Monthly Archives: June 2012

I Posted This Using 40 Meters!

Wow! Would you believe I’m posting this by email using WINMORE and Winlink 2000? That’s right, the words you’re reading were transmitted over HF.

My laptop is hooked up to my Kenwood TS-440S with a DigiMaster Pro+, and as soon as I finish this email I’m going to send it over 40 meters. RMS Express will send it off to a Radio Mail Server (RMS) station, which will then send it over the Internet.

For all you CW lovers, I’m still with you. This technology doesn’t hold a candle to the feel of a key in my hand! But it is tremendously valuable for ARES work, no doubt about it. If you lose cell phone, long distance service and Internet in your area during a disaster (as happened just a few days ago up on the North Shore of Lake Superior during the catastrophic flooding in Duluth), this is the only way to get an email out — and email is perhaps the single best way to convey detailed information to the outside in a situation like that. The software is free, and it’s easy to use. What a great way to cover that “extra mile!”

That’s all I have time for right now because I have a bunch of things waiting for me that are more important than ham radio. But I wanted to take a few minutes to give this a whirl since I just got my WL2K account last night before hitting the sack. Have you used Winlink 2000 to some good purpose, perhaps in an emergency? If so, please share your story.

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Filed under ARES®, Digital Modes

Inexpensive Programming Cable for Kenwood Mobiles

To program my Kenwood TM-V71A dual-band mobile I needed a cable to connect the radio to my computer. Kenwood sells such a cable (the PG-5G) as do other vendors, but they are all a bit expensive. Looking for a less expensive alternative, I searched Amazon.com for a cable with the right connectors. (I really like Amazon.com because of the free two-day shipping that comes with my Amazon Prime membership!) Immediately I found a cable for $10.20 — the 3′ Hosa DBK-103 — and was pleasantly surprised to find this helpful review posted by William Bowen, K8WHB:

I bought this HOSA cable to connect my Kenwood TM-D710A 2M/70CM ham radio transceiver to my shack computer. Hosa advertises this cable for use in connecting a computer to various electronic musical instruments. They need to widen this recommendation – the cable will work on any device that uses a 8-pin mini-DIN connector for an RS-232 port that is wired in the standard Apple layout (crossover of data & control signals from the DB-9 end to the mini-DIN end).

I’ve seen cable from other vendors for this purpose, and some of the prices are just nuts (Kenwood wants $38 for an equiv. cable!!) and the construction quality of some of the other cables I’ve looked at is a bit suspect. The Hosa cable is well built with good strain reliefs on both ends & uses good quality shielded cable. That last item is very important when the cable is to be used in a radio shack, since one does NOT want to get RF feedback back into the radio’s control ports, especially when you are doing packet radio.

I’d HIGHLY recommend this cable to any ham that has a radio or other equipment that requires such a cable – it is a HIGH quality cable at a very attractive price.

Since the Kenwood TM-D710A takes the same cable as the TM-V71A, I figured this was the solution for me. I went with the longer version, though: the $12.75 Hosa DBK-110 10 Foot Synthesizer Controller Cable, 8-pin Mini-DIN to DE9.

To make serial cables work with my laptop I need a serial-to-USB adapter. These adapters have a chipset in them that require a driver on your computer. The two most common chipsets are the FTDI and the Prolific. I’ve had mixed success with Prolific before (if you’re using Ham Radio Deluxe, stay away from it or you’ll get the blue screen of death!) so I went with the excellent FTDI chipset and purchased this adapter.

After the UPS truck arrived this morning I went out to my pickup, plugged these cables together and connected my laptop to the Kenwood. They work great!

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Filed under Kenwood TM-V71A

How a Cross-band Repeater Helps My Family

Yesterday my son, Antonio, got his call sign: KDØSGL! He’s been putting his HT to use, too. It came in handy yesterday evening when we were at opposite ends of Walmart, and this morning he took it along with him when he went to mow grass for a widow. My daughter dropped him off along with the lawnmower, and I waited to hear Antonio on the radio so she could go pick him up when he finished. We have a couple of “private” channels programmed in our radios for simplex on 2m and 70cm with a sub-audible tone set for CTCSS.

My own personal repeater, sitting in the driveway!

The thing is, our handhelds don’t go quite that far if one of us is indoors — and I was. No problem! Once my daughter returned with the pickup, I just set my new (used) Kenwood TM-V71A to cross-band repeat between our two channels. It is as simple as turning it off and turning it on again while holding down the [TONE] button, so it only took a second. When my son finally called me, he was sending to the high-gain antenna on my pickup on 2m and being rebroadcast on 70cm at 50 watts. Needless to say he boomed in on my handheld on 70cm when he finally called, even though I was indoors. And when I replied on 70cm, the Kenwood in my pickup rebroadcast my signal on 2m at 50 watts, booming in on his handheld. He would have to have been mighty far away for us to have had trouble communicating.

One thing I like about the Kenwood TM-V71A is that you can set it to identify every 10 minutes using morse code when it is in repeater mode. I have it set to do just that. Sure enough, while I was working indoors waiting for Antonio to call, I heard “NØIP/R” a couple times in morse as my own personal repeater announced itself.

My friend tells me to watch out lest I drain my battery doing this, so I’m being careful how much I use my mobile radio in cross-band repeater mode. But for short periods for just my son and I, it is the perfect solution to extend the range of our handhelds.

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Filed under Kenwood TM-V71A, Portable Operation

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

Three of Mr. Fagen’s beautifully-restored, award-winning aircraft. Photo copied from fagenfighters.com.

Weeks ago I called Fagan Fighters & Warhawks, Inc. inquiring if they could use help with communications at the Ray Fagen Memorial Airshow on Saturday, June 16. The answer was yes! They had a gap in their communications between the airport and their remote parking lots. I put out a request for volunteers and started doing some tests. The challenges I faced were:

  • Terrain and distance: The first overflow lot was at a casino located quite close to the airport but down in a valley. The other overflow lots were located in the City of Granite Falls itself, down in a valley and far enough away to make it impossible for handhelds to communicate with the airport.
  • Intermod: The AWOS (Automated Weather Observing System) station on the airport blows away my handheld on some 2 meter frequencies.
  • Manpower: Out here in the sticks finding ham-volunteers is not easy.

Repeater coverage is patchy out here and not an option for handhelds at the airport. It quickly became apparent that to conquer terrain and distance we would need to set up a station on high ground running either as a net control station or as a cross-band repeater. Since I wanted to run a net anyway, I elected to simply run a simplex net. CTCSS would be necessary to combat intermod at the airport. I drove around until I found a likely spot at the top of a bluff roughly midway between the airport and the City of Granite Falls (where some overflow lots were located), and I secured permission from the property owner to set up a net control station for the airshow. After tests demonstrated significantly better performance on 70cm than 2m, I settled on 70cm, specifically MN ARES simplex channel HU-CHARLIE, 443.000 PL 203.5. I worked with a fellow at the airport and tested to make sure we would not interfere with their radios, then announced the plan by email to the group of volunteers who were forming up.

I was overwhelmed by the willingness of these volunteers (KCØPMF, ABØRE, KDØQEA, KCØQNA, KØNUT, KCØYBG and KCØYFY) to drive all the way out here, especially considering that they knew they’d be stuck in parking lots during the airshow. We needed their help since there aren’t very many active hams around here that I know of. Including myself we had eight hams lined up for Saturday morning.

After filling a cooler with water bottles, pop and ice I zipped over to the airport early on Saturday to find out who was in charge of parking. When I introduced myself to him I found out he had not heard anything about our involvement. I gulped, then explained that a ham would be assigned to shadow him and relay messages between him and remote lots. I encouraged him to ask anything he wanted of his shadow and we’d try to get it done for him.

When I set up as net control high on the bluff around 10:30 A.M., I assigned tactical call signs to make things easier: the ham shadowing the parking-director was AIRPORT-1, his partner was AIRPORT-2, the hams at the hayfield lot were HAYFIELD-1 and HAYFIELD-2, the hams at the gate were GATE-1 and GATE-2, and the ham at the casino was CASINO-1. At first I wasn’t sure just how helpful we would really be, but pretty soon we were very busy! Without us the parking-director had no way of knowing how full the lots were getting (information he needed to redirect traffic to the next lot) nor where the greatest demand for buses was at any given moment. We helped him with these things as well as a couple of miscellaneous tasks, including a search for two missing children (who were soon found). We finally shut down at 4:00 P.M. after the flow of traffic died, and then we all met at the airport office for a debriefing.

The parking-director said that at first, when I introduced myself to him that morning, he was a little irritated because he had no idea we were coming. I don’t blame him! My fault for not tracking him down. But after having worked with us, he said, “I don’t ever want to do another airshow without you guys!” He was positively glowing as he continued to praise us. I credited the volunteers who did the real work that day, and I encouraged the parking-director to spread the news about what we can do. This was a great opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities and work out some kinks in communicating in this area, too.

So many things came together to make this happen. Not only did these volunteers drive in from up to 80 miles away, but several others helped me prepare. Alfio Levy, KJ6JGS, went the extra mile and priority-shipped the Kenwood TM-V71A rig I bought from him last week so that I could get it installed in my pickup in time for the airshow. Caleb Streblow, the fellow who is courting my daughter, machined a bracket for me last week so that I could get a dual-band antenna mounted on my pickup. And Andrew Rosenau, KCØYFY, lent me his crimper, supplied me with Anderson Powerpole connectors, zipcord and fusing, and helped me with testing our radios around the area prior to the event. My thanks to all!

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Filed under ARES®, Portable Operation

My Son Passed His Tech!

My 16-year-old son, Antonio, has been studying hard for his Technician license, and yesterday evening three VE’s — Dean, NYØI, Scott, KBØNLY, and Terry, KCØQED — paid us a house call. When they showed up, I was out in the driveway installing a dual-band antenna on my pickup. They crowded around, watching me, helping where they could, and chatting while Antonio grilled steaks in the back yard. Pretty soon the aroma of grilled ribeye had our mouths watering!

Terry, KCØQED, left, and Antonio (nervously contemplating the exam), right

After one of the biggest feasts we have ever had, the testing began. Antonio was pretty nervous at first, but he breezed through the test easily. Terry scored it, turned to me and gave me a thumbs up! While the other two VE’s scored Antonio’s test, I went and got the Wouxon KG-UV6D HT (with leather case, high-gain antenna, speaker-mic, and emergency AA-battery pack) I’ve had waiting for him. He smiled as he opened the box and started taking things out and putting them together. Antonio called Grandpa Mitchell, NØARQ, to share the good news. Just for fun he also took the General exam, and surprised himself by coming closer to passing than he expected — now he wants to study for that!

Antonio is interested in ARES® (he got an ARES vest yesterday, too), but he’s also interested in other aspects of amateur radio. Yesterday evening he said he would like to start up our CW lessons again so he can work HF CW, and he also wants to join the ARRL and the West Central MN Amateur Radio Club.

Here’s a slide show with a few more snapshots from yesterday evening. Congratulations, Antonio!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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Filed under Elmering

YMC ARES Training Net Begins!

Last night at 8:00 P.M. I held our first Yellow Medicine County ARES Training Net. The plan is to do this every Monday night at 8:00 P.M. and to cover a specific learning objective each time. Dean Herzberg, NYØI, graciously agreed to let us use his 2 meter repeater in Milan for this.

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I’m trying to mimic the Arizona Emergency Net. They have been doing some excellent work, and you can listen to recordings of their training nets online (click here for their archives).

Yesterday’s topic was “Tactical Call Signs.” After explaining the concept of tactical call signs, I assigned one to each operator, asking him to acknowledge it. Then I put the operators through a little exercise. I explained that I would call each one of them with his tactical call sign, and after he replied with his tactical call sign, I would ask him a question. When he answered the question, he was to conclude with his FCC call sign. This is standard format; signing with the FCC call sign tells net control that the operator considers the exchange complete. Here’s an example:

Net control: “EOC-1”
EOC-1: “EOC-1”
Net control: “EOC-1, what is your favorite mode?”
EOC-1: “My favorite mode is FM. NØJXI”

The stations who checked in did a great job. The whole net took only about 15 minutes; I tried to make it short, sweet, and to the point, and since we didn’t have many check-ins it didn’t last long.

All hams within range of the repeater are welcome to participate in this net, whether or not they are in Yellow Medicine County and whether or not they have registered with ARES. I do hope that this will draw some hams into ARES, though. Now that we have something like this going, it’s time to beat the bushes by sending out letters to local hams inviting them to take part.

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Filed under ARES®, Nets, Operating Practice & Procedure

Gremlins Lurk in the Junk Heap

Three weeks ago my EchoLink station went deaf. Thanks to the West Central MN Amateur Radio Club’s antenna analyzer, I figured out right away that the problem was in the feedline/antenna system. Ever since then I have been either too busy or too nervous to go on the roof, so it has remained a mystery . . . until this afternoon.

Antonio Mitchell checking SWR on the Edison Fong J-Pole

Antonio, my son, went up on the roof with the antenna analyzer while I watched from the ground. He did a great job taking all the tape and coax seal off the PL-259, disconnecting the coax from the antenna, and hooking up the antenna analyzer to the antenna with a patch cord. “One point two!” he called down to me. There you have it — it was the coax! I realized what I’d done. Here I had some brand-new coax in my field-kit, but I ended up grabbing a different coil of junk coax and got bitten by a Gremlin. I found the new, already-terminated coil of coax and Antonio swapped it for the bad length, carefully wrapping the PL-259 with coax seal and rescue-tape. In short order we had the station back on the air.

All that, and Antonio doesn’t even get to use it yet. Hopefully soon! Antonio has been studying hard for his Technician exam this week. He is eager to take the test.

Thanks, Antonio, for getting the EchoLink back up and running for all of us.

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Filed under Antennas, EchoLink, Elmering, Test Equipment