Ham, Broadcast and Internet radio

The Dayton Hamvention is the largest Ham Radio get-together in the in USA and possibly in the world.  It goes on for three days every year along with many related events before and after.

Here I am on a rented scooter, checking out some of the gear in the flea market



Here is a view of a small section of the flea market.  Overall it covered acres.  This is where the scooter was a very big help.  Particularly when it got hotter later in the day




More radios from the 50’s and 60′.  These are ones I drooled over   as a kid.




Click to enlarge

Here I’m wondering how I could get one of these neat old radios home if I bought one  Probably too much of an load to lug back to the bus/



Not only Amateur Radio gear was here but lots of broadcast equipment too.  Here are a couple of old audio mixing boards.




When we went out to Dayton we traveled with a number of members of our local radio club, The EIDXA.  We kept in touch via radio along the highways and could coordinate stops  that way.

Here are fellow members Tom Vavra (WB8ZRL) and Jim Spencer (WØSR).

An inflatable antenna.  Pretty impressive.







This old Edison phonograph was not for sale but seemed to be in great shape, in working order, and prized by the owner.






Not all serious stuff.  Here is the Alien Biker Ham.





This is a view of the inside vendors displays.  Later in the weekend it got a lot more crowded and I took to parking my scooter and walking to avoid running over someone in the crowd.




Here is one of the most popular booths, the one for ICOM radios.  They were showing some newly released gear so it was quite popular and always busy.



I never could figure out what the business model of this company was.  A very unusual combination of things being sold.








Откъде да купя иконаХудожник 

Warning, this is sort of a brag post but I hope you will allow me this bit of vanity.

Last weekend (Feb 17-19) was the ARRL International DX Contest, CW  and, despite chemotherapy on the 16th, I participated.  I made a moderately serious effort, mostly to prove that I could.  My final results were: 648 QSO‘s,  251 Countries, & 487,944 Points.  This was approximately 90,000 points fewer than last year but I am still happy, considering my health situation.

Related to this.  On that Saturday (Feb 18) I received a large envelope from the ARRL.  In it was this certificate for my effort in the 2011 ARRL International DX Contest, Phone.  My score in that contest was 739 QSOs, 277 Countries & 614,109 Points.  On February 27 I received a second envelope with a updated certificate.  It seems that the original contained a printing error which implied my achievement was greater than it actually was.    The certificate is for first place in my category in the ARRL Midwest Division which consists of the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.   The corrected certificate is for first place in my category in the state of Iowa, not the entire division.   Still, this is something I am proud of.

Next month is the 2012 instance of this contest — we’ll see how I do on that one.

БогородицаI don’t usually make posts like this but I will make an exception for things I think are cool, fun and useful.

If you are a ham radio operator then you almost certainly know about the Dayton Hamvention.  This is one of the largest gatherings of radio amateurs in the US and occurs each May.  Even if you can’t attend in person, you can join in some of the fun by connecting to the video stream provided every year by Tom Medlin, W5KUB.

Each year Tom goes to considerable expense to provide this service and I would like to urge anyone who can, to make a small donation to help out with his expenses.  Go to his web site for details.

Also, I want to emphasize that I have no connection to Tom other than enjoying the streaming video that he provides.  As always, posts on this blog are completely non-commercial and not meant to generate any revenue for me in any way.

иконографияКартиниOn 07/09/11 I reached a major milestone in my ham radio career.  On that day I received word that my latest submission to the ARRL DXCC program had been accepted.  This application was my final step in receiving 5-Band DXCC (5BDXCC) which means I have contacted, and confirmed via QSL cards,  100 or more countries on five different amateur radio frequency bands.

This is the culmination of an effort I started over 30 years ago and something I am very proud of.  As of the above date I have the following totals: 103 countries on 80 meters, 109 on 40m, 167 on 20m, 164 on 15m and 118 on 10m.  Here is the 5BDXCC certificate I received today.

In addition to the 5BDXCC I also received endorsements on my CW (Morse code) and Mixed (CW+Voice) DXCC totals which brings me to 325 and 329 countries respectively.  Currently the DXCC program recognizes 341 ‘countries’ and when I have worked all but 9 of them I will be eligible for the DXCC Honor Roll !

In addition to the certificate shown above, the ARRL offers an optional plaque for this award.  I ordered one and it arrived a couple of days ago.  It really looks great.


QSL Cards

In this post I try to explain another aspect of Amateur Radio for my non-ham readers.  One interesting part of Amateur Radio is the practice of exchanging QSL cards to verify an over the air communication.  QSL cards are postcards containing the details of the contact such as date, time (UTC), signal strength (RST) and call letters.  Some cards are extremely ornate while other hams (like me) opt for plainer and less expensive cards.  Here is what my personal card looks like.

One of the reasons the practice of sending QSL cards thrives is that many radio awards require proof that the applicant has actually contacted the station they claim to have communicated with.   There are numerous ways to exchange QSL cards.  The most common ways are by direct mail to the address of the station worked or to a QSL manager for that station.  Clearly this could get rather expensive in terms of outgoing and return postage.   To help with this cost there are QSL Bureaus where a ham can send cards in bulk to a central outgoing bureau in their home country.  That bureau then collects and sends them on to the corresponding incoming bureau in the destination country.  There they are then distributed to the individual ham operators.  This process can save considerably on postage costs but the downside is that the whole process can take a year or more before receiving the desired card back.

Here is an example of some of the QSL cards I have received from various places. (Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version).  Over the years I have collected thousands of cards from all over the world.  In fact filing and storage gets to be a bit of a problem.   I often enter radio contests and I can get a large number of incoming cards a few months after the contest.

Got the new antenna working yesterday.  There were a few problems with the cables to sort out but that only took a short time.  Then there were several repetitions of RTFM before I finally figured out how to configure the control box.

Turns out that I had to enable the option for 80M in order for any band to work.  The instruction book did not even hint at this.  SteppIR needs some help writing their manuals.

Once it was all working I made contact with stations in Greece and Italy.  Not major DX but pretty good for early afternoon.   At least it proves the antenna is working.  I’ll be playing with it some more today and get a better feeling for its performance.

Antenna Transplant

Warning – Ham Radio Geek-Speak Ahead!

For quite a few years I’ve used a Hy-Gain DX-88 antenna when operating on the 80, 40 and 30 meter amateur bands (3.5, 7 and 10.1 MHz).  It’s been a very good antenna but suffers from one major problem – it has a very narrow bandwidth, particularly on 80 meters.

If I set it up for 3.55 MHz, the CW (code) portion of the band, then it will not work well at 3.85 MHz in the voice section of the band and vice versa.  The adjustments necessary to change the frequency are rather complex and the antenna is over 250 feet from the house.  I have to have a very good reason to change things and in bad weather it is not worth the trouble to make adjustments.

A few months ago I started looking around for a replacement antenna that didn’t suffer from these bandwidth limitations.  Finally I settled on the SteppIR BigIR vertical.  This antenna is unique in that instead of being a fixed length it adjusts its electrical length based on the operating frequency chosen.  This means that changing frequencies is as simple as pushing a button.  In fact, for many brands of radios the frequency change will automatically track the frequency the radio is tuned to.

Assembly of the antenna is fairly complicated and the installation requires additional cables to control the antenna.  In my stetup I have a 2″ diameter , 250′ long polyethylene pipe buried between the antenna site and my ham shack.  I (with Jan’s help) had to pull the new cable through this pipe.  This posed some difficulty due to tangles, stuck wires and an error in where to route the cable in the maze of other wires for other antennas.  Who ever called radio “wireless” has never seen a ham radio installation!

The next step was to take down the old DX-88.  This wasn’t too difficult as it only weighs about 18.5 pounds but, as it is 28 feet long, it is a bid awkward to handle.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this operation as there was no one available to take pictures while we worked on it.

With the old antenna down it was time to put the new one up.  This had the same problems of awkwardness made a little worse by an extra 5 feet of length.  Again, no pictures were taken of the ongoing process for lack of photographer but there are before and after shots.  Installing the new antenna went smoothly and it only took a short while to get the guy ropes adjusted and tightened up.

All that is left to do now is to check out all the cabling to be sure all is wired correctly.  After that I will start on-the-air checks and see how it works.  I’ll make an addition to this post once all that is complete.

Anyone who knows me has to realize that I love my toys.  Well, yesterday I got another one.

It’s an Icom IC-T90A, tri-band band handheld radio.  It puts out up to 5 watts on the 6m, 2m, and 70cm ham bands.  It has a general coverage receiver from 495 KHz to 999.99 MHz (minus cell phone frequencies.)  Full specs can be found here.

I am just starting to learn how to operate it but already I know I really like it.  It has (IMHO) only one drawback.  The antenna is way huge!  The antenna performs well but is a little awkward to carry on a belt clip or in a pocket.  Fortunately there are after-market antennas which are more reasonably sized available for a low cost.

I’ve already got all the local repeater frequencies programmed into it and I’ll be taking it with me often to see what sort of coverage I get in the area.

Such fun!

For those not too familiar with the hobby of Amateur Radio I thought I would do a post about what I’ve done on the air for the last week.

In the table below are some of the stations I’ve contacted in the first week in February, 2010.  Under ‘Mode’,  CW means Morse code while USB (or LSB) means voice.  The ‘Prefix’ column is the standard way that hams designate a particular country.  I’ve linked the less familiar locations to their Wikipedia article in case anyone is curious.

Date     Call    Freq(MHz) Mode Prefix Location
02/01/10 TX3D       10.11  CW   FO/A   Austral Islands
02/01/10 KE7NCO     18.15  USB  W      Nevada
02/01/10 ZD8RH      18.07  CW   ZD8    Ascension Island
02/01/10 OH1VR/VP9  21.27  USB  VP9    Bermuda
02/03/10 6W/PA3EWP  18.09  CW   6W     Senegal
02/04/10 E51WWB     14.02  CW   E5/N   North Cook Islands
02/04/10 V31YN/P    18.09  CW   V3     Belize
02/05/10 5X1NH      18.08  CW   5X     Uganda
02/05/10 EI7JN      18.14  USB  EI     Ireland
02/05/10 TL0A       18.16  USB  TL     Central African Republic
02/05/10 EA9PY      18.08  CW   EA9    Ceuta/Melilla
02/05/10 5N7M       14.01  CW   5N     Nigeria
02/05/10 J6/N7UN    21.03  CW   J6     St. Lucia
02/05/10 K7SFN      18.12  USB  W      Nevada
02/05/10 CO8LY      18.07  CW   CO     Cuba
02/05/10 E51WWB     18.07  CW   E5/N   North Cook Islands
02/05/10 ZL4PW      18.07  CW   ZL     New Zealand
02/05/10 VK7SM      18.08  CW   VK     Australia (Tasmania)

On a daily basis, I’m not extremely active compared to some hams and the radio propagation has not been the best lately (though it is improving.)  In a couple of weeks there will be a contest and, with luck and effort I may contact several hundred stations, all over the world, in a single weekend.

Although it doesn’t seem that it should be difficult, contesting can be quite taxing.  Imagine sitting in front of a radio for many hours listening to signals from all over the world and trying to sort them out from one another.  Add in various kinds of noise and interference to make the task harder.   You  need to accurately log the call sign, time and other details for every contact, avoid ‘dups‘ (working the same station twice) and checking for changing conditions on 5 or 6 different frequency bands.   When I was younger I would go for a whole contest weekend with 4  hours or less of sleep a night.  I’m not sure if I have that stamina now but I’ll give it my best try.

Why? Well, for the personal challenge mostly.  It’s a way to test your equipment and improve your operating skills.  There is also the fact that scores are published and you can compare your performance with other amateurs.  Finally, there are awards for the top scorers in their category.  Here is a certificate I won 20 years ago and  I haven’t done that well since.  But I keep trying.

Ham Radio Activities

Lately I’ve been getting more involved with ham radio.  This is due to 1) getting a fancy new radio, Station and 2) Getting my major antennas working once more.Pro57
I split my ham radio time primarily between two activities; DXing, which is trying to contact stations in distant locations, and Contesting, which is, as the name implies, a competitive activity where the object is to contact as many different stations in a predefined period of time as is possible.
I’ll talk about Contesting another time but now I’d like to go into a little more detail about DXing.  The American Radio Relay League offers an award called the DXCC (DX Century Club) which is, at its lowest level, given for making radio contact with stations in 100 different “countries.”  Currently the ARRL defines 338 ‘entities’ as countries for the purpose of the award.
At the present time I have worked and confirmed (via QSL ) cards, 299 of the possible 338.  Below is my map with red map tacks marking the places I’ve worked.

Click for Larger View

There are a number of reasons why I have not contacted all the 338.  For some it is because the political situation makes ham radio there difficult or impossible.  For example North Korea and Palestine.  Others are so remote that there are no ham operators there normally and they only become active when someone mounts a DXpedition to temporarily provide the opportunity of radio contact Examples of these are Swains Is. or Tristan da Cunah.

Some places are so rare that, when one does come up on the air, thousands of radio operators around the world all try to contact them, all at once.  This can sound like bedlam with everyone competing to be heard.  But there is a magical thrill when the DX station picks your call letters out of the “pile-up” and responds to you.  It is not all luck, but a combination of operating skill, station quality and radio propagation conditions.

It’s a crazy hobby but not without its satisfactions.