What Sorcery Was This?

Hams as yet unborn will ask if we competed in the 2016 ARRL DX SSB 48-hour contest and we will say “yes yes we were there”.

It was a contest when even the little pistols ran with the big guns and the conditions kept getting better and better. When one band would close another would open.

Oh some who live high on a hill in their country estate might say what is the big deal but they don’t know the pain, even the shame of living, by circumstance or marriage, in the low country and even worse within town lines and all that that entails when it comes to lesser power and restricted antennasDSC_0003

For those on the hill weekends like this last one maybe common but for those of us mere mortals running with our ancient tube rigs and 100-watt PAs into dipoles and rusty verticals the ability to break pileups on 80 meters in Europe is unheard of and only happens in our deepest most secret dreams.

And yet it did happen and more.

Working an Italian station who was heard through the pileup isn’t unusual but when he claimed to be running 500-milliwatts then you know that something special is taking place.cco-1-37

Working Mozambique on several bands too rates as a notable moment for certain but actually hearing Europeans on 80 Saturday night was simply beyond belief. And then a tentative call made more out of curiosity than certainly resulted in an immediate reply was so surreal as cause one to check that they hadn’t fallen asleep at the keyboard (which has happened before more out of boredom than lack of sleep).

Gathering courage calls to Europeans calling CQ Contest into the face or a howling pileup on 80 were answered immediately.

What sorcery is this?

Who works Europe with a shortened 80/40 dipole at 25 feet? With 80 acting like 40 on a good night there was no expectation that more was to come but it was.

Getting up early on both mornings resulted in no special openings but Friday night the greyline DX resulted in signals from Japan peaking over S-9 and calls answered on the first try.

And the on Sunday morning 15 meters opened to the low country in Europe and calling CQ resulted in endless numbers of casual operators out for a go with their 100 modest stations running up the point total to astronomical heights.

Just for fun the occasional station out of the middle East would call and who knew there were so many Russian stations available in one contest? Typing became painful in attempts to keep up and an external voice keyer saved the vocal chords from failing from overuse.

When all was said and done conditions, while perhaps not as strong as in the glory days of the 80s, were more unpredictable, crazy and productive for those of us who were there.cqwwdx2007allcanadave3hg-thumb.jpg

For a few hours each day, we the owners of modest stations raged across the bands and we competed with the high-powered Titans and the multi-multi monsters who devour all that they can hear. For a few brief hours we too were heroes and warriors battling on the edges of solar terminator.

It was glorious and wonderful and perhaps the most exciting contest in my memory. I did better on SSB than in any previous contest in over 35 years.

The Wake-Up Call

I haven’t felt much motivation to write here or on any of my other blogs (Peter West Photo, Peter West Public Relations, Toastmasters, Yoga, Coaching, VE3HB) what with the holidays and contests and general busyness.

So as I nurse a very sore shoulder injured in a fall down the stairs (I’m okay but I’m considering giving up my house cleaning chores) and waiting for four video renderings to upload to a private DropBox folder for my Toastmaster club (First Oakville Toastmasters) where we record the three speeches of the night and the subsequent evaluations, my eye was caught by a headline in this morning’s Globe and Mail.3465

The article was subtitled “Disaster Preparedness” and the main headline read: “Victoria earthquake an urgent wake-up call.” Here Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at U of BC and a former public safety adviser for the PMO wrote that when, not if, B.C. gets hit with a bigger earthquake than the 4.7 magnitude Christmas quake, the results will likely be overwhelming and deadly.

Perrin suggests that the poor state of schools and hospitals in the area will likely cause those buildings to collapse in the face of a magnitude 9 or greater quake snuffing out the lives of school children and hospital patients and staff.

Of course, Perrrin is saying something should be done and he’s right.

Here in Canada we get lulled into a sense of “it-can’t-happen-here” thinking right up to the time it does happen here. I’m thinking of the Quebec ice-storm and Barrie, Ontario tornado. Both were unexpected and deadly.

With our national organization thankfully on death’s door when it comes to growth let alone the ability to plan for any future perhaps it’s time for those who care about emergency preparedness to start to reorganize on a national basis?

Ham Radio For Newcomers

I had hoped to give a presentation to a bunch of university students in Toronto. The date was arranged after I was approached by a delightful young woman at the Maker Fair held in Toronto this summer who said she was really, really interested in Amateur Radio.IMG_0567

It’s not everyday that somebody under the age of 25 who (a) appears normal; (b) isn’t dressed in dungarees (not that there’s anything wrong with wearing coveralls); and (c) is a woman of any age but especially one 1/3 my age expresses an interest in Ham Radio. (That’s Rod and his daughter Emma staffing the booth.)

I was thrilled to meet her. It was like running into ET for me 🙂 I couldn’t believe she was real.

Anyway she asked if I’d be willing to speak to her group of students who were also interested in Ham Radio and despite the group being in Toronto and me in Oakville I said yes right away. After all it’s not everyday we get a chance to promote the hobby.QST_Cover_August_2015_TILTED

So today i regret to say that I just got an email from my young friend and she has had to cancel the talk as the administrators at her school have cut her funding (which I bet was pretty minimal to begin with) and there’d be no talk.

Okay no talk but heck we’re all Hams here and we communicate, as the ARRL says: “When All Else Fails” so here’s the talk.


HamRadio – Here’s the original keynote.

Please feel free to use these slides or PDF at your club or group.

And Katherine, if you’ve not already got your license (my wife has hers…that’s her in the photo)) go study and pass the exam.

There’s a world of great fun, fellowship and learning that needs more Katherines 🙂 I hope to work you on the air someday soon.

73 (best regards) and 88 (love and kisses) from all of us at the Oakville Amateur Radio Club.

Photos From Contest Club Ontario’s AGM-BBQ

Another fine gathering of Ontario’s top contesters yesterday (Saturday) at the world-class contesting station of John, VE3EJ.P8290084-1

Awards were awarded. Stories of past contests were told, Old and some new friends shared a sunny afternoon in the country.

And now with the festivities over, it’s time to get ready for another contesting season beginning in a few weeks.P8250117-1

For more photos please visit my online gallery at Peter West Photography or here at Peter West Photo. All photos are free for your non-commercial use and are downloadable in a variety of sizes right off the sites.

CFARS and RAC and National Emergency Preparedness

(I’m posting a comment from Phil VA3QR who is replying to a post I did about Amateur Radio in Canada and our emergency preparedness.)

I saw your site come across my radar when you wrote about the directorial election in progress, and started reading and came across this article about Amateur Radio and emergency preparedness, and in the last paragraph you refer to a lack of a national Amateur Radio strategy.

There is one, but it’s not really where you’d think to look for it. It took me a long time to find it myself. RAC has tried (and failed) to build a national strategy before. If the Provinces don’t want to get along with each other, what chance does an organization like RAC have? None.

I joined the Canadian Forces Affiliate Radio System early this winter.

CFARS mandate has moved from one of providing phone patches between soldiers and loved ones (which is just no longer needed in the current age of satellite telephony) to one of national communications preparedness.

The last time CFARS was activated was by request of the RCMP through the Ministry of Public Safety when one of the ANIK satellites died, cutting off all communications north of Yellowknife, and there now exist inter-ministry MOUs that put CFARS in the position to create that strategy.

As much as the Provinces like to beat each other over the heads, if a disaster were to occur on a national scale, the Canadian Forces would be the ones in charge of rescue, relief and initial rebuild, which puts CFARS in the position of providing the national communications links that would be needed in those circumstances. So much so that DND has actually funded the purchase and building of Winlink RMS gateways that operate on our own frequency assignments, and some of those gateways physically exist at CF installations.

Canada doesn’t have a department like US FEMA, which takes control in the event of a disaster regardless of state lines, so RAC doesn’t have access to a national ministry or department to build that bridge.

RAC and CFARS do liaise with each other as there are RAC members who are also CFARS members as well.

Anyways, just my 2 cents (or is it 5 cents now?). I’m in the middle of writing a post about the relevance of Amateur Radio in modern day communications planning so I was already on a writing role 🙂

Have a great day!

Phil A. McBride, VA3QR / VA3KPJ / CIW601 (CFARS)
Acton, Ontario, Canada

RAC Ontario South Director Candidates

Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) like all non-profit associations is actually run by a board of directors who appoint paid and volunteer staff to form an executive which carries out the directions of the board following consultation with the members (which doesn’t happen enough IMHO but that’s a blog for another day).

RAC is our national organization and for better or worse is the best association we’ve got right now. But that’s not to say it’s good enough. I love RAC but hate the way it’s run (just in case I haven’t been clear enough in the past).

After failing to impress the importance of change and leadership upon the current executive (many of whom have left in frustration over the years) our only resources as members is to elect the best people we possibly can to our national board of directors.

The two candidates Phil McBride, VA3QR (bottom photo) from Acton and Igor Slakva, VE3ZF (top photo) from Stoney Creek have both put their names forward and election ballots have been sent out my mail.igor-ve3zf-after-cq-ww-as-a-vc2x-zone-2_1-desktop-resolution QSLProof

I know and respect Igor and I trust Phil is equally up to the task. Either man would make a good director but it’s important that you express your preference.

If you’re a RAC member with your permanent address in the Southern RAC region it’s essential you vote.

International Space Station Video

Welcome aboard the International Space Station.

Here’s a great video of Hams talking with ISS Expedition 25 commander Doug Wheelock operating the amateur radio on the ISS.astronaut-ham_1024

You too can work the space station with simple equipment.

There’s a reason why we call it “amateur radio” but think about it. Here you are working with your walkie-talkie and a hand-holdable beam antenna and as the space station passes overhead you can work it.

Some of the transmissions are super clear.

Does it get any cooler than this?

Maker Fair Big Success

We were doing okay until the guy with the Tesla coil showed up!IMG_0563

Toronto’s Maker Festival with 10,000 kids, teens and adults at Toronto’s Central Library was a two-day extravaganza of all things geeky and the Oakville Amateur Radio Club was there.

IMG_0556We were lucky to get an outside table so I tried erecting an end-fed 40/20 meter antenna in a couple of spindly downtown urban trees. The antenna loaded okay on 20 but was too low for 40 meters and we worked a couple of guys in South Carolina.

But as with all downtown locations the urban noise level plus the solar noise made for tough listening.IMG_0555

On the Sunday I thought I’d try the AlexLoop.

Remember we’re under a building with a concrete and reinforced overhang coming out 20 feet from the building and the AlexLoop at six-feet off the ground performed like a trooper. While we couldn’t hear a lot of activity due to conditions, what we could hear we could hear clearly.IMG_0567

Best of all we worked a few more guys and heard lots more.

All in all two great days and thanks to Rod VE3RHF and daughter Emma as well as Jim, VE3AJ and Brian VA3BCQ for helping out.

Maker Festival Ham Radio Info

Welcome Maker Festival:

Here is a brief introduction and links to all things Amateur Radio In Canada.

Hams, are licensed to operate transmitters by their country’s radio regulator (Here it’s Industry Canada.) and can communicate with other licensed Amateurs from around the block to around the world.8

(At the Maker Festival held in Toronto August 1 & 2 the licensed Amateur Radio operators from the Oakville Amateur Radio Club provided just a small glimpse into the world of Amateur Radio Communications and how you can get your license and talk around the world.)

Hams communicate to each other using commercial radios or kits or even build their own Amateur Radio equipment. The little rig in the photo comes from China and costs less than $6 including shipping! It’s a simple transceiver so it can send and receive signals on the Amateur Radio 40-meter band.12

Not limited to voice communications, Hams communicate through Morse code also called CW (continuous wave – a highly efficient mode that uses cheap equipment yet provides global coverage).

Radio teletype (RTTY) is s popular mode and there are scores and scores of new digital modes (again highly efficient and uses regular Ham radios connected into computers and tablets). Local VHF/UHF repeaters (VHF is very-high frequency and UHF is ultra-high frequency.) allow for short, direct communications using hand-held portable radios. New digital interfaces allow for global communications using walkie-talkies into local automated repeaters.482620main_iss024e013395_high

The International Space Station has a Ham Radio station onboard and most (if not all) astronauts and cosmonauts have been licensed Hams. There are Ham Radio satellites orbiting Earth right now and you can communicate through them using simple hand-held radios and small directional antennas.

There are no longer any age or nationality restrictions (section 4.1) on getting your Amateur Radio license in Canada.

So how do you get started?_DSC5231

We recommend joining a local club. Here you will find a group of licensed Amateurs who will be willing to help you pass your examination and setup your station.

Some clubs even offer study courses to help you get your license.adv1-1.150x194

Also study guides are available from Coax Publications.

You can even use Industry Canada’s Amateur Radio Exam Generator app as a learning aid to getting your “ticket”.

Here in Canada RAC Radio Amateurs of Canada is our national association. RAC is going through some interesting times and its website has recently changed and is very incomplete but it is the only national association we have in this country.

A far larger and more active organization that serves Amateurs in the USA and around the world is the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).

The name of the ARRL comes from the earliest times of radio when Hams relayed messages across the continent from one station to another. This was before the shortwave bands were discovered to support long distance international communications.QST_Cover_August_2015_TILTED

The ARRL publishes QST magazine and its website is a wealth of information about all aspects of Amateur Radio.

While many other countries have national organizations, the Radio Society of Great Britain is one of the oldest and again publishes tons of information of interest to Amateurs everywhere.

The cost involved in setting up your own Amateur Radio station can run from zero dollars to hundreds of thousands for multi-operator contest stations.cco-1-37

When it comes to zero dollar stations, it’s not unheard of for a club to supply an older tube technology rig to a new Ham to get him or her started.

QRP kits (low power) rigs can be purchased and built for well under $100. Connected to a resonant antenna these simple radios can communications stretching out hundreds even thousands of miles using CW. You will need to pass your exam with an 80 per cent or better grade to be given your advanced license which will allow you to build your own equipment.dsc0002

Used equipment can be found locally on the Ontario Swap Shop. Remember you need to have passed the Amateur Radio License Exam and hold a valid Amateur Radio callsign (issued by Industry Canada) before you can buy a transmitter or put one on the air. The penalties for running unlicensed transmitters in Canada are severe and aggressively prosecuted. Kenwood_TS_570_sized.jpg.opt872x394o0,0s872x394

RadioWorld is a retailer of Amateur Radio Equipment located here in Toronto.

Also, during the year there are scores of Amateur Radio flea markets where Hams sell used equipment to each other.

Here’s a blig list of Amateur Radio links thanks to the Ottawa Valley Mobile Radio Club.

Amateur Radio is more popular now (over a million Hams are licensed in Japan and USp6180012 numbers are approaching the million mark as well) and there are new aspects to Ham Radio being developed almost daily.

For more information about Amateur Radio in Canada stay tuned to this blog and hope to work you on the air soon!