Monday, March 21, 2016

Station KK6ZLX--Current Radio Inventory

  • Yaesu VX-6R handheld transceiver (144/220/440 MHz)
  • Wouxun KG-UV5D handheld transceiver (50/144 MHz)
  • TYT TH-UVF9 handheld transceiver (144/220 MHz)
  • Baofeng UV-5R handheld transceiver (144/440 MHz)
  • Hallicrafters S-120 general coverage receiver (AM and shortwave)
  • Radio Shack PRO-651 handheld scanner (digital trunking capable)
  • Radio Shack PRO-62 handheld scanner
  • Radio Shack PRO-2035 desktop scanner

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Near Miss

Speaking of Summits on the Air (SOTA), I had an opportunity for a contact today but it didn't work out. Last night, I saw a SOTA alert that KJ6NHF was going to be activating this morning on Mt. Tamalpais (W6/CC-063) in Marin County in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a combination SOTA-NPOTA (National Parks on the Air) activation, which made it even more appealing. Along with a couple of high-frequency (HF) bands, he was also going to operate on the VHF 2-meter band FM simplex calling channel (146.520 MHz); this was the band that I wanted to work him on. He was scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m.

A little after ten, I went out to a local pond for the contact--it was a beautiful morning, plus I knew that my 5-watt handheld radio would not be able to reach the 60 or so miles from inside my house. I hung around out there for an hour or so, not hearing anything. I decided that the several ridge lines between Mt. Tamalpais and Dixon were probably preventing me from detecting his signal with my radio.

Having given up on making the contact, I went out and got some lunch. I returned home around noon and spent some time in my backyard with my radio, alternatively trying out various local repeaters and monitoring 146.520--just in case. Sure enough, I started to hear some very broken traffic on that frequency. Figuring it was KJ6NHF, I headed back over to the pond because it is much more open there than in backyard of my two-story house.

At the pond, he was coming in almost as clear as if he was operating on one of the local repeaters. I heard him complete a couple of contacts, including one with someone on the USS Hornet (the Hornet is on display in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco). Prior to his last contact, I had heard him say that he was preparing to take his antennas down; I hoped to be quick enough to catch him before he did so, though. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. I called him a few times but got no response. While somewhat disappointed, I was pleased that I had been able to hear him on my handheld from that distance and with several mountain ridges between us.

I hope to be doing my own SOTA activations in the near future. In SOTA terminology, my role in my previous contact and this attempt was that of "chaser." KK6ZLY and KJ6NHF were the "activators."

My First "Real" Contact

I got my Technician ticket about three months ago (December 18). Other than a couple of net check-ins, etc., I've mostly just been listening.

On February 1, I made what I consider my first "contact" (non-repeater, non-ragchew). I have the 2-meter, 1.25-meter, and 70-cm FM simplex calling channels programmed into my handheld and scan them along with the various repeater frequencies. I was startled to hear someone on 146.520 for the first time since I got my license. It turned out to be a ham on Mt. Diablo looking for Summits-on-the-Air (SOTA) contacts. On top of that, he was KK6ZLY--the next sequential callsign after mine! I exchanged information with him, then he moved on to his next contact. After making my first real log entry, I went to the SOTA website, registered, and got my first two SOTA points. By the way, we were both using 5-watt handhelds (indoors, in my case).

Although we were less than 40 miles apart, it felt great responding to a real "CQ" and making a direct (simplex) contact over the airwaves; that, to me, is the essence of what I'm looking for in amateur radio.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Long Journey to Amateur Radio

Jamboree-on-the-Air 1981 (Patch) 
My first exposure to ham radio was in 1981, as a boy scout taking part in a "Jamboree-on-the-Air." The father of a fellow scout was a ham. I don't remember too many specifics about that day, but it was one of several sparks that triggered an interest in radio that has stayed with me. (Shown above is the boy scout patch that I earned for participating in Jamboree-on-the-Air).

My father was a firefighter with the city of Sacramento, California, for thirty years. I also grew up with the television show Emergency! during the 1970's. I suppose it's only natural that I developed an intense interest in anything fire department-related. I remember, as a child, listening in with my mom as she tuned an AM/FM/shortwave/public safety receiver to local fire frequencies--sometimes we even heard my dad's engine company.

By the mid-1980's, I was an explorer scout (Explorer Post 144 in Citrus Heights, California). Our post's specialty was search and rescue; we were affiliated with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office. One of my fellow scouts had a Radio Shack/Realistic PRO-31 handheld programmable scanner. It was like a revelation to me; I had to get one for myself. I soon had one and, once I had figured out where to find the frequencies, I was listening in on my favorite public safety agencies, particularly the Sacramento Fire Department and Sacramento County Fire dispatch.

Over the years that have followed, I've progressed through several handheld and desktop scanners as radio technology has advanced. My latest--and possibly my favorite--is a Radio Shack PRO-651 handheld with digital trunking capability.

Less than six months ago, while searching through eBay for a good deal on the next new thing in handheld scanners, I kept encountering the Baofeng UV-5R. It was a tiny little radio and, amazingly, cost less than $50. One evening, I came across an auction for one for which a starting bid had not yet been placed. On a whim, I entered a bid somewhere in the $30 range and moved on, assuming that I would be outbid. To my surprise, I won the radio for $32.

I started to research this radio that I had just won and soon came to the realization that I would need a license to be able to do anything more than just listen to it. This led to an internet search for the key words "ham radio," something that I had not given much thought to in many years. By the time I went to bed a short time later, I had ordered a copy of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Technician Class license manual. The rest is (recent) history.

In the end, it was a cheap Chinese radio I didn't need that finally spurred me to get my amateur radio license.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Radio #4: Wouxun KG-UV5D

Wouxun KG-UV5D
This 5-watt handheld is my latest acquisition. It operates on the 6-meter and 2-meter bands (50 MHz and 144 MHz, respectively). It is shown here fresh out of the box with the stock antenna. I bought two new antennas for this radio: a flexible, 20.5-inch Maldol MH-510 tribander (6m/2m/70cm) and a 45.5-inch 50MHz telescopic.

With this acquisition, I am now able to operate on four different bands with just two handhelds--this one and the Yaesu VX-6R. The TH-UVF9 and UV-5R may soon be declared redundant and sold off.