More than just a Ham radio blog.
is an informative, cynical and sometimes humorous look at what is happening in the world of amateur radio.

Monday, 30 November 2009

My month in review

It has been a strange sort of month for me with my quietest time on the air since July 2005 and yet some really pleasing contacts in the log. The weather does its best to depress me, being almost constantly dark and wet. Work has been slow, we had a supposed one week shut-down that turned in to a slow six weeks lurching from one disaster to the next. However despite long periods on inactivity while awaiting parts and repairs I have worked more hours than would care to due to sickness, jury service and family bereavements amongst my collogues. Quiet twelve hour night shifts would normally be welcome but they do tend to drag and you get on to that slippery slope of the less you do, the less you want to do. The problem is you bring that feeling home with you and just want to slump on the couch and slob out. I do not watch much television but I have freed up 50% of the space on my 'Sky Plus' HDD this month. I would rather be talking on the radio but when I do get on the air my conversation has been somewhat uninspired of late. Even this weblog has been silent for over a week with nothing I have seen, heard or read managing to inspire me.
I have had other things going on to keep me off the air such as my mother spending some time in hospital and me visiting to check up she is okay since she got home. I have also been busy organising the Mold and District Amateur Radio Clubs Christmas Dinner, which might have been easier if I had not been working nights for our last meeting or if everyone had replied to the emails I sent. I finally sorted out the clubs call GC0HRG/GW0HRG with OFCOM nearly a year after our founder and president Eddie Hewins BEM GW3GSJ passed away and we now have both a workable facility and the license to use it.
My band of choice this month has to be 5mHz with lots of new LA (Norway) calls in the log and a handful of new US states, but the prize contact has to be Octavio YN2N (Nicaragua). There was one that had me kicking myself for letting him get away and that was Juilen 9Z4FZ (Trinidad and Tobago) who was booming in on 5.4035 mHz. I let everyone else work him while I finished an email, but when I called he had either gone QRT or the propagation died. Apparently he is on every Sunday night at 00:00z but that was the first time I heard him. Maybe next Sunday?
Tomorrow is at least the start of the SOTA winter bonus period so chance of some much needed activity on that front. If the weather is half decent I may even get out on the local two pointers myself and that should boost both the number of contacts in my log and my mood.
Even if getting out on the hills improves my mood it will not last. I am working twelve hour nights Christmas eve and Christmas day and just to rub my nose in it I start back New Years Day morning. Oh Joy! Maybe I will spend the extra payments on a new rig to cheer me up. Bah Humbug!
I probably would have been even more of a Humbug this Sunday as Flintshire Raynet are in Mold for a 'Santa Dash' but I am working so cannot attend. Maybe I am the only one who does not see the relevance of a fat guy whose name is an anagram of Satan propagating greed and consumerism amongst our children at Christmas, but I am sure my shouting "Get back to hell and take all those credit card bills with you!" or "I hope you have all been Police checked!" through a loud hailer would have gone down like a lead balloon. I might not appreciate the loonies running in their Santa outfits but they are all doing it for a good cause and this one is to raise money for both Nightingale House Hospice and St. Kentigerns Hospice in Denbighshire so good luck to them.
My best news of the Month is that my Land Rover Discovery had a recall for the dodgy brakes and it now actually stops. The Discovery MkIII has been renown for its brakes that sometimes did not work. I know several people who bought one only for them to get rid quick after a scary moment and one guy that ploughed his in to another car in a traffic queue at very low speed but wrote off both vehicles. He had it less than a month. Land Rover have been denying there was a problem ever since the MKIII came out but suddenly years later with the MKIV suffering the same problem we get a recall. I love this car to bits. If I didn't it would have gone the first time I almost didn't stop. Now I love it even more. If only I could get the ATAS working properly so I could work mobile HF on my Yaesu FT-857D I would be ecstatic, but the roof is almost all glass and there is next to no ground plain so I cannot get it to tune.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Random comments and news

Last night I took advantage of clear skies and watched the International Space Station fly over. I was in work so no telescope or binoculars but it was quite easily visible to the naked eye and for probably about three minutes. I just so wanted to be up there playing radio. Imagine how many people you could make happy with a quick QSO on 2 metres. I remember in my early teens lying in a field watching Skylab orbiting past every few hours and years later hearing a local amateur make a two way contact with an astronaut.

The Large Hadron Collider is up and running again after 14 months, which must be a big relief for those involved. I find this exciting but a little worried. I think it is unlikely that a black hole will be created and we will all be sucked in to oblivion as some suggest, what worries me is what the final outcome will be. Science only wanted to know what would happen when the atom was split but result was the atomic bomb. "I am become Death destroyer of worlds" said J. Robert Oppenheimer when he saw the result of his handiwork.

Belgium Radio Amateurs now have access to a tiny allocation at 4 metres. Class A holders in Belgium have access to 69.950MHz (+/- 5kHz) with 10W EIRP on a non-interference basis. Those Amateurs that wish to use this frequency must first inform their regulator the BIPT.
While this is nothing to get excited about at least it is a start, hopefully a more extensive allocation will follow sooner or later. UK amateurs will just have to wait or work split frequency with Belguim as their allocation is out of band to us and vice versa.

Martin Lynch & Sons will be holding their annual Open Day on 5 December from 8am to 4pm.

Sunspot activity seems to be increasing steadily of late and HF band conditions seem to be edging out of the doldrums. Activity on 5mHz has been up as a result on the Norweigians on the band during the day and some good night time openings to the US. I almost doubled my worked all state total for 5mHz in one night recently.

With all the rain here recently I keep thinking I should try 10GHz as a rainscatter is useful propagation method on that band. There are some good videos on YouTube of this type of propagation in action but I cannot get on to get the links just now. While you are on YouTube search for Leonids Meteor Shower too.

SOTA & Ham Radio in the News

Richard G3CWI is the guy who a lot of you may know as the brains behind SOTABeams the manufacturer and supplier of lightweight amateur radio products for portable HF and VHF operation and G3CWI's Amazing Online Flea Market which allows hams to buy and sell their used equipment.
Richard recently became the first person to activate all the English Hills in the Summits on The Air program by making a minimum of four unique QSOs from each summit. Operating from a total of 178 summits often under difficult weather conditions to achieve his goal. Not that Richard is content to stop there as he has activated from a considerable number of summits in Wales and Scotland as well and has done a lot of hills multiple times on all sorts of bands up on frequencies up in to the microwaves. He has now got some worthwhile publicity for Amateur Radio in his local newspaper the Macclesfield Express, which printed a picture of him on a summit and described his achievement.
Well done Richard and thanks for bringing the hobby to the attention of a wider audience. Now instead of being asked what we are doing on the hills around Macc everyone will ask "Are you that SOTA guy?"

WSPR 2.0 - Propagation Tool

WSPR (Whisper) stands for 'Weak Signal Propagation Reporter' and I seem to have heard a lot of people talking about it recently. I must admit to not having the slightest bit of interest in it, thinking that it was "just another digi-mode" and "why do we need another digi-mode?", but that was before I read up on it.

Joe Taylor K1JT has released version 2.0 of WSPR and so it is cropping up on blogs and as news items everywhere. It looks like an interesting tool and so I thought to myself I would download the program and see what all the fuss is about. I have not got it up and running yet so I cannot really comment other than to say follow the links and do some reading.

My plan is to use my Yaesu FT-817 as I already have the data cables, this mode as it only requires minimum power and my 817 is usually sat idle in between SOTA activations and Raynet exercises. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I can let you know how I am getting on.

WSPR 2.0 is available for Ubuntu Linux (versions 8.10 and later), Debian 5.03, and other Debian-based 32-bit Linux distributions as well as Windows and I believe it is possible to download and compile the source code for other operating systems including Mac OS.

WSPR 2.0 can be downloaded from


Note: I found the download link extremely slow until I set my browser to text only and it came up instantly. The actual download was no problem.

BLP - Death Looms

When I read what follows at Southgate ARC news I just wanted to yell "Hurray!" I am sure the Manassas radio amateurs will want to join me and breath a big sigh of relief.

Manassas VA to pull the plug on BPL

The Manassas City Council is saying goodbye to BPL.

Inside Northern Virginia reports that the council is in the process of deciding whether to abandon its broadband over power line project now, or to let it die at the end of the city's fiscal year.
BPL was Manassas' attempt to bring the Internet into the homes of every resident by providing a low-cost broadband service. Subscribers were told that they could access the Internet through the regular electrical outlets, but for a number of reasons it never caught on with the public.

First, the connection proved to be slower than cable or DSL. It was expensive to maintain and caused massive reception interference to those using the spectrum it shared. This included the Manassas ham radio community which was highly vocal in its opposition.

The end result was that the project only garnered about 670 subscribers while costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in ongoing maintenance. It also faced a strong challenge from Comcast cable which claims the potential to serve the entire city, and Verizon which has rapidly been expanding its FIOS service in the Manassas area.

And now like a bad dream it will shortly be fading away.

This is what we have been longing to hear and I am hopefully this is the first in a long line of similar stories that will chronicle the death throws of this spawn of Satan that is BPL.

Monday, 16 November 2009

SOTA introduces new awards

A new award for SOTA chasers has been announced by the Summits on the Air Management Team, called the Mountain Hunter Award. It was announced today by Barry GM4TOE The SOTA Awards Manager on the reflector to complement the award recently announced for Activators (I think I missed that one!).

The ultimate award is to encourage a Chaser to Work All Associations (this does require the use of HF and is not practicable on VHF without moonbounce!) but we also wanted to encourage VHF/UHF operations and so have also introduced an award that requires qualifying contacts on 70MHz and above only. The award is NOT points based like the existing awards but relies on valid contacts between Chasers and Activators on a qualifying number of summits in a number of Associations.

It is feasible at present for a Europe based Chaser to work 24 Associations on VHF with the possibility of 7 more in the offing. We have Associations on 4 continents at present and there is the possibility of Australasia joining in the future.

Both African and Asian Associations have a rarity value so this might encourage activity from them or persuade other countries to join the scheme (Who is up for Activation from the High Atlas?). It is recognised that the VHF award is very Europe biased but it is foreseen that the USA /Canada associations will, very shortly, be able to qualify for the entry level VHF qualification. It should be noted that, although Europe does not have the 1.25m and 33cm bands, this does not prevent those countries with these bands from using them.

The inclusion of the requirement to work some intercontinental associations (for the all bands award) does make this award different from the existing Chaser awards and will run in parallel to the existing Chaser awards; by introducing the requirement (except at the entry level) to work other continents this award should encourage activators in less active associations to operate as there will be demand from chasers for the rarer associations.

a) VHF (70MHz and above) Award

Hunter should contact at least 2 different summits in each of 5 associations using just VHF/UHF any mode.

Endorsement for UHF only qualification (430MHz and above)

Steps of 5 Associations for each award: 10, 15, 20, etc

Level/ No. Associations/ Min. no. of summits
1 /5/ 2 per association
2 /10 /3 per additional association
3 /15 /4 per additional association
4 /20+/ 4 per additional association

b) All bands Award

Hunter should contact at least 2 different summits in each of 5 associations The higher level awards require that at least one association claimed is on a different continent from the claimant’s normal residential QTH. Level 1 can be claimed with contacts only on the claimant’s own continent (1 continent); higher level awards require intercontinental contacts.

Endorsement for all 50MHz qualification

Steps of 5 Associations for each award: 10 (including 2 continents), 15 (including 2 continents), 20 (and 3 continents),

Worked all Associations

Level No./ Associations/ Continents /Minimum no. of summits
1/ 5 /1 /2 per association
2 /10 /2/ 3 per additional association
3 /15 /2 /3 per additional association
4 /20 /3 /4 per additional association
5/ WAA/ 4 or 5 /4 per additional association

The Award will be issued from January 2010 and summits may be claimed retrospectively (you do not have to start over; summits previously chased under the programme will qualify). Each claim must be registered on the SOTA database in the normal way and a new filter will be incorporated onto the database to track progress and allow checking of activators’ claims.

This award will be certificate based as with the Activator award however the MT would like to consider the possibility of producing a trophy for the Worked All Association award. Several suggestions have been made and we will seek input from participants to determine the level of interest in producing a suitable item.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

End of the World - Be prepared

On Saturday 14 November 1800-2200 UTC on or near the emergency centre of activity frequencies on the 80, 40, 20, 17 and 15 metre bands more than 200 stations representing IARU member societies and Emergency Communications Groups in 45 countries around the world took part in the latest Global Simulated Emergency Test. GlobalSET provides an opportunity to demonstrate the provision of communications across national borders, test the emergency centre of activity frequencies, create practices for international emergency communications and the relaying of messages.

I was unable to listen or take part in what was going on as I was working but I am sure plenty will be written about the success or otherwise of the event. What I would like to know is what exactly might constitute a global emergency? An asteroid strike, a large volcanic event, an alien invasion, the Cern Large Hadron Collider sucking Switzerland into a black hole or what? I just hope I am not around if any of these things happen, but I am keeping my batteries charged in case, maybe you should do the same.

Is the future of printed mags numbered?

Bob VA3QV has been questioning how printed matter can keep up with the Internet or if it is approaching the end of its usefulness. Bob points out that the latest issue of The Canadian Amateur Magazine was out of date way before it dropped on the doormat. The TCA shows two Directors (Ontario South and Quebec) being acclaimed to their next terms when in effect they resigned their positions at the end of October in support of the President who also resigned. He goes on to say "No ones fault, just an example of how the print media can no longer keep up." Bob received his copy on the 12th November and says what was written there was the talk of the amateur community two months ago and he has just three days to send his comments in to make the next issue. Therefore what is discussed is likely to be up to six months too late.

In the UK at least RadCom drops through the door every month, but I find the same problem, that most news is old news, which in a lot of cases has been done to death way before we see it in print. I do not really care for my national societies magazine prefering the style of other amateur radio magazines but as a former printer I have a soft spot for printed matter and would hate to see it disapear. What does the future hold, will we be reading our radio publications on a mobile phone or Kindle or will blogs like CQHQ toll the death nell?

G0VBC - The Kite Runner

Another station in my log today was G0VBC who was operating portable on 5mHz from a field not far from his home in Wolverhampton using a kite to support an inverted vee antenna. His signals were good to excellent until the wind dropped when he would disappear for a short while. I have always wanted to try a kite to support a vertical but never thought about using it with an inverted vee. I would have thought having two wires and the feeder hanging from the kite along with the flying line would be a recipe for disaster but 'Mashoo' seems to have got it sussed, by having a lanyard on the kite he can raise, lower and change antennas without bringing the kite back down to earth. Have a look at Mashoo.org.uk which is interesting but written in a hard to read white on black and in lower case. He says he will update the site shortly based on todays tests. For more information on kite antennas also look at G4VGO's balloon and kite antenna site here.

Update thanks to Graham GW0HUS for this link to G4ROJ's kite aerials
Update 2 G0VBC's details of the antenna including modelling data

Norwegian Radio Museum

In between SOTA activations there has been lots of Norwegian activity on 60 metres (5mHz) and it was my pleasure to once again work Per LA1TNA but this time he was operating as LA1ASK from a radio museum in the old LKB Bergen Kringkaster, which is the former NRK(Norsk Rikskringkasting) AM(LW/MW) broadcasting station for Bergen. Its QTH is near the village of Erdal on Askoey Island EU-055 north of Bergen, locator JP20OK. The website is well worth a look with lots of photographs of the broadcasting equipment and more. The Telefunken broadcasting transmitter of 20 kW was built in 1935 and is the only remaining Telefunken transmitter (complete) of this type in the world. There is also a 1kW Marconi transmitter from the 30's and loads of old military and domestic radio gear. It looks like being worth a visit if you are ever in Norway.

SOTA a victim of success?

Those who read this weblog regularly will know Summits on the Air is my main passion and while I occasionally get the chance to wander in the hills with my radios, I spend far more time running in and out of the shack at home working other activators. Today I was up earlier than I expected after working a twelve-hour night shift and no doubt I will be flagging about 3am as a result. I was up just in time to work Andy MA0FMF/P (5mHz) on a previously un-activated South Scotland summit Meall na Fearna GM/SS-035, which made it all worthwhile. Still on 5mHz I worked Walt G3NYY/P up on Hegdon Hill G/WB-023 in the Welsh Boarders and on 80 metres I got Geoff 2E0BTR/P on Bryn y Fan GW/MW-018 in Mid-Wales and Steve G1INK/P on Hoove G/NP-024 in North Pennines. That was a total of eight chaser points, which for me on a weekend is a poor show, but that was due to my working/sleeping pattern because looking at the spots page there had been 46 spots today and 90 for the weekend. Bearing in mind we are in what might be considered the SOTA doldrums, a period between the good weather and the winter bonus that does not seem too shabby.

On Saturday there were stations on from Canadian and US summits and although I never heard anything of them they created quite a stir. My buddy Mike GW0DSP managed to work one of the Canadian stations on 20m CW and was as pleased as punch to get his first VA SOTA. Richard G0IBE/P on Bredon Hill G/CE-003 managed an SSB summit-to-summit contact with K1YMI/P on Crane Mountain W2/GA-044 not bad with both stations running 5w with Richard giving 4/1 and receiving a 5/3 report in return. Lets hope the activity stirs up more interest in the Americas.

There is a worry that SOTA is becoming a victim of its own success with complaints on the reflector of the animalistic scrambles reminiscent of rare DX expeditions on the CW portion of 40 metres. Yesterday I waited patiently for the pile up to disperse in order to work an Austrian activator on 40 metres SSB, it took 45 minutes before I even bothered calling. If this had been a busy SOTA weekend I might have given up in order to work another station. As an activator I would relish the attention and I love the chance to fill the logbook but for the chaser the nice gentlemanly round of familiar call signs waiting for their turn is turning in to a bit of a melee. What somewhat worries me is that propagation is still poor, so what happens when it eventually comes good? I suspect then SOTA will hit new heights and the pile-ups will see stations closing down with callers still waiting, after all is considered you can only spend so long on a cold windy mountain.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Heard on air

Two G stations were talking on two metres but one was suffering some kind of occasional interference. He asked his buddy "Can you QSY down 25Kcs?" To which came the reply "Yes but it may take a while!" "What do you mean by a while?" asked the first station. "Depends how long it takes Quartzlab to deliver." quipped the guy with crystal controlled rig.

Norway update

Norwegian radio amateurs must feel like all their Christmases have come at once. In addition to their allocation on 4 and 60m (70 & 5mHz) as announced here they have had an extension to the 12m and 40m ( 24 & 7mHz) plus another new band on 500kHz. The details are provided by Martin LA8OKA via Southgate ARC news.

The changes take effect immediately.

The changes are as follows:

Frequency band Status
Maximum output
493-510 Secondary
New band. Only A1A Morse telegraphy allowed
5260-5410 Secondary
New band
7100-7200 Primary

Upgraded privileges. Used to be secondary status and 100 watt

24740-24890 Secondary
Frequency extension
70,0625-70,0875 Secondary
New band
70,1375-70,1875 Secondary
New band
70,2625-70,3125 Secondary
New band
70,3625-70,3875 Secondary
New band
70,4125-70,4625 Secondary
New band

It has been great to hear so many LA calls over the last few days on the 60 metre band. I cannot wait to work my first Norwegian station on 4 metres.

Universal Translator a Reality

You too could be like Joe 90! It may sound like an April fools joke but NEC have been working on a Universal Translator. Unlike the ones in Star Trek you do not actually hear the translation but a text translation is beamed by special spectacles directly in to your retina. The company's Tele Scouter glasses were unveiled this week in Tokyo to a somewhat sceptical audience of local press. The device uses voice recognition combined with translation software, which some are saying is a recipe for misunderstanding.

NEC admits that when the device goes on sale in 2011 ¥7.5 million (£50,000) for a package of 30 pairs of glasses the translation feature will not be ready. The first version will use face-recognition software to help shop sales staff identify customers and access their shopping history for that 'personal' sales touch, which sounds like a much more worrying idea to me.

Seen at http://www.techradar.com/

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Norway and Finland get 70mHz band

Searching around trying to find information about Norway on 60m I came across the following from Bo OZ2M on the 4m website…

As of 5 November 2009 Norway has added 70 MHz to the radio amateur bands in Norway, Svalbard, Bear Island, Jan Mayen, Bouvet Island, Peter I Island and the Norwegian land areas on Antarctica.

Frequency spans: 70,0625-70,0875 MHz, 70,1375-70,1875 MHz, 70,2625-70,3125 MHz, 70,3625-70,3875 MHz and 70,4125-70,4625 MHz. Power limit is 100 W.

Also as of 4th November, the Finnish regulator, has granted access to the 4 m band in Finland

Frequency slots: 70,000-70,175 MHz and 70,225-70,300 MHz. Maximum power is 25 W, 30 W or 100 W depending on location and license class.

There are various restrictions on use in certain areas.

Ham Radio must Innovate or Die

There is an article worth reading over at The K3NG Report called Spectrum is Oxygen. The title comes from a quote by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The basic premise of what Anthony K3NG is saying is that our bandwidth is under attack and due to the latest technologies, such as LTE and WiMax it is going to be under attack like never before.

It may be that our HF spectrum is safe or at least safer than our VHF and UHF allocations but we could have a fight on our hands. We have masses of space up in the Gigahertz bands because at one time no one else was interested but now this is prime real estate and prime real estate that is seriously under populated.

There is a real danger that we as radio amateurs are becoming seen as a bunch of dinosaurs using outdated techniques. In the past amateur radio was at the forefront of technical advances but except for in a few cases that is no longer the case. If we do not want to be seen as mere obstructions we need to move not with but ahead of the times.

G4VXE in his weblog talks about keeping a broader sense perspective of how the many fascinating aspects of the hobby are in some ways divisive. We are divided and open to conquest when we should be working to a common goal. Tim mentions a discussion on a CW group he is a member of and how wrapped up and passionate the discussion on the meaning or ‘R’ was. He goes on to say “Next year; they're planning something exciting. No, not awards and encouragement for people who are interested in Morse, but, a new Constitution.”

Tim finishes by saying, “Look outward and not inward. Look the wrong way and you won't see the future looming.”

The future is looming and what are we going to do about it? We need to all pull together and do something that drags amateur radio in to this century and ensures it still exists in to the next. Much is being done to get more people in to the hobby but I question if we are attracting the right people. It is not just quantity but quality we need. We need to attract the wiz kids and the technologically savy, these the ones who are going to take amateur radio to the next level and we need to make much more use of those higher bands.

It may be that we need to change some of our preconceptions of what amateur radio is, the discussions on what constitutes real radio proves that. It may be that we need to campaign for broader terms of reference that would allow us to do things we are not permitted to do by our present licences. Should we maybe looking at some form of networking using wideband in those vast empty chunks of the microwave spectrum or how about allowing some form of open access digital TV? I really do not know where the future will lead, but we need to grab hold and lead the future or we will be mere flotsam in its wake.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

iPhone APRS application

Spotted this at G4VXE.com....

I noticed a tweet from Jerry, KD0BIK this morning saying that he'd just installed a copy of an application called iBCNU on his iPhone. I'd never heard of it, so I googled it and found the iBCNU application here iBCNU was written by David, AB3Y and looks to be a nice piece of work!

iBCNU is an APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) client for the iPhone. It allows you to transmit position reports or send short messages from your iPhone, through the APRS Internet server. Messages may be sent to other amateurs using APRS and position reports may be viewed either through the Internet or on VHF Radio, by amateurs using a radio, TNC and a computer.

I quite like APRS, though I never really know what to do with it! I first became aware of APRS in the mid to late 1990s when I lived in Toronto. I remember connecting an Icom IC2E up to a TNC and hooking up a DOS APRS program to it, which showed simple (by today's standards) maps on the Ontario area. It was fun to get going but I wasn't quite sure what to do with after that!

Last time I looked at APRS was when we were running GB50 from Windsor Castle and I had the pleasure of explaining it to HRH Prince Philip!

Because I liked maps, radios and the internet; APRS does have a fascination, so I was interested to install the iBCNU application on my iPhone and it happily transmits position reports, which you can see on the Internet! And I think I can send messages to other APRS users, but I haven't tried that out yet.

So if you want to see where iBCNU thinks I am, have a look on Findu.Com and see!

Nice find Tim I hope you do not mind me reproducing it here. I know a few of my readers have iPhones and will interested in this.

And before anyone asks (again) no I do not have an iPhone.

Gigahertz lectures

Okay so you have the lead lined underpants so what else do you need to do to get QRV on those Gigahertz bands?

Answer: The Martlesham Microwave Roundtable is screening a series of lectures live on the Internet, tomorrow Sunday November 8.

11:02 - 11:55 Talk 1 : G4HUP
12:00 - 12:40 Talk 2 : WW2R
13:30 - 14:10 Talk 3 : DL1YMK
14:15 - 14:55 Talk 4 : G4JNT
15:15 - 15:55 Talk 5 : WA5VJB

The Live streaming video can be found on the BATC video site on Sunday under Live Events at http://www.batc.tv/

Hopefully they will be archived at BATC for people like me who will not be around to watch them live.

For further information contact Dave G0MRF via UK Microwave Group (UKuG) http://www.microwavers.org/ or see Martlesham Microwave Roundtable

US hams save fall guy

Two radio amateurs on their way to check on an amateur radio repeater where able to call for help on their hand portable radios when they came across a 61 year old man who lay bleeding after falling 40 feet. Karl Tso, KI6PCW, and wife Deborah Ava, KJ6CRZ, put their emergency training to good use to help rescue the man after the accident on Catalina Island. Messages were passed first to stations on the mainland who then contacted emergency services by telephoning 911. Los Angeles County fire-fighter paramedics responded and the injured man was flown by helicopter to St Mary's Hospital in Long Beach for treatment. Both amateurs are members of The Topanga Disaster Radio Team.

Well done to Karl and Deborah on their fine example of why amateur radio is a good thing. Lets all hope the unnamed victim makes a full recovery soon.

Norway on 5mHz

It would appear that Norway have granted ordinary full licence amateurs usage of the 5 mHz band. Previously this was only allowed to groups such as clubs from fixed stations and for organisations involved in emergency planning. In the past only a couple of fixed frequencies or channels were available for experimentation in the band. Now it appears they have been a section of band from around 5.260-5.410 without restriction although other Norwegian amateurs I have spoken to seem concerned they have not seen any sort of band plan yet.

I worked Lars LA2OKA who was 57 to 59 on 5.3985 with fading and later heard Pers LA1TNA at first a steady 59 but the band was going out and he faded before I got him in the log. I use a resonant dipole at 30 feet over a reflector at 6 feet that is 10% longer than the dipole and 100 watts. Lars told me he was running their legal maximum of 100w on the band.

Various questions remain unanswered, such as are they allowed portable or mobile operation? and is this a blanket issue to all LA full licence holders or a variation they have to apply for? I have scoured the web but so far very little information appears available. One UK station asked if LAs could speak to UK military cadets. I somehow suspect not. Even though the (probably) unique ability for 5 mHz NoV holders to talk to none amateur stations in the form of military stations is written into the notice I personally have only spoken to two military stations since I had my NoV.

The UK 5 mHz NoV ends in 2010 so hopefully the Norwegian decision will help to get an extension if not an outright amateur allocation in the band.

Update: Speaking to Per LA1TNA today (Sunday 8th November 2009) I was informed that the band allocation was to all Norwegian Amateurs (no permit required) and is un-channelised with no restrictions on mode. Allocation is on a secondary basis and has no time limit like the UKs NoV.

Digital TV - A Big Carbon Blot on the Landscape

Here in the UK the digital TV switch over is well under way and the next stage in my area is due on December 2nd when the last of the analogue transmitters get turned off. I have already mentioned in this blog how the public in general have been bamboozled in to paying out for high gain antennas that they do not need and new TVs when there was years left in the one they had. I would have hoped that the tree huggers out there would have made some kind of fuss, but they are obviously amongst the ones that have been taken in by the less than truthful advertisements we have seen. The government keeps telling us to reduce our carbon footprint but the digital switch over has seen a 70% plus rise in the number of TVs being dumped and various councils are complaining they cannot cope with the rise in what is referred to as e-waste.

Over the last year households in the Cumbria threw out more than 50,000 analogue TVs despite the fact that around 30,000 of the sets had nothing wrong with them and could be easily upgraded by adding a digital set-top box. Multiply this by the UK's 86 counties and you get some idea of the problem. In the North West of England 7.2 million homes in the Granada region have been making the switch from analogue TV to digital this week, and queues at council run tips and recycling centres have been twice as long as usual with almost visitor bringing a TV.

Hopefully we radio amateurs are doing our bit and are recovering lots of useful components from at least some of this electronic waste. I look forward to seeing the first batch of QRP rigs made from 100% recycled TV parts.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

6-10m cross-band repeater gets NoV

I received the following email from Dave G3ZXX about the 6m/10m cross-band repeater the Wessex Repeater Group are working on…

Further to our e-mail of the 3rd November, we would like to confirm the following operational characteristics, for the new GB3WX repeater, as defined by the formal NoV.

10m Transmit: Input Freq: 50.520 Mhz – Output Freq: 29.210 Mhz – CTCSS Freq: 82.5 Hz
6m Transmit: Input Freq: 29.210 Mhz – Output Freq: 50.520 Mhz – CTCSS Freq: 82.5 Hz

Mode: NBFM

CTCSS: Please note that the CTCSS tone is now the same on both bands.

Output Power: Will be 25 watts (14 dBW) ERP, on each band.

Antenna: Unity gain omni-directional vertical, on each band.

Beacon Mode:When not in use, the repeater will ident on both bands simultaneously, every 60 seconds, to enable direct propagation comparisons to be made between the two bands.

The repeater will be co-located with the 2m repeater GB3JB, at Willoughby Hedge, in South Wiltshire, IO81VC, and will be powered by the sites Solar Panel and Wind Turbine generating system.

Further information will be added to the web site as it becomes available.

Now that we actually have the NoV, we need to get moving, as we have a 3 month window in which to get the system operational.

However, as with all our repeater / beacon systems, they are supported by donation, so your support in this area would be very much appreciated. Details on how to make a donation to the Wessex Repeater Group can be found at the group web site.

We currently need a further £800 or so, to complete the project. This being needed for the purchase of a 2nd transceiver, the logic controller and additional batteries to supplement the current system, which will of course have to cope with the significant additional power loading.
To those who have already supported our unique project, we offer our thanks for your interest and trust, but hope that may more of you will find your way clear to offer your financial support.
Please feel free to forward this communication to anyone whom you feel would be interested in its contents.

Cheers and 73’sDave, G3ZXX - Keeper: GB3WX
For and on behalf of The WesseX Repeater Group

Congratulations to everyone in getting this far and good luck with the reast of the project.

I was and still am somewhat sceptical about the need and usefulness of this project and Dave is/was aware of this as he contacted me when he was initially gauging the opinions of the amateur community, but despite knowing I was a sceptic has kept me up to date with details, which I find most reassuring. The project will no doubt be an interesting one for those involved but from my own point of view I have a few issues. If I was to use this repeater, which I have no intention of doing as I rarely use FM on these bands, I would need to use two rigs as I have no way of switching antennas from my 6m to 10m vertical, so I would have to listen on the same antenna as I was transmitting with resulting inferior reception. The majority of HF equipment still comes without CTCSS as standard and its inclusion may result in the exclusion of some that may wish to use it. The repeater only puts out 25 watts which is less than I would be running myself even from a mobile, which means simplex contacts would in the majority of cases be easier. When both bands are open and the repeater would be most useful it will be either so busy that only a few people will be able to use it or everyone will be too busy making simplex contacts to bother with it. I would rather they had gone for a single band repeater on either six or ten but I think the added challenge of doing a cross-band unit has been behind it. It should be perfect for that small group of amateurs who own the Yaesu FT-8900 with the matching quad band antenna and live close enough to get the repeater under flat conditions. For the rest of us it may well just remain a curiosity as possibly one of the last innovative analogue repeaters in the UK, because if we like it or not the future is digital. I am just not sure it is D-Star.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

DAB the future or not?

I have already voiced on this blog and elsewhere my contention that while digital radio is the future DAB is probably an evolutionary dead end. The DAB+ system is better with more stations, better quality sound and cheaper transmission costs, but even this system would probably be just a halfway house solution and not a good one at that. The problem with DAB+ is that most DAB receivers are not compatible with DAB+. Having said that the numbers of homes in the UK with a DAB receiver is probably so low that it does not matter. In my own home on an inside antenna my hi-fi tuners reception is pathetic fortunately if I want to I can listen on amateur radio equipment connected to decent outside aerials. Bring a portable DAB radio into my lounge and you can receive zilch, zero, nothing at all.

According to the Guardian this morning Scott Taunton, head of TalkSport’s parent, UTV Radio GB speaks out and it make interesting reading. According to Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report the plan is to switch off FM broadcasting in 20015, Scott’s contention is that this is unrealistic. What is somewhat surprising is that he represents a leading company that has invested heavily in DAB and not just some minor broadcaster or journalist.

I personally think the low up-take of DAB by the public will continue with more people listening via satellite, Freeview boxes and the Internet. Mobile telephone technology is at present limited to using expensive Internet airtime or built in FM receivers, but the potential is for always available for mobile phone service providers to set up free lines or free Internet streams from web enabled radio stations. It would be fairly simple to route the same audio data to thousands of listeners via their mobile telephones. I think the future of personalised radio listening is in the hands of mobile telephone service operators and manufacturers.

If indeed we are going down the road of DAB or DAB+ the first thing that should have been done is to force car manufacturers to fit compatible radios, which is not happening on a wide scale. In fact some manufactures are still supplying cars with cassette players in and how many people still use cassettes? It is even hard to buy blanks these days. The fact that the latest iPod has a built in FM radio may just be a clue that FM is not going away any time soon and the popularity of FM radio is growing in places like China, Korea and Taiwan, where a lot of the devices we buy are made. It has been suggested that Worldwide an FM revival is on the horizon so do we really want to kill the golden goose in six years time? How many people will just stop listening altogether if the powers that be insist on hurtling down this digital highway?

On a lighter note; One conspiracy theory has it that the authorities want to stop analogue transmissions because it could be picked up by hostile alien life forms whereas digital will just sound like noise to them. “Calling occupants of Interplanetary craft!”

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Foot in Mouth to Head in Noose

I hope that at my funeral nobody quotes Oscar Wilde and says, “He had no enemies, but was intensely disliked by his friends.”

I have not seen the Simon Pegg film ‘How to loose friends and alienate people’ but what I am about to write here may just do that, however when I started this weblog I did not intend to pull my punches. It is not that I wish to upset anyone but as Elbert Hubbard said, “If you have no enemies you are apt to be in the same predicament in regard to friends.”

At the North Wales radio rally Kath Wilson M1CNY from the UKFM Group North Western approached me and asked if would fancy getting involved with the group and I am afraid I was less than polite at the suggestion. I would apologise but it may not help now.

My take on repeaters has always been somewhat negative, there are people out there who seem to think amateur radio is something done on a walkie talky with a rubber duck and have no idea how to set up a real amateur radio station. I believe that they invite idiots and that they give them the ability to create the maximum havoc possible with the minimum of equipment. On the plus side it keeps most of the morons in the same place. I dislike repeaters in general and would prefer that they gave way to allow more bandwidth for more interesting stuff but obviously that is not going to happen any time soon.

For the past few years there has been one exception to my repeater aversion GB3CR.
Charlie Romeo is on 433.150 and located on Hope Mountain and until recently it was seriously under used. The only reason I started using this repeater was it was not subject to the abuse that is rife on the local 2m repeaters and it was the only frequency where I could find up to a dozen amateurs on at 06:00 hours in the morning as I travelled either to or from work. The gang that were on at that time of the morning were irreverent and cynical, witty and well informed and somewhat above average intelligence. Sure we had the odd boring git call in and we all have our off days but it passed the time travelling and usually put a smile on my face.

One of the regulars on our early morning net owns the equipment, antennas, pays the up keep, electricity and site rental bills. Another member of the net services and repairs the equipment and antennas. Neither of these people is a member of the UKFM Group North Western so I therefore believed I owe nothing to the group as I never use anything they paid for.

Kath Wilson actually asked me nicely enough but I unfortunately was caught off guard and snapped back that I did not use repeaters. “What about CR” she said and I replied that the UKFMW have nothing to do with the upkeep of CR. Kath replied that they did and that her husband Dave Wilson M0OBW was the NoV holder. I did not want to discuss it and moved on.

To quote one of the founders of GB3CR “The repeater comes under the umbrella of the north west repeater group, UKFMW, but the refurbishment has cost the group nothing. Thanks to the site owner, running costs are zero.” This was referring to the Storno commercial repeater that has only recently been replaced by the owner at no cost to UKFMW with a more modern and hopefully more reliable Tait repeater with such useful goodies as remote shutdown.

The real problem I have is that the lunatics appear to have taken over the asylum. The bad operating practices heard on the North West’s (mainly) two metre repeaters are also perpetrated by some of those running the group. The infiltration by the very foul-mouthed cab and truck drivers I left CB over is self-evident. They pay their fees and so are allowed to be part of the clique and as a result seem to have become almost untouchable. I have seen indications that some abuse on the repeaters is being carried out by normally good well-mannered amateur radio operators who have been driven off the repeaters not by the ‘mic keyers’ but the inane mundane drivel spouted by ‘Good buddies’ now elevated to the dizzy heights of the ‘Novice’. Some of them are so thick I am sure that they probably had a mate sit the exam on their behalf, even though any CBer with half a brain could pass the novice test easily enough.

To put it in a nutshell I do not want anything to do with UKFMW because there are some people involved with it that I would not piss on if they were on fire and while I have every admiration for the hard work Kath and Dave Wilson have done in providing training for amateur radio licensees with their work at ‘The Beacons’ I do not like the way they operate on the air and for some reason when I see them the hairs on the back of my hands stand on end. I have no basis for saying I do not trust them and they have done nothing to make me dislike them, but I do generally I trust my first impressions and would prefer to keep them at arms length.

As a result of my somewhat uncalled for indiscretion, which I have probably compounded by writing this, I tried to find who actually was the repeater’s registered keeper is and it is indeed Dave Wilson M0OBW (if the site that has not been updated for four years is to be believed) but what shocked me even more was finding that he has been elected RSGB president from 1st January 2010.

Now I have always been of the opinion that anyone who seeks a position like that of President of the RSGB must be so far up his own arse as to be automatically excluded from standing for election. So is Dave in that category? I must say I do not know that much about him and certainly not enough to say either way but it seems to me that someone in that position should be at least active on the air. I know his wife Kath is almost omni-present on the two metre repeaters, even if I do not listen on those frequencies very often, but M0OBW is not a call we hear banded about very often. I decided to look him up on QRZ.com and was only the 51st look-up he had ever received, keen DXer then Dave. Compare that to my call, which although I have not checked lately is in the thousands.

So UK amateurs are to be led in to 2010 by someone who teaches but does not practice what he teaches, that sounds like your typical politician. It does not seem like a good move but at least he lives in Sandbach, Cheshire and as such is a Northerner, which has to be good (doesn’t it?) and hopefully he is not one of those G&T swilling knobs or lager drinking pussies from down south. I hope that despite my reservations he can kick some ass and move the society forward, I really do.

I now have some thinking to do, should I stop using GB3CR and should I leave the RSGB before Dave has me expelled? Maybe I should follow Groucho Marx’s lead and send the RSGB a note saying, I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members. Oh come to think of it I did that last time I resigned from our national society!

North Wales Radio Rally 2009

Saturday 31st October 2009 started off better than most and the sun was shinning. It felt good to be alive. I had a wallet full of money and we were headed for the North Wales radio rally at Llandudno. I hoped to meet loads of on air friends and perhaps put a face to some call signs that I had never met other than on the air. It helped that I had a most enjoyable evening out with some of the local amateurs the night before at the Royal Oak in Higher Kinnerton. I had an excellent meal washed down with a couple of pints of Black Sheep ale. There were fifteen of us and everyone seemed to have enjoyed the evening.

I had a shopping list but it was for the Mold & District Radio Club. I had my own money to spend but I did not really know what I wanted. The main item on the club’s list was a new 2m/70cms collinear to replace a wind and water damaged one that had resisted my attempts to repair it. On entering the rally one of the first people I met was a club member Ron 2W0BLG who said he had an antenna the club could have, so no need for wasting funds on a new one just yet. I purchased a few dipole centres and end insulators so we can have some antenna making sessions at the club and some small pulleys so that we can raise and lower the wire antennas with a lanyard as we need to. The only thing I bought for myself was a 8GB compact flash card for my digital SLR camera.

I was surprised that although there appeared to be more people at the rally than last year I saw less people I knew. I went both days last time and last year Sunday was poorly attended but a lot of folks I spoke to this year said they would be there on the Sunday so hopefully things will have evened out and Sunday will see similar numbers to Saturday. As a guess I would say attendance and stallholders were both up by about 10% on last year but still well short of former glories. We seemed to be missing the Irish contingent that used to arrive by the coach load off the boat from Holyhead and spend lots of money, but I notice from RSGB news that the Foyle & District ARC rally was taking place at Best Western White Horse Hotel, Derry on Sunday so maybe they went there instead.

The rally was much improved on most rallies in recent years by the lack of stalls selling fudge, knitted baby wear and computer bits. No sign of the guys selling dodgy CD’s full of stuff you can download free of the Internet either. There was still a few amusing items on sale such as a World War II silk parachute which had avoided being made into a wedding dress for some GI bride. One stall had a baking tray with cookie cutters in the shape of the letters of the alphabet that might have been good if it included numbers so we could have baked call signs biscuits.

The big dealers Waters & Stanton and Radioworld were at either end of the hall but may have lost out to a number of potential sales due to not having the big Icoms on display. One well heeled station I spoke to was interested in the £6,500+ IC-7800 and another was keen to see the £3,300+ IC-7600, he even had his Kenwood TS2000X in the boot of his car hoping for a part exchange deal.

Just like last year there was nobody selling coaxial cables or twin feeder unless you wanted some cheap and nasty RG58. I have been after some very thin low loss coax for my portable operations for some time but have been reluctant to pay the stupid postal costs required for such heavy items as 100m reels of coax.

The canteen that is run by staff employed by the centre was a minor annoyance. There were as many people behind the counter as in front of it, but no one seemed to be doing anything and even when we got to the front of the queue it took fifteen minutes to get served. Some people who only wanted to pay for a cold drink from the self- service fridge stood in line as we did for 45 minutes. At any one time there was no more than 15 people in the queue. How on earth they cope with hundreds of screaming kids on school days I do not know.

Last year I had a big list and failed to get most of it. This year I got what I wanted for the radio club but failed to be tempted to spend anything on myself. Maybe next year I will be tempted to buy something a bit more substantial than a handful of PL259's as long as the big dealers are there and have the IC-9100 or something similar with them.

I really hope this rally continues, as most of the best ones seem to have gone. It is not that long ago we could have been at a radio rally every weekend and I would probably have attended six or seven in a year. The UK rally scene seems to be hanging on by its finger tips for grim death and I do not wish for it to be just a dim memory of good times. In the case of Llandudno I feel more and better publicity might just help and the same may be true for other rallies. The ball is in everyone's court so if there is an event spread the word by what ever means.

I hear lots of people say that the reason they stay away from rallies is that they refuse to pay to get in and spend money, but the same people pay money to park at shopping malls and are prepared to pay postage on items ordered via the Internet or telephone sales. Surely the more people that attend the less the organisers have to charge us and if the dealers make enough money then they are prepared to come back and even pay more for their stalls. The main dealers will tell you they do not make money doing rallies, and that if they even break even it is a bonus, they do it to maintain a public face. Lots of volunteers put in long unpaid hours and weeks of work so these events to go ahead and tend to get nothing but flack as a result. Please support you local radio rallies because like the amateur bands themselves if we do not use them we could soon loose them.