On a gray Friday afternoon last spring, Steve Galchutt sat high atop Chief Mountain, an 11,700-foot peak along Colorado’s Front Range. An epic panorama of pristine alpine landscape stretched in almost every direction, with Pikes Peak standing off to the south and Mount Evan towering just to the west.
It was an arresting view, and the perfect backdrop for a summit selfie. But instead of reaching for his smartphone, Galchutt was absorbed by another device: a portable transceiver. Sitting on a small patch of rock and snow, his head bent down and cocked to one side, he listened as it sent out a steady stream of staticky beeps: dah-dah-di-dah dah di-di-di-dit. “This is Scotty in Philadelphia,” Galchutt said, translating the Morse code. Then, tapping at two silver paddles attached to the side of the radio, he sent his own message, first with some details about his location, then his call sign, WG0AT.
At this point, a prying hiker could have been forgiven for wondering what, exactly, Galchutt was doing. But his answer—an enthusiastic “amateur radio, of course!”—would likely only have further compounded their confusion. After all, the popular image of an amateur-radio enthusiast is an aging, armchair-bound recluse, not some crampon-clad adventurer. And their natural habitat is usually a basement, or “ham shack,” not a windswept peak in the middle of the Rockies.
Galchutt fits part of this stereotype—he’s 75—but the similarities end there. An avid hiker and camper, his preferred shack is atop a mountain, and the higher the summit, the better.
Another rapid-fire burst of dits and dahs sprung from the radio. “Wow!” Galchutt said, “Spain!”
Nearby sat Brad Bylund (call sign WA6MM) and Bob and Joyce Witte (K0NR and K0JJW, respectively). Together, the four are part of a group called Summits on the Air (SOTA), an international, radio version of high pointing. […]
Ham Radio Forms a Planet-Sized Space Weather Sensor Network
For researchers who monitor the effects of solar activity on Earth’s atmosphere, telecommunications, and electrical utilities, amateur radio signals a golden age of crowdsourced science.
Space weather events, triggered by solar emissions and their interactions with Earth’s atmosphere, can have significant effects on communications and navigation technology and on electric power systems. As with terrestrial weather events, the economic impacts of space weather–related disruptions can be substantial, affecting satellite systems as well as systems on the ground. A severe geomagnetic storm (on the order of the Carrington Event of 1859) could have a catastrophic effect on modern infrastructure. Even solar storms of more ordinary size can induce currents in the power grid that drive up energy prices, affecting manufacturing and commerce.
Considerable interest exists in developing space weather forecasting technologies that use Earth’s ionosphere as a sensor for events in its neighboring atmospheric layers. The ionosphere occupies a privileged niche in the geospace system, as it is coupled into both the terrestrial weather of the neutral atmosphere below and the space weather of the magnetosphere above.
Although we have a good understanding of ionospheric climate—diurnal and seasonal variations are well known, as are the rhythms of the sunspot cycle—there are new and vital areas of research to be explored. For example, it is known that the ionosphere—and near-Earth space—experiences variability (e.g., radio signals can fade in and out over periods of seconds, minutes, or hours due to changes in ionospheric electron densities along signal propagation paths), but this variability has not been sampled or studied adequately on regional and global scales.
[…]The Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) is a collective that unites amateur radio operators with the research community in the space and atmospheric sciences. This confederation of scientists, engineers, and hobbyists holds annual workshops during which ham radio operators and space scientists share findings. A new HamSCI effort, the Personal Space Weather Station project, aims to develop a robust and scalable network of amateur stations that will allow amateurs to collect useful data for space science researchers. The next HamSCI workshop will be held virtually 19–21 March 2021, and it will focus on midlatitude ionospheric measurements.
A Ready-Made Volunteer Science Community
From a communications point of view, the electromagnetic spectrum is a finite resource. Signals from broadcasting, telecommunications, and navigation all have their own demands of bandwidth and range. Spectrum allocations are managed by government agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States. Most countries allot some of the available spectrum to amateur users for the purposes of recreation, experimentation, and the promotion of international goodwill. There are more than 760,000 licensed amateur radio operators and uncounted shortwave listeners in the United States alone.[…]
I’ve been a massive fan of RadCom since I lived in the UK. I’ve always felt this RSGB publication strikes the right balance of technical information and human interest.
A few years ago, at Hamvention, an RSGB representative encouraged me to write a review for RadCom. Even though I feel pretty fortunate to write for the likes of The Spectrum Monitor magazine, the World Radio TV Handbook, and others, I was honored to even be asked.
With RadCom, I focus on gear that’s readily available in the UK and Europe (meaning, not North American versions of gear–yes, there are differences).
This week, I received the December 2020 issue of RadCom. Typically, I receive my RadCom issues a week or so after the beginning of the subscription month due to normal international post times. These aren’t normal times, though, so it took 6 weeks longer than normal to be delivered.
I’ll admit that I’m chuffed to see my review in RadCom especially since my daughters (now K4TLI and K4GRL) were an integral part of it! My daughters are trying to sort out whose hands are in the photo above. They assembled the uBITX V6 by themselves.
If you’d like to learn more about RadCom and the Radio Society of Great Britain, I would encourage you to check out the RSGB website. I’m a proud member and a big fan of RadCom even though they had the poor judgement to ask me to write for them! 🙂
Many thanks to QRPer, Curt, who recently left the following comment on a recent post and noted:
I too was a NPOTA activator. My first HF contact ever was on 9/10/2016 and then I threw myself to the wolves so to speak activating my first park on 11/12/2016.
When NPOTA was over I went into withdrawal and I thought POTA was going to fill that void but here in Western PA there’s not much to pick from. We have a lot of parks but none that fall into the park list. One of the local parks I’ve been told not to bother because it’s in the middle of the city and the local police don’t seem to like any activations there for whatever reason.[…]
You’re right, Curt, and I totally understand. Many local, county, and private parks are not included in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program. POTA tends to include parks that are on a state, provincial, or national level. Not always in every country, but it’s the general rule of thumb.
I don’t know the POTA scene in western PA well because I’ve never thoroughly researched it. With that said, I’m willing to bet there are more accessible parks in your neck of the woods than you might realize at first blush.
Historic sites and parks–both state and national ones–tend to have very defined borders with conspicuous entry points. They’re, in many senses, “low-hanging fruit” for POTA because they’re super easy to find and usually have picnic and camping areas.
You simply locate one on the POTA map, tell your smart phone to take you there, arrive, find a picnic table or parking area near trees, setup,…et voilá! You’re on the air and activating. Typically, a very straight-forward process.
I would suggest new POTA operators start with these types of parks to give their field radio kit a good shake-out.
There are so many other POTA entities out there, though, and the POTA map (while an excellent resource) can’t represent them well.
I should add here, that POTA is an international radio activity and I do not know the various types of parks and POTA entities in other countries. There’s a lot of variability.
Here in the States, aside from parks and historic sites, we have other POTA entities like:
Wildlife Management Areas & Refuges
These types of public lands can be vast with many possible parking areas and entry points. Some have multiple, disconnected tracts of land and the POTA map only typically represents them as one clickable geo point because it would be incredibly difficult to represent them otherwise.
It requires the POTA activator to do a little planning and research.
Here in North Carolina, we have a lot of state game lands and they’re some of my favorite spots to activate.
Some game lands may only be a couple hundred acres large, others may encompass hundreds of thousands of acres.
Case in Point: Nantahala Game Land is only one entity on the POTA map, but it is located in no less than six western North Carolina counties–dominating the majority of them, in fact.
If you have lived the majority of your life where you are now, you’ll likely recognize some of the names associated with the park entities in this list.
Regardless, comb through this long list carefully. Do an internet search on the park names and you’ll quickly discover roughly where the land is located
2. Make a spreadsheet of potential parks
On this sheet make column headers for at least:
The park name
The POTA designator for that park (K-6937, for example)
The travel time to the park
The geo coordinates of potential activation spots
I also added
How “rare” the park might be (how many times it’s been activated)
How easy access to the park might be
If it could potentially be a two-fer (meaning two POTA entities overlapping)
3.) Find an activation site with Google Maps satellite view
Now that you’re developing an activation plan (via your spreadsheet), and you’ve located all of the nearby parks, game lands, wildlife management areas, trails, refuges, etc. it’s time to research each entity and find activation sites.
Most states (and provinces, counties, regions) have sites that will help you find access points to public lands. Each state is different–some (like North Carolina) have amazing online resources, others may not.
If you can’t get the details you need online, don’t hesitate to call those public departments in charge of the lands and ask them about access points. They’re experts on the subject and often your taxes pay their salary. 🙂
To find game land activation sites in North Carolina, I first go to the WRC Map and click on a site. The WRC site will offer up maps and even indicate obvious parking and camping locations.
I then find public roads in/around the game lands and do a Google Map search (you can pick your favorite mapping tool).
I compare the WRC map with the Google map (side by side) and search for parking spots using a satellite view.
Here’s how to find the satellite view on Google Maps using a sample POTA site:
Find the park area based on public roads, then click on satellite view:
Now you’ll be able to see a bird’s eye view of the land:
When you zoom in, you often can identify a nice parking spot:
That’s how I do it.
Important note: of course, it’s incredibly important that you compare public land boundaries with your activation site and make sure you will, indeed, be on that POTA entity when you activate. While there are no POTA police–nor will there ever be–I personally want to be 100% sure I’m activating entirely within the boundaries of my chosen park. Google Maps can’t be trusted to indicate unit boundaries–one needs to compare the state or federal maps of the unit to be sure.
Next, I take those geo coordinates (map links) and embed them in my POTA spreadsheet.
Later on, when I decide to activate that park, all of my research is done! I simply grab my gear and go.
If you’re like me, you may be surprised how many potential activation sites there are in your region when you take a closer look at public land boundaries and access points.
I found at least five POTA sites within a 90 minute drive of my home that were ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) that no one had activated.
How do you research parks–?
I probably should not call this a “Pro Tip” because I’m not a professional!
There are many different ways you can find great POTA sites within your region. Please feel free to share your POTA procedure with us in the comments!
[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.
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!
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/
RAC MarCom Director
Radio Amateurs of Canada
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.
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!
[QRPers: Please note that the following is a re-post from my shortwave radio blog, the SWLing Post.]
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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!
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 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 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.
In 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.
I’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.
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.”
I’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.
The 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.
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).