June Contest Planning Underway!

Admittedly I don’t plan on tweaking as much as planned at this moment – I will definitively be running 50-1296 mhz at the moment. Definitely going to keep eyes open for transverters, and amplifiers in Dayton, no matter what I think at this moment it’s safe to say that it’s going to at least be that that spread at the moment. 6m will finally have a reliable antenna – I have one on order from a recently dissolved contest station that is a 3 element beam with collapsing elements… this was actually something I was planning on building during the upcoming months, however someone offered one up, and the price was right, so how could I not turn it down? This is a huge time saver for someone who’s free time is few and far between during most of the year, and hopefully alone should pick up the slack that I had in the last half dozen contests – a solid 6m opening puts crazy amounts of mults out there that just cannot be missed.

The other issue I’m attempting to address is logging – I’m thoroughly concerned that due to time issues I was having within RoverLog, this will lead to some points lost in the January contest. I’m hoping to transition it over to N1MM or N3FJP run via Windows Emulator on my MacBook. Being an Apple user when it comes to radio software is a little tricky – there are applications out there for logging, some really good ones too, but they just aren’t designed for contesting, and the ones that are aren’t setup for VHF/UHF Contests. I’d really like to get my hands dirty on this front and begin to develop something for iOS/Android over the next year or so, but given that I have very VERY little programming experience (as in I gave up at “Hello World” with Java, and have made a Random Number Generator with Python), this is going to be an endeavor. The platforms are ripe for picking in this front, but that’s down the road for sure.

All in all though, I think due to the assist I was given by other local hams in getting something good to go, January (despite the weather) went as well as it could – and June will be the best contest yet, I can feel it now. Even if I don’t add any more bands, I’ll be on location, and on the air on time, the question is what grids and what locations are going to be the plan to hit? This is the million dollar question.

 

Getting Started with Pi-Star: From Hotspot setup to Memory Programming

If you’ve been following my page for the last year, you will have seen at least a half dozen posts mentioning the Zumspot. It’s pretty much taken the digital amateur radio community by storm over the last year or so. I picked one up from HRO in Dayton/Xenia last year, had it up and on the air in a matter of a half hour or so – in fact it takes longer to assemble the case to put it in. For those unfamiliar, the Zumspot is a board that’s about the size of a stick of gum, it’s designed to work the the Raspberry Pi (the kits even come with a Raspberry Pi Zero to use it with).

The point of the Hotspot is to get you up and on the commonly used digital voice modes even in areas with no repeater coverage. They cover D-Star, DMR, C4FM (or Yaesu System Fusion), P25, and NXDN. In a lot of areas there is no coverage of any of these modes, less all of them, so for someone interested in trying them out, but not crazy about the idea of building up a whole repeater just to play around with the mode, these are a very cost effective method of getting into the mode, starting off at around $140 from Ham Radio Outlet for the whole Kit. It fundamentally works by receiving your RF signal in whichever digital mode/modes you choose, and transmitting it via the internet to the desired Reflector/TalkGroup/Room you choose.

A lot of people I know that have these have had the occasional hiccup with setup, or memory programming – I can sympathize with that as when I started this, I think I played around with the software for hours before it finally worked. Admittedly I’m unsure if the board even works with other software, as these boards all come with a memory card preloaded with the Pi-Star software, however having used other software such as Western Digital’s with other hotspots, I will say that Pi-Star is a much more straight forward, user friendly interface that, for the average user with no past experience with this type of thing, is pretty much just the way to go in the current digital radio landscape.

Let’s get started!

The first thing that we’re going to need to do before all else is insert the SD card that comes with the Board into the computer – this comes preloaded with the Pi-Star image which makes this easy. From there we can get you set up for wireless Internet connectivity. The Raspberry Pi (any model after the original) has built-in Wi-Fi, so what you need to know is your Wi-Fi’s SSID, or display name, and your password. Once you have that, we’re going to head over to https://www.pistar.uk and the website will look as it does below:

From here, we’re going to select the option in the left-hand column that says Pi-Star tools, and that will give you a drop-down menu, select Wi-Fi builder

It will bring you to the screen below – it provides good instructions on what to do from here. You enter your Wifi information in the circled area, and it will generate a WiFi configuration file that we will the drag and drop on to our Pi-Star memory card, and get the device up and running!

Let’s locate the file that we’ve created (should be in your downloads folder), we’ll drag and drop that into the SD Card that has our Pi-Star OS on it. For this piece simply follow the onscreen instructions, this is very well documented and easy to setup.

Once we’ve done that, let’s eject the card from the PC, insert it into our Raspberry Pi with our Zumspot board attached, and plug in the power! Be sure that you’re utilizing the Micro USB Port labeled for Power, if you’re using a Pi-Zero there are going to be two set right together – the outer one is the one meant for the 5v Power input. Wait about 30 seconds to a minute after plugging in, and then go to your PC/Tablet. If you’re utilizing a full computer, go to your internet browser and simply type http://pi-star however, if you’re utilizing an Android or iOS Device, go to your browser and type pi-star.local – after you click go/hit enter you’re going to be redirected to the “Dashboard”

From here, to begin setup, you’re going to go to the “Admin” button on the top row

You’ll be prompted for a username and password as it shows above – the default is as follows:

Username: Pi-Star

Password: raspberry

The first thing you’ll want to do before setting at configurations is fetching an update for the latest Pi-Star software, this will have any types of stability patches, security updates, etc.., so make sure you click the “update” tab along the top bar. It’ll run its course and reboot.

Once we’ve done our update, go back to the “Admin” tab to get setup! It will bring you to the following page once you select Admin

This is where the confusion comes in – what type of software are we having Pi-Star act as? MMDVMHost or a D-Star Repeater? Well, this I guess is only confusing for those that are D-Star ONLY users, but even if you’re using it exclusively for D-Star, you need to select MMDVMHost.

Below you’ll see the MMDVMHost menu, and it’s here that you select what modes you’ll be using – I use YSF (Fusion/C4FM), D-Star, and DMR, so I have all of those selected as active as you’ll see, and then click apply changes.

Next, you’ll input your Callsign, as this is what the node will need to be assigned to be able to transmit over the gateway, and your CCS7 (or DMR) ID.¬†This post is assuming that you have both registered your call, and gotten a CCS7/DMR ID, if you have not locate your closest D-Star Repeater and see if they’re setup for callsign registration, and go to http://www.dmr-marc.net/ to obtain your CCS7 number.¬†After that you’ll pick a frequency – BE SURE YOU’RE IN AN OFF SECTION OF THE BAND! Last thing you want to do is be in the middle of the satellite downlinks or something, and mess with someone’s Sat. contact. If you’re interested in utilizing DPRS to transmit your location with each transmission, as well as mark the location of your hotspot, you’ll enter the latitude, and longitude of your hotspot, and the location data it asks for below. In order for it to communicate effectively with the Pi, as well as to identify what you’re using over the gateway, select the drop-down menu for “radio/modem type,” and select your corresponding hotspot setup (as you’ll see mine is the Zumspot/Pi-Zero).

Another thing to note in the photo below is that each mode is already configured. When you check the various boxes for the particular modes after your information is in, there isn’t a whole lot else to be done. With DMR, specify that you’d like to utilize the gateway, and enable the brandmeister network, and you’re pretty much good to go. For D-Star you can choose a default reflector to link to on startup if you’d like, or if you don’t want to have it automatically link, just leave it where it’ll default to – should say REF001A and the manual box will be checked, meaning you have to tell it to link to the reflector. With Fusion, you just select a room to link to, and you’re done.

Click Apply Changes, and now, we’re ready to use it! When you save your settings, it should automatically reboot, you’ll lose your connection to the device for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then you’ll be back up and running, and ready to go! Now, it’s time to move on to the radio side..

D-Star with the Kenwood D-74

With D-Star the memory functions can be a little tricky, and while this is likely the most functional mode of all the commonly used ones today, the initial programming with an Access Point is a little tricky – the thing to remember is that we need to treat a hotspot just like a repeater, down to programming with an offset and everything. The kicker is that there is NO offset, so we have to remember to set the frequency shift to +/- 0.00 MHz. If you don’t do this, your memory will be tagged as skip, meaning any time you rotate the dial to access the memory, it will be skipped over in the repeater list. As follows are the step by step instructions for programming the Kenwood D-74. Other radios such as the Icom ID-31/51/5100/7100 all use very similar memory functions, the key point to remember with all of these radio’s is to set that +/- 0.00 MHz offset, otherwise it will not work with any radio.

Choose Write, and you’re all set! You’re on D-Star via Hotspot!

DMR with the CS-580

Programming your DMR HT is very straight forward – all that has to be done is presetting a memory bank for the Hotspot, and programming each Talk Group you’ll likely use in a separate channel. Set the TX/RX to the same frequency in the memory channels, and vary each one for each talk group. With the hotspot, while you can program an “unlink” command, it is not necessary unless you plan on just utilizing as a simplex repeater, every time you key up a new talk group, the Hotspot unlinks from the previous group, and links to the new one automatically. Below are step by step instructions for programming the CS-580 (BFXD HT), your mileage may vary as I only have DMR experience with this radio, and I’m unaware of how the software for the TYT MD-380, or Hytera radio’s works in comparison.

Save, and Write the Data to your Radio… We just have one more step! In a lot of cases the DMR radios that people use are Chinese radios that are cheaper, and not necessarily as clean on the spectrum.. So to accommodate this, we’re going to go into our expert settings, and open up the TX/RX sensitivity of Pi-Star.. This is done by clicking the Expert option at the top of the Admin menu.. You’ll be brought to the screen below:

You’ll be brought to another screen where the second orange line down says “Modem” – this is where we configure the offset sensitivity. We’re going to open that number up from 0 on both to -475 for both TX and RX as you see below

All other data can remain as is. Apply your changes, and reboot, and you’re up and on the air with DMR!

C4FM (System Fusion) with the FT-70D

Admittedly my experience with fusion at this moment is limited to dashboard control, and the little FT-70D, however having just gotten an FTM-400 I hope to change that soon. Fusion can be linked to rooms through direct input or dashboard, however up until recently the FT-70 did not support direct input. Programming is very simple however, be sure that your callsign is programmed into the radio, set the frequency for the Hotspot in your memory as a simplex frequency, and set the mode to digital. Write the memory, and you’re good to go! For the most part that is, from the Admin page on the Pi-Star dashboard you can change the room you’re linked to, and find out what room is which assigned number. When you know the corresponding numbers, you can program those into your radio, or directly input them to link to those rooms. If anybody has more information on programming radios for Hotspot use with C4FM, please feel free to comment.

Write it to memory by pressing F followed by V/M, press it again and type out what you’d like to name the channel, and press again to write, and you’re on the air on the Hotspot with Fusion!

I hope that this has been an informative post, and can be used as a tool for you in the future! And to make it easy to access in the future this will be a permanent link in the menu bar – this will remain a fluid post updated as new information comes along, but for the moment this is as up to date as can be!

January VHF 2019: Day 2 and Summary

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Day 1 was ended with 16 contacts, only a very few multipliers, and I was just generally in bad shape, but Day 2 was a completely different story. Instead of monkeying around with 6m, I just shrugged it off, the band wasn’t very open, it just wasn’t worth the time. I started off fairly close to home allowing me to get things resettled a bit before hitting my first grid (only 20 mins behind schedule!) – the roads were a mess, but this is why I drive 4×4 vehicles. Plows hated me for the first few hours I was out – I was well out of the realm of where they’d normally plow, but for some reason they decided I was in the way and made me move. I was able to find a new spot and rack up a few more points before we met up for our rover lunch. We quickly make a stop, eat some lunch, hammer out a handful of contacts, and get back on the road to hit our next grids.

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After the lunch activity, I headed down to FN12, which for me was a new grid that I do not normally work, and am I glad I did – the majority of the contacts that I made for this entire contest were from that grid! Not to mention that after having given up on 6m, I thought about the fact that I could try and go QRP with my new Yaesu FT-818 by attaching the BNC Duck and the 6m Element to it. I was able to pull off quite a few contacts this way – upwards of 60 miles from my site!

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All in all it wasn’t a bad contest, as I was about to pack up I peeked at the temperature gauge ad we were holding steady at -3… which didn’t make hanging out of the car to make those 6m QRP contacts easy! (Pictured is the 818 on the hood, had just made a contact on the other side of Rochester from about 40 miles away) Ending with a score of 24,840 I will say that while it was a dip of about 9400 from my score last January, it was an increase of about 3000 points from June, which I’ll take as a win. There are numerous improvements to make to the rover for this upcoming June, starting with 6m, and then working towards adding microwave equipment. I would like to, at a minimum, be capable of working up to 3456 in June reliably. This contest reminded me a lot of what it’s like climbing an Adirondack Peek in the winter – you’re cold, there are little things you have to pay attention to that don’t even phase you in the summer, you’re incredibly tired by the end and sometimes wait a day to put the equipment away, but it’s always fun to look back on it, and you’re excited to do it again.

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My first contest like this was June 2016, I had a mere 2100 points, and I think I only actually worked about 4 hours of time on the radio, and drove for 6. In June 2017, I put in a little more effort, and 6m opened up – happened to work down to DM32 from FN02 with a wire dipole that year! Last January was my first January contest, scoring 34,224 which was a fantastic first year to have. Wasn’t able to get near that score in June, scoring 21,758 in that contest. This June I’m aiming for 50,000, with hopes that I’ll shatter that – new plans in the works, hoping to activate extra grids early in the contest, as well as improve the antenna systems. We’ll see where it goes!

 

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A Fully Functioning Zumspot; Chinese Radios, and my seemingly unpopular opinion

Listen… We’ve all said some things we regret… I mean, I don’t necessarily regret saying that DMR Sucks, I think I just over reacted at the time because I couldn’t get my Zumspot working. Well, that’s all changed now! Now, this was actually a few months ago now due to the fact that I’ve pretty much been dead (according to my WordPress lack of activity that is) this last few months, but I’ll explain what the issue is for those with Chinese DMR Radio’s such as myself..

For starters, I have truly become a firm believer as of late that buying the cheap, off brand variety of something really isn’t worth it. Sure, it’s cheap right now, and you may not be able to swing buying the quality thing that you want right at this very moment. WAIT. Especially where it comes to technology. Pinch those pennies for a little bit, and just buy the quality item once. I learned this lesson hard with my phone(s) in the last couple of years. I used my iPhone 6 Trade in to get a Moto Z Force. That was supposed to be the top of the line Motorola Phone, if not the top end Android phone when it launched. It was supposed to be the best for any developer, our just someone who wanted better speakers, or a full, optical zoom camera or what have you. With all the cool “mods” that made the phone an awesome modular platform – fun fact, this was one of those many posts that died in draft land – but, a year and a half, three replacements, and a doggedly slow speed being the last straw, I rejoined Apple Land. But I digress… Chinese Radios! They’re still here despite the recent FCC scolding about them not being Part 97 compliant, and people were buying them in bulk for business, preprogrammed on a variety of frequencies, having no clue what they were interfering with. Not only are they still here, they’re still popular. And, to express a seemingly controversial, and unpopular opinion? Good.

It may seem as if I’m contradicting myself here with this, but I guarantee you that it serves a purpose. As a college freshman having just got my ticket, I had pennies to spend on radios compared to what I needed to have for something decent. A Yaesu VX-8 was kind of a pipe dream, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be on enough to make the $400 worth it. So, at the first ham fest I went to in Rochester, NY, over the July 4th weekend, I picked myself up my first radio, the Baofeng UV-5R. And when I bought mine, it was right when the craze was starting to really take off. The radio cost me $70 with the programming cable, an extra battery, speaker mic, and desktop charger, which I thought was pretty cool! I was a broke, going into college kid, and was able to get on the air. My dad gave me an Alinco DR-110 to put in the car, we installed it right where the Tape deck was with very little trouble. It actually seemed like my Malibu was built to have a radio in it somewhere. Not two months later, at another local hamfest, did I have an issue that broke my Baofeng though. I went to unplug the speaker mic, and the audio connection was stuck. I could transmit, but I just couldn’t hear anything unless I had something plugged into the speaker slot. I was able to get it exchanged under warranty, but knew that those radios were not meant to last. I could go into the details of how I sold a few things to buy a radio that was a steal of a deal, to sell that to buy another one, to then sell that to eventually purchase the Kenwood D-74 that I now use, but that’s a story for another time. I’m here to talk about hotspots, and Chinese digital radios.

Two years ago at the Dayton Hamfest, at the Connect Systems booth, I decided, hey, why not. They were selling BFDX DMR handheld radios that they’ve branded the CS-580. If they’ll brand it, it has to be a halfway decent product, and for $110 with the programming cable, I went for it. As far as build quality goes, I cannot complain about this product, it’s a sturdy radio for sure, in fact it reminds me a lot of a Yaesu in the way of how it feels, but without the price tag. That same year I received a DV Mega, that I had just gotten working not two weeks before we left for the hamfest, but since I didn’t have anything in the way of a case, portable display, or battery, I decided to leave it at home. As soon as I got back from the hamfest though, I decided that I was going to give it a shot. I plugged in the hotspot, but there was no TX/RX at all. I tried everything I knew of, but that was that. I called HRO, and they sent it away for repair… and… well, they still have it actually. And, since there’s little to no DMR coverage in our area, away the radio went until I could get my hands on another hotspot to play with it again. This year was that year, the year of the Zumspot! I’m a huge fan of this Hotspot, you cannot get much more plug and play than it is – I was on Fusion immediately, XRF D-Star Reflectors, but the others took some time… someone forgot to change their call sign in the gateway registry, so anything in the D-Plus network took some time to finally get fixed, but that has nothing to do with the hotspot, and was complete operator error. DMR on the other had, that was the tricky one. Why? Well, because of my Chinese radio. They transmit slightly off frequency, so in the settings you have to adjust the sensitivity +/- .400 MHz. I researched this for days, over the span of weeks, I racked my brain around for ever, only to eventually find this fact on a very similar blog post to this one, buried at the bottom of a long rant… kind of like you just did. All in all, after a few months of using it, hopping on a few DMR nets, one during pumpkin patrol even – which was very informative about how NY is one of very few states to partake in this activity, and many operators have no clue what this is – I can say with certainty that I now have a new appreciation for the mode, and that saying that it sucks is a bit of an overstatement. It’s fine, in fact I think that the UI allows more functionality than Fusion does at the moment, but when it comes to the tech, it doesn’t win over D-Star. I’ll keep it as my second favorite for the moment.

Sorry Fusion, you just took a demotion to something that I have to use a Chinese radio for.

Oh, and lastly, to wrap up the Chinese radios discussion, everybody has an opinion on them, but here’s my two cents. Sure, the cheap radios aren’t the greatest, but they’re a means to spark interest. For me, getting that radio and getting on the air was probably one of the most important moments in radio for me. I wanted something so I could hop right on, and I didn’t make much money teaching swim lessons to kids, and lifeguarding. I was also trying to save money for books for my first semester of college. What was available to me? An old, mobile, or HT that may not have even had a tone board, making it useless for local repeaters, and that I’d likely have to repair to get on, or the Baofeng. I chose the latter. While I still have my replacement one for the first one I bought, it’s not my primary radio anymore, I stated above how much I like the D-74, but had I not been able to get on the air for an affordable price, and eventually work my way to something much more functional, and reasonable, I don’t know that I ever would be sitting here now discussing all of this cool stuff, or going from Tech to Extra in a year and a half, and now considering trying to go for licenses from other countries even (yes, I’d like to take a shot at getting a VE3 this summer, since I can technically only operate under the basic privileges anyways). They’re not ideal, and if someone can afford something better they should definitely not buy the Chinese radio, but get one, play around with it, and then pinch the pennies for something better.

January VHF Contest Prep – 2019

Hi Everyone! So my grand plan of writing frequently hasn’t quite panned out as I had posted about – I still have a quite a few posts canned for publishing, I just need to read them over so I don’t sound like a complete dimwit… with that being said, it’s not really in the cards to get to those at the moment, but I thought I would make a quick post about how contest prep has been going!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a fellow club member assist me with the construction of a luggage rack mount for antennas, in addition I’ll be borrowing a couple antennas, and utilizing a few home built ones as well.. The goal of this? To cut setup time to virtually nothing but getting out of the car to add a few feet to the masts to give more height. This will definitely aid in the addition of more grids this year. In the past two years that I have really gotten into the rover form of contesting, or just contesting in general, I’ve done a few modifications here and there to make operating easier, but overall, I haven’t contributed much to aid my setup times, which would seriously help with the ability to add some more grids. I always go out with the plan of operating from four grids, but usually something happens, and I’m stuck operating only two or three if I’m lucky. This year, I’ll be shooting for five to six, but I’ll be happy if I can at least circle my four. The plan will be to operate three or so hours in a grid, and move on.

In addition, instead of hoping I’m typing the correct call in the dark, I’ve been able to get Roverlog, the software that I have been using on my tiny ASUS Transformer for the last four contests, running within my MacBook!! Meaning that nice illuminated keyboard will be at my disposal finally! In addition to that, I will be running WSJT-X for digital mode operation from the rover… assuming that the rig interface is still functioning well. That is something that I have been unable to test yet, as we’re in the middle of a move, and all the radios just were packed up as I got everything working well.

With any hope, so long as all is functioning properly, and I’m on the air on schedule, I think that this is on pace to be the best score yet in a contest for me, and if not, we’ll see what can be learned from this moving into June. Usually I’m scrambling the day before, but I think at this point I can officially say that even with this being near the bottom of the totem pole as far as current priorities, I’ve put more planning into this than previous years, and I’m incredibly grateful for the big save I’m receiving for getting antennas properly mounted for roving this year. As long as the remainder of this move goes according to plan, we’ll be right on track for the remainder of the contest planning, and ready when it’s go time!

Small Spaces, Small Antennas

I know a few hams that are in smaller apartment spaces, and let me start by saying, I fully sympathize. Out of the last three apartments that I’ve been in, I was lucky this time around, there is an attic crawlspace access panel that is easily accessible to me which allows for storage, and easy hanging of antennas. Before I was in apartments, I was in dorm rooms for a bit, and that was difficult. I made up a 2m/440 jpole to get on the air locally, it was matched using 300 ohm TV Twin Lead, and performed quite well. I’d simply tuck it in the corner of the room out of sight, and run a piece of coax to my mobile rig. In addition to that I had a 440 moxon antenna that I would place in the window. That would allow me to work clear into Toronto from Niagara Falls with no issue. I then built a 2m moxon that I would use for both 2m, and 440, as it had an SWR of less than 1.5:1 on 440. The 2m Moxon that I built in the dorms is still the antenna that I will take for my rover station from time to time… when I don’t quite feel like messing with the 14 element beam. (The rover redesign will be coming this year, and will be ready for January, stay tuned.) The moxon is a very small antenna, with quite a lot of gain, it’s a simple beam, with only two elements, a Driven, and a reflector, and when you’re limited on space is the way to go!

The two apartments I was in before the one I’m in now were not great at all. The first one was a two story townhouse rental, and while the space was great, it really didn’t lend well to putting any type of antenna out. I did, however, get creative with it.I started by putting a small stake into the ground, and clamped a 3/8 mount to that to get on HF, however that was pretty much laying on the ground, and I feared someone grabbing that while I was transmitting, so that came to an end quickly. After that, I would occasionally clamp some ham-sticks to the window for my HF usage, and strung a dipole antenna across the bedroom for 10m, however none of those were great solutions. Both are functional however. It was even worse though the following year. Basement level, concrete walled apartment. It was a pretty nice place, but absolutely no space for anything. On occasion I would setup a tripod, and my hitch mount for masts, run a feedline in though the window, and I would be able to try to get on 10m. I would run ham-sticks the same way, but that wound up similar to roving – always setting up and breaking down every time I wanted to get on the radio.

You probably started this thinking that I had a real solution, but I don’t… at least not for HF. In fact, I’m still going to tell you that your best bet is a small dipole or hamsticks strung outside, and if you’re not in a place where they’re okay with you leaving them out there, I would suggest pulling the rover setup situation – it’s good practice for if you ever want to get into that, but in addition, it really doesn’t take that long, as long as you have the ability to do it. For common repeater use, however, my solution is a little different. If you’re adamant on being able to just talk on repeaters, I suggest digital. Get yourself a small, DV hotspot – see Zumspot post – and get on digital voice! If the apartment is just in too big of a hole to get into any local coverage repeaters, you can link it up to your nearest digital repeater, and bam! You’re on the air! And better yet, if you’re in a yank to be able to chat all around the world, DV provides that with the linking functionality! Link to a repeater on the other side of the world, and have a conversation!It’s not the ideal solution, but it does get you on the air!

Field Day 2018 is here and gone – W2RCX Club Wrapup

It’s the largest contest of the year! The one with the most activity in North America at least. Though it being a contest isn’t what it’s all about. Field Day is meant to be an exercise in emergency preparation, and it’s a great exercise in communication, cooperation, and knowing what you can do in a pinch. In the last 4 years, we in Genesee County, NY have resurrected a club. While we have a small membership, we all meet the third Friday of each month and discuss amateur radio related events, and topics. Of course our meeting in June, which was a week before Field Day, was related to preparations we were making to ensure that we were ready to be on the air at 2pm kickoff of Amateur Radio’s biggest day in our neck of the woods.

Our station setup was at the Genesee Community College in Batavia, NY. Great vantage point for VHF/UHF communications (which never fully got on the air), as well as plenty of trees for us to run our dipoles, and couple of beams that we had. We operated as 3A, and we had our VHF station as well, in the night hours/wee hours of the morning, our transmitters went from utilizing all bands possible, to two of us being on the air, one running 40m CW, and myself running 80m Voice. At 2:30am, I was working my way through a pileup on 80m Voice, which is a little different for me. I don’t usually call CQ at night, I usually Search and Pounce, but with that being said I thought about how many other people out there are doing the same thing… somebody out there has to be the one calling!

Our setup was pretty much the same as last year, however working with the new location had a few perks – last year being our first as the “new” club, we were in search for a spot for a while, however we were able to use the Genesee County Fairgrounds, which worked great! Up until Saturday evening, when the racetrack nearby started up, and suddenly everyone had to slap on headphones. We had three motorhomes on site, two of which ran stations, one running an Icom IC-7100, and the other running a Yaesu FT-991. In addition, there were two large tents (one is on the other side of the GMC motorhome), one of which also had a 991 setup, and the other contained our VHF station running an Icom IC-9100. In the middle of the site (under the orange popup) was our little Honda generator which was more than enough to power all of the stations with no problem. For HF antennas we ran an 80m OCF, and a 40m Dipole, as well as a RadioWavz Scout, which is good on 10-40. For VHF, we ran a stack of Moxons for 6/2/220, and for 440/900 we had a few beams, however I won’t go into detail for those, as we never got VHF on the air beyond 6m.

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We were able to achieve a couple of bonuses, the first being contacts off of an alternative power source, which we were able to do using a solar charged battery. The second was by making a satellite contact, we were unable to get the initial contact on AO-92, however an hour after that attempt we were able to make a contact on AO-91 (video to come later, still needs to be taken off camera).

All in all we stepped up our game from last year, I haven’t compared our overall contact difference, but I believe that we were able to improve upon last year for sure. We had a few new licensees that we were able to get on the air with, and allow them to experience more than 10m on HF. In addition, though it was nothing like the VHF contest, we did have a small 6m opening to the South, and intermittently to the West, on Sunday morning, allowing us to work Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. I am a little bitter about how many stations simply flocked to 50.313, and solely used FT-8. With how open that band was – in and out, yes, but still open – there should have been more activity than there was.

We stepped up our game from last year, there are some improvements to be made going into next year in regards to station setup, software we want to run, etc., so I guess that means it’s time to start prepping for next year!

Quick note!

In case you haven’t noticed, all of these posts have been scheduled.. Some of them were written days in advance, and scheduled to be posted at 5pm the next day. I’ve been a bit busy prepping for Field Day this weekend, so while I have a bunch of half written posts, none have been reviewed, and none are slated to be posted this weekend. There will be live streams from our Field Day operation to my YouTube channel here. While you’re there, check out the video put together from my rover station in the VHF contest!

73!

Digital Radio Modes – DMR Sucks, and I’m going to complain about Fusion… but I like it more than DMR.

Anybody who has done anything on Amateur Radio bands lately, especially on HF and 6m, has noticed the sheer quiet that is the voice section. It’s the novelty of the FT-8 that still hasn’t worn off. We’ve had some pretty poor conditions as of late due to the poor sunspot cycle, but this month we’ve had some really nice openings all things considered. 6m (if you read my contest article) you’ll note that I continually seem to have issues getting to work. The January contest, and this past June specifically, but other instances as well. If you’re not into HF or SSB work, and you traditionally stay on HT’s, and Mobile rigs using repeaters, you’re likely sticking around FM, or one of the hodgepodge of current digital modes. I touched on this briefly in my previous article on the Zumspot Hotspot for Digital Radio. What you likely took away from that was that I thought it was a great hotspot for any mode, what I didn’t touch on was configuration… to which end has led me to virtually give up on DMR.

In 2017 at the Dayton Hamfest (first year in Xenia), I picked up a CS-580 DMR Handheld. Sure, it works fine simplex, but after a year, two hotspots, and only having one repeater in a reasonable distance from me, I’ve given up on the mode. I have made on, very brief QSO on the NA Talk Group, and that’s about it. It’s not incredibly difficult, however configuring DMR for hotspot use just isn’t entertaining to me, neither is DMR. Fusion (C4FM), and D-Star I can get behind. Fusion has its perks – it retains virtually the same bandwidth as an FM communication, and allows data to be added on as a transmission as well, GPS location, photographs, and text callsign are some examples. There is probably more that I’m missing, but in all honesty, I’m not an expert. I’m an amateur, and that’s the point. But where Fusion retains that bandwidth, D-Star shrinks it down to a fraction of the bandwidth, and allows a lot of the same data to be transmit. In reality, they’re quite similar technologies, both prevalent in the amateur community, especially with the rebates that Icom and Yaesu have been offering on their radios over the last couple of years.

For amateur purposes, I see both having benefits, and I’ve had people that are all in with both modes try to convince me of each ones advantages, and while I like Fusion and all, there are just a couple of things I can’t get past when it comes to the radios more than anything else:

1) Fusion IS proprietary… everyone claims D-Star is, but if it were, Kenwood would not have the D-74, and would be on its way down the drain, because in my mind, them adopting that mode is what has kept them a notable name in the ham market. The proprietary nature of the mode is kind of a turn off here, because Yaesu menus are not the easiest to navigate, especially their more intricate radio’s. While I own an FT-70, and it’s fairly straight forward, I still had to break open the manual to figure out how to access the menu, which I don’t like.

2) It’s a digital mode. I’m using a digital repeater. Both myself, and the station I am making contact with are communicating digitally. Why in the world is my radio switching from digital to FM when all I did was drive underneath a noisy power line? Thankfully this isn’t the norm on all radios anymore, at was the AMS mode, or Automatic Mode Select that would toggle the radio between digital and analog based on the incoming signal. All in all, it isn’t an awful feature… it’s just a bad feature that nobody really wants.

3) Lastly, no matter what Yaesu tells you about how great the infrastructure, and linking capabilities are, they’re lying to you. Repeater communication is always like a party line, but when you add in the concept of having no other linking option to a larger party line, it just becomes a headache. Fusion allows you the capability of linking to specific “rooms,” yes, just like your old chat room on AOL. They’re hosted nodes that you talk over using the digital mode, however this is the only linking capability that is there.

From a sheer usability standpoint, D-Star is the clear winner here. It allows direct repeater linking – yes, I, in WNY, could link to your local repeater in England, and we can carry on a conversation. Or better yet, I can enter your callsign, and talk direct to you! There’s a little more to it than that, but the ability is there. We’re only hogging up one party line in that case, not 3 (both local repeaters, and the reflector). Sure, the nodes/reflectors are available in D-Star, but it isn’t my only option as with both Fusion, and DMR. It’s really about personal preference in the end, but all in all, you can’t do too much with Fusion, and I want to play with this stuff! It’s a hobby for a reason, right?

 

Internet killed the RadioShack – Well… and our lack of wanting to actually do anything

First of all – I hope you sang the beginning of that title, and didn’t read it, I sat for a few minutes trying to title this in a way that could be sung to this tune. Secondly, who here likes to online shop? I’m going to guess that just about every single one of the two of you reading said, “Yeah!” enthusiastically. Who doesn’t? It’s so easy you don’t even have to get dressed! You can be eating, or drinking something, and about the only thing you have to worry about slobbing on is your keyboard and mouse! Fantastic! But for the electronics industry, it hasn’t been that great. Remember Circuit City? CompUSA? Media Play? Even Best Buy isn’t quite what it used to be, building noticeably smaller stores every time they open a new one. The fact of the matter is that nobody likes to venture out and socialize anymore when they purchase stuff, they know that just about every piece of merchandise that they buy online, whether it be clothes, electronics, toys, games, it can just about all be returned in 30 days for a full refund… who hasn’t taken advantage of that at one time or another?

Now, it’s not just for convenience sake, a few months ago I purchased a Tivo Bolt. I actually went to the store to buy it! I went into best buy, walked to the shelf where I knew they were keeping them, and they were sold out. I asked an employee if they had anymore, they told me that they were out, and I’d have to order it online! I went in that day because I’m impatient, and wanted it that day to try out! Inventory maintenance gets a lot easier when you’re operating an online business as well, when you’re shipping directly from the warehouse, or from a distribution hub of some kind, you don’t have to worry too much. If you’re doing a lot of online business, keep a bulk inventory and call it done. Sure, when it comes time to tracking the product it may be difficult, but when it comes to fulfilling orders you’ll always have plenty on hand. Online stores also open up the ability for you to bring on other products that may not be popular in areas where your stores are, however they may be popular elsewhere – in another area where people know of your store, but cannot necessarily make it there easily. You now have the ability to diversify product offerings, without having to potentially remove a cash cow from the shelf.

RadioShack was the last local go to for electronic mix and match parts. Sure, a PL-259 connector cost $4, the reducers cost $2, and they barely held a connection, but if you needed one in a pinch, they were there. Now if you need something like that, you can hope that the Walmart near you still carries CB equipment, SOMETIMES you can find a stray “patch” cord (likely RG-58, and it’s 50-100′) but that’s about it. That’s because not only the proclivity for online shopping has become so domineering, and electronic projects, and hobbies have become more and more about buying, and less about building from scratch. If you read my previous posts about the contest, building a functional antenna for radio is easy (Unless you’re me, and it’s 6m)! Setting up a raspberry pi is easy! Building a computer (as long as you can match parts) is fairly easy too! Why do we all have this aversion to building stuff? Now – I’m not going to 100% blame the demise of of Radio Shack on online shopping, the last one I was in before they all sold off to Sprint/closed, I had asked about getting a few SO-239 connectors, and he pointed me toward the HDMI cables. In addition, they really, for a while, scaled back their electronic parts section, and focused too much on cellphones, TV’s, and computer cables. They lost the makers.

Where was I going with this? Well, it’s simple really. While we all like to sit in our little nooks on our devices shopping for other devices, and parts (for the few of us left out there who like projects), what we have done is slowly choked the retail market. We’re all guilty of it. Retail spaces for just about everything are facing their demise, just look at Toys R’ Us and how they’re closing all of their stores, and they’re not the only ones. Over time we’ll definitely learn to appreciate retail space more, the ability to see what we’re buying before we buy it, but for now, we’ll have to watch it get worse before it gets better.