Monthly Archive for March, 2010

Page 3 of 3

Ham Radio Keeps Growing

According to U.S. numbers more than 30,000 people entered the American amateur radio service in 2009. This is nearly double the number who got their tickets in 2005 when only 16,000 newcomers joined. Overall, more than 122,000 Americans became hams in the last five years. As reported in CQ Magazine: “Not bad for a hobby that some of us continue to insist is dying.”

What can we do here  in Canada to grow amateur radio? Any thoughts please add them to the comment window.

500 kHz activity

Did you know that there is amateur radio activity on 500 kHz? This is a frequency that is below the AM radio band. Antennas at this frequency are HUGE and not all countries allow amateur radio operation (Canada does thanks to a RAC initiative back in 2008). Here’s a link to a website that’s filled with great information about this new initiative (well really it’s an old band).

RAC national teleconference

Here’s a first: As I type this post, I am participating in the national monthly teleconference of the Radio Amateurs of Canada’s executive. It’s a Tuesday evening in March and newly elected president Geoff Bawden, VE4BAW, is chairing the meeting and reviewing his priorities for the upcoming year. Now the actual board discussions aren’t for open posting but I can say everything I am hearing is positive and encouraging. It’s great to hear from our volunteers who are on the board and executive and to hear about the progress each is making in their own areas of responsibility.

I think it’s key to remember that (a) all of these folks are volunteers and (b) they are all working for the betterment of amateur radio in Canada.

Amateur radio in Canada is pretty healthy. Radio Amateurs of Canada is blessed to have so many folks working to make amateur radio an even better experience.

Do you have any thoughts on what you think amateur radio in Canada needs today? I’ve (VE3HG) got some thoughts and I’ll be posting more soon.

Why aren't you on 6?

The April 2010 issue of QST, the ARRL’s monthly magazine came in today and the lead editorial is all about the excitement of operating on 6 meters. For those of us who lived in cities where TV channel 2 was active (here in the Toronto area we had to contend with a weak signal from Channel Two Buffalo, New York), there was little to no 6-meter activity. There’s a famous story about one Toronto ham who back in the 60′s ran a kilowatt on six and caused TVI for miles around.

With the re-allotment of analogue U.S. TV to the higher UHF digital bands, 6-meters is pretty safe for hams across North America.

So what’s so great about 6?

As David Sumner, K1ZZ, ARRL CEO says in his editorial, we don’t call 6-meters the “Magic” band for nothing. Six is famous for its unpredictable openings thanks to sporadic E propagation which can allow for transmissions over 1,000 miles using relatively small antennas. Most new HF rigs include the 6-meter band. If your rig has a squelch, it’s easy to leave it on full time at 50.125 mHz (a calling frequency) and wait for the action.

Conditions get really good in May so now is the time to get your 6-meter antenna up.

And more good news: Modest 6-meter antennas work really, really well. At VE3HG, I’m using two square-halo antennas (in photo) on a 16′ mast on top of a TV tower at 30′. So no rotor needed and I can easily work into the U.S. and the Caribbean when the band is open using 100 watts.

Welcome to the future Elmer

If you’re active at all on the HF bands you’ve likely struggled with configuring popular software programs like Writelog or N1MM. Maybe the complexities of the computer to rig interfaces have been frustrating? How about how to erect a vertical antenna for 160 meters?

Back in the “old” days newcomers to amateur radio would team up with an “Elmer”.

I don’t know for sure where I first heard ham radio mentors called Elmers but it was a long time ago. I can remember going to “Uncle Ray” Hunter’s (VE3UR SK) Etobicoke, Ontario shack as a wide-eyed 13-year-old. Ray took great delight in showing my Dad (who would later be licensed as VE3FWR) and I the wonders of DX. I was especially enthralled by the big black box that sat on its own stand at the end of the operating table. It might have been a Model 19 as shown. Fifty years ago, this was “high technology” at its best. Big, noisy as heck and smelled of machine oil. But it worked. Uncle Ray had over a couple of hundred confirmed RTTY DX QSOs back then.

These days, it seems to me, that there aren’t that many Elmers kicking around. So where do you go to get technical help if you’re new? Well online of course! Many organizations (RAC and the ARRL) have tons of information available on their websites. And with the availability of virtually no-cost bandwidth it’s now possible to post audio and video files.

The Northern California Contest Club has posted almost a dozen webinars online for you to download. Subjects include “How to set up a Microham keyer” (It’s easy if you read the manual but if you’re like me it took me weeks to get it running just right. This would have been so helpful.) or how to set up and configure Writelog (which I use) or the free and very popular N1NN contesting software. There’s a webinar on RTTY and several on antennas.

We’re going to see many more clubs and associations offering tons of online help.

Hams help in Haiti

Every large-scale disaster has one thing in common – each one is unique. This is especially true when it comes to disaster relief. For example, the Haitian earthquake flattened large parts of the island and killed hundreds of thousands of people. The destruction was so wide-spread and devastating that the actual infrastructure of government was destroyed. Amateur radio help in such circumstances would have been both ineffective and downright dangerous (as one group of amateurs discovered when they attempted to enter Haiti from the Dominican Republic and were fired upon by thugs). Early calls for the introduction of volunteers to run radio equipment and criticism by some when there was no widespread deployment of international amateur radio resources were both misguided and unhelpful.

Now that the Haitian infrastructure is returning, helping agencies are able to setup their relief efforts to help the Haitian people. Here’s a great article from the ARRL that shows how amateur radio can now play a role.

The recent Chilean earthquake appears to be another disaster of significant size however the Chilean military and government so far seem able to provide an adequate response and amateur radio is being used to provide relief.

There is a role for amateur radio to play in every situation but every role as every situation is going to be unique in nature and thus requires unique and thoughtful response. If you want to be part of the solution then join your local AREAS group.

RTTY Contesting

According to the Contest Club of Finland, RTTY contesting is the fastest growing contesting mode in the world. I love RTTY contesting. The emphasis of RTTY contesting is more on the equipment and less dependent on the the ability of the operator to decode the information in his or her brain.

As I grow older, this fact alone makes my RTTY experiences very positive. CW not so much and I don’t know about you but listening to a band load of contesters yelling in my headphones for 48 hours isn’t my idea of a great time (although it’s a lot of fun if you’re part of a multi-operator effort). Having said that, I do intend to be on this weekend’s ARRL DX SSB contest.

Today, some rigs, (notably ICOM’s newer equipment) can send and decode RTTY right in the rig thus eliminating the need for a computer and interface. Cool.

If you’re interested in learning more, Contest Club Finland held the world’s first RTTY Contesting School. Thanks to the ARRL Contesting Newsletter here’s a link to a PDF presentation that was part of the school.

Join the conversation

The RAC Blog has been an experiment that has worked out wonderfully well.

This blog does not replace the official RAC Bulletins (which I try my best to reproduce here) or the amazing magazine The Canadian Amateur or the RAC website itself.

What a blog allows us to do is to enter into a conversation. This has happened often during the last year and I must admit I’ve enjoyed the comments that have been posted and the private e-mails that we’ve shared together. The blog averages several thousand hits a month (our top month was 6,000) individual visits. Now this isn’t Oprah or Dr. Phil territory but for an organization that has 5,000 members (or so) and represents roughly 20,000 to 25,000 licensed amateur radio operators across Canada and is moderated by a volunteer (me – VE3HG) I think we’re doing pretty well.

BUT, we could use more content produced by more contributors.

So if you’re publishing an online newsletter, a ham radio blog, videos from your club flea market or Field Day activity why not send me a link? If it’s of interest to Canadian hams, I’ll comment and provide a link to it. Just send me a comment. :)

Grounding

Newcomers to amateur radio often find grounding a very confusing subject. Even the “experts” can disagree.

A discussion about grounding a high-frequency contest station has taken place on the Contest Club of Ontario’s email reflector and it got me thinking about how I ground my own station here at VE3HG.

To complicate matters, there are two reasons to ground your station and high frequency (H.F.) antenna systems. First is for safety. All antennas erected outside are capable of being struct by lightening. That lightening needs somewhere to go. It’s best if the termination point isn’t your expensive radio. The second type of grounding is an radio frequency (R.F.) and here’s where there can be some confusion. Antennas cut for the precise frequency and feed with perfect feedline terminated with perfect mechanical connections at the optimum height do not require an R.F. ground as 100 per cent (okay there are some losses due to heat) of the signal gets radiated. In fact, at some frequencies such as VHF (6 meters and up) an R.F. ground can be more a problem than a solution. So why do so many hams think they need an R.F. ground? It’s because most of our stations are not equipped with perfect antennas at optimum height radiating 100 per cent of the R.F. being created by the transmitter. R.F grounding can help tame stray R.F. in the shack when used in conjunction with ferrite chokes.

Here’s a link to W8JI’s webpage that includes information on ground systems.

K0BG’s site has some useful information about R.F. and D.C. grounds.

Finally here’s another link from Hamuniverse.com on grounds by N8SA.