A Year to Remember

2014 was a stellar year for amateur radio. The year-long celebration of the ARRL Centennial was nothing short of fantastic. The QSO Party and the summer convention were major successes. Our hobby has never received so much attention by popular media. For one entire year, ham radio became the ‘Kardashian’s’ of the hobby world. The ARRL deserves most of the credit for their hard work and vision in promoting our hobby while working tirelessly to foster future growth and protect the valuable resources we enjoy.

Amateur Radio and electronics are woven tightly together and 2014 was without doubt the Year of the Raspberry Pi and everyone jumped on the bandwagon, including radio enthusiasts. It wasn’t difficult to find numerous ways to put these credit-card sized, $35 computers to work in the shack — replacing desktop computers employed for dedicated functions. The trajectory of this trend is nearly vertical and we can expect to see even more interesting uses from it in the coming New Year.

The HF bands cooperated with the major DX operations in 2014. In fact, what appears to be a double-peak in this current solar cycle created some real excitement — about the same time the experts declared us to be on the backside of decent and headed toward minimum. I’m amazed by the courage of operations like FT5ZM that moved forward with their plans despite predictions of less than great band conditions, and brought joy (and QSL’s!) to DXers everywhere.

Logbook of the World adoption picked up steam in 2014. The online service has now crossed 100 million confirmations and the number of users could cross 100,000 in the New Year.

Operators on the International Space Station delighted the world with SSTV transmissions in late 2014 reminding the entire planet that amateur radio still has a shack in space!

Amateur Radio really took to social media in 2014. Facebook and Twitter being the primary beneficiaries of Maxim’s progeny. The ARRL Facebook page has nearly 50K “likes” while its main Twitter account has over 20K followers. Yes, we’ve been tweeting up a storm and the @CallSign label appears on almost everything #HamRadio these days. This won’t last forever, Internet time moves fast and things change in a heartbeat online. Still, these forms of social media are continuing to expand and amateur radio seems firmly affixed for the ride.

Every year it seems we lose more of the old guard, passings that leave us feeling a little off-balance in our mission. 2014 was no different in that regard. Though many of our giants have left us, their work and inspiration continues — in us. That’s the point. The tasks that we undertake and share today, are passed along to tomorrow.

It’s been that way with our passion since the basement experimenters first began to decode the secrets of radio, and passed them along to the next generation of basement experimenters in order to perfect the art and science of radio.

And that work continues into another new year — a new century — a new millennium for amateur radio.

Nostalgia is a wonderful place of retreat to warm and nourish your soul but those are chapters in a book already read. RIGHT NOW is infinitely more exciting because we don’t know what will come next, but we get to write the next chapter!

Filed under: Ham Radio, Syndicate Tagged: history

ARRL Library – an online resource for Amateur Radio

The ARRL Board of Directors has signed off on a plan to create the ARRL Library, an online repository of instructional and educational material — including submissions from members. The intent is to create shared resources for ARRL members and clubs, in support of their mission to “promote and advance the art, science, and enjoyment of Amateur Radio”.

Initially, curators will be looking for PowerPoint presentations on a wide variety of topics. According to their announcement, “if there’s a topic related to Amateur Radio that you feel would make a good club presentation — technical, instructional, historical, operating — you name it, you are welcome to create the presentation and submit it for consideration”.

Audio and video will be added at a later date.

In addition to these, the ARRL will also be accepting oral histories. Recording the stories for all time of the adventures of amateur radio enthusiasts.

It seems an ambitious project that’s loaded with potential. The new library is slated to go live online sometime in January 2K15 at this URL: http://arrl.org/library

Read all about the project on page 80 in the January edition of QST Magazine.

Filed under: Ham Radio, Syndicate Tagged: arrl

What Will You Say?

Ham radio continues to grow in popularity and it seems to be gathering even more interest from curious muggles. It’s no longer an oddity to see dozens of news stories about our hobby splashed from various news reporting services.

Just last night, my wife and I were driving to dinner, and the car radio was tuned to a local channel that has started playing Christmas music around the clock. At some point during a break in the music there was a short public service announcement about amateur radio. I suppose it was sponsored by the local radio club though I can’t be certain — it was an ARRL promotion.

My point is that there is an increasing possibility that one of these days, someone from the local newspaper or TV news station might approach YOU to ask a few questions about your hobby. And while none of us are going to be the perfect ambassador/evangelist/spokesperson for the entire hobby, if that fate should befall you, I hope you’re able to elicit a better headline than what appeared recently in the Des Moines Register:

Men support fading ham radio habit

Overall, the article is interesting and, if you can get past that headline and the initial wave of nausea, it’s not really all that bad. I’m assuming the interviewer who crafted these words was influenced by things shared by those being interviewed:

“But in the age of the smartphone, the amateur radio network is a dwindling hobby whose aging practitioners are the keepers of a fading but potentially still vital means of communication.”

No matter whose responsible for spinning that notion, it’s just flat out wrong. Poppycock. Hokum. There’s nothing “dwindling” about the hobby. The number of licensed hams in the US is at its highest level in history and it continues to enjoy strong growth.

On the air activity has changed significantly from the 1950’s but there are no fewer signals in the spectrum now than at some mythical touchpoint in the past. Forty years ago, its likely this story would never have even appeared in a newspaper as amateur radio was much too small a niche to waste newsprint on.

I’m not kidding, you really do need to prepare for how you’ll respond to a question about your hobby, and not just from someone working in popular media.

Sooner or later, your family, friends, and co-workers are bound to discover that you’re a radio ham. And when they do, someone is invariably going to ask the toughest question. One that’s not on any radio test exam but should be:

“So what do you talk about on the radio?”

This one can be a real stumper and you need to think long and hard about what you will say when it comes up, because it will eventually come up. How you answer will, at a minimum, become the basis for someone’s opinion of amateur radio. And at the very best, your answer might spark an interest that results in yet another new call sign for all of us to work.

What will you say?

This article first appeared in CALLING CQ a weekly letter for amateur radio enthusiasts.

Tagged: media

Christmas Comes a Little Early

My Christmas present arrived last night. Being a patient and practical person, I waited until this morning to open it and as you can see, it’s the 2014 SKCC Club Key from LNR Precision. Click the image for a better look.

I had wanted to get this one in this calendar year as I’m not sure how much longer it will be available. I had picked up the Pro Pump NT9K Standard Version key while at Dayton this year and have been very pleased with its smooth action. This smaller version is just as well-built and enjoyable to use as the “Pro”.

I know that because the new key already has ten contacts to its credit…

2014 SKCC Key

Tagged: keys, skcc

Counting Magic Beans

I’m a member of the Straight Key Century Club (3383T) and as such, have volunteered for the position of bean counter. That is to say, collecting awards and working toward an elevated status, which is at least half the fun of being in the club, requires a great deal of bookkeeping in the form of station logs and the curation of properly formatted electronic files for submission.

It’s not nearly as onerous a task as I’m making it out to be, if you’re a Windows user. If, on the other hand you’re as silly as me, and prefer another operating system, well, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

My main logging program is MacLoggerDX and a finer, more powerful electronic ham radio management tool has not been created. It does everything an operator could ask of it, and a lot more. But working inside the confines of certain specialty club rules is asking a lot from any application not crafted specifically for it.

On the other hand, there are several logging applications that have been built from the ground up to support the various awards and activities of the SKCC — all native Windows applications. Sure, there are ways to run Windows applications on a Mac, but this only minimizes the hardware required.

So over the holiday weekend, I spent time installing SKCC Logger on a Windows laptop that a client left in my possession over a year ago. It’s a beast of a machine. A 17-inch HP Envy with a non-lighted keyboard and Windows 8.1. It sports a fast, i7 processor and boatloads of memory, still, I’m perplexed why anyone would want to abuse themselves with such a combination (did I mention that the laptop was given to me for free?).

For the record, SKCC Logger is a brilliant application that handles SKCC tasks with ease. Connecting the laptop to my IC-7100 transceiver was a breeze and I can see how this will come in especially handy during the next Weekend Sprintathon.

But here’s where it gets a lot less enjoyable.

I first coaxed hundreds of valid SKCC contacts out of MLDX and into ADI format. This was no easy task as I had only noted that a contact was “SKCC” in the comment section of the log, and I didn’t consistently name them as such. Also, since I achieved the Centurion and Tribune levels last year, I thought I had to remove these from the pile, as well as the contacts made during the annual K3Y operation.

As it turned out, those were bad assumptions and I expended a lot of effort for nothing.

Once I had a base file created, I let SKCC Logger process the log and determine what, if any, new awards I might have become eligible for since achieving the Tribune level. Turns out, it wasn’t much. I qualified for the CX2 status which means I had 200 unique member contacts hiding in my log. I also discovered that I’m only a handful of contacts away from qualifying for Tx2 level – requiring another unique 100 confirmed contacts with select members – another step on the long road to ‘Senator‘.

I’ve no doubt that many valid Q’s were lost in the parsing and conversion. But i think I’m done with trying to go back and square the log. This has become like trying to balance a checkbook that just won’t be balanced and I’m tired and just want to move forward from this point and see where it goes.

By the way, if it all seems rather confusing, it is. I chuckle when I read this line at the bottom of the SKCC rules pages for differing levels: “Lets make it FUN and keep it SIMPLE!!”

It’s anything but simple – but it is fun and I do enjoy it very much. Except now I have two computers on my desk and I have to decide when sitting down whether tonight is going to be an ‘SKCC’ evening, or a ‘regular’ evening. And I still have to export the SKCC files back into main log on occasion.

Who was that idiot who said personal computers were going to make our lives easier and more enjoyable?

Filed under: Ham Radio, Syndicate Tagged: logging, mldx, skcc

NAQCC Transitions

Big changes this month at the North American QRP CW Club (NAQCC).

Paul Huff, N8XMS of Livonia, Michigan becomes the new club President. He’s takes the reins from founder Thomas Mitchell, WY3H who recently retired the post. Meanwhile, John Smithson, N8ZYA of Charleston, West Virginia has assumed the Vice President role from the other club founder, John Shannon, K3WWP – who also retired his position.

Launched in 2004, the NAQCC promotes QRP and CW operation through numerous on-air activities. With more than 7,000 world-wide members, the club is very popular and continues to enjoy steady growth. Membership remains free and you can dive as deeply into the action as you care to go, without running out of interesting things to do and goals to achieve.

The monthly club newsletter keeps members informed, educated and entertained and has become one of the premier ham radio club publications available online.

Congratulations to Paul and John as they lead the NAQCC into the next decade of low-power radio fun and adventure!

Filed under: Ham Radio, Syndicate Tagged: club, cw, naqcc, qrp

NW Digital Radio

I keep waiting on the mythical Universal Digital Radio…

Despite the long wait, development seems to be ongoing and very interesting things are in the pipeline from NW Digital Radio. This interview with John Hays, K7VE begins at 48:50.

Filed under: Ham Radio Tagged: digital, udrx, video

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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor