Three years a ham

The VE session we hold in August is always kind of special to me, as it always marks my ham radio cake day. The team got together Saturday morning for breakfast at a painfully early 7 a.m., and we proceeded to our testing location to get things started by 9 a.m. We saw a handful of upgrades to Extra, a few new Generals and a smattering of new Techs. We had one individual completely bomb the Tech (an XYL, who was brought to tears with news she hadn’t passed), and a young man who couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 missed passing the Tech exam by one question. His test was the final one I graded for the day, but since he was so close, enough of us agreed to stay and let him re-test. He passed with a nearly perfect score on the next go-round.

I typically take this session as a time to pause and reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the hobby. There isn’t that much to reflect on this year, but three things do stand out: Achieving the Worked All States Triple Play, operating as W1AW/4, and the recent VHF contest.

These are three very different experiences, but yet they represent the best of the best when it comes to this hobby. The Triple Play is a testament to tenacity, operating skill, patience and perseverance. Operating as W1AW/4 required every skill I have learned to this point. It tested my endurance, speed and ability to keep calm in a hectic situation. Also, it was an historic experience, and I probably won’t host pile-ups like that again for the rest of my life. The VHF contest was notable because it was something neither I nor my companions had done before, and we were successful. We owe that to the planning and determination of KN4QD. Above all, it was just fun and I had a good time hanging out on top of the mountain drinking Coke Zeros and gazing at antennas.

For sale

I’m determined to scale back a bit, so I’m looking to sell my Yaesu FT-847, desk mic and autotuner (plus a few extras). I just haven’t had a need for this one since installing the Elecraft. Contact me for details:

Random bits: Ham radio in the Twilight Zone; fresh ham; radio on the web

"Now you boys don't happen to be ham radio operators do you?"

“Now you boys don’t happen to be ham radio operators do you?”

One of my favorite shows as a kid was The Twilight Zone. I would stay up until after midnight waiting to watch the old re-runs on the weekends. I’ve been watching an episode or two on Netflix lately, as the whole catalog is available there.

An episode titled “Black Leather Jackets” caught my eye the other night and it was one I’d never seen before. As an episode, it was horrible, but it did have some hilarious ham radio banter about 6 minutes in. The plot revolves around a group of aliens masquerading as a motorcycle gang moving into a quiet neighborhood. Naturally, they are plotting to take over the world.

Their first order of business is to erect a very strange antenna, which apparently jams the TV signals of the rube neighbor, prompting him to blame ham radio operators.

“Just our luck. Ham radio operators. You know what they do to radio and television reception.”

The episode can be watched in full here, or skip ahead to the ham radio bits in the embed below:

Also in the aether

We’ve had some decent postings over at our club website lately.

And I really enjoyed this post from Radio Artisan yesterday on the most infamous frequency in radio:

Creating/Elmering hams

I’m happy to welcome into ham radio my buddy Tom, KM4AEF (Yes, KM). I met Tom last November in another organization I’m a member of, and we hit it off when I mentioned I was a radio amateur. He has an uncle and a grandparent who are hams, and was interested in learning more about the hobby.

This past weekend, I was happy to work as a volunteer examiner and write up his CSCE after he passed the Tech. My friend Ronnie, W4RWL, presented him with a dual-band handheld as a reward for his achievement. His callsign showed up in the ULS on Monday and I know we’ll be hearing him on the air soon.

Saturday’s VE session went over quite well. We had eight walk-ins, resulting in five new technicians and three general upgrades. Everyone left happy.

A weekend of service

Sunrise over Sesquicentennial State Park, Columbia, S.C., just after 7 a.m., shot with an iPhone 4S.

Busy weekend! Saturday our club assisted at the Run Wild 5K event held at Sesquicentennial State Park (pictured above). We provided communication support for runners in the park’s maze of woodland trails. I was called into doing a little traffic detail about two miles down trail at a critical intersection that many runners would have blown past if someone hadn’t been there to point them in the right direction. Overall, we had great support from club members and more than enough hams to serve the event.

Sunday, I joined a group of hams for a large, specially-called VE session at a local church. Members of the church had been involved in “prepping” activities and recently took a Technician class. We had 23 candidates and all but one passed on the first shot. I was fairly busy at the session and got to do a little bit of everything, including running CSCEs out to the new hams, assisting with ID checks and various paperwork.

The most fulfilling portion of the session was serving on a special sub-team to administer the exam to a blind candidate. I filled out his answer sheet while another VE read the exam for him. A third VE assisted with paperwork and double-checked the proceedings. I scored the candidate’s test and he crushed it with a perfect score. In fact, his was the only perfect score I personally saw all day!

I’m sure in a few weeks we’ll be welcoming some new hams on the local nets!

The ARMs ride

The Amateur Radio Motorcyclists (ARMs) ride again!

I started motorcycling about two years ago on a 2005 Triumph Bonneville America, but I never found a group of guys to ride with until I got involved in amateur radio.

Saturday, the Amateur Radio Motorcylists (ARMs) met up early and rode out for breakfast, then on to the weekend’s VE session. It was the second time I’d ridden with Ronnie (Past president of the Columbia Amateur Radio Club) and Carl as a trio. We met up with Steve, my partner in crime for Field Day 2012, at the restaurant. The range of bikes in our club is diverse. I’m on the British bike, Ronnie, a Valkyrie, Carl, a Yamaha, and Steve, a Sportster.

More members of the VE team arrived (on four wheels) and we enjoyed breakfast, hamspeak, and fellowship, before rolling over to the testing site. Testing groups have been large in the past. I can recall taking Element 2 back in August of last year and being amazed at how many other folks were there. The same was true in December when I took Element 3. The club’s VE team also passed a record number of new hams last summer during a massive session that made ARRL news.

But Saturday, only four candidates arrived for testing. It was unusual in that all four were there to take the Extra-class exam. One of them happened to be my uncle, KG4ITV.

In contrast, we had a whopping 13 VEs present. At least 4-5 of them (myself included) had never participated in a VE session before and we there observing. I was shadowing Ronnie, and ended up writing up CSCEs — which is really great, because the CSCE is like a golden ticket for a candidate who has just passed an element. I was glad to have a part in creating happy hams, hehe.

We had three folks pass Element 4, including my uncle. Family members aren’t allowed to administer each other’s exams, but it was my pleasure to give him the news that he’d passed and present him with a fresh CSCE confirming his /AE status.

Overall a great day of ham radio. Ironically, I didn’t turn on a radio all day!

In other news, I’m continuing my exploration of digital modes in my ramp-up for Field Day 2012. PSK has become more natural and I’m having great luck calling CQ on 14.070 and making contacts at 5 watts. So far most of them have been stateside.

JT65 remains a pleasant experience. I’ve altered my technique a bit to “run” on a segment of the frequency and just make contact after contact. Basically, after I complete a QSO, I flip-flop my even/odd transmit sequence and immediately start calling CQ again, which keeps that segment of the frequency occupied so someone doesn’t see a gap in the waterfall and start transmitting over me.

For example, I’ve been transmitting on even minutes and I complete a QSO from CQ to the final 73. I quickly log the QSO, immediately switch the transmit to odd minutes, hit the CQ macro and go back to transmitting. I don’t know if this is good etiquette, but it sure beats having to wait a minute to start CQing again on the even/odd minute, then having someone transmit over you on the next pass because they think the band portion isn’t occupied.

Steve and I are going to man a digital QRP station on 15 meters (PSK and maybe RTTY), and I suppose where ever else we can go. I’m very keen on remaining QRP and being as self-contained as possible. Although Field Day is considered a “contest that’s not really a contest” I’m going to try to be as competitive as possible to represent the club.