Archive for the ‘hf’ Category

Part 2 of 2: Life-changing Moment and Solar Cycle 25

From the RAIN HamCast episode #57, 2021-XII-25 (used with permission):

RAIN’s Hap Holly/KC9RP spoke with Tomas recently about Solar Cycle 25. This is the second and final excerpt from their discussion.

From the introduction to The RAIN HamCast, Episode #57:

In this episode, we continue our discussion with Tomas Hood/NW7US, the author of many writings about space weather and effects of solar activity the past 20-plus years.

(Part 1 of 2 can be found here: Episode #56,

Tomas has been a short wave enthusiast since 1973, a ham operator since 1990, and is a United States Army Signal Corps veteran today. He launched the first civilian space weather propagation website,, in the mid 90’s; HFradio later spawned; at press time is being revamped for the new Solar Cycle 25.

Tomas has contributed to the Space Weather Propagation column in CQ magazine for over 20 years, and for The Spectrum Monitor magazine since 2014. A product of the Pacific northwest, Tomas resides now in Fayetteville, Ohio.

RAIN’s Hap Holly/KC9RP spoke with Tomas recently about Solar Cycle 25. This is the second and final excerpt from their discussion.​

Here is the second part of the two-part interview:

If you missed part one of this conversation, you’ll find it as RAIN Hamcast #56 both on and on the RAIN Hamcast page on YouTube, as well as here: Episode #56,

RAIN Hamcast #58 will post January 8, 2022. Hap Holly/KC9RP edits and produces this biweekly ham radio podcast. It is copyright 1985-2021 , RAIN, all rights reserved. RAIN programming is made available under a Creative Commons license ; you are encouraged to download, share, post and transmit the RAIN Hamcast in its entirety via Amateur Radio. Your support and feedback are welcome on Thanks for YouTube Technical Assistance from Tom Shimizu/N9JDI. I’m Will Rogers/K5WLR bidding you very 73 and 44 from the Radio Amateur Information Network.


Footnote: Yes, NW7US misspoke about the time it takes sunlight to travel from the Sun to the Earth. He meant that it takes sunlight and radio waves just over 8 minutes to make that trip…


Solar Cycle 25, and a Life-Changing Event (Part 1 of 2)

From the RAIN HamCast episode #56, 2021-XII-11 (used with permission):

When you were knee high to a grasshopper, did you undergo a game-changing experience that shaped your future career?

Here is text from the introduction:

Tomas Hood/NW7US did. Tomas has been a shortwave enthusiast since 1973. He was first licensed as a ham in 1990 at age 25.

In the mid 1990s Tomas launched the first civilian space weather propagation website,, which later spawned His website, NW7US has been up and running since June, 1999. Tomas has contributed to the Space Weather Propagation column in CQ magazine for over 20 years, and for The Spectrum Monitor magazine since 2014.

A product of the Pacific northwest, Tomas resides today in Fayetteville, OH. RAIN’s Hap Holly/KC9RP spoke with Tomas recently about Solar Cycle 25 and the game-changing afternoon Tomas experienced in 1973 at age 8 ( Read more about this, at his amateur radio and space weather blog: ).

Here is the first part of the two-part interview:

Mentioned in the interview is Skylab:

From Wikipedia’s article on Skylab: Skylab was the first United States space station, launched by NASA, occupied for about 24 weeks between May 1973 and February 1974. It was operated by three separate three-astronaut crews: Skylab 2, Skylab 3, and Skylab 4. Major operations included an orbital workshop, a solar observatory, Earth observation, and hundreds of experiments.

Tomas was drawn into space weather as a life-long passion, by inspiration from Skylab, and from the hourly propagation bulletin from the radio station WWV.


This video is only part one. The RAIN HamCast will conclude Hap’s conversation with Tomas in RAIN HamCast #57, scheduled for posting Christmas Day.

Hap Holly, of the infamous RAIN Report (RAIN = Radio Amateur Information Network), is now producing The RAIN HamCast. The results are both on and on the RAIN HamCast YouTube channel,


The RAIN Hamcast is produced and edited by Hap Holly/KC9RP; this biweekly podcast is copyright 1985-2021 RAIN, All rights reserved. RAIN programming is formatted for Amateur Radio transmission and is made available under a Creative Commons license; downloading, sharing, posting and transmission of this ham radio program via Amateur Radio in its entirety are encouraged. Your support and feedback are welcome on Thanks for YouTube Technical Assistance from Tom Shimizu/N9JDI.


Working Phone Sweepstakes

This is a report on my single-operator contest effort during the ARRL November Sweepstakes (Phone) HF Contest. Some other potential titles for this article are:

A Slacker's Guide to Working the Sweepstakes
How To Almost Work 50 States On a Weekend
A Simple Way to Get On the HF Bands

Contests on the HF bands can be a fun way to make a lot of contacts and get some new states or countries. The ARRL Sweepstakes promotes contacts between US and Canadian stations, so it is an opportunity to work those states and provinces.

The Yaesu FT-950 is a capable 100-watt transceiver for HF and 6 meters.

The Club Challenge

I don’t usually work the Sweepstakes contest but Bill/K0UK put out a challenge to the Grand Mesa Contesters club to get on the air and contribute whatever points you can to the aggregate club score. I thought this was a good idea and decided to join in the effort. I already had committed to teaching a General License class on Saturday, so that limited my operating window to mostly Sunday. No problem, I could still make a significant number of contacts on Sunday.

I read the rules for the contest to make sure I knew the operating times, entry categories, what stations I could work for points, and the contest exchange. Sweepstakes has a complicated contest exchange, that includes a serial number (every contact gets a unique sequential number), precedence (operating class), your callsign, the last two digits of the year you were first licensed, and your ARRL section. Wow. For me, the section is just Colorado (abbreviated CO), but some states have multiple sections. It is a great idea to have the list of ARRL and RAC (Radio Amateurs of Canada) sections available. So the information I gave to the other station was something like this: 105 A K0NR 77 CO. In the example, 105 is the serial number that incremented with each radio contact.

Antenna Project

It turned out that my HF antenna at the house fell down some time ago because the rope holding the wire had rotted away. So my first task was to do a quick but effective antenna installation. We have a 30-foot Ponderosa pine in the backyard, which is my preferred antenna support. I have a number of wire antennas stashed away in my basement, including dipoles, end-fed halfwaves, G5RV’s, etc.

An example of a MyAntenna end-fed long wire (EFLW) antenna with 9:1 matching transformer.

For this contest, I decided to use an end-fed antenna from, about 44 feet long. This antenna has a 9:1 matching transformer (an “unun”) that matches the high-impedance of the wire to something closer to 50 ohms. An antenna tuner is required to do the final matchup over multiple HF bands. This antenna is long enough to be effective on 40 meters and any higher band, which matches my usual operating habits. I had a Yaesu FT-950 transceiver available which has an internal tuner that was able to match the antenna on 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m. This is not an end-fed halfwave…it is a “random” length of wire that is not resonant on any ham band but will radiate pretty well using the matching transformer. The advantage of this antenna is its simplicity and ability to handle multiple bands, with the push of the internal antenna tuner.

My main challenge was to get this antenna up into my favorite Ponderosa pine tree. Again, I took a simple approach. I grabbed my spin-cast fishing pole, attached two 5/16-inch hex nuts to the end of the line (to act as a weight), and cast the nuts up over the top of the tree. This may sound difficult, but it only took me three casts to get the fishing line on a limb that I liked. I let the line out and let the weight drop to the ground. Then I attached a 1/8-inch synthetic rope onto the fishing line and pulled it back up over the tree. Soon, I had my antenna support rope passing over the very top of the tree. It was a simple matter to attach and hoist the undriven end of the antenna to the top of the tree. The antenna is longer than the height of the tree, so I sloped the antenna away from the tree.

A length of RG-8 style coax connected the antenna and the transceiver in the ham shack. I did not ground the antenna transformer or add a counterpoise, hoping that the length of coax would be sufficient to act as a counterpoise. This worked out OK and the FT-950 was able to drive the antenna using just the internal antenna tuner on all bands.

Station Setup

You don’t have to have a computer to log your contacts during the contest, but you really should. Even with 50 contacts written on paper, it becomes difficult to remember which stations you’ve already worked. Also, the logging program automatically generates the serial number mentioned above. Very helpful.

The N1MM entry window shows the serial number of the current QSO plus the contest exchange from the other station.

For most contests, I use the N1MM Logger+ software, which is arguably the standard in ham radio contest loggers. It is free to use and is available here. I probably use about 10% of the power of this software but it is relatively easy to use, once you get familiar with it. It has templates for all of the contests, so it keeps track of your score and warns you if you’ve already worked a station. It automatically generates the cabrillo format for submitting your log electronically.


With a 100-watt-and-a-wire station, you have to compete with much more capable stations during a contest. These folks may be running 1kW and gain antennas. I used the “search and pounce” technique, tuning around to find strong stations calling CQ. I typed the callsign into the logging program to make sure we have not already worked and then I called them, just saying my callsign. If they hear me, they will call me back, providing their exchange information. I enter that into N1MM and give them my info. It is as simple as that.

I can usually judge how well my station is doing by how quickly I can contact another station. If they answer me on the first call, that’s great. If it takes a few calls, it usually means that someone else is beating me out in the pileup. I was happy with the performance of the station — I was making contacts at a decent rate.




I made 187 QSOs in about 7 hours of operating, which works out to one contact every 2.5 minutes or so. That rate is not going to win the contest but it was good enough to keep me having fun.

The scoring multiplier for the contest is ARRL and RAC sections, with a maximum number of 84 sections. I worked 66 of them, so not too bad but not a clean sweep. I worked 45 of the 50 US states, missing South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Utah, and Alaska. Except for Alaska, the missing states are relatively close to Colorado, so a little more time on 40m (or 80m), for shorter skip distance, would probably have gotten them. The point is that you can achieve Worked All States (WAS) on a single Sweepstakes weekend.

This is a good example of how to get an HF station up and running and make some radio contacts. I often encounter hams that are new to HF and not quite sure how to get on the air. It does not have to be complicated…get a basic transceiver, power supply, coax and a wire antenna and give it a try. Doing this on a contest weekend means that you’ll have plenty of stations to contact.

73 Bob K0NR

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2nd X-class X-ray Flare in New Solar Cycle 25 – October 28, 2021

This imagery captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO; link) covers a busy period of activity in October, during which we witnessed an X1.0-class X-ray flare.

From late afternoon October 25 through mid-morning October 26, an active region on the left limb of the Sun flickered with a series of small flares and petal-like eruptions of solar material.

Meanwhile, the Sun was sporting more active regions at its lower center, directly facing Earth. On October 28, the biggest of these released a significant flare, which peaked at 15:35, 28 Oct 2021 UTC.

This X1.0 X-ray flare that erupted from Active Region 12887 (we typically drop the left-most digit when referring to an active region, so this is AR2887) is the second X-class flare of Solar Cycle 25, as of the time this video goes live.

The first X-class flare occurred on 3 July 2021 and measured X1.59. It, too, caused an HF radio blackout. These blackouts will occur more often as the cycle activity increases, because the higher sunspot activity leads to many more flares, and thus cause the geomagnetic storms as the typical CME is erupted out into space, possibly colliding with Earth’s magnetosphere.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground. When intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. Some of these disturbances to communications are called radio blackouts. They cause the lower layers of the ionosphere to become more ionized, which results in the absorption of shortwave radio frequency signals.

This flare on October 28 was classified as X1.0 in intensity. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, and so on. Flares that are classified X10 or stronger are considered unusually intense.

This was the second X-class flare of Solar Cycle 25, which began in December 2019. A new solar cycle comes roughly every 11 years. Over the course of each cycle, the Sun transitions from relatively calm to active and stormy, and then quiet again; at its peak, known as solar maximum, the Sun’s magnetic poles flip.

Two other eruptions blew off the Sun from this active region: an eruption of solar material called a coronal mass ejection and an invisible swarm of solar energetic particles. These are high-energy charged particles accelerated by solar eruptions.


Thanks for liking and sharing!

73 de NW7US dit dit

What Is a Valid QSO?

Ham operators make radio contacts on a routine basis. We call another station or another station responds to our call, we exchange some information, maybe chat for a while and then finish the contact, clearing out with our callsigns. Most of the time we clearly know whether we had a valid radio contact, commonly referred to as a QSO.

Sometimes it is not so clear. I hear a DX station calling CQ…I call him (giving his callsign and my callsign) and I hear him say “your report is 5 and 9” so I say “QSL and 73” and put him in the log. Did I really work him? Maybe not. Did he hear my callsign correctly? Was he even talking to me? Not sure.

The question of what constitutes a valid radio contact has been asked for decades. Edward Tilton W1HDQ in the “The World Above 50 Mc” column, QST Magazine, March 1957 wrote this:

As amateurs we are presumed to be engaged in communication. This implies exchange of information, not just identification of one another. Thus, a reasonable definition of a QSO, for amateur purposes, would seem to be an exchange of useful information. Otherwise, why communicate at all?

Tilton goes on to say:

The minimum exchange for two-way work to be considered a contact has been fairly well standardized on a two-stage procedure: positive identification of calls at both ends, and the complete exchange of signal reports. The latter is about the shortest item of information that can be transmitted between two stations that will have any meaning at all. The form varies with various operating activities, but the basic idea of mutual exchange remains in all.

Actually, the exchange of signal reports may be replaced by some other “exchange of information.” For example, during VHF contests the standard exchange of information is usually the 4-character grid locator. Signal reports are not usually given.

The IARU Three Steps

The International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) in their HF Manager’s Handbook and VHF Manager’s Handbook says:

A definition for a valid QSO is:
A valid contact is one where both operators during the contact have
1. mutually identified each other
2. received a report, and
3. received a confirmation of the successful identification and the reception of the report.
It is emphasized that the responsibility always lies with the operator for the integrity of the contact.

Let’s take a practical look at the IARU definition and what it means:

1. mutually identified each other

You exchange callsigns with the other station (making sure you have them correct). This tends to happen naturally as part of the calling process in amateur radio.

2. received a report

You exchange a signal report or some other information (grid locator, contest exchange, …)

3. received a confirmation of the successful identification and the reception of the report.

You acknowledge that you have the information from 1 and 2, by saying “QSL”, “Thank you” or something similar.

Some Scenarios

The rigor applied to making a contact does vary depending on the specific situation. Here are a few specific examples that will help explain this.


The WSJT-X software used for making FT8 contacts has IARU Steps 1, 2, and 3 embedded into its communication protocol. FT8 is intended to work well under weak-signal conditions, so the software implements a rigorous use of information exchange. Appropriate use of this software guarantees a valid QSO.

These are the FT8 messages for K0NR working W1AW.

The QSO starts with one station calling another (callsigns are exchanged). The standard FT8 messages (see figure) show that KØNR calls W1AW with grid locator included (TX1). Typically, W1AW would respond by calling KØNR and providing a signal report. (Signal reports are in decibels, just a number.) KØNR responds with TX3, which does two things: sends “R” to indicate that the signal report from W1AW was received AND sends the signal report of -15 dB to W1AW. When W1AW receives that transmission, it knows that callsigns and signal reports have been exchanged and sends RR73 to complete the QSO. KØNR may respond with a 73 message, but that is not required for a valid QSO.

I realize that if you haven’t worked FT8, this may be confusing. If so, just note that the design of the WSJT-X software leads the user through these specific messages to ensure that the three IARU steps happen.

VHF Contest QSO With Weak Signals

Radio contacts during VHF contests can be a bit casual: one operator calls another (callsigns exchanged) and they tell each other their grid locators. IARU Step 3 (the QSL or acknowledgment) may be assumed or perhaps one of the operators just says thanks or 73 to indicate the contact is complete and they are signing clear. But when the signals are weak, VHF operators tend to be more careful about making sure they made the contact.

Here’s a weak-signal CW QSO between KØNR and W9RM:

KØNR calls W9RM

W9RM responds and sends his grid (DM58)

KØNR responds with multiple “R”s to indicate that the grid was received and sends his grid (DM78)

W9RM responds with multiple “QSL”s to acknowledge that the information is complete

KØNR would probably reply with “73 73 73” but that is not necessary for a valid QSO

HF Contests

HF contests are fast and furious, with a high value placed on quickly making contacts. Thus, they tend to use the bare minimum to complete a QSO. Let’s take the example of a Big Gun station making multiple contacts in succession, otherwise known as “running.” Here, ZF1A is working the CQ Worldwide DX Contest with a number of stations calling him. He initiates the radio contact with “QRZ?”

ZF1A calls QRZ?

KØNR calls ZF1A by just saying his callsign
KØNR: Kilo Zero November Romeo

ZF1A calls KØNR and gives the contest exchange: signal report (always 59 in a contest) and CQ Zone (08 in this example)
ZF1A: KØNR 59 08

KØNR responds with a “Roger” to indicate the information was received and provides a signal report and CQ Zone 04
KØNR: Roger 59 04

ZF1A acknowledges the information and calls for the next station
ZF1A: Thank you, ZF1A QRZ?

This is a fast and tight exchange. Note that to save time, KØNR did not say ZF1A’s callsign during the contact. It does have the potential of a broken QSO if the operators are not paying close attention. KØNR must be sure he is hearing ZF1A’s callsign correctly and that ZF1A sent KØNR’s callsign correctly. Similarly, ZF1A will make sure he has KØNR’s callsign and exchange before moving on. If ZF1A is not sure of KØNR’s callsign and exchange, he will ask for a repeat. Sometimes the running station just calls QRZ? to complete the contact so IARU step 3 is implied. (If ZF1A did not have confidence that the QSO was complete, he would have asked for a repeat.)

Parks On The Air (POTA)

From the POTA rules: “POTA does not require a formal exchange, though many activators will wish to receive real signal reports, names and locations.”  My experience is that the park Activator usually sends a (real) signal report and the park number (e.g., K-4404). The Hunter usually sends a real signal report and state. Something like this:

KØNR: CQ CQ Parks on the air Kilo Zero November Romeo

KØJJW answers him
KØJJW: KØNR this is KØJJW Kilo Zero Juliet Juliet Whiskey

KØNR responds with the signal report and park number
KØNR: KØJJW you are 57 in park K-4404

KØJJW acknowledges the information and provides a signal report and state.
KØJJW: Roger. You are 5 6 into Colorado. Thanks for the activation.

KØNR confirms that the QSO is complete and moves on to the next station
KØNR: QSL and thank you, this is Kilo Zero November Romeo, Parks On The Air

When conditions are marginal, a POTA QSO will naturally tend to have signal reports and QSL messages sent multiple times to make sure that the information gets through.

Summits On The Air (SOTA)

The general SOTA rules state “QSOs must comprise an exchange of callsigns and signal reports, it is strongly recommended that the summit identifier be given during each contact.” SOTA contacts are similar to POTA contacts in terms of format, except the summit number (e.g., W0C/FR-004 ) is exchanged instead of the park number.

Time Constraints

Meteor scatter (MS) is an interesting case, mostly because it can take a long time to complete the QSO.  The two stations are transmitting to each other on alternating time windows hoping that a meteor will streak by and leave an ionizing trail so that a radio contact can be made. It is common for an MS QSO to take 30 minutes or longer.

The message sequence is similar to the FT8 example, so I won’t repeat it here. Imagine sitting in front of your computer patiently waiting for the right meteor burst to occur so that 1) callsigns are exchanged 2) signal reports are exchanged and 3) a final acknowledgment occurs. This raises the question of how long is too long to count as a valid QSO? I don’t know of a specific standard but most people would agree that if the three steps occur over several days, it is probably not a valid QSO. It seems like most hams working MS complete their contacts within a few hours, typically less.

One more question: what information do you need to record concerning the QSO? This will also vary depending on the circumstances, but most hams log callsign, signal reports, time (UTC), frequency or band, and mode. Note that Logbook of The World does not store signal reports but does require and store the time of the QSO, along with the band and mode. Another example: when submitting a contest log, the context exchange from both stations must be included (and these are checked against other submitted logs). The point is you need to be thinking about how the QSO information is going to be used and recorded. [Thanks, Bob/WØBV]


The three steps in the IARU definition of a valid QSO can be summarized as: 1) exchange callsigns 2) exchange signal report or other information and 3) confirm that #1 and #2 happened. This still leaves some gray area when it comes to deciding whether a QSO was valid or not. Most of us have had that funny feeling at the end of a marginal contact: should I put this in the log or not? This is where the final IARU advice applies: The responsibility always lies with the operator for the integrity of the contact.

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Yellowstone and Grand Teton: SOTA and POTA

Visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is a favorite trip for us. It is a 9-hour drive to get there from Colorado, so we can make it in a day.  In September, we visited these two parks with a blend of activities in mind: RV camping, hiking, viewing wildlife and ham radio. The ham radio part means Summits On The Air (SOTA) and Parks On The Air (POTA).

The Teton mountains tower above the Snake River.

Our trip started from Monument, CO, followed by a stop at our cabin near Trout Creek Pass. Heading north, we spent one night at Steamboat Lake State Park (Colorado), which broke up the road trip into smaller sections.

A few of the many buffalo (bison) in Yellowstone National Park.

Grand Teton NP

Grand Teton NP listed 27 activations for POTA (POTA K-0031) which is really not that many activations for such a well-known national park. The park and the surrounding national forests have many SOTA summits available, some quite difficult to climb (such as 13,770 foot Grand Teton).   We camped two nights at Colter Bay RV Park, inside the park. This is a decent RV-style campground with full hookups and campsites packed in a bit tight.

Joyce/K0JJW campsite operating POTA from the Grand Teton campsite.

Our usual POTA station is the Yaesu FT-991 driving a single-band end-fed halfwave (usually 40m, 20m or 17m) supported by a fishing pole and powered by a 20 Ah Bioenno battery. Joyce/K0JJW likes to use a paper log but I usually log my contacts with HAMRS, either on my notebook PC or an iPad. HAMRS is a relatively new logging program that runs on most operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, etc.) It is tuned for portable operating, with templates for SOTA and POTA. Check it out, if you haven’t tried it.

One unfortunate surprise while operating from the campsite was a ton of RFI coming from the electronic devices in use by the herd of RVs. The noise floor on 20m was S5— not so good.  It seems that today’s RV enthusiast brings along complete wireless network support with internet access points, WiFi routers, and their associated Part 15 emissions. Oh, well.

After setting up on 20m SSB, K0JJW and I both completed 10 QSOs with some difficulty. We were clearly being heard but we had trouble digging signals out of the noise.

Next up was a VHF SOTA activation on Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161). This is an easy-to-access drive-up summit with a great view, highly recommended with or without a SOTA activation. We debated on whether to use HF for SOTA on this trip. Normally, we’ve stuck to VHF/UHF on SOTA summits, as part of the Height-Above-Average-Terrain experience. However, knowing that Northwest Wyoming is a bit sparse for VHF activity, we could easily get skunked on a SOTA activation (less than 4 QSOs). Despite that, we opted to stick with VHF for SOTA and focus on a successful activation (1 QSO or more), with or without the SOTA points. On Signal Mountain, we worked two stations on 2m FM, including Steven/KB7ITU in Rexburg, ID, about 60 miles away. (Hey, we worked another state on VHF!)

Speaking of VHF, we used our dualband mobile (IC-2730A) to listen to the national park repeaters while we travelled through the park. Our dual-receive radio always has 146.52 MHz on one side and “something else” on the other side. When inside large national parks, we’ll set the second receiver to a national park frequency. These are generally conventional FM in the 162 to 173 MHz range. I won’t list the Teton and Yellowstone frequencies here but you can find them with a little searching on the interwebz. For example, see for Yellowstone NP frequencies.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone ( POTA K-0070 ) had only 22 POTA activations, not that many considering it is the nation’s first national park. It also has quite a number of SOTA summits of varying difficulty.

We camped two nights at Grant Village campground, a basic national park campground. The campground had no hookups but the campsites are well spaced with many trees and flush toilets. (The only problem we had was when the park service booked another group of campers onto our campsite one night.)

Joyce and our RV (Rocky Victoria) at the Grant Village campsite.

During a previous visit to Yellowstone, we activated Lake Butte (W7Y/PA-219). On this trip, we had our eye on Mount Washburn (W7Y/PA-163), a well-known 10k summit and popular hike, but the road that provides access to it was closed for the summer due to construction. (OK, maybe next time.)

Bob/K0NR operates 2m FM from the unnamed summit W7Y/TT-139.

Instead, we decided to try an unnamed summit 8770 (W7Y/TT-139) that was relatively easy to access but had not been activated for SOTA. We found some trip reports that said there is a nice trail to the summit and the only complaint was that the summit does not have a view due to the many trees.  We parked at the Divide Trailhead, about 12 miles west of Grant Village. The trail is 1.8 miles in length (one way) with 700 feet of elevation gain. So not too difficult but a real hike.  The summit is broad and sure enough with lots of trees, so no view. Practice normal bear precautions on this trail.

Practice standard bear precautions in this area.

Again, we opted for VHF SOTA, knowing that we might not get enough radio contacts for points…but we only needed one contact to qualify as the first activation. We worked two mobile stations passing through the park on 146.52 MHz. Yes, it is good to always be monitoring the calling frequency. You never know who is going to show up.

For POTA, we noted that the Continental Divide Trail National Scenic Trail (K-4558) passes through Yellowstone NP, which would allow for a double activation.  The CDT has always been special to me as it passes through Colorado and provides some of the most scenic hiking in the state. It only had 15 activations listed at that time, two of those were ours from when we activated it a month earlier, in Colorado. We choose the Old Faithful area as a good place to activate Yellowstone NP ( K-0070) and the CDT. We set up near the edge of the parking lot, away from the crowds. Again it was the FT-991 driving the endfed halfwave on 20m SSB. It was midday, so we expected good 20m propagation (and a nice pileup for Yellowstone) but the band was not cooperating. We both made at least 10 QSOs for a successful activation, so we count that as a win, but the pileup never happened.

Besides the radio operating, we had a good time touring through the park and looking for wildlife. We saw tons of buffalo, not quite so many elk and deer, but no bears or wolves. We have had better wildlife viewing on previous trips but it was still fun.

Heading South

Then it was time to start home, heading south out of Yellowstone back through Grand Teton. Of course, we were monitoring 146.52 MHz, when we heard Lorene/KG6MWQ  on unnamed summit 7586 (W7Y/TT-164). She was on the summit with AE6NH, operating both HF and VHF. It was great to catch a VHF activator in Yellowstone. This was the first activation for TT-164, so congratulations to both of them.

Two POTA activators smiling for the camera (Joyce/K0JJW, Bob/K0NR).

We decided to make a stop at the Colter Village area on the way through Grand Teton NP. Our first priority was to use the shower facilities there. Our second priority was doing another POTA activation.

Yaesu FT-991 set up on small camp table, with microphone and two sets of headphones.

This time we set up in a large parking lot, away from anything that might produce RFI. Again, it was 20m SSB using the halfwave antenna supported by a fishing pole. We sat near the RV on our camp chairs and table. Our typical configuration is to have two sets of headphones so both of us can copy well. We just use the standard handheld microphone which is easily passed between us when we change operators.

Typical antenna setup with fishing pole inserted into a plastic pipe attached to the RV ladder. A wire antenna is hung from the end of the pole.

Later in the day, we exited the park and headed south through Jackson, WY. We stayed overnight at a farm near Afton, WY which is surrounded by Bridger-Teton National Forest (K-4535). Of course, we needed to do one more POTA activation. We searched around for a usable spot to park and then fired up on 20m SSB. Propagation was OK but not great but we got it done.

The next day, we were up and going early, driving the rest of the way home to Monument. It was a wonderful road trip that blended sightseeing, hiking, camping, and ham radio. Let’s go do it again!

73 Bob K0NR

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Interested in Amateur Radio Digital Mode FT8 Operations?


Here is a video capture of the reception and transmission of many digital FT8-mode amateur radio high-frequency (HF; Shortwave) communication signals. This video is a front-seat view of the software operation performed at the radio room of amateur radio operator, NW7US, Tomas Hood.

The software packages demonstrated are installed and operational on a modern personal computer. The computer is connected to an Icom IC-7610 radio transceiver, controlled by the software. While there is no narration in the video, the video provides an opportunity for you to see first-hand how typical FT8 operations are performed. The signals can be heard.

The frequency used for the FT8 communication in this video is on or about 10.136 MHz, in the 30-Meter shortwave amateur radio allocation (or, band). As can be seen, the 30-Meter band was active at this time of day (0720 UTC, onward–local nighttime).

In this video you see (and hear) NW7US make two-way contacts, or QSOs, with stations from around the country and the world.

There are amateur radio operators within the amateur radio community who regard the FT8 digital mode (FT8 stands for “Franke-Taylor design, 8-FSK modulation“, and refers to the mode created by Joe Taylor, K1JT and Steve Franke, K9AN) as robotic (automatic, automated, and unattended) computer-to-computer communications, and not ‘true’ human communications–thus negating the spirit of ham radio. In other words, FT8, in their opinion, is not real amateur radio. While they pontificate about supposed automated computer communications, many of those holding this position have not installed and configured the software, nor tried communicating with the FT8 digital mode. They have perhaps formed their anti-FT8 opinion in a vacuum of knowledge. (This writer has other issues with FT8, but not on this point–see below)

As you watch the video linked in this article, consider these concepts:

+ A QSO is defined (as per common knowledge–see below) as the exchange of at least the minimum information needed as set by the requirements of a particular award, or, as is defined by law–for instance, a QSO would have at least an exchange of the legal call sign assigned to the radio station and/or control operator, the location of the station making the transmission, and a signal report of some kind about the signal received from the other transmitter at the other end of the QSO.

+ Just how much human involvement is required to make a full FT8 QSO? Does WSJT-X software run all by itself, with no human control? Is WSJT-X a robot, in the sense that it picks a frequency, then initiates or answers a CQ call automatically, or is it just powerful digital-mode software that still requires human control?

The video was captured from the screen of the PC running the following software packages interacting together as a system:

+ WSJT-X: The primary software featuring the digital mode, FT8. (See below for some background on WSJT-X software.)

+ JTAlert: Provides several audio and visual alert types based on decoded Callsigns within WSJT-X.

+ Log4OM, Version 2: A full-featured logging program, which integrates well with WSJT-X and JTAlert.

+ Win4IcomSuite: A full-featured radio controlling program which can remote control rigs, and provide control through virtual communication port-sharing.

+ Com0Com: The Null-modem emulator allows you to create an unlimited number of virtual COM port pairs and use any pair to connect one COM port based application to another. Each COM port pair provides two COM ports. The output to one port is the input from other port and vice versa.

As mentioned, above, the radio used for the communication of FT8 at the station, NW7US, is an Icom IC-7610 transceiver. The antenna is an off-center fed dipole that is over 200 feet in total length (end-to-end measurement).

Some Notes:

About WSJT-X

WSJT-X is a computer program used for weak-signal radio communication between amateur radio operators, or used by Shortwave Radio Listeners (SWLers; SWL) interested in monitoring the FT8 digital communications between amateur radio operators. The program was initially written by Joe Taylor, K1JT with Steve Franke, K9AN, but is now open source and is developed by a small team. The digital signal processing techniques in WSJT-X make it substantially easier for amateur radio operators to employ esoteric propagation modes, such as high-speed meteor scatter and moonbounce.

WSJT-X implements communication protocols or “modes” called FST4, FST4W, FT4, FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, Q65, MSK144, and WSPR, as well as one called Echo for detecting and measuring your own radio signals reflected from the Moon. These modes were all designed for making reliable, confirmed QSOs under extreme weak-signal conditions. JT4, JT9, and JT65 use nearly identical message structure and source encoding (the efficient compression of standard messages used for minimal QSOs). They use timed 60-second Transmit/Rreceive (T/R) sequences synchronized with UTC (Universal Time, Coordinated). JT4 and JT65 were designed for Earth-Moon-Earth communications (EME, or, moonbounce) on the Very-High Frequency (VHF), Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) and microwave bands. JT9 is optimized for the Medium-Frequency (MF) and High-Frequency (HF) bands. It is about 2 dB more sensitive than JT65 while using less than 10% of the bandwidth. Q65 offers submodes with a wide range of T/R sequence lengths and tone spacings.FT4 and FT8 are operationally similar but use T/R cycles only 7.5 and 15 seconds long, respectively. MSK144 is designed for Meteor Scatter on the VHF bands. These modes offer enhanced message formats with support for nonstandard call signs and some popular contests. (The MSK in MSK144 stands for, Multiple Frequency Shift Keying.)

FST4 and FST4W are designed particularly for the Low-Frequency (LF) and MF bands. On these bands, their fundamental sensitivities are better than other WSJT-X modes with the same sequence lengths, approaching the theoretical limits for their rates of information throughput. FST4 is optimized for two-way QSOs, while FST4W is for quasi-beacon transmissions of WSPR-style messages. FST4 and FST4W do not require the strict, independent time synchronization and phase locking of modes like EbNaut.

As described more fully on its own page, WSPR mode implements a protocol designed for probing potential propagation paths with low-power transmissions. WSPR is fully implemented within WSJT-X, including programmable band-hopping.

What is a QSO?

Under the title, CONTACTS, at the Sierra Foothills Amateur Radio Club’s 2014 Technician Class webpage,, they teach,

An amateur radio contact (called a QSO), is an exchange of info between two amateur radio stations. The exchange usually consists of an initial call (CQ = call to all stations). Then, a response from another amateur radio operator, and usually at least a signal report.

Contacts can be limited to just a minimal exchange of call signs & signal reports generally between amateurs previously unknown to each other. Very short contacts are usually done only during contests while longer, extended ‘rag chews’ may be between newly met friends with some common interest or someone you have known for a long time.

Wikipedia has an entry for QSO, too.

My Issue With FT8 and WSJT-X

I have written in the past, on this website, about an issue that came about during the course of the development of the WSJT-X software package. The development team decided to widen the slice of ‘default’ (pre-programmed) frequencies on which to operate FT8. The issue was how the choice of new frequencies was made, and what choices were implemented in an upcoming software release. Read more about all of this, in these three articles:

+ Land (er, FREQUENCY) Grab (Part 1)

+ One Aspect of Amateur Radio: Good Will Ambassadors to the World

+ In Response — Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Has this issue been resolved? For now, yes. There appears to be more coordination between interested groups, and the proposed new frequencies were removed from the software defaults in WSJT-X. At least, up to this point, at the time of publishing this article.


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