Why Ham Radio?

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Fred’s Truck with Antenna

Every so often, I drive Fred’s truck into 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  But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology?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_could_save_lives_in_times__2205260000_9445423_ver1-0_640_480

Amateur Radio for Public Service

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.

hamsats

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.

vk6lc

QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia

International Camaraderie

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!

world-map

Amateur Radio Map of the World

Geography Lesson

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

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.

anita-instructor

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.

There are so many interesting aspects of Ham Radio which is what makes is such a great hobby.  Getting your license can open up a world of possibilities.  Upgrading to a new license class provides more opportunities to communicate over longer distances.  Ham Radio clubs, including our local club, the Nashua Area Radio Club,  provide many resources to help you get your first licenseupgrade to a new license class, and learn about the many aspects of our hobby.

2014 Thirteen Colonies Special Event Operations

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

The 13 Colonies Special Event had another record year, completing over 108,800 contacts around the world during the 6 days of the event. This was about 25% more contacts than last year. We added the WARC bands to our operations this year which provided folks a chance to work several US states on these bands. This, no doubt, helped to increase interest in the event. The NH Operators had a good year this year completing over 9,000 contacts. I operated mostly SSB phone on 160m – 6m and made over 6,800 contacts during the 6 days of the event.

Category

QSOs % QSOs States DXCCs
SSB 7182 79% 50 71
CW 1546 18% 48 58
Digital (RTTY + PSK) 293 3% 26 36
160m 3 <1% 3 1
80m 82 1% 28 5
40m 2008 22% 46 32
30m 246 3% 34 26
20m 2936 31% 49 59
17m 1473 17% 49 53
15m 1443 17% 47 59
12m 268 3% 41 15
10m 361 4% 39 9
6m 201 2% 31 4

2014 13 Colonies QSO Statistics for the K2K NH Hampshire Stations

I thought it might be interesting for our readers to see how an operation like this breaks down in terms of bands and modes. The table above provides these stats for this year’s K2K NH operation. As you can see, the daytime band activity reflects the state of the solar cycle with most contacts being made on 20m, 17m and 15m. Operations on the 40m band are primarily during nighttime and are essential for many folks in the states close to New Hampshire to make a contact with us. SSB Phone is usually the most popular mode in this event with CW also being quite popular. It’s a little hard to grasp the diversity of the contacts that stations make during an event like this. Here are some additional stats for our operation in NH this year:

  • DXCC’s Worked – 82 (A good portion of a DXCC – not bad for a “US” event.)
  • DXCC Band Points Worked – 263 (A band point is a given DXCC on a unique band.)
  • CQ Zones Worked – 27
  • Unique Callsign Prefixes Worked – 1,061
  • Worked All 50 US States On The SSB Phone Mode
  • US Counties Worked – 1,416
  • IOTAs Worked – 60
  • 6m Grids Squares Worked – 94 (Almost a VUCC! Some DX from EU in here.)
  • Contacts Made To All 6 Continents

As you can see from this list, the event has become quite popular with folks outside the United Sates. There are quite a few DX operators that complete a sweep, working all 13 Colonies and the two Bonus Stations (WM3PEN and W3FT).

6m Opening During The 13 Colonies Special Event

6m Opening During The 13 Colonies Special Event

We had some very nice 6m Es Openings during the event. I worked a couple of these as K2K making about 200 contacts on 6m and working 94 unique grid squares – almost a VUCC on 6m! Amazingly, the conditions where good enough to generate a pileup for the duration of one of these openings. This was the first year that I have had the chance to focus on making contacts on the Magic Band and the  6m openings during the event were a nice chance to make some more contacts on 6m.

AB1QB's 13 Colonies Sweep Certificate

AB1QB’s 13 Colonies Sweep Certificate

Many operators who participate in the event do so with the goal of working all 13 Colonies and the two bonus stations for a clean sweep. Ken Villone, KU2US is the event coordinator and he provides a nice certificate each year for folks who work one or more of The Colony Stations. Anita, AB1QB completed her sweep this year and the picture above shows the nice certificate that she received for doing so. If you worked one or more of the 13 Colonies Stations, you can apply for a certificate here.

K2K New Hampshire QSL!

K2K New Hampshire QSL!

Many folks work the event to collect our QSL cards and for Worked All States Award Credit. This results in quite a few QSL cards being sent! The picture above shows the outgoing QSL response about 1 week after the event. This batch contained about 700 cards. The total QSL’s we will send in response to 2014 operations as K2K New Hampshire will be approximately 1,000 cards. We added ClubLog OQRS, LoTW and eQSL as alternatives to confirm contacts with the K2K New Hampshire Stations this year and many folks have used these to confirm contacts as well.

As the 2014 13 Colonies Special Event and the follow-up QSL’ing draws to a close, I have many great memories to look back on. I am already looking forward to the 2015 event. Ken has created a really great looking certificate for the 2015 event and you can see a preview here. I hope to contact many of readers as part of the 2015 13 Colonies Special Event!

Fred (AB1OC)

Displaying QSL Cards

QSL Card Picture Frame

QSL Card Picture Frame

We send and receive quite a few paper QSL cards. Some HAMs create some stunning QSL cards and we really enjoy looking at our cards from time to time. It’s nice to be able to display your favorite cards in your shack and to include those from rare DX Stations and memorable QSOs. The classic way to do this is to create a display of your favorite QSL cards on the wall of your shack and many HAMs do this. DX Engineering recently began providing a more contemporary way to display QSL cards – a QSL Display Kit which includes a Digital Picture Frame and a scanner optimized for this purpose.

QSL Card Scanner

QSL Card Scanner

The kit from DX Engineering includes a card scanner that is optimized for scanning QSL cards. It scans one card at a time and it will handle QSL cards in formats up to 4″x6″. This size will accommodate all but the occasional super-size QSL card. The scanner may be used standalone or with a PC. In the standalone configuration, it scans QSL cards directly to an SD Flash Memory Card which is then plugged directly into the Digital Frame that comes with the kit. The scanner does automatic cropping of the cards to eliminate black edges and is very fast – scanning a cards takes only a few seconds. I connected my scanner to a PC which allows me to keep a copy of my scanned cards there. The scanner handles single sheet cards only – those that come as “books” with multiple pages must be scanned in a standard sheet scanner (cards scanned this way display just fine when added to the frame’s SD card). I also find that the scanner’s automatic cropping will occasionally get a little aggressive and cut off a bit of the callsign on a card if the callsign is printed close to the edge of a cards. I personally do not find this to be much of an issue with the kit’s scanner.

Display Of A Favorite QSL

Display Of A Favorite QSL

The included 7″ diagonal picture frame is a basic one that is 16:9 formatted. It has a nice, crisp display and it has programmable on and off times and display transitions but does not handle randomizing the order in which the QSL images are displayed. I personally prefer a random ordering so I found a utility called RandomNames that can randomize the filenames of all files in a directory. I make a copy of all of my scanned images in a separate directory and run this utility from inside that directory to randomize all of the filenames which store my QSL cards. The files are then copied to the frame’s SD Flash Memory card and the result is that the frame displays the cards in random order.

All in all, I am happy with the QSL Display Kit from DX Engineering. It provides a quick way to scan and display my favorite QSL cards as I receive them. It is a nice addition to our shack.

– Fred (AB1OC)