Category Archives: Portable Operation

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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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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Have Handheld, Will Travel — Fourth Stop: The Wedding!

I’m exhausted, so I’m going to make this quick. It’s been a full day! Today our dear friend Rachel got married to Wayne, a fine fellow, in the chapel of Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. That of course was the highlight of the day, but what is of most interest on this blog is how ham radio played a small part.

Brent Marshall, K4EMC, Todd Mitchell, NØIP, and John Marshall, KI4JQB

Our good friends, the Marshalls, are staying at the same hotel as we are. Since roaming charges are so high up here in Canada, we all have our cell phones turned off. But two of the Marshalls are hams, and they also brought along an HT. Here is a picture of Brent Marshall, K4EMC, and his son John Marshall, KI4JQB, standing with me at the end of the day’s festivities.

Before splitting up this morning, we agreed upon a simplex frequency and a repeater: the one at the top of the CN tower, VE3TWR. My wife and I went on to Wycliffe College while the Marshalls took in the town for a couple of hours. Thanks to our HT’s we stayed connected, and it’s good that we did. I radioed a subway route to them and, more importantly, passed a couple of messages back and forth between the mother of the bride and Mrs. Marshall, upon whom the harried mother was relying for help. When we were too far apart to use simplex, we used the tower repeater.

Nowadays we rely upon our cellphones so much that we forget sometimes how useful these radios can be. I brought my HT along on this trip for entertainment, but today it came in mighty handy.

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Have Handheld, Will Travel — Third Stop: VE3OSC!

This morning I once again brought my HT outside with me while I sipped my morning coffee. Don, VA3XFT, was my first contact. Don is a friendly, helpful fellow. The first time I met him was yesterday evening, when he heard me calling for Wade, VE3WGK — when Wade didn’t answer, Don called me and offered to call Wade on the telephone for me. I didn’t take him up on it then, but this morning I did take him up on his offer to call and find out more about the amateur radio station at the Ontario Science Centre. When he came back on the air he said that the station is manned every day from 1000-1400 hrs. Thanks, Don!

After another contact with Steve, VA3SF (who, like Don, operated the repeater we were using), I prepared to go to the Ontario Science Centre. My wife decided to come along, making it a grand adventure. We walked to the nearby subway terminal and soon were rumbling along. After transferring to a bus, we arrived at the Ontario Science Centre and made our way to amateur radio station VE3OSC on the fourth level.

Bill, VA3WTT, volunteering at VE3OSC

Bill, VA3WTT, was manning the station. This Scottish gentleman showed us the warmest hospitality, inviting me to come into the booth, sign the guestbook, and check in to a 2m ARES net that was in progress.

NØIP checking in to the Toronto ARES 11:00 daily 2m net

Ken, VA3KRS, was net control and gave me a warm welcome.

Bill also helped me get on 40m, where I tapped out a CQ with some Bencher paddles. For some reason the HF radio seemed deaf, so I’m not sure all was in order at the moment. But no matter! I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the station of the Ontario Science Centre Amateur Radio Club. It’s a great idea. I applaud the Ontario Science Centre for including this permanent display, and I applaud all the hams who man it every day.

Bill gave me a very nice QSL card, pictured above, and shook my hand. After saying farewell, my wife and I made our way to the OMNIMAX theater where we watched a documentary on the building of the Canadian Railroad through the Rocky Mountains. It was informative and full of amazing footage of a restored steam engine puffing through some sublimely scenic parts of Canada.

None of this would have happened had I not brought along my HT on this trip. Only because I happened to contact Wade, VE3WGK, did I learn about the station at the Ontario Science Centre. I’m glad I brought the HT, and I’m glad I met Wade and all these other fellows on the air. Maybe when I get back home I’ll even EchoLink back to Toronto and chat with them again on 2m and 70cm.

Here you can see some more photos of our trip to VE3OSC, the amateur radio station at the Ontario Science Centre.

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Have Handheld, Will Travel — Second Stop: Toronto!

The view from Chinatown, Toronto.
You’ll have to imagine the siren.

One hour after finally rolling to a stop in Toronto yesterday, I felt like I had come home. Don’t get me wrong — there are all sorts of reasons I like living in the (relatively) small town of Granite Falls, MN. The congregation I pastor loves the Lord and loves one another, and the area is a beautiful part of the country. But I grew up in the big(ger) city, and I’ve come to appreciate things that for many years I took for granted (and that most of my country friends despise).

Mountain ranges of brick, concrete, steel and glass towering over concrete valleys. Endless streams of people flowing with a rush of different accents, different languages, different colors. Magical groves of old ivy-covered buildings. Flowery fields of shops, inns, and restaurants, some native grown, but even more transplanted from the four corners of the world. Toronto is all of these and more. It’s an unusually clean city, and friendly, too.

Not that it’s a perfect place. I have no doubt that there is a seamy side to Toronto like everywhere else. And let me tell you, the traffic is the worst I’ve seen anywhere. But as horrible as the traffic is, it brings out something great in this city: pedestrians, and a spectacular profusion of small shops that cater to pedestrians.

My daughter in Chinatown.

Cities like this are the last bastion of the small businessman, because the countryside is being has been taken over by big box stores. I shop at Walmart; these people shop at mom and pop stores. The industrial revolution may have begun in the big city, but it manifested itself most fully when it ravaged the countryside. The rural area I know is infinitely more industrialized than anything I’ve seen here.

Anyhow, yesterday evening after a cookout put on by the bride’s family I programmed my HT with a bunch of repeaters in the area. This morning I enjoyed my coffee outdoors, HT in hand. “NØIP portable VE3 listening,” I called. My first contact was on the VA3SF 70cm repeater with Jay, VE3EMP, a nice fellow who welcomed me to Toronto. Then I chatted at length with Wade, VE3WGK, on the 70cm VA3XPR repeater. Wade is the CANWARN coordinator here in central Ontario, and he is also a volunteer for the Ontario Science Centre where there is an operational Amateur Radio Station on display. He encouraged me to email him about visiting this station, and so I did. I’m hoping to visit the station tomorrow, but time will tell.

Here comes the bride!

Afterward we went to Chinatown, where the bride introduced us all to a delightful Chinese bakery. Even more exotic was the taro bubble tea she introduced me to a block down the street. Amazing!

Eventually the bride and her family departed, leaving my wife, daughter and I to stroll around Chinatown.

Who knew the Great White North could be so hot?!

Whew, was it hot! I bought some painted fans for the bride, for the bridesmaids and for my wife, and my wife also got a fancy hat to keep the sun off her fair red-headed skin. My daughter picked up a silk robe and a casual dress, and I bought myself a much-needed new watchband.

Strolling through Chinatown. That guy looks like he has spent too much time at the radio!

This evening, my wife and I went for another long walk. (Did I mention all the long walks I’ve been taking here in Toronto?) We had a late supper at a magnificent little Mediterranean restaurant. I haven’t had a felafel that good since I was in Israel! I was smiling so much and complimenting the fellow behind the counter so much that he gave us some baklava, refusing to let me pay him.

Ah, Toronto!

Photographs taken by my XYL. Thanks, Monica!

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Have Handheld, Will Travel — First Stop: University of Notre Dame!

My wife and I are on the way to Toronto, Ontario for a wedding. Right now I’m dashing this off before laying my head down to sleep in the apartment of a dear friend of ours in South Bend, Indiana. She’s a PhD student at Notre Dame and will be hitching a ride with us since she’s the maid of honor. My daughter, one of the bridesmaids, is already in Toronto since she went out a day ahead of us with the bride’s family. My son had to stay home since his passport didn’t show up in time — he was disappointed but getting to stay with friends made up for it.

NØIP at the Gates of the University of Notre Dame

Anyhow, I brought along my Wouxon KG-UV6D. I would have brought along my HW-8 but space was at a premium. I didn’t use my HT on the drive (I simply didn’t have time to figure out the repeaters on the way and program them on my radio), but once we got into South Bend I hit two repeaters that both came in full-quieting — one a 2m repeater in town and the other a 70cm repeater belonging to the University of Notre Dame Amateur Radio Club. I’m sorry to say that despite many calls I have yet to hear anybody on the two repeaters. Perhaps it has something to do with my timing; the academic year has just ended and things are unusually quiet around here.

My XYL outside the Basilica, University of Notre Dame

I had high hopes of setting up an impromptu visit to the Jerome Green Amateur Radio Station (click here), but I also knew my hopes weren’t realistic since it was a last-minute idea. Next time I’ll try to remember and search out such opportunities in advance.

Basilica, University of Notre Dame

We had a great time exploring the Notre Dame campus, touring the grotto, basilica, and bookstore. (Already bitten hard by the academic bug, I nearly melted when I got near the philosophy section!) Eventually we went out for a late supper at Fiddler’s Hearth, which serves up the best Reuben I’ve ever had in my life (and I’ve had a few).

Basilica, University of Notre Dame

Next stop, Toronto! I am using this website (click here) to find repeaters by clicking on a Google map, so I have the frequencies, offsets, tones, etc. all printed out and in the car with me.

If only I had that HW-8 with me . . .

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Big Week, Small Handheld

Exultate Festival Choir and Orchestra Performing Handel's Messiah at Benson Great Hall, Arden Hills, MN on 03/11/12.

What a week and a half it’s been! Last weekend we sang three performances of Handel’s Messiah. The last one, pictured here, was the best — truly out of this world.

NØIP walking near the Duluth Lift Bridge, 03/13/12.

Afterward, without even changing out of my suit, I drove to Duluth with my wife to stay in a bed and breakfast for a couple nights. It wasn’t purely vacation; since this is a busy week for me, I did have to get some work done on this trip. Still, it was sufficient to give me newfound vigor upon my return. A day and a half back in Granite Falls allowed me to do some calling and get some other work done, and then it was back to the Twin Cities for two recording sessions to make a 3-CD set of Handel’s Messiah.

Wouxun KG-UV6D Dual-Band Radio

During this time I tested out my new handheld, which arrived just a couple days before it all began. I went with the dual-band (2m/70cm) Wouxun KG-UV6D (ham radio version), available here. If you buy one of these you’ll want to purchase the USB programming cable to set up your Wouxun using your computer. You may also want to buy an adapter or two to connect antennas to it. I’ve included some photographs in the slideshow below showing two such adapters — one for BNC, the other for PL-259. (By the way, you may click here to learn how you pronounce “Wouxun.”)

This radio is working great! Setting up channels using my laptop was a snap, and the controls on the radio itself are pretty simple, too. Using a larger “rubber duckie” antenna I’m able to hit the repeater 12 miles away in Montevideo (though I’m not sure yet how I sound “You sound like you’re sitting right next to me,” I’ve just been told.). Using the car-top antenna I’m full-quieting on the repeater 30 miles away in Marshall, and I can hit the repeaters a little farther away in Willmar, too (though I’m not sure yet how I sound on them). I made a few contacts in Duluth and the Twin Cities this week, and heard good reports each time. So far all I’ve used is 2m, and I’m looking forward to a 70cm contact. While I’m still a confirmed HF CW man, I’m glad to finally have a VHF/UHF handheld that works! If and when my son gets his Technician license, I’ve promised him that I’ll buy him a matching Wouxun KG-UV6D. It would really come in handy around here for him and I to each have one of these.

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All photographs taken by my faithful beloved XYL, Monica, except for the stock photo of the KG-UV6D.

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