Every so often, I drive Fred’s truck to work and people ask me what that big antenna on the back of the truck is for. I explain to them that it is for Ham Radio. But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology? We have cell phones and IM, etc…what do we need Ham Radio for? So I thought I would put down my thoughts as a relatively new Ham about why I enjoy spending so much of my time with Ham Radio.
Amateur Radio for Public Service
The number one reason we still need Ham Radio along with all the other technology we now have is for public service. When there is a disaster and cell phones, television, etc are all not working, Ham Radio operators provide the critical communication.
Ham Radio operators help locally to keep hospitals and first responders in contact with each other to help those affected by the disaster.
Hams also use our ability to communicate around the world on HF bands to help family members around the world to get in touch with loved ones affected by a disaster.
Ham Radio operators have been on the scene helping in every disaster from the earthquakes in Nepal to the recent flooding in California.
Amateur Radio Cube Satellites
Technology and the Maker Movement
I only became a Ham 5 years ago but many of my fellow Ham Radio operators got their license when they were in their early teens and used what they learned to launch their careers. Many have had very successful careers in STEM fields, all launched by their interest in Ham Radio at a young age. As technology advances, so does the technology used in our hobby. We even have a nobel laureate, Joe Taylor K1JT who is a ham. Joe has developed weak signal digital communication modes that let us communicate by bouncing signals off the moon!
As technology has advanced, so has the use of it in Ham Radio. Most Ham Radio operators have one or more computers in their shack. Many also have a software designed radio (SDR), where much of the radio functionality is implemented using Software, we use sound cards to run digital modes, which are a lot like texting over the radio, and we use the internet extensively as part of operating. We can also make contacts through satellites orbiting the earth and even the International Space Station.
Most hams love do-it-yourself technical projects, including building a station, home brewing an antenna, building a radio or other station component. In my day job, I am a program manager for software development projects, but its been a while since I have built anything. As a Ham I taught myself how to code in Python and about the Raspberry Pi and I built the DX Alarm Clock.
QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia
One of the coolest things about being an amateur radio operator is that you can communicate with other hams all over the world. Ham Radio is an international community where we all have something in common to talk about – our stations and why we enjoy ham radio. The QSL card above is from a memorable QSO with Mal, VK6LC, from Western Australia, who was the last contact that I needed for a Worked All Zones award. I must have talked to him for 1/2 hour about his town in Australia and his pet kangaroos!
Amateur Radio Map of the World
I have learned much about geography from being on the air and trying to contact as many countries as I can. There are 339 DX Entities, which are countries or other geographical entities and I have learned where each one is in order to understand where propagation will allow me make a contact. I have learned a great deal about world geography. Through exchanging QSL cards often get to see photos from so many areas of the world.
DXCC Challenge Award Plaque
Achievement – DXing and Contesting
DXing and Contesting provide a sense of achievement and exciting opportunity for competition. Many Hams work toward operating awards. You can get an operating award for contacting all 50 states, contacting 100 or more countries, contacting Islands, cities in Japan, countries in Asia, or anything else you can imagine. Each of these operating awards provides a sense of accomplishment and helps to build skills. Contesting builds skills through competition among Hams to see who can make the most contacts with the most places in 24 or 48 hours. Contesting also improves our operating skills and teaches us to copy callsigns and additional data accurately.
Teaching a License Class
Teaching Licensing Classes – Passing it On
Recently I have joined a team of club members who teach license classes to others who want to get licensed or upgrade their existing Amateur Radio licenses. Teaching provides a way to improve my presentation skills and also helps me to really understand the material that we teach about Amateur Radio. It is always a thrill at the end of the class to see so many people earn their licenses or upgrades.
Giving Back to Amateur Radio through the Nashua Area Radio Club
Anita, AB1QB, and I have spent a good deal of time this past year with the Nashua Area Radio Club here in Nashua, NH USA giving back to the Amateur Radio Service. Our work with the Nashua ARC has produced some of the most enjoyable and memorable times of our Amateur Radio experience.
Teaching Nashua Area Radio Club Hosted License Classes
In particular, our contributions to the work that our club is doing around helping people to earn licenses and introducing young people to the Amateur Radio Service have been most rewarding.
Abby, KC1FFX Operating our GOTA Station during Nashua ARC Youth Day
We recently produced a 2016 Highlights video about our Club’s activities and the club’s contributions to the Amateur Radio hobby. We thought that some of our readers here might enjoy the video. You can view it on our club’s home page here. We hope that you consider giving back to Amateur Radio by volunteering your time.
Fred, AB1OC, Operating Mobile in Minuteman National Historical Park NPOTA, HP27
With only 1 month to go in the ARRL NPOTA event and some free time this Thanksgiving weekend, Fred and I decided to hit the road with our Mobile HF Station to activate some new parks. We activated two nearby parks, each less than 1 hour away from our home, Lamprey Wild and Scenic River, WR23, near Epping, NH, and Minuteman National Historical Park, HP27, near Concord, MA. There were close to 900K QSOs made overall in the NPOTA program as of Thanksgiving day and we also wanted to help the cause to get to 1 Million NPOTA QSOs by year’s end.
Map of Lamprey Wild and Scenic River
On Saturday, we drove to Epping, NH, where we activated Lamprey Wild and Scenic River. It was a rainy day, but we still enjoyed the scenic drive along the river. We drove along the river until we found a place by the river to park and operate. The bands were not great, with a K-index of 4 and a high A-index. Despite the conditions, our activation was a success. We operated on both 20m and 40m SSB and made a total of 307 QSOs over 3 hours.
View of Countryside in Minute Man National Historical Park
I work in Burlington, MA, and often travel between Burlington and Waltham, MA for meetings. Each time I passed by Lexington on I-95 I saw the sign for Minute Man NHP and thought it would be fun to do an NPOTA activation from there. We activated the park on Saturday. We entered the park from the Concord, MA end and were pleasantly surprised to see some nice countryside in the middle of a suburban area of Massachusetts, not far from Boston.
AB1QB logging for AB1OC/M during the NPOTA activation.
We operated from a parking lot in the park from mid-afternoon until dark. The bands were a little better on Saturday and we were able to get 239 contacts into the log, mostly the US but also worked stations from Spain, Jamaica, Aruba, and Puerto Rico.
We have enjoyed activating 8 National Parks so far in the NPOTA event. We are planning another activation between Christmas and New Year of multiple parks before the end of the event on December 31.
Eastern Branch of the Penobscot River in Katahdin Woods and Waters NM
Ever since we built our Mobile HF Station, we’ve talked about taking it to Acadia National Park in Maine and operating from the top of Cadillac Mountain. The 2016 ARRL NPOTA event gave us the motivation to plan the trip for the week before Labor Day. The week before our trip, we saw an article in the ARRL Letter encouraging operation from the newly declared National Monument, Katadhin Woods and Waters in Maine, which had just been designated as NPOTA MN84. Visiting the NPS website, we learned that the park is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Bar Harbor, where we are staying. We decided to accept the challenge to be the first to activate the new park.
Our F150 Mobile Station at the entrance to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
Tuesday, August 30 was our first full day of vacation, we left our hotel room and parked by the Acadia visitor center and called “CQ National Parks”. We ended up with 76 contacts in the log from NP01.
After that we got on the road and headed toward Katadhin Woods and Waters, activating counties along the way including the county line between Penobscot and Aroostook Counties.
NPS Map of the Park
As a newly designated National Monument, Katadhin Woods and Waters does not yet have a visitors center or any signs showing you when you enter and exit the park. We just had the map (above) to determine where the park boundaries were. All of the roads in black on the map are gravel roads that are also used for logging trucks.
Entrance to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
We entered the park from Swift Brook Road off Rt 11 in the lower right corner of the map. We drove through the lower section by the entrance and then headed north along the Eastern Branch of the Penobscot River and operated near the Loos camping area. The sign above confirmed that we were within the park’s boundaries.
Scenic View of Katahdin Woods and Waters NM
The scenery along the river was beautiful with views of the mountains in the distance.
Operating at MN84
We started operating on 20m and the pileups were huge! Everyone was excited to get this new NPOTA into the log. Fred, AB1OC/M ended up going split on 20m due to the size of the pileups. After a while, he moved to 40m to give the close-in folks a chance at MN84. We went back and further between 20m and 40m until the pileups thinned out. We also made 18 QSOs with the club callsign N1FD to also give the club credit for the activation. We really enjoyed activating the park and the people we talked to were great! We made a total of 350 QSOs from MN84.
Several members of the Nashua Area Radio Club operated as N1FD/M (our club callsign) in the New England QSO Party this year as a Multi-Op Mobile Entry. Operators included Wayne Wagner, AG1A and Jamey Finchum, KC1ENX, and myself. We began our operations on Saturday afternoon on the Massachusetts – New Hampshire State line where we activated two counties and two states.
N1FD/M NEQP Multi-Op Team
We entered the 2016 NEQP Contest in the High Power Multi-Op Mobile Category. We operated using SSB phone mode using mostly on the 20m and 40m bands. We took turns operating, driving and navigating. We used Fred’s, AB1OC’s mobile HF station in his truck.
CQ NEQP from N1FD/M
We operated Saturday and Sunday for nearly the entire contest period. We spent most of our time calling CQ and we had several nice pileups to work.
Counties Activated by N1FD/m in the 2016 NEQP
The map above shows the counties in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont that we activated during the contest. Anita, AB1QB helped us to create a route of counties to activate which included some of the more rare counties in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Operating on a County Line in Vermont
We tried to focus on activations where we could be in two counties as once. These activations produced some nice pileups for us to work.
Operating on a County Line in NH
We parked on county lines with 2 wheels of N1FD/M in one county and 2 wheels in another. This gave us two QSO points (one for each county) for each contact that we made.
NPOTA Activation – Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP in Vermont
We had a few challenges along the way. We had some antenna-related problems to deal with. Fortunately, we had spare parts with us and we adjusted our operating style to overcome these problems. We also had to operate through a major solar event on Sunday. This made contacts very difficult but we still logged over 235 QSOs on Sunday in spite of the conditions.
All in all, we had a great time in the contest. We logged a total of 631 QSOs and we worked 58 Multipliers. Our final claimed score was 36,598 – not bad given that this was our first entry as a mobile and our first time in NEQP. We worked 43 of 50 states and we had quite a few stations from Canada and Europe call in to answer our CQs. All in all, it was a lot of fun operating from our Mobile HF station in the NEQP contest!
There was some discussion on the way home about the Maine and New Hampshire QSO parties which will be held later this year. We hope to be N1FD/M again in one or more of those as well.
We had a lot of fun during our 2015 Dayton US Counties Tour from our home in New Hampshire to the 2015 Dayton HAMvention and back. The trip involved a total of 5 days of driving and covered about 2,000 miles – giving our Mobile HF station quite a workout. We ended up activating 98 unique US Counties, and we made 1,226 contacts during the trip. We mostly operating using the Nashua Area Radio Club’s call, N1FD/M. We spent most of our time on the County Hunter’s frequencies on 20m, and 40m, and the Net Control folks there provided a great deal of help in making our operation effective and efficient. We worked both bands in most Counties to try to give folks that were both close in and some distance away a chance to contact us.
Near The Line Between Blair and Cambria Counties in PA
We tried to activate some of the most needed Counties along our route. We had the most activity when we were in Blair and Cambria Counties in PA. These were two Counties that were needed by quite a few folks.
On The Fulton And Montgomery County Line In New York
We learned that one can be quite popular with County Hunters by activating two Counties at the same time. To do this properly, one must park the vehicle on the county line with one set of wheels in each county as shown in the picture above. Operating in this ways allows folks to gain credit for two counties via a single contact.
Dirt Lane On A Hilltop In Hampshire County, Massachusetts
We spent quite a bit of time finding good locations to activate the rarer counties that we were in. This involved driving down dirt roads and “getting off the beaten path” quite a bit.
The County Hunter folks who worked us were great, and some became fast friends during the trip. Several folks worked us more then 30 times during our trip.
N1FD/M QSL Card
We have already begun receiving QSL card requests for the contacts we made during our trip. A Mobile HF Counties Tour is a great activity for a Mobile HF operator. It makes the time on a long drive go by very fast and generates great Mobile HF operating time. We are looking forward to finding another opportunity to do a County Tour again in the future.
Presentation On Building And Operating A Mobile HF Station
We recently had the chance to do a presentation on building and operating a mobile HF station for the Nashua Area Radio Club here in New Hampshire, USA. I thought it would be interesting for our readers to see this presentation as it contains some new information we have not previously covered on our Blog.
Mobile HF Antennas
Safety in mounting mobile antennas and anything else on the exterior of your vehicle is a primary concern. This was discussed in some detail during the presentation. The best source to understand safety considerations and proper installation and mounting of Mobile HF antennas is Alan Applegate’s excellent website, K0BG.com.
The most important part of any Amateur Radio Station is the antenna system. This is especially true in a Mobile HF Station because antennas in these applications are almost always short-loaded verticals. To create an effective antenna system for a Mobile HF application, one must pay extra attention to the “3 R’s” – Radiation Resistance, Loading Coil Loss, and Ground Loss. Radiation Resistance (a measure of the antenna’s ability to transfer transmitter power to radiated waves) is the “good R,” and the other two R’s dissipate power from our transmitter in the form of heat.
Mobile Antenna System Typical Parameters
There is some good information on the typical efficiency in the ARRL Antenna Book. As you can see from the table above, the Radiation Resistance of a mobile antenna becomes quite small on the lower bands (40m, 80m, and 160m). Also, as the antenna becomes increasingly shorter to RF on these bands, more loading coil inductance is needed to compensate for the short radiator length on these bands. Coil Loss and Ground Loss can easily dissipate most of our transmit power in a very inefficient antenna system on these bands. The net of all this is that one must carefully control the Ground and Coil losses while trying to make the Radiation Resistance of the antenna as high as possible. One good way to improve the Radiation Resistance of a mobile antenna is to make the whip longer. For more on mobile HF antenna efficiency, please consult K0BG.com.
Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna With Rod And Cap Hat
Here in New England, we have many low tree branches that limit a mobile whip’s practical length. A good technique, if the installation permits it, is to use top loading in the form of a Capacitance Hat. The Cap Hat makes the antenna appear longer and thus increases the Radiation Resistance of the Rod below it. The increase in apparent electric length at Radio Frequencies also means less loading coil inductance will be required, which in turn also lowers the Coil Loss. This is a win-win. The only problem is that this setup significantly increases the wind load on the antenna when driving, so a mechanically strong antenna and mounting system are required for a safe installation. Ground Losses can be minimized by making the vehicle on which the antenna is installed a good RF surface to couple to the ground. This is best accomplished by properly bonding the metal surfaces on the vehicle to each other and the vehicle’s frame if there is one.
Mobile HF Equipment
The next part of the presentation covered the equipment selection for a Mobile HF Station. Safety and good usability are the paramount concerns here. I believe that a Transceiver should have the following attributes to be a good choice in Mobile HF applications:
It should have at least 100W output on the HF bands
It must have an effective Noise Blank and a good Noise Reduction system
It should have a removable control head to allow you to mount the radio’s controls and display where they can be easily seen without taking one’s eyes off the road.
It is extremely important to consider safety in all things mobile HF. Safe, non-distracting mounting of controls is a top concern. One also needs to consider what could happen in a crash. Loosely mounted parts or anything that can get between a deploying airbag and the vehicle’s passengers is among the important safety concerns. One should also consider accessories that facilitate safe mobile operation. Automated antenna controllers and a voice recorder to capture contact details for later transcription in logs are some good items to consider.
Bonding And Choking
I believe the bonding and the associated effect on noise levels and ground losses is perhaps the most important factor in determining the performance of a mobile HF station. “If you can’t hear them, you can’t work them.” Proper bonding of the exhaust system, body parts, and the engine’s ground are key items in this area. You can read more about how we did this here. To give some idea of how important this area is, I took the initial S9+ noise levels (with the radio’s preamp off) of my F-150 pickup truck before properly bonding to an S3-4 level with the radio’s preamp on. This is a huge improvement and is a primary reason for the DX performance of our mobile HF station. Bonding also lowers the Ground Losses of the installation, which improves the efficiency of the antenna system when transmitting as well – again, a win-win. Proper bonding is not expensive, but it does take some work. One must also be careful when drilling holes to install ground straps so that you do not accidentally drill into wiring harnesses, gas tanks, electronic boxes, and other vehicle systems. Again, consult K0BG.com for more information on properly bonding your vehicle. If you use a screwdriver antenna, you must also properly choke your control leads to keep RF out of your vehicle and its electronics. Here’s some good information explaining how to do this.
Stage 1 Mobile HF Station
I am a proponent of building a Mobile HF Station in stages, from a simple one using to perhaps a more involved project later on. This allows the operator to have a lot of fun on the air with a reasonable initial amount of work and expense. The approach also provides the opportunity to see how the various steps outlined in the presentation contribute to improved performance. Our stage one installation consisted of a 100W transceiver and Hamstick antennas. You can read more about our Stage 1 installation here. The focus at this step includes proper bonding/noise control, safe installation of a suitable transceiver and simple Hamstick antennas. This stage gives you an inexpensive and effective, one band at a time, station on the 20m and higher HF bands. This type of installation is not difficult to do as is possible on most vehicles.
Stage 2 Mobile HF Station
A Stage 2 installation would probably involve a multi-band remotely controlled antenna – typically a screwdriver antenna. You can read more about our Stage 2 installation here. It’s important to choose an efficient screwdriver antenna. You can read more about the choices and what to look for here. We used a Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna and are very happy with it. This is a big antenna; you must carefully focus on a strong and secure mounting system to use it safely. Our Stage 2 station was QRV on all HF bands from 80m – 10m and utilized a screwdriver controller to automate the adjustment of the antenna when changing frequencies and bands. We also use a 4′ rod and a Cap Hat to improve the antenna system’s efficiency. This important safety feature should be strongly considered in any screwdriver antenna installation.
Stage 3 Mobile HF Station
A Stage 3 Station is probably not for most folks due to the added complexity and cost, but it does create a “work the world” Mobile HF Station and can open the door to effective operation on 160m from a Mobile Station. This step involves the installation of an Amplifier and may also include an extension of the antenna system to operate on 160m. I would have to say that the upgrade to Stage 3 was as much work in our station as Stages 1 and 2 combined. It also brings a new set of important safety considerations due to the high current DC powering required by a mobile amplifier. You can read more about this Stage of our installation here.
Mobile HF In A Car
It is also quite feasible to install a Mobile HF station in a car. The slide above shows Dave, N1RF’s installation of a Stage 2 setup in his Honda Accord. The mount is a custom-made unit done by a local fabricator. Also, note the equipment mounting on the fold-down rear seat of the vehicle. This installation uses an Icom IC-7100 and has produced some great DX contacts, including on to the Philippines from New England on 20m using 100w.
Operating Mobile HF
Our presentation included some tips for operating a Mobile HF station. See the graphic above for details. I believe that even a well-executed Stage 1 station coupled with good operating technique and some patience can yield a DXCC in many parts of the US and Europe. I was able to make many contacts in Europe and some in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Alaska using our Stage one setup. If you progress through Stages 2 and 3, this gets easier. We have worked over 110 DXCCs from our Mobile HF Station and confirmed 100 in about 9 months with our Stage 3 setup. The Stage 3 setup has produced some of our most memorable QSOs to date, including my very first 75m phone contact ever to Japan and a contact with Ulleung Island, South Korea, on the 40m band using SSB phone (these contacts were made from the East Coast of the USA).
The Mobile Amateur Radio Awards Club (MARAC) is a support group for county hunting and mobile activities with members worldwide. This is a great organization to join if you are interested in County Hunting. MARAC provides additional awards center around County Hunting and mobile operating.
You can also view WY7LL’s video on YouTube for a nice introduction to County Hunting, MARAC, and the tools the group provides to help County Hunters.
Anita did the planning for our County Tour to Dayton, OH, and back. She began by looking at the County Hunter’s Web most wanted page to determine which counties lie along potential routes between our home and Dayton, OH were most needed by County Hunters. Based upon this information, she created the route shown at the beginning of this post. As you can see, we are taking different routes going to Dayton, OH and back to allow us to activate as many U.S. Counties as we can. We are also taking a few side trips off our route to activate a few of the most needed Counties near our route.
Windham, Tolland, Hardford, Litchfield, New Haven, Fairfield
The table above shows the 86 U.S. Counties that we plan to activate on our trip along with a rough idea of our schedule.
County Finder App
We found a useful iPhone App (County Finder) that will tell us what County we are in at a given time. The County Finder App uses the GPS in our iPhones to provide our current location in real-time.
HamClock Grid Square App
We will also be tracking and logging the current grid square that we are operating from. We will be using the HamClock App on our iPhones to determine our grid square of operation in real-time.
Anita and I will be taking turns operating and logging. We are planning to use a laptop computer running the DXLab Suite, and we will connect it directly to the IC-7000 Radio in our truck. This combination, plus the County Finder and HamClock Apps above, should allow us to log all of our contacts accurately. We will also be uploading contracts that we make to eQSL, LoTW, and ClubLog in real-time as we operate.
We will also be running an APRS station so that folks can see where we are located in real-time and follow our progress. We are using the OpenAPRS iPhone App for this purpose. Our APRS callsign with be AB1QB-15, and you can see our position and progress on aprs.fi at any time by clicking here.
N1FD – Nashua Area Radio Club QSL
Anita and I are the Nashua Area Radio Club members, and we will be operating using the Club’s call sign, N1FD/M, during the trip. In addition to the electronic QSL’ing methods mentioned above, we will also be able to provide paper QSLs using the Club’s QSL card shown above. All paper QSLs we send will note the correct County and Grid Square from which the QSL’ed contact was made. See N1FD on QRZ.com for QSL information.
County Hunters Net Frequency (SSB)
14.336 & 14.271 MHz
County Hunters Net Frequencies
We plan to operate on or near the County Hunters Net Frequencies listed above. We will be QRV SSB on all of these bands, and we may also do a limited amount of operating on 160m SSB as well.
Our Mobile HF Station
We hope you will take some time to work us during our trip. If you do and you read our Blog, please let us know. If we do not have other stations calling, we’d like to take a little time to say “hello” and get to know some of our readers better. We will also be attending the County Hunter’s Forum on Friday, May 15th, at this year’s Dayton Hamvention. If you are there, please introduce yourself, and we’ll have an “eyeball QSO”.