October 30, 2011

Part 97, do I really need to read it?

FCC rules governing the amateur radio service are documented in Part 97.  Americans interested in becoming hams are faced with an important decision when studying for the exam, "should I read FCC Part 97 rules (or not)?".  It is of course completely feasible to pass any of the FCC tests without having read the Party 97 rules.  This is due to the fact that the exam question pool is freely available and one could simply memorize the answers.

However, we would argue that reading FCC Part 97 rules is a necessary step in the journey to becoming an American Ham.  That is because we all have a responsibility to operate our stations within the legal boundaries and to teach and help others to do the same.  Additionally, reading Part 97 will also help you pass the FCC amateur radio exams.  Knowing the law of the land is part of being a good citizen of this great country.

FCC Part 97 rules are readily available from the FCC and ARRL.  So regardless if you are studying to become a ham, have recently become a ham, or already a seasoned Amateur Extra, we hope you take the time to read and familialize yourself with the FCC Part 97 rules and encourage others to do the same.

October 28, 2011

Super ham shack KA1DMZ

Sit back, relax, and enjoy a tour of KA1DMZ's super ham shack.  Wonderful equipment and installation with both vintage and contemporary rigs.  Enjoy!

October 27, 2011

Antenna Love

Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married.
The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.
Since they were a perfect match, soon they generated harmonics.
Wrapped the harmonics in dipoles.
But later the harmonics turned out to be parasitic elements.
The true story -- she was a tri-bander and he felt trapped, so they went on separate beam headings

October 26, 2011


If you can read this
Thank a teacher

If you can read this -.-. --.- -.-. --.- -.-. --.- 
Thank a ham

October 25, 2011

10 SKED Tips for Hams

The term "sked" is shortened version of the word schedule. It can refer to a flight schedule, a baseball schedule, or any other type of schedule.  In the context of amateur radio, the term refers to a QSO schedule which is a date, time, frequency, and mode that two operators will meet to make a contact. The amateur radio sked is an extremely useful and productive way to acquire challenging or rare DX contacts. We would like to share of few tips about skeds that we have learned over the years to make the overall experience more enjoyable.

1) Communicate.  If possible, use instant messaging during a sked to help coordinate the contact. For example, if at the appointed time, the frequency is busy then it is simple matter to arrange a new frequency via instant messaging.  Email can suffice; through, it is asynchronous and a bit more tedious than instant messaging.

2) Call the station.  Call the station directly when starting a sked.  Avoid calling using a general call to the band (CQ, CQ, CQ). This makes the sked more efficient since it will minimize the possibility of competition from other stations trying to answer the call.  It is inconsiderate to arrange a sked and then make the station wait while you work other stations.  Also, you don't want other stations to answer your call and drown out a weak sked.

3) Be on-time.  Regardless if you are the requester of a sked or the receiver of a sked, once agreed, do show up on time. Nothing is more irritating than to spend time calling for a station that isn't there.  Don't be that guy or gal. If you can't make the sked as agreed then it is your responsibility to let the other party know in advance.

4) Be thankful.  Be sure to thank the sked for helping you (even if the contact could not be completed). A little kindness goes along way.

5) Be helpful.  At the end of the sked, offer to help the sked with bands or modes he made need. The other station may just take you up on the offer and will certainly appreciate the gesture regardless.

6) Select a quiet frequency for a sked.  For example, the 20m PSK31 call frequency is 14.070. This frequency is almost always busy making it difficult to use for a sked.  A sked will be much quicker and effective on a quiet frequency. For weak or rare DX, it is essential to follow this rule.  Remember, you may not get a 2nd chance so make it count.

7) Be ethical.  Never discuss signal reports during the sked.  The exchange (typically call sign and report) must be over the air (not email or chat).  To do otherwise is only cheating yourself and is unethical.

8) Be courteous.  If for whatever reason the contact cannot be made or is very difficult, do not be critical of the other station trying to help you.  It is simply poor form to belittle another operator or a modest station.  Be thankful for the opportunity and try again when conditions are improved.

9) Be friendly.  Treat every new skeds as potential friendship.  Show the same courtesy to your sked contact as you would a friend.

10) Use the LoTW.  If you use the Log Book of The World (LoTW), check out my article, "Hunting for LoTW Stations."

If you haven't tried arranging a sked, give it a try. You may be surprised how much fun it is. If you are seasoned radio amateur or a new ham, follow these tips to make the sked experience a positive one for everyone involved.  Let's keep the international spirit of helping one another alive and well in the amateur radio community.

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2011.

October 23, 2011

Flying With An HT

In this day and age of increased airport security and frequently changing TSA rules,  many hams are understandably unsure if they are permitted to travel with their amateur radio transceiver / HT when flying.  We have travelled by air with our trusty Kenwood TH-F6A HT domestically and internationally many times without issue.  However, we did so only after researching the topic thoroughly to avoid problems.  The bottom line is: educate yourself, travel smart, and enjoy travelling with your radio.

There are several considerations regarding travelling with an amateur radio or HT. 

Consideration #1) Follow the FCC part 97.11 rules related to stations aboard aircraft.
Part 97 : Sec. 97.11 Stations aboard ships or aircraft. (a) The installation and operation of an amateur station on a ship or aircraft must be approved by the master of the ship or pilot in command of the aircraft.
(b) The station must be separate from and independent of all other radio apparatus installed on the ship or aircraft, except a common antenna may be shared with a voluntary ship radio installation. The station's transmissions must not cause interference to any other apparatus installed on the ship or aircraft.
(c) The station must not constitute a hazard to the safety of life or property. For a station aboard an aircraft, the apparatus shall not be operated while the aircraft is operating under Instrument Flight Rules, as defined by the FAA, unless the station has been found to comply with all applicable FAA Rules.

Consideration #2) Carry on versus checking.
  • Common wisdom is that it is safer for your HT to travel with you in your carry-on bag.
  • Checking your HT brings with it a risk of physical damage from rough handling or possibly theft.
  • Some hams disconnect their HT's antenna as a precaution against breaking off the sometimes-fragile connector.  SMA connectors are notoriously fragile.
  • The TSA's website offers guidance regarding safe travel with devices having batteries.
    • "Keep batteries and equipment with you, or in carry-on baggage - not in your checked baggage! In the cabin, flight crew can better monitor conditions, and have access to the batteries or device if a fire does occur."
Consideration #3) Use of HT while on board the aircraft.
  • Common sense is simple - keep your HT powered off while on board an aircraft.
  • Generally, airlines prohibit turning on radios (i.e. radios are not approved electronic device).
  • Consult with FCC part 97.11 rules.
  • Consult with FAA part 91.21 rules.
Sec. 91.21 Portable electronic devices
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate, nor may any operator or pilot in command of an aircraft allow the operation of, any portable electronic device on any of the following U.S.-registered civil aircraft:
(1) Aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate; or
(2) Any other aircraft while it is operated under IFR.
(b) Paragraph (a) of this section does not apply to--
(1) Portable voice recorders;
(2) Hearing aids;
(3) Heart pacemakers;
(4) Electric shavers; or
(5) Any other portable electronic device that the operator of the aircraft has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be used.
(c) In the case of an aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate, the determination required by paragraph (b)(5) of this section shall be made by that operator of the aircraft on which the particular device is to be used. In the case of other aircraft, the determination may be made by the pilot in command or other operator of the aircraft.

Consideration #4) Documentation.
  • When travelling domestically, you may not need to carry your FCC license.  However, it certainly wouldn't hurt to bring it with you and it may actually help if you find yourself trying to explain your HT to airline or TSA personnel.
  • When travelling internationally, bringing your FCC license is both prudent and often necessary per the laws of many countries.
  • It is important to consult with the laws of the countries you intend to travel through.
  • In certain parts of the world, it is possible to be challenged when crossing borders regarding your ownership or place of purchase of an expensive piece of equipment (like a radio).  In these circumstances it is valuable to have a copy of your receipt.  This will help you prove you own the item and that you purchased in your home country.
Consideration #5) Is it worth the bother to bring an HT on a trip?
  • In our opinion, travelling with an HT is very enjoyable to travel with and definitely worth bringing.
  • It is fun to work local repeaters and make contacts with an HT.
  • It is fun to listen to local broadcast radio if your HT includes a wide band receiver.
  • It is fun to travel with other hams who also have their HT's and stay in contact while in your destination.
  • It is fun to use APRS to report your position and other information while travelling.
We hope you find this article an informative and helpful guide on how to educate yourself to make your own decision on travelling with an amateur radio transceiver or HT.  As we write this article we are enjoying listening to a lively discussion on a 2m net via our HT while on a trip.  Having travelled extensively with our HT, our motto is, "don't leave home without it".

Happy Trails and 73,


Related articles on NJ2X.com:

Be sure to check out the NJ2X.com Kindle edition. 

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

October 21, 2011

IF Shift Magic

One of our favorite controls on our Kenwood TS-480SAT HF transceiver is the Intermediate Frequency Shift (IF Shift).  With a simple turn of the IF Shift knob it is possible to reduce interference from an adjacent frequency without changing the center frequency.  IF Shift is effective at improving signals with voice (SSB), CW, and digital modes.  It does not improve AM or FM signals.

The IF shift is also useful to shift the tone of a voice (SSB) contact by cutting or boosting audio frequencies in the high or low end.  This little magic trick sometimes makes the difference between copy and no-copy for signals buried in the noise.  IF Shift is useful on radios with and without DSP.

Combining IF shift and selecting a specific IF filter center frequency and IF filter bandwidth is amazingly effective with CW and digital modes.  If you are unfamiliar with exploiting IF Shift on your rig, do give it a try with noisy signals.

Also try playing around with the various filters and IF Shift on your rig while monitoring the waterfall display on a computer with a program like Ham Radio Deluxe DM780.  The waterfall display provides an excellent way to visualize how the received signal is affected by the radio's filters.

With a little trial-and-error and practice you will quickly find that you are able to zero in on weak stations and improve the audio enough to make the contact.  We have used this technique countless times with PSK31, CW, and SSB with excellent results.  This technique is also useful to shortwave listeners equipped with a receiver offering SSB and IF shift capability.

Good DX and 73,


By Michael Maher (NJ2X)

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© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

October 18, 2011

Operating Far Afield

Our first love has always been the great outdoors.  We enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, photography, camping, and a miriad of other outdoor activities.  As the saying goes, a bad day in the field is better than any day in the office.

Amateur radio and the pursuit of the great outdoors make a wonderful combination.  At its most basic level, all it takes to combine the two is to bring a radio with you when you head out the door.  The current crop of HT's (Handy Talkie) are amazingly lightweight and portable as compared with the "bricks" or man-packs of earlier generations.  Contemporary HT's are easily slipped into a jacket, vest pocket, or onto a belt without adding bulk or much weight.

The big advantage of an HT is that it is a completely self-contained hand-held station with a mic, speaker, receiver, transmitter, and antenna.  Most commercial HT's operate in the VHF (2m / 6m) and UHF (220Mhz and 440Mhz) range.  Though there are HT's available covering HF (10m and 40m).  We often bring our Kenwood TH-F6A on our expeditions.  It is a great little radio and covers three bands 144Mhz, 220Mhz, and 440Mhz.

The most common use of an HT is to communicate via a repeater.  The repeater helps extend the effective range of communication for relatively low watage HT's (typicaly 5 watts or less).  Repeaters are quite useful; however, a contact made via repeater in most cases is disqualified from contributing toward  an award or contest.  Simplex (station-to-station) and satellite operations with HT's are also popular with the added advantage that these contacts typically do qualify toward awards and contests.

When operating with intention of earning credit  toward an award or in a contest, an essential requirement is to log the contact.  Minimally you need a writing instrument, paper, and a time reference.

For logging we use the same pencil we used in college, a 0.7mm Pentel mechanical drafting pencil.  It is durable, reliable, erasable, economical, writes in any orientation, clips to your pocket, and the 0.7mm lead doesn't break easily.  We have found that pencil holds up better in wet conditions (less messy) as compared to ink.

For manually logging, we have tried everything from lined paper to paper log books.  Rain and snow are rather unkind to paper logs.  Our solution to logging in wet conditions in the field is a 3x5 inch water-proof, tear-proof, spiral bound log book.  It works perfectly with pencil.  Each page has a printed header so you capture the contact information in a uniform manner.  The size is nice too.  Easily fits into a jacket or pants pocket.

When verifying a QSL, date and time are important.  Hams long ago adopted UTC as a standard for logging contacts.  UTC allows hams in two different parts of the world to document the same date and time in their logs and QSL's.  At home, our computer logging program automatically logs the contact at the correct date / time in UTC.  However, in the field, it is up the operator to log the contact in UTC which requires either a clock set to UTC or a calculation to convert from your local time to UTC.  Even though the conversion is fairly easy, it is still easy to get confused in the heat of operations and log the contact incorrectly.  Of course you could bring your computer with you at the expense of weight, complexity, and risk of damaging the relatively fragile device.

We discovered a wonderful watch from Timex which solves this problem.  The Timex Expedition watch offers dual-time zone capabilities in an attractive and rugged package.  We use the dial-hands for local time and set the second integrated LCD watch to UTC in the 24hr format.  The indigo feature lights up the watch face which is handy in low-light conditions.  All-in-all this watch keeps UTC on our wrist at all times and makes accurate logging a breeze.  We also appreciate that it looks great too.

One of our very favorite amateur radio activities in the outdoors is operating from a mountaintop.  The distance a low power HT can obtain with a clear line-of-sight from atop a mountain is remarkable.  This summer we made several 2m contacts from Cadillac Mountain in Maine with our HT.  A few years ago we operated from the summit of Mount Washington at 6288ft.  There really is nothing quite like working stations with a view from the top of the world.

Hope this has inspired you to get out-of-doors with your portable radio and make some contacts.  Ham radio and the great-out-doors go well together.  Keep it simple and travel light with an HT, water proof log, and a pencil.  Don't let the bulk, expense, and weight of elaborate stations, antennas, power sources, computers, and all the other trappings keep you indoors.

Related articles:

October 16, 2011

Amazing SWL shack NL6777

Here is a remarkable video of a Dutch shortwave listener's shack (Eric NL6777).  Eric lives in Breda, NL and has one of the finest listening posts we have ever seen.  Excellent gear, thoughtful layout, and professional installation.

October 14, 2011

Scouts to Take to the Airwaves for the 54th Jamboree On the Air

Each year, more than 500,000 Scouts in more than 100 countries take to the airwaves on the third full weekend in October -- and this year will be no different. The Jamboree On The Air (JOTA) is a Scouting and Amateur Radio event sponsored by the World Scout Bureau of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. JOTA is an annual event where Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from all over the world speak to each other via Amateur Radio.

Amateur Radio Operator Strip for scouting uniforms

Since 1958 -- when the first Jamboree on the Air was held -- millions of Scouts have met through this event.  Many contacts made during JOTA have resulted in pen pals and links between Scout troops that have lasted many years. The radio stations are operated by radio amateurs, and many Scouts and leaders hold licenses and have their own stations. The majority of JOTA Scouts participate through stations operated by local radio clubs and individual hams.

Be sure to support scouting and the JOTA special event.  Scouting is an excellent endeavour for kids and it is preparing our future leaders, citizens, and a new generation of hams.

Radio Merit Badge

October 5, 2011

Hunting LoTW Stations

The advantages of the Log Book of the World (LoTW) were apparent to us immediately when we first learned about the system.  The promise of matching QSL's (a confirmation of communication between two hams) instantly instead of waiting months or even years for paper QSL's is compelling by itself.  Automating QSL administration with electronic logging meant more time operating and less on paperwork.  Avoiding the cost of postage and printing paper QSL's meant more money for other things in the shack.  From our view the LoTW promised an all around win-win-win.

The challenges of the LoTW became visible only after having adopted the system.  The primary challenge is to find contacts that also participate in the LoTW.  Fortunately, the ranks of LoTW users continue to grow every day making it easier and easier to find and make contacts and LoTW QSL's.

Our approach in the beginning was a shotgun method - making contacts without concern if the station was a LoTW user or not.  As a result, LoTW QSL's were a minority and our progress toward WAS (Worked All States) and DXCC (DX Century Club) proved to be somewhat slower than we would have liked.

Our next strategy was to call and indicate we were looking for LoTW stations.  This seemed to improve the LoTW contact rate somewhat.  Again the progress toward WAS and DXCC was slow.

Over time, we learned of several resources on the web that can help identify, target, and locate LoTW stations.  Armed with information our LoTW contact rate improved greatly which ultimately help us earn the ARRL WAS and Triple Play (#464) awards.  Here are three excellent sources on the web for finding LoTW stations:

K3UK LoTW Sked - This is a really great site for meeting and making skeds with other hams using the LoTW.

LOTW Online Users Cluster - The purpose of this site is to locate stations who are registered in the LoTW.

HB9BZA LoTW User List -Compilation of information from many different sources identifying LoTW users.

QRZ - QRZ, is a wonderful source of worldwide call signs and data about hams including if they use the LoTW (or not).  How did we hams live without qrz.com back in the days before Al Gore invented the Internet and global warming?

QRZ Forum - SKED - QSO Scheduling - The QRZ SKED forum is a good resource for finding hams looking for a sked or to post your own request for a sked.

Interestingly enough, the ARRL does not provided a comprehensive list of the LoTW users or a database to query for this information.  That makes the above sources positively essential for hams attempting to make LoTW contacts and earn awards though LoTW QSL's.

As the saying goes, information is power.  Armed with the above you are now empowered to focus your search for LoTW stations on the air and hopefully rack up some serious LoTW contacts, QSL's, and awards.  These sites can help you enjoy the full benefits provided by the Log Book of The World.  If you don't use the LoTW, we hope this article will motivate you to get started with the LoTW today.

Stay tuned for the next articles in this series where we discuss various ways to leverage each of these websites to improve your LoTW contact rates.

Be sure to check out our related article, "Chasing DX The Easy Way with HRD DM780".



Related articles:
HRD DM780 - variations of the 73 macro 
HRD DM780 Macros: Curse or Blessing?
HRD DM780 Calling Macro 

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

October 4, 2011

Amateur radio e-reading - the future is here now

The future is here now with respect to e-readers and the availability of excellent amateur radio related content (books, magazines, articles, ...).  We own two Sony e-readers in our house.  They are a pleasure to use and make wonderful travel companions since they allow you to bring a great deal of reading material in a lightweight, convenient, and portable package.

The e-readers are more enjoyable to use for reading digital material than a PC.  There is something about the backlighting on a PC that puts more strain on the eyes when reading.  The Sony e-reader screen uses "e-ink" which is not backlit and is very easy on the eyes and is akin to reading from paper.  E-reader users have remarked that they often forget they are reading from an electronic device and may even reach to turn the page as they would with a paper bound book.  The new Kindle Fire is quite popular also.

Content for the general public has been available for years already in the form of books, magazines, etc..  There is now a substantial and growing body of amateur radio literature available too.  Here are some of our favorite sources:
  • Monitoring Times offers a digital edition called, "MTXpress".
  • The ARRL offers members access to a digital archive of periodicals including QST from 1915 up through the present.
  • It is possible to subscribe to ham radio blogs through Amazon.com (including NJ2X) and receive them automatically on your Kindle.
  • CQ started offering a digital edition of its magazine in October, 2011.
  • Amazon now offers 58 titles that are amateur radio related.
Hams are well known as a thrifty group.  Lower cost is a key advantage of using an e-reader with digital books and magazines since the typical digital version costs less that the same title in paper bound copy.

So what are you waiting for?  Go read something about amateur radio in a digital version today.

Related articles on NJ2X.COM:

October 2, 2011

Joe Walsh WB6ACU

We find it interesting to learn about famous hams.  In this post we feature Joe Walsh WB6ACU who has been a ham since 1961 and more famously a member of The Eagles and a prolific recording artist.  Joe holds an FCC Amateur Extra Class license.  As a recording artist, Joe included CW messages in his albums (songs: "Register and Vote", "Register and Vote for Me").

WB6ACU pictured at his station - love that vintage gear!
WB6ACU Station

A short piece on YouTube with Joe talking about ham radio.

Bob Heil's Ham Nation 1: with guest Joe Walsh, WB6ACU 

Ham Nation is an excellent program and highly recommended.  Kudos to Bob Heil (K9EID).