Operating: There are just so many different areas of interest within the hobby of Ham radio to become involved with. Years ago it seemed pretty overwhelming. What will it be CW, SSB, RTTY, Contesting, DXing, SSTV, ATV, satellites, etc, and the list goes on? For me it was CW at first because that is what was required when one had a novice license. At that time my relationship with CW was a necessity. I can honestly say that at the time, I did not love the mode! I looked forward to an upgrade and the opportunity to talk with others on phone. After upgrading, I spent most of my time on the phone bands rag chewing, collecting QSL’s and going after the basic awards. Over time, I got involved in DX’ing and contesting. I then got involved in CW again and can say that I learned to love it the second time around. In recent years I have become involved in digital modes. Initially the reason for involvement was another DX or Contesting mode. But I was also fascinated with the technical aspect of some of the new modes that were becoming popular on the bands. As I have mentioned, I like computers and just had a lot of fun simply getting the new modes to work. I have provided a short description of some of my operating activities below and have provided lots related links for your perusal.
Voice: Hey what can I say? It’s talking and we do it every day! No description needed! Just get on the air and call or answer a CQ. There are a lot of interesting conversations to be had beyond the RST, QTH and rig conversation. There is no shortage of experience, wisdom, equipment/antenna information to be had on the bands. That being said, the ham bands are like the internet. One needs to be able to “separate the wheat from the chaff”.
OK, to this point I have implied that talking is like falling off a log. If you need a little bit of a challenge, how about HF digital voice? Haven’t mastered this yet, but it is on my bucket list. I have played around with DRM reception on the shortwave bands. DRM stands for Digital Radio Mondiale. There is a freeware software package called “DREAM” that decodes the digital signals into audio like you have never heard on the shortwave bands. It sounds like FM stereo. When it comes to HF digital qso’s just follow the links provided on this page. Digital or analog, hope we can talk sometime!
CW Mode: CW is now my favorite mode of operation. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this website, CW is the great equalizer when it comes to working DX. I often only run QRP power levels and it is amazing how efficient this mode can be in getting the message through. I haven’t stored the microphones away in the closet, but they don’t get near the use now days. I’m a member of FISTS (#15716). I recently had an opportunity to operate the ole straight key during a K3Y/8 operation from K8AQM’s very nice shack. It took a few QSO’s to knock the rust off, but it was fun and rather nostalgic. I was lucky to have K8KIC (Ken) a real straight key master at my side. We were a good team. Ted (K8AQM) recently sold me a Vibroplex Bug. I guess it’s time to practice on the ole bug and apply for a SKCC number.
In my case, the CW mode is not a “been there, done that” activity. Sure I rag chew,DX, and work CW contest like Sweepstakes and others. But that being said, one only has to tune the 40 meter CW band on any morning and listen to the masters at work or participate in a NA CW Sprint to realize that you are only part of the way up the mountain when it comes to mastering this skill. CW is a lifelong activity of continuous improvement, I’m sure that even the masters don’t see themselves as standing on the top of the mountain! See some of the CW related links that are found to right on this page. They may help you in the climb!
Digital Modes: I never really got into the digital modes until about 10 years ago or so. My main interest was RTTY. As I have mentioned, I enjoy playing around and getting things working. One of the catalyst for further involvement in other digital modes was an interest in SDR radio. I first purchased an Flex SDR 1000 back in 2006 and later upgraded to a Flex 5000. The Flex radio is a perfect match for operating digital modes. With the SDR radio there is no need to convert the signal from the digital domain before sending to the virtual soundcard. These multiple A/D and D/A conversions are unnecessary. This results in a cleaner signal with less distortion and better dynamic range, a system with no wires and cables, less possibility of unwanted RF. No cables are needed, the comport and audio connections are made via software. I presently use the K5FR VSP Manager for the creation of matched comports connections and K5FR’s DDUtil program to provide advanced connectivity to peripheral equipment and Radio Control / Logging Programs. The digital audio connections are accomplished with a program called VAC (Virtual Audio Cables). All these programs work in concert to provide seamless switching between modes once they are all set up to operate correctly. Just select the desired mode and everything is ready to go. That is the part that I like.
Other than RTTY I have played with WSPR, Hellscriber, JT65HF, DRM, and PSK. I ran a WSPR beacon on the WSPR.net on numerous occasions. It is amazing how far a low power low band signal can travel using this mode. I have been heard in EU on 160 meters running about 3 watts into a shortened inverted “L” with only 3 radials. I have had similar experiences with JT65. The effectiveness of the these modes in “getting through” are truly amazing. I have provided some addition information on SDR radio on the “Good Stuff” page of this website. I have also supplied numerous tools, digital mode resources and software links on this page. Jump in and get your feet wet!
Contesting and on Air Activities: I don’t contest like I have in years past. I just can’t stay in the chair like I could in the old days. But that being said I have always enjoyed contesting. I would run many contests including the ARRL Phone and CW Sweepstakes every year. That was my favorite contest to run from the home station. I managed to win the section and division when the big guns were on vacation. hi ! I would always be able to post a very respectable score if I put the time in the chair. I have also done a lot of contesting from the shacks/stations of other hams with some “very good” antenna systems. Being stuck on a small city lot, these guest op / multi-op adventure is like a dream come true if only for a day or two. The down side is that, when I get back home I usually knocked back to reality when I get creamed in the next big pile up. I have operated a number of contests at K8CC’s, N8CC’s, and K8AQM’s shack. I have always enjoyed doing the 160 meter contests from N8CC’s and more recently from KG8CO’s.
Now days I still get on a try to pass out some contacts to the guys with the hard asses parked in their chairs. I like to get on and call CQ and play the role of “fresh meat” and work the pileups. It’s great to popular while it lasts. Many times when it comes to contesting I define a victory on my terms. Maybe it’s working a 100 or so QSO’s, getting a sweep,or working “X” number of multipliers. Hey, it’s whatever floats your boat!.
As I stated on the “DX Page”, contesting is a great way to build your 5BWAS or 5BDXCC totals. I have filled many band slots working contest stations on multiple bands. I hold the ARRL #8 “Triple Play Award”. The objective was to work and confirm all states using LOTW on Phone, CW and DATA. About 95% of the needed slots were filled during the January CW NAQP, Phone NAQP and the ARRL RTTY Roundup. I had all 150 slots filled and confirmed by January 19th. (19 days).
There are also other “on the air” activities that some may consider a contest. I guess it’s a matter of perspective. These include state QSO parties and on the air activities by organization such as clubs like QRP ACRI, SKCC, FISTS and many others. I have been involved in a number of state QSO parties and can attest to the fact that they are a lot of fun. This is especially true of your state’s QSO party. It is an opportunity to be the station everyone else wants to work. My favorite QSO parties are the Florida, California, and the Michigan QSO Party.
I have also run mobile in the Michigan and Ohio QSO parties. I was involved with a number of the MiQP and OQP multi-multi mobile operations using the call K8XXX and a couple MiQP single transmitter mobile operations using my call (NU8Z) with ND5S as a partner. We would normally run from about 25 different counties during the 12 hours of the QSO Party. I plan on doing a single op effort as both driver/op sometime in the next few years when my yearly spring Myrtle Beach golf trip is not in conflict with the MiQP dates. I think I could do a pretty good job of covering 8 to 12 counties. Check out the contest calender a resource links to the right on this page.
Goals and Awards: Over the years I have kept up my interest in this very diverse hobby by establishing goals and objectives, working towards achieving them, and documenting my progress. This is what “floats my boat”,but I would be the first to acknowledge that is likely not the case for all. There are long term goals like WAS, DXCC and WAZ , or it can be a short term thing like setting a goal of working 25, 50 or 100 countries on a contest weekend. There are numerous organizations such as SKCC, FISTS, QRP ARCI, 10-10, and many others that sponsor different milestone and awards programs. You can work towards attaining your goal and make lots of qso’s and friends in the process. See the DX Zone and K1BV awards links for even more awards related information. Many of these require no QSL cards.
Documenting your Operation (Logging): The FCC eliminated the requirement to keep a logbook many years ago. But that being said, I believe that a good logging system is as important as any other piece of equipment in your shack. It is used to track your progress towards any goals that you decide you wish to attain. The logging program and the data within is a great tool for maintaining your focus and enthusiasm. It is the tool that ties all your contacts together and makes it a “body of work”. You can build your database and sort and manipulate as you wish to track your goals. For me, it is the glue that holds it all together. There is a very good free suite of programs out there called DXLab. Also see the links on this page.