VHF or death

Setting up the 6m and 2m antennas.

Apparently there was some kind of big deal happening up in Hartford, CT, this past weekend, that all the ham radio hipsters, the ham-famous, and #WATwitter crowd attended. I personally don’t have time for such trifles, and instead spent a few solid evenings honing my RTTY skills and operating as W1AW/4.

To further extend the fun, I was invited to go along on a little excursion up to the summit of Little Mountain Saturday, where we attempted to make some VHF contacts as W1AW/4 for the purposes of submitting a check-log to the CQ WW VHF Contest. The field day-like excursion was the brainchild of Todd, KN4QD — a master telegrapher and occasional Twitter celebrity. We were also joined by “Short Time” Steve, KI4VGA, my occasional CW study partner, and an antenna whisperer in his own right. My job was basically to secure food and drinks.

We pressed my 6-meter moxon antenna into use, along with an InnovAntenna 5-element 2-meter Yagi, borrowing some military surplus fiberglass masts and a 2-meter amp from the “Coca-Cola Kid” Ronnie, W4RWL, the president of the mostly fictional ARMs MC — a motorcycle gang representing approximately 1% of the membership of the Columbia Amateur Radio Club.

In all, 22 contacts were logged, mostly on 6 meters. We had a decent band opening that resulted in CW and phone Qs as far north as Canada, and as far south as Puerto Rico. Two meters was largely dead, save for some locals and a gentleman up near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina (we contacted him on both bands). For the three of us, it was our first time working 2m SSB/CW, and the fact that we made any contacts at all out in open water was amazing.

Grey skies and occasional rain made for some cooler temperatures on top of Little Mountain.

Grey skies and occasional rain made for some cooler temperatures on top of Little Mountain.

Still waiting on the magic to happen

I feel like I’m doing something wrong, because 6 meters isn’t proving to be very magical.

I was home all day today for the July 4th holiday and watched multiple, large band openings happen from 8 a.m. this morning until 11 p.m. tonight. Spinning the antenna in the direction of where the action was happening, I’ve only managed to make a grand total of one QSO, a digital mode contact to New Brunswick, Canada. I also spoke with a local guy on sideband, most likely from ground-wave propagation, as he was probably only 20 or so miles to the west.

I did have good luck Wednesday evening. I soldered up a few PL connectors and ran a length of coax back to my radio room and into the FT-847, I was greeted with booming signals: digital, voice and CW. I worked two CW stations back to back, then switched up to 50.276 and worked a few stations with JT65. Some of those JT signals were the loudest I’ve ever heard on that mode. Then the band started drying up and the fun ended.

The band seemed to open back up later that evening, but I never copied anything else.

UV-3R+ receive issue

I’ve been singing the praises of the $40 Baofeng UV-3R+ since I purchased one at the Charlotte Hamfest a few weeks back. It’s the perfect combination of cheap and good. It’s also very lightweight.

Several hams in the local area were very interested in the rig when I brought it to the last meeting and I knew a few fellows ordered one. Additionally, many of the new hams in the area (their callsigns are up to KK4P** now, wow!) have these Chinese handhelds and have been using them to check in on the local “newbie net” with varying degrees of success, depending on how far they are from the tower.

But I’ve noticed an issue with my UV-3R that could be a deal-breaker.

Last week I was mobile, monitoring a net on 2 meters, and the control op called for a group of check-ins. Minutes went by and I heard nothing. The display on the radio looked normal. I thought the repeater had died, since we’ve been hearing some random noise on it recently. I was nearly at my destination before I decided to key the radio and see if the repeater was still working.

I keyed up, and the radio crackled back to life. The net was still in full swing, and no one was complaining about the repeater.

Last night I was on my evening walk and listening to the same repeater. I checked in, was acknowledged by the net control station and he was listening for more call groups. Another long period of silence followed. Fearing the rig had “locked up” on me again, I switched to another frequency and then back to the repeater. The control op was back and apparently I’d missed three check-ins during the period of silence.

A search of the Baofeng Yahoo Group revealed some similar complaints. Apparently the rig’s “power save” mode causes the radio to go comatose from time to time. Pressing a button will wake it back up.

In both of my cases, I had just turned the radio on or had recently keyed, so it shouldn’t have gone to sleep. I hope turning the power save mode off will correct this issue. Otherwise, there’s no way I can reliably use this radio for public service.

Last night I used the earpiece and pendant mic for the first time and it worked, albeit questionably. Turning the volume up to a comfortable level resulted in unlistenable crackling audio. No report on how the mic sounded, but I was able to successfully check into the net, so it was good enough. This morning, I noticed the flimsy panel on the side of the radio that covers the earpiece and mic ports doesn’t close properly — a minor annoyance.

So you get what you pay for I guess.

ISS finally heard: An astronaut phones home

Image above: Pictured from the left are NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, commander; along with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, Russian cosmonaut Evgeny Tarelkin, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, all flight engineers. Photo credit: NASA

It took me a while (nearly a year in fact), but I FINALLY heard phone activity from the International Space Station tonight.

I was on Heavens Above recently and noticed a high, 80-degree visible pass of the ISS would occur just after 7:30 p.m. local time tonight. Since I’m normally out walking around that time, and considering we’ve had clear skies for the past two nights, I knew I’d have a good chance of at least seeing the ISS pass over. I decided I’d fire up a radio and see if anything could be heard.

I connected my VX-7 handheld to the magmount antenna on my car, dialed up the ISS uplink/downlink split and began calling NA1SS. Naturally, no one answered me… then a female voice broke through, full quieting, and crystal clear. It wasn’t in response to my call though; it sounded like a QSO in-progress.

As far as I could tell from the QSO (and from doing some digging on the ISS site) I was listening to station Commander Sunita Williams (@astro_suni), KD5PLB, calling Massachusetts to speak with one of her family members, KB1TBT.

I always record my ISS attempts on my iPhone, so I have an MP3 of the QSO. Among the topics discussed? The weather naturally!

So no contact for me, but I’m encouraged. I’d say there is a good chance in making a QSO with the station in the very near future. Not only that, but it was amazing hearing that clear transmission come through my speaker, and being able to look up and actually see the station cruising 250 miles overheard moving nearly 8 km/s! Simply amazing. I wave at those guys every time I see them fly over.

Finally, some 6-meter action

I get 6-meter activity alerts sent to my e-mail via DX Sherlock, and I’ve been receiving them regularly for the last week or so, but whenever I turn on the rig, all I hear is fairly course static.

I was out on my evening walk and remembered the Sandlapper SSB Net meets on Tuesday evenings around 8 p.m. After a sudden thunderstorm cut my walk short, I dashed into the house, toweled off and spun the VFO until I was on 50.250. I didn’t hear anything at first, then Paul, K4IRT, came on with a weather report and check-ins ensued. His signal sounded weak but I could clearly copy him above the noise.

I was simply happy to have finally heard ANYONE on 6 meters. So I attempted to check in. To my surprise, I was heard. Once he realized I was calling from Columbia, he aimed his beam my way and we could hear each other clearly.

He mentioned a net for me to check out: The long-established North Carolina Six Meter SSB Net, held Saturday mornings around 8 a.m. on 50.200. I’ll give it a listen, as I’ve been trying to participate in more nets on sideband, but it does appear a beam antenna is required for this type of work unless the band is wide open.