2016 ARRL Field Day!


2016 Field Day Site Layout

2016 Field Day Site Layout

I had the privilege of acting as the Field Day Incident Commander for the Nashua Area Radio Club this year. Field Day is the most important operating event for the Nashua Area Radio Club each year. We operated under our club callsign, N1FD and we were 7A here in New Hampshire, USA. We included some new antennas including a Three Element 40m V-Beam, a Satellite Station and a 70cm Digital ATV Station in our operation this year. You can see some of the details which went into the planning of our 2016 Field Day Operation on our Club’s Tech Night Page.

The video above shows highlights from our 2016 Field Day Operation. As you can see, we had a lot of fun at Field Day this year. Our club has 120+ members and we had a large turnout for Field Day. You can see more about our 2016 Field Day operation on our Field Day Page including photos, a score summary and a recap presentation shared at a recent club meeting. I hope that you enjoy sharing our memories from 2016 Field Day.

73,

– Fred, AB1OC

2016 New England QSO Party – Operating Mobile HF


Several members of the Nashua Area Radio Club operated as N1FD/M (our club callsign) in the New England QSO Party this year as a Multi-Op Mobile Entry. Operators included Wayne Wagner, AG1A and Jamey Finchum, KC1ENX and myself. We began our operations on Saturday afternoon on the Massachusetts – New Hampshire State line where we activated two counties and two states.

NEQP Multi-Op Team

N1FD/M NEQP Multi-Op Team

We entered the 2016 NEQP Contest in the High Power Multi-Op Mobile Category. We operated using SSB phone mode using mostly on the 20m and 40m bands. We took turns operating, driving and navigating. We used Fred’s, AB1OC’s mobile HF station in his truck.

CQ NEQP 4

CQ NEQP from N1FD/M

We operated Saturday and Sunday for nearly the entire contest period. We spent most of our time calling CQ and we had several nice pileups to work.

Counties Activated 2

Counties Activated by N1FD/m in the 2016 NEQP

The map above shows the counties in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont that we activated during the contest. Anita, AB1QB helped us to create a route of counties to activate which included some of the more rare counties in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Operating On The Line 4

Operating on a County Line in Vermont

We tried to focus on activations where we could be in two counties as once. These activations produced some nice pileups for us to work.

Operating On The Line 1

Operating on a County Line in NH

We parked on county lines with 2 wheels of N1FD/M in one county and 2 wheels in another. This gave us two QSO points (one for each county) for each contact that we made.

NOPTA Activiation 2

NPOTA Activation – Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP in Vermont

We also activated two National Parks along our route as part of ARRL’s NPOTA program. We activated Saint-Gaudens NHS (NS60) in New Hampshire and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP (HP26) in Vermont. The HP26 activation produced the best response – we made about 50 contacts while we were there.

Solar Weather for NEQP

Solar Weather for NEQP 2016

We had a few challenges along the way. We had some antenna related problems to deal with. Fortunately, we had spare parts with us and we adjusted our operating style to overcome these problems. We also had to operate through a major solar event on Sunday. This made contacts very difficult but we still logged over 235 QSOs on Sunday in spite of the conditions.

CQ NEQP 1

Wayne, AG1A Operating in NEQP 2016

We used a PC running the N1MM+ logger connected directly to the Icom IC-7000 radio which is mounted on the passenger side lower interior panel in our truck. This made if very easy for whomever was operating to keep up with the logging when our QSO rates were high.

All in all, we had a great time in the contest. We logged a total of 631 QSOs and we worked 58 Multipliers. Our final claimed score was 36,598 – not bad given that this was our first entry as a mobile and our first time in NEQP. We worked 43 of 50 states and we had quite a few stations from Canada and Europe call in to answer our CQs. All in all, it was a lot of fun operating from our Mobile HF station in the NEQP contest!

There was some discussion on the way home about the Maine and New Hampshire QSO parties which will be held later this year. We hope to be N1FD/M again in one or more of those as well.

The N1FD/M Multi-op Team,

Fred (AB1OC)
Wayne (AG1A)
Jamey (KC1ENX)
Anita (AB1QB)

Dayton Hamvention 2016


Anita Preseting in Contest ForumFred, AB1OC and I just returned from the 2016 Hamvention in Dayton, OH.

Our first day in Dayton was spent at Contest University – this was our 5th year in attendance but each year we learn more from the contesting experts. This year, we attended two presentations from Frank Donovan, W3LPL on operating techniques for the declining solar cycle and on 80m and 160m antennas.   We also heard a talk from Val NV9L from Ham Nation on Log Analysis tools and another session on SO2R (Single Operator 2 Radio) Operating.

W3LPL Solar Cycle 5

Slide from W3LPL Contest University Presentation

Friday was the first day of the Hamvention and we spent most of the day visiting all of the vendor exhibits.   We visited the Icom booth, where we looked at the new Icom 7851. It has an incredible display as well as one of the best receivers on the market.

7851

Icom IC-7851 Display on a Large Screen TV

We also saw the new KX2 Transceiver at the Elecraft booth. It is even smaller than the KX3 and is perfect for SOTA and other portable operations. I would expect to hear some NPOTA activations using this radio.

KX2

Elecraft Kx2 on Right, next to a KX3

Friday evening was the Top Band dinner where we learned all about “Top Band Disease” from Larry “Tree” Tyree N6TR.   Hams with this disease are nocturnal, love the bottom of the sunspot cycle. They are constantly improving their 160m antennas – when you upgrade your receive antenna, then there are people who can’t hear you, so then you need to improve your transmit antenna – and the cycle continues…

Top Band

Top Band Dinner Presentation by N6TR

After the dinner, we were treated to a concert from the Spurious Emissions Band (N0AXKX9XK4ROW4PA), with hits like “On The Cover of the NCJ” and “Sittin on the Edge of the Band”. They were so funny! You can watch their performances on YouTube http://bit.ly/DaytonSpurs2016.

Spurious Emissions

The Spurious Emissions Band Performs at Dayton 2016

On Saturday, Fred, AB1OC and I presented our Station Building talk to around 250 people as part of the Dayton Contest Forum. It was a great honor to be selected to speak there by Doug Grant K1DG, who has been organizing the Contest Forum for many years.

Fred in Antenna Forum

Fred, AB1OC Speaks at the Contest Forum

We also continued to tour the vendor booths, visiting our fellow Nashua Area Radio Club Member Bill Barber, NE1B, at the DMR-MARC booth.

Bill Barber NE1B

Bill Barber, NE1B at the DMR-MARC Booth

After that, we stopped by Gordon West’s Ham Instructor booth where we spoke to him about the success of our Club’s License classes.  Here is a picture of Gordon, WB6NOA and Fred sharing the secrets of how the Hilbert Transform and the Flux Capacitor make Single Sideband and Time Travel Possible.

AB1OC with Gordo

Gordon West, WB6NOA with Fred, AB1OC

We also visited the AMSAT booth, where we met Burns Fisher,  W2BFJ,   who currently lives in Brookline, NH and is moving to Hollis.    They had a cube sat on display – you can see how small it is below.  It’s amazing that AMSAT builds and arranges to launch them into orbit so that we can make QSOs through them!

Cube Sat

Anita, AB1QB Holds a Cube Sat

Fred could not resist a visit to Begali Keys where we purchased a neat travel key. It should be great for operating mobile and for Field Day.

Begali Travel Key

Begali Travel Key

On Sunday, we headed back to New Hampshire, sad that the weekend had come to an end but full of great memories from the trip.

2016 ARRL Rookie Roundup SSB


ARRL Rookie Roundup Ops

ARRL Rookie Roundup Ops

A team of newly licensed members of our club, the Nashua Area Radio Club, came together to enter the 2016 ARRL Rookie Round SSB Contest, using our club callsign, N1FD. We held a training session at our QTH the weekend before the contest to allow our operators to learn about contesting and to become familiar with our station. We put together a training package to introduce the operator team to contesting in general and to the ARRL Rookie RoundupYou can view the training package here..

Station setup for the Contest

Station Setup for the Contest

We entered the ARRL Rookie Roundup in the Multi-Op, Single Transmitter category using the club’s N1FD call sign. This gave everyone a chance to operate in the contest and to contribute to the team’s final score. Fred, AB1OC spent some time setting up and checking out our station ahead of time. Our operators used the N1MM+ logger and operated using 100w of power on the 20m and 40m bands.

We had a total of 13 Nashua Area Radio Club members who attended the preparation session and/or operated in the contest. Folks worked as teams during the contest with one person operating while another person logged. Our operators had nice pileups to work for a good portion of the contest. All of our Operators did really well. As you can see and hear from the linked video, we definitely have some future contest stars in our club!

2016 RR SSB Score

The table above shows the results of our operations during the 6 hour contest period. Our team did really well! Of particular note is that they were able to work 45 of the 70 available multipliers. It will take some time for the ARRL to put together the results for everyone in the contest but we believe that our team did very well.

Abby and Her Dad Jamey Operating in the ARRL Rookie Roundup SSB

Abby and her Dad Jamey Operating in the ARRL Rookie Roundup SSB

The results are in and N1FD took first place in the recent ARRL Rookie Roundup SSB in the Multi-op Category. The N1FD team was also #1 in area one and #5 overall in the contest. Congratulations to all of our operators – the did a great job operating in the contest. You can find all of the scores for the contest here.

2016-ARRL-RR-N1FD

We are planning to host recently licensed club members again for the ARRL Rookie Roundup RTTY and the ARRL Rookie Roundup CW contests later this year. We hope to see many of our operators back again for these contests.

Do you have a contest station?  If so, we’d like to encourage to host and Elmer some new hams and challenge us in the ARRL Rookie Roundup RTTY on August 21.

Becoming A Great Elmer


Teaching Amateur Radio License Classes

Teaching Amateur Radio License Classes

There is much being said and written these days about the importance of bringing new people, especially young people, into our Hobby. There are many obvious reasons for this. As we all get older or get busy with other aspects of our lives, some will leave the hobby. Also, we have the use of many commercially valuable portions of the RF spectrum and there is always pressure to reallocate bands or segments of bands which are not fully utilized. In my mind, the most important reason to bring new HAMs into our hobby has to do with the energy and new ideas that these folks bring to Amateur Radio. Amateur Radio has always been a learning hobby and new folks help us to keep this important part of what makes our hobby so much fun vibrant.

Anita (AB1QB) and I putting a lot of time and energy into getting folks started in Amateur Radio and helping them to build their skills and progress. Our Amateur Radio License Classes and the youth outreach work that we’ve been doing are two good examples of this. To make these efforts as successful as they can be, it’s also very important to provide good opportunities for folks who are new to various aspects of Amateur Radio to learn and gain experience. This means becoming an “Elmer” or a HAM Radio mentor to people who are less experienced in some part of the hobby than you are.

Perhaps the most challenging part of Amateur Radio for many new HAMs is making the transition from getting their initial license or a license upgrade, to getting on the air with their new privileges. I think that this is equally true for newly licensed folks and for folks who have upgraded to a higher license class and are looking to get onto the HF bands. It’s impossible to teach everything that one needs to get the most from their Amateur License in classes alone.

Help A Young Person Learn To Operate From Your Shack

Help A Young Person Learn To Operate From Your Shack

So what does effective Elmer’ing look like? I think that the answer is different for every HAM. For a new Tech, it may be as simple as helping the person to pick their first radio and antenna along with some help getting it programmed for the local repeaters. For a person upgrading their license to gain HF privileges, it is often about helping to get a first HF antenna up along with helping them to select equipment for and assemble a first HF station. All of these folks will also benefit from help getting on the air and learning to operate. Most of all, a great Elmer is someone who is willing to give their time to help a person who is new to an aspect of Amateur Radio learn and get started doing what they want to do.

I have personally found that being an Elmer to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of Amateur Radio. Every time that I help someone get on the air for the first time or help someone to build their first HF antenna or station, I get the same enjoyment as when I did these things for the first time in my Amateur Radio experience.

Elmer’ing is also a great opportunity for the “Elmer” to learn new things. Newer or less experienced folks will have different things that they want to try or learn about than those things that we “Elmers” consider our “tried and true” Amateur Radio activities. A great Elmer will help the less experienced HAM take on these projects and learn along with them. This gives the less experienced person the confidence and support that they need to try more difficult projects with confidence. The learning experience associated with being an Elmer has often been the best part of the experience for me.

So how does one get started with Elmer’ing? You could open your station to newer HAMs and offer them a chance to get on the air and learn to operate. There is always someone looking to put up a new antenna or to repair an existing one. These are all great opportunities for Elmer’ing. Also, you could consider creating a presentation that you can deliver at your local radio club meetings as a way to share specialized knowledge or experience that you may have. If you are new licensed, perhaps you could help someone who is studying for their license exam with some of the areas that they are finding difficult. Also, new folks tend to have experience with computers and the Internet that many of the folks who have been in the hobby for a while can benefit from. This can be a 2-way Elmer’ing opportunity.

I hope that all of our readers will consider becoming an Elmer in some way. Your efforts to help someone new or less experienced can provide you with the satisfaction that you helped to make Amateur Radio a better hobby for everyone.

– Fred (AB1OC)

A New Project – Digital Fast Scan Amateur Television


Digital ATV CQ Call

Digital ATV CQ Call

Skip, K1NKR a local friend and VHF/UHF expert and I began talking about the idea of building a Fast Scan Amateur Television (ATV) System some time ago. Our early research and the antenna equipment which we had in place at our stations led us to plan our ATV project around the 70 cm band. The 70 cm band plan in the United States has allocations for Fast Scan ATV transmissions with a bandwidth of up to 6 MHz. Our research led us to Jim Andrews, KH6HTV’s excellent website where we discovered that it was possible to build a Digital ATV station using reasonably priced commercially available DVB-T format Modulators and Demodulators. Jim’s site has a wealth of great Applications Notes on Digital ATV and its a great place to start to learn about this technology. A combination of a DVB-T Modulator and Demodulator from Hi-Des was chosen as the heart of our Digital ATV System. We also worked with Jim to secure the needed Wideband Linear Power Amplifiers for the 70 cm band. We began receiving the equipment to build our Digital ATV Stations late last year. We’ve done quite a bit of testing on the air and some custom development work which has resulted in a pair of excellent performing Digital ATV stations. The picture above shows a Digital ATV “CQ” that I sent to initiate one of our early QSOs.

Digital ATV Transceiver

Digital ATV Transceiver

Here’s a picture of Skip receiving my “CQ” at his end. The picture quality produced by the equipment that we’re using and the DVB-T format is phenomenal. The Hi-Des Modulators which we are using have a large number of parameters which can be set to determine the format and bandwidth of the signals we generate. After some experimentation, we have settled on using QPSK modulation and a 6 MHz signal bandwidth. This combination delivers excellent picture quality with more that adequate motion performance. We see very few if any picture artifacts using our current format. We’ve also done some experimentation with QPSK and a 4 MHz signal bandwidth. I plan to share more on signal formats in a future article on our blog.

Digital ATV System User Interface

Digital ATV System User Interface

We are both using HD Digital Camcorders as our primary video signal sources and 1080p monitors to display our received signals. I opted to include an HDMI Video Switch from Gefen in my setup which also allows me to send video and graphics from a variety of different sources including my PC over the air. The monitor in the picture above on the right is a touch screen display which I use to control my ATV Transceiver system.

AB1OC Digital ATV Transceiver

AB1OC Digital ATV Transceiver

Early on, I decided to build a Transceiver like setup. I wanted to create a unit which was simple to use just like the HF Transceivers that are available today. Some of the key capabilities that I wanted to create included:

  • Real-time selection and switching between multiple HD video sources
  • Transmission of PC sourced Video and Graphics over the air
  • Preview and cueing of the next video transmission while receiving
  • Simultaneous display of both receive and pending transmit video
  • Built-in Transmit/Receive (T/R) switching with termination and protection of the Tx power stage
  • Sequencing of T/R stages including my tower mounted pre-amplifier system
  • Power and SWR monitoring with automatic trip on high SWR
  • An internal low-noise RF preamplifier to provide additional receive signal gain if needed
  • Touch screen graphical interface for configuration and operating the system
  • Recording of both sides of on-air video QSOs to an attached PC

To achieve these goals, I decided to build a Raspberry Pi 2 based Linux controller of my ATV Transceiver and to package all of the ATV components and video switching/conversion gear needed in a small rack mount enclosure. Many of the components in the system communicate with each other over an ethernet LAN and the transceiver is networked to computers and other devices via an external ethernet connection. More on the details of the Transceiver design to come in a future article.

Skip and I recently produced a short video to demonstrate how Fast Scan Digital ATV works and to show the quality that these systems are capable of producing. Our project is still a work in progress and I expect that we will continue to learn as we perform more tests and continue development of our systems. I plan to post additional articles here to share the details of our designs and learning from our on-air testing as we proceed.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Software Defined Radios – The Future of Amateur Radio?


Modern SDR Example - FlexRadio 6000 Series

Modern SDR Example – FlexRadio 6000 Series

Computers and Digital Signal Processing already play a big role in recent Amateur Radio transceivers. Many HAMs have a good understanding of these features and regularly use them for all manner of filtering, noise reduction and signal processing tasks while on the air. We’ve also seen more and more radios with Spectrum Scopes which make it easier to visualize what is on a given band in real time. Thanks to increasing volumes in color displays, Digital Signal Processor (DSP) applications and low-cost processors, these capabilities are now common – even on entry-level HF transceivers.

Software Defined Radios (SDRs) are the next logical step in this evolution. SDRs are not new, they have been around for some time now. SDR technology has continued to improve as the cost and performance of Analog to Digital Converters, Programmable Logic Devices and other processors that make up the hardware side of SDRs have improved. We are now to the point where it is possible to build an SDR for Amateur Radio applications which can directly sample RF at frequencies as high as 150 MHz.

Direct Sampling SDR receiver designs have some important advantages over more conventional single conversion and super-heterodyne receiver (i.e. multiple conversion) designs. These include:

  • Higher dynamic range
  • Low phase noise
  • Ability to cover multiple bands simultaneously with multiple receivers
  • Very high-quality spectrum displays
  • Flexible, high-performance filters
  • The ability to add new modulation schemes and other features via software updates

The first two items above (dynamic range and phase noise) are particularly important as they result in receiver performance which is significantly better than that which can be achieved with the best direct and superhet designs. Take for example a busy contest environment when a band is very crowded (ex. 40m at night in a worldwide DX phone contest). There are many strong signals crowded closely together on the band. Even the best conventional design receivers will have trouble hearing moderate and weak signals in this environment. The problem is that the strong signals tend to overload the analog circuitry in the conversion stages of conventional radios which produces a great deal of Intermodulation Distortion Design products. Phase noise also compounds this problem.

A direct sampling SDR converts the incoming RF signals with high dynamic range Analog to Digital conversion and then performs all of the filtering and demodulation of the incoming signals in software. This approach limits the potential for Intermodulation Distortion with an end result that all of the signals on the band (including the weaker ones) are much clearer. This approach also allows very high order filtering to be applied in the RF domain which results in greatly improved selectivity and rejection of closely spaced adjacent signals with minimal distortion.

By now some may be think that this all sounds great but I don’t want to have to use my computer to make QSOs. There is good news on this front as well. We are beginning to see the major transceiver manufacturers introduce direct sampling SDR technology in radios with conventional “buttons and knobs” interfaces.

Icom IC-7300

Icom IC-7300 (Pending US Release)

New designs like the Icom IC-7300 can provide a way to gain the performance and feature advantages of an SDR in a radio which has a more conventional interface. The entry of the major manufacturers into the direct sampling space and the resulting competition should help to lower prices for all types of SDRs.

RTL-SDR Dongle

RTL-SDR Dongle

Want to give SDR technology a try without spending a lot of $? There are several very good SDR Dongles available along with SDR software at a minimal cost. Dongles are typically receive-only but some can also transmit as very lower power. The use of this technology in digital TV receivers and set-top boxes has made the cost of SDR Dongles very low and there is some very good SDR software available for free on the web. Dongles are generally broad coverage receivers and they can also be used to listen to signal outside the Amateur Bands.

It is interesting to follow the rapid evolution of SDR technology. We recently integrated a FlexRadio-6700 SDR into our station to enable us to operate remotely via the internet. You can read more about this project on our blog.

– Fred (AB1OC)