Saturday, March 30, 2013

National Traffic Nets

When I was scanning the airwaves one night, I happened in on something rather interesting. It was the Amateur Radio National Traffic Service, specifically the Virginia branch of it. The specific group I ran in to was called the Northern Virginia Traffic System.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Phonetic Alphabet

Alpha-Oscar-Sierra-Tango. We've all heard people use words that don't seem to make a sentence, but that people seem to get something out of them. What is the point of these?

First of all, let me explain what it is. These words represent letters. Specifically, they represent the letter of the first word in the alphabet. This allows for transmission of letters that need to be exact, even if the channel is noisy. The classic example is B and D. If you just say the name of the letter, they can often be confused. If you want to make sure you get it right, you should say Bravo and Delta.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why HF?

In some of my ramblings here, I realize that I've never really explained well what the purpose of talking over High Frequency (HF) is, or some of the basics behind it. I hope to correct that problem from this post, to let everyone know about the great benefits of HF, and try to convince people it's worth the time and money it takes to operate on HF.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


One of the things I had the most difficulty with when studying for the Amateur Radio tests was the Q-codes. There are a ton of them, and they don't really make a whole lot of sense. I have come to know what a few of them were since I started getting on the air, but there are others that are still a big mystery to me... But for now, here's the ones that I've decoded, I'll periodically edit this post to include more.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Looking for an HF starter radio

I've got my amateur extra license, and as a result, I would really like to get on HF. I've been doing quite a bit of research into the radio, antenna, and other gear that I will need to make my HF experience awesome, and to be able to talk across the world! Here is some of the radios that I'm considering:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lessons from the VA QSO party

My score is counted, my logs are in, overall I'm ready to go. So, now that I've done my first contest, what do I think of the whole thing?

First of all, let me start out with my score. I ended up with 6710 points, if I did all of my math correctly. That ended up to be 58 mobile contacts, 22 phone contacts, 24 multipliers, and 20 different counties. I believe I made a contact almost 100 miles away by 2m simplex! It was a fun trip, I did see some cool weather, but I ended up driving 350 miles, which was a bit too much... Still, I would say that it was worth it overall.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lesson 3- Basic electronics

Electronics are any device that runs on Electricity. Essentially, Electricity is the flow of electrons through a conductor. There are 3 key things in electronics that are the most fundamental principals, which are all related to each other. I'm going to relate them to water flowing through a hose, which isn't a completely unrelated concept.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Repeaters are the staple of life for a Ham operating on 6 meters or lower, but are legal for any amateur frequency higher than 28 MHz. Essentially, these bands have almost no propagation beyond line of site (Except for rare circumstances). In addition, many of these devices are mobile, including a fair number of hand held radios. These are limited on power, and are of a frequency that they could easily be obstructed by objects in the way.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Operating the Virginia QSO contest on VHF only

With the Virginia QSO party coming tomorrow, I thought I'd share a bit about my experience with operating on VHF for the party. It will be quite a challenge, but I'm up to it, because I planned a head.

Operating an amateur radio contest only on VHF is quite tricky. Essentially, VHF is only line of site, with perhaps a bit of "Tropospheric bending" possible. But, for the Virginia QSO party, it is actually quite possible to do well, if you plan carefully. I'm not going to reveal all of my secrets, but here's a few general tips.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lesson 2- Ham Radio Frequency Bands

The following is US centric, but most of the amateur bands across the world are quite similar. The following chart is borrowed from, and shows not only the band information, but also the frequency and how to use that particular frequency. Of course, the given use is only typical, it really depends on the exact propagation variables for the day in question.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Toying with an App idea...

So, I'm toying with an idea to write an app that is specifically made to help everyone pass the Amateur Radio test. This would be a low cost app. I haven't quite put the pen to paper on the idea yet, but I would in general look for what kinds of things the person appears to know well, and what subjects they need to study a bit more. The app would also provide some additional help in several key areas, possible via a link to this blog, or possible otherwise.

At first, this would just be a technician level test, but I would probably include General, Amateur Extra, and possible even Morse Code at some point in time. I might even just include some general information stuff.

If this sounds of interest to anyone, please let me know.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Morse Code

One of the big things that kept me from getting Amateur Extra earlier, and one major stumbling block that many people have had historically with Amateur Radio, is Morse Code. The requirement to learn it for the Technician level was removed in the United States in 1991, and for all license in 2007. I should make this very clear before I continue any further, Morse Code is not required for ANY amateur radio license in the United states, nor is it required by the ITU. Still, it is a common form of communication for amateurs, and if one knows it well, it can allow for communication through methods other than the voice that it typically represents.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Talking on Simplex on 2m

For the upcoming Virginia QSO contest, I will have to learn to make simplex contacts. Simplex is simply direct communication between two stations. There is only a small portion of the 2m band devoted to simplex, most it is rather crowed with repeater inputs and outputs. There is a certain challenge to getting in a simplex contact, you can make it happen.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mission Accomplished!

As I've mentioned here a few times, I really have wanted to get an antenna up in my attic. This has a few really nice advantages. First of all, it allows me to have a permanent home for my antenna. I've been having to manually position my antenna closer to the window when I need to use it, causing a potential trip hazard. Secondly, it gets it above the aluminum siding of my home. There are all sorts of issues with that, but basically, it really blocks signal badly. Lastly, I wanted to use my new Arrow J-pole, which doesn't require an RF ground, as it is a balanced antenna. That allows me to greatly simplify my set up.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Quest for Cable

As I've mentioned a few times, I'm looking to put antennas in my attic or otherwise in a high location. In order to really do that, I'm going to have to find some good quality cable. Cable is perhaps the unsung hero of amateur radio. You can have the worlds best antenna, and 1500 W out of your transmitter, but if your cable isn't up to snuff, then you can lose a significant portion of your power before it even hits the antenna.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Logbook of the World and QSL Cards

Historically, Hams wanted a way of showing other people that they had talked with people all over the world. At the time, the method chosen was the QSL Card.

Essentially, a QSL card is something received in the mail acknowledging that you had contact with someone. When I used to make satellite contacts, I would get them all the time. These cards cost money to print, money to send, but are cool notices that you talked with someone far away. Here is a sample card that I received some time ago, when I was in to doing satellite contacts.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Road to Amateur Extra

After I made my decision to upgrade my license, I started by taking an online practice test. I should say that I had a bit of an advantage over many people taking the test. I have a masters degree in Electrical Engineering. I currently work as a Satellite Engineer for a small satellite communications company. With those two advantages, and having a working understanding of amateur radio from my previous work with it, I was able to do pretty well. Just a few things I realize can get you most of the questions. If you can memorize these facts, then you are well on your way.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Virginia QSO Pary 2013

One of the big things that Hams like to do is contests. During these contests, the best operators will make thousands of contacts from over a hundred countries. I'm not able to do that, quite frankly. While I have the license for HF that is capable of world wide communication, I don't have the transceiver or antenna for it... Still, I've been interested in doing a competition of some sort. So, what options are there?