Author Archive

Make The Contact

Regarding the important religious issue of ham radio modulation, I am agnostic. There is room in ham radio for many modes including CW, AM, FM, SSB, RTTY, DV, FT8, and more. This springs from my belief that the universal purpose of amateur radio is to have fun messing around with radios. As long as you are obeying the FCC rules (or equivalent), having fun, and not being a pain to other radio hams, you have my full support to choose whatever emission type you prefer.

When I mention the use of FT8, I often get comments from folks disparaging the mode. Usually, the complaint is that FT8 is too impersonal or that it relies too much on DSP and computer power to get the job done. Those are actually valid complaints. Most of us would rather hear the voice of the other operator (or their CW fist) and have just a bit of interaction with them, even if it’s just “Roger, Five Nine Colorado.” (JS8 is a digital mode that provides a bit more interaction, so that is another option.) And there is no question that we depend on the technology to make the contact (more so than your typical CW or SSB contact.)

Recently, I wrote about how I need A Reason To Get On The Air, which is all about going after some particular operating activity whether it be DXCC, SOTA, POTA or whatever. The main objective of such activity is making a radio contact. Can I get my electromagnetic wave through the ether and have it arrive at the other station’s location? Then can they get their signal back to me, so we have a legitimate contact. If so, I get to check the box on that radio contact. See What is a Valid QSO?

I am not alone because many hams are voting with their transceiver settings on a daily basis, choosing FT8 over other modes. They are prioritizing making the contact higher than having a robust conversation with another radio operator. In fact, I sometimes hear radio amateurs comment that they prefer not having to deal with the standard chit-chat that provides a signal report, name, location, etc. They would rather just get the contact and put it in the log.

And it’s not just FT8. Many examples of ham radio operation emphasize making the QSO, independent of the mode used: SOTA, POTA, IOTA, DXCC, WAS, WAZ, contesting, EME, meteor scatter, and more. Meteor scatter is an interesting one…on the surface, it is not the most exciting activity. Sometimes it feels like watching paint dry because it may take 20 or 30 minutes to complete a contact. However, there is clearly a challenge here…can I bounce a signal off a meteor trail and have it reach the other station? And can I hear the other station’s reply? I’ve worked new stations and grids on 6m and 2m using this method and I enjoy getting a new one in the log. Perhaps not much different than busting through a CW or SSB pileup trying to work a rare DXpedition.

So keep having fun messing around with radios, using whatever mode you like.
And make the contact…we can talk about it later.

73 Bob K0NR

The post Make The Contact appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

A Reason To Get On The Air

I don’t need much but I do need a reason to get on the air. This can take many forms as I wrote in this blog post some time ago. I see quite a few new hams struggling with the problem of “I got this license but now what?”

Operating goals or awards are a fun way to keep focused on accomplishing something via ham radio. Really, it’s a specific reason to get on the air and make radio contacts. I am not big on idle chit chat via the radio (“the weather here is 65 deg and raining”) so having a reason to make contacts helps me get on the air. I’ve tended to pursue awards in a serial manner…once I hit some level of accomplishment, I usually declare victory and move on to something else.

Way back in the wayback machine, the first award I pursued was Worked All States (WAS). It does take some effort but I was pretty active on the HF bands at the time, so many of the states just showed up in my log. But to really drive it home, I kept track of which states I still needed and actively looked for opportunities to work them. Later, I pursued Worked All Continents (WAC), which obviously requires working some DX. But then I decided that if I had any DX cred at all, I needed to get DX Century Club (DXCC). Recently, the popularity of FT8 has been a game changer and I currently have about 175 entities confirmed (thank you, Logbook of The World). I don’t chase paper QSL cards anymore, which is just too much trouble for a Slacker DXer™.

The VHF and higher bands have always been a passion for me, so I pursued the VHF/UHF Century Club (VUCC) awards. First, it was 6 meter VUCC, the easiest one to get. A really good run during the ARRL June VHF contest can produce the 100 grids you need for the award in one weekend. Later, some mountaintop activity resulted in 10 GHz VUCC. At one point, I got into working the LEO satellites and confirmed the required 100 grids for satellite VUCC. (Hey, Technicians, this is something you can do right now!) I still don’t have very many grids confirmed on 2 meters, so that one is still calling to me.

Summits On The Air

If you read my blog, you know that Summits On The Air (SOTA) is my number one activity lately, both activating and chasing summits. This is a natural fit for me as I’ve enjoyed mountaintop operating in various forms, mostly on VHF and UHF. (See my SOTA blog postings.) My hiking partner and wife, Joyce/K0JJW is almost always activating with me. Her #1 ham radio activity is also SOTA. We both achieved Mountain Goat status (1000 activator points) using only VHF and higher frequencies. (Technicians can have a lot of fun with SOTA on VHF!)

The SOTA program has a wide variety of awards, supported by a comprehensive database used to record SOTA radio contacts and keep track of the scores. It is not really a competition but there is friendly rivalry between SOTA enthusiasts as they monitor each other’s posted scores. Here are the “badges” that pop up when I check my SOTA info.

Parks On The Air

In the past few years, we have added the Parks On The Air (POTA) program. It turns out that not all regions of the country have interesting SOTA summits but they all have state or national parks. This fits nicely into our outdoor hiking/camping/4WD activities.

Many of our SOTA activations are in parks (national forests, national parks and state parks), so we usually try to make the SOTA activation count for both programs. This means that many of our POTA activations are done using VHF/UHF only, if from a summit. More commonly, we use the HF bands for POTA activations. Our standard POTA setup is a Yaesu FT-991 driving an endfed wire antenna, usually on SSB or FT8.

POTA also has a great database, good tools and plenty of awards available. Here’s what shows up on my POTA awards page. Just like SOTA, POTA is not a competition but it is interesting to see what other hams are doing and compare you level of activity.

So those are my thoughts.
What motivates you to get on the air?

73, Bob K0NR

The post A Reason To Get On The Air appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Technician License Class – Buena Vista, CO

The Chaffee-Lake Amateur Radio Association is offering an introductory ham radio license class in June. We will make good use of the Ham Radio School online Technician course, supplemented with in-person instruction and mentoring.

The Amateur (Ham) Radio Technician license is your gateway to the worldwide fun and excitement of Amateur Radio

  • Earn your ham radio Technician class license
  • Pass your FCC amateur radio license exam in class
  • Multiple-choice exam, No Morse Code Required
  • Learn to operate on the ham bands, 10 meters and higher
  • Learn to use the many VHF/UHF FM repeaters in Colorado

Schedule

Sat   June 1    1-3 pm In-Person Kickoff Session
Wed June 5    7-8 pm Online – Review session via Zoom
Wed June 12  7-8 pm Online – Review session via Zoom
Sat   June 15  1–3:30 pm In-Person Review and Exam Session

Most of the course content will be delivered via the Ham Radio School online system, requiring about 15 hours of independent study by the student. The content is delivered in bite-sized video lessons, followed by online quizzes to check your knowledge. Our instructors will provide additional instruction and coaching during in-person and online sessions. The in-person sessions will be at Casa Del Rio Clubhouse in Buena Vista, Colorado.

Register now

The fee for the class is $29.95.
(The FCC also charges a $35 license fee to issue your license, payable after you pass the exam.)

To register for the class or to get more information, contact:
Bob Witte KØNR
[email protected]

The post Technician License Class – Buena Vista, CO appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Data on Amateur Radio Operating Habits

Most active hams know many other radio hams and we think we have a handle on what ham radio activity is occurring. But our look into the hobby is limited by who we hang out with and the sources of information we consume. Also, we can see that the ham population is aging which is going to have a significant effect on amateur radio activity but we may not have any reliable data.

In general, the amateur radio community lacks publicly available data on amateur radio operating habits and demographics.  So I was excited to see the Operating Patterns Among Canadian Amateurs authored by my friend Frank Howell, K4FMH. This report analyzes the survey of Canadian hams done by Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) in 2021. Frank is a Real Researcher, so he applies generally accepted statistical techniques to aid in understanding the data. I would have preferred a study of US radio amateurs, but it seems reasonable that the operating habits of Canadian hams would be similar to US hams (and perhaps a good proxy for other developed nations). Anyway, it is the data we have and it is probably useful. I encourage you to download the report and read it for yourself, but I’ll comment on three findings from the report that strike me as significant.

Digital is really popular

The figure below is a chart that shows the popularity of different operating activities. No surprise, Casual Operating and Traditional Voice Modes score very high. But number three is Digital Modes, almost as high as Traditional Voice Modes. Depending on your operating habits, you may be thinking “well,of course, digital is very popular” but others may think “really, people like doing that?” The report also points out that digital operation is correlated with age, with younger hams using digital more than older folks.

Ham careers can start at any age

Another interesting finding is that the classic stereotype of “young person discovers radio and pursues it as a lifelong hobby” is not universal. The report shows that people enter the hobby at a variety of ages and then pursue it with varying intensity. Quoting the report:

Thus, these data illustrate that our conventional image of the amateur who gets licensed early in life and maintains that hobby activity throughout is largely a stereotype. Although it is one based upon real-world examples who fit it ideally.

I see this when teaching Technician license classes. The ages of our students typically span a wide range, including youth, but many of them are over 40 years old, entering the hobby later in life. In addition, we have quite a few students around retirement age (60 or so) looking for an activity to engage in during retirement.

The ham population is aging

You are probably thinking: duh, of course it is aging. The report puts some numbers on it, comparing it to the general population in Canada (see figure below).

Clearly, the ham population is over-represented in the age groups above 50 years. Often, the conventional thinking is “we have to get the kids involved,” which is a worthy thing to do. However, the report warns us that this won’t be enough:

This pattern has two clear implications for amateur radio in Canada. One is that the age groups of 60-80 years of age, now dominating amateur radio as the RAC Survey suggests, will simply disappear as they age-out to infirmity or becoming Silent Keys. Yet, their non-ham radio peers are scheduled to grow in number. (A recruitment focus on late-in-life hams is a clear policy for RAC to consider.) A second implication is that teens will be a relatively scarce recruitment commodity in terms of the age pyramid. There will simply not be enough of them to replace those Baby Boomers now dominating the hobby, regardless of the recruitment resources directed toward them.

This is not a call to give up on recruiting youth:

This should not be misconstrued to suggest that it would be a waste of time to expose young people to amateur radio as a recruitment method.

More to consider

This post highlights three findings that I found to be interesting. There is much more information included in this report and I encourage you to read and ponder it. I’d certainly like to see more of this kind of work published, especially for the ham population in the US, Europe and Japan. I find the demographic analysis compelling, indicating that we will see a decline in the number of radio hams in the next decade or so. We can probably reduce this decline but not stop it (my opinion, worth at least what you paid for it.). Perhaps the way to think about the challenge is to focus on having a smaller but more vibrant and active amateur radio community in the future.

These are my thoughts for today.
What do you think?

73 Bob K0NR

The post Data on Amateur Radio Operating Habits appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Common Ham Shack Radio Configurations

Amateur radio transceivers have improved dramatically over the decades and they pack a lot of capability into relatively compact radios. In this post, we will take a look at the typical configurations and how they may impact setting up a flexible amateur radio station today. This discussion is focused on currently available new gear, with 50 to 100 watts of RF power.

The Kenwood TS-430S was a popular HF transceiver in the 1980s.

The most common HF radio configuration used to be a 5-band model that offered CW, AM, and SSB on 80 meters, 40 meters, 20 meters, 15 meters, and 10 meters. In the early 1980s, the WARC bands were added (named for the World Administrative Radio Conference of 1979) that authorized these new bands. The WARC bands are 30 meters, 17 meters, and 12 meters. These attractive new bands were soon added to the standard HF rig.  Most HF radios include 160 meters (actually a Medium Frequency or MF band) on the low end and a general coverage receiver for 150 kHz to 30 MHz. So these days, the typical HF transceiver handles 9 bands and many different modes. (Actually, most of these rigs now include 6 meters, more on that later.)

Dominant Design

In the world of product development, the concept of a dominant design often emerges. This generally accepted approach dominates a particular market and is considered the standard way of doing things in a particular product category.

From Wikipedia:

Dominant design is a technology management concept introduced by James M. Utterback and William J. Abernathy in 1975, identifying key technological features that become a de facto standard. A dominant design is the one that wins the allegiance of the marketplace, the one to which competitors and innovators must adhere if they hope to command significant market following.

We will see that most ham radio gear conforms to the concept of a dominant design. That is, certain product configurations become standard, especially in terms of frequency bands and modes. Manufacturers still innovate by adding new features in an attempt to differentiate and obtain competitive advantage but the basic capabilities are standard. The dominant design for HF transceivers is the 100-watt radio that covers 160m through 6m.

VHF/UHF Radios

For VHF/UHF, the situation is a bit more scattered. 2-meter FM is the most popular band and back in the olden days, it was common to just have a single-band 2m FM rig in the shack. To cover 70 cm FM, a radio ham needed a second radio but later dual-band radios showed up that covered 2m and 70 cm. Today, the dominant design for VHF/UHF is the dual-band FM transceiver (typically 50 watts of output power) and there are so many of these available I won’t attempt to list them.

The IC-2730A is a basic 2m and 70cm transceiver with dual receivers.

VHF FM is the utility mode for amateur radio and many hams are just fine using FM (or one of the digital voice modes) on VHF/UHF. Those who want to stretch the limits of VHF/UHF operating usually go for all-mode rigs that offer CW, SSB, FM and various WSJT digital modes. Again, back in the olden days, a VHF+ enthusiast would acquire single-band all-mode radios for the bands of interest. A ham really into VHF/UHF might have single-band radios for 6m, 2m, 1.25m, and 70 cm stacked up in the ham shack. The 1.25-meter band has always been a bit neglected in terms of equipment availability because that band is not available worldwide. Transverters are another option to get all-mode capability on these bands using an HF transceiver to transvert to a single VHF or UHF band.

HF Plus 6 Meters

One important addition to the standard HF rig is that the 6m band is often included. Now this may not sound quite right because we all know that 6 meters is a VHF band, so what is it doing in an HF radio? It actually makes a lot of sense because a lot of 6-meter operating is similar to HF. (6 meters is the VHF band that often emulates HF.) There is FM activity on 6 meters but most of the action is on SSB, CW, and, yes, FT8. In fact, FT8 is seeing a lot of action on the band, so if you want to participate on 6m, you should consider that mode. Anyway, this all means you probably need an all-mode radio for 6 meters, and having it as a bonus band on an HF radio without a huge increase in cost is a good approach. (These radios usually support FM for the 10m and 6m bands.)

The IC-7300 transceiver covers all the HF bands and 6 meters (50 MHz).

All-Band All-Mode Rigs

Another common transceiver configuration is the All-Band All-Mode radio available from several manufacturers. A great example of this type of radio is the Yaesu FT-991A, which includes 160m through 10m plus 6m, 2m, and 70cm. Once again, 1.25m is passed over. This radio configuration has a lot of appeal because it covers pretty much everything with all-mode capability. (It also has a built-in sound card and USB connection which is handy for the WSJT digital modes.)

The Yaesu FT-991A covers 160m through 10m, plus 6m, 2m and 70cm.

The FT-991A is a good choice for the ham shack or operating portable but it is a bit large for a mobile installation. Icom offers the IC-7100 in a mobile form factor, with a novel sloping detachable front panel. Yaesu used to offer mobile products in this space such as the very popular FT-857D transceiver. However, the FT-857D is no longer made and its apparent replacement is the FT-981 which has only the HF + 6m bands.

The Icom IC-7100 is a mobile rig with HF, 6m, 2m, and 70 cm.

The main disadvantage of this type of radio is that it can only do one frequency at a time. Often, I want to be able to work HF while still monitoring the local 2m FM repeater and simplex channels. Or maybe I’d like to keep listening for 6 meter activity while working 2m SSB, especially during a contest. However, this type of radio is my first choice for portable operating for Parks On The Air because it covers all the bands and modes. This article is focused on 100-watt radios but note that there are all-mode all-band QRP radios such as the IC-705.

All Mode VHF/UHF Radios

One interesting and disappointing trend that has emerged is the distinct lack of VHF/UHF all-mode transceivers. There is only one such radio on the market today, the Icom IC-9700 which does all modes on 2m, 70cm, and 23 cm (1.2 GHz). It seems that Icom decided that if they are going to offer a VHF/UHF radio, they would go full-featured and include 23 cm. Note that if you pair this radio with an HF plus 6m radio, you can cover all the popular bands with all modes using two radios. This radio is not inexpensive, currently selling new for about $1800.

The Icom IC-9700 is a VHF/UHF transceiver that offers all modes on 2m, 70cm and 23cm.

I suppose we can declare this the dominant design for VHF/UHF but it is a lone product in this space. I have written previously about an all-mode dual-band portable radio for 2m/70cm that I desire. I own an IC-9700 and like it a lot but I would give up the 23 cm band to have a radio that is more portable and less expensive. I suspect that Icom is happily making good profit margins on the IC-9700 given that they have essentially no competition in this space. Yaesu has the technology to do something here but has been content to let the FT-991A cover the all-mode 2m/70cm space for them.

Common Ham Shack Setups

Now let’s take a look at some common ham shack configurations that consider these different radio configurations. When I say “ham shack” that may include your mobile or portable station, too.

Setup 1: FM VHF/UHF Only A Technician might decide they want to focus on 2m and 70cm, with FM being just fine for working simplex and repeaters on those bands. A basic dual-band FM transceiver will handle this nicely, see A VHF FM Station at Home. For some hams, their dual-band handheld radio serves this purpose.

Setup 2: All-Band All-Mode Transceiver As mentioned earlier, All-Band All-Mode radios cover the most popular ham bands and modes with one rig. They are a good way to get one radio that does everything. The disadvantage is not being able to monitor VHF/UHF at the same time as working HF.

Setup 3: HF/6m radio plus 2m/70cm FM radio This is a very common configuration for a ham shack because it separates the HF bands (and 6m) from the 2m/70cm FM operating. The FM rig can be left monitoring your favorite repeater or simplex frequency while you chase DX on 15 meters. If your 2m/70cm needs are basic, the FM radio might even be a handheld transceiver.

Setup 4: HF/6m radio plus all-mode VHF/UHF radio This is the setup for the ham that wants to cover all the bands and be able to do all modes on VHF/UHF. The band/mode coverage is similar to Setup 2 but we have two radios available which provides the monitoring flexibility associated with Setup 3. This configuration allows for having a really good HF/6m radio and a really good VHF/UHF radio.

Conclusions

The ham radio transceivers being offered tend to follow certain patterns consistent with the dominant design theory. If you buy a modern HF transceiver, you will get all of the HF bands plus the 6m bonus band. These radios vary in features and performance but they all have good band/mode coverage. The VHF/UHF situation is perhaps not quite as simple. The standard 2m/70cm FM rig is a popular option but is limited to FM only. The VHF/UHF weak-signal enthusiast does not have many choices beyond the IC-9700, which may represent an opportunity for another manufacturer to jump in with a more cost-effective 2m/70cm all-mode radio. The 1.25m band continues to be neglected and may be a good additional band to add to 2m/70cm radios.

That’s my analysis. What do you think?

73 Bob K0NR

The post Common Ham Shack Radio Configurations appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Fraser Does Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak is a great summit for a SOTA activation. You can hike up, drive up, or take the cog railway to get to the top. Pikes towers over eastern Colorado and has an excellent radio horizon in all directions. It is easy to work a bunch of stations on 2m FM. With a bit of effort, you can work Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and New Mexico on VHF.

Fraser/MM0EFI was visiting from Scotland, operating here in the US as W0/M0EFI. Here’s his HF operating experience, with cameo appearances by Carey/KX0R, Christian/F4WBN, Elliot/K6EL, and Steve/WG0AT.

Now for the VHF fun on 2m FM. I happened to be on South Monarch Ridge (W0C/SP-058) that day and we completed a Summit-to-Summit contact on 146.52 MHz, at a distance of about 80 miles—easy contact using just HT’s on both ends.

Fraser, thanks for the fun videos from America’s Mountain.

73 Bob K0NR

The post Fraser Does Pikes Peak appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Life as a Slacker DXer

Those of you who follow my blog know that my primary ham radio passion is operating above 50 MHz. But I also enjoy getting on the HF bands for POTA and chasing DX. I’ve also done a few holiday-style DXpeditions: V29RW and ZF2NR. Compared to my friends that are serious about DXing, I consider myself a Slacker DXer™.

The Sun Is Your Friend

You are probably aware that we are approaching the peak of the 11-year solar cycle, which means that the propagation on the higher HF bands is great. When I do operate HF, I really enjoy having 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m and 10m open worldwide. Back in December, I noted that the ARRL 10m contest was happening and I decided to give that a try. Because we have been doing some renovation at our place in the mountains, I had pulled down my HF antennas (all wires in trees). No problem, I just strung up a J-pole antenna I have for 10 meters. I got on the air during the contest using SSB and had a great time working DX all over the world. This gave me the bug of trying to accumulate a few more countries/entities for DXCC. At the time, I had 140 entities confirmed in Logbook of The World (LoTW). I also set up FT8 and FT4 and worked quite a few stations on digital.

Later, I started to think about the other high HF bands (20m and up), so I took down the 10m J-pole and put up a random-wire end-fed antenna. See my previous post to learn more about it.

An Easy HF Antenna

The wire length on this antenna was 36 feet, so it is nearly vertical when strung from our tall pine trees. I was pleased to find that the antenna worked well on 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m and 10m. It was at this time that I realized I had hardly used 12 meters, so it was fun to try out a new band. I was working a lot of stateside stations and DX at this point on these 5 bands. One day, I was pondering the 30m band, which I had always thought of as a CW-only band. Actually, it is a CW and digital band, so FT8 is commonly used. (I sometimes operate CW but it is not a focus for me.) So I checked out my antenna on 30m and the IC-7610 tuned up just fine. In fact, I tried using 40m with the same antenna, and it also works on that band. So now I have a basic wire antenna that works well on 40m and up. Very nice.

Worked All Zones (WAZ)

I have often found that having a particular operating goal, usually some kind of award or certificate, can help motivate and guide my radio activity. Driving up the DXCC count is always good but I am also intrigued by the CQ Worked All Zones award.. The 40 CQ zones are distributed worldwide, providing a more consistent way of measuring how well you have worked the world. (In contrast, DXCC is strongly influenced by the history of world and how the various governments are organized.) LoTW supports WAZ so a check of my LoTW log revealed that I had 30 zones confirmed. So my operating objective became adding new DXCC countries and WAZ zones, on any band.

Map of the 40 CQ Zones

In the past few months, my DXCC count has increased to 158, as confirmed in LoTW. Being a Slacker DXer™, I don’t spend the time chasing down QSL cards. It is either confirmed via LoTW or nothing. For WAZ, I have 38 zones confirmed, still looking for Zone 22 (Southern Asia) and Zone 34 (Northeast Africa). For me, it is important to “stay in the hunt” but not get overly obsessed with working a particular country. If you aren’t having fun, you are doing it wrong.

I emphasize to newer hams that I am doing this with the classic 100 watts and a wire station. Working DX does not require a huge tower and amplifiers. Using FT8 really helps but CW and SSB are also viable modes. Take your pick. Now is the time to get on HF and enjoy the excellent propagation.

Work any DX lately?

73 Bob K0NR

The post Life as a Slacker DXer appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.


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