From KD2CJR/R to K2ET/R: The brief history

June 2015 was the first VHF contest that I took place in… in fact it was pretty much the first contest outside of one CQWW, and a handful of Field Day events that I had participated in – while that was a mere 4 years ago, a lot has changed in that time. I had minimal equipment, an Icom IC-7100 as my main rig (still is) to get me through 6m, 2m, and 70cm, with a Yaesu VX-7 HT that I had recently added to replace my Baofeng filling in for 220. I was in college still, didn’t really have any disposable income to part with for any of my hobbies – not that I have a ton now, but knowing a deal, and how to buy and sell is something that has come over time too.


This was the first iteration of the rover – I utilized bungee cords with fiberglass masts off of the front grill of my Jeep, and a pair of 2m and 70cm Moxon Antennas I had been using for the last year in my dorm, and had just setup in my new apartment. Using the top of the mast and a nearby tree, I strung a 6m dipole, but having not tested it beforehand, I noticed that the SWR was through the roof, I tweaked it a little to get it down to a reasonable point. The 2015 contest really just became a little day and a half road trip from Niagara Falls, to Erie PA, as I didn’t really plot much of a course other than the next grid. As evidenced by the photo here I had no clue what I was doing, this was in Whirlpool Park on the Niagara Escarpment – loads of trees in the way, worked maybe four stations? I made maybe two dozen contacts in the entirety of the contest, and completely forgot to even submit a log as I paper and pen logged, and missed the deadline. While I didn’t really put any of the time or effort into this, it just gave me the itch to try this again with a little effort.

June 2016 unfortunately didn’t yield much better results, however the setup didn’t really change, the effort however did. I hit three grids, and actually put in some operating time… well kind of. I was still using my Moxon for 2m/432, and a dipole for 6, but I also had a vertical on the front of my Jeep at the time, and with the right opening that helped pickup some unique grids! For 223, I was still utilizing a Yaesu HT, but my mobile antenna at least supported 220, so I had a bit more gain. In this contest I also had the advantage of having picked up a hitch mast holder, and while I didn’t have it setup in a way I could leave it up while moving, meaning at least 20 mins of setup time a stop, I at least wasn’t using bungee cords, and scuffing up the grill on the front of my Wrangler! For this contest, given it was only my second go around, I took those 2100 points with stride. For such a small setup, I didn’t think that was half bad for a new Limited Rover!


June 2017 was a little better – having been in our apartment for a little while I decided that our storage compartment could hold a 14 element 2m beam easily…. well… I drastically underestimated how large a 14 element beam was… the package alone would barely fit in the doorway. I did find a way to disassemble it just enough to get it in and out of the door for testing, but the tear down and setup of that at each stop was a bit much. I did it anyways, but as soon as the wind picked up, my dipole for 6m broke from catching on the 2m when it took a gust, I just called it a contest then. I was also roving with a broken rear window at the time due to needing to change a hinge at the top and having it shatter in my hands while trying to fix it.

Jun 17 - 1

June 2017 actually wasn’t half bad either, and while I did do the Grid Blitz with my club, for some reason I thought I may have a chance to place well within the Limited Rover category, so I submitted all of those contacts as a Check Log, so they did not go towards my score, but served as contact verification for my club members as we utilized additional bands. Looking back this was a huge mistake, and I probably could have wound up with a half way decent score. I was looking at this as improvement though, I more than tripled my score in 2017, ending up at 6,408 in the limited rover category. The coolest part of this contest though was the 6m contact that I made – way out to DM32 on that little dipole! This would be my last contest as KD2CJR – in December of 2017 I was granted the Vanity Call, K2ET.

Fun fact: my drivers side door also broke during this contest – when I arrived to FN03, and decided that it was too windy to try to balance the 2m antenna to put it up, I hadn’t fully closed the door. A wind gust caught the door and blew it so hard, the strap that kept it from flying a full 180 degrees open snapped, and the door banged into the front fender..

Jun 17 - 2.jpg

Moving into 2018 I wanted to push this effort and expand, I now have a half of an idea of how to go about all this…. but… I was now having car troubles. I figured it still had a bit of time in it, but little did I know that this would be my last contest in the old Wrangler. In 2018 I participated in my first January contest. Borrowing a microwave setup for 2304, and 5g, not wanting to fumble with that 14 element beam again… especially in a WNY Winter… so I went back to the moxon for 2m/432, and had built one up for 223 as well.

Jan 18 - 4.jpg I had picked up a 902/903 radio back in September from a club member, and had a small beam to work that with, and was borrowing an Icom ID1 for 1296 that I merely used a mag mount for.

Jan 18 - 2

I thought that this was a pretty tidy setup, and something that I could carry over to any vehicle, I glued a piece of shelving to a bin lid, and was able to secure the control heads and any external speakers to this. Any full sized radios would go below the control heads, and this left room for a laptop, and paper and pen… as well as a coffee. The back of a car can be a little cramped, but with no back seat, there’s pleny of room to sprawl out, and make it work. This was my first contest Digitally logging as well, and while I did not have any issues with the software, I did have some battery issues – and just for sheer entertainment value, since it was such a sunny contest which is a complete oddity for WNY, I ran the laptop via a Solar Trickle Charge.Jan 18 - 3.jpg

While I didn’t quite put the effort into setup that I would have liked, I did however commit the operating time. I wound up scoring over 34k points in this contest which I was incredibly happy with, and remains my best score to date of any VHF contest!

The old Wrangler frame was to a point where it probably shouldn’t be driven anymore by May (still for sale if anybody is interested!), which was awful come June. Luckily, I was able to borrow a vehicle to still get on for the contest (thanks to my dad, N2OA)! Now this was by far the most pieced together iteration of the rover to date as I had absolutely no clue what I was doing here, and knew nothing was going to be a fixture by any means, and building something specific made no sense as I had no clue what the car situation was going to be. This was one of those, grab what I can, and throw it on the air times.


This started off with a nice 6m Moxon on the top of the mast, and while I had the larger 2m antenna, that was just a bear to haul, especially when you’re trying not to scuff up the vehicle you’re borrowing! So it was over to Moxon’s for 2m/440, and 223, and running beams for 902, and 1296, but also using a mag mount as backup. Sadly the 6m Moxon just didn’t have the integrity utilizing smaller PVC to make it light, so it was back to the 6m Dipole pretty quickly… which then started to give me troubles, and I wound up just giving up on 6m entirely.


I somehow (absolutely no clue how) was able to eek out a score over 21,000 with the monstrosity that was solidly held together by gorilla tape, and sheer will… though as you can see below the desktop style setup carried over nicely here, too! For more on this contest, click here: It’s Over, Rover – a Detailed Summary of the June VHF Contest 2018 from K2ET/R


This year, 2019, I was in the middle of moving, and didn’t have much of a desire to get on for the contest in January, but a fellow club member encouraged that I should get on to push the club effort since it’s our 70th Anniversary. With a new car, and no plans I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do. The same club member that lent me the 2304 and 5g setup offered to build up a roof rack, and lend me a rotor, and Log Periodic Antenna to cover from 2m-1296, all I had to do was figure out 6m, throw the 902 antenna up there for additional gain, and I was set! I said I’m in! So, as soon as that was constructed, I drilled out the holes to feed U-bolts through to fix this to the luggage rack of my new vehicle (2014 Jeep Patriot – purchased with roving in mind!), and we were set!


Since he built this up for me, I figured I should definitely put in the effort to try and maximize my score for the good of the club! Mother nature had a slightly different idea. Western NY was under a travel ban for the entirety of the contest… did that stop me? No.


Did it prevent me from attending our little Eastern Grid Blitz? Yes. But that’s okay, I found a few nice spots in the local two grids to hammer out contacts, and truly only activated three grids, but I did attend our Western Grid Blitz eeking in a fourth. After some logging hiccups with utilizing Roverlog on a different computer than normal, and log checking reports with this, I wound up with a score just over 21k. A 13k point drop from the previous January, but I’ll just blame my eternal 6m problems, and mother nature for that one… and somehow my log switching over to manual time keeping instead of automatic. For more on this past January Contest, click here: January VHF 2019: Day 2 and Summary


While I had big plans for this June, it seemed like stuff just kept getting in the way.. I won’t go into too much detail about the June contest, as you can read about it here June VHF 2019: Poor Score, Fun Run, but the setup used in January was broken out again, and this time I utilized a 3-element beam for 6m. This was a huge advantage compared to previous years, the beam actually has gain, and… well.. it didn’t malfunction! What this past June did show me is that it’s time to upgrade the Coax. I’ve been using RG-8X everywhere, and while that’s okay on 6m, for the other bands it’s time to start feeding it with something like LMR-400, especially if I’m planning on getting into the microwave bands a little more.

This year, so long as all plans stay as they are now, I’m planning on participating in my first September VHF contest as well. I know activity tends to be a little less (based upon research of past logs), but with all functioning well, and assuming I don’t lose much operating time in this one, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of score I can post, and if I can find spots in some unique (at least to me) grids to activate..

2020 will mark 5 years of doing this, and I’m planning on doing a few little different things to change this up, stay tuned!


June VHF 2019: Poor Score, Fun Run


June VHF 2019 wasn’t quite what I was hoping for out of the contest. I was looking to go bigger than the last couple of years, and hoping to break the 25,000 point barrier I’ve kind of made for myself over the last couple of contests. While that didn’t happen, I really can’t complain about the overall score. I was away for work the entire week before, so I didn’t quite get to put in the prep time that I was hoping to, however the new 6m antenna was put together, a full 3 element beam, that I would just bring the elements in for driving, and I could have them pulled out in about 5 mins after arriving on site. This was assembled, and on the rover rack set to go! I had more issues finding the U-Bolts to connect the rack to the luggage rack – off to the hardware store I went!

I was unable to attend our club’s Rover Grid Blitz Lunch on Sunday, however a few of us did hit an Eastern Grid Line in the first hours of the contest, which helped a little. I’ve never activated FN22 and FN23 before so this was a great opportunity to scope out the area a bit, as I’m hoping to make some big plans for next year’s June contest!

We found a nice little spot out of the way, did our quick exchanges, and parted ways – even the two hours we were there felt like an eternity though, in between bands I’d switch my main rig over to 6m, and right off the bat we had a clear opening south, so I was getting a little antsy, but we’re in it for the club, and for fun, so while I was waiting I’d throw a call out on 6 using low power since my antenna elements were still in from the drive, and the antenna wasn’t in tune. Within the first hour of the contest I nabbed a handful of 6m contacts.

Once we completed our little roundup, I moved up to a hill in FN23, however the band seemed to have quieted down a little bit. I hammered out maybe a half dozen contacts in unique grids, tried to sked a few out toward club members, however nothing was happening, the spot just didn’t have coverage in the direction I needed, so I hit the road.


Unfortunately the bad part about activating out there first is that I burn some of the best on air time getting back to my home grid. Around 7:30 pm I’m on location in FN02, and finally back on the air, and that’s a great thing, because 6m is just starting to liven up with activity… on voice no less! I hammer out a few quick Q’s, but then my SWR jumps, radio power cycles, all the good stuff you expect from me and 6m during a contest. The new 3 element beam, that I tested weeks before the contest is giving me trouble? Come on! Well, I fiddle around with the power levels, and notice that it doesn’t really give me issues at 50w, so I just turn the power down and keep calling (not the brightest move in the world), I’m being too impatient to actually think this through given the amount of time I killed driving. The wind blows the right way, and the audio peaks. Strange… I start actually mulling this over, and climb up on the roof to look at the antenna, and in less time than it took me to actually hoist myself up there, I notice that the connector is loose. Go figure! It’s a simple fix!

6m gets all squared away, and I’m back on the air! I work the bands with some people, and make a few more contacts, but I really end my night at about 24 contacts outside of our little grid blitz – one of which was an impressive South Western Michigan on 2m Digital!

The following morning I head out to FN12, my site out there has a pretty clear shot in all directions, if anything I at least have the height on my side. This is where I notice a wide array of activity on 2m digital in the morning. I make some contacts there, move over to 6m, and pull some voice contacts out, but the band just isn’t as open in the morning, so I make a bunch of contacts with some of the local contingent, running the bands, and pack it up for a family commitment for the early afternoon..

I tried to get on the air in FN13 afterwards, trying out a new spot that isn’t as far of a haul as my usual FN13 location (usually I’ll start my morning way out in FN13), but the spot yields not much else other than wasted time on my part. I did attempt to move somewhere with higher elevation, but no positive results. I wind up with maybe 10 Q’s in a matter of two to three hours operating out there, the location was good in theory, having a decent shot to the East (in one location) or West (in the other), but wasn’t very productive.


I decide to head back towards my QTH, as my usual stop in FN03 is on the way, this always has positive results, and did not disappoint – with a band opening on 6 again, and the locals out in force, I quickly gather up around 50 QSO’s in the same amount of time where I could barely eek out 10 in the last place. Stations were picking me up on 223, finishing a Q with another station, and then we’d work a few bands, just the way it should be, THEN! I start to have RF issues again… as always, without fail. It’s always near the end. And at this point I’m just exhausted from all of the driving I’ve done over the last two days, I still haven’t recovered from my week long training before, and after about 20 mins of fiddling with connectors, cable, antennas, RF decks, switches, inverters, you name it, I decide that’s enough. I pack it up, and head out. On the way home, I pull over at the grid line, break out the HT’s, put out a call for those that didn’t work me in my home grid when I roved in it the prior day, and called it a night.


For the lack of effort that I actually was able to put in, I really cannot complain with my score of 17,650. It was a ball to work so far West on 2m, even if it was just FT8. The 6m opening led to a lot of Southern contacts on both voice, and FT8. It was nowhere near where I wanted to be, around 4000 points shy of my January score (after log checking), though I put considerably more effort into January. I could complain about all of the people that are just hovering on the 50.313 and running so many FT8 contacts when the band is perfectly open, but I do understand when it’s so sporadic, and you know that you’ll be able to make that digital contact. Moving into next June I’m planning on doing a 7 grid run, and adding the gear I was unable to for this year. If it weren’t for the January weather that we have around here I would probably attempt that run then, but while camping out in the -10 degree weather does sound fun, it becomes very difficult to keep a battery charged in those temps.

January Log Check Reports

While the full line results aren’t published yet, it appears as though the January contest log checking records are available. While I was nervous about losing points due to potential logging issues, it wasn’t necessarily as bad as I thought it was going to be. I lost right around 1000 points, winding up at 22,800 as my final score, my listed claimed score being slightly less that I had jotted down in my notes. Surprisingly, this wasn’t due to any timestamp issues, or incorrect call inputs, but do the duplication. Probably a matter of my forgetting to clear the ‘call’ field of roverlog when logging a new contact, or forgetting to change the band that I was operating on – the latter seeming more likely. In any case, this leads me to question whether I should be trying to change my logging software up, or just attempt to pay more attention moving into June.

I thoroughly enjoyed the set up that I had running, I was running RoverLog off of my MacBook in Wine, and WSJT-X for digital modes. Didn’t have any issues with speed, or power – running out of juice an an inopportune time was kind of my fear running this computer as I only ran short spurts of charging between setup points due to the inverter(s) used being so heavy in RF noise, at times producing an S9. The previous two in one that I had been running in the last couple contests allowed for micro USB power, which allowed me to charge much easier on the go, and additionally utilize rather large portable battery packs to keep it boosted when it seemed like power may be getting low. The issue with that device, was just how small it was. Running a full version of Windows on a 10″ screen with a non-illuminating keyboard was a little difficult, especially when it began to get dark. Running Logging software, as well as attempting to operate FT-8 or my quick attempt at MSK-144 is just too difficult on a screen so small. Not to mention the fact that it’s running Windows 8.1 – should really at least upgrade that to Windows 7… yes, I did say that correctly.

In any case, something to definitely look at moving into the June contest, I know the issue was purely operator error, and therefore it gives me something to correct, and work towards! One of my complaints about RoverLog is that while it does flag duplicates, it merely highlights the text and moves on. A likely alternative I may consider is operating the ASUS for Logging, with either RoverLog, N3FJP, or N1MM, and also running the Mac for Digital – as digital is something I do not utilize until it gets later, I can detach the physical keyboard of the ASUS, and use the touchscreen for easier input. Too many ideas, too little time. Trial and error over the next few contests will be key… that is until I decide to try something completely different next year!

It’s almost Dayton time!

That time of the year is almost here… Dayton! Time to be a kid in a candy store! This year I don’t have a whole lot on my list, although the last two years I have not so that’s not much of a change. Usually it’s one of those things where I don’t realize I need it until about a week after the Hamfest, or in most cases until… well… I need it. This year I have three objectives:

1) Attending more Seminars: I try to make this my goal every year, but I usually get lost in the abyss that is the flea market, or sucked into wandering Mendlesons or one of the other outlets with clearance goods that I probably don’t need, but wind up finding myself looking at anyways. Not this year! Thanks to the release of the new app, I’ve been able to go through and find some of the ones that I’m interested in attending beforehand more conveniently, allowing me to go in with more of a plan than normal. I’m planning on attending Five, however the likelihood of attending more than two or three is slim as I’ll likely get distracted somewhere else.

2) Better outfit for Rover operation: January, and June VHF Contests are my primary operation times – sure, I could play around anytime really, however I have really enjoyed my time getting to work with my local clubs and getting on the air, and racking up the contacts! These two contests I dedicate the weekend to, and enjoy every minute of it! So long as I don’t decide to make additional plans, I may even pickup the September contest this year, which would be a new one for me. We’ll see how everything shakes out though. Finding some microwave transverters and adding some more bands would be nice, however I am content with running 6 band in June. I’m really looking for anything that may help with organization of the radios, and comfort while operating. I had so much help this past January with getting the rover fast, it’s time to get the rover a little more practical than the desk setup that takes 20 mins to batten down between stops.

3) Base Station Activation: Having moved into a new house in the last few months, I have had very little time to operate from home. With that being said I have still had some, and currently just have a wire dipole thrown up in the back yard for the moment. I would like to change that, even if it’s just a vertical for the time being, really just something else that’s a little more out of the way during the summer. Currently, the way the dipole is strung, RFI tends to kill the network when I’m on the air… which when you’re running smart bulbs and such can become a little problematic.

Lets see if holding to those goals can actually happen, and I hope that everyone who attends enjoys themselves! I may have some content while down there, but if not, look for new posts after!

FT4: It’s exactly like FT8… But faster!

I know for a fact that I’m not the only one out there that just isn’t crazy about FT8, but I’ve used it. It’s fine. It’s a digital mode. Sure, it’s great for weak signal, and times where general propagation is in the doldrums, but I don’t see the general appeal – that’s fine if it’s your thing, but it just isn’t mine. With that being said, with the introduction of the FT4 beta, of course I’ll get on! It’s a new mode, feedback is likely appreciated, and… well… it’s new! Reaction? It’s a nice, quick mode, each exchange is right around 6 seconds, so your full QSO is under a minute! I see this being very beneficial, and I’m excited for the full release! Yes, I know I said that I’m not crazy about the mode, I do use it still as there is a TON of activity on it. And in addition to that, I see the increased activity generally that it has produced for the hobby as a whole, and that is a huge plus!

Moving into installing the beta of the software was a breeze, since I was setup for FT8 already the configurations from the prior version of WSJT-X on my computer simply imported to the release installed (as it would if you updated the software. The only issue that I came across was with the frequency configurations… they were non-existent within the application. I happened to stumble upon them in an FT8 Users Facebook group I belong to. This meant that changing frequencies had to be done with… *gasp* a knob on the radio, not just the software! Sure, I could setup rig control for my 7100 or something, but unless I’m working digitally, the computer is often off/in hibernation, and I paper log, and I’ll add to LOTW afterwards. This is actually a running joke in my family and with a local group – I’m one of the youngest, active people in the group, but have a personal aversion to SDR’s like the Flex simply because, well, they don’t have a control head with knobs and buttons, they require a computer to function (yes, I know there is an add-on control head and such, but it’s an add-on! Come on, man!)

Actual exchange of FT4? Well, you’ve used FT8, right? It’s the exact same. CQ with Grid, Signal Report, Received, 73, Done. Quick, to the point, and you’re back to CQ-ing. For a contest, FT4 is drastically going to increase QSO rate. Still not as fast as a voice exchange is going to be, but it’s getting there (FT2 in the future? Does Yaesu have a patent on that name and would they give Joe Taylor a hard time with it?) and I can see this being huge when the band is so-so on 6m, as it still fully embraces the weak signal mode that FT8 is… just faster!

All in all I’ll just say this, that QSO rate is a huge increase from FT8, over twice as fast, and I believe that this is going to be the next big thing with contesting, much the same way FT8 has been, and especially so in the VHF/UHF realm. Whenever the stable release in planned for I’m sure it’s going to take off much the same way it’s predecessor has, and while I’m not crazy about this being such a predominant mode now, I do think that the activity that it has attracted, and the increase that it seems to have sparked in the last year is fantastic. Let’s see what the future holds!

FTM-400 vs. ID-5100 – A couple of months side by side

After finally getting some time to use the FTM-400 along side the ID-5100, I thought it was time to contrast the two. I believe that (after looking around and doing some research) these are probably the best mobiles on the market at the moment – the offer digital capabilities – the open standard of D-Star vs. the proprietary System Fusion, APRS/DPRS respectively, on top of just being solid sounding FM rigs that would make any everyday user happy. There are a few points that I would like to put down for each rig however, as they both do have their quirks that make each one something that different people may want to consider.

Pros – Yaesu FTM-400

  • Color TFT display makes reading in the sunlight much, and is easier on the eyes at night
  • Menus are probably the most straightforward of a Yaesu radio I’ve ever used
  • Full APRS Functionality
  • Relatively simple navigation in DX mode
  • YSF Compatible
  • Sturdy built
  • Decent Microphone Controls
  • Temperature Swings do not seem to affect the display

I’m actually hard pressed to find what I would deem a con about this radio. While I said that the Menus are the most straightforward of a Yaesu I’ve ever used, while that is a compliment to the relative simplicity of the rig, there are a few quirks that I’m not too crazy about – remembering that tone control is in “signaling” and not a separate tone control menu. Again, this isn’t a big deal, it’s just an odd thing to remember, but I’m sure anyone can get the hang of this eventually.

To draw a comparison of this radio to the Icom ID-5100, I actually think that overall the FTM-400 is a just a better radio. The ID-5100 offers D-Star which is a much more capable, narrower bandwidth mode that offers much more flexibility in your radio options. The menu simplicity, near repeater functionality, etc. make the functions of the ID-5100 far superior to that of the FTM-400. With that said though, the display, and the overall build quality of the FTM-400 is what pushes it ahead.

Pros – Icom ID-5100

  • Black and White display is less distracting while driving
  • Simplicity of menu navigation – almost the exact same going from an IC-7100, to an ID-5100, to an ID-51A, or an ID-31A. I would liken Icom’s line to the Apple of Ham Radio, when you pick up any other iPhone, you’re going to have an almost exact same experience between devices, the same goes for the Icom line of D-Star ready radios.
  • D-Star ready
  • DPRS – while not the same as APRS in the slightest when it comes to the beaconing and messaging features, if you’re an exclusive, or predominantly D-Star user, this is a very nice feature

However I have a few cons with the ID-5100:

  • Display difficult to read in sunlight – full brightness helps, but still just difficult compared to most mobiles
  • Display now displays grid marks after having been left in the car through a WNY Winter (while admittedly I did not receive the FMT-400, and we’ll have to see what another winter does to it)
  • Speaker is quiet on digital – this is more of a comment on the mode though, as DMR and Fusion do not seem to have the same Audio Level issues

All in all they’re both great radios for a similar price point, the ID-5100 is a bit cheaper, however they’re within $75-100 of each other depending on rebates and sales you may catch. If you want something D-Star ready, trust me, you can live with the shortcomings of the display, because the rest of the radio capabilities far out match that of the FTM-400, however if D-Star isn’t the top of your priorities when looking, and you really just want a quality radio with a small form factor that will give you many options to nicely mount in your car, the FTM-400 is the way to go.

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 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 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


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.


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!


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.


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!



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.