K1N Navassa DXpedition… The Movie (Official Trailer)

Been missing HamRadioNow, my podcast/YouTube show?

No? I’m hurt, but I’ll carry on. The show’s been ‘off the air’ since late September, except for one episode from the ARRL/TAPR DCC on FlexRadio.

I’ve been AWOL because I’ve been editing the DVD video of the K1N Navassa DXpedition from last January/February. Semi-apologies for the overwrought narration in the trailer. That’s not what the DVD sounds like, if you were worried.

If you’re into DXing at even a very casual level, you’ll recognize K1N, and likely you made (or tried for) a contact. Maybe you saw HamRadioNow Episode 205 – the K1N talk at the Dayton Hamvention’s DX Forum. Episode 206 was a spin-off conversation with one of the hams who was part of a 1972 Navassa DXpedition (and is the K1N webmaster). There’s a lot of interesting background in those episodes.

So, the DVD.

Last summer, Bob Allphin K4UEE, called me and asked if I’d consider editing the footage he shot of the DXpedition. Bob’s produced 9 other DXpedition DVDs, including the 2005 K5K operation on Kingman Reef, 3Y0X on Peter I Island, and FT5ZM on Amsterdam Island. He needed an editor for this one.

If you’ve watched many HamRadioNow episodes, you’ve probably heard me whine about how much I don’t like editing. I’ve been doing it all my career, and I’m kind of tired of it. It’s tedious and very time consuming. I can easily spend an hour or two completing just one minute of the finished product. The K1N program runs about 45 minutes, and I estimate I spent over 100 hours on it. You watch it in real time – 45 minutes – and you say ‘that was interesting. Next…

I’ll mitigate my rant by adding that I also find the process of editing very engaging and satisfying, especially once it’s over and I watch the finished product. The pain and time is sort of forgotten, and I wonder what I was doing for the past two months. Ladies, if that sounds a little like childbirth, I’ll acknowledge a weak resemblance. Very weak.

I’ll also admit that I’m not a speedy editor. It never mattered if I was being paid by the project or by the hour. I’m slow, methodical and detail-oriented. I screen and catalog all the footage before I start (why aren’t you editing yet?).  I fuss over each new scene, trying various combinations of shots, pacing and transitions. After I’ve moved on and edited the next few minutes, I’ll retrace my steps and trim up some already completed scenes. And then I’ll do it again. And you watch and say ‘that was interesting.’ Most of the movies and documentaries you’ve watched were done that way. Most of the TV news stories and prime-time programs were not – they got the hurry-up treatment. The commercials, though – which is where I spent most of my career – were also hashed and rehashed to within an inch of their lives. Maybe not the local car dealer spots.

So I knew I should have turned Bob down. HamRadioNow and a little freelance keeps me as busy as I want to be. I knew what he was going to ask when I saw his caller-ID on my phone, before I even answered. And I knew I was going to say yes, I’d do it.

The DVDs will sell for $25, and I’ll get a pretty good piece of the action – several $k if the initial run of 1000 discs sells well (well over 100 have already been ordered). That’s really nice, but it wasn’t my driving interest. I just wanted to tackle this project. I’m not a DXer. I’ll work a DX station if I come across one. In my 50 years as a ham I may have worked 100 countries, but I stopped logging and QSLing a long time ago, so there are no operating achievements adorning my walls. But I was attracted to this event. I didn’t work’em. I only tried a little. Maybe it was the Dayton talk that caught my attention.

Only a few people have seen the finished product so far, and the reviews aren’t in from ‘the media’ yet. A few of the hams who have seen it say it’s the ‘best DXpedition DVD they’ve seen,’ but I’m always wary of the usual grade-inflation we give each other. I’m pretty happy with it. It’s polished without being slick. More professional than most other ham-oriented media. But I’ve always considered the DXpedition DVDs to be the best-produced, most professional ham radio media out there. Maybe getting an entry in that category is what pulled me in.

It is Bob’s project, of course. He shot it, amid all his other duties as co-leader of the K1N project. He got to review it often while it was in progress, and he made a few requests for additions, deletions and changes. But I think he may have been a little overwhelmed with what I was putting in there. If you’ve watched HamRadioNow, you’ll recognize my fingerprints.

And my voice. Most of Bob’s previous videos don’t have much narration. He talks to the camera some while shooting, and he’s recorded a little post-production narration. But mostly his previous videos strike me as really good home movies. I gave it more of the documentary approach. As I got into editing a segment, I’d pull the footage together, figure out what the story was (Bob gave me basic notes on every shot), and decide what narration it needed, if any. I’d write that into a script, and record myself reading what we call a ‘scratch track’ – a temporary version that gave me the timing I needed for editing. The plan was for Bob to record the script once it was finished. But he liked what I’d done for the temporary version, and we decided to keep me as the disembodied voice. There’s still plenty of him talking from behind the camera (also a disembodied voice) as he was shooting.

I had to re-record my part, since I had recorded the ‘scratch’ version in a fairly noisy room. I did the finished recording at the SoundTrax recording studio in Raleigh, NC (where I freelance a lot). It’s got the quietest couple of hundred cubic feet of studio space in the southeast (a room ‘floating’ on all sides, with an air-gap isolating it from surrounding noise. Yep, even the floor is suspended above the building’s floor), and a $3000 microphone (Neumann U-87).

And I couldn’t use it.

I had recorded the scratch track slowly and deliberately, fairly laid-back and laconic. Alone in the studio, with no producer to give me feedback, I sped through the script like the paper was on fire. It was terrible. I didn’t have time to go back to SoundTrax and record again, so I draped some blankets over the exercise contraption in our home gym and read it again into my Heil PR-40. I still like parts of the original scratch track better, and I used one or two of them (or three or four) where music or location-sound covers up the room noise. That’s what you’ll hear on the DVD.

I feel a sense of ownership of this video. I should – it’s got a little piece of my life in there, along with some style and quirkiness that you don’t usually find in documentaries (although the kids these days are also breaking all the old rules). I’m proud of it. But I need to give most of the credit to the 15 guys who went to the island for two weeks and pulled this off, and the dozens more who worked from behind the scenes before, during and after the operation itself. They’re the ones you’ll see on the screen or in the credits at the end. I wasn’t there, although I kind of feel like I was. Bob shot about 5 hours of video, and I crawled through it all, whittling it down to the 45 minutes you’ll see in the show. But I didn’t spend two weeks in the 100+° heat, eating MRE’s, sleeping on a cot with an inch of water on the floor, battling pileups and propagation. I know, I make it sound romantic.

And that ‘before’ part is more important than it seems. Any DXpedition to a difficult or dangerous part of the world takes lots of planning. There have been very few serious incidents in any of the many DX adventurers that appear to us as just a signal on the band (and a huge pileup a few kHz up the dial), either as a result of careful preparation, dumb luck, or both . But this one took something extra. Bob, Glenn Johnson W0GJ and several others spent 13 years working with (and sometimes against) the US Fish & Wildlife Service to obtain permission for the first DXpedition to Navassa since 1993. That story is told in HamRadioNow Episode 205 in their talk at the Hamvention®.

I think the DVD will make a nice stocking-stuffer present for a ham this Christmas/holiday. It’ll make a good club meeting presentation (and I know one single copy will make the rounds of every club in your town and the surrounding six counties, and that one will probably be a pirated copy of one that somebody actually bought or received as a gift. You’ll spend more on gas shuttling it around than you would buying another copy or two). You can order it at NavassaDX.com. Follow the links from there.

I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.

73, Gary KN4AQ



HamRadioNow: Parity is in the Senate (and what you need to do about it)

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • how really, really, really important your letters to your representatives are, but especially if you send them through ARRL HQ
  • that your HOA rules and deed restrictions are not a ‘private contract’ being abrogated by the federal government through this bill
  • how one ham in Mississippi was the catalyst for getting this bill into the Senate
  • what the FCC thinks of anything that uses RF anymore
    • but that Chris Imlay W3KD still needs to work with those guys, so he chooses his words carefully
  • and more (yeah, sure, every pitch includes the words “and more,” but this time there’s a lot more)

HamRadioNow is available as an audio podcast. You’ll need to load this address into your podcast app:


73, Gary KN4AQ

Seen any hams on ‘new media’ lately?

If you’re into podcasts, you know that among the half-billion or so out there – everyone on the planet has one, and most of us have two, kind of like repeaters – there are dozens or more that are part of networks devoted more or less to technology and “geek culture” (computers, phones, Internet, games). TWiT, Revison3, Frogpants, Geek’s Life, GFQ, TechCrunch, the Verge are a few names that come to mind quickly, but the list goes on and on. I only consume a few, though I hear the hosts and guests talk about many more that I haven’t made time for.

What I never hear is any mention of ham radio.

The only references I ever hear outside of our own shows are a few by Leo Laporte outside of Ham Nation, and Adam Curry and John C. Dvorak on No Agenda (both are hams). Otherwise, at least in the shows I listen to, we don’t exist.

We hams are geeks too, and proud of it, no?

Ah, but we’re mostly old geeks. The people – hosts, guests and audience – on these shows are the 20 and 30-somethings we keep saying we need in ham radio (and that’s why you’ve never heard of these shows!). They are interested in technology. Some of them would be interested in some aspects of ham radio, if they knew we existed. I think many others would at least be interested in hearing about us, the way we’re interested in hearing about other things even if we’ll probably never do them ourselves.

So would it help to get some ham visibility on these shows? I know we’ve got lots of our own shows, but they barely touch the general ‘tech’ audience.

And if we got some hams on those shows, what would they talk about? DX on 20? Mesh? And who would they be? Me? I’m 65. Bob Heil? He’s in his 70’s. We’re cool and all, and they’d be polite to us, but would they relate? I don’t think so.

And while you think about that, here’s HamRadioNow Episode 211: Adventures of a Hacker Turned Ham. (The video is at the bottom of this story. The link will take you to the HamRadioNow web page – same video, more links.)

It’s Michael Ossmann’s story, as he told it at the TAPR/AMSAT banquet last may in conjunction with the Dayton Hamvention®. Michael invented the HackRF SDR board, which got him noticed by TAPR, which reintroduced him to ham radio, and he’s now ADØNR. Embedded in Mike’s story is the theme where is the next generation of hams coming from, which kind of ties into my topic above.

Also at the banquet, AMSAT slipped in a short presentation about an upcoming geosynchronous satellite with an amateur radio transponder. Big news… for the Middle East, Europe, Africa and western Asia, as the satellite is owned by the Qatar Satellite Company, and it’s main mission is TV and communications for the Middle East. The ham transponder will have as wide a footprint as possible, but it can’t see North America, Japan, coastal China, Australia, and all but a little peek at South America. OK, so American hams can’t play, but we’re excited for hams on the other side of the globe, and it’s a foot in the door of the geosync satellite community. Oh, and it’s going to be 2.4 GHz up, 10 GHz down, so expect that to spur some radio development.

And I lead off with a pitch for the KICKSTARTER I’m running to fund me making video of the ARRL/TAPR DCC in Chicago this October. It was successful in 2013 and 2014, and it’s chugging along, with a deadline of July 31, and a goal of $10,000. That makes about 20 programs covering all the main sessions of the conference. I’m especially looking for support from small ham businesses that can afford a $500 ‘corporate underwriter’ pledge to get their name and product or service before the TAPR audience. Details in the KICKSTARTER.

And if you don’t have time to sit and watch (hey, this is already TLDR), you can subscribe to the HamRadioNow audio podcast (just an audio rip from our videos, but many of them make good ‘radio’ shows). You’ll have to manually enter the RSS address in your podcast app:

Once you’ve done that, you can subscribe and get the new shows as they’re produced, usually before they’re on YouTube or announced anywhere else (audio is so easy… why do I do video?).

73, Gary KN4AQ

HamRadioNow: Digial Voice is EXPLODING! (Click Bait #2?)

First, I apologize for this cut-and-paste from QRZ.com. I won’t usually do that, but I spent a lot of time writing this, and I want to spread it around. They moderate, I’ve been “pre-approved” here on AR.com, so you’ll see it first. So I guess I “cut and pasted” from here to there. OK, I can live with that…

HamRadioNow Episode 193: DV is Exploding

David Rowe VK5DGR updates CODEC2 and FreeDV,
introduces a FreeDV “Speaker-Mic”, and is developing a
disruptive DV system for VHF/UHF

David Rowe VK5DGR is the ham who developed CODEC2*, and CODEC2 changes everything. So, is this a click-bait title, or a valid prediction?

In this program, David talks to me about the SM-1000 “speaker-mic”, a little box he’s developed to let hams use FreeDV digital voice without a computer. The box does all the processing and has all the input/output connections, so you can run digital voice over your SSB radio with no computer attached. The SM-1000 will be available soon for about $200.

We also talk about improvements to FreeDV and CODEC2 that David expects will make digital voice work as well as, and maybe a little better than SSB with weak signals or noisy HF conditions. Today, SSB can be copied below the level that a DV signal drops out, but it’s somewhat rough listening. Yesterday, you needed a lot more signal for DV. Tomorrow: parity with SSB, or maybe advantage: DV. Yes, there are plenty of issues left. Voice quality (many hams don’t like the ‘robotic’ sound or the fidelity). Contest/DX pileups. David readily admits that SSB has been around for so long on HF because it works great in that hostile environment. He sees it as a challenge.

Finally, David tells me about a VHF/UHF project he’s working that, at my first look, has the potential to disrupt everything in repeaters. It won’t happen overnight, and given ham’s investment in analog FM and even the newer DV modes from D-STAR to DMR and Fusion, it might not really happen at all. But here’s what David is aiming at:

  • Signal to Noise that’s better than FM by 10 dB
  • 5 kHz bandwidth
  • TDMA “time-slice” modulation that will allow for “on-channel” repeaters.

By “on-channel” I mean repeaters that don’t need an “input” channel. As David described it, the repeater receives you for about 40 milliseconds, then retransmits what it just received. When you’re transmitting, your radio transmits for the 40 ms that the repeater is receiving, then stops while the repeater transmits. When you’re receiving, the software smooths it all out so it sounds like a continuous transmission. David didn’t say this, but I suppose it would allow you to monitor your signal thru the repeater in real time. This also means that a repeater works without a duplexer, and without some of the shielding needed to allow a high-power transmitter to operate right next to a sensitive receiver.

The disruptive part, though, is the 5 kHz bandwidth and no separate receive frequency. Cheaper, better repeaters that use far less spectrum will allow for dozens more repeaters to go unused everywhere. OK, that’s a snarky reference to the common complaint about unused repeaters in ham radio, but in commercial and public safety, where spectrum is in extreme demand, it really could change everything. And they have money.

David says that he needs to develop hardware for this because current hardware won’t handle the DV signal to make this work. His time-frame for a working prototype: end of this year. And his vision is a repeater that’s as simple as “an HT you stick up on the hill.” You might want something a bit more robust for your full-time repeater, but for fast emergency use… wow. On the other hand, I can see every DV mobile and HT having a “repeater” mode built-in. I see equal potential for utility and chaos on our VHF/UHF bands! Would we be up to the challenge?

Yes, DMR/MotoTRBO uses TDMA. They don’t use it for on-channel repeaters. They use it to allow two simultaneous conversations to occupy a single RF channel, but it still needs an input and an output frequency (and a duplexer), and occupies 12.5 kHz of RF bandwidth.

So, watch the show, and see the future…

*CODEC2 is the open-source software that digitizes speech into a very narrow, or slow, stream of data. The result: a highly useful, if a bit “robotic” sounding version of your voice that can be sent over a typical SSB transmitter, but using about half the RF bandwidth of typical SSB speech (2.5 kHz for SSB, 1.2 kHz for the DV). David’s been working on it for about 5 years, and he’s far from done. It works very well today. It’ll work even better tomorrow. Did I mention it’s open-source? Yes, there are proprietary codecs that do this. The AMBE codecs used by D-STAR, DMR and Fusion are the most common today. Is CODEC2 better? I’ll leave the technical arguments to those with the chops to make them. None of them are done. They’re all being improved. CODEC2 is free, and the hardware that uses it, typically SDR like FlexRadio, can be updated as new versions are released.


David’s Blog (details on FreeDV/CODEC2 development):

Interview with David on “Linux in the Ham Shack”

David’s 2011 talk on CODEC2 at the ARRL/TAPR DCC:

The 2011 DCC’s banquet talk – “The Village Telco” – David’s project to provide extremely low cost telephone service in East Timore, Africa.

HamRadioNow: CQ ‘Comes Clean’ (a click-bait title)

There’s something that just didn’t sink in as I interviewed CQ editor Rich Moseson W2VU at the Orlando HamCation for this episode. CQ is in trouble, and advertising is the problem. Or rather, lack of it. Rich said that while subscriber numbers are important, the real revenue comes from ads, and the ham radio manufacturers and retailers that had been buying the ads in the magazine can’t afford to buy them, or as many of them, today.

Subscriber numbers bring in advertisers, of course, but if the companies can’t afford the ads, it doesn’t matter. And I got that, for a minute or two, but then I sort of lost the concept. But the bigger connection I didn’t make until maybe the 10th time I watched the interview (yes, I do that, because I like to hear myself talk) was that ads in the digital version of the magazine are an even tougher sell. So if CQ were to go all-digital to save printing and postage, it wouldn’t help enough. They’d make even less money because they wouldn’t get many of the ads that they do get now. At least that’s my takeaway.

It’s not just CQ and ham radio – digital media, including print, audio and video, isn’t valued as much as “traditional” media, even if the audience is the same. I’m no expert in this, but that’s the conventional wisdom I read in the trades.

One other thing to consider before you watch the episode is that sub-$50 Chinese HT you marvel at. They don’t advertise or support ham radio in any way other then selling you a radio for peanuts. Some of their distributors are beginning to advertise for them, but the companies themselves are still mostly a cypher here in the US. I’m just sayin’….

There’s more from Orlando at HamRadioNow.tv.

73, Gary KN4AQ


HamRadioNow: Accidental Company – The Making of FlexRadio

FlexRadio Systems was born out of the dot-com bust in the early 2000’s. Founder Gerald Youngblood K5SDR didn’t really expect it to go anywhere. Boy was he surprised. He told the story at the 2014 ARRL/TAPR DCC Saturday Banquet:

50 Years (and counting…)

Being a ham for 50 years could mean as little as remembering to renew a never-used license every 10 years (5 years in the early days), or as much as sitting at the top of the DX Honor Roll, being ARRL President, or winning DX contests with a huge multi-multi station.

Most of us who make it to 50 will be somewhere in between. A modest station, a few HT’s, maybe being a club officer for a few years. There’s a good chance that ham radio helped our career, and a fair chance that it established that career. We’ve had a lot of contacts, made some friends, and had fun. Our interest may have waxed and waned here and there. Maybe we specialized in one mode or activity, and maybe that shifted over the years. We may share the hobby with family, or we may be the odd duck. There’s a lot of room for variety.

I made it to 50 last Sunday, January 11. I count the time from my first log book entry as a Novice: January 11, 1965, on 40 meter cw as WN9NSO. I lost (misplaced, not “FCC-lost”) my original Novice license long ago, but I kept the logs. Those first few contacts were pretty rough. I don’t remember them specifically, but the logs bring back an image of a very nervous 15-year-old, trying to put all the practice to the test, and falling well short of perfection. But I got better.

I could write more about it, but these days I make TV shows about ham radio, so of course, on Sunday, I pushed record and talked about it. I had a guest – Rich Casey N5CSU – but I knew Rich as WA9LRI, and actually WN9LRI, the first time I talked to him. We followed each other thru ham interests in the Chicago area in the 60’s and 70’s, but were pretty much out of touch until a year or three ago. Rich posted some stuff on the ARRL PR Committee mailing list about the interest he’s had in ham radio on social media. We swapped email about doing a show on that, but it never hit the top of the list. Then, as I was preparing for my “Big 50” show, I was looking over those old logs. Up near the top was WN9LRI.

I figured I’d stone two birds with one show, and we’d talk nostalgia for maybe a half hour, then switch to social media. I’m not anti-Facebook, Twitter and the others (though I did spend some time being trendy about considering them a big waste of time). I have accounts on some of them, mostly to let people know when a new show has been uploaded to YouTube. But I don’t navigate them very well, and figured we could all stand to learn a little more about how to get something useful out of them.

The first hour passed, and we were still deep in history. So much for bookending this show with the old and the new. Rich was itching to see the Dallas/Green Bay playoff game, which started early in the second hour of our Skype chat (Rich moved to Dallas back in ’78, so he’s a Texan now…). I took pity on him (and you, the audience) at the end of the second hour, and stopped the music, with a promise to come back soon for another show on the social stuff.

The show’s been on-line for a few days now, and I’ve gotten some kind comments from viewers who’ve enjoyed our talk. Even if you really like it, you don’t have to watch it all at once. That’s what the pause button is for.

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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor