RADIO AMATEUR NEWS & VIEWS, September, 1999

RADIO AMATEUR

NEWS & VIEWS

September, 1999


IN THIS ISSUE...
VHF Expeditions & DX
VHF QSO Party
Weekend Class
Our Last RANV Meeting
The Prez Sez
Ironman - Public Service Challenge
Propagation
Wacky Fox Hunt
Contest Corner
On the Cover of QST
Welcome to RANV




VHF EXPEDITIONS & DX
The September 14th RANV Meeting

Join us for our first action-packed meeting of the fall season as we present a show on VHF operation. To all our Technician class operators: there is plenty of life beyond what you hear on the repeaters! With the September VHF QSO Party this weekend, we hope to bring the camera up to the mountain to give you a birds-eye view of what it takes to make many contacts over hundreds of miles away. To wet your appetite beyond the QST cover shot, we'll give you some videos, past and present, of the WB1GQR operation, and also throw in some shots of the legendary W2SZ Mt. Greylock expedition. We'll round out the evening showing off some the equipment and antennas used for the adventure. You can participate by bringing in some of your VHF or UHF all- mode equipment for a quick show and tell.

The meeting is Tuesday evening, September 14th, at 7pm at the O'Brien Civic Center, 113 Patchen Road, South Burlington. The pregame show starts around 5:30 at Zack's on Williston Road. We hope to see you all down there. In fact, why not even bring a friend!


VHF CONTEST THIS WEEKEND

The September VHF QSO Party will take place this weekend, September 11-12. Activities start at 2pm Saturday, and conclude Sunday at 11pm. All amateur frequencies above 50 MHz are fair game, but the specific spots to look for activity are: 146.55, 223.5 and 446.0 FM and 50.125, 144.2, 222.1 and 432.1 SSB. Here in northern Vermont, we are far from the action, so a drive up to a mountain or hill may make a big difference in hearing a bunch of stations.

RANV will be fielding another limited multioperator effort from Mt. Equinox in Manchester, Vermont. We should be fairly easy to hear on most frequencies if you have an outside antenna. We might have trouble hearing you, due to high levels of interference. Two meters sounds a lot like 20 meters up there! We will turn the beams north at the top of the hour, so this is the best time to get through.


WEEKEND CLASS

The fall edition of the Weekend Amateur Radio Class will take place October 16-17th at the Essex Town Office in Essex Junction. The course is a self-contained 17-hour training for the Technician class amateur radio license. Pre-registration is required - contact Mitch at 879-6589 for details.

We cannot stress the importance of sharing your enthusiasm of amateur radio with others. Many, many prospective amateurs tell me that they are interested, but have trouble finding someone to help them. Whether new hams enter via self-study, classes or Elmering, it is crucial we talk up amateur radio and encourage new people to give it try.


OUR LAST RANV MEETING

by Paul AA1SU, Sec'y

The meeting for the month of August was the club's summer picnic. It was a beautiful day, both weather-wise and propagation-wise. Several members managed to make it to the event, some with family in tow. We did not have an agenda, so we just mingled while some set up radios and antennas. After a while, we fired up two barbecue grills and waited for the coals to get hot. In the meantime, some played on the radio. Mitch was on 20 meters trying to work DX and Eric was on 10 meters trying to stir up the 10-10 hams with a few rare Vermont contacts. At one point, on the same band, they raced to see who could break a pile up - Mitch won. We used W1NVT for most of these contacts and when one European station was calling for other European's only, we got miffed and thought about sending GW1NVT (Wales). We thought better of it however, and proceeded to cook.

During all this, I noticed that Kristin AA1SK was nowhere to be found. That was because she went canoeing and fishing. Others went swimming, but most sat around and talked. Fun was being had by all. Around 1:30, I called together the YCCC meeting for the Northern Vermont area. It was about a 45 minute meeting and two hams joined the YCCC. We had a good turn out, including two members from Connecticut, Ted W1WFZ and Carol K1FTA. Ted's been a member for a while and helped with input at the meeting. He told us how great it is to contest from Grenada, where the people and food are so nice.

By 3 pm, things were winding down and hams were scattering like ball bearings. I went over to Richard WN1HJW's house and picked up a huge 12 volt lead-acid battery and helped him program in some repeaters at his home QTH. He was most grateful and now fears that he may burn the thing up from overuse.


THE PREZ SEZ

by Eric N1SRC, President

First important piece of information: AA1SK caught about as many fish (7) as we had in QSOs during the picnic. This proves that there are more uses for fishing line than just hoisting up antennas! As I write this, we are still wracking our br ains for a good set of topics for the fall. YOUR ideas (or presentations) would be most welcome. The hunt never ends.

I've been experimenting with being a piece of the largest parallel processor ever assembled. Down in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, the old slot antenna on the 1000 foot dish radio telescope has been left in place to record signals in a 2.5 MHz bandwidth centered on 1420 MHz. Other users make observations with the new Gregorian feed system housed inside a little tiny 80 foot dome. The old feed has a beamwidth of .05 degrees. The new one is even better.

In any case, there is a dream that if somebody is sending out any signals that this is the best place to listen. Higher than this atmospheric and quantum noise gets bad. Lower, other noises are a problem.

The data is analyzed to look for pulsed signals or carriers with corrections for doppler shift and various methods to screen out RFI. This takes oceans of CPU time. This is done by chopping the data up into segments and sending them out over the Internet to by analyzed by the SETI@home screensaver running on about 300,000 systems all over the world. Instead of building random plumbing, or simulating an aquarium my computer now engages in what I suspect is a futile search while I am away from it. I think that there is always the chance that something else will turn up. Most serious studies of the wild blue aimed at one thing find another. If nothing else, this will be one of the grandest RFI studies ever done. They have a nice web site at http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu. The datasets are about 300 kilobytes so they only take a few minutes to download. Results are very compact.

Some of the data is handled by large workstations, which can crunch a segment in about an hour. It takes over 20 hours on a PC, but there are so many more PCs that they do more than the big machines. This reminds me of ham radio. The big agencies have really spiffy equipment. Our small bits of equipment add up to more than they have, if we actually use what we have. We can listen to more frequencies than at more places than any individual. The optical astronomers make use of the same effect. Many comets and even many supernovas are discovered by amateurs because the big scopes can only look in one place at a time.

Case in point, AA1SK heard a call from a driver stuck in traffic on a major bridge with a dead engine. Fortunately we knew a friend who lives nearby and help was arranged without spending megabucks. We can't match E-911 for volume, but we can fill in some cracks and have fun while we are at it.


THE IRONMAN - A PUBLIC SERVICE CHALLENGE

by Mitch W1SJ

This past month, North Country amateur radio operators got to play in a large-scale public service event which ran for the first time ever. The first ever Ironman Triathlon was held in Lake Placid, New York. These events are held in various spots around the globe, the most famous being in Hawaii. The organizers plan to make the Lake Placid Triathlon an annual event. Some of you may know the details of the 26.2-mile marathon held in Burlington and other spots. The Triathlon adds a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride to a full length marathon. The winner took over 8 hours to finish while the last competitor came in after a torturous 17 hours. I cannot offer comment on the sanity of the participants. I stick to making the radios work!

Besides being a 17-hour day, the Ironman Triathlon included 1700 participants who were tracked on a course throughout the rugged terrain of the Adirondacks. This area is not friendly towards 2-meter propagation, or propagation on any frequency, for that matter. Amateur radio's biggest job in this event was to provide communications to and from the ambulances, since their radios could not reliably make it through the mountains. Other communications supported the 56-mile supply line throughout the course.

Challenges were many. The primary repeater, 145.11 MHz on Whiteface Mountain, is the 2nd highest repeater in the Northeast. Unfortunately, the antenna is located on the backside of the mountain and its signal is blocked towards most of the course. On top of this, some spots on the course were located in steep valleys where no radio signals are strong. We used 147.15 MHz as a backup, but this signal is weak at the Net Control point in Lake Placid and was easily wiped out by communications on other ham frequencies and other non-ham frequencies. Some quick antenna moving around allowed all frequencies to be heard, albeit, poorly. Ham operators set up their mobiles in the ambulances only to find that mag mounts don't stick to fiberglass roofs!

There were four of us from Vermont willing to brave the 2-hour ride across mountains and a big lake in order to help out. Jeff N1YWB joined me from our area and Earl K1YLB and Moe N1ZBH came over from St. Albans. All headed over on Saturday evening so that they could be fresh for a long day of operating. Boy, was it a long day! Most of the operators were stationed in ambulances. For some sick reason, I chose to be a net control!

After about an hour of fiddling around with antennas and radios, we finally got Net Control to a point where we were efficiently handling emergency calls. Sometimes the calls came 3 at a time and all hell broke loose. At other times, things were very slow. I found that it helped greatly to have two complete net control setups side by side. This allowed each net control op to handle separate ambulance requests. Besides dispatching the ambulance, we communicated information about each patient's condition and vital signs. This allowed the medical people to determine where to send the patient - either to the medical tent at the finish line or one of the two hospitals in the area. Carefully relaying this information was vital so that the correct decision was made. All those years doing the Sweepstakes was invaluable training in learning to pass information quickly and accurately.

By evening, the all the participants were off the bikes and running. The running course was from Lake Placid out about 6 miles and back. This was repeated to add up to 26.2 miles. Fortunately, this entire route was line of site to the repeater and to Net Control, so communications were easier. There was quite a lot of medical assist traffic. As the evening wore on, all of the serious medical cases had to be transferred from the tent to the hospitals. Finally, at midnight, the last participant came up to the ice skating oval in Lake Placid, finishing up the course. There was quite a crowd on hand, considering the late hour on a Sunday night. Jeff and I left at 1am, stopped for breakfast along the way and didn't get in until 4. After a long day and night, we were toasted!

For the first time this was ever done, the relatively small amateur radio contingent performed well, considering the long hours and difficult conditions. Emergency communications were, for the most part, handled quickly and efficiently. However, it was the little deficiencies which were nagging us all day. These little problems are seen at every emergency and public service event. This stuff includes weak signals, inadequate antennas, not paying attention to the radio and missing calls and the ever-popular dead battery in the HT (with no backup). I mention these items so that we are all aware of them and take steps to improve for the next time we are called on to communicate.


PROPAGATION

by Eric N1SRC

I've grown up with a vague notion of radio propagation. Low frequencies go longer distances at night, and higher frequencies work during the day. Depending on the destination, the best frequency for getting through varies with time of day and season. QST publishes some graphs that show key paths for each month.

Now that I have Windows 98, I have downloaded the VOACAP software the Voice of America staff has created for predicting broadcast propagation. It is a souped up version of the older IONCAP program. It is somewhat large compared to the old DOS programs due to the nice graphics and Windows gingerbread. It can show the results for a given path as in QST, or it can show signal strength maps for a given frequency, sunspot number, and time. It includes maps and files that contain data for all sorts of antennas and locations. The analysis covers systematic effects of the sun on the ionosphere but does not include the effects of the geomagnetic field or any sporadic effects. Therefore actual propagation will vary from the prediction, however it can give a good starting point.

To get a general idea of predicted conditions I prepared some maps using an ideal isotropic antenna. I have not taken the time to put in the precise background noise and bandwidth data required to make quantitative predictions, however results seem pretty real. It shows that daytime propagation on 40 and 80 is useful locally while the higher bands skip right over the nearby area. This is no great discovery. What is more interesting is that you can see the effect of the skip zones as F-layer ionization changes. For example, at 1000 UTC in the month of September, 20 meters would work very nicely for contacting a crescent shaped area that runs from south of Greenland almost to South America, excellent coverage for the mid-Atlantic fish population. Unless you have a friend on a boat this coverage is of limited use. There is a second zone covering central South America. As the daytime wears on, the area of coverage increases and fills in the gaps so that the well known wide area coverage is shown. There are still some interesting hot spots that move around.

This software should be useful for estimating where you signal can best go. This still leaves the problem of finding a person to talk to on the other end of the circuit, but you can aim our antenna and pick your time to best advantage.

This and other software can be found at http://elbert.its.bldrdoc.gov/hf.html and the AC6V super site listed on the RANV web page has some nice links, including one to a nice new summary that collects solar and geomagnetic data onto one nice convenient web page.


WACKY FOX HUNT

by Mitch W1SJ

I had two goals for our August Fox Hunt. First, to hide away from the vehicle and present an interesting challenge to the hunters. Second, was to have the hunt end at an earlier time. The latter goal was met, but an interesting set of circumstances brought the hunters down on the fox very quickly.

The hiding spot was on the beach at Delta Park in Colchester. This is a little known (so I thought) spot just north of where the Winooski River dumps into Lake Champlain. The challenging part would come from the fact that the hunters would probably come up North Avenue in Burlington and find a strong signal at the end of the bike path - and a river smack in the way. Actually, Ted K1HD, who wasn't officially in the hunt, admitted to falling prey to this.

Unfortunately, things got weird. During the check-in portion of the program, Paul AA1SU checked in from Prim Road - about 150 feet from where I was driving at the time. His attempts to follow me were thwarted by my normally crazy driving patterns, but this gave him an advantage in that he knew what neighborhood I was in. What I also didn't know was that Fred N1ZUK used to live in this neighborhood and he knew the area very well.

The hunt started, but Murphy was definitely part of the proceedings. I moved to my hiding spot on the beach and set up the antenna, only to find the connector was shorted out. I ripped the connector off and stuffed the coax in the radio. This is not a recommended procedure, but I was using an older radio which was expendable. And then it started to rain. Besides for the radio and reading material getting wet, the fox was also getting wet and cranky. I decided to retire to the comfort of the van which was parked a short distance away in a boat launch area. When I got there I found Paul! Does this make me the winner of the hunt?

Not wanting to debate this issue, I quickly slipped back into the woods, but Paul was wise to my agenda. He bagged his first fox in a mere 40 minutes. About 5 minutes later, Fred came tearing into the lot and checked in. And 10 minutes after that, a very suspicious looking vehicle with a rather large yagi on top drove into the area. That vehicle contained Bill N1IRO and Scott N1NTT, who teamed up for this hunt, after years of competing against each other. At this time, Jeff N1YWB was allegedly somewhere in the wilds of Williston. A lot of clues got him up to Colchester, where it was decided to have everyone go over to Zacks for the post-game show.

Paul admitted that he spotted the fox moving to the hunting spot and declined the win. We will officially score it a tie, with the next fox to be Fred N1ZUK.

The next hunt is tentatively scheduled for Friday, October 15th.


CONTEST CORNER

by Paul AA1SU

The 10-meter contest results were finally published in the September issue of QST. In the hotly contested Vermont section, Bob N1MEZ beat out Les W1UT in the Mixed Mode High Power category. In the Phone High Power event, Mitch came in 2nd place behind Tony K1AMF of Bellows Falls. (I know, I'm as shocked as you are). I entered CW Low Power and was uncontested. I did not operate much on Saturday, and it shows in my score. I did however, build a 10-meter delta loop antenna on Saturday night and went at it on Sunday. In the multi-op category, AA1VT posted a nice score. David W1KR, a RANV member, was one of the ops. Looking at the Top Ten scores, it's clear to see that we all suffered from the latitude penalty. The exception is K1AMF, but then again, he IS in southern Vermont.

In January, I entered the ARRL RTTY Round-Up, in a quest to try other modes. I was trying to watch the NFL Playoffs on Saturday, but on Sunday I ignored football and just contested. I had never tried RTTY before and had just wired everything up the night before. Still, I managed to just beat the only other Vermonter, W1RNA (now KG1M) and several other New Englanders.

After the club picnic, new member Ron KK1L and I dabbled in the NA QSO Party CW as single ops. The following weekend, after the Fox Hunt, I worked several hours in the Worked All Europe CW Contest. In this contest, I learned how to integrate DX Packet Spots into the contesting software. I had all the tools to do it and on Saturday afternoon, I gave it a whirl. It netted me a few extra contacts, and I posted several stations during the weekend. I also had the resources to download a new country file, something that I badly needed as my old shareware version was not recognizing some of the prefixes. After I updated the file, my score jumped from 107k to 133k! I finished up with 155K, about 3 times better than last year. This was followed by the NAQP SSB on the 21st. Ron and Bob worked it as a multi-op. I got on for a little while and heard Fran KM1Z, Linda KK1C, and Ted K1HD.

For the month of September, we have the ARRL VHF QSO Party. The exchange is grid square and the hours are 2 pm Saturday to 11 pm Sunday on the weekend of the 11th. A good 2 meter FM frequency to try is 146.55. Give it a try while mobile, there will be stations contesting in the area Look for the RANV Expeditionary force from Mt. Equinox (WB1GQR).

On HF, this weekend features the WAE SSB with the annoying QTC feature and the NA Sprint SSB with the equally annoying QSY feature. One is good for your DXCC and the other WAS. Also, the VHF/UHF Sprints are coming up over the next several weeks. Sprints are 4 hours long and participation is usually low. See QST for more details on any of these.

The rest of the month is filled with ho-hum QSO Parties and such, so I will skip to the weekend of October 2nd for the California QSO Party, the most popular QSO party in the country! So popular that most contesting software will support it. You send QSO number and VT and they send number and county (max 58). Last year, I worked 55 counties. The top 20 scores outside CA get a bottle of wine, something that Ron KK1L has enjoyed in the past (I think). Last year, Ron was unable to participate because he was moving, but I have a feeling that this year, he'll be looking for that prized bottle. The hours are 2pm Saturday to 6pm Sunday. Last year I worked CA on 5 bands both modes, but the place to be was clearly, 15 meters SSB! I expect that this year should be similar.

Next month: Transylvania County.


ON THE COVER OF QST!

by Mitch W1SJ

Hey, check out that very cool van and antenna system on the cover of September QST!

A rock band called Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show had a novelty hit in 1972 called On the Cover of the Rolling Stone, which was their measure of importance and fame.

Using that definition of success, I guess I made it to the big time after 30 years.! Well, at least my van and antennas did, as I was probably inside operating. Just as well, since I've been told that if I was in the picture, the QST presses would have ground and sputtered to a halt!

When I heard that this picture was going to be on the cover, I was worried whether the car was washed. Of course, the foggy, wet conditions made this worry moot. This 1997 picture is actually pretty much what we will be running this weekend in the contest. In the foreground is a 5- element Cushcraft on 6 meters with a vertical 13B2 on 2 meters on top. The mast next to the van contains 15 elements on 222 MHz (bottom), side-by-side vertical 8 element Quagis for 222 and 440 MHz FM (middle) and a 21-element monster on 432 MHz (top). On the far side, almost obscured by the fog, is a 19-element array on 144 MHz. Notice that the 6 and 2 meter antennas are pointed north, which means that this picture was probably taken at the top of the hour!

Thanks to Bruce WW1M for bringing a inside view of the WB1GQR September mania!


Welcome to RANV

Craig KB1EHT of Essex Junction attended the Ham Radio Camp in July and received his Technician license.He attends A.D. Lawton school. His dad just gave him an HT and he is now heard on the air.



Back to the top
Other RANV Newsletters