Saturday, July 30, 2011

APRS Keyboard QSOs, where did they go?

Many years ago (around 1995 or so), in a land not too far away (Zebulon NC), Jay KQ4MS and I put up the first APRS node east of Charlotte. At that time, we were cut off from the outside world, and used it for our own local keyboard chatting. From time to time, we would have band openings, and could work guys out in the western parts of NC and into Virginia. It was a lot of fun! Some of us had trackers and could see each other moving about, but for the most part we had daily communications via APRS.

The clock spun ahead, and other nodes began to appear on the map. It was awesome, we could easily work folks on the keyboard every night over a 3 state area. Friendships developed, and things improved in the network. Lots of folks were getting interested and wanted to participate in this network of mostly low altitude nodes.

We continued to revolve around the sun, and newer protocols arose that really helped with the unwanted ping-ponging, equipment got better, and lots more hams appeared on the scenes. Many of us had a blast every night, making keyboard contacts all around, even through the I-Gates that were beginning to pop up, and the many HF gateways that would allow us to work folks all over the US via RF APRS.

Sometime shortly after that, a new breed of APRS ops began to emerge that discouraged keyboarding due to the increased overhead on the network. Some of us got blacklisted on nodes and could no longer communicate with each other, and other were publicly chastised on the APRS forums. I closed my APRS station down and moved on to other modes of operation that were fun for me.

I recently got back on APRS, and discovered the crowds that were _all about_ APRS, telling the rest of us "how it should be done", are no longer there. There is a moderate amount of traffic, but a lot of the folks who used to operate APRS are now gone. What a shame, but that is the cycle we so often see on various modes of Ham Radio... AMTOR, SSTV, 2m repeaters, etc... Those of us who have been in the hobby many years have seen this over and over.

I've been sending out a CQ on APRS when I'm in the shack, and have been pleasantly surprised by making keyboard contacts with others who are interested in doing the same thing, once again. The maps aren't as crowded as they once were, but there are still lots of folks who enjoy actually communicating via APRS, even for just a short "hello" and to set up a schedule on a repeater or HF.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Working Split, QSX, Up Up...please learn!!

I spent a goodly amount of time today, trying to work ST0R, and realized that there is a huge problem... People either don't listen to the DX station when they say things like "up 5 to 10", "qsx +3", etc., maybe they don't hear the DX at all and are just calling from cluster spots, or truly don't understand how to work split.

Those of us who do understand, have all made mistakes, and that's not what I'm typing about.. I've been a ham and DX'er since 1974, and the ST0R pileup is among the worst of the worst. The ST0R ops are great, its the rest of us who are calling on top, QRMing, and just being plain stupid.

Please, please,please.... before you jump into a pileup, understand how to work split, LISTEN to the DX, and behave!!!. It makes things much easier on everyone involved.

P.S. To all Kilocycle Cops and Frequency Cops: Why do you feel you have to have to handle the situation? Your constant additional comments turned the ST0R zoo into an even bigger mess! Yesterday, there was MORE QRM from the "Radio Police" than from those who were too stupid to follow the instructions from ST0R. Whew!

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

CQ WW VHF Contest - 7/16-17!

This weekend is the CQ WorldWide VHF contest. It runs from 18:00Z Saturday 7/16 through 21:00Z Sunday 7/17. The full rules for it can be found HERE . Dust off your 2m & 6m rigs and get on the air. You can work all modes, and even FM... The only prohibited FM frequency is 146.52, the USA National Simplex Frequency, but all other standard simplex frequencies are acceptable like 146.49, 146.55, and 146.58. The contest exchange is [Callsign & Grid Square], signal reports are not necessary. Hope to see you on the air!!

Dave Wb4IUY

Huge UHF & 6m opening, 7/14/11

Wow... I hate I missed the huge band opening on 440 this morning. Was driving to work and working KD4PBS on the 442.075 repeater, and the inverted repeater pair in New England was coming into NC so strong that it was covering us up locally. I don't understand the logic behind the northeast coordinating repeaters backward from the rest of the US, but there must be a reason...I guess...

Anyway, I also noticed loads of spots on the DX Cluster for Europe being worked from the US on 6m. Oh well, works gets in the way of fun, all the time ;-)

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reactivate Your 2m SSB Station!

I got my first taste of 2m SSB back in 1991 when Dave Wood W4EJ (then WB4KPD) demonstrated his 2m SSB station to me and I saw all the contacts he made on that band/mode. I looked around for something to fit my tight budget and get me on the air, and finally did so on June 14, 1992. My wife and I lived in an apartment in Wilson NC, and we were allowed to install a small tower there. I was using an old Heathkit SB-500 2m Transverter with my Heathkit SB-301 rx & SB-401 tx. It cranked out about 100 watts, and the receiver was fair to "so-so". The antenna I used was a Cushcraft 17B3 up about 50 feet, fed with a chunk of 9913 coax. It worked well, and I was very surprised at how many people were on that band/mode combo. I made contacts all up and down the east coast, and half-way out across the midwest. I had a blast, and was fairly active on 2m SSB until around June of 1993, when we bought a new home and moved.

Time marched on...I put up a somewhat larger tower at my new QTH, but didn't get around to putting up my 2m SSB antenna and getting back on 2m SSB until January 19th, 2008. WOW... I didn't realize how long I had been off the air, until I thought about it a bit. Once back on, I heard almost no one. I thought perhaps I had a feedline or antenna problem, or some issue with my transverter due to having been off the air so long. I did feedline loss tests, checked my gear our for rx sensitivity in the workshop, etc..but all seem OK. My antenna was now at about 117', about 67 feet higher than before. My QTH was in a much better at 375' above sea level, whereas the old QTH was only about 100' asl.

I continued to listen constantly, call CQ on a regular basis, work the contests, etc. I worked stations from time to time, and worked some good ones many states away. I finally came to realize that there simply aren't as many people on the air on 2m SSB as there were in the early 90's. I've worked many people on 6m and HF, and have asked about their 2m SSB capability. Many reported things like "I took down the antennas because there weren't enough people on to talk to", "I haven't turned the rig on in years", "I never hear anyone on", etc. I've established that there are many, many hams out there with the equipment and antennas that simply don't switch them on.

What prompted me to write this? It came to me this morning, after working the only person I've heard on today, and listening to him call CQW for the last hour with no other responses. 2 points I felt were important to remember were:

1- If no one turns on their rigs, there will be no one to make contact with.

2- The band is quiet in most cases...turn your rig on, set the squelch lightly (if your rig has an all-mode squelch, mine doesn't), or turn the volume down low. You'll be able to hear when those lonesome ops are calling, and start making contacts again on 2m SSB!

Lastly, try to get on a make a few contacts in the sprints and contests. It's a great time to find activity at it's highest, and the activity is much appreciated by all ops. Get back on 2m SSB and let's QSO!!

One note... It's not expensive. I "upgraded" from my 60's vintage Heathkit transverter to a late 70's vintage Icom IC-211 & Vocom amp that gives me about 50 watts output from an all solid-state station with a good receiver. I know, it's still old stuff, but I got the entire station for $100 and I work everything I hear anyone else work...maybe not as good, maybe I have to call a few more times due to my weaker signal, but it still gets the job done (on the cheap!)

73 es cu on 2m SSB!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

6m Open on July 4th Weekend!

Wow, this has been an active weekend on 6 meters. Quite by accident, I worked into Italy from NC with my meager 100w station. So far, I've worked:


The propogation is there...get your 6m rigs hooked up and on the air! Many of my contacts are automatically posted on my FaceBook page at Hope to see you on the air and I hope you have a Happy Holiday Weekend!

Dave Wb4IUY