Author Archive

Pounding Brass

Like everything else in Amateur Radio, CW has its supporters and its detractors. Me, I am neutral. I encourage those with the dedication to pursue proficiency with this mode and to be able to copy code at blinding speeds. I think it is great that this part of our radio heritage is preserved and that there is even growing interest today. Just like Boy Scouts who use two sticks to start a fire. Do they still do that or do they prefer the magic of a butane lighter today?

There was a time when I could copy code at 20 WPM with my trusty No. 2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencil. And after I got my general in 1955, I pinky-swore that I would always use CW as my primary mode. And you know that among kids a pinky swear is the most powerful swear you can make.

NOT! After a few months, I fell under the spell of AM and spent more and more time on the phone bands. I was running phone patches and participating in the AREC (the predecessor to ARES) emergency nets. Night after night was spent roaming the 20 meter phone band, searching for a new country. Pushing the envelope to see how close I could get to the edge of the band without a pink ticket; speaking in tongues and only to fellow addicts I met on the air. It was not a pretty sight.

There is something about CW that is the essence of ham radio. Like the “purity of essence” mentioned by General Jack D. Ripper, just before he blew his brains out in the movie, Dr. Strangelove. So when I came back to the hobby in 2009 after a hiatus of forty plus years, I promised myself that I would get back to the purity of CW someday. I am afraid that I haven’t made it back there yet.

In spite of the best efforts of my friends to coax me, support me, lend me a key and a keyer, challenge me with a bet and regale me with stories of DX contacts on the low end of the bands and listening to W1AW code practice sessions. I have to confess, the magic isn’t there. Somewhere along my path, I lost the purity of essence that CW represents. I surrendered to the Dark Side of the Force (SSB).

Its pretty good over here on the Dark Side you know. I have plenty of projects that need to get done and that challenge my skill set. Improving antennas, camouflage techniques, installing mobile HF, eliminating RFI, better grounds, more automation and improving my audio. All those are wicked diversions from the purity of essence.

There are plenty of pileups for rare DX or special events and contests, on sideband and CW. Though CW purists believe they can get through when SSB can’t, that is in a perfect world. A CW operator has to deal with bad manners, QRM, splatter and guys running 2 KW against their 100 watts too.

On the other hand, SSB can be a more personal mode. While in a CW QSO, you get to know the operator by their fist, its more like texting; only faster. On SSB you actually hear the other guy’s voice, their tone and timbre. The little nuances of speech that make them human. You are face to face, mano a mano. SSB contests take on the character of an old fashioned bar fight and some rag chew nets go on and on like old radio soap operas.

But, I promise that I will get back to CW someday.

Underway on Ham Radio Power

More than fifty Members of the Brazos Valley Amateur Radio Club (BVARC) in Houston, descended on Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas this past weekend to activate the radio rooms on two historic ships there; Submarine USS Cavalla and Destroyer Escort USS Stewart. This is part of the annual Museum Ships Weekend event sponsored by the Battleship New Jersey Amateur Radio Station. And the fifth year of BVARC participation.

This year, in addition to conventional SSB and CW communications, club members made more than forty QSO’s with other participants via satellite. In one instance, to the USS Nautilus, N1S, in Groton Connecticut; the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, whose first captain sent the historic message, “Underway on nuclear power.”

This year, ninety nine museum ships worldwide participated using mainly voice and CW. The Seawolf Park operation is unique as it is only one of two locations in the annual event that has two ships on the air from the same location.

Much of the radio equipment on these old ships no longer works due to age and lack of parts. So we have to bring our own radio gear on board.

We logged over 1,000 contacts this weekend with amateur radio operators throughout the US and Canada and as far away as Australia from Seawolf Park. The Park is an almost perfect venue for radio operations due to its proximity to salt water and lack of obstructions.

As the park is a public facility, all club activities this weekend were performed in full view of park visitors who were free to observe and ask questions. Brazos Valley volunteers also acted as guides inside the ship to explain the sights and sounds of radio communication.

This year the club decided to sponsor its own Texas Navy Certificate for confirmed contacts with all five Texas based museum ships. In addition to the Brazos Valley club, KK5W operating from the Cavalla and Stewart, the ships included Sailing Barque Elissa operated by the Tidelands Amateur Radio Society, N5E, the Battleship Texas Amateur Radio Station,NA5DV on the USS Texas in Laporte, Texas, and W5LEX, the South Texas Amateur Radio Club operating the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi. The club will verify the eligibility and award the certificate by comparing the log entries of the other participating ships.

The club also operated two VHF nets on Saturday and Sunday for local amateurs on 146.94 Mhz. The WA5CYI repeater has wide coverage and allowed us to include, NA5DV, Battleship Texas and N5E, Tall Ship Elissa, in addition to KK5W, representing the USS Cavalla and USS Stewart. More than 50 local amateurs checked in to the net over the two day period and logged contact with four of the five Texas based Museum Ships; the unofficial Texas Navy.

All in all this was a great event for the club. It demonstrated the power and flexibility of ham radio to the general public, it was a tune up field day and it was a public service to the community. The weather was great too!

Museum Ships Weekend 2012

Activating IOTA NA-143 (Pelican Is.) Brazos Valley Amateur Radio Club (BVARC), KK5W will be operating from radio rooms of WWII Submarine USS Cavalla and Destroyer Escort USS Stewart and two other temporary shoreside stations from Seawolf Park in Galveston, Texas. We will be operating on 10-80 meters (SSB and CW).

The club, in cooperation with the USS Cavalla and USS Stewart Historical Foundation invites all amateur radio stations to be a part of living history and commemorate the actions of these historic ships and crews. More information at http://www.bvarc.org/index.php?page=ms Special Event QSL with SASE via KK5W (QRZ.com) is available.

We are hosting a two meter net from Seawolf Park during the event on June 2nd from 1800Z to 1900Z and on June 3rd from 1500Z to 1600Z. If you don’t yet have HF privileges, this is a great way to take part. The repeater frequency is 146.94 Mhz ( – ) (PL 167.9 Hz). This repeater has wide coverage in the Houston-Galveston, Texas area and local hams are invited to participate in the VHF net.

KK5W will be making satellite QSO’s during the afternoon passes of AO-27 and FO-29 on Saturday June 2nd and hope other AMSAT members will be on the air too.

2012 is our fifth year of participation in MSWE. This year we’re coordinating our activities with other Texas museum ships in the area, the Battleship USS Texas in Laporte, Texas and the Tall Ship Elissa in Galveston. Don’t be surprised if you find them on the VHF net too.

This year more than 90 museum ships will be participating, many using their original call signs. Sponsored internationally by the Battleship New Jersey Amateur Radio Station NJ2BB, historic ship radio rooms are activated and QSO’s are invited from amateur radio stations in the United States and around the world. NJ2BB offers a certificate for stations that contact 15 or more ships and many of the individual ships offer individual QSL cards too.

The Museum Ships Weekend event recalls the actions of ships and crews from all periods of history.

Awards To Win

WAZ, DXCC, WAS, IOTA; certificates of achievement that are clear testimony to your operating prowess. Chasing awards is a niche segment of amateur radio; some might call it a cult, to aspire to capturing every possible certificate.

After reading up on various awards available, I was inspired to create unique awards to fill in some blank spots.

WOTA – Wal-Marts On The Air
Requires proof of QSO’s with amateur radio stations operating from at least 400 Wal-Mart locations. Individuals or clubs may activate an individual Wal-Mart location at any time and notify WOTA authorities by registering the activation in the WOTA world wide data base. The WOTA committee will issue a unique WOTA number for the location. Each QSO submitted for credit must be a current activation at the time of contact. There are over 6,600 Wal-Mart locations worldwide. Good Luck.

Contact with Sam’s Club locations do not count for WOTA credit. The WOTA committee is contemplating offering a separate award for Sam’s Clubs On The Air (SCOTA) later this year.

FFOTA (Fast Food On The AIR)
To be announced in 2013. There will be special endorsements for MDOTA (McDonalds On The Air), JIBOTA (Jack In the Box On The Air) and KFCOTA ( you can probably figure this one out for yourself). Details to follow later.

Academy Award Award
Given for contact with hams in cities where a movie filmed in that location won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The same city cannot be used multiple times. Only one city per film. Sorry, extraterrestrial locations such as Remulak, Vulcan and other mythical locations cannot be used for this award. In addition to the certificate, each award includes a package of microwave popcorn.

Special 70th anniversary Commemorative Casablanca Award
Commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Humphrey Bogart film. The award is earned for contacts with hams in the area of the former French Morocco whose first names are: Rick, Ilsa, Victor, Louis, Heinrich, Sascha, Carl or . . . Sam (as in “Play it again Sam”)

Ring of Fire Award
This award is given to hams who have contacted portable operations located on the rim of at least five active volcanoes. Considering the element of danger for the expedition operators, this is the only award in the world that is reciprocal . A person may earn this for themselves by going to five different volcanoes and contacting at least one other amateur before running for their life. Note – There is no power limit for this award although Ring of Fire expeditioners favor lightweight QRP gear in order not to hinder their need for a rapid departure!

And, my personal favorite…

The Next Year Award
This is the most prestigious of all amateur radio awards because the standard of achievement is quite high. Off hand, I can’t recall a single person, who has actually won this award. It is given to amateurs who have delayed, put off or deferred making or completing any changes in their equipment, operating skill, club participation or license class. The amateur eligible for the award must apply for themselves. Of course, by doing so , one is automatically disqualified for the award, having accomplished something in the process.

Good Luck Award Hunter!

Additional Q Signals Needed for Repeater Use

In today’s amateur world, VHF/UHF repeater communications are commonplace but the use of Q signals in repeater communications is sadly diminished.

The use of “Q” signals is an amateur radio practice that goes back as early as 1915.  When Morse code was the exclusive means of communicating, Q signals were a handy way of shortening common sentences into three letter groups.

Q signals have changed with time but are still widely used in voice communications as a kind of shorthand, especially on the HF bands.  QSX originally meant, “Shall I change my spark frequency?”  Now we use QSY instead.

In the world of repeaters, we don’t QRM people; we “double”.  We don’t use QSB or QSA.  Instead we say you have full quieting or white noise or bacon frying (ugh!).  We rarely are at a QTH where we can QRT or QRV.  We are usually at home, work or some other place.  We no longer QRX, QSY or QRZ.  In the D-star world, we use R2D2  to describe when a signal loses intelligibility.

Q codes are an important aspect of amateur communications.  I use them liberally when there are non-hams visiting.  It helps to create curiosity about ham radio.  Usually, something like, “What the heck did you say?”

QSO’s on repeaters tend to have a lot more local and personal content, in order to revive the use of Q Signals on VHF/UHF, what we need is a set of Q codes more appropriate for this mode of communication.

Q Signals for Repeater Use:

QWK    Going to work.   Are you going to work?
QHO    Are you headed for home?  I’m headed for home.
QTF     Is traffic is bad? Traffic is terrible!
QBQ    Know a good BBQ place? I know a good BBQ place
QCF    I am going for coffee.  Are you going for coffee?
QGA    I am stopping for gas.  Are you stopping for gas?
QHG    Do you have gas?  Phew!
QBR    I need a beer.  Me too!
QHD    Going to Home Depot (Lowes, Ace Hardware, Radio Shack)?
QLT    Are you late?  I am way late!
QTO    Are you on the way to breakfast? QSL.
QNW    No way!   Way!
QDT    Done that. Been there (Interchangeable with QBT)
QBT    Been there. Done that (Another way to QDT).
QDW    That Doesn’t Work.  Yes it will.
QWW    That Won’t Work! (QDW with emphasis).
QHF    Going to the hamfest?  I am/am not going.
QIX    XYL is in the car. Don’t mention what I bought at the hamfest.  QSL?

73,
Ron, K5HM

Are You a Real Ham?

One night I am tuning around on 75 meters and I hear a piece of a ragchew QSO.

“Roger, Roger OM. I am a Real Ham too.” After a minute, I wondered, what other kinds of hams could there be? Unreal hams, imaginary hams, weird hams or phantom hams? I didn’t know.

Puzzled, I grabbed my FCC license and scrutinized it carefully. I was stunned. Right there in the middle of the license, under Special Conditions/Endorsements it says, “None”. Is that a mistake or a typo perhaps? Maybe I am a Non-Ham? I broke out into a cold sweat.

In a panic, I called my old buddy Ralph. Ralph knows everything about ham radio. He has been a ham so long that he says Marconi was his Elmer. Ralph calmed me down and assured me that I was a real ham. Ralph said that all hams are real hams if the FCC says so. Even though some claim only they are the real deal, anybody with a valid license is a real ham. What a relief!

With my fear arrested and my curiosity aroused, I wanted to learn more about the Real Ham phenomenon. Who are they? Are Real Hams like real men, who don’t eat quiche and don’t like change? Well, maybe they eat quiche in secret but they still don’t like change.

Since change is an essential facet of technology and amateur radio is a technology based hobby, then Real Hams should embrace change. Right? Apparently not; instead Real Hams complain about those that did not have to pass a code test, incentive licensing and the ARRL. I don’t get it.

What about the code thing? I’ve heard Real Hams say we should bring back the code requirement. I kept asking myself, what purpose it would serve other than to erect an artificial barrier to entry into our hobby. CW is a challenging and fun operating mode. It is a skill one could acquire if they wanted but is it any longer a core competency for a license?

My old buddy Ralph looks back on his CW days as a golden era. His radio lineage goes way back to the days of spark. Back in that day, that is all there was but even Ralph says the radio art has moved on.

“You mean it has progressed?” I asked.

“Sure”, says Ralph. “Listen kid (everyone’s a kid to Ralph), I got my first car in ‘08(that would be 1908). Back then you had to be a pretty good mechanic to just drive to town. You had to know about radiators, magnetos and manual shifting and you couldn’t call triple A either. Now you just jump in the car and turn the key.”

“We don’t have to rely on CW, like we did back then. With all the digital operating modes, VHF repeaters and the like we have lots of other choices. I haven’t tried it myself yet but I hear that you can even send e-mail by amateur radio.”

I began to feel better after my conversations with Ralph. Maybe I was a real ham after all. I’ll have to try CW after I finish my moon bounce project.

Ron, AE5NO

CQ Panama

“CQ, CQ, Panama Canal.”

What? Is he kidding? Is that some kind of special event station?

You might hear some strange QSO’s on the air this year as hams work to earn the DXCC Diamond Challenge, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the DXCC award. To earn the award you have to contact 100 or more of the countries that were on the first DXCC list 75 years ago.

Many of the countries from 1937 no longer in exist. That creates some interesting challenges when pursuing this award. The ARRL has a list of current entities to represent former countries from 1937 on their website. Work Ethiopia to get credit for Abyssinia. For the former Belgian Congo, you can work Democratic Republic of the Congo (9Q), Burundi (9U) or Rwanda (9X). How easy is that! The city of Kaliningrad (RF2), which is its own DXCC entity today but politically part of Russia, gives you credit for 1937 Germany, when it was known as Konigsberg. There are some oddities in the list.

My personal favorite is the Canal Zone (KZ5), which of course is now part of Panama. To qualify for the CZ credit, you have to work an Panamanian (HP) station that is within 8 kilometers of the canal.

How would that work? Let’s You might try . . .”CQ, CQ, Panama Canal within 8 KM”…. Or “CQ HP

This is one recent phone contact

ME: QRZ, QRZ HP only.

[I’m thinking. Maybe I’ll get lucky.]

HP Station: HI OM UR 59 here, Name is Ralf. BTU.

[ Hmm…So far, so good…]

ME: Thanks for coming back to me Ralf. What is your exact QTH? Are you within 8 KM of the canal? Over

HP Ralf: What canal? UR 59 hr too. Over.

[I’m thinking maybe Ralf is really in Honduras(HR) or he needs a map.]

ME: The Panama Canal, You know, the big ditch where all the boats go. BTU Ralf

HP Ralf: Oh that canal. I don’t know. I haven’t looked lately. Does that matter? BTW, WX is blah, blah, blah. Rig here is . . .blah, blah, blah. Antenna is blah, blah, blah. Do you want my Grid Square? How about you? Over.

(Obviously Ralf missed the e-mail. Let’s cut to the chase Ralf]

ME: That’s great Ralf. Yes its for a new DXCC award.

HP Ralf: Man, I never heard of that one! That’s some crazy award. I don’t do kilometers, how many feet is that?

[ARGHH! OK, maybe we are getting somewhere at last.]

ME: Its about 26,200 feet. Over

HP Ralf: Sorry OM, there was some bad QRM that time. A lot of guys are calling me like I’m some rare DX all of a sudden. Say again, how many feet is that?

[Panic is setting in.]

ME: 26,200. 26 Two zero zero.

HP Ralf: That is a lot of feet dude. Don’t think I have a tape measure that long. Do you mean from the center of the canal?

[Getting desperate.]

ME: Can you just estimate?

HP Ralf You mean guess? I guess so.

ME: Cool, Good enough for me. Got you in the log. Thanks Ralf. 73

You don’t need confirmations, its on the honor system. You can find the rules at

http://www.arrl.org/news/arrl-diamond-dxcc-challenge

A list of the entities and the corresponding countries today is available on the ARRL web site at:

http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Diamond%20DXCC/DXCC75_Entity%20List%20TABLE_1_3x.pdf

Good Luck and have fun.

73,

Ron, AE5NO


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