Category Archives: New Hams Corner

New Hams Corner: ARES, RACES, CERT

A lot of new hams will join the hobby because they want to become involved with an Emergency response organization. Thank you for wanting to help out during crisis times!

Any new ham will have a lot to learn before they can be effective. Some of the key points are:

  • Ability to function under pressure
  • Knowing good radio procedure
  • Knowledge of the served agencies we work with
  • Knowing how to use your equipment

The last one is the most important because under pressure you will make mistakes. The fewer they are and the more minor the less of an impact you will have on an outcome. I have seen new hams forget how to change frequency when they are pushed a little outside of their comfort zone. I can only imagine how things would be in a life threatening event.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE and more practice. Listen to the various nets. When you know how they are operated check in. Do it on a regular basis and if they hold on air drills, participate! Your nervousness will diminish over time and you will be confident that you can pass traffic.

ARES is one of the ARRL groups that will serve agencies such as the Red Cross. You should know what type of traffic you might be expected to pass and in what format. A lot of ARES groups will assist with events like marathons and bike rides. This is a great way to get practice in a real world situation.

RACES is a parallel group but their only served agencies are government. A lot of people actually belong to both but you must commit to one for a call out! They will handle traffic for Emergency Management, Police, Fire, EMS, Roads and other services. If you are going to join this group get to know the folks you will work with before your services are needed.

CERT is a newer group but very strong in some areas. It is a grassroots effort to train people to handle emergencies on their own when professional help is unavailable. CERTs are often used for special events, traffic control, fairs and other large events. As a radio person you become valuable because you can pass traffic to other teams or the controlling agency.

Because of the nature of the work a lot of teams and individuals have to be vetted. You might even have to go for fingerprinting and other background checks. Most of these costs are borne by the group but check if you are required to do any of them.

No matter which group you participate in be ready to serve in a moments notice.

You might be part of a life saving team !

73 Dolph WA2NTW

New Hams Corner: Batteries

Most ham rigs operate on 12VDC. Most HTs operate on a lower voltage, 7-10VDC. Choosing a battery has never been easy but it has a few factors that should be considered.

  • Are you going to have a way to recharge the battery?
  • How much talking do you expect to do?
  • Do you have spare batteries?
  • Do you have a backup clamshell?

If you are not going to be talking a lot your battery will last much longer. A big factor in talk time is the type of event. Road races, rallies, marathons etc might require a lot more talking as you need to give updates more frequently. For emergency use you will have a lot of talking followed by more listening as the event unfolds.

There are 3 types of battery chemistry. Lithium Ion, Nickel Cadmium and Alkaline. Rechargeable batteries are mostly LiIon today. They will last MUCH longer than the other two types. NiCads are fading away but there are still a lot around. They don’t hold a charge as long but are very durable in terms of number of recharges the battery will take. Alkaline are disposable. You use them and dispose of the dead ones properly.

If you have a clamshell for your HT you can load in AA batteries and get time so you
can recharge your other batteries later.

No matter which chemistry you have batteries have a lifespan. When they will no longer recharge it is time to buy a new battery. When you are making a purchase think about the amount of time you talk, how often you have to recharge your battery and if you are involved in an emergency communications team. Buying a higher capacity battery will be very helpful to you and give you a longer time until you need to recharge.

You should have at least two batteries. Use one and charge the other. Then swap them! Leaving one battery on the shelf is not a good idea. They need to be used. Also every now and then run the battery down and give it a full charge.

Always remember to properly dispose of batteries when they are deceased. There are quite a few recyclers or places you can drop off old batteries.

If your battery is getting super hot when being used it might have an issue. It will be time To replace it. Do not recharge until it has cooled off. If It still gets warm then do not use It again. Some battery packs have thermal regulation built in. They will blow an internal fuse. Another reason for a back up or several back ups!

When you are recharging batteries, make sure you are using the correct charger. Leave them there until fully charged for maximum talk time. If you have a VOM measure the voltage after charging. This will give you a benchmark to know when a battery is starting to fail.

Always think safety, never short out a battery! That is unless you want to start a fire.

Be safe!

73 Dolph WA2NTW

New Hams Corner: Callsigns

During a practice I had one new ham who did not their callsign! I asked three times before the person got it right. When the FCC issues callsigns they are done in sequential order. If you take your test with a few other people you will have similar calls! For example: KA4AAA, KA4AAB, KA4AAC. This does get confusing on air as they might all sound the same to a net control station.

I prefer to use phonetics when I give my callsign. There is somewhat of a better chance to get it correct on the first pass. November Tango Whiskey is easier to get than NTW. I always get called MTW!

Once you have been issued a call a lot of people want to get something easier to remember or it means something to them. One very common thing is to try to get your initials. For a Technician this will only work if you have a middle initial. Vanity call signs are being issued every day so it is getting harder for people to get a specific call. One big thing is the ability to get calls in other areas. Let’s say K4LEW is taken but you find K1LEW is available. You may apply to get that call and use it in the Southeast. Once upon a time that was not allowed!

A lot of old timers have kept their calls because they are out there and have been for years. I have had my call for over 40 years now. One other hidden thing is people who want the call of a deceased family member. A friends son got his dad’s call. Funny part is they have the same name so I was confused when I saw the call. Some clubs will get calls to honor a silent key who was a longtime member of the club.

Even as a Technician you will be exposed to calls issued in other countries. Along the northern border you might hear a lot of C calls. Along the Mexican border you might hear some X calls. and believe it or not, along the Florida coast you can hear the islands! Use one of the online callsign lookup services to determine where a particular call is licensed to…it might not be where you think. If you have a foreign call you can look them up at hamcall.net/call or one of the other services.

Although not a requirement a lot of hams still keep a log of stations contacted. This makes it easy to remember a bit about the person. With today’s software it is so much easier to log contacts and sort them by a number of variables.

Your callsign is your identity and you should proudly let people know who you are and in which organizations you hold membership.

73 Dolph WA2NTW

News Hams Corner: Elmers

A lot of new hams have a whole host of questions and cannot find the answers to them. Ham operators have traditionally been very willing to help out other hams. This is also the case for new hams.

There is actually a name for the folks who are willing to help out, Elmers.

They tend to be hams that have been in the hobby for a number of years. They also are typically Electronics folks although not always. A lot are professionally tied to radio communications and might be the folks servicing two way radios.

If you have questions, ask at a club meeting if someone can help you out. You will usually have a few folks who are more than willing to lend a hand. The great part about an Elmer is they have fun helping someone “learn the ropes”. Knowledge sharing a great thing and there are a lot of people who are subject matter experts!

There are even online Elmers. They can answer questions for you and point you in the right direction for more info. I had a mentor for a course I took online and we would exchange emails about the work that was required and my reports. While different than traditional learning it is a great way to interact with someone who has a lot of information that can help!

Skills are another great thing that can be taught or assisted with by someone who reaches out to you. Soldering, putting connectors on hardline, mounting antennae, wiring and just operating skills. As a new ham who is scared to get on the air you might feel more comfortable talking with someone whom you have met and worked with on a project.

There are many types of elmers but all have one thing in common, a love of the hobby and a willingness to help others that need assistance! Reach out if you need help. There are plenty of people who will give you a hand!

73 Dolph WA2NTW

New Hams: How to Troubleshoot ham radio problems – radio-wave frequency and power

HOW TO TROUBLESHOOT HAM RADIO PROBLEMS: RADIO-WAVE FREQUENCY AND POWER

Ham Radio For Dummies, 2nd Edition

By H. Ward Silver

Your ham radio station is a system of equipment and antennas. To operate properly, each piece of equipment expects certain signals and settings at each of its connectors and controls. You can trace many station problems to those signals and settings, often without using any test equipment more sophisticated than a voltmeter.

Most station problems fall into two categories: RF and operational. RF problems are things such as high SWR, no signals, and reports of poor signal quality. Operational problems include not turning on (or off) properly, not keying (or keying inappropriately), or no communications between pieces of equipment.

Start by assigning the problem to one of these categories. (You may be wrong, but you have to start somewhere.)

RF PROBLEMS

Some RF problems occur when RF isn’t going where it’s supposed to go. These problems generally are caused by a bad or missing cable, connector, or switching device (a switch or relay) that needs to be replaced. Try fixing these problems with the following suggestions:

  • Replace cables and adapters one at a time, if you have spares that you know work.
  • Note which combinations of switching devices and antennas seem to work and which don’t. See whether the problem is common to a set or piece of equipment or specific cables.
  • Bypass or remove switches, relays, or filters. Leave yourself a note to put the device back in.
  • Check through antenna feed lines. Take into account whether the antenna feed point has a DC connection across it, such as a tuning network or impedance-matching transformer. Gamma-matched Yagi beams show an open circuit, whereas beta-matched Yagis and quad loops have a few ohms of resistance across the feedpoint.

Note: Recording the normal value of such resistances in the station notebook for comparison when troubleshooting is a good idea.

Other problems you may come across include “RF hot” microphones and equipment enclosures, and interference to computers or accessories. (You haven’t fully lived until you get a little RF burn on your lip from a metal microphone case!) Usually, you can fix these problems by bonding equipment together. Try these suggestions:

  • Double-check to ensure that the equipment is connected to the station RF ground bus. The equipment may be connected, but double-checking never hurts.
  • Check the shield connections on audio or control cables. These cables are often fragile and can break when flexed or yanked. (You never yank cables, do you?)
  • Change the location of the bonding wire, or coil up an excessively long cable.
  • Add ferrite RF suppression cores to the cables.

On the higher HF bands (particularly 21, 24, and 28 MHz), cables and wires begin to look like antennas as their lengths exceed ⅛ wavelength. A 6-foot data cable, for example, is about 3/16 wavelength long on 28 MHz and can have a sizable RF voltage at the midpoint, even though both ends are connected to the station’s RF bus.

If you have RF pickup problems on just one band, try attaching a ¼-wavelength counterpoise wire to move the RF hot spot away from the equipment in question. A ¼-wavelength wire left unconnected at one end can look short-circuited at the other end.

Attaching the counterpoise to the enclosure of the affected equipment may lower the RF voltage enough to reduce or eliminate the interference. Keep the wire insulated and away from people and equipment at the unconnected end.

POWER PROBLEMS

Power problems can be obvious (no power), spectacular (failure of the high-voltage power supply), or subtle (AC ripple, slightly low or high voltage, or poor connections). The key is to never take power for granted. Just because the power supply light is on doesn’t mean the output is at the right voltage. Try these solutions to fix your power problems:

  • Check to see whether the problem is caused by the equipment, not the power supply. You can easily isolate obvious and spectacular failures, but don’t swap in another supply until you’re sure that the problem is, in fact, the power supply.

Connecting a power supply to a shorted cable or input can quickly destroy the supply’s output circuits. If a circuit breaker or fuse keeps opening, don’t jumper it. Find out why it’s opening.

  • Check for low output voltage. Low voltage, especially when transmitting, can cause radios to exhibit all sorts of strange behavior. The microprocessor may not function correctly, leading to bizarre displays, loss of external control, and incorrect response to controls. Low voltage can also result in low power output or poor RF stability (chirpy, drifting, or raspy signals).
  • Check the supply with both AC and DC meter ranges. Hum on your signal can mean a failing power supply or battery. A DC voltmeter check may be just fine, but power supply outputs need to show less than 100 mV of AC.
  • If you suspect a poor connection, measure voltage at the load (such as the radio) and work your way back to the supply. Poor connections in a cable or connector cause the voltage to drop under load. They can be difficult to isolate because they’re problematic only with high current, such as when you’re transmitting.

Voltage may be fine when you’re just receiving. Excessive indicator-light dimming is a sure indicator of poor connections or a failing power supply.

Working on AC line-powered and 50-volt or higher supplies can be dangerous. Follow safety rules, and get help if you’re unsure of your abilities.

If your USB device is powered from the USB host, be sure that the host can supply power at the required amount of current. Remember that portable USB hubs often don’t supply power unless connected to an AC adapter. Similarly, a laptop may be configured not to supply USB power unless its battery charger is working.

 

New Hams: Things to do after you get your amateur radio license

21 Things to Do After You Get Your Amateur Radio License (CLICK HERE FOR AMAZON EBOOK) is a new book by Daniel M Romanchik, KB6NU, that is now available for electronic reading on the Kindle and Nook. Written for the new ham or those amateurs who have not really been all that active late, its 21 chapters cover just about every aspect of the hobby as it is today. Included are such topics as how to locate an Elmer, how to buy a radio, set up a shack and much more. Also covered are the social aspects of the hobby including participation in clubs, hamfests and the like.

  • Join a club
  • Join the ARRL
  • Find an Elmer
  • Buy a radio
  • Get on the air
  • Set up a shack
  • Buy some tools
  • Buy a digital multimeter (DMM)
  • Build an antenna
  • Build a kit
  • Go to a hamfest
  • Learn the lingo
  • Subscribe to mailing lists, blogs, and podcasts
  • Upgrade to General
  • Go to Field Day
  • Learn Morse Code
  • Get to know your (ham) neighbors
  • Buy QSL cards
  • Join SkyWarn, ARES, or RACES
  • Participate in a contest
  • HAVE FUN!

New Ham: How to become a proficient CW Operator

CW ACADEMY

CW Academy is a program put on by the CW Operators’ Club aimed at increasing the number of competent CW operators on the HF CW sub-bands. It addresses all levels of enthusiasts: from those aspiring to become licensed operators who want to learn and use Morse code; to veteran operators who are intent on increasing their CW skills, speed and activity.

CLICK for “CW OPS”

G4FON

Start with software that allows Farnsworth spacing, like G4FON, and learn the letters and numerals. Listen to the characters at 20 or 25 wpm, any slower and your mind starts counting dits and dahs instead of listening to the “sound” of the character. Your goal is to hear the sound and immediately picture that character in your head, not hear “dih-dah” and think yourself “that is the letter A” and then picture the “A” in your head. “Dih-dah” should just become another name for “A” without any translation.

Decide early what you want the end result to be. Do you want to have solid copy with a pencil? Do you want to copy at a keyboard? Do you want to copy in your head? Whichever you choose, practice that way from the beginning. Don’t think one is a stepping stone to another, the learning curve between each can be steep since they involve different responses and reflexes. Don’t start with a pencil if your ultimate goal is to copy at the keyboard.

Listen, listen, listen. Download the ARRL code practice MP3s and listen to them in the CD player in my truck and on an IPod. Use the G4FON software to send random words and texts of e-books. Enjoy the RUFZ-XP program trying to decipher callsigns at increasing speeds. Use a program called Morse Machine that sends characters for you to type. It doesn’t give you the next character until you have typed the one you have just heard. It helps to space things out and practice some of the less common characters.

CLICK for “G4FON”

Just Learn Morse Code

Just Learn Morse Code is designed to make it easy to learn Morse code, as well as improve the skills of those who already know the code.
The basic methods used to achieve this are Koch’s method and Farnsworth timing.

CLICK for “Just Learn Morse Code”

TIPS

As for speed, anything above 12 WPM will work.  You should start out at whatever speed you want to use.  If your goal is 25 WPM standard timing, you should learn 25 WPM Morse code right away.  If it’s too fast for you to keep up, use Farnsworth to slow it down and then bridge the gap after you know all the characters.

A technique recently discovered is to identify the 100 most common words used in CW. Take that list and pump it into a CW generator of your choice. Start listening to 5 words at 25 wpm. When you are comfortable with hearing the sounds of those words, move to the next 5 words where you are now listening to 10 words. Repeat this process until you have completed the list.

These start with numbers and special characters.

Here’s a clist

a an the this these that some all
any every who which what such
other

I me my we us our you your he
him his she her it its they them
their

man men people time work well
May will can one two great little
first

at by on upon over before to
from with in into out for of about
up

when then now how so like as well
very only no not more there than;
and or if but

be am is are was were been has
have had may can could will
would shall should must say said
like go come do made work

CLICK for “100 Common Words”

CLICK for “500 Most Common Words”

New Hams Corner: Upgrading your License

Upgrading your License

At some point most people think about other aspects of ham radio. If you want to Chase DX, talk with people around the world or just be more prepared for the BIG one, you will want to upgrade to a General or Extra. When you first came into the hobby. You probably used a study guide. Time to get one for those higher class licenses. Going online to various study portals can be great for some people. But a BIG plus
Is the availability of tests you can take and get instant feedback?

When I upgraded I took out a study guide from the library, signed up for an online Study guide and took a lot of practice tests. It all was a refresher on things I had forgotten In 30 years and some newer material that did not exist back then! It paid off for me, I passed on my first attempt! As an instructor I know that people learn from different Methods so I must tell you to use what will work for you. If your brain associates things then by all means link difficult things to easier things you can remember and understand!

The same way you took your original test, prepare…rest…take your time. As an examiner I have seen so many people hyped up. RELAX. Take your time. Do not overthink. Go with Your first answer unless you are positive it was wrong. If you don’t know an answer, skip it and return when you reach the end of the test. Quite often you might find the answer in some other portion of the test. Do NOT have blank spaces on your answer sheet. When you still don’t know an answer, eliminate the two dumb ones and pick the one that sounds correct.

When you pass the test you will be able to immediately go on those new frequencies you have been itching to try. You have to have a completion of testing form in your Possession as well as sign your call correctly. WA2NTW/AG would be my temporary Call sign if I had just upgraded. You can drop the suffix once your new class is in the FCC Database.

There are a lot of Technician class licenses but not nearly as many General tickets. If you want to have more fun consider upgrading to General and joining in on a lot more ham radio fun!

73 WA2NTW

New Hams Corner: Going Mobile

Going Mobile

At some point you will want to put a radio in a vehicle. There are so many things to consider so let’s look at the basics. Will it be permanent? What band(s) do you want to operate? Where can you put everything? Will you be breaking any laws?

Some people lease cars and cannot make any changes to the vehicle without risking a big Bill to repair when returning them. For these folks and those who only want to do something Every now and then you can find a great way to temporarily place equipment in a vehicle. (This is important if you want to work special events/public service events) First you need a source of power. A cigarette lighter or 12v power port is great for that. Next an antenna. Magnetic mounts are wonderful but get one that will hold the antenna in place and give you a good signal. When you bring the cable into the vehicle try to do the least amount of damage possible. I have seen cables totally flattened and that is bad. Last, you need somewhere to place the radio where it will not hurt you if you are in a crash. Stuck between the seat and a console is usually the easiest place.

Permanent mounts require a lot more thought and work. First you will need to find a place to mount your antenna. The roof is the best place for most VHF/UHF antennae. There are Special tools to drill in rooftops and snake the coax down to where you will place the radio. BEWARE of airbags, electrical harnesses and the like. Most radios come with a mounting bracket that you can attach in a spot where you can have access to the controls and your microphone will be within reach. Finding a good spot to get power is becoming more challenging. If your fuse block is inside of the vehicle you can use a power tap or an unused spot. Just remember the higher the current draw the larger the fuse and cable size. So many of us like running directly to the battery and putting a fuse right there. Be careful when coming thru any part of the
Chassis that you do not nick the cable.

Having someone who has done an install work with you the first time is a great help. Check out other installations and see what you like. As a side note, make sure you check the Laws of the state your vehicle is registered. Most hams have exemptions to place and operate Equipment in vehicle….however there are some very strange rules still on the books out there. I advise all hams to have a copy of their license in the vehicle. Law enforcement will likely not bother you if you have a current license in your possession.

Whichever way you go with antennae make sure you take them off before going into a car wash, Parking garage or other place with low clearance. (You will probably hit signs at drive-thrus. I always made a big racket at a bank drive thru.)

Be safe, drive safely and l will see you on the air!

73 WA2NTW

New Hams Corner: Grounding

Grounding

So many hams forget to ground their equipment. When you live in the lightning capital of the US it just makes good sense to have a GREAT ground. Before I get too far off track there are a few types of grounds but we will focus on two, Earth ground and RF ground.

Good electrical practices tell us to have short, heavy duty ground connections. If you have ever taken a lightning hit you understand why! A lot of voltage very fast needs a place to go and do the least amount of damage to your equipment. There are two schools of thought on what should be used: Wide solid copper bands or wide braided wire. For flexibility the braid wins all the time. I like to make a hole close to the end, solder all around the hole and place it over the ground post on your equipment. The key is to make sure you have a good mechanical and electrical connection.

Some people will swear by one of the following two methods: Tie all of the pieces of equipment to a central point individually or tie each piece to the next piece and then to a central point. For Electrical grounding I prefer the tie each piece to a central point method but if you have RF problems then tie equipment in a daisy chain fashion might help with the RF issue. I will go off script and say tie them all to the central point at the end of the feed from the antenna. This gives you the shortest path to ground and might allow your equipment to be spared.

There are other devices on the market that protect your antenna line and these should always be tied directly to ground wherever possible. They work on a surge principle where a giant surge of voltage is shunted to ground. If you take a direct hit, replace the surge protector! I have a standard operating procedure of removing antennae that are not being used and tie them DIRECTLY to ground. In a shack with multiple antennae it is much easier to have one plate with several jacks mounted on it and tie the plate directly to ground.

Since most new hams don’t have towers I will skip tower grounding. HOWEVER if you have a vertical Mounted on your house there quite often is a spot to make a direct connection to ground. USE IT! Remember that lightning will take the direct path to ground most of the time.

Grounding is never a cut and dried thing. I worked with someone who spent months trying to get the same ground potential in World Trade. A perfect ground system was never achieved but the lowest level was agreed upon by all parties involved.

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73 WA2NTW