Posts Tagged ‘vhf/uhf’
August 3 & 4, 2019
Saturday and Sunday
Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun during the 28th annual event and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. The covers the entire weekend but many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.
The event includes all Summits On the Air (SOTA) summits, which adds over 1700 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from with a wide range of difficulty. See the Colorado SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org
Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should post their intent on the ham14er group via the ham14er groups.io website. Also, be sure to check out the event information at http://www.ham14er.org
Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz. At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz.
For a complete list of suggested HF, VHF and UHF frequencies see this web page.
Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.
There is a lot more information available here: www.ham14er.org
Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force
Joyce/K0JJW and I were planning a trip to Alaska to visit several of the national parks. We had some time available while in Fairbanks to do some SOTA activations. We were traveling very light, so we took minimal SOTA gear: a pair of VHF/UHF handhelds and simple antennas.
We used my newly-fashioned antenna mount on a trekking pole we had with us. The trekking pole served us as as a trekking pole for hiking, a camera monopod and now an antenna support. It provides a handy way of supporting a vertical antenna and provides a little more antenna height when held up in the air.
I checked the SOTA database to identify easy-to-access summits near Fairbanks. There are several 1 and 2 point summits in the area with easy access. We were not looking for drive-up summits but we did want an easy hike.
I found that Dale/KL7R and Peter/K3OG had been activating in the area, so I contacted them via email and they both gave me helpful advice. We were a bit concerned about getting our four QSOs on VHF, but that turned out to not be a problem. We worked Dale from all three summits and he helped rustle up a few more stations to work. We had pretty good luck just calling CQ on 146.52 MHz. And I announced our presence and need for simplex contacts on the KL7KC repeater (146.88 MHz, 103.5 Hz tone).
We activated three summits:
Chena Ridge (KLF/FN-205)
We drove up Chena Ridge Road, then took a gravel road uphill towards the summit (I think it was labeled North Becker Ridge Road). At this point, we encountered a locked gate and parked there. Some locals wandered by and said that they hike up to the top every day, so come along. The hike was easy, less than one quarter of a mile with some elevation gain. At the summit is an FAA VOR site enclosed by a chain link fence.
Pedro Dome (KLF/FN-164)
Next, we drove north out to Pedro Dome, which has a substantial radio site on top. We took Steese Highway north from Fairbanks to Pedro Dome Road, a gravel road that goes right to the top of the summit. There are opportunities to make a wrong turn on the way up Pedro Dome Road but with a little care we were able to drive to the top. Despite the fact there are plenty of radio transmitters on the summit, we did not experience any interference on 2m and 70 cm. That summit has an excellent radio horizon, so it was easy to work stations in the Fairbanks area.
Wigwam Benchmark (KLF/FN-204)
Wigwam Benchmark is a summit that pokes up just north of Fairbanks. It is a bit more difficult to navigate because it in a rural residential area with lots of twisty-turny roads. I plugged “Noel Drive, Fairbanks, AK” into google maps, which got us very close. Then we drove to where Noel Drive meets Mia Drive and operated from the road. The area is heavily wooded and we did get attacked by the famous Alaskan mosquitoes, so we made our radio contacts and escaped quickly.
At one point, I told Dale that if we made one contact from one summit, we would be happy. But, of course, we tried for more than that and got it. It turned out to be a great day running around these summits near Fairbanks and making some radio contacts. Thanks to KL7R and K3OG for the assistance!
73 Bob K0NR
My Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation of Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004) on June 20th qualified me for Mountain Goat, using only the VHF/UHF bands. Mountain Goat requires 1000 activation points using the SOTA activation point system.
I’ve been working toward this goal for quite a while. I was doing mountaintop VHF activations before SOTA was even a thing. The first contact in my SOTA log is from Mount Antero in August 2011 but I started cranking up the SOTA activations in 2013 and later. I chose Pikes Peak for my qualifying Mountain Goat activation because its always been a special summit for me: I see it almost every morning (weather permitting) from my house in Monument. It is America’s Mountain, reaching to over 14k feet in elevation, standing tall west of Colorado Springs.
Most people have to wait for the mail to receive their SOTA Mountain Goat certificate. However, Steve/WG0AT created a custom award certificate that Joyce presented to me on the summit of Pikes Peak.
Some statistics from my SOTA log: I made 1557 radio contacts during 164 activations. Some of these activations were repeats of the same summit and I activated 96 unique summits. On 9 of those activations, I failed to complete the minimum of 4 radio contacts required to receive points; so I “got skunked” on those summits (zero points).
The majority of these summits were in Colorado, but I also did some operating from California, South Dakota, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas and (last but not least) Switzerland. Almost all of them with my awesome wife and hiking partner, Joyce/K0JJW. Take a look at the various SOTA postings on my blog for trip reports and operating tips.
Any SOTA activator will tell you that nothing happens without chasers being there to make radio contacts. Chasers are always important but even more important for VHF due to the limited range. The list below shows my top chasers. Some of these folks are active SOTA enthusiasts but many of them are just friendly folks on the radio helping me achieve this goal. You’ll see that my #1 chaser is Joyce/K0JJW, who usually worked me on multiple bands after leaving the summit.
Thank you, Chasers, for your support!
Many people underestimate what is possible on the VHF/UHF bands, even under normal conditions. I’ve been trying to educate folks on what is possible with VHF from high locations. See The Myth of VHF Line of Sight. Beefing up your station with a directional antenna and a little bit of power can make a big difference, even when just using FM. My best DX using VHF on a SOTA activation is a 2m CW contact from Capulin Mountain with W9RM near Olathe, CO for a distance of 257 miles.
The Summits On The Air program is a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors while having fun with ham radio. Thanks to everyone that helped me reach my goal of VHF Mountain Goat.
73 Bob K0NR
For Summits On The Air (SOTA), I’ve been using just the VHF/UHF ham bands, with the 2m band being the most popular. For most activations, I use a 3-element Arrow II yagi antenna that has a gain of about 6 dBd. Sometimes that extra gain makes the difference between completing a contact or not.
But it is also handy to have an omnidirectional antenna that is easy to deploy. Sometimes I’d rather just call or monitor using an omni without having to point the antenna. “Easy and good enough” can be an effective strategy for SOTA.
A key advantage to an omnidirectional antenna is that it is always pointed in the right direction.
I usually carry one of the TWAYRDIO RH770 VHF/UHF antennas for use with my 2m/70cm handheld transceiver. Despite its low cost, I have found that its performance to be quite good. That antenna is offered with a variety of connectors, including a BNC.
This led me to the idea of putting together a simple antenna mount with a BNC on it, attach an RH770 antenna to it and support it using some kind of pole. I have several monopod devices (intended for use as a camera support) that use the standard 1/4-20 thread. I also have a trekking pole that has the same camera mounting thread. Another option is to use an actual camera tripod which is a bit bulky but may work for some SOTA activations.
After a short visit to the hardware store, I selected crossbar for mounting a light fixture that was about the right size and shape. I happened to have a bulkhead-mount BNC-to-BNC connector which I inserted into the large hole in the crossbar. That hole was not quite large enough for the connector, but a few minutes work with a round file solved that problem.
The crossbar was originally flat but I bent one one end of it 90 degrees, with the idea that this might offer other mounting configurations in the future. For example, I might be able to strap or tape the 90 degree angle member to a pole or support.
The other end of the crossbar has a large slot that accommodated the 1/4-20 mounting stud. Actually, the slot was not quite wide enough, so some addition work with a round file opened it up. I secured the 1/4-20 thread using a nylon wing nut.
I’ve used this setup on one SOTA activation and was pleased with the results. I carried the crossbar mount attached to the monopod in my pack. On the summit, I simply installed the RH770 antenna onto the top BNC and extended the monopod. On this summit, I found the perfect pile of rocks that made a good support for the monopod. Then I used a short length of RG-8X coax between the bottom BNC and the 2m/70cm transceiver.
Although my primary interest was with the 2 meter band, it was really convenient to have both 2m and 70cm on the same antenna. I am pleased with operation of the antenna and the ability to deploy it quickly. I expect to carry this on most of my SOTA activations.
73 Bob K0NR
A Handheld Transceiver (HT) is a convenient, compact all-in-one wireless device for FM operating on the VHF/UHF bands. HTs are sometimes referred to as a Shack On The Belt. There’s a lot to like about a transceiver that has wide frequency range, built-in antenna and power source.
The attractiveness of these devices coupled with a distinct lack of self-control on the part of some radio amateurs can lead to a condition known as Handheld Transceiver Accumulation Syndrome (HTAS). The main indicator of HTAS is that the radio amateur (the HTAS patient) accumulates a large number of HTs for no apparent reason. These radios end up sitting on the shelf or workbench at home, largely underutilized.
Coincident with the accumulation of radios, there is usually a pile of battery chargers, both drop-in and wall-wart style. These chargers are almost always proprietary designs that work with the original radio but no others.
The chargers are just the beginning of a broader accessory quagmire. The HTAS sufferer also tends to accumulate other accessories such as DC power cables, extra battery packs, speaker/microphones and aftermarket antennas. Many of these are also unique to the specific model of HT.
Psychologists that study HTAS note that there are specific buying habits that play into this harmful condition:
The Impulse Buy
HTs have always been relatively affordable with street prices of less than $200. However, the situation changed in the last decade with the introduction of cheap HTs from the Chinese manufacturers, driving the entry price down to around $30. This puts a VHF/UHF radio in the price range of a tank of gas or dinner at a local restaurant, clearly setting up an HT as an impulse buy. “Heck, its only $30, so why not buy the camo version of the Baofeng radio?”
The Mode Buy
Sometimes the HTAS patient is motivated to buy another HT to fill in a specific capability that is missing in their ham radio gear. Of course, the equipment manufacturers are complicit in this — introducing new features and modulation types to drive additional purchases. No single radio does it all, so you need multiple devices to cover a range of features, such as APRS, DMR, D-STAR and Fusion. “I need this new HT to work the other guys on DMR.”
The Special Purpose Buy
A really subtle driver of purchasing behavior is buying a radio for a specific purpose. This is similar to the Mode Buy but is driven by a specific situation. The patient conjures up specific communication needs that justify a particular radio. For example, they may think “I need a small HT that fits in my shirt pocket while doing work around the house.” Or “I need a little DMR radio just to talk to my hotspot.” Another one is “I need to keep a Baofeng in the glove compartment of the car, just in case.”
Living with HTAS
Fortunately, medical professionals that encounter HTAS report that in most cases the syndrome is not completely debilitating. Many radio amateurs are able to lead normal lives while suffering from the effects of HTAS. In severe cases, HTAS can lead to financial problems, depending on income level and the severity of the problem. HTAS is also associated with a breakdown in personal relationships, especially with married subjects. HTAS sufferers living alone report far fewer relationship problems.
If you know someone suffering from HTAS, encourage them to seek professional help. Treatment options may include psychotherapy and medication.
73 Bob K0NR
Sometimes radio amateurs suggest that phonetics are not needed on VHF FM. (See examples here and here.) Sometimes it even sounds like it’s a bad thing to use phonetics on FM. It is inefficient and slows things down. I can see the logic behind this because with decent signal strength, demodulated FM audio is usually quite clear and easy to understand.
Here’s what I wrote in my VHF FM Operating Guide, also downplaying the need for phonetics:
The use of phonetics is not usually required due to the clear audio normally associated with frequency modulation. Still, sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between similar sounding letters such as “P” and “B”. Under such conditions, use the standard ITU phonetics to maintain clarity. Many nets specifically request the use of standard phonetics to make it easier on the net control station.
The FCC Technician exam gives the topic of phonetics a light touch with just these two questions:
What are the FCC rules regarding the use of a phonetic alphabet for station identification in the Amateur Radio Service?
A. It is required when transmitting emergency messages
B. It is prohibited
C. It is required when in contact with foreign stations
D. It is encouraged
And this one:
What should be done when using voice modes to ensure that voice messages containing unusual words are received correctly?
A. Send the words by voice and Morse code
B. Speak very loudly into the microphone
C. Spell the words using a standard phonetic alphabet
D. All of these choices are correct
In practical radio operating, there are a number of things that can degrade communication, usually by creating noise sources that compete with the voice modulation. Most of these are a factor even if the RF signal is strong:
- A noisy environment at the receiving end (e.g., background noise such as road noise in an automobile)
- A noisy environment at the transmitter (e.g., background noise such as wind noise outdoors)
- Poor frequency response of the overall system (e.g., high frequencies may be lost in the transmitter, receiver or repeater, making it more difficult to understand the voice communication).
- Hearing impairment of the person receiving the audio (I’ve heard that we are all getting older)
- Difficulty understanding the person speaking (poor enunciation, unfamiliar dialect or accent, etc.)
So I say go ahead and use phonetics on VHF FM, especially for critical information such as your call sign. FM communication is not always clear and easy to understand. It suffers from the same signal-to-noise problems as other voice modes. (Perhaps not as bad as SSB on HF, but it’s still a factor.) In most cases, you’ll want to stick with the standard ITU phonetic alphabet (also known as the NATO alphabet).
Many nets request that you use ITU phonetics when you check in. Imagine being the Net Control Station for a net and having everyone making up their own phonetics. You would have call signs coming at you with all kinds of random words associated with them. It is much better to have consistency. However, there are times when you might want to use alternative phonetics. See the HamRadioSchool.com article: Phonetic Alphabets for more insight on that.
Kilo Zero November Romeo
The conventional wisdom in amateur radio is that we should not call CQ when using FM on the VHF and UHF bands, especially on repeaters. The reasoning for this is that during normal VHF/UHF FM operating, radio amateurs are tuned to a specific frequency and will easily hear a call on FM.
Compare this to the HF bands, where the other ham is generally tuning around to find someone to contact and stumbles onto your transmission. In that case, you want to make a long call (CQ CQ CQ Hello CQ This is Kilo Zero November Romeo calling CQ CQ CQ…) so people tuning the band will find you and tune you in. On VHF/UHF FM, the assumption is that the other hams have their radio set on the repeater or simplex channel being used and will immediately hear you. FM communications are often quite clear and noise free, which also helps. The normal calling method is to just say your callsign, perhaps accompanied with another word like “monitoring” or “listening.” For example, I might say “KØNR monitoring.”
Question T2A09 in Technician exam pool reinforces this idea:
What brief statement indicates that you are listening on a repeater and looking for a contact?
A. The words “Hello test” followed by your call sign
B. Your call sign
C. The repeater call sign followed by your call sign
D. The letters “QSY” followed by your call sign
Gary/KN4AQ wrote this tongue-in-cheek article HamRadioNow: Do NOT Call CQ on Repeaters which says that calling CQ on a quiet repeater works well because it is likely that someone will come on and tell you not to call CQ. Gary wrote:
So I trot out my standard advice: make some noise. I even recommend calling CQ, because that’s almost guaranteed to get someone to respond, if only to tell you that you’re not supposed to call CQ on repeaters.
There is also an interesting thread on the topic on reddit: 2 meter calling frequency.
Scanning and Multitasking
Some important things have changed in our use of VHF/UHF FM over past decades. The most important shift is dispersion of activity: while the number of VHF/UHF channels has increased, the total amount of VHF/UHF radio activity has declined. This means that we have tons of channels available that are mostly quiet. Tune the bands above 50 MHz and you’ll hear a lot of dead air. In response to this, some hams routinely scan multiple repeater and simplex frequencies. While getting ready for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activity, I’ve had hams ask me to make a long call on 146.52 MHz so they can be sure to pick me up on scan.
Another factor that comes into play is the multitasking nature of our society. Hams don’t generally sit in front of a 2m radio waiting for activity to occur. More commonly, they are doing something else and listening to the FM rig in the background. VHF FM is the Utility Mode, always available but not necessarily the top priority. A short call (“KØNR listening”) on the frequency can easily be missed.
My conclusion is that the Old School “KØNR Monitoring” style of making a call on VHF is no longer sufficient. First off, it sends the message of “I am here if you want to talk to me.” If that’s your intent, fine. However, if you really want to make a contact, being more explicit and a bit assertive usually helps. Follow Gary’s advice and make some noise.
For example, during a SOTA activation I’ll usually call on 146.52 MHz with a bit of a sales pitch. Something like: “CQ CQ 2 meters, this is Kilo Zero November Romeo on Pikes Peak, Summits On The Air, anyone around?” This is way more effective than “KØNR Monitoring.” I might also include the frequency that I am calling on, to help out those Scanning Hams. Something like “CQ CQ 146.52, this is KØNR on Pikes Peak, Summits On The Air.” Note that these calls are still pretty much short and to the point, only taking about 15 seconds. This is a lot shorter than the typical HF CQ.
If I am driving through another town and want to make contact on the local repeater, I will adjust my approach accordingly. For example, on a relatively quiet repeater, I might say “CQ, anyone around this morning? KØNR mobile I-25 Denver.” Or if I have a specific need, I’ll go ahead and ask for it. “This is KØNR looking for a signal report.”
Keep in mind that VHF/UHF operating tends to be local in nature, so it makes sense to adapt your approach to both local practice and the specific situation.
- It’s OK to call CQ on VHF FM, make some noise on the frequency.
- Give other operators a reason to contact you.
- Don’t make your CQ too long, maybe 15 to 20 seconds.
- The callsign/listening approach is fine too.
Those are my thoughts. What do you think?
73 Bob K0NR