildlife Refuge by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and access to the island is severely limited. (There is some interesting reading about the various territories of the US on Wikipedia.)

Navassa Island mapFor the purposes of DXCC, Navassa Island is considered a separate country (I mean entity), one that is very difficult to work because no one lives there. Actually, its worse than that because hardly anyone is even allowed to set foot on the island, let alone install a ham station. This means that Navassa is near the top of the list of the most wanted DXCC entities.

An enterprising and persistent group of radio hams managed to get permission to visit the island and put it on the air. The logistical challenge is large, including the use of ships and helicopters to get all of the people, radio gear and supplies on and off the island. As you can imagine this gets quite expensive.

This is where I have to chuckle at the silliness of the situation. Imagine explaining this to someone that drops in from another planet. We have this hobby that involves communicating long distances via electromagnetic waves. One of the pursuits in this hobby is counting up how many countries you have contacted. Well, they aren’t all true independent countries, so we have to keep a special list to keep track of which ones are considered countries. Now, we have this one island that is on the list but we also have this rule that no one is allowed to live on this island. This causes a group of people to assemble a major expedition, costing a great deal of time and treasure, with the sole purpose of enabling electromagnetic communication from the island.

At this point, I should mention I am a slacker DXer. Many years ago, I did take the time to get >100 countries confirmed so that I could claim DXCC but I don’t spend much effort trying to chase new countries.  When I heard about the Navassa DXpedition, it did peak my interest because I knew it was such a rare opportunity. Who knows when and if I would get another shot at working this country? I also knew the getting enough RF from my station to Navassa would not be very difficult. It is only 2300 miles from Colorado, a slam dunk on 20m, even with my modest 100W to a dipole antenna. Except that there would be 20,000 other hams called at the same time, creating a huge pileup. Which is why I don’t get into chasing rare DX. While I love the challenge of bouncing my signal off the ionosphere to reach distant locations, I don’t groove on the pile up that normally ensues. That quickly turns into a contest of who has the biggest signal (size does matter) and who is most adapt at getting the attention of the DX station.

About the time that K1N started operating from the island, I was out of town on business. I began to think that working Navassa was not for me. However, I did manage to find some operating time on Feb 14, which turned out to be the last full day of K1N operation. After just a couple of calls, I got through the pileup and worked them on 20m SSB. (I’d like to think that it was superior operating technique but it was probably just dumb luck.)

Thanks to the team that put Navassa Island on the air. (Yes, I did send in a small donation to help the cause.) From what I experienced, this DXpedition was very efficient and well run. Take a look at the interview with one of the participants, Glenn W0GJ,  who had some interesting comments about the experience.

73, Bob K0NR

2014 World Radiosport Team Championship

From the World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC) website:

The World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC) is a competition between two-person teams of amateur radio operators testing their skills to make contacts with other Amateur Radio operators around the world over a 24 hour period. All teams use identical antennas from the same geographic region, eliminating all variables except operating ability.

WRTC2014 included 59 competing teams from 29 qualifying regions around the world. Competitors represented 38 different countries.

This is a unique contest in that the stations used are roughly identical so that operator skill is the main variable. I love watching these guys work the radios, especially the CW ops. Even if you are not a contester, take a look at this excellent video and enjoy radio hams having fun messing around with radios.

WRTC 2014 Documentary from James Brooks on Vimeo.

2013 Ford F-150 Ham Radio Installation

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.

Figure 1 IMG_2206

Ford F-150 with 2m/70cm antenna on the front fender

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.

Figure 2 IMG_2036

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>


Figure 3 IMG_2041

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.



Figure 4 IMG_2163

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.

Figure 5 IMG_2166

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!)

Figure 6 IMG_2197

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.

Figure 7 IMG_2200

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.)


Figure 8 IMG_2201The 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.

73, Bob K0NR

Dorking With VHF Contest Rules

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgOne 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.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

Top Five K0NR Blog Posts from 2014

Bob hiking- K0NR 2It’s always interesting to see which of my blog posts are getting the most attention. According to my website stats, these posts got the most views in 2014. It turns out that most of these were written before 2014 but they are still getting lots of hits.

The top post was 2012 Jeep Wrangler Radio Install. When it comes to doing mobile radio installations, I’ve often found it helpful to search the web for information. There’s nothing like seeing how someone else did their radio install to get some help and guidance. With this post, I tried to repay the favor and it seems that lots of people have gotten use out of it.

The second most popular post is Can I Use My Ham Radio on Public Safety Frequencies?  I wrote this one back in 2012 but always seems to get a lot of hits. It is getting a bit out of date, so I should probably update it.

Next up is Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem. This article explains how to solve one of the biggest challenges of programming those low cost HTs from China. Also on the subject of low cost HTs is this popular post: Yet Another HT From China (Baofeng UV-B5).

Another popular post is my list of favorite ham radio iPhone apps: The Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps.  This post from 2011 is definitely out of date but keeps getting lots of hits. I’ve updated this list a couple of times now and the most recent post is here: The Completely Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps. For some reason, the obsolete post still gets viewed the most.

Well, that is the top five posts but I am including a sixth bonus post at no extra charge. The FM/VHF Operating Guide is arguably one of the best time-tested articles I’ve written, originating way back in the twentieth century. It has taken many forms and revisions over the years and is now a static page on k0nr.com.

Thanks for stopping by k0nr.com and have a Happy New Year.

73, Bob K0NR

Hey, Should I Buy the Baofeng Radio?

Baofeng-UV-5R-150x300I keep getting asked about the Baofeng radios. Usually, it’s a new ham asking “hey, should I buy the Baofeng?” Even though I own several of them and make good use of them, I have been a little reluctant to recommend them as a first radio. I put together my thoughts on these radios plus a few tips to help people get started with them. Read the full story here on HamRadioSchool.com.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #30

0511-0701-3118-0930Reporting on more critical information spewing forth from the interwebz, here’s some stuff you just can’t live without.

In a surprise move, Baofeng introduces yet another dualband HT, but this one might be the best yet. Maybe. See the PD0AC first impressions of the GT-3 Mark II.

Yaesu has announced a new dualband HT, the FT2DR, that has a Big Honking Display and touchscreen interface.

The crack reporting team over at Ham Hijinks keeps cranking out ham radio news: Turkey Takes Toll on Ham.

The ARRL is looking into changing some of the VHF contest rules. The first proposal includes allowing self-spotting and the use of non-amateur assistance. I say “heck yeah!”

If you ever thought it would be a good idea to use a banana as a Morse code keyer, check out this video. Meanwhile, Burger King has recognized the importance of ham radio for space communications (video).

The QRZNow web site got caught “borrowing” content from other ham radio web sites without permission or providing attribution.

Stu W0STU over at HamRadioSchool.com has been straining his brain on the topic of complex impedance. If you need some help understanding this (ahem) complex topic, take a look at his three part article on the subject: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

If you are worried about exposure to excessive EMF (Electromagnetic Field), you’ll want to consider this device over at Amazon.com. Be sure to read the reviews to get the full entertainment value.

73, Bob K0NR

How About a New 12 Volt Automotive Connector?

12v automotic plugStandard power connections are a great thing. A while back, I wrote about how the micro-USB connector became the standard power/data connector for mobile phones. (Well, that is unless you own an iPhone.)

The good news is that we do have a standard power connector for 12 VDC in automobiles. The bad news is that it is an ugly behemoth derived from — can you believe it? — a cigarette lighter. For some background and history, see the Wikipedia article. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) even has a standard that describes this power connector (SAE J563). Alan K0BG correctly warns us to “never, ever use existing vehicle wiring to power any amateur radio gear” including the 12 volt accessory plug. (I always follow this advice, except in the cases when I don’t.) I also found this piece by Bill W8LV on eham.net that describes the crappiness of these connectors. Various innovations have improved electrical connections in many applications (USB, HDMI, Powerpole, etc.) but we are still stuck with this clunky automotive power plug.

Well, there is a new standard power connector showing up in cars: the USB port. These ports provide the data and power interface for mobile phones, integrating them into the auto’s audio system. Standard USB ports (USB 1.x or 2.0) have a 5V output that can deliver up to 0.5A, resulting in 2.5W of power. A USB Charging Port can source up to 1.5A at 5V,  for 7.5 W of power. This is not that great for powering even low power (QRP) ham radio equipment.

Now a new standard, USB Power Delivery, is being developed that will source up to 100W of power. The plan is for the interface to negotiate a higher voltage output (up to 20V) with 5A of current. Wow, now that is some serious power. We will have to see if this standard is broadly adopted.

Two things are obvious to me: 1) the old cigarette lighter connector needs to go away and 2) it is not clear what the replacement will be.

What do you think? Any ideas for the next generation of 12V automotive connector?

73, Bob K0NR

Announcing the January 2015 WØTLM Technician License Class

W0TLMHam Radio Two-Day License Class

Sat Jan 31 and Sat Feb 7 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2015
Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1, Black Forest, CO

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 non-refundable $25 registration fee for the class.

In addition, students must have the required study guide and read it before attending the two-day class: HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course $20.95
(make sure you get the most recent edition of this book, updated for the new FCC exam questions)

Advance registration is required (no later than one week before the first session, earlier is better! This class usually fills up weeks in advance.)

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

Twisted Phonetic Alphabet

abc blocksStu W0STU just posted an article on HamRadioSchool.com about the use of phonetic alphabets. I had previously posted a Shack Talk article on the same subject.

The “standard” phonetic alphabet is the ITU alphabet but I am starting to think that we might need to get a little more creative on our use of phonetics. Why not innovate in this area, just like we innovate on the technical front?

Towards that end, I was reminded of his phonetic alphabet listed over at netfunny.com:

        A  Are               N  Nine
        B  Bee               O  Owe
        C  Cite              P  Pseudonym
        D  Double-U          Q  Queue
        E  Eye               R  Rap
        F  Five              S  Sea
        G  Genre             T  Tsunami
        H  Hoe               U  Understand?
        I  I                 V  Vie
        J  Junta             W  Why
        K  Knot              X  Xylophone
        L  Lye               Y  You
        M  Me                Z  Zero

Even this creative alphabet can be improved on. For example, I think H should be Honor.

What do you think?

73, Bob

SOTA Activation: Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081)

It was a nice fall day, so Joyce K0JJW and I decided to go for an easy hike up Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081) and do some SOTA operating. Well, maybe the hike was her idea and the Summits On The Air thing was my contribution to the plan. The hike is less than a mile with about 900 feet of elevation gain, depending on where you start.

This was definitely a slacker operation: easy access, easy hike, great weather and 2m FM activation via a handheld radio and the 1/2-wave whip.

Bob K0NR Kaufman Ridge SOTA 1

Note that there are two SOTA peaks with the “Kaufman Ridge” name: Kaufman Ridge North (W0C/SP-085) and Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081), located near Trout Creek Pass in Colorado. Today we headed to SP-081 which we reached by following County Road 318 from Trout Creek Pass, which is also called Buckrake Drive and then Windmill Drive. These roads pass through private property to reach the San Isabel National Forest, where there is a gate that is closed from December to April (see map). At this point, the road is easy 4WD; most 2WD high clearance vehicles will do fine. You can also approach from the south on FS 308 through Mushroom Gulch. 

We turned left onto FS 308 and then took a short side road FS 308B toward the summit. There are several other turn offs but 308B seems the best (shown in black on map). The road is blocked for vehicular traffic at 38.858659° N / 105.933921°W. You can continue walking on the road a ways or just head straight for the summit (blue on map). While the hike is short and not very steep, there are plenty of downed logs to give you a challenge.

You never know who is going to show up on 146.52 MHz in the mountains but I had put the word out via email to some of the local hams to let them know I was doing a SOTA activation. When I got to the summit, I had a few stations already calling me and I quickly worked Ron N0MQJ, Jerry N0VXE, Dave K0HTX, Jim KD0MRC, Bob W0BV and Don K0DRJ. Don was my “best DX”, about 60 miles away in Woodland Park with a few mountains in the way. Thanks to everyone that came on frequency and contacted me.

Side note: if you want to activate SP-085, go north on a forest service road (shown in black on the map) near where 318 and 308 intersect. Just drive a short ways north, find a parking spot and bushwack your way up the summit. (NM5S provides some tips on finding a trail.) You could easily activate both summits in one day.

73, Bob K0NR

The Completely Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps

iphonesIt is about time I updated one of my more popular posts about my favorite ham radio apps on the iPhone and IPad. As usual, I will focus on free or low cost (less than $5) apps that I am actively using. Some apps have just disappeared from iTunes and new ones have emerged. While this list is completely updated, it is still incomplete, because there are so many apps to choose from.


From the Simple Utility Category:

Ham I Am (Author: Storke Brothers, Cost: Free) A handy app that covers some basic amateur radio reference material (Phonetic alphabet, Q Signals, Ham Jargon, Morse Code, RST System, etc.) Although I find the name to be silly, I like the app!
Maidenhead Converter (Author: Donald Hays, Cost: Free) Handy app that displays your grid locator, uses maps and does lat/lon to grid locator conversions.
HamClock (Author: Ben Sinclair, Cost: $0.99) A simple app that displays UTC time, local time and grid locator. This one reads out to the second.


There are quite a few good apps for looking up amateur radio callsigns:

CallBook (Author: Dog Park Software, Cost: $1.99) Simple ham radio callbook lookup with map display.

Call Sign Lookup (Author: Technivations, Cost: $0.99) Another simple ham radio callsign lookup with map display.


There are a few repeater directory apps out there and my favorite is:

RepeaterBook (Author: ZBM2 Software, Cost: Free) This app is tied to the RepeaterBook.com web site, works well and is usually up to date.


For a mobile logbook (and other tools):

HamLog (Author: Pignology, Cost: $0.99) This app is much more than a logbook because it has a bunch of handy tools including UTC Clock, Callsign Lookup, Prefix list, Band Plans, Grid Calculator, Solar Data, SOTA Watch, Q Signals and much more.


To track propagation reports, both HF and VHF:

WaveGuide (Author: Rockwell Schrock, Cost: $2.99) This is an excellent tool for determining HF and VHF propagation conditions at the touch of a finger.


If you are an EchoLink user, then you’ll want this app:

EchoLink (Author: Synergenics, Cost: Free) The EchoLink app for the iPhone.


There are quite a few APRS apps out there. I tend to use this one because my needs are pretty simple….just track me, baby!

Ham Tracker (Author: Kram, Cost: $2.99) APRS app, works well, uses external maps such as Google and aprs.fi. “Share” feature allows you to send an SMS or email with your location information.


Satellite tracking is another useful app for a smartphone:

Space Station Lite (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: Free) A free satellite tracking app for just the International Space Station. It has annoying ads but its free.

ProSat Satellite Tracker (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: $9.99) This app is by the same author as ISS Lite, but is the full-featured “pro” version. Although it is a pricey compared to other apps, I recommend it.


For Summits On The Air (SOTA) activity, there are a few apps:

Pocket SOTA (Author: Pignology, Cost: $0.99) A good app for finding SOTA summits, checking spots and accessing other information.

SOTA Goat (Author: Rockwell Schrock, Cost: $4.99) This is my favorite app for SOTA activity (finding summits, checking/posting spots and alerts, etc.)


For ham radio license training, I like the HamRadioSchool.com apps. (OK, I am biased here as I contribute to that web site.)

HamRadioSchool Technician (Author: Peak Programming, Cost: $2.99) There are a lot of Technician practice exams out there but this is the best one, especially if you use the HamRadioSchool.com license book.

HamRadioSchool General (Author: Peak Programming, Cost: $2.99) This is the General class practice exam, especially good for use with the HamRadioSchool.com book.


Morse Code is always a fun area for software apps:

Morse-It (Author: Francis Bonnin, Cost: $0.99) This app decodes and sends Morse audio. There are fancier apps out there but this one does a lot for $1.


Well, that’s my list. Any other suggestions?

– Bob K0NR

Three Steps to Getting Your Ham Radio License

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgThese are the three basic steps to getting your USA amateur (ham) radio license: 1) Learn the Material 2) Take Practice Exams and 3) Pass the Real Exam.

This article is very short and to the point, for a more detailed discussion see Stu (WØSTU)’s article over at HamRadioSchool.com.

1. Learn The Material

The entry level ham radio license is the Technician License, so you’ll need to get a book that covers the theory, regulations and operating procedures required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). My recommendation is the Technician License Course over at HamRadioSchool.com, which offers an integrated learning system (web, book and smartphone app).

While you can learn the material on your own, many people find classroom instruction to be very helpful. Check the ARRL web site for courses in your area or just do an internet search for “ham radio license class” and your location.

2. Take Practice Exams

The question pool for the Technician Level Exam is made public, so you have access to every possible question that will be on the exam. Better yet, various organizations have created online practice exams so you can test yourself in advance. After you study the material, take these practice exams to test your knowledge. Go back and study any topics you are having trouble with on the exam. A passing grade is 74%, so you’ll want to be consistently above that before trying the real exam.

These are a few of the available online practice exams: qrz.com, eham.net and aa9pw.

3. Pass the Real Exam

The FCC exams are administered by radio hams known as Volunteer Examiners (VEs), so the exam session is sometimes called a VE session. In most areas, there are exam sessions given on a regular basis. Check the ARRL web site to find a license exam session in your area. If you are taking a class, there may be an exam session included in the schedule.

Be sure to follow the instructions of the local VE team, since policies and procedures do vary. If you’ve studied the material and checked your knowledge by taking the practice exams, you should have no problem passing the Technician level exam.

4. One More Thing

Actually, there is one more step to this process. Getting the required FCC license is just the start, a learners permit for amateur radio. You’ll need to get on the air and gain some practical experience. It is extremely helpful to have some assistance during this process, so I recommend that you connect up with a local ham radio club. If you can’t find a club then perhaps make contact with a local ham or two.

Of course, it would be even better if you can do Step 4 ahead of Step 1 and get some help along the way. There are many radio hams out there that are willing to assist. However, it may be a challenge to find one. You can always drop me an email and I will do my best to help out.

73, Bob K0NR