ICQ Podcast Episode 264 – Intro to Decibels

In this episode, Colin M6BOY is joined by Dan Romanchik KB6NU, Ed Durrant DD5LP and Martin M1MRB to discuss the latest Amateur / Ham Radio news. Colin M6BOY rounds up the news in brief, and this episode’s feature is an Introduction to Decibels.

  • 30,000+ New Ham Licensees and 7,000 Amateur Radio Exam Sessions in 2017
  • Ham Radio Clubs Embrace 'Hour of Circuits' Program?
  • Negative Ham Radio Story Sunday Times
  • Problem Buying Radio Equipment from Liquidated Supplier
  • New Ham Radio Club Enforces School Values
  • World Amateur Radio Day 2018
  • First UK 136 kHz Ham radio Transatlantic Contact with USA
  • New Award for CW and Digimode on HS4

Colin Butler, M6BOY, is the host of the ICQ Podcast, a weekly radio show about Amateur Radio. Contact him at [email protected].

Are Recent Technicians Getting on the Air?

Our radio club (Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association) offers a 2-day Technician license class which has resulted in over 300 new Technician licenses in past years. We also offer a number of activities to help new licensees get started in ham radio. Still, we wonder how many of our newly-minted Techs have actually gotten on the air and are actively using amateur radio.

To assess that, I surveyed 258 people that went through our Technician license class from 2010 to 2017. We’ve actually had more students than that get their license but I don’t have valid email addresses for all of them. To improve the response rate, I kept the survey short at 5 questions.

The response rate was 42% which is quite good for this type of survey. I suspect there is a response bias in that active ham radio folks are probably more likely to reply to this survey. People that have lost interest are less likely to reply. That’s just my opinion; I don’t have data to support that.


Almost half of our Technician class students upgraded to General but only a few went on to Extra. Overall, I see this as a good result but I expected to see a few more Extra class licensees.


Most of the respondents have been on air recently: 60% of them have made a radio contact in the past 6 months. On the other hand, that means about 40% of not made a contact in half a year. It is disappointing to see that 13% have never made a ham radio contact.

There is quite a range on how active the respondents are with 45% making 10 or fewer contacts in 6 months.


About one half of the survey respondents are members of our radio club. Some of them are also members of other radio clubs in the area. Some of our students travel a long distance, up to 100 miles, to attend this class so it makes sense that they find a radio club near their home.


Most of the respondents reported being active on 2m/70cm FM. About 18% of them are on HF Phone. The total for all forms of HF operating (CW, digital and phone) is not shown on the chart but it is roughly 20%. While roughly half of the respondents have their General or Extra class license, only 20% are actually using the resulting HF privileges.


My broad conclusion is that our radio club should continue to provide opportunities for our members to develop their operating skills and expand their radio operating. I filtered the responses to our club members only to see if our club member responses are any different from the larger group. Basically, our members indicate they are somewhat more active than the rest of the respondents but the overall story does not change.

Obviously, this is a small slice of data relevant to our local situation. It may not apply to other parts of the country.

What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

The post Are Recent Technicians Getting on the Air? appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

Amateur Radio Weekly – Issue 200

Proppy: HF propagation prediction
An interactive interface used to predict geographical coverage for a given site at a specified time and frequency.

Attracting more women to Amateur Radio
Kimberly Olsen VK2KMI spent some time researching how to attract more women to amateur radio.

3B7A Saint Brandon all-SDR DXpedition
This is the first major DXpedition that will be using only SDR transceivers in its setup. No old-school analogue radios.

More than 30,000 new Ham licensees in 2017
Despite the optimistic influx of 32,196 newcomers last year, the net growth of 5,349 — about 0.72% over December 2016 — reflects some 27,000 expired or cancelled licenses in the FCC database over the past year.

DIY Pi RF transmit filter hat with SMA connector
The Pi is a dirty old man when it comes to broadcasting and we need to clean up its act.
Naich’s crappy blog

Hackers can hijack emergency alert sirens with a Baofeng and laptop
Emergency alert systems manufactured by Acoustic Technology Inc. can be hijacked and made to play any audio thanks to a vulnerability dubbed SirenJack.

Backpacking with a pocket-sized HF radio
Far and away the most effective backcountry communications facilities are available to licensed radio amateurs.

Review: AnyTone AT-D868UV dual-band DMR handheld
First impressions? Solid, in fact, very solid. This radio has some heft to it. You know you are holding it. It seems to be well made with a nice action on the rotary knobs.
Essex Ham


Work the World with WSJT-X – Dr. Joe Taylor
Dr. Joe Taylor, K1JT, author of many of the weak signal digital modes and co-author of the very popular FT-8 mode presented: “Work the World with WSJT-X” at the 2018 MicroHAMS Digital Conference in Redmond, Washington.

Airspy HF+ and Gqrx running on Raspberry Pi
In case you’ve been wondering if a Raspberry Pi is powerful enough to run a SDR app, here is a quick test.

The Soviet villagers who blocked Western radio broadcasts
The village Radio Station #5, in what is now the republic of Georgia, had the sole purpose of jamming broadcasters such as the BBC and Voice of America.
BBC News

TV rabbit ears receive NOAA satellite images
N1SPY tests if an old TV antenna found in the garage is capable of receiving NOAA weather satellite images.

Amateur Radio Weekly is curated by Cale Mooth K4HCK. Sign up free to receive ham radio's most relevant news, projects, technology and events by e-mail each week at http://www.hamweekly.com.

Will The Sun Get Too Quiet For Topband DX?

Those of us that like to hunt European DX on 160m from the west coast know that the best time for this is during the 'solar low' years, those quiet periods between the end of one solar cycle and the beginning of the next.

From the west coast, openings to Europe on 160m are not something that happens with much regularity and, unlike the more frequent paths to Europe enjoyed from the east coast, are almost exclusively limited to this quieter part of the solar cycle. The weakening of the Sun's magnetic field at these times allows for less prop-killing D and E-layer signal absorption, particularly through the northern auroral zone path required from the west coast.

In his October, 2016, posting to the Topband reflector, propagation guru Carl Luetzelschwab, (K9LA), suggested that the coming years of solar lows may actually be too low and that because of the likely unprecedented low levels not seen in our lifetimes, the planet could receive higher cosmic-ray bombardment than normally associated with these periods.

"Since galactic cosmic rays are mostly *very energetic* protons, they can get down to low atmospheric altitudes, causing collisional ionization in the D region (and lower E region). A cursory estimate using cosmic ray ionization rates confirms more ionization in the lower atmosphere. 160m is not very tolerant of more absorption, so we may see an adverse effect of the weakened solar magnetic field."

K9LA's Topband comments  seems to have its roots in his May, 2015 article, "What's Going On With-160 Meters?", where he compares the solar minimum period between Cycles 22 and 23 to the minimum years between Cycles 23 and 24. Carl noted that the best 160m propagation period that he had seen in his lifetime was during the years between Cycle 22 and 23 and pondered why, during the even deeper prolonged low between Cycles 23 and 24, was it not producing the same levels of great propagation observed 11 years earlier. One possibility he puts forward was that ...
" ... it involves galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). At solar maximum, the Sun is more active, causing more geomagnetic field activity that is believed to be detrimental to 160-Meter propagation. Coupled with the Sun being more active is the fact that the Sun's magnetic field is stronger, which shields the Earth from galactic cosmic rays. Going the other way, when we're at solar minimum, the Sun's magnetic field is weakest, letting in more cosmic rays."

His graph shows the yearly trend of only the  low Ap index days (geomagnetically quiet) versus smoothed sunspot numbers for several recent cycles. The blue line plots the trend of low Ap index values with the black line showing the smoothed values; the red line indicates the smoothed sunspot number (solar activity levels).

source: http://k9la.us/May15_What_s_Going_On_with_160-Meters.pdf

Carl's earlier observations indicating that the best 160m propagation he had ever observed was during the low period between Cycle 22 and 23 and not during the much quieter low period between Cycle 23 and 24 are very much different than my own ... perhaps because of our different locations. 

From the west coast, the most challenging topband path is over the pole to Europe. This only occurs during 'best propagation' periods as this path will only open during prolonged periods of very low geomagnetic activity. Unlike Carl's path to Europe, west coast signals need to traverse the signal-killing auroral zone. 

During the first low period, I did experience several openings to Europe but nothing compared to what they were during the second low period, between Cycles 23 and 24, the one Carl did not experience propagation as good as the previous low. For several winters in a row, during the 23-24 low, I often found night after night of amazing propagation to Europe, the quality of which I had never heard before. Interestingly, on almost all of these nights, there were no other signals on the band but Europeans and nearby Washington or Oregon state W7s ... no signals at all from the rest of North America. At times it mimicked the sound of 20m CW to Europe, with signals often reaching S9 on my FT-1000 S-meter. I even worked one SM station on CW while running just 10W output!

With this long intense low, cosmic ray bombardment should have been at an all time high ... maybe it was, but it didn't seem to be bothering the west coast path to Europe, via the seemingly dormant auroral zone. 

I was prompted to address this topic after reading a recent report on the GeoSpace website, siting a new study  led by Nathan Schwadron, professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center. In the study, recently published in the journal Space Weather, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, the researchers found that large fluxes in Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) are rising faster and are on a path to exceed any other recorded time in the space age.

The author's study predicted a 20% increase in radiation bombardment but their newest research shows current conditions exceed their predictions by about 10 percent, showing the radiation environment is worsening even more than expected.

With cosmic ray levels now predicted to increase by a whopping 30%, Carl and the rest of us may soon get some clarity on his original postulation that "maybe a solar minimum can be too deep for 160 meters."

With the next few cycles expected to be even poorer than the present one, the large increase in radiation levels from space may have profound impacts on more than just propagation ... satellites and, with a new appetite to return human activity to the moon, astronauts could be exposed to much higher radiation levels than ever before.

The next few years of (ultra?) solar-quiet should be very interesting!

Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

How I Reunited Two Devils Brigade Canadian and American Veterans of World War Two

In the 1990s while living in eastern Montana, I had the amazing experience of reuniting two soldiers that served in the Devil’s Brigade. They both trained near Helena, Montana.

One day, I was operating on the amateur radio shortwave Ten-Meter band, and a gentleman answered my, “CQ, CQ, CQ, this is N7PMS in Montana, Over”. I took notes of our conversation.

The next day, when again I called for any station to answer my call for a conversation, another fellow, from Canada, answered me. I learned something amazing: Both of these two men mentioned that, during World War Two, they both were in the same special forces unit, training near Helena, Montana.

One of these Veterans served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and the other in the American Armed Forces. Listen to my story, for the full details of this amazing experience I had as an amateur radio operator.

Jump to 3:22 if you wish to skip my introduction to the story, during which I give some background on when and so on:

This certainly was one of the most memorable moments in my amateur radio hobby experience! The joy of reuniting friends is good.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Special_Service_Force:

The 1st Special Service Force (also called The Devil’s Brigade, The Black Devils, The Black Devils’ Brigade, and Freddie’s Freighters), was an elite American-Canadian commando unit in World War II, under command of the United States Fifth Army. The unit was organized in 1942 and trained at Fort William Henry Harrison near Helena, Montana in the United States. The Force served in the Aleutian Islands, and fought in Italy, and southern France before being disbanded in December 1944.

The modern American and Canadian special operations forces trace their heritage to this unit. In 2013, the United States Congress passed a bill to award the 1st Special Service Force the Congressional Gold Medal.

Thank you for watching, and sharing. Comments are welcome: do you have a memorable moment in your radio hobby experience on the air?

73 de NW7US

Tomas Hood, NW7US, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Nebraska, USA. Tomas is the Space Weather and Radio Propagation Contributing Editor to 'CQ Amateur Radio Magazine', 'The Spectrum Monitor', and 'RadioUser UK Magazine'.

Power regulator works as polarity protection

Step-down converter based on LM2596. Note the damaged chip
Ok, now I've done the test. My QRPLabs U3S runs off a 12 Volt power supply. There are two step-down converters, one for 5 Volts for the processor and another adjustable one for the power amplifier, if one can call 0.2-0.5 Watts a power amplifier. See picture of these voltage converters in this post.

I happened to make a new cable for 12 Volts which had the polarities inverted - and puff - there was a noise and absolutely no response from the U3S. I feared that I had blown the entire circuit. As my power amplifier was turned off, only the 5 Volts supply was affected and upon inspection I found that the voltage converter had a destroyed chip.

Since since they are so cheap, I had a spare. Luckily for me, the U3S worked as it should after replacement. So the LM2596 can take a reversed polarity and sacrifices itself in order to protect the rest of the electronics. Nice!

This post first appeared on the LA3ZA Radio & Electronics blog.

Sverre Holm, LA3ZA, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Norway. Contact him at [email protected].

Radio Virgin: the First QSO

My first QSO (and, yeah, it was with Morse code) was petrifying and…

What’s your story of your first QSO?

73 de NW7US

Tomas Hood, NW7US, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Nebraska, USA. Tomas is the Space Weather and Radio Propagation Contributing Editor to 'CQ Amateur Radio Magazine', 'The Spectrum Monitor', and 'RadioUser UK Magazine'.

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