Field Day Report

I’ve been going to the ARRL Field Day now for over 50 years and it never gets tired 🙂

This year the Oakville ARC held its annual Field Day inside the beautiful Bronte Provincial Park just to the west of Oakville.

So in brief here’s my take on how it went:

  • Conditions sucked for most of Saturday.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • The weather was perfect.
  • The venue was idyllic.
  • Bronte Prov. Park staff are A+.
  • The GOTA station worked (once we figured out a power issue).
  • The GOTA antenna worked (once we added 50′ of coax on the G5RV-JR).
  • We had the annual grumpiness putting up antennas 🙂
  • We figured it out.
  • The smaller generators (we had three) were quiet and worked well.
  • Tons of media coverage as our two local newspapers showed up.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • We got some of our bonus points and lost on others.
  • We brown-bagged dinner and that worked.

Next year we need to figure out a way for folks to read their emailed instructions (which we sent multiple times) or take notes during meetings. Too many guys were asking questions which were answered in those emails. HI. While we struggle to erect two antennas, we might ask the guys who setup 27 or more how they do it!

Generally once we got up and running the CW station performed as always (thanks to Harry VA3EC) and the SSB station (thanks to Todd VE3LMM) was staffed most of the time despite some not responding to repeated requests for when they wanted to operate.

Makes it tough to put together a schedule when few reply but that’s a common issue not just relegated to Field Day. Something to do with ageing 🙂OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m starting to think we might want to run a CW-only competitive Field Day operation which we’d likely win and maybe even consider going QRP.

Next to it we setup an SSB station which runs under a different call and is open to all members and non-members, licensed operators and visitors alike as the GOTA station this year proved pretty popular.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I did an educational session on QRP radio that went over fairly well I thought.

Most of the guys had never listened to a direct conversion receiver so the NorCal 20 and CRK-10A’s ability to produce super clean, artifact clear, bell-like tones in the headphones from an almost noiseless background was enlightening. Especially when considering I bought the NorCal 20 (which now has a memory keyer chip in it) for $35 at a flea market and the CRK was $65.

I even managed to do one Q before the contest on 20 with another QRP station setting up for Field Day in Idaho near the Canadian border. Great fun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Field Day is not only an annual exercise in emergency preparedness plus a built-in contest, it’s also an opportunity to work together in a friendly cooperative and supportive way to get things done.

While we might win our category, IMHO we’ve got some room to improve in other areas. But then again I’ve only been doing this for 50 years. I hope I’ve got another 20 or 25 to get it right 🙂OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you haven’t participated in a Field Day event you’re going to have to wait until next year now. Find a club near you and join the fun.


Last night Geoff Coulson, Warning Preparedness Meterologist for Environment Canada, spoke to a full house of eager participants in Canada’s CANWARN program.

The meeting was held at the Halton Regional Centre appropriately just hours after a small tornado had touched down just north of Toronto near Tottenham.tornado-wichita-e1373055853734

(Actually as I learned last night, saying a tornado has touched down is a redundancy as by definition a tornado is a rotating funnel cloud that involves swirling winds at ground level.)

I learned more than just that. Coulson’s excellent training session focused on three main points:

First was how to identify a tornado. Second was how to report the sighting of a tornado. Third was how to avoid becoming a casualty during a tornado or thunderstorm.

Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself during a thunderstorm with or without a tornado attached to it.

First seek shelter at the first sound of thunder. All thunder storms involve lightening discharges. Run if necessary to a nearby building and get inside. If your only possible shelter is a car, sit in it with your hands in your lap (so you don’t accidentally touch anything metal). Do not park under a highway overpass as you’re likely going to be struck by flying debris. Motorcyclists take note.

If at all possible avoid shopping malls, arenas or other large open-structure buildings. Coulson showed a security video of a high school gym being utterly destroyed inside of 20 seconds by a tornado in the US. Fortunately all the students and teachers of this mid-American school knew better than to use the gym as shelter and all survived a category 5 (massive destruction) tornado.

If you’re in your house, close all the windows and doors (It’s a myth that you should open windows and doors to equalize air pressure. An open house allows high-speed winds to enter the house and exit usually after removing the roof.) and go to the basement.34_houston_rd_woodbridge_tornado_damage

Finally, and this is important, do not venture outside especially into open spaces (like soccer fields) until 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder.

Saskatchewan is first in tornados in Canada closely followed by southern Ontario. Hundreds of tornados form across Canada but many, if not most, go unreported as they take place in non-populated areas.

And for those amateur photographers out there don’t think first of grabbing a camera. Think first of finding shelter.  Coulson showed videos of people naively filming dangerous tornados as they approached and then when the tornado encroached on their property they continued shooting from inside behind windows or glass

A shot from the category 3 storm that ripped up downtown Goderich in 2011 showed a pickup truck that looked like a pin cushion with multiple tree limbs and other debris that had punctured the body.

Flying debris is deadly, especially so if it’s crashed through your glass door with you standing there an open target.

But so is lightening as a group of photographers almost found out as they had setup their cameras on tripods to shoot images of a storm on the horizon a few kilometres away.

Coulson’s video showed a lightening bolt, literally out of the blue, which struck a tree a few meters away from the photographers who kept shooting rather than having the sense to run away as fast as they could.They were lucky the bolt hit a tree rather than their metal tripods.

BTW ARES groups from around the region were well represented at the training session.

QRP On The Cheap

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get onto the shortwave bands after you’ve passed your exam and got your ticket is to buy a used rig (often referred to as a boat anchor) for somewhere between $500 and $1,000 put up an antenna and get on the air.FT101B (Medium)

But not everyone can drop that much cash so quickly on an HF rig especially if they shelled out $100 to $500 on a VHF/UHF hand held.

So I would offer that going QRP (5 watts or less) isn’t a bad thing.DSCF2052

You’ll hear a lot of the old sparkies say that newcomers should avoid QRP as trying to talk to other guys at five watts or less is too frustrating. I’m here to say to that “Nutz!”

I regularly contest with my FlexRadio 1500. True at $500 used it’s not dirt cheap but this software defined radio (which needs a fairly robust computer to make it work) runs circles around rigs costing ten times as much. (See Sherwood Engineering’s Receiver Data site.)

Besides the difference from running 100 watts compared to 5 watts is an S9 signal compared to an S7 signal. That’s it. Two S units. If you weren’t watching your S meter your ears would never be able to tell the difference.

As I am typing this post I again am listening to 40 meters alive with signals on 7030. My rig? It’s the Chinese-made CRK-10a CW transceiver that runs a staggering 3 watts and costs $65 new! crk10a_front

Now this isn’t necessarily a rig I’d recommend as your first rig but it’s a contender even though it doesn’t have any controls and is fixed on one frequency only (thus the low price). But it does have a built-in keyer and honestly there is something very nice about listening to a direct conversion radio. There are none of the artifacts generated by radios that use IFs to change the frequency of the radio or even SDR rigs that used a computer’s soundboard and tons of processing.

So where do we start when it comes to QRP?

First many if not most QRP rigs come as kits. You’ll need a soldering station and some basic tools but these will last you a lifetime.IF

When it comes to really simple kits you can’t get much simpler than a Tuna Tin 2.

This transmitter only runs 330 milliwatts (1/3 watt) and needs a receiver and an antenna to make lots of contacts on 7030 kHz the QRP watering hole on 40 meters, I’ve got one and it actually works. Takes an hour or so to assemble.

Next up there’s the slightly more sophisticated rig I really like which is my HB1A (aka the Ten Tec 8263R4020). This 5-watt dual-band (40 and 20 meters) vfo controlled rig has a built-in keyer (it can also take a straight key) and runs off internal or external batteries or a 12-volt power supply. It has a variable filter and can hear sideband as well as CW although it only transmits CW. It originally cost around $200 and there’s a new four-band model at $300 but used you might find a used HB1A around $100 or so. Really good rig for the $ but early versions had reliability issues as it was made in China.

Just about any rig from Elecraft (if you can afford it) or Wilderness Radio or Oak Hills Research (which sells a very nice QRP wattmeter. See photo.).

DSCF1187Some of the new radios coming out of China are dirt cheap but as I said reliability has been an issue in the past so you take your chances.

A new all-band CW/SSB rig out of China, the X1M Pro is about to be replaced by a seven-band version.

These rigs are coming in around $500 to $700 which is a bit of gamble but sure attractive based on price.hand-v3

QRP is an excellent solution to finding a nice rig for very little cash outlay. Have fun and hope to hear you on the bands.


How To Get Your Ticket

This post is the virtual part of my real information table I am setting up for the Oakville Amateur Radio Club’s Field Day which takes place Saturday, June 28 and Sunday, June 29 at Bronte Provincial Park just outside of Oakville, Ontario.7439940598_04eee7e719_z

One of the reasons I am posting this bit follows a talk I had last weekend at the ARES Day at RadioWorld with a Burlington, Ontario guy who had just got his Amateur Radio certificate. He had his ticket now but knew just about nothing about Ham Radio. So this post is for you my friend.

If you’re wondering where to start, allow me to suggest finding a local club. There are hundreds of Amateur Radio clubs across Canada and the U.S. so finding one nearby shouldn’t be a challenge.barc1

Finding one that is active and doing interesting things might take some looking around.

Next see if the club is offering classes this fall. Some do and that’s the easiest way to get your ticket. Getting on the air may take some more effort but we’ll come to that in a minute.

Checkout the Industry Canada website for information on how to get started.

VE3EP Amateur Radio website has a very good guide on what’s involved and how to proceed. i’d recommend you check out the site.hamstudycover

The Hamstudy Basic guide found at this website is a great help as well as is the Canadian Amateur Radio Basic Qualification Study Guide found here.

Seriously consider learning the Morse code!

Even though you can get licensed without it, Morse code is an art form all in itself. Knowing Morse code and practicing until you can run around 10 to 12 words per minute working your way up to 20 wpm or more allows you to access a whole new world of communications.

CW rigs can be exceptionally inexpensive yet provide efficient, dependable communications even at QRP (5 watts or less) levels. It’s not all that hard to learn but does take practice (best done in small groups).IMGA0007

Finally ask someone who is active in your area if you could visit their station. Most hams will be flattered and proud to show off their equipment and offer explanations of how it works.

Once you’ve got your ticket getting on the air is the next challenge. You can get on the air for next to nothing or spend $10K easily. For your first rig, consider buying used to save some money. The Ontario Swap Shop or your local club members can be very helpful in locating a suitable rig. Don’t limit yourself to a VHF/UHF FM hand held. There’s so much more to Amateur Radio (digital modes, satellites, contesting, building, experimenting, public service work, club activities, TV, SDR and the list goes on and on).

Welcome to the hobby.

Crimping vs Soldering

For a couple of years now I’ve been somewhat suspicious of a coaxial connection at the base of the tower. My auto tuners often covered up any issues and SWR checks often didn’t spot anything amiss.images-2

And then in the middle of a contest usually in the midst of a winter blizzard around midnight I’d get wonky SWR readings. Dawning boots over pyjamas I’d trudge out to the tower with two vice grips in hand and give the coaxial fittings another crank and all would be well.

Knowing this was not a solution, I bought a crimping kit at Dayton this year. It’s sat in a drawer now for a month. Well last night I thought I was having issues with the connection to the beam again so I dragged out my antenna analyzer and sure enough there was a 4:1 SWR showing up.

Thinking I’d just checkout what was needed to do a crimp job I opened my crimping tool box, went online to get a page of instructions and marched out to the tower base.crimping_tool_kit.161134148

I won’t bore you with the details but folks crimping is the solution especially when you’re working on LMR-400 which has a mylar inner shield which melts under the heat of a soldering iron.

The whole crimping job took a 1/10th of the time it would have taken to solder the joint.

Normally I’d have to drag 75′ of heavy-duty extension cord out to the tower. I’ve got a massive roofing soldering iron which takes 20 minutes to heat and almost an hour to cool off. Using a knife to prepare the coax is both inefficient and dangerous as there’s a lot of force needed to cut some coax cables.images

The crimping kit I bought for $100 rips though coax like it was string. The cutters are very good and the crimper is easy to use.

Went back to the shack and the SWR is now 1:1.5 or so at 7030 dropping to a low point at 7080 or so. very cool.

ARES Day at RadioWorld

You’ve got to hand it to the nice folks at RadioWorld in Toronto. A few weeks ago they hosted RAC Day at RadioWorld and this Saturday (June 21) it’s ARES Day.

Presented by what’s left of RAC’s Field Operations ARES Day is a special opportunity to take in a series of workshops on ARES-related technical topics. VOIP over MESH, RMS Express by WL2K and FLDigi are just a few of the workshops (see poster).

So why should you come out to ARES Day?Ares125

First if you’re not part of an ARES group you should be. Why? Because Amateur Radio is a service and since the earliest days of radio, Hams have unselfishly provide public service activities to their communities in times of need.

Residents in Angus Ontario for example suffered damage from this week’s tornado that 300 people are still unable to return home. Some of those homes will never be occupied again. (The photo is from the Toronto Sun website.)1297573330813_ORIGINAL

But what if, instead of 300 homeless, the tornado had done more damage? What if the number was 3,000 or 30,000?

Remember the Mississauga Train Derailment? I was there when civiil authorities decided to evacuate 250,000 people over night.

Remember the Hagarsville Tire Fire? I was there too. The tire yard fire was melting hundreds of thousands of tires and the resulting leachate was so severely contaminated that there was some thought of possibly evaluating everyone from Hagarsville to Lake Ontario.

So what would happen?

Easy. The Canadian Red Cross would have been called out to provide shelters for those forced to move and setup a registration system to keep track of evacuees.

The Red Cross (I was there too as I worked for both provincial and national offices.) is well trained for this function and RAC / ARES has a formal letter of understanding that in a time of need Canadian Amateur Radio operators will assist the Red Cross by providing communications.

It doesn’t matter if we supply communications using handheld units like we did for the St. John Ambulance exercise last weekend at Humber College or we provide a new MESH network. You’ve got to come to ARES Day to learn all about this system that creates essentially a private long-range WiFi network on Ham Radio frequencies that can host digital communications including data, voice and even video.

Hope to see you at RadioWorld on Saturday.

(On another note: I sent in my RAC Certified EC Exam late in March. It’s now late in June some 90 days later and I’m still waiting to hear if I passed. Boy if this is how fast RAC ARES HQ works we maybe in more trouble than even I thought. (See post below).



When You Care To Send The Very Least

My new CRK-10A 3-watt QRP 40-meter transceiver arrived in the mail today. And I do mean literally in a mail envelope to the door 10 days from in Idaho.10491120_10152204299611169_4876216711074622905_n

In the photo it’s the little box sitting on top of the autotuner next to the Flex 1500 with the wires for headphones and paddles plugged into it.

I bought the assembled version (for an extra $15 or so) for a grand total of $86.10 including mailing.

So what kind of rig is it?

Well it doesn’t have a volume control or a VFO! HI. It does have a keyer built-in and as I’m xtal controlled on 7030 kHz I can hear a bunch of guys sending CQ all around me. Even had a guy send me a ? but I didn’t have the keyer speed set right to reply.

You’ll notice I do have the rig sitting on top of an LDG Z-11 Pro autotuner as the rig likes to see 50 Ohms for full output. My extended 40-meter dipole on the Hy-Gain Explorer seems to be the rig’s favourite antenna. The end-fed sloper causes the rig to dial up a nearby religious broadcaster as does my Alpha-Delta shortened dipole.

I’m comparing the receiver to the Drake R8 and it would seem the little rig hears just about everything the Drake hears and the bandwidth is a soft 600 Hz or so which isn’t necessarily so bad when it comes to QRP. The receiver is direct conversion and there is a two-pole crystal filter and an audio filter which helps. Anybody who is a Kc away on either side can’t be heard and anybody on frequency sounds pretty good.

Because this is a direct conversion rig there is a curious CFW button which helps identify which sideband you’re listening to. If the sound of the CW note goes high when you push the button it’s likely you’re listening to the wrong sideband and since you’re crystal control there’s not much you can do about it.

Anyway hope to hear you on 7030 some night.


Field Day 2014

This post is also appearing on the Oakville ARC Blog VE3HB.

This year Oakville ARC is running a two-station Field Day with a Get-On-The-Air (GOTA) third station for newcomers (or for people who haven’t been on HF for year or more) at Bronte Provincial Park.

We’ve been going to Bronte now for a few years. It’s close by and its got trees and lots and lots of space.IMG_0187

We’re going to put all three stations under the humble pavilion and locate our antennas as far apart from each other as possible.

It looks like the CW station is going to be well staffed but we’ve not got a response from anyone for SSB yet so Ian, VE3JI, and I are thinking it’s going to be just us for the 24 hours. It’s too bad that some of the guys don’t appreciate how much work goes into the planning for this contest and just show up at the last minute expecting to sit in. That might happen but it might not and if you’re anticipating participating Ian would appreciate hearing from you.

Field Day (June 28-29) is a great day of fellowship, emergency communications training and a contest all rolled into one.

The Oakville ARC effort is usually pretty competitive. I think we came in second in Canada last year thanks to a major effort by our CW crew and this year’s crew looks just as formidable (Harry, VA3EC; Tony, VE3RZ; Dennis, VE3JAQ).

Oakville ARES Deploys

York Region ARC ARES requested help from neighbouring ARES groups to assist with communications at last Saturday’s (June 14) St. John Ambulance’s Ontario Medical First Response Competition held at Humber College.

Oakville ARC’s ARES sent four members to help out.

This was the first time out for our newly reformed ARES group under the direction of our new EC Todd, VE3LMM, who along with Ontario South RAC Director Rod, VE3RHF, and long-time OARC members Greg, VA3GGF and Peter, VE3HG, spent the entire day providing communications for the event organizers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For some of us 🙂 who have been participating in ARES or club-related community service activities since the time when AM was king on 80 meters (I kid you not!) the day was like many others in the past.

(In photo above: The morning briefing and walk-around.)

For example, everything seems more complicated when it’s first explained compared to immediately after it’s first experienced. In other words, no great plans survive the first transmission and everything works itself out as the day progresses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The nice part of this event is the Amateur Radio operators were escorting the teams to one of four sites where three separate emergency scenarios were played out.

So instead of sitting at a communications desk for the whole day the operators got a full day of exercise as well.

(In Photo: St. John Ambulance first responders came from across Ontario. There were three levels of team competency from new teams made up main of teenagers to more competent mixed-level groups to teams which could include members as highly trained as nurses or even doctors.)

And as usual at these sort of events, we got feed and watered and thanked and all in all we all learned a great deal and had a good time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks to Russell, VA3WTR, the Director of York Region EmComm (ARES) for inviting us and getting us organized.

(In Photo: OARC EC Todd, VE3LMM and RAC Ontario South Director Rod, VE3RHF at the St. John Ambulance competition.)

Helping out in the local community or assisting other agencies such as St. John Ambulance, the Red Cross or local government in times of need has been a tradition that started in the first days of Amateur Radio.

ARES teams around the world provide countless hours of community service whether called out for major disasters such as the recent tornados and mudslides in the US or internationally during hurricanes and earthquakes which seem to be in the news so much more often these days.

(In photo: Event organizer Russell, VA3WTR who is the Director or York Region EmComm (ARES), on left, and RAC Ontario South Director Rod, VE3RHF worked together to make the day a success for all.)