Congrats to VE4SIG

This from the RAC Report issued by president Geoff, VA4BAW.

Geoff reports that Jim Sutton VE4SIG has successfully completed the ARRL Public Relations course and maybe the first Canadian to do so.

By passing the ARRL PR course Jim becomes a recognized public information officer and is now better equipped to help promote Amateur Radio to the public and news media.

I am a professionally trained and experienced public relations practitioner. As your former VP of PR I was also a VP of a national PR firm and media relations officer with the Canadian Red Cross and Ontario Provincial Police. I had some small input into the course as RAC’s VP of PR and the ARRL’s national volunteer public relations committee.

Trust me, PIOs can save Amateur Radio by promoting it.

And Amateur Radio in Canada needs more PIOs. The floods in Manitoba and Quebec are two excellent examples. Daily we hear about the rising water but we (at least I haven’t) heard anything about the Amateur Radio involvement.

Trust me, reporters who have been reporting for weeks, even months now, stories from these two communities are crying for new angles to add colour and depth to their reports.

Stories about hams helping in their local communities is news to the local media. Summertime is a lousy time for news items. Reporters and editors are desperate for story ideas. This is where a new crop of PIOs scattered across the country could make a major difference.

Come on RAC: Get on this one. It’s important!

Another RAC Report

Good to see RAC president Geoff, VE4BAW post another RAC Report. The last one came out a couple of months ago and good for Geoff to make the effort.

I see that there’s a call for volunteers to join the RAC leadership group. I don’t think most members realize just how many positions are likely to go unfilled following the annual meeting.

RAC has long been accused by some as being a top-down run organization and that grates on many and thus the reluctance to join.

As a former member of the executive I can fully understand this position.

RAC’s leadership model has been broken for a long time. Even Geoff in this report notes that we have to go back to days of Earle Smith to find a president who actually served an entire full term. That was back in 2006-2007.

Do you think this might be a clue to there being underlying management and personality issues?

I’m not blaming the current board or executive for this situation. They inherited it and I think it’s evident that the solution eludes them.

I’m a staunch believer in the rotation of leadership and some of these leaders should be rotated out of their positions for the good of RAC. Some should be encouraged to remain for the good of Amateur Radio in Canada.

It comes down to this: Geoff is left to beg for candidates to the office of president who, in his words, is “someone with the very best interests of Amateur Radio and RAC at heart and not their own interests of ego.”

This smacks of my country (my RAC) right or wrong mentality. It broaches no method of descent or creative thinking. If such were not the case then where is the nation-wide debate on RAC’s future. Where is the promised vision-statement about where we all (not just the executive) are going? Where is the membership campaign? Where are the new members? Heck: Where are the old members? Where are the members from Quebec?

I’m not anti-RAC. I’m pro RAC. I proudly wore my RAC t-shirt at Dayton and on Field Day.

RAC is not the problem. In fact, RAC is likely the solution.

The problem lies elsewhere and perhaps we’ll see a correction following the annual meeting?

Tips for a QRP Field Day

Notes to self 🙂

  • Three watts is plenty. Five would be nicer
  • The front patio makes for a comfortable operating space
  • Opt for the quieter band rather than the more active when running QRP
  • QSB is not your friend especially when running QRP
  • The R4020 by Ten Tec does not have a contest-quality receiver
  • The R4020 can hear everything my big rigs can
  • The R4020 could use a better front-end and better filtering
  • The Ugly Balun helps quiet down receiving (highly recommended – cheap and easy)
  • In-ear earbuds are better than headphones
  • Earbuds don’t hurt the ears after many hours and when inserted properly (which is always important) they create a superior sound in the head
  • The AME paddles are superior to most full-size paddles costing many times more (Highly recommended)
  • The LogiKeyer pushbuttons are wonky but workable (good keyer bad buttons)
  • The end-feed PAR antenna works way better than expected (Highly recommended)
Notes to others:
  • On Field Day send around 18 wpm or slower
  • Some of you send better CW than others (use a keyer)
  • Be consistent in your format – It goes like this: CQ FD de callsign (callsign repeated 2 or 3X) and don’t add a K. I can figure out you’ve stopped sending – the report goes like this…my call – TU – your report once – again no K – I reply with my report once and no K – You send TU and call CQ – anything else is just confusing
  • If you can’t send, send slower – a lot slower
  • Drop all the little cute things (most of us can’t copy them anyway)
  • Stay on one frequency and fight off encroachers
When working QRP we little guys are dependent on you big guys being able to receive as well as transmit to us.
In Field Day wattage is limited to 100 watts which helps but on the big ARRL and CQ contests there are lot of 800 pound plus gorillas out there who compensate for shoddy antennas and ground systems by throwing on the kilowatt.
When you’re running QRP you must optimize your antenna system regardless of how modest.
The Par 40/20/10 QRP antenna is up 35′ in one tree in my front yard and yes the neighbours have asked so I guess I could be considered to be in a public place 🙂 and the other end is in a tree on the other side of the driveway at about 25′. Works way better than expected. Again highly recommended.
More to come but 20 is opening….photos to follow ..

What about Waldo?

I’m pleased to read that Radio Amateurs of Canada has added more new advisors (thus avoiding constitutional constraints of appointing non-members to positions of trust) to its list of helpers but I wonder how many old advisors have left in frustration?

Winston Churchill said it best and I paraphrase here:

“The human spirit can endure an incredible amount of pain so long as people feel the burden is being shared equally by all.”

Is that what’s happening at RAC? I don’t think so and I don’t think I’m alone in this thinking.

For example, I read that the RAC-run Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) has agreed upon new wording for its mission and vision statements. Now bear in mind that approval by the section managers doesn’t equate with participation from the masses but such is life at RAC.

Most distressing is a phrase in the mission statement that portrays ARES members as “qualified and credentialed ARES volunteer radio communicators”.

Golly gee does this mean all “qualified and credentialed ARES members” will get their own personal Green Lantern Power Ring?

Can Waldo still wear his (or her) call sign ball cap and suspenders or is there no room for the ordinary ham to participate in serving their own communities anymore?

By the way would someone who knows how to spell please proof RAC Bulletin 2011-017E. I’ll give you a hint: The error is in the first line and drop the capitalizing of titles. That’s both unnecessary and wrong.

RAC and Ontario’s Bill 118

Some weeks ago there was a move to recruit me into leading the fight to get Ontario hams a permanent exemption to the province’s distracted driving legislation (Bill 118) which will force us to use hands-free devices when driving and talking on our radios.

I was flattered and I believe this is a fight we can win – if, of course, we get into the ring.

I suggested to those who were in the discussion about Bill 118 is this is a job for Radio Amateurs of Canada to take on. I especially pointed out we now had two Ontario directors plus one vice-president of regulatory affairs who should be leading the charge.

I cc’d the two directors and the president of RAC in my email discussion where I made the point that not only should RAC be doing something but that they should be seen doing something.

Those emails were sent a few weeks ago and so far I haven’t seen or heard a thing.

This is not a good thing. The amateurs (members and non-members alike) should be asking both RAC directors to explain what it is that RAC is doing to fight for our permanent exemption to Bill 118.

If they are going to do anything or are incapable of doing anything then they should tell us so we can get on with the job before it’s too late – or maybe they are telling us and I’m just too much of an optimist to realize this is what is actually happening.

BTW if I was President Bawden I’d be buying all of my directors a copy of retired general Ric Hiller’s new book Leadership: 50 Points of Wisdom for Today’s Leaders.

Two points hit home: “Leaders don’t take the easy path” and “unite your community, not just your team.”

I’m Big in Japan

…well okay maybe not big but at least I can hear them.

It’s the All Asia contest and I’m using the Ten Tec 40/20 on 20 meter CW all Sunday morning and I can hear JA like crazy.

Now the reason for this might be the installation yesterday of two “Ugly Balans“.  I’ve got one on the remote switch on the tower and one at rig in the shack.

That’s VE3HEN holding the Ugly Balan. Are we having fun yet?

Made up of 18 to 20 feet of coax turned on four-inch plumbing joints taped together, the Ugly Balan is a 1:1 choke balan is actually an air choke and is designed to help eleminate rf currents from flowing on the outside of the coaxial cable.

Using a form and lots of electrical tape make this an easy job. Remember to leave enough cable to reach wherever you need the balan to go.

The one at the rig end has short leads while the one at the tower sits on the base and the lead reaches up six feet to the five-position swichbox.

Of course one of the nice things about doing antenna work in the summer is you can setup the worktable outdoors. BTW there’s the finished Ugly Balan feeding the Ten Tec R40/20 and there’s a prototype to at the top of the table. Notice what happens when you don’t use a core?

So maybe it’s just me, but my antenna system, especially when compared to an antenna that isn’t connected through the balan sounds a lot quieter and the overall SWR is flat across the bands.

I mean Japan on a QRP trail-type radio – Please  🙂

More on Getting On the Air Cheap and Easy

So I just finished working YV and DF on 20 meter CW at four watts and it got me thinking again. If I can work DX on four watts why is it some guys have so much difficulty working anybody at all?

First thought:

It takes time to get to understand how your equipment works. I’m finding it easier and easier to work guys just about anywhere using the QRP rig. So, if you’re new to ham radio or even if you’re just having issues remember it takes time to get your equipment working.

Second thought:

Simplify your station. Regardless of what radio you have get started operating on one band. If at all possible erect a single-band resonant antenna for either 40 or 20 meters. These are the most active bands right now and the easiest to actually have a QSO on.

Stay on that band until you’re having no issue working guys on a consistent basis.

And why do I say a resonant antenna?

My autotuner is a great device and can get me on the air using non-resonant antennas but it adds to the complexity of the station. An inexpensive manual tuner and SWR meter is less complex if it’s needed at all.

If you can’t get a resonant antenna up in the air, then the next best antenna IMHO is a multiple band vertical. Some of these new 43′ verticals feed with an all-weather autotuner at their base will tune 80-10 meters. Just remember they need a minimum of 16 25-foot radials in a circular pattern under the lawn.

Here at VE3HG I’ve got a Hygain Explorer beam with 40-meter dipole extensions at 16.6 meters (and yes it’s big) but best of all it’s resonant and needs no tuner on 40, 20, 15 and 10 meters.

But that’s not all. I’ve got an 80-40 shortened dipole which does need a tuner on 80 when  it’s off its resonant frequency. My G5RV-JR doesn’t need a tuner but it helps and my HF-6 Butternut vertical doesn’t. My R5, when it’s up, is good without a tuner on 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10. I’ve got a 160/80/40/30 sloper that needs a big tuner to make it work especially on 160 (I’ve worked Europe with it) and 80.

If I could pick just one antenna to get started I’d pick a homemade 40 or 20 meter dipole. Costs zero to make and works as well as most anything else. Eighty meters or worse 160 requires a long antenna up 65′ feet or more to work properly. Fifteen and 10 meters just haven’t opened up yet.

I’d stay away from “mini-beams” no matter what and Hex-beams I’d save for later when you have a better understanding of what works and what sucks. Stay away from anything expensive or weird like my PAR QRP  antenna (it will only take 20 watts if RF) which is resonant on 40/20/10 and is essentially an end-feed wire. This is a great antenna but it takes some work to get it to work right and new guys will appreciate a simpler antenna for their first effort.

When you’re ready put up a 48′ tower and buy a HAM-IV rotor and a full-size three-element tri-bander beam or a Hex-beam or Stepper as these antennas will radically change the hobby for you. You’ll be able to work just about anybody anywhere but not necessarily at anytime 🙂

For new guys, especially new guys on a budget, I’d go with a tube rig or at least a rig with tubes in the final. These boat anchors are just about indestructible and fixable and will work forever. If you’ve gone out and bought a new rig, learn how to run it.

Finally for the most fun for the least money get your CW endorsement and get on the air. Buy a 500 Hz CW filter for your rig

The guys I worked tonight were sending around 10 WPM which is easy to copy. Could I have worked them on SSB. Probably but it would have been harder and I would have lost out to anyone who was stronger than me.

Anyway back to 20 meters…

Tips for Field Day

I’m listening to the guys on the repeater as they make their preparations for Field Day  which is coming up June 25-26.

This 24-hour event is both a contest and a demonstration of the ability of amateur radio operators in North America to work under simulated emergency conditions.

(BTW the photo right shows how Field Day used to look like back in the late 50s and early 60s. That’s NC4FB operating the vintage equipment. This is a modern day photo as the tent isn’t made of heavy canvas which would get hotter than an 813 in the sun.)

I’ve been participating in Field Days for almost 50 years now and I’ve learned a few things that you might find helpful.

First is keep it simple. Complexity will kill the fun.

The guys on the repeaters are trying all sorts of new antenna ideas and are planning on running multiple stations in a very small area (on board a boat) and I’m thinking they’re way over their heads in choppy water already 🙂

Running multiple stations close together means you’re going to have audio and RF interference issues. Plus you’re going to be physically bumping into each other. After awhile this will get tiresome.

There’s no cure for the RF problems short of reduce the power output. These guys are not going to get the physical separation they need between antennas.

Tip two and this applies especially to multi-station setups is use the best equipment you can find.

Borrow better rigs with better front ends. I can’t tell you how many Field Days I’ve attended where somebody has brought their beloved IC-706 or TS-50 rig which works great at home to Field Day only to find the front end of the rig collapses in the face of so much RF so close by. If you do bring a rig that’s not contest quality (and in general that means a rig that costs less than $3K) you’re not going to have a good time running multiple stations in close. And regardless of the rig, run it with some attenuation and do not use the noise blanker for any reason as it will only generate all kinds of crud in the face of so much RF.

As to the audio issue, bring great headphones. Notice I didn’t say bring good headphones and not earbuds but communications headphones that entirely cover the ears. You can’t use loudspeakers without driving yourself and everyone around you absolutely nuts.

Same thing goes for VOX. Turn it off. Use push to talk or foot switches. If you use VOX your transmitter will key up anytime anyone yells out that the hot dogs are ready. Can’t tell you how many funny (but annoying) VOX-generated comments you’ll hear from Field Day sites.

Bring your own food and water. Pack a rain jacket and heavier clothing if you’re planning on operating outside after midnight. Here in Ontario it can get real cold at night even in late June.

So what would I suggest?

If you have a choice run one transmitter and run it well. Setup an operating schedule and stick to it. Give everyone a chance. SWLs can operate on phone so long as there’s someone with a license who is in physical control of the equipment. On Field Day this is often interpreted to mean the licensed operator is sleeping nearby at 3 am  and can be awaken in case of trouble. Industry Canada will likely disagree with this interpretation but then again they’re not on site are they?

Two charged car batteries in parallel can run a 100-watt rig easily for 24 hours. They can even power an autotuner if needed and a small LED light.

If you’re going to run two transmitters, separate then as much as possible while staying within the area defined by the contest rules.

If you’re able, run CW. It’s much more effective than SSB.

Use simple antennas raised as high as possible. If you’re running two stations (or more) place the antennas in a line to minimize interaction. Avoid using HF verticals on multi sites. Remember this is primarily a North American contest and antennas should be designed to work out to 2500 (Miami) to 4000 km  (Los Angeles) or so as this will cover the entire US. This means you don’t need yagis at 120 feet to have fun.

If you’re running one transmitter erect multiple antennas. The first should be a standard dipole cut for one frequency. Remember 40 meters is often the bread and butter band on Field Day and if you just do a one-band effort this would be the band to use with 20 meters a close second. For 80 and especially 160 meters you must have a full-size dipole up a quarter-wave length at the minimum. You can get away with less but if you want to maximize your signal this is essential.

Fifteen and 10 aren’t likely to be much of factor this year (but if they open, look out).

So the second antenna can be something more exotic (I fondly remember a fixed 40-meter ZL-Special (It’s essentially a two-element wire beam.) blazing an RF trail down the American east coast and into the Caribbean and South America.) and fun to put up. The second antenna at a one station effort could be a vertical but I don’t recommend it. Sure they’re easy to put up but essentially they work too well in that they shoot out the signal at a low angle which is best for DX. Remember this is a domestic contest.

If your Field Day site has two trees set anywhere from 120 to 200 feet apart and you can get ropes up 40 or more feet, a world of antenna possibilities opens up for you. I’d highly recommend getting a copy of ON4UN’s Low Band DXing book. It’s available locally and it’s fabulous. You can easily make high gain, wire antenna arrays that will rock the bands especially on 80 and 40 meters for next to zero expense and not much more work than it takes to erect a decent dipole.

If you’ve got the manpower, the ideal Field Day setup iMHO is two stations. One runs with a three-element beam for 20/15/10 meters on at least 30′ of tower and the second uses wire antennas for 40 and 80 and 160. These days I’d cable the logging computers together and using batteries or a generator go at it.

If you’re on your own, Field Day can still be fun operating out of the house but it’s even more fun if you can get out doors and operate from “the field”. And the field doesn’t have to be too far away.

Here at VE3HG I’m anticipating doing a one op, one station effort using the five-watt Ten Tec R40/20 and the PAR 40/20/10 end-feed wire antenna. I threw the PAR into a tree and tuned it yesterday and it’s flat on the CW portion of 20 and pretty flat on 40 meters.

For my Field Day, I’m thinking of operating from the Muskoka chair on our front patio.

I could operate out of park but most close for the night and I don’t want to bother trying to explain to Parks and Recreation what I’m proposing: “You want to put an antenna where sir?”

The rig will be powered by a 12-volt 8-ah gel-cell battery which I am just cycling through charge and recharge conditioning. Logging will be done by hand in a paper log (although I might use a computer – we’ll see as I’m purposely trying to keep this simple). I’ll use a memory keyer to send my report (to avoid bad CW) and headphones so I don’t bother the neighbours. If I feel really energetic I’ll take down the G5RV-JR and set it up in the front yard from a tree to the roof of the house and feed it into an LDG autotuner run off the 12-volt battery. Now I’ll have two antennas.

For lighting I’ll use either a flashlight or headband light.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that but I’m anticipating having a blast.

How to get on the air even cheaper

My last post on how to get on the air cheap got me thinking about how to do it even cheaper.

First thing I’d do to keep costs down is ask around your club if anybody has an old tube rig they want to sell. I like buying from guys I know as I can ask them if the rig has any issues I should be aware of before I buy it. Most tube rigs from mainstream manufacturers can be fixed if they are broken.

Another place to look for a good cheap rig is your local swapshop. The Ontario Hamfest is coming to the Milton Fairgrounds on July 9.

I’d also recommend the Ontario Swap Shop but it looks like they got hacked. (I went into the cached URL and the site is still there just unaccessible by the address.)

So what would I suggest?

I would look to find a rig for free that’s working that some guy’s wife just wants to get out of her basement. If you ask enough guys you’ll find one within a couple of months of diligent searching.

Any tube rig like a HW-101 or one of the many Yaseu rigs out there I wouldn’t pay more than $150 and I’d only go to $200 if it was in perfect working order  outputting full power and good clean audio coming from the reciever.

Old solid state rigs or hybrids (solid state with tube finals) I’d say would be a deal around $175 to absolutely no more than $300.

For an antenna I’d get a cheap manual tuner and SWR meter and make your own. All antennas with very few exceptions are essentially dipoles. That is two pieces of wire.

Everything else is marketing. Slick marketing and marketing that can get you on the air looking good but for the most part just marketing. Anything covered in fibreglass is going to cost more. Anything that has some sort of tripod mount or is a tuneable mobile whip with or without a tripod is essentially an expensive dipole (loaded to shorten which isn’t good as far as your signal is concerned.

A tuner like a Johnson Matchbox or an MFJ tuner can be had for $0 to $50. You can also make your own by getting the parts from friends or fleamarkets.

An SWR meter can be had for $20 and you’re on the air.

Here’s a sampling of stuff I found on the Ontario Swap Shop:

VE3HNE has a HW 101 with CW filter for $225. Now I wouldn’t pay that much for a HW-101 but I might see if he’d take $150 and settle at $175. Still a bit steep as you can find these old Heathkit rigs for less. Avoid anything that the seller says is in mint condition or a “rare” item or “just as new” as that only puts the price up.

VE3JJJ has a Heathkit DX60 for sale for $35. This transmitter will work with crystals or a dedicated Heathkit VFO and puts out 70 watts or so. He’s also got a Hammarlund HQ-129x for $125 but the rig is going to be older than you are so maybe we should be looking at something more modern…but if it was working 🙂 this would be an excellent pair for CW work.

There’s also a KW Atlanta transceiver with power supply at the right price at $135 but this British rig will likely need some work to get going. I’d want a demo before buying. Here’s the manual. If it was working this would get you on the air with a tuner and wire antenna.

VE6TP has got a Kenwood TS850s transeciever for sale with CW and AM filters for $550. A little over our price range but a contest-quality rig even today. If you’ve got another $500 he’s also selling a Coliins 30L1 linear amp  🙂

VE3SIQ has a Yaesu FT-201 bybrid (transistors with tube finals) for $300. I hate the description of “quite rare” as that puts the price up and who knows why they’re rare 🙂 But if he’d take $250 instead of $300 this rig might be a contender.

One of the better deals I see is a Kenwood TS440 with power supply and tuner for $375 being sold by VA3KLT or VE3UB’s Kenwood TS520 for $225 or VE6WCE’s Icom-718 for $350.

There’s another TS-520 for sale by VA3UMA for $180 that might be good.

Dennis, VE3JAQ (who I know is a good guy) has a TS-520 for $250.

I’ve got an old Drake 2B receiver (I like all things Drake.) that I use with QRP transmitters that I build from kits (These cost around $20.) and this works fine but when you’re running between 300 milliwatts and two watts you must have a full size dipole erected as high as possible and in the clear to be able to radiate these tiny signals properly.

Notice much of what I’m recommending requires you to know Morse Code. Sure you can get by SSB rigs like HW-101s but you’ll work more guys and have more fun on CW. And best of all your CW doesn’t need to be all that good and you’ll find guys (on 40 meters around 7.120 mHz who are sending at five words a minute. At five WPM you can almost look up the letter as the guy is sending. It’s very sloooooow.