Category Archives: Articles

On The Air: ARRL’s excellent magazine for newcomers…only available behind their paywall

Cover of the new “On The Air” e-magazine from the ARRL

[Please note: this is a cross-post from our sister site, the SWLing Post.]

Today, the ARRL released their new electronic magazine for ham radio newcomers: On The Air.

The ARRL describes On The Air‘s mission:

“On the Air magazine is the newest ARRL member benefit to help new licensees and beginner-to-intermediate radio communicators navigate the world of amateur radio. Delivered six times a year, the magazine will present articles, how-to’s, and tips for selecting equipment, building projects, getting involved in emergency communication as well as spotlighting the experiences of people using radio to serve their communities, and those using it for enjoyment.”

I checked out On The Air and was quite pleased with the scope of the magazine. The first issue covers topics such as: understanding the ionosphere, choosing your first radio, building simple antennas, and much more. I love the fact that the articles are written with newcomers in mind, too; less technical jargon and more explanations.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been teaching a ham radio class to a group of high school students. Most of the students have now acquired their Technician licenses, and we’re even plotting a General class course for the fall.

Last month, I shared some copies of QST (the ARRL monthly member magazine) with my students. While they enjoyed looking through the pages of QST, many told me they simply didn’t understand the articles yet…There’s just not a lot inside a QST issue to grab the attention of a fifteen or sixteen year old who’s just gotten her ticket. Understandable.

Then, I learned about On The Air from a friend with the ARRL.  I was so glad to hear that the League was finally making a bi-monthly magazine aimed squarely at newcomers! I was also pleased it was an e-publication, because it will be that much easier to share with my class and propagate to prospective students.

But today, I discovered, to my dismay, that other than the premier issue, On The Air is for ARRL members only. Here’s a screen grab from the website:

But…”for members only”––?

Alas, in limiting access, the ARRL has essentially insured that most of their target audience won’t ever have the opportunity to read On The Air, and thus they’ve crippled the best ARRL recruitment tool I’ve ever seen. 

What a shame.

I’ve contacted my ARRL representative and asked that they reconsider the decision to hide this brilliant magazine behind a membership paywall. I’m pretty sure that ad revenue and membership fees could readily cover the cost of publishing this electronic edition. After all, On The Air could lead to a lot more ARRL members! And, indeed, I hope it will.

If you feel as I do, please contact your ARRL Section manager. It may be that those making the decisions are, in this case, a little out of touch with the future of amateur radio.

Update – To be clear about this post: I’m not implying anything bad about the ARRL here, I just think it’s a lost opportunity if they keep future editions of On The Air behind the member pay wall. I imagine that ad revenue alone could more than support this niche publication if they simply release it as a free PDF. The real benefit, though, could be an increase in ARRL membership as On The Air readers get a taste of what the League could offer! In other words: this is an opportunity!

What do you think? Should On The Air be free to anyone interested in amateur radio, or for members only? Please comment!

2019 Canadian Parks On The Air event!

One of my Ohio NPOTA activations in 2016. I hope to chase and possibly activate some Canadian parks this year!

(Source: Southgate ARC via K8RAT)

RAC supports Canadian National Parks on the Air event

Radio Amateurs of Canada is pleased to announce its support of the Canadian National Parks on the Air (CNPOTA) event which will be held next year from January 1 to December 31.

The CNPOTA Event Committee describes the event in this way:

“All Radio Amateurs worldwide will have an opportunity to operate portably from any of Canada’s 48 National Parks and 171 National Historic Sites (these are ‘activators’). Amateurs around the world will be able to chase these adventurous operators in an effort to confirm the most QSOs (these are ‘chasers’).

Activity for activators and chasers will be tracked on a dedicated website and real-time leader board and other statistics will be available throughout the year. Activators and chasers will be able to compete for and collect online awards and certificates created specifically for the event.

Come join the fun and plan to visit one of Canada’s beautiful Parks and Historic sites next year!”.

RAC will be assisting the organizers in promoting the event through articles in The Canadian Amateur magazine, the RAC website and in social media.

For more information about the event please visit the Canadian National Parks on the Air website at: https://cnpota.ca/

Alan Griffin
RAC MarCom Director
Radio Amateurs of Canada

Robert talks uBITX and navigating the world of used radio gear

Robert’s uBITX QRP transceiver kit with fire red chassis.

Many thanks to my buddyRobert Gulley (AK3Q), who shares the following announcement from his blog All Things Radio:

I have posted two new articles in the Reviews and How-Tos section. These were both previously published in The Spectrum Monitor magazine earlier this year.

The first article deals with buying used and new equipment, while the other article is a review of the uBITX QRP transceiver. Thanks go to Ken Reitz for graciously allowing these to be posted after their initial publication!

And thank you, Robert!

Readers, I highly recommend both of these articles.  In his used equipment guide, Robert makes practical suggestions for navigating the world of pre-owned radio gear and shares some important tips. His uBITX QRP Transceiver article is essential reading for anyone who has considered building this incredibly affordable kit.

The Elecraft KX3 still impresses

Note: this post was originally publish on my other radio blog, The SWLing Post.


I’ve owned my Elecraft KX3 for five years, and this little rig continues to amaze me.

In 2013, I gave the KX3 one of the most favorable reviews I’ve ever published–and it continues to hold its own. That’s why last year I recommended the KX3 to my buddy and newly minted ham radio operator, Sébastien (VA2SLW), who had already been eyeing the KX3 as his first HF transceiver.

A few weeks ago, Sébastien bit the bullet and is now the proud owner of a KX3 with built-in ATU. He purchased the KX3 with plans to do a lot of field operations including SOTA (Summits On The Air) and also use the KX3 at home.

Wednesday, I popped by Sébastien’s flat to help sort through some low-profile antenna options. I had suggested that he not invest in a factory made antenna just yet, but instead explore what he’s able to do with a simple wire antenna directly connected to the KX3 with a BNC Male to Stackable Binding Posts adapter. I’ve had excellent luck using this simple arrangement this in the past with the KX3, KX2 and even the KX1.

I did a quick QRM/RFI survey of his flat and balcony with my CC Skywave SSB. While there were the typical radio noises indoors, his balcony was pleasantly RFI quiet. At 14:00 local, I was able to receive the Voice of Greece (9,420 kHz), Radio Guinée (9,650 kHz) and WWV (both 10,000 and 15,000 kHz) with little difficulty. His building has incredibly thick concrete walls–I assume this does a fine job of keeping the RFI indoors. Lucky guy!

We popped by a wonderfully-stocked electronics shop in Québec City (Électromike–which I highly recommend) picked up some banana plugs and about 100′ of jacketed wire. We took these items back to the flat and cut a 35′ length of wire for the radiator and about 28′ for the ground. We added the banana plugs to the ends of each wire.

Sébastien temporarily attached one end of the antenna wire to the top of the fire escape and we simply deployed the ground wire off the side of the balcony. Neither of these wires interfere with his neighbors and neither are close to electric lines.

I had planned to cut both the radiator and ground until we found the “sweet spot”: where the ATU could find matches on 40, 30, 20 and 17 meters (at least).

Much to my amazement, the KX3 ATU got 1:1 matches on all of those bands save 80M where it still could achieve a 2.8:1 ratio.  I couldn’t believe it!

Frankly, Elecraft ATUs are nothing short of amazing.

Even the ATU in my little KX2 once tuned a 20 meter hex beam to 40 meters and found a 1:1 match to boot. In contrast, the Icom IC-7300 sitting next to the KX2 wasn’t able to match that hex beam even though we performed a persistent ATU search. Not surprising as I wouldn’t expect a 40 meter match on a 20 meter antenna, but the Elecraft ATU did it with relative ease.

Sébastian did a quick scan of the ham radio bands where we heard a number of EU stations. I also took the opportunity to point out how well the KX3 operates as a broadcast receiver with the AM filter wide open and using headphones in the “delay” audio effects mode. The Voice of Greece sounded like a local station–absolutely gorgeous signal.

It was getting late in the day, so I couldn’t hang around to call CQ with Séb, but I left knowing that he is going to have a blast playing radio at home and, especially, in the field. Next, he plans to build a simple mag loop antenna, get a BioEnno LiFePo battery and eventually add other Elecraft accessories to his station. I’d say he’s off to a great start!

Want more info? Click here to read my review of the Elecraft KX3 and here to read my review of the Elecraft KX2.

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Heard VK0EK on the radio

[QRPers: Please note that the following is a re-post from my shortwave radio blog, the SWLing Post.]

Heard Island (Image: VK0EK)
Heard Island (Image: VK0EK)

Regular SWLing Post readers know that I’m a ham radio operator (call sign K4SWL). Being a shortwave radio enthusiast, of course, I spend most of my time on the air in the HF portion of the amateur radio spectrum. Contacting distant stations and connecting with other ham radio operators around our little planet gives me immense joy.

Most of you also probably know that I’m a fan of all things Antarctic, so it should come as no surprise that I really wanted to work VK0EK: the Heard Island DXpedition.

Thing is, my life has been so hectic lately, I’ve barely been home during the Heard Island DXpedition (March 29th – April 11th). And the days I have been home, VK0EK’s signals have been incredibly weak.

In short: timing and propagation were all working against me.  And VK0EK was soon to pack up and come back home. I was becoming desperate…and beginning to lose hope that I’d make any contact with this unique and rare entity in the isolated stretch of ocean between Madagascar and Antartica.

"Antennas with a clearing" on Heard Island (Photo by Bill, AE0EE)
“Antennas with a clearing” on Heard Island (Photo by Bill, AE0EE)

My hope was waning.  Then, Tusday evening, I gave a presentation about shortwave radio at the Blue Ridge Amateur Radio Club. On the hour-long drive home, I stopped by my good friend Vlado’s (N3CZ) to confess my troubles to the radio doc.

Now it just happens that Vlado has a much better antenna set-up to work DX than I do, and what’s more, (close your ears, fellow QRPers) he has an amplifier.

Most importantly, though, Vlado is a keen DXer.  He’s got 330 countries under his belt, and ever up for a challenge, routinely pushes himself to accomplish more with less. In January, with members of the local club, he entered a QRP challenge; he had 100 countries worked by the following month, all in his spare time. And a few years ago, Vlado actually built a radio of his own design and worked 100 countries within two months (you can read about that here).

So, of course, he was game to help me make a contact…even if it was a long shot.  A very long shot.

Juan de Nova

When I arrived at Vlado’s QTH around 21:00 local, VK0EK was impossibly weak, so we focused our efforts on 30 meters and FT4JA: the Juan de Nova Island DXpedition (another all-time new one for me).

A portion of the FT4JA antenna farm. (Image: FT4JA)
A portion of the FT4JA antenna farm. (Image: FT4JA)

After more than an hour of calling, FT4JA finally heard my call and (woo hoo!) I was confirmed in their log.

But what about Heard Island?

penguin-chow-line4_6-1600px

After working FT4JA, we moved down to 40 meters where VK0EK was slightly louder than before. Well, maybe it’s not impossible, I thought hopefully. Just next to it.

Between QSB (fading) and tuner-uppers, my ears were bleeding trying to hear Heard’s minuscule CW signal–so faint, so distant were they.

After only about ten minutes of steady calling, Vlado made a sign to get my attention, and we strained to listen, very carefully.

VK0EK came back very faintly with just one letter incorrect in my call–it was enough that I didn’t catch it at first. But Vlado heard it, and after sending the call back a couple of times, then the report, VK0EK confirmed my call with a signal report, and I reciprocated.

Vlad and I leapt to our feet, yelling, “WOO HOO!” (and hopefully didn’t wake up any of Vlad’s neighbors).

Heard Island is actually running an online log that is updated live. We immediately looked there to confirm I was in their log, and was greeted with this great circle map and a line from Heard Island to my call sign in the States. Vlado made this screen capture as a momento:

k4swl VK0EK 40m cw 0231 april4 2016

Here’s to good friends and mentors

In one incredible evening, I snagged two all-time new ones–and I owe it all to my good buddy, Vlado. Most importantly, I’ve been learning so much from him as he patiently coaches me through some weak DX with serious pileups. Plus it’s just always fun hanging around Vlado, the best broken radio doctor I know, to whom “challenge” is…well, a piece of cake.

Thanks Vlado, for your enthusiasm and patience–I’m lucky to have a friend like you!

Looking forward to the 2014 Dayton Hamvention and FDIM

Each year, I attend the Dayton Hamvention and much of the QRP conference, Four Days in May.  This year, I’ll be working our Ears To Our World table again, along with other volunteers, at booth 411 in the Ball Arena (BA411). Please stop by and introduce yourself!

What I love about the Hamvention is that it is a one-stop-shop for innovations appearing in our radio world.

Here are a few of the companies I’ll be following at the Hamvention this year:

Ten-Tec

Ten-Tec-AlphaTen-Tec announced yesterday that it will merge with Alpha Amplifiers under the flag of RF Concepts. I plan to stop by Ten-Tec’s booth Friday and learn more about the merger. Personally, I believe the merger with Alpha Amplifiers is a good move. Both of these companies are known for great customer service and quality US-based design and manufacturing.

I know Ten-Tec is introducing a new open-source product to their line, the Patriot, because I’ve been beta testing one (check QRPer.com for details later this week).

Icom

Icom-ID-5100Icom will showcase their new ID-5100 D-star, dual band, mobile with built-in GPS. While I’m more of an HF guy, this radio does intrigue me. You see, for almost one year now, I’ve been very pleased with my Icom ID-51A, dual-band, D-Star handie talkie (HT).

I find D-Star to be a very flexible digital mode and I’m amazed with how many interesting mom-and-pop companies have produced products for the D-Star mode. I’m surprised neither Yaesu nor Kenwood has adopted the D-Star standard (it’s not proprietary to Icom–indeed, read about the CS7000 below).

The new ID-5100 is a mobile version of my ID-51a. What I love about this radio is that it can store repeater frequencies and dynamically load them based on your geographic location. Perhaps my largest gripe with mobile VHF/UHF rigs is their inability to adapt to the repeater “landscape” when you travel. The ID-5100 may change this and push other manufacturers in the same direction.

Connect Systems

CS700_WEBIn less than a year, Connect Systems has become a household name among ham radio enthusiasts who love VHF/UHF and digital modes.

This Connect Systems is developing an HT–the CS7000–which will be the first non-Icom radio to have the D-Star digital mode. Whatsmore, in addition to D-Star, the CS7000 will also pack DMR.

I don’t think Connect Systems will have a working prototype at the Hamvention (I could be wrong), but there is a possibility that they will be taking early orders.

Elad

FDM-DUO-openingI’ve been intrigued by the Elad line of Software Defined Recievers. This year, they will attend the Dayton Hamvention. I look forward to checking out the new FDM-DUO tabletop SDR. I plan to review some of the Elad product line in the near future.

Palstar

Last year, Palstar showcased a prototype QRP transceiver with touch screen interface. To my knowledge, this would be Palstar’s first transceiver (though they’re well known for antenna tuners and their shortwave radio receiver, the R30A).

Last year, I was told that the new Palstar transceiver would be available this year and would retail between $1,600 – 2,000 US (a rather steep price for a transceiver with 20 watts output). One of the transceiver’s designers assured me that the receiver would “be worth the price.”

Bonito

antennajet_front_hamradio2013I’ll stop by Bonito’s booth to check out their new AntennaJet ASM300.  I’m curious how it works and what the Hamvention price will be.

Though pricing is a little steep, I might bring one home as I often would like to share one antenna with two receivers simultaneously.

Elecraft

PX3The only new product I know of from Elecraft is the PX3 Panadapter for their Kx3 transceiver. Reviews of the larger P3 Panadapter for the Elecraft K3 are excellent, so I imagine this will be a great product. I hope to check out the PX3 at the Elecraft booth–I believe they’ll have a prototype on display.

SDRs

For the past three years, the market for software defined radios has been growing rapidly. I’ll be on the lookout for anything new–especially improvements on current 3rd generation SDRs.

Did I miss something?

Please comment if there’s something you’d like me to check out at the Hamvention–I’ll try to include it!

Again, if you’re attending the Hamvention, please stop by and introduce yourself at our booth: 411 in the Ball Arena (BA411).

My favorite ham radio apps for iOS and Android

IOS-ANDROID-001

In November 2013, The Monitoring Times magazine published an overview of my favorite ham radio and shortwave radio apps for iOS and Android smart phones/tablets.

I just posted the full article on my shortwave radio blog, The SWLing Post.

Since I plan for this article to be a regularly updated, I struggled to decide whether to keep it here on QRPer.com or on the SWLing Post–I certainly didn’t want two copies and I didn’t want to separate the hobbies with two different posts. In the end, since I’m now the shortwave radio columnist for The Spectrum Monitor magazine, I decided the SWLing Post would be the best place to hold the post.

I plan to update this app list regularly to include new apps and remove ones which are no longer available. If you have a favorite radio app that isn’t listed, please comment on the SWLing Post. Click here to read the article!

“The Weakest Solar Cycle in 100 Years”

Past three solar cycles (Source: Sky and Telescope)
Past three solar cycles (Source: Sky and Telescope)

Thanks to QRPer.com contributor Eric (WD8RIF) for passing along this story from Sky and Telescope.

Scientists are unsure why this solar peak has been less than stellar:

(Source: Sky and Telescope)

Scientists are struggling to explain the Sun’s bizarre recent behavior. Is it a fluke, or a sign of a deeper trend?

The Sun is acting weird. It typically puts on a pageant of magnetic activity every 11 years for aurora watchers and sungazers alike, but this time it overslept. When it finally woke up (a year late), it gave the weakest performance in 100 years.<

What’s even weirder is that scientists, who aren’t usually shy about tossing hypotheses about, are at a loss for a good explanation. Three scientists, David Hathaway (NASA / Marshall Space Flight Center), Giuliana de Toma (High Altitude Observatory), and Matthew Penn (National Solar Observatory) presented possible explanations at this month’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division, but their results sparked a lively debate rather than a scientific consensus. [Continue reading…]

A tour of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station

With a 160 degree bore sight, this slewable curtain antenna that can literally adjust its angle to target any portion of Latin America, South America and Cuba. The slewable antenna has no moving parts other than the slew switches; rather, it uses phase-shifting to steer the beam.
With a 160 degree bore sight, this slewable curtain antenna can literally adjust its angle to target any portion of Latin America, South America and Cuba. The slewable antenna has no moving parts other than the slew switches; rather, it uses phase-shifting to steer the beam.

For those of you, like me, who got their start in ham radio by listening to international broadcasters on the shortwaves, you might like the article I just posted on the SWLing Post.

It’s a tour of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station in Greenville, North Carolina. Formerly known as VOA Site B, this IBB transmitting station has a global reach and a dedicated team keeping her running each and every day.

The article was published earlier this year in The Monitoring Times magazine. Since there was no worries with page space, I was able to include even more hi-res color photos in my blog post.

Click here to read the full article on the SWLing Post.

Enjoy!

 

NPR’s Robert Krulwich comments on EME and extra-terrestrial morse code

(Source: National Public Radio)

Dot

Dash

Dot

Dash

This is the moon as Morse code.

[…]All over the world, ham radio operators and Morse Code enthusiasts beam dot, dash messages straight at the moon, then wait 2.7 seconds for the signal to bounce back. They call these “E.M.E.” transmissions, which stands for “Earth-Moon-Earth” or — more popularly — “moonbouncing.” I suppose it’s fun to smack little beeps against a sleepy rock 239,000 miles away and have those beeps come flying back at you. Plus, it’s easy.

[…]Not so long ago, a Scottish artist, Katie Paterson, turned Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata into Morse code, (yup, you can do that, too) and bounced it off the moon. Some musical phrases got trapped in moon craters and didn’t come back, which she found so intriguing, she put the ricocheted, fragmented Moonlight Sonata on a player piano and you can now see her MoonBounced, Morse-Coded piece being not performed by anyone, the keys going up and down on their own, on YouTube.

I’m a huge fan of Krulwich’s witty science articles and am thoroughly impressed that he brings CW into the popular press. Nevermind his tongue-in-cheek!

PS: As I wrote Robert, I think Artemis would love to hear the “sacred language.”

Read Krulwich’s full article by clicking here.