Back on the air

And I’m back… both on the air and on the Internet.

A few weeks ago I was examining my analytics and noticed quite a bit of traffic being referred to my site from a strange domain that was not ham-radio related. That also seemed to coincide with some weird comments that appeared on some postings here. So I made the site private for a few weeks  in hopes that whatever was going on would blow over. We’ll see how things look after a few days.

qsos-on-10I finally took some time this weekend to get back on the air, and it couldn’t have been a better weekend for it. I’d been hearing about all this great action on 10 meters, and hoped to get a piece of the action before conditions changed. Saturday, 10 meters was wide open to just about everywhere. I’ve never heard 10 meters — or any other band — that active in the few years I’ve been fooling with this stuff. I could hear stations on top of stations. From the bottom of the amateur portion to the top. Signals were so loud, I was riding the RF gain control about mid-way, with the attenuator in-line, and could STILL copy weak stations. It was the first time I think I’ve had to use the K3’s SSB narrow filtering and shift to really separate stations and it worked quite well.

It probably helped that the CQ Worldwide SSB contest was in full-swing, and I was able to work quite a few stations on 10 meters in an hour and a half. Some of the more interesting ones included Slovenia, Germany, Croatia, France, Spain, St. Croix, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Idaho, Costa Rica and the U.K.

15 meters was just as busy and I had a few QSOs there as well. I never made it to 20 meters or the lower bands since I got my fill of action on 10 and 15.

For whatever reason, I haven’t been enjoying radio as much in recent months, mostly because I felt like I needed a directional antenna to compete with the other guys out there. Saturday definitely proved that you don’t need a big antenna to have fun, particularly when conditions are right. There was more action than I could handle just on the lowly dipole.

Ironically, a local ham offered to give me a 10 meter beam a few months back and I laughed off his offer, assuming 10 meters was just never going to become active anytime soon. Now I look like a real jughead for not taking him up on that.

Elsewhere…

I must offer apologies for being such a miserable bastard in the tone of my recent postings. Before I went offline, I ranted a bit about JOTA/JOTI. Having now volunteered for JOTA, I can appreciate how difficult it is to make the jamboree “work.” My pal Steve and I worked with about 130 scouts — most were very young, 7-10 years old, and as hyper as you’d expect kids that age to be. It was a challenge to keep them focused on radio.

We discovered they enjoyed playing with the CW paddles and keys — and why not — they can press a lever and make rhythmic noises. What’s not to like about that? Note to self, bring more code oscillators next time.

I tried to lecture them a bit on radio wave propagation and how signals bounce off the atmosphere. We explained Morse code and demoed it by tapping out some of the participants’ names. We kept the whacker/emcomm chat to a minimum. I actually spoke to a handful of parents who were interested in the hobby and told them how to get licensed, what to study, how to get involved, etc.

We had trouble making any contacts on HF, owing to a QSO party that camped out around some of the JOTA frequencies on 40 meters. We didn’t fare much better on 20 meters either, since we were running off batteries and didn’t have the output to break through. We did hear a lot of scouts on the air, but there were pile-ups on the loudest stations. Steve did manage to get some of our scouts talking to a gentleman a few states away on 40 meters, but band conditions degraded rapidly, along with attention spans.

We grew tired of trying to make HF contacts, so I spent a large portion of the day hiking in the nearby woods with a handheld and the scouts talked to me on 2 meters from the base.

I think JOTA may be better suited for older scouts — I don’t think any of the kids we saw had even made Webelo yet. Also, it would have been ideal if we could have been stationed indoors, particularly after bad weather rolled in during the late afternoon. But it also occurred to Steve and I that JOTA requires a lot of dedication from hams who aren’t affiliated with the scouts. If there aren’t hams out there to talk to, the whole thing fails.

Organizers seem to envision a pipe-smoking Ward Cleaver at his ham set, complete with glowing tubes, merrily chatting with scouts that just walked off the cover of a 1960s-era issue of Boys’ Life, with the spirit of Baden-Powell overseeing everything. In reality, the weekend is filled with contesting, QSO parties and rapid exchanges. I imagine it’s hard to find a moment to talk to some nervous scouts.

Also, enough credit can’t be given to the hams who bring their own gear for the scouts to use. One cannot underestimate the destructive power of children (or the lassitude of lax parents watching from several feet away), and I was surprised our gear came out unscathed!

Overall, it was a good experience. I’d like to try it again in the future under more ideal conditions, and with an older group of participants.

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