This Week in Amateur Radio
This Week in Amateur Radio: North America's Amateur Radio News Magazine. Articles on amateur radio and news stories in the media featured here.
Updated: 1 hour 57 min ago
Over the recent weeks here at Hackaday, we’ve been taking a look at the humble transistor. In a series whose impetus came from a friend musing upon his students arriving with highly developed knowledge of microcontrollers but little of basic electronic circuitry, we’ve examined the bipolar transistor in all its configurations. It would however be improper to round off the series without also admitting that bipolar transistors are only part of the story. There is another family of transistors which have analogous circuit configurations to their bipolar cousins but work in a completely different way: the Field Effect Transistors, or FETs. In a way it’s less pertinent to look at FETs in the way we did bipolar transistors, because while they are very interesting devices that power much of what you will do with electronics, you will encounter them as discrete components surprisingly rarely. Every CMOS device you deal with relies on FETs for its operation and every high-quality op-amp you throw a signal at will do so through a FET input, but these FETs are buried inside the chip and you’d be hard-pressed to know they were there if we hadn’t told you. You’d use a FET if you needed a high-impedance audio preamp or a low-noise RF amplifier, and FETs are a good choice for high-current switching applications, but sadly you will probably never have a pile of general-purpose FETs in the way you will their bipolar equivalents.
Saturday June 2, marked the 95th anniversary on the air for radio station KFJB. On June 2, 2018, News Talk 1230 KFJB will celebrate its 95th anniversary on-air serving the people of Marshalltown and Marshall County,” said General Manager Todd Steinkamp. “Were talking local weather. we’re talking local people, to people you that you are hearing here, we are local.” The station’s early days were marked by live performances, as there were no networks, or even records to play at the start. Performers like Ernest Tubbs, and groups like the County Marshalls played in a large studio before the microphones. “In 1917, Earl N. Peak, President of the Marshal Electric Company, began installing rural electric lines throughout Marshall County,” said Steinkamp in a news release. “Peak and his company also began working with telegraph and telephone technology, eventually leading to his engineers experimenting with amateur radio as early as 1919.”
The chair of the International Amateur Radio Union Region 1 (IARU R1) VHF-UHF-µW Committee, Jacques Verleijen, ON4AVJ, has highlighted extant threats to the Amateur Radio spectrum above 30 MHz. In an editorial that heads the latest edition of the IARU R1 VHF-UHF-µW Newsletter, issued on May 29, Verleijen invited all IARU member-societies to consider ways to “promote, defend, and use our frequencies.” “They are wanted by others, both government and commercial users,” Verleijen wrote. “So, this is a wake-up call to be aware that if we are not using those bands, we will lose them.” If that happens, he continued, it won’t be the fault of IARU R1, but of the amateur community that “often [has] more commitment to HF” than to VHF and higher bands. Conceding that the HF bands “are the easiest to use,” Verleijen said member-societies should think outside the box to come up with ideas to improve VHF, UHF, and microwave activity. Verleijen said the vast amount of Amateur Radio spectrum from 50 MHz through 5 GHz makes it an attractive target for commercial and governmental interests. He noted that 50 MHz is the focus of a key World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) agenda item —specifically, to harmonize the 6-meter allocation across all three ITU Regions.
One radio amateur now onboard the International Space Station will be heading home on June 3, while two more will come aboard a few days later. Flight Engineer Scott Tingle, KG5NZA, will join Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Norishige Kanai in returning to Earth on the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft after 168 days on station. A few days later, another trio of space travelers — Alexander Gerst, KF5ONO, Sergey Prokopyev, and Serena Auñón-Chancellor, KG5TMT, — will head to the ISS in a Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft. In a traditional change-of-command ceremony on June 1, Shkaplerov will hand over command of the station to NASA’s Drew Feustel, officially starting Expedition 56. In addition to Feustel, Ricky Arnold, KE5DAU, and Oleg Artemyev will remain on station. This will be the “Horizons” mission for Gerst, of the European Space Agency, who will assume command of the ISS for the second half of his duty tour. Gerst, who first served on the ISS in 2014, likely will use the call sign DP0ISS for any Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) activities.
We’ve all done it: after happening across a vintage piece of equipment and bounding to the test bench, eager to see if it works, it gets plugged in, the power switch flipped, but… nothing. [Mr Carlson] explains why this is such a bad idea, and accompanies it with more key knowledge for a successful restoration – this time revitalising a tiny oscilloscope from the 1930s. Resisting the temptation to immediately power on old equipment is often essential to any hope of seeing it work again. [Mr Carlson] explains why you should ensure any degraded components are fixed or replaced before flipping the switch, knowing that a shorted/leaking capacitor is more than likely to damage other components if power is applied. The oscilloscope he is restoring is a beautiful find. Originally used by radio operators to monitor the audio they were transmitting, it features a one inch CRT and tube rectification, in a tight form factor.
The FCC has turned away a Petition for Rulemaking from a Michigan radio amateur that asked the Commission to amend Section 97.205 of the Amateur Service rules to ensure that repeaters using digital communication protocols do not interfere with analog repeaters. Charles P. Adkins, K8CPA, of Lincoln Park, had specifically requested that discrete analog and digital repeaters be separated either by distance or frequency and that digital repeaters be limited to 10 W output, the FCC recounted in its June 1 denial letter, released over the signature of Scot Stone, the deputy chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Mobility Division. According to the letter, Adkins had characterized digital repeaters as “a major annoyance” to analog repeater operators. “In 2008, we rejected a suggestion to amend Section 97.205(b) to designate separate spectrum for digital repeaters in order to segregate digital and analog communications,” the FCC said in its letter to Adkins. “We noted that when the Commission has previously addressed the issue of interference between amateur stations engaging in different operating activities, it has declined to revise the rules to limit a frequency segment to one emission type in order to prevent interference to the operating activities of other Amateur Radio Service licensees.” The FCC told Adkins that current Part 97 rules already address the subject of interference between amateur stations, prohibiting, among other things, willful or malicious interference to any radio communication or signal, and spelling out how interference disputes between repeaters should be handled.
The Russian National Society, RRC, has organised an amateur radio marathon to commemorate the FIFA World Cup finals. It runs from 1 June to 15 July 2018. Five awards are available, some of which are achievable at several different levels. Most bands from Top Band to 70cm can be used, on all modes. A full list of participating stations, and details on how to apply for the awards, can be found at rsgb.org/fwc. The UK is participating with special event stations in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales at various times throughout the event. Look out for GB18FWC, MB18FIFA, GB18FIFA and, first, GB18FWC, which kicks things off this Monday from the RSGB’s National Radio Centre at Bletchley Park. In addition, G6XX, GI6XX, GM6XX and GW6XX will be activated to represent the FIFA member countries. Any RSGB Member who holds a Full UK Licence and would be interested in activating one of those G6 call signs can email ContestClub@rsgbcc.org for more information.
CubeSats are tiny satellites which tag along as secondary payloads during launches. They have to weigh in at under 1.33 kg, and are often built at low cost. There’s even open source designs for these little spacecrafts. Over 800 CubeSats have been launched over the last few years, with many more launches scheduled in the near future. [Thomas Cholakov] coupled a homemade cloverleaf antenna to a software-defined radio to track some of these satellites. The antenna is built out of copper-clad wire cut to the correct length to receive 437 MHz signals. Four loops are connected together and terminated to an RF connector. This homebrew antenna is connected into a RTL-SDR dongle. The dongle picks up the beacon signals sent by the satellites and provides the data to a PC. Due to the motion of the satellites, their beacons can be easily identified by the Doppler shift of the frequency. [Thomas] uses SDR Console to receive data from the satellites. While the demo only shows basic receiving, much more information on decoding these satellites can be found on the SDR Satellites website.
A large coronal hole on the Sun didn’t affect the HF bands earlier in the last week as its associated high-speed solar wind stream hadn’t had time to reach Earth. However, this was probably the quiet before the geomagnetic storm as the solar material was predicted to reach us at around 450-500km per second sometime around Friday, 1 June. As the coronal hole is large, and on the Sun’s equator, it is perfectly positioned to deposit a mass of charged particles into the Earth’s magnetic field if its Bz magnetic component is south facing, so enabling coupling. The upshot is that this weekend is probably going to see very unsettled geomagnetic and possibly even auroral conditions. And in view of the hole’s elongated shape we may not see much respite until around Tuesday, 5 June, or even Wednesday, the 6th. So expect lowered maximum usable frequencies, noisy bands and poor conditions as the ionosphere is depleted—not really a good forecast for National Field Day weekend! After Wednesday, 6 June we can probably expect the bands to recover slowly. The good news is that summer propagation conditions are just about with us, so expect the 20m HF band to remain open longer, perhaps even after sunset, although a lack of decent sunspots is not really helping. The high-speed solar wind may also adversely impact sporadic E formation, so for research purposes keep an eye on 10m over the weekend, but do hear what we have to say in the VHF section about sporadic E too.
An Amateur Radio-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiative at an Arizona elementary school culminated on May 22, as youngsters competitively deployed their own radio-controlled rovers to explore a simulated planet set up in the Sonoran Desert. Following in the footsteps of NASA scientists, 25 pupils at Bouse Elementary School — several already holding ham radio licensees — took part in the APS Arizona Rover Project, which is aimed at promoting STEM subjects through Amateur Radio and preparing young participants to earn an Amateur Radio license. “It was awesome!” said Dave Anderson, K1AN, the president of My La Paz, which sponsored the project in cooperation with Arizona Public Service (APS) and community volunteers. The non-profit My La Paz promotes health, education, and community in La Paz County. “The youth all had the chance to explore the artificial planet, the event was well attended, and the radio links for remote control and video were rock solid.”
Amateurs in Belgium are facing severe restrictions on their 70cm band operations even though, unlike in the UK, it is a Primary allocation for amateurs. The regulator is proposing to reduce amateur privileges in the middle of the band to just a few milliwatts, and to ban certain modes outright. These may include digital and analogue ATV, packet radio, and possibly others on the affected frequencies. We believe it is unprecedented for any Primary user being overridden and restricted in such a way. Details are on the website of UBA, the Belgian national society: https://www.uba.be/
There are a lot of reasons to get a ham radio license, and if you are one of those that think ham radio is dead you can probably skip this post. However, if you have been interested, but didn’t want to drop a lot of money on a station, [KE6MT] has got some great advice for you. He says you can have a rewarding time in ham radio for about $100 of spending. The post is the advice he wished he had been given in 2015 when he got his license. It turns out you can get on the air very inexpensively these days, especially if you aren’t afraid to build gear from kits. There are some caveats. With low powered gear, you might want to stick to Morse code, a mode with which it is much easier to make contacts. He didn’t mention it, but PSK31 is good for that as well if you’d rather type than do code. He did borrow a “big radio” from a local ham and got some time with the microphone, but he still prefers the code. He found an interesting solution to having problems making contacts with people. He participates in something called SOTA, or Summits on the Air, where you bring your equipment to the top of a mountain and then people try to find you. This is a pursuit at which the small portable equipment is an advantage. If you don’t have mountains nearby though, there are other ways to become a rare station. There are hams who try to work islands, for example. Or rare US counties. If you can make yourself a rare station, you can sit back and let those hams chase you! Great idea.
The annual on-the-air station test of WX4NHC, the Amateur Radio station at the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Saturday, May 26, was “very successful,” Assistant WX4NHC Coordinator Julio Ripoll, WD4R, reported. Among the guest operators was the new NHC Director, Ken Graham, WX4KEG. “All of our radios and antennas worked well,” Ripoll said. “Even with our equipment maintenance, software updates, we were able to make over 150 contacts nationwide, including stations in the Caribbean and South America.” Ripoll said a few dozen contacts were made on the EchoLink Hurricane Practice Net, thanks to Rob Macedo, KD1CY, and the VoIP Hurricane Net team. Several contacts were made on the Florida SARNET, which links more than 25 UHF repeaters statewide, including many emergency operations centers, Ripoll said. “We also received dozens of weather reports from stations using HF Winlink.
For hams and other radio enthusiasts, the best part of the hobby is often designing antennas. Part black magic, part hard science, and part engineering, antenna design is an art. And while the expression of that art often ends up boiling down to pieces of wire cut to the correct length, some antennas have a little more going on in the aesthetics department. Take the discone antenna, for example. Originally designed as a broadband antenna to sprout from aircraft fuselages, the discone has found a niche with public service radio listeners. But with a disk stuck to the top of a cone, the antennas have been a little hard to homebrew, at least until [ByTechLab] released this mostly 3D-printed discone. A quick look at the finished product, resembling a sweater drying rack more than a disc on top of a cone, reveals that the two shapes can be approximated by individual elements instead of solid surfaces. This is the way most practical discones are built, and [ByTechLab]’s Thingiverse page has the files needed to print the parts needed to properly orient the elements, which are just 6-mm aluminum rods. The printed hub pieces sandwich a copper plate to tie the elements together electrically while providing a feedpoint for the antenna as well as a sturdy place to mount it outdoors. This differs quite a bit from the last 3D-printed discone we featured, which used the solid geometry and was geared more for indoor use.
South Africa telecommunications regulator Indepdent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has included a shared 100 kHz wide band at 5 MHz (60 meters) of 5,350 to 5,450 kHz in its just-published National Radio Frequency Plan 2018, at a maximum power of 15 W EIRP. The band is being made available on a non-interference basis. In addition, ICASA allocated a single channel at 5,290 kHz for the 5 MHz propagation research project. The National Radio Frequency Plan 2018 is a nearly 300-page document that covers the entire radio frequency spectrum. South African Radio League (SARL) President Nico van Rensburg, ZS6QL, said the SARL had worked with ICASA to get the new allocation. “Clearly, our persistent interaction with ICASA has paid dividends,” he commented. “This is, however, not the end of the road as, in the new band plan, power on 5 MHz is restricted to the WRC-15 agreement of 15 W EIRP. Continue to use 5,290 kHz for WSPR and await the announcement of the 60-meter band plan before operating on the new allocation.”
Legendary rock guitarist Joe Walsh, WB6ACU, of the Eagles is featured in a just-released set of ARRL audio and video public service announcements promoting Amateur Radio. ARRL will provide the 30- and 60-second PSAs to Public Information Officers (PIOs) to share with their Section’s television and radio stations. The ARRL Media and Public Relations Department also will provide these announcement files directly to interested television and radio outlets. The announcements are available for downloading from the ARRL website for members to use in promoting Amateur Radio at club meetings and public presentations, such as ARRL Field Day June 23 – 24 (PSAs specifically for ARRL Field Day also are available). Walsh, who visited ARRL Headquarters last year for taping, wanted to deliver two main messages in his PSAs: get involved in Amateur Radio, and become a member of ARRL. The messages highlight the tremendous service that radio amateurs provide to communities, and convey how ARRL advocates on behalf of Amateur Radio on a wide range of legal and political issues.
Videos of some Hamvention 2018 forums are available in the YouTube Dayton Hamvention 2018 videos playlist. Among those available are the TAPR Forum, the SDR Forum, and the HamSCI Forum. — Thanks to George Byrkit, K9TRV
US Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) Headquarters is recommending that MARS members “migrate to stand-alone computer systems for [MARS] radio operations,” subject to the availability of a dedicated computer. “These computer systems (or their associated local area networks) should be ‘air-gapped’ from the internet,” Army MARS Headquarters Operations Officer David McGinnis, K7UXO, said in a message to members. “Although not a requirement for membership at this time, we will continue make this a condition of certain parts of our exercises.” McGinnis pointed to remarks by Cisco researchers in a recent Ars Technica article about VPNFilter malware: “Hackers possibly working for an advanced nation have infected more than 500,000 home and small-office routers around the world with malware that can be used to collect communications, launch attacks on others, and permanently destroy the devices with a single command.”
Jim "Mad Dog" Sellars, by his own account, lived quite a life in Springfield, Mo., as an ice cream dipper, butcher, reserve policeman who once protected Elvis Presley, a telephone lineman, a twice-divorced dad with "exes" he felt lucky to have loved and as a 6-foot-7 power-hitting softball player. But perhaps most notably, for 30 years, before his massive heart and lungs went bad and confined him to bed, he was a man with an uncanny ability to read radar and chase down more than 100 tornadoes in a lifetime, while helping others to do the same. "He had a Ford pickup truck," said Sellars' older brother John, the director of Springfield's History Museum on the Square. "If he knew (a tornado) was going to set up somewhere, in Oklahoma, or Alabama, he would load up with a couple of people and go chase." Given such a whirlwind life, it was hardly surprising that Sellars, who died Tuesday in Springfield at age 64, would declare in the last line of his self-written obituary that he planned to go out in the same fashion.