A Ham Radio Operator’s Night Before Christmas

santa_ham

by Gary Pearce, KN4AQ

T’was the night before Christmas,
And all through two-meters,
Not a signal was keying up
Any repeaters.The antennas reached up
From the tower, quite high,
To catch the weak signals
That bounced from the sky.

The children, Tech-Pluses,
Took their HTs to bed,
And dreamed of the day
They’d be Extras, instead.

Mom put on her headphones,
I plugged in the key,
And we tuned 40 meters
For that rare ZK3.

When the meter was pegged
by a signal with power.
It smoked a small diode,
and, I swear, shook the tower.

Mom yanked off her phones,
And with all she could muster
Logged a spot of the signal
On the DX Packet Cluster,

While I ran to the window
And peered up at the sky,
To see what could generate
RF that high.

It was way in the distance,
But the moon made it gleam –
A flying sleigh, with an
Eight element beam,

And a little old driver
who looked slightly mean.
So I though for a moment,
That it might be Wayne Green.

But no, it was Santa
The Santa of Hams.
On a mission, this Christmas
To clean up the bands.

He circled the tower,
Then stopped in his track,
And he slid down the coax
Right into the shack.

While Mom and I hid
Behind stacks of CQ,
This Santa of hamming
Knew just what to do.

He cleared off the shack desk
Of paper and parts,
And filled out all my late QSLs
For a start.

He ran copper braid,
Took a steel rod and pounded
It into the earth, till
The station was grounded.

He tightened loose fittings,
Re-soldered connections,
Cranked down modulation,
Installed lightning protection.

He neutralized tubes
In my linear amp…

(Never worked right before —
Now it works like a champ).

A new, low-pass filter
Cleaned up the TV,
He corrected the settings
In my TNC.

He repaired the computer
That would not compute,
And he backed up the hard drive
And got it to boot.

Then, he reached really deep
In the bag that he brought,
And he pulled out a big box,
“A new rig?” I thought!

“A new Kenwood? An Icom?
A Yaesu, for me?!”
(If he thought I’d been bad
it might be QRP!)

Yes! The Ultimate Station!
How could I deserve this?
Could it be all those hours
that I worked Public Service?

He hooked it all up
And in record time, quickly
Worked 100 countries,
All down on 160.

I should have been happy,
It was my call he sent,
But the cards and the postage
Will cost two month’s rent!

He made final adjustments,
And left a card by the key:
“To Gary, from Santa Claus.
Seventy-Three.”

Then he grabbed his HT,
Looked me straight in the eye,
Punched a code on the pad,
And was gone – no good bye.

I ran back to the station,
And the pile-up was big,
But a card from St. Nick
Would be worth my new rig.

Oh, too late, for his final
came over the air.
It was copied all over.
It was heard everywhere.

The Ham’s Santa exclaimed
What a ham might expect,
“Merry Christmas to all,
And to all, good DX.”

Digital Age Drama

by Tim Watson, KB1HNZ

Originally published in the Winter / Spring 2017 issue of The Radiogram

During the month of December, reports began to emerge that upper management of the popular software, Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD), had been blacklisting subscribers in retaliation for writing negative reviews. The story sent shockwaves throughout the amateur radio community, but also the business world. Many questions were raised, but the unavoidable theme was that the practice of retaliating against customers who write negative reviews – no matter how harsh the review might be – is unethical, and what HRD did was completely wrong. 

Reviews are essential to companies in order to gage customer satisfaction. They are also an important training tool to help businesses improve in areas that may otherwise go unnoticed. Chris Boeckelman writes in the article Why Unhappy Customers Are a Valuable Resource, that “Sometimes unhappy customers force companies to confront and solve problems that are negatively impacting their business. And those solutions can lead to major success.”

Companies like Apple, Ritz Carlton, and Zappos are well known for placing a high importance on culture and customer experience. This focus on culture has set them apart in their fields, and they serve as shining examples not only to their respected industries, but to the entire business world. Providing a truly exceptional customer experience has become trendy and profitable, so how is it that a company like HRD can survive if it doesn’t place its customers in such high regard? The answer, I’m afraid, lies in the simple fact that software companies that focus on ham radio are very few in number. It’s a niche industry that is unaffected by the traditional pressures of competition, which historically is what forces businesses – and individuals, for that matter – to either evolve for the better, or ultimately fail. 

HRD’s behavior emerges from an unrestrained arrogance, that they are in control of the marketplace. They forgot the basic principal that no matter how much control a company has, it is the customer who determines its success. With access to multiple review sites, social media, blogs, and forums, the customer is now more empowered than ever before, and they are not afraid to speak out when something is wrong. 

Another example of a marketplace that is anemic in competition, is that when the story began to break, QRZ.com (on which HRD is a major advertiser), attempted to protect them by removing negative posts. It’s not clear whether this was done at the request of HRD, but when evidence of this began to emerge, subsequent posts were allowed to remain. Similar advertising conflicts may also be why the story has not been picked up by the mainstream ham radio publications. But the important thing to remember is that when enough people are mistreated, whether by an individual, a company, or even a government, the truth will eventually find an outlet. 

Rules for Band Cops

by Tim Watson, KB1HNZ

Originally published in the March/April 2014 issue of The Radiogram

In a recent QST article entitled “More Views on Pileup Misbehavior,” the author expressed his opinion that pileups are more unruly now than ever before, and the reason for this is that hams who are calling a DX station have either a genetic predisposition toward conflict, or a complete disregard for the rules. I don’t know about about any of you, but my own experience from recent pileups doesn’t quite match this description. Sure there are always those few who continue calling even if the letters in their call sign are nowhere near what the DX station came back to, or when working split, there’s the occasional few who don’t get the message and call on the DXer’s transmit frequency instead. But these are rare exceptions. The biggest menace lately is the increasing number of what I call “Band Cops.”

Have you ever wondered who these people are? The fact is, we don’t know because they never identify. They sit on a DX calling frequency, (obviously without any intention of contacting the DX, since they don’t operate split). Furthermore, they have stations that most of us would probably envy, because their signals are almost always 20db over S-9! This makes you question why they don’t just work the DX station and move on, but instead they park themselves there for an extraordinary length of time, just waiting for the opportunity to pounce.

But why? What authority do they believe they have to “police” the bands, and for who’s benefit? Certainly not hams like me who are trying to work the DX but can’t hear them because there’s 3 idiots who are screaming “he’s working split! Up! Up! Up!” over and over and over. Most of the time I don’t even hear the so-called offending station – if there even is one! As far as I’m concerned, these “band cops” are causing intentional interference, and are the only ones breaking any laws.

What is the Solution?

Now, in order to best answer this question, let’s first identify the disorder that is at the root of this problem. “Band Cops,” we know, have or show a feeling of patronizing superiority. In psychology, this is called a Narcissitic Personality Disorder. Unfortunately, this is one of the three most difficult disorders to treat. It is definied as an ongoing pattern of grandiosity and need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. It should be noted that it’s three times more common in males than females. (which seems to hold true, since I’ve never heard a YL Band Cop). These individuals have an obvious self love, and they believe they are more knowledgeable and indeed an expert in “the rules of DXing,” among other things. Furthermore, they are usually shocked when they are not praised for their efforts.

The  QST article, which blames inexperienced and “unruly” hams for “Pileup Misbehavior” is unfortunately the kind of condescending and unhelpful nonsense that is actually the most damaging behavior in amateur radio today. It seems to me that if this were truly an issue, then the easiest way to fix it would be through education and support – something it doesn’t offer. It is more likely that this particular article, in a misguided attempt to deflect blame, is written by a card carrying “Band Cop” himself.

Since I’ve now shocked the “Band Cop” community by not praising their efforts, I will now attempt to explain my reasoning. The biggest being that you’re doing it all wrong! So, to help assist you in your future band-policing efforts, I’ve come up with a few simple rules:

Rule Number 1 – For a split operation, spend most of your day listening and transmitting on the DX sending frequency. On CW, if somebody calls on this frequency, right away, using your Vibroplex at 5 wpm, send: VP.. UG.. NP… UP (until you get it right).

This has three benefits:

A. Others waiting to work the DX station will be forever indebted to you for informing the offending station that the DX is working split.

B. The offending station will be grateful.

C. You will get some needed code practice so you can get over that 5 wpm hump.

Rule Number 2 – (For those with CW and Voice memory keyers, this will be easy). All you have to do is pre-program some macros with the words: “UP” and “LID.” For the more advanced operators, you can try “SPLIT” or “YOU IDIOT, WORKING SPLIT.” And don’t forget the simple, but effective “FU.”

Using the memory keyers for your days policing will save your voice. Should you happen, by chance, to have a QSO… you might need it.

Is DMR the Mass Adoption Phase Winner in Digital Voice?

dmr_banner

by Tim Watson, KB1HNZ

There is no question that DMR technology for hams has moved past the early-adopter phase and is now well into the mass adoption phase. The combination of an open source protocol and the availability of inexpensive, mass-produced Chinese DMR radios (in some cases for as low as $109 with a color display and free programming software), has made this possible. In addition to inexpensive new radios, there are a number of used, first generation Motorola and Hytera DMR radios for sale in flea markets. These radios perform just as well as the current models, but have less memory.

D-STAR, Fusion, and to a lesser extent NXDN, are all established digital voice modes, and are not going away anytime soon, but in many areas they are not experiencing any meaningful growth when compared to DMR. This is especially true for the Northeast. In New England alone, there are close to 80 active DMR repeaters, and this number is growing every day.

Because of Yaesu offering repeaters for $500 for a period of time, there were a few installed in the area (in most cases replacing existing FM repeaters), but from my experience, it’s been extremely rare to find anyone using C4FM, and in some cases these repeaters are operating in just FM mode, so the digital part isn’t even an option. It’s hard to say exactly why Fusion or D-STAR hasn’t taken off, (last time I checked there were only 3 D-STAR repeaters in Maine), but it probably has a lot to do with price. D-STAR and Fusion radios aren’t cheap, and without some assurance that there will be a repeater within range to use them on, it’s hard to justify the cost.

Unlike the other modes, there is also something unforced and organic about DMR. Its cutting edge, and yet, it still feels like ham radio. A lot of members of our club were early adopters, and have also explored uses for DMR in both the EmComm environment, and for SKYWARN. For SKYWARN, especially, the DMR-MARC network has been an extremely useful tool to gather weather reports from areas that are outside the range of typical FM repeaters.

For more information about DMR, click here to check out our DMR Intro web page.

4B4B – Socorro Island, NA-030 – Revillagigedo Islands DXpedition Announced

4B4B_696

According to DX World, Marco Gonzalez, XE1B will be active as 4B4B from Socorro Island, Revillagigedo Islands, NA-030 between March 1-15, 2018. QRV on 160-6m; SSB. QSL via XE1B direct, Club Log OQRS.

Click here for more information.

NASA on the Air Event Kicks off on December 11th

Saturn_5

The Amateur Radio clubs at various National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) centers around the US have invited the Amateur Radio community to join the NASA On The Air (NOTA) special event. NOTA gets under way in mid December 2017 and continues through December 2018. In addition to being the agency’s 60th anniversary, 2018 will mark 50 years since NASA orbited the first human around the moon, and 20 years since the first elements of the International Space Station (ISS) were launched into low-Earth orbit.

Starting on Monday, December 11, 2017 (UTC), Amateur Radio club stations at various NASA centers and facilities will be on the air with special event operations to celebrate these monumental achievements, as well as current milestones. Some clubs will offer commemorative QSL cards, and a special certificate will be available indicating the number of NASA club stations worked on various bands and modes.

Lunar_Lander

“We plan to have a web-based system for you to check your points total and download a printable certificate at the end of the event in December 2018,” the NASA announcement said. “Points will be awarded for each center worked on each band and mode (phone, CW, digital, and ‘space’ modes — satellites, meteor scatter, EME, ISS APRS).” That would, of course, include contacts with any of the Amateur Radio stations on the ISS.

Key anniversaries during NOTA include the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17 on December 11, 2017, which kicks off the event; NASA’s founding on July 29, 1958; the 20th anniversary of the ISS first element launch on November 20, 1998; the 20th anniversary of the ISS Node 1 Launch on December 4, 1998, and the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 — launched on December 21, 1968, and returned on December 27 — marking the end of the event.

Ham radio clubs at various NASA facilities will sponsor their own special events to commemorate and celebrate specific events.

Atlantis

“We hope to be on the air for casual contacts and contests as well. All contacts with NASA club stations will count toward your total,” the announcement said. “QSL cards can be requested from each club you work and details will be on the individual QRZ.com profile page for each club call sign.”

The following call signs will be on the air:

  • NA6MF – Ames Research Center, CA
  • NA6SA – Armstrong Flight Research Center, CA
  • NA8SA – Glenn Research Center, OH
  • WA3NAN – Goddard Space Flight Center, MD
  • NA1SS – International Space Station, Earth Orbit
  • W6VIO – Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CA
  • W5RRR – Johnson Space Center, TX
  • N1KSC – Kennedy Space Center, FL
  • KG4NJA – Langley Research Center, VA
  • NN4SA – Marshall Space Flight Center, AL
  • TBD – Stennis Space Center, MS
  • W4WFF – Wallops Flight Facility, VA
  • N5BL – White Sands Complex, NM

 

RAC Canada 150 Award

RAC150_600

We are now entering the final month of the Canada 150 Celebrations and the last few weeks to work the RAC special event stations and other special call signs.

The RAC Canada 150 Award is a celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday since Confederation in 1867. The Award is issued for contacting RAC stations between July 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017.

As of December 11th, these stations are scheduled be active throughout the month:

VA2RAC – André Perron, VE2ZT, will operate every weekend until the end of December on various band from 80m to 6m.

VE1RAC – Bob Schofield, VE1RSM, Fred Archibald, VE1FA, Helen Archibald, VA1YL and Scott Nichols, VE1OP, will activate VE1RAC for the rest of 2017.

VA3RAC  Rob Noakes, VE3PCP, will operate VA3RAC from Friday, December 8 until Sunday, December 10.

VE4RAC – Cary Rubenfeld, VE4EA, assisted by other Winnipeg Amateurs, will be operating as VE4RAC from time to time until the end of the year.

VE5RAC – Bj Madsen, VE5FX, is operating as VE5RAC on 20m SSB during the year.

VE6RAC – David Gervais, VE6KD, will operate from December 4 to December 10 and Gord Kosmenko, VE6SV, from December 11 until December 31.

VE7RAC – Fred Orsetti, VE7IO, has organized the following volunteers to operate the VE7RAC call sign for the rest of the year: Doug Pichette, VA7DP, Gabor Horvath, VE7JH, Al McNeil, VA7QQ, John Mackay, VE7RB, Al Ross, VE7WJ, Jim Smith, VE7FO, Rebecca Kimoto, VA7BEC, Koji Kimoto, VA7KO, Brian Summers, VE7JKZ, John White, VA7JW, John Schouten, VE7TI and Fred Orsetti, VE7IO.  A schedule is provided below.

VE8RAC – Gerry St Amand, VE8GER, operated from his cabin near Inuvik in the Northwest Territories until December 8.

VE9RAC – Jean-Paul Leblanc, VE9BK and Marcel Leblanc, VE9ML will be activating VE9RAC for the rest of the year. Andy McLellan, VE9DX, is also operating as VE9RAC on digital modes only.

VO1RAC – Boyd Snow, VO1DI, RAC NL Section Manager, has organized several RAC members across Newfoundland to activate VO1RAC as follows:  Ken Tucker, VO1KVT, from December 3-9; Dave Parsons, VO1COD, from December 10-16; Chris Hillier, VO1IDX, from December 17-23; and Boyd Snow, VO1DI, from December 24-31.

VO2RAC – Nazaire Simon, VO2NS, from Labrador City and Chris Allingham, VE3FU/VO2AC, who will be operating a remote station in Goose Bay from Ontario, will be operating as VO2RAC for the rest of the year.

VY0RAC – Mike Shouldice, VY0CF, will operate VY0RAC until December 31.

VY1RAC – Allen Wootton, VY1KX, will operate VY1RAC until December 8 and David Musselwhite, VY1XY, will operate from December 17 to December 23 and in the RAC Canada Winter Contest on December 30. A schedule is provided below.

VY2RAC –  Greg McCormick, VY2MP, Ron Huybers, VY2HR and Ken McCormick, VY2RU, will continue to activate VY2RAC through the end of 2017.

RAC150certificate_600

In addition, there are efforts to have all 14 RAC stations active for the RAC Canada Winter Contest, on December 30th.

Click here for more information about the RAC Canada 150 Award.

SKYWARN Recognition Day 2017

SRD_2017 Waylon McDonald KC1HJN (background) operates the HF station, while Eric Emery KC1HJK operates the VHF station at NWS Gray, ME

by Tim Watson, KB1HNZ

On Saturday, December 2nd, the WX1GYX team participated in SKYWARN Recognition Day from the National Weather Service Forecast Office, in Gray, ME. Activities started at 8pm on Friday evening (0000Z Saturday), and continued for 24 hours.

Now in its 19th year, SKYWARN Recognition Day is a popular on-air activity that was developed by the National Weather Service and the American Radio Relay League. It celebrates the contributions that volunteer SKYWARN radio operators make to the National Weather Service. During the day SKYWARN operators visit NWS offices and contact other radio operators across the world.

SKYWARN Recognition Day 2017 was a fun event and perhaps our best so far! WX1GYX made 315 QSOs in total, on 4 different bands, including 44 different states, and 29 different NWS Offices/SKYWARN Clubs!

Operators included: K1GJY, KB1HNZ, KC1HJK, KC1HJN, & N1KTA

Among the 5 operators, there were three returning and two newly licensed hams, who were participating for the first time.

Thanks to everyone who got on the air during SRD, and also to those who contributed throughout the year!

Electronics Course in Kennebunk

In early 2018, the New England Radio Discussion Society will sponsor a free, basic course on electricity and electronics for Radio Amateurs and interested community members.  Course attendees will meet at the New School in Kennebunk every two weeks in the evenings for two-hour sessions with 45-minute review discussions on alternate weeks.

Alex Mendelsohn will conduct classroom sessions with adjuncts providing presentations to enhance course material. For more information and scheduling, contact Alex at alexmm@roadrunner.com or 967-8812.

Youth CW Academy Pilot Program

by Rob Brownstein, K6RB

The Youth CW Academy program has been brewing for about two years, now, and it is finally ready to be launched. CWops is sponsoring a CW Academy program aimed squarely at young people. The pilot program will begin in January 2018.

For the last 50 years, ham radio has been ageing. The average age of a licensed operator is now above 60 years old. In contrast, back in 1960, the average age was just below 30. The ARRL points to the increased number of licensees, these days, but the real question is how many remain committed to radio? The HF bands are notable for the decline in daytime activity with the exception of DXpedition pileups and contests.

True, young people have many distractions in their daily lives – school, social media, smartphones, games – so for years the appeal of ham radio among the youth has been waning. Teenagers, today, are not wowed by wireless communications the way we baby boomers were wowed. Nearly all of them have a wireless transceiver in a pocket. So, 2 meter handi-talkies, repeaters and the like have little long-lasting appeal. And, frankly, neither does HF phone or RTTY.

We have found that a reasonable number of teens and sub-teens, however, are attracted to CW. It shares many of the qualities of texting, which is something a lot of them do, routinely. So, the time appears ripe to entice young folks to ham radio by virtue of its Morse Code heritage rather than the now jaded magic of wireless technology. Does it really matter why they may flock to HF CW? The truth is if we can get a sizable number of kids on the air, on HF, using CW, we have a shot at rejuvenating a hobby that would otherwise be unlikely to exist in 25 years.

So, here’s our chance to embellish CWops’ already noteworthy CW mentoring efforts by launching a program expressly for young people between the ages of 11 and 19.

The Plan

In the short term, Youth CW Academy will borrow from our very successful CW Academy Level 1 program and offer a Level 1 for kids. The syllabus will be essentially the same but the makeup of the groups will be different. Here, in addition to grouping by time zone the students will also be grouped by age zones. There will be three such zones: 11-13, 14-16, 17-19. Ideally, no student will be in a group with someone more than two years younger or older. From the beginning, they will be encouraged to work in teams. The goal will be to impart CW skills and build groups of young ham friends. The pilot programs will be exclusive to already-licensed applicants – especially no-code technician licensees. Later manifestations will be also include unlicensed applicants who will learn CW skills and license-test knowledge, simultaneously.

For the first pilot program – Jan-Feb 2018 – we will try to establish up to five groups of five students, 25 students in total. There will be enough advisors, for now, to handle that many groups. We will repeat the pilot program, again, in April and May 2018. Then, over the summer, we will roll out (hopefully) a full-blown program that includes both licensed and unlicensed applicants. In addition, the full-blown program will include an equipment loaner program so that graduates will be able to get on the air right after graduating. For students who already have equipment, we will just mentor them to get them up to speed. For those who cannot afford equipment, we will offer a loaner program that includes donated HF radios and club-provided portable HF antennas.

Moving Forward

We will begin accepting applicants from 15 November through 15 December. The application should be emailed during that period. Applications should be emailed to: k6rb58@gmail.com and the header Youth CWA should be used for easy spotting. The information should include the following:

First and last name
Call sign and license type (e.g. tech, general, extra)
Age
Time zone (EST, CST, MST or PST)
Email address
Telephone number

For now, applicants will be restricted to North America (US/Canada). When we begin adding license-test preparation, non-licensed applicants will be restricted to US applicants while we expand the test-preparation program.

How You Can Help

If you know some young licensees between the ages of 11 and 19, let them know about the Youth CWA program, and encourage them to apply. If you are interested in advising a YCWA group, let me know (k6rb58@gmail.com). If you are interested in mentoring graduates to help them get up to speed on the air (helping to set up stations and antennas), let me know that, too.

We hope to begin a loaner program by Sep-Oct 2018. Toward that end, anyone who has a working HF rig capable of CW operation, preferably 100 watts power, please let me know that, too. I am planning to establish a non-profit entity for rig donations that will allow for a modest tax write-off for your donated gear.

Please email me with any questions you may have about the pilot program.