RADIO AMATEUR NEWS & VIEWS, February, 1999

RADIO AMATEUR

NEWS & VIEWS

February, 1999


IN THIS ISSUE...
From the Wheelhouse
Milton Hamfest
On the Web
Welcome to RANV
Our Last RANV Meeting
The Prez Sez
RANV Contesting Activities
Weekend Class
ARRL Youth Incentive
Broadcast DXing News
Care of Power Supplies
More Toys

FROM THE FERRY WHEELHOUSE with N1ZWC
The February RANV Meeting

For our February meeting, we have as our special guest, Mark N1ZWC. Mark is one of the captains who pilot the ferries on the Grand Isle to Plattsburgh run. He will tell us about some of the things he has seen in his years as Captain, as well as describe some of the equipment used in the wheelhouse. Actually, that term is a misnomer - there is no wheel! The ferry is steered with a small lever. Mark is also into shortwave listening and itĎs likely that may be a topic of discussion, too.

All this takes place on Tuesday evening February 9th. Snax-at-Zacks kicks off at around 5:30, the meeting is at 7 and refreshments will be at 8. Remember, if you havenít been to a meeting in a while, we have moved to Patchen Road in South Burlington. See you at the meeting!

MILTON HAMFEST!

The 17th Annual Northern Vermont Winter Hamfest will be held Saturday, February 27th, 8am until 2pm at Milton High School, Route 7, Milton, Vermont.

This year, we have a reason to be even more excited because Milton is also hosting the ARRL Vermont State Convention. That means more exposure, more ARRL presence, more speakers and more fun!

The number 1 reason that everyone tells me they go to Milton is: "to meet other hams!" We got 'ya covered with 600+ hams, wannabe hams and even a few ham-haters (whose names will not be released to protect the innocent). So even if you are not active or youíre not in the market to buy anything, or youíre not interested in learning anything new at the forums, or youíre not interested in watching yours truly make a fool of himself during the auction - COME ANYWAY and HAVE FUN.

And while youíre meeting everyone, there are plenty of things to do. Features at Milton include the Flea Market, covering 2 rooms with over 100 tables chock full of radio and computer goodies. There will be both new and used equipment available, from companies like Ramsey, Antennas West, Premier, Valor and others. In addition, the RANV table will offer an assortment of Ten-Tec Kits in addition to the latest release of the Vermont Directory and piles of back issues of News & Views.

We have a tremendous Forum program planned for you! Make sure you get there early to take it all in. At 9, Dave W1KR kicks things off with the Portable and Mobile Forum. Dave is a master of moving a hamshack and antennae quickly and efficiently to new surroundings. And speaking of moving while operating, many of us have worked Rovers in the VHF Contests. N1MJD and N1JEZ have honed this activity to a fine art and they will describe the details in the VHF Rover Forum. The actual Rover-mobile will be outside for your inspection and Beau and Mike will share their over-the-road stories.

At 10, find out what's happening in amateur radio at the ARRL Forum, hosted by Director K1KI, Vice Directory K1TWF and Section Manager WE1U.

Our special guest is Ed Hare, W1RFI, of the ARRL Laboratory staff. Ed wrote the book on RF Exposure and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), hence, the call W1RFI. At the Antenna Forum at 10:30, Ed will build an antenna before our very eyes, using a blowtorch. Weíll have the Fire Department standing by, just in case. Following this, will be the RFI Forum. When Ed is not in the forums, come by the RANV table and ask him questions!

We have a really special event starting at 11. The Contest and DX Forum will be hosted by the Yankee Clipper Contest Club (YCCC). Come see video shows of some of the big contest stations and DXpeditions. Learn how you can improve your signal on the air. This is probably the most informative on-the-air forum you'll ever attend! Wow!

Two exam sessions will be held at 9am and 2pm. Candidates should bring 2 forms of ID, copy of license and $6.45 (sorry, no checks, please). FCC Commercial Exams will be at 2pm. Call for more information.

And if you donít buy anything at the flea market, the North Countryís only Electronic Auction will be held at 1pm. The bargains are amazing. So are the items for sale! Refreshments, including coffee, donuts, snacks, sandwiches and hot dogs will be provided by Milton Project Graduation. And, the Milton Senior Drama Club will hold a raffle to help them fund a trip to see a play in New York. Help them out if you can!

The admission is only $3. Bring the family - kids under 18 are free. And tables are free, while they last! Doors open at 8am and get there early!

If you are a vendor with a large setup (over two tables), call the info number for details on early admission. Only approved vendors will be permitted in early and through the back entrance. Everyone else will be directed to the front of the building. No exceptions! There is not enough room to let everyone in the back door. If you are not a vendor and want to get in early, then you become a worker. We need those too.

The fest is reached via I-89, Exit 17 from the South or Exit 18 from the North. The fest is just under 5 miles from either exit. The High School is on Route 7, ľ mile North of the Grand Union, across from Dukeís Sport Shop.

See you at Milton, the best little hamfest in the world!

Milton Information:

ON THE WEB

We hope you are keeping an eye tuned to the RANV Web Page. Changes are made every few days! Recent changes include links to several popular Web Searching sites. A real interesting link is to a site which interactively tracks various satellites in a 3-D display. I watched MIR fly by with this site. Give it a try! The RANV Web is at this address: http://www.ranv.together.com

Welcome to RANV

Jeff N1YWB returns as a member. He is a student at Vermont Technical College and president of the VTC Radio Club. His interests are computers, skiing, fishing, biking, sleeping (!?), and radio.

Larry N9KVI of Muskego, WI, becomes our most distant member. He tells us that he really enjoys reading News & Views.

OUR LAST RANV MEETING

by Paul AA1SU, Sec'y

The evening of January 12th found us huddled in our new clubhouse, all toasty and warm. After the introductions, Eric bought up that we want to buy some Ten-Tec kits for resale at the Milton Hamfest. After club members were assured that any unsold kits were returnable for full credit, less shipping, we voted to authorize the purchase of the kits. We unanimously settled on a high figure of $1500. We were then told that Mark N1ZWC would be available to speak at the next meeting and the special event station W1B was talked about a little.

Our featured guest speaker was Eric N1SRC, our club president, who came to talk about inexpensive antennas that he has built over the years. First, Eric showed us his rubber duck dipole and we tested it against a standard rubber duck. The homemade dipole (actually a Fran KM1Z special) out-performed the duck by a wide margin. This is basically a ľ-wave antenna that uses a tiger tail as a ground plane, instead of the HT. The antenna was used once in Canada when a friend could not open the local repeater from the fringe area. His quarter wave antenna didnĎt work, but the rubber duck dipole got him right into it.

Next up, were some 2-meter beams that were built from stuff around the house and from garage sales, followed by a 2-meter delta loop antenna that was a smaller version of a 10-meter delta loop that he made for his father. I happened to make one of these myself during the 10-meter contest and it outperformed my dipole very well. For the finale, our speaker proceeded to build a J-pole antenna for 2 meters, right before our very eyes, from an old length of 300 ohm twin lead. It was really quite impressive, what with the soldering gun, tape measurer, duct tape and all. For more information on building antennas yourself, there are several publications available to hams on this important topic. There will even be some of them available at the Milton Hamfest!

THE PREZ SEZ

by Eric N1SRC, President

It was fun knocking together a J-pole antenna according to new theory. We can build some pretty effective antennas with very little money.

Chaos reigns supreme here at the Freeman shack at the base of Mt.Mansfield, so radio time has been limited. This set me thinking about some of the recent debates about the future of ham radio.

We use some old fashioned modes which are becoming a curiosity just like cloth covered biplanes. Modern commercial aircraft are very different from the old ones. But people still build and fly all sorts of small planes. Small aircraft coexist and compete for airspace with commercial giants. Experimenters create some strange looking variants for special purposes. Sounds a bit like our radios and antennas.

Commercial wireless communication is becoming as pervasive as microprocessors. Wireless computer hookups, phone extensions, cell phones, pagers (with cell phones starting to displace pagers), delivery tracking, cash registers and gasoline credit doodads. These amazing Rube Goldberg lash-ups depend on many links being in place in order to be useful. When everything is working right, you can call anyplace on the planet, for a fee. When disasters kill these systems, ham radio can help, but about as much as a light plane can assist in air transportation. We should not kid ourselves about being able to take on even a small fraction of commercial traffic. Moaning about the sad state of ham radio in the face of all this noise and competition will not help anything. The best thing is to explore what radio offers. Have fun looking for new opportunities. Keep your eyes open for new equipment and ideas. Take advantage of "the best little hamfest in the world" this month. We will be offering the Ten-Tec kits as another chance to try new things without going broke. You can drop by W1B and see an impressive special event station and get some practice for other events.

If we lost half of our bandwidth above 50 MHz, we would still have more to do than we have time for. It would take some serious adjustment and I donít want to see it happen. The point is that we donít lack opportunities. We need to listen to and use the frequencies that we have. For example, 10 meters has been running hot and cold the last month. This is all new to some of us, and nobody can really predict what the ionosphere will do. Most of all, Letís have fun. To that end, I look forward to seeing you at the hamfest. If there are projects or topics that you want to see the club pursue please tell me.

RANV CONTEST ACTIVITIES

by Paul AA1SU

The month of January found me and other club members staying warm by the rig on contest weekends. I ended the year by participating in the Stew Perry Top Band Distance Challenge. This is a lesser-known CW contest on 160 meters where the object is to exchange grid squares. I am new to contesting on this band, so when I worked some rare DX into Europe with my dipole and 100 watts, I was very excited. I followed this up by entering the ARRL RTTY Round-Up. This was my first time ever using this mode and with four great football games on TV, I did not operate as much as I should have for the first few hours. I did manage to work 45 states and several DX stations, however. Needless to say, I was the only RANV member in these two events.

In the middle of the month, we had the CW NA QSO Party, followed by the SSB portion. On CW, I heard Bob N1MEZ, and Tom W1EAT. On SSB, I heard Ron KK1L, operating from N1MEZ as a multi-op. I also heard Mitch W1SJ, who operated for a short time only, and who actually answered my CQ, for once. I have not confirmed if all heard are sending in logs, nor have I notified the sponsor that we may have a team entry. If any other members are submitting logs, please let me know.

Upcoming events include the VT QSO Party on February 5-7. I mention this because the Phone NA Sprint overlaps with this contest on Saturday from 7pm to 11pm. The bands will be most active then, and we can use this to our advantage. The Sprint exchange is serial number, name, and state. Plus, it has a strange QSY rule that requires CQíers to move off frequency once they have made a contact. So, give one a contact, take his frequency, and HOLD IT if you are operating the QSO Party. All that you really want from the others is their state (or county if VT, NH, or ME). If somebody asks you to QSY, politely explain that you are actually in a different contest, and give them your name, state, and serial number. Apparently, the Sprint moves quickly from 20 to 40 to 80 meters every 80 minutes or so. You can go with the flow, or do your own thing. There will be a total of nine contests on the bands this weekend, so who knows what report you will be asked for.

At the end of last monthís column, I mentioned the Novice Round Up. This is a contest dropped by the ARRL and picked up last year by the FISTS CW Club. But, FISTS wonít score any QSOís in the 10-meter Novice phone band this year and their rules did not get published anywhere, so I am not recommending it.

The weekend of Valentineís Day features the CW NA Sprint. There is team competition, but this is a tricky contest to master and last Fall, I bombed at it (see Jan/Feb NCJ, page 42). If you work it, tell me. Another strange one is the YL-OM Phone Contest, where you score when you work the opposite sex (huh?). I think that the YLís will be the high scorers in this one. See February QST, page 91 for details. The heavy duty DX that I mentioned last month refers to the ARRL International DX Contest. CW is on February 19-21, and Phone is on March 5-7. See December QST, page 97 for rules. There are no points for stateside contacts. The weekend of the Milton Hamfest, includes the CQ WW 160-Meter SSB Contest. Mitch will be doing a multi-op from his house, but it will take place during the pre-hamfest party! Contact him, if you want to operate. The other one to try, after the festivities at Milton, is the Phone REF French Contest. Details are in January QST, page 84. This is a good way to pick up a few French contacts and to practice your Search & Pounce skills.

Next month, I'll talk about PREFIXís and who can beat my winning WI QSO Party score?

WEEKEND CLASS

Time to round up all those potential new hams! The next Weekend Class will be March 13-14th and will be held in Essex. The class is a full training for the Technician License and is followed by exams. Early enrollment is requested so that students have time to receive and review study materials.

If you know of friends or family interested in the exciting world of amateur radio, please make a point to have them inquire about this class. If you get them there, we'll get them licensed! For information, contact Mitch at 879-6589. Make Ham Radio grow!

ARRL YOUTH INCENTIVE

The ARRL Foundation established the Victor C. Clark Youth Incentive Program, with the objective of providing support for the development of Amateur Radio among youth. The Program makes grants available to groups that demonstrate serious intent to promote participation in Amateur Radio by youth and enrich the experience of radio amateurs under the age of 18.

Groups that qualify for grants will include high school radio clubs, youth groups, and general-interest radio clubs that sponsor subgroups of young people or otherwise make a special effort to get them involved in club activities. Minigrants, not to exceed $500 per grant, will be made for such projects as securing equipment for antennas for club stations, purchasing training materials, supporting local service projects that bring favorable public exposure, and similar activities. Preference will be given to projects for which matching funds are raised locally. For detailed information on applying for grants, write to the VICYIP Program at the ARRL. More information can be found on the Internet at: http://www.arrl.org/arrlf.

BROADCAST DXING NEWS

By Mitch W1SJ

Many of us are AM Broadcast band DXers and also play nearby on 160 meters. HereĎs some interesting news.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is getting out of the AM Broadcasting business. They are systematically moving the programming from their French and English AM radio networks to FM transmitters. For example, in Montreal, the English programming on CBM on 940 kHz is heard on 88.5 MHz and the French programming on CBF on 690 kHz is heard on 95.1 MHz. Both FM stations can be heard in the Burlington area, but the 88.5 MHz outlet is battered by interference by WVPR on Mt. Ascutney and WWPV in Colchester. The 690 kHz transmitter is already gone, with 940 kHz to follow in March. Eventually all the CBC AM transmitters will go away, I understand. Personally, I believe that the big 50 Kw AM transmitters really reach many more remote areas where multiple FM transmitters donít, but at least the Canadians are practicing spectrum efficiency! In the meantime, this starts to open up some frequencies to some interesting DXing at night. On these clear channel frequencies, anyone else in the Northeast who is on at night does so with flea power (usually under 50 watts) and with highly directive antennas away from this area. But stuff can be heard! Possibilities on 690 kHz include "The Beacon" a 50 kW religious broadcaster from Anguilla (they donít use callsigns) and CMEC, a 50 kW outlet from Cuba.

The expanded band, 1610-1700 kHz, is filling up with stations. Everyone is on an equal footing: 1kw to a non-directional antenna after sunset (10Kw daytime). This is the perfect "beacon" band to check domestic 160-meter conditions. The easiest station to hear is WBAH 1660 kHz from New Jersey. Make sure you have brushed up on your Spanish first. Another nice signal is KCJJ, 1630 kHz from Iowa City, Iowa. If you hear them well, conditions are probably quite nice out to the Midwest on 160 meters. There are several others stations lurking around up there, but if you can hear announcements about airport information on 1640 kHz, you have some real good propagation. That is the Kennedy Airport information service, which runs about 50 watts into a wire and it has a usable range of 5-10 miles.

The FCC has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Low Power FM Docket, which will supposedly give small entities access to the broadcast world and eliminate the need for pirate radio. Here comes Radio Free Milton! Itís way too early to see what this all means, but suffice it to say, we live in interesting times!

CARE OF POWER SUPPLIES

By Mitch W1SJ, Vermont Technical Coordinator

It is my mission as Technical Coordinator to increase the technical level of all Vermont amateur operators. With that in mind, here is the first in a series of articles, this month on power supplies.

With all the high-tech toys out there, what can be so interesting about the lowly power supply? Well, when the power supply dies, many of the toys also stop working. Knowing how to maintain and service your power supply will keep you on the air, while others are scratching their heads.

Recently, I was on a trip and had the radios and power supply with me. One night, as I was about to connect the power cable from the supply to the radio, the cable slipped from my hand and the exposed negative lead brushed up against a power transistor on the supply. When the lead touched the transistor, it produced a loud spark and the supply ceased to function. This meant no power for the HF, VHF and UHF radios, the laptop computer and the GPS! The supply had to be fixed!

Power supplies come in two general varieties: Linear and Switching. There are other types, but they tend to be rare. A linear supply uses a transformer to drop 120 volts to around 16 volts AC, which is rectified with diodes, filtered with capacitors and regulated with transistors and/or ICís. A switching power supply, or switcher, rectifies the 120 volts directly and voltage is dropped and regulated by chopping or oscillating the voltage, and then, finally filtering back to pure DC. You can easily tell the difference between a linear and a switching supply. If you have a 20-amp supply and can pick it up without getting a hernia, itís probably a switcher. A linear supply requires a transformer large enough (heavy) to handle the current. Switching supplies are almost always used in computers.

The linear supply is quite simple - if something goes wrong, it is often a transistor or IC in the regulator. The switcher is very complex, and any part can fail. Donít ever open up a switching power supply when it is on. There are peak voltages over 200 volts all over the place. Leave that to someone who knows what they are doing. You should also be careful when working around a large linear supply. Those large capacitors inside pack quite a wallop. Thereís not enough voltage to kill you, but the current they can provide, even when unplugged, can weld your watch or ring. Use a 100 ohm resistor across large capacitors to discharge them before playing around.

If your power supply has power transistors mounted externally on the case, you might want to make some modifications to avoid shorting them out. With a voltmeter, carefully measure the voltage from the transistor case to both the positive and negative leads of the supply. The case is often "floating" and is neither positive nor negative. If you see voltage, it would be prudent to construct a guard to keep metal objects from shorting out the supply. A piece of hard plastic or bakelite should do the trick. The two things you must consider is that the transistor and heat sink often gets hot and anything you put over the transistor should not interference with air getting around it to keep it cool.

If you cannot stand to be without a working supply, keep some spare parts inside of it, if there is room. Most linear supplies use IC regulators like the 7812 or 723, and these are usually the first items to fail. Another part known to fail is the pass transistor, usually a 2N3055, a big metal job, mounted with screws. If your supply uses discrete transistors in the regulator, try to identify what they are and match them up with replacements. Usually the garden variety 2N2222 will often suffice. Put the parts in a blister pack and secure them inside the supply - donít let loose parts rattle around in there or you will really be in trouble.

Always, always, always have a multimeter available. Check your voltage regularly and keep it around 13.5 volts, measured at the supply. Make sure the leads are fat enough for the current draw. If the voltage drops more than a few tenths of a volt in transmit (and stays steady at the supply), use fatter leads.

One nasty thing about linear supplies is that the pass transistor sometimes shorts out. The result is 25 volts on the output. If you have anything connected, you end up with dead supply and dead radio. When hooked to a transceiver, that usually means that the power amplifier chip or transistor on the transmitter is destroyed. These devices usually cost around $100. I had a circuit called an overvoltage protector, which would short out the supply if the voltage got above 16 volts. Unfortunately, RF in the shack set off the protector. It now resides in the junk box. Yes, I live dangerously!

MORE TOYS

In the latest Tech America catalog something on the cover caught my eye. It is hand held digital storage oscilloscope, costing only $200. Quality oscilloscopes cost thousands of dollars. I donít know how good this scope is, and I really donít need it, but it is a really nice tool to have = particularly if you have to carry it somewhere (like a repeater).

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