Vanity Calls – More practical than vain

When I was a Grasshopper Ham, and somehow stumbled my way through the 20 wpm code requirement then in effect to become an Extra Class, I wanted something more than KT4QK.  I wanted my initials (vainly, but in vain), because K4WR or W4WR were not available when the vanity calls came out in the nineties.  Living in the South, I wanted a “four” call so I did limit myself that way.

In truth, it seemed that one of those calls might be available as it had expired and not been renewed by an older ham in Alabama.  It wasn’t really up for grabs yet as less than two years had passed since expiration, so I surmised he had passed on to the land of ham radio nirvana (you know, then one where there’s no qrm or qrn and the sun spots are always hot and the DX always hears you), but I felt funny trying to reach his widow or family to see if he’d died so I didn’t do it.  Instead, I settled on K4WK (Wayne K Robertson is my name) and I love it; dandy for CW.

WA4YNE was available at the time and momentarily tempted me as something clever, but as one who operates CW more than Phone, felt it would be kind of messy, a sort of morse code tongue-twister.

WA4YNE has now been claimed by a ham named Thomas but his middle initial is W so maybe that’s for Wayne, and W4WR is now owned by someone who’s initials match, so I hope everyone’s happy and radioactive.

This is Wayne,  k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

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#POTA Activation of JD Mac Arthur SP in South Florida

This, my second POTA activation, was a much bigger su20180321_171323ccess (39 qso’s in an hour) than the first (a mere dozen), despite #2 being on a weekday afternoon vs. Sunday for #1.  I attribute this to my savvy scheduling to avoid ARRL’s DX Contest and at the same time, ARRL’s respectful consideration for a Big Gun like me in not trying to compete!  As the Borg said, “Resistance is Futile.”

The other big factor was getting a few hams to spot me on the clusters.  I was quite surprised, and thrilled actually, to be the subject of a pileup for a few minutes.  Imagine, lil’ ol’ me, being sought after; I hardly knew how to handle the fame!

Things started kinda slow, my first contact being a ham about two miles away; I’m thinking, oh boy, this’ll be a long afternoon.  Will I ever get the requisite ten qso’s to count a POTA activation?  I tried to spot myself but on Dxsummit.fi it is so awkward to do on your smartphone.  With ten thumbs like me, mistakes are made.  I did ask several hams to spot me and soon a few did, and then I was in demand, even at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon.  I never knew there were so many retired or unemployed hams sitting around bored during the day.  From South Florida I worked hams in NY, CT, MI, PA, MN, AZ, CA, England and Spain!

I used my link dipole antenna up approx 24′ at the apex, set for 20m.  By closing a pair of links, it can be reset for 30 or 40 meters.  I built this antenna a while back, and tuned and trimmed it carefully for each of these bands, so no tuner necessary.  I’ve tried a PAR EndFedz and a homebrew Buddipole for HF and this is the best for me, thus far.

 

From left to right: the dipole (made of speaker wire) rolled up on custom deluxe wire winder; middle, the handsomely crafted center SO; and right, the links for 30m, left open so antenna resonates at the shorter 20m cut.  Note “stress relief” at the SO and use of safety pins to carry the tension of the dipole when hoisted.  Below is pic of my antenna launching tool; it was too heavy at first so I drank half the contents.  Also below is a pic of my tie down line, fluorescent builder’s twine.  I’ve decided to be stealthier in the future and will change that out for something that’ll blend better.

 

I want to be stealthier so I don’t draw attention to my station and my suspicious behaviors.  Even though I have a right to be there at a picnic table not all Park Rangers got the memo and some may think they should run me off.  Last week a Ranger did stop by and I thought “well, here we go,” but actually he just wanted to chat; his Dad had been a ham, so I tried to recruit him.  I had another visitor, too; note to self, don’t operate so close to garbage cans!

 

And finally, a note to the wise for operating out of doors in Florida; bring your bottle!

20180321_160159

This is Wayne,  k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

My #POTA Pickle, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ARRL #DX Contest

Sunday March 4th was a beautiful and slightly cool (mid-seventies) day in Jupiter, Florida and was the day I selected for my first #POTA activation (parksontheair.com).

I picked the 11,000 acre Jonathan Dickinson State Park, KFF-1887, just six m20180304_103921.jpgiles from my Florida QTH.  I had scouted out locations a few days earlier and chose the picnic area near the river, with cooperating pine trees and handy limbs.

Using my unique antenna launch tool (see pic) on the second try I hit my target limb and hoisted the “high” end of an EndFedz antenna cut for 20 meters.  My battery was charged, I had a sandwich, I even had a cushion for the hard picnic table bench seat.  Right on time I was ready to spot myself, all settled and happy.  Do you hear a “but” coming?

This was 20180304_112008.jpgalso the weekend ARRL chose, without checking with me, for their hugely popular annual DX Contest.  There were a few thousand hams on 20m, most, it seemed, with a kilowatt and a pretty good beam competing with me barefoot with a dipole up all of fifteen feet.

I spotted myself on DXSummit.fi but apparently nobody cared.  I raised my friend Rick on the local repeater and got him to listen for me at 14.244 a few miles away and we could barely hear one another on ground wave.  We were in a wall of sound (and I was learning the value of a filter for sideband.)

So there’s my POTA Pickle; I’m in the right place and all set to operate POTA but cannot compete with a thousand big gun stations.  Well  golly, let’s join in on the fun then.

First I took down the End Fedz that just doesn’t work that well for me and put up my link dipole made from lamp cord and began to hunt and pounce.  Worked a dozen international stations in an hour and called it, after all, a good non-POTA day.

This is Wayne,  k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

 

“How to Survive the Next Disaster” in #PopularMechanics doesn’t even mention #Hamradio #ARES @ARRL_ARES

With great hope I scanned the main story of Popular Mechanics’ March 2018 issue for its coverage of EmComm, ARES and Ham Radio in disaster scenarios, but found none.  This is not a failing of the magazine but a failing of our own to make ourselves known to the non-ham world as useful members of the greater community and not just self-absorbed, slightly nerdy, technology hobbyists.

How can Popular Mechanics write a first person story on hurricane disaster recovery volunteer efforts in the US Virgin Islands and not mention #hamradio?  Simple, we are not on their minds; they didn’t think about us at all.  Maybe the author of the story didn’t see or come in contact with any hams during his mobilization.  Yet if you read QST and CQ stories on EmComm, you’d think everyone knows us and loves us anywhere there’s bad weather.   Which is it?

Well I don’t know yet.  I can say since the hurricanes of 2017 I’ve become motivated to serve the public and give back something to repay for the free radio spectrum we’ve been given.  I’ve joined #ARES and taken the course, am presently taking Red Cross Disaster Services Technology (DST) webinars, and hope to take a CERT class in my hometown County this summer so when there is next a call for trained and qualified volunteer hams, I’ll be able to answer the door and step up.  And when I do, I’ll try to look and act professional and leave a good impression on how wonderful we hams can be with everyone I come in contact with.  I am looking forward to the opportunity to do good deeds, utilize my hobby in a publicly useful way, and, for the adventure of it.  I hope to have an interesting story for you in the future.

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

How to Lose Ten Pounds of Ugly Fat and Five Pounds of Digital #Hamradio Frustration

I’ve been beating myself up at my Florida winter QTH with no D-Star or DMR Repeaters I am presently able to hit.  Happily, at the Orlando Hamcation last week I met the DV Mega guys from the Netherlands, a dude named Ruud, who set me up with the little green box in the photo.  Not a black box, he assembled it right before my very eyes and it DV Mega in hotelcontains the fabled DV Mega and its new accomplice, the Blue Spot, a bluetooth interface.   He demo’d it for me, taking lots of his time to do so, and we had to go out to the parking lot to his car to get away from BT interference inside the vendor bldg.  Not surprising as each of the hundreds of hams inside probably had his phone, HT and pacemaker all running at the same time.

Well, the little rascal worked in the parking lot in Orlando and now, here in a hotel room in Cincinnati with no D-Star repeater within range of my wee HT, I set it up and right away worked KA9SPL in Illinois with his seventeen inches of snow, and then KW4XR in North Carolina.

I’d been wanting the DV Mega after conversing with at least three hams on D-Star who were using it in their vehicles as their hotspot.  Each extolled it so I felt that was the one for me.

Upshot: As the Monkees said, “I’m a Believer!”  This will really free me up as I travel thru my radio desert.  Next up: try it with DMR.

Oh, and the ten pounds of ugly fat?  Walk from one end of Hamcation to the other a few times bouncing between forums and vendors; that should do it!

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

A Call for Ideas – Planning a VHF/UHF Antenna Shootout

Ideas and suggestions are sought for a hamfest forum in June I am trying to gin up – a shootout for VHF and UHF antennas.  Have you ever been to one, participated in one, read about one, or just have some ideas for me (other than don’t do it, you dummy)?

Here’s the plan as it now stands – we’d have three categories: factory-built, homebrewed, and whips for HT’s.  I’ve just ordered a MFJ Field Strength Meter that comes next week, so my hope is to use that, stationed say, one hundred yards away from the contestants, to record signal strength as generated by the contestants’ 5 watt HT’s.  This has been stimulated by my own desire to know what antennas are best, despite manufacturers’ claims, in real-world conditions.  If the distance is too close, we could try to station someone a mile or so away, but the logistics of that in a hamfest settting, with all the normal commotion, may not be practical.  Maybe reserve that for a club meeting or Field Day.

Another method may be to have a willing ham with a station out of town, listen for us on simplex from his QTH.  I’d have to find the right ham in the right location in hilly Atlanta, and hope that he can hear any of us.

So, if my ideas are lame, please pass along your no doubt better ideas.  Tnx & 73, de Wayne, k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.

On the Air – SOTA, POTA, BOTA, IOTA and now, COTA

Cinderella's Castle

Photo Attributed to Katie Rommel-Esham, commons.wikimedia.org

The newest OTA I’ve discovered is the World Castles Award, or COTA – Castles on the Air.  Not sure if COTA is official or not, but let’s call it that for now, since it rhymes so well with SOTA, POTA and BOTA.  (IOTA is only a half-rhyme).

You might think “We Americans don’t have any castles here; we were settled after the period of castle-building, so how is this relevant to me?”  Well, you can think that if you want to, but you might be wrongish.  True, we have no castles in North America (or do we? – see below), but we do have other structures that the wise men and women of WCA have recognized as eligible structures of note.  Happy Dance!  Here’s a new game we can play once we’re all worn out activating all the mountains in SOTA, parks in POTA, and beaches in BOTA.

Here in the Southeast that I inhabit, there are scores of eligible structures.  In my own tiny hometown of Decatur, GA, pop. 18,000, I find that we, too, have a castle called Oakhurst Castle.  I need to find out what that is, and of course, activate it.  Look for me on Dxsummit some day.

Forts, even if not fortified, can qualify, such as Fort Jackson, SC, where I spent three happy months one summer and most if not all other military bases with “Fort” in their title.  Also, historic forts like Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida qualifies but the towns of Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Fort Pierce where we can imagine forts once stood, are sadly excluded.  However, don’t despair – you can still go to the beach in those towns and activate your suntan via BOTA!

Mansions, or “Stately Homes,” also seem to qualify, such as the indisputably stately Biltmore House in Asheville (raise your hand if you’ve been there).  The WCA styles it as “Biltmore Castle.”

Scanning the list I see others in my haunts I can consider activating and some that raise questions such as one on Marco Island known only as “Unknown Castle.”

But there is one I expected to see that has been overlooked – probably the only purpose-build Castle in the United States, and it’s certainly not unknown; of course I’m talking about Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom (raise your hand again if you’ve been there).  If you are as hurt as I am at this (rather slight) slight, please join me in a letter-writing campaign to the WCA to help right this wrong.  We’re Americans – we fought for our freedom, now we must fight for Cinderella’s honor!

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.