NPOTA: ARRL’s Best Idea?

The National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) is off and running. Making contact with a handful of stations currently operating from NPOTA locations has made me wonder if the ARRL has had a good idea with NPOTA as a way to help celebrate the anniversary of the National Park Service.

From ARRL: “Throughout 2016, Amateur Radio will be helping the National Park Service celebrate their 100th anniversary. Hams from across the country will activate NPS units, promote the National Park Service and showcase Amateur Radio to the public.”

I am a huge fan of both the National Parks and the National Park Service. Anyone who is interested in the history of our National Parks would be well rewarded to start with the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Yellowstone generally gets credit for being the first National Park back in 1872. However, the National Park Service was not established until 1916. That period in between provides us a very good reason that there are times when we need a government organization to protect us from ourselves. During that in between period, the Army was given the mission of attempting to protect both Yellowstone and Yosemite. Like most missions the Army received, they were underfunded, under equipped, and undermanned. They did, however, do the best they could to protect these amazing areas. Many Americans saw these new National Parks as areas for economic exploitation. If it wasn’t for many individuals working long and hard for the establishment of the National Park Service, it is very likely we would not be able to enjoy the parks we have today. Stephen Mather and Horace Albright were the two primary individuals who secured the establishment of the National Park Service. Ken Burns talks about these two individuals in his documentary and there are also a few books that do a great job telling the story (Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years and The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913-33).

Yosemite: President Theodore Roosevelt, left, poses with John Muir for pictures on Overhanging Rock at the top of Glacier Point, near which the men camped in a hollow and awoke to five inches of snow in 1903.

The National Parks exist for our enjoyment. Generally that enjoyment manifests itself in some type of hiking, camping, fishing, watching for wildlife, or learning about history. This interaction between Park and citizen can be passionate, emotional, revitalizing, inspirational, and an educational experience.

With all that being said, I was a bit surprised to hear stations making contacts for NPOTA locations like it was a contest. Each NPOTA location is identified by a letter-number combination. No discussion of where they actually were. No description, no discussion. It is a bit sad to see there is a Leader Board – which only facilitates looking at NPOTA as a contest rather than an actual celebration.

I also wonder how these activations are impacting those non-amateur radio enthusiasts who are visiting a NPOTA site. Is this putting amateur radio in the best light?

Are these NPOTA activations promoting the National Park Service or showcasing Amateur Radio to the public?

If so, how?

What would Stephen Mather and Horace Albright think about NPOTA?

It will be interesting to see how NPOTA progresses over the coming weeks and months.

Time to get in Line

Excitement in the shack! We’ve had a new addition. I have had my Elecraft K3 for quite a while. Nothing but positive words about it. It has never let me down.

We’ve all heard about the K-Line. I am assuming that the term K-Line is an omage to the Collins S-Line.

Through my research of MARS, I know that the Collins S-Line was the choice of MARS stations. Collins even had a repair shop located at the major air base outside of Saigon.

Although I have never operated any Collins gear, from what I’ve read it was built like a tank but clearly was designed to have aesthetic appeal. Elecraft is aiming to achieve the same.

I’ve started my attempt at building my K-line with the addition of the Elecraft amp and tuner. Both easily interface with each other and the K3. This allows for seamless band switching and tuning.

While only a 500 watt amplifier, I have already noticed an notable increase in my ability to make contacts and get to the top of the pileup. Band conditions helped, I’m sure – but it was still enjoyable making contacts with South Africa, Findland, the Canary Islands, and Aruba. Stateside contacts have also seemed to be easier to make with a little extra punch.

WW1USA


I had the opportunity to be a guest operator at WW1USA today. WW1USA is a special event station located at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO.

There was a request for operators that I saw on Larry’s List. Larry’s List is an awesome resource for hams in the greater Kansas City area. Not just another email list-serv, but a truly valuable resource in understanding what is happening in the area. From community events, swap-n-shop, club meetings, weekly nets to nearby hamfests – Larry’s List is one stop shopping for everything you need to know about amateur radio in Kansas City.

I read about the opportunity to sign up for operator/logging slots during this weekends activation of WW1USA and thought it would be a neat opportunity.

Arriving about 10 minutes before my shift started, I was immediately directed to a position and asked to start logging for an operator working contacts on 20 meters. The brief instructions I received was to log the callsign, name, and state of the contact. I think I recognized the logging program as N3FJPs logging program for Windows. I had used this program before during Field Day 2009 with my dad, KD6EUG.

As I adjusted into the chair, my ear turned towards a speaker, my fingers pecking away entering callsigns… I noticed there were not any radios here! Each of the operating positions were laptops, using HRD to control a rig at a remote location. Pretty cool. As I believe it would have been fairly difficult to raise antennas on top of the museum and then route feedlines down to an operating room, the planners of this special event used internet connectivity. To be honest, as an operator, the fact that I was not in front of the rig was really not even apparent.

After twenty minutes, I slid into the operators chair and proceeded to work contacts for the next two hours. Again, the planning effort of this operation became evident when I saw a short script in front of me for calling CQ as well as providing answers on how calling stations could QSL the contact. When a station at the distant end asked for more information about the reason for the special event, I was handed another card which talked about commemorating the failed Gallipoli campaign.

I had a great time making contacts: stations all over Canada and the United States. What a fun time!

Kay Everett Calls CQ

Vanguard Press; First Edition edition (1951)
Pick up your D-104 and Press To Talk for… ADVENTURE! I purchased this book a while back and I finally dug it off the shelf. Kay Everett Calls CQ, by Amelia Lobsenz, is about a young college girl who takes a summer road trip from North Carolina out to the West with three friends, a travel trailer, and ham radio. For me, this book has several things going for it: (1) strong female protagonist (I have two daughters), (2) HF mobile (I need to get my rig installed in my new vehicle), and (3) a travel trailer trip to Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, and the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The plot centers around a jewel thief, who is also roaming the West, and Kay learning about the amateur radio hobby. Ham radio plays a critical role in several places and the author has the main characters explore several aspects of the hobby (… they even go to a hamfest).

The author, Amelia Lobsenz, was an experienced ham, licensed in 1941. After a stent in publishing, she ran her own public relations firm. She based some of the characters on her actual friends, to include Theresa Korn, K7JGU. In the story, Terry, a YL and pilot, takes two of the girls flying over Idaho (aeronautical mobile, where they end up directing smokejumpers into a wildfire). The protagonist, Kay, is named after Ms. Lobsenz’s own daughter.

Ms. Lobsenz used a 1940’s trip out West to serve as inspiration for Kay’s trip. Among the many places the girls go include:
National Elk Refuge National Wildlife Refuge
Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Craters of the Moon National Monument
– The Great Salt Lake in Utah
Rocky Mountain National Park

Amelia became a Silent Key in 1992, but I think her written work will live on.

PEARL HARBOR: PATTON VS THE SIGNAL CORPS



Getting the Message Through: A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps” by Rebecca Robbins Raines
CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY, UNITED STATES ARMY, WASHINGTON, D.C., 1996 (pgs 242-244)

During 1940 President Roosevelt had transferred the Pacific Fleet from bases on the West Coast of the United States to Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, hoping that its presence might act as a deterrent upon Japanese ambitions. Yet the move also made the fleet more vulnerable. Despite Oahu’s strategic importance, the air warning system on the island had not become fully operational by December 1941. The Signal Corps had provided SCR-270 and 271 radar sets earlier in the year, but the construction of fixed sites had been delayed, and radar protection was limited to six mobile stations operating on a part-time basis to test the equipment and train the crews. Though aware of the dangers of war, the Army and Navy commanders on Oahu, Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, did not anticipate that Pearl Harbor would be the target; a Japanese strike against American bases in the Philippines appeared more probable. In Hawaii, sabotage and subversive acts by Japanese inhabitants seemed to pose more immediate threats, and precautions were taken. The Japanese-American population of Hawaii proved, however, to be overwhelmingly loyal to the United States.

Because the Signal Corps’ plans to modernize its strategic communications during the previous decade had been stymied, the Army had only a limited ability to communicate with the garrison in Hawaii. In 1930 the Corps had moved WAR’s transmitter to Fort Myer, Virginia, and had constructed a building to house its new, high-frequency equipment. Four years later it added a new diamond antenna, which enabled faster transmission. But in 1939, when the Corps wished to further expand its facilities at Fort Myer to include a rhombic antenna for point-to-point communication with Seattle, it ran into difficulty. The post commander, Col. George S. Patton, Jr., objected to the Signal Corps’ plans. The new antenna would encroach upon the turf he used as a polo field and the radio towers would obstruct the view. Patton held his ground and prevented the Signal Corps from installing the new equipment. At the same time, the Navy was about to abandon its Arlington radio station located adjacent to Fort Myer and offered it to the Army. Patton, wishing instead to use the Navy’s buildings to house his enlisted personnel, opposed the station’s transfer. As a result of the controversy, the Navy withdrew its offer and the Signal Corps lost the opportunity to improve its facilities.

Though a seemingly minor bureaucratic battle, the situation had serious consequences two years later. Early in the afternoon of 6 December 1941, the Signal Intelligence Service began receiving a long dispatch in fourteen parts from Tokyo addressed to the Japanese embassy in Washington. The Japanese deliberately delayed sending the final portion of the message until the next day, in which they announced that the Japanese government would sever diplomatic relations with the United States effective at one o’clock that afternoon. At that hour, it would be early morning in Pearl Harbor.

Upon receiving the decoded message on the morning of 7 December, Chief of Staff Marshall recognized its importance. Although he could have called Short directly, Marshall did not do so because the scrambler telephone was not considered secure. Instead, he decided to send a written message through the War Department Message Center. Unfortunately, the center’s radio encountered heavy static and could not get through to Honolulu. Expanded facilities at Fort Myer could perhaps have eliminated this problem. The signal officer on duty, Lt. Col. Edward F French, therefore sent the message via commercial telegraph to San Francisco, where it was relayed by radio to the RCA office in Honolulu. That office had installed a teletype connection with Fort Shafter, but the teletypewriter was not yet functional. An RCA messenger was carrying the news to Fort Shafter by motorcycle when Japanese bombs began falling; a huge traffic jam developed because of the attack, and General Short did not receive the message until that afternoon.

The Final Courtsey


The static crashes were coming more frequently now and I could see the lightning off in the distance. I had been driving since the early afternoon and only had about two hours left until I arrived home. The sun had set an hour ago but the moon was not up yet and it was dark as pitch. My headlights cut through the night. Shortly before the Autumn sunset, the clouds moved in from the west with the winds gusting against my pickup truck as I headed south. The rain was off and on, more of a nuisance than an impediment to driving.

It had been a long day of meetings and I looked forward to getting behind the wheel. My mobile setup in the pickup is simple: an IC-706MKIIG and a screwdriver antenna – just 100 watts. It was relaxing to hear the rush of white noise as the rig powered up and my screwdriver antenna spun up to a good match for 40 meters. I had enjoyed a few QSOs as I barreled down US Interstate 29. Traffic was light. After the sun set, the band started to go long and decided to drop down 75 meters. The screwdriver antenna coil whirled again, sending the whip up a bit higher.

As I slowly spun the dial, I heard a call coming just above the S5 noise level. “CQ CQ CQ, this is W0XRR, Whiskey Zero X-ray Romeo Romeo, calling CQ and listening.”

Gripping the handmike, I replied to the call, “W0XRR, this is Kilo Delta Seven Papa Juliet Quebec, KD7PJQ, the name is Scott and I am mobile, south on I-29.” Releasing the Push To Talk button, the noise rushed back to fill the cab of my pickup. The rain started to pick up, beating against the roof and windshield as I continued south.

“NI0L, Scott, fine business and thank you for answering my call. Name here is Bert, Bravo Echo Romeo Tango. My QTH is just outside of Atchison, Kansas – Atchison, Kansas. Good signal tonight, I would not have guessed you were mobile. Ok Scott, back to you.” Bert’s signal had gotten stronger and I easily copied him through the noise. His audio quality was as smooth as silk… no processing.

“Solid copy all Bert, you’ve got a solid signal tonight, started off a bit weak but has picked up to a solid 57 to 58. Ok on your QTH in Atchison. I am headed south on I-29. Just passed Hamburg and crossed into Missouri from Iowa. My destination is not far from your QTH. I am headed to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Back to you, Bert.” Despite the poor weather on the road, I was anticipating this was going to be a good QSO and hoped our ragchew would keeping me company on a pretty miserable evening to be out on the road.

“Well Scott, I am glad to make the contact. The weather is bad here and I imagine it is worse up your way. I was down here in my basement shack and decided I would warm up the tubes and see what I could find on the bands. Ok on Fort Leavenworth, just a bit south from here. I have not been out to the fort for a number of years but know it well. I retired sometime back and now spend a lot more time down here in the basement either spinning the dial or tinkering with one project or another. Lets hear from you, Scott. What’s put you out on the road tonight?” Bert asked.

I told Bert how I had been at a conference on Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The event had ended a day early and I was trying to make my way back home to see the family and enjoy a full weekend. I explained how I had been in the Army for over two decades, had originally gotten my call when I was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, and had recently been transferred to Fort Leavenworth with my family. “We really enjoy the area. I am thinking about retiring there in Leavenworth. Back to you, Bert,” my index finger released the PTT.

Bert came back to me with his signal competing with the noise floor. “Fine business all, Scott. I used to be in the Signal Corps and did 30 years in the Army. Was stationed out there at the fort for my last assignment as well. Good posting there at Leavenworth. Glad to hear you and your family are enjoying it.” He told me about how he used to support an air defense unit that was stationed on Fort Leavenworth. His signal detachment was responsible for integrating all the communications for the Nike missile batteries in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. We continued to trade war stories for another twenty minutes or so. Then his signal began to fade.

“I am starting to loose you Bert, so I better wrap this up. I really appreciate the QSO and to make the contact. Any chance you will be at the hamfest in Raytown coming up the Saturday after next? A few miles southeast of Kansas City? It would be a great opportunity for an eyeball QSO… and I am buying the coffee. What do you say? Back to you, Bert.” The rain was a constant downpour now, rolling across the road in front of me.

No reply was heard except for a few static crashes from the lightning. “W0XRR, this is KD7PJQ, thanks again for the contact, 73 Bert!”

…- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …- …-
It was a sunny Saturday morning with early November’s crisp Fall air. Attendance at the hamfest looked good and my parking spot was a good walk to the door. Although I knew I would spend the majority of my time browsing the aisles, I did need to pick up some Anderson PowerPole connectors as well one of those Nifty! Reference Guides for my IC-706. The guide would help me out on remembering some of the more obscure settings for the rig when I was out on the road.

I had begun making my deliberate ‘s’ pattern through the rows of gear (… and, lets be honest, junk) when I saw a table with some nice Collins gear. There was the transmitter (a 32S-3A), a receiver (75S-3C), and even a Collins 30L-1 amplifier. The bearded oldtimer manning the table had his undivided attention focused on a breakfast burrito and it took a moment for him to wash down a deliberate bite with a drink of coffee.

“Good morning. Nice Collins S-Line! These are in great shape – looks like they’ve been well cared for. You don’t see these everyday. Why are you selling them?” I heard older hams talk about these Collins rigs, but I had never seen them before.

“Good morning… sorry you caught me in the middle of breakfast. Yup, this is a nice set. Not mine actually. We’re selling it for the widow of a Silent Key. I’ve got more boxes here of his stuff. I think all the manuals are in one of these,” the gentleman said as he turned in his seat a leaned over to pull an open box towards him.

“The lady gave us a call to come and clear out the ham shack. He’d passed away last year but it took her until now to finally part with the gear. We picked everything up earlier in the week. Took us two trips. Here’s one of the manuals,” he said as he handed me the manual for the 75S-3C, yellowed with age but well cared for.

I flipped through the book, noticing the margin notes,,, and then a QSL card fell out between the pages and onto the table. I looked at the callsign on the card – …W0XRR. Bert McKenzie, Atchison, Kansas. There was a picture of a Nike-Hercules black and white missile elevated at 45 degrees on a launch platform as well as the crossed semaphore flags of the Signal Corps.

“Wait… who’s gear was this? What was the call of the Silent Key?”

“Well, there’s his QSL card!” The oldtimer pointed to the card on the table. “This gear belonged to Bert… W0XRR,” the oldtimer picked up the QSL card from the table.

“But when was it you said he passed away?” I was confused and trying to sort out what I was hearing.

The oldtimer stroked his beard as he set the QSL card down, with the image of the Nike missile towards the table. “Let’s see… it’s been a little over a year now. Bert passed away last year around the end of October.”

I looked down again at the QSL card on the table. This side of the card had the blanks for QSO specifics. There was handwriting on it and I tentatively lifted the card up to get a better look. On it I saw my call, KD7PJQ…. 75 meters, the date of our QSO (… less than two weeks ago), a 5-7 signal report… and a circle around “PSE QSL”. The card slipped out of my hand and onto the table.

Dazed, I lurched away from the table. I needed fresh air and sunlight.

The oldtimer called after me, “Hey! You interested in the rig? Go ahead and make an offer.”

Author’s note: This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, call signs, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

In the beginning……

… there was Hugo Gernsback. Here are a few of his contributions:
– Established one of the first companies to sell equipment to radio amateurs in 1904.
– Founded the Wireless Association of America in 1909.
– Published two amateur radio oriented magazines: Modern Electrics in 1908 and The Electrical Experimenter in 1913.
– Initially proposed the idea of allocating 200 meters and down to amateur radio in 1912.

Why don’t we know more about Hugo Gernsback and his early contributions to the hobby? At what point did the momentum shift from Hugo and his Wirless Association of America to Hiram Maxim and his ARRL? … and why?

Hugo made a huge contribution to science fiction but it seems his contributions to amateur radio have been overlooked.

Kansas Adventure

Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center

This place looks like fun but is out there on the final frontier… well, maybe not the final frontier but is 240 miles away from Kansas City in Hutchinson, KS. Not an ideal day trip but perhaps a weekend destination. There is a lot to do and see and I think my girls would enjoy it.

Not quite as far, but still a good distance is the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum.

This place really fires the imagination. Martin and Osa have a great story to tell. I am sure this museum would be a hit to explore. I think this couple could have taught both Marlin Perkins and Ernest Hemingway a bit about adventuring.

Kansas City Explorations

One of the reasons I like living in the greater Kansas City area is that vast variety of museums and cultural venues around. I am not originally from this area and I think my family has a hard time understanding what it is I like it about the area. Not only is there a lot to do, it is often not that crowded which adds to my enjoyment.

Today was one of the last days before school starts for my soon-to-be second grader and also a day off for me. We started the day out at the Kansas City Public Library. The library is housed in what was once the First National Bank. The building alone is impressive with marble floors and vaulted ceilings. The children’s collection is on the second floor and has a great selection. This summer I took a class called Aesthetic Experiences which focused on integrating the arts with other elementary level subjects. For some of the projects, I required children’s literature and found the library to be a great resource.

There is a librarian who is on duty and provided ample help in finding books that were not the shelves but held in the back storage area. My girls enjoy the play area in the middle that has a full-sized stuff cow for climbing on. There are also materials out to color and huge Lego bricks for building.

After picking out a few books (the second grader got three, I picked two), we walked around the different floors of the library looking at the art on the walls, taking in the sheer number of books available, and looking out the windows on the higher levels at the impressive views offered of Kansas City.

On our way home we passed a sign for the Wyandotte County Museum. I have passed the sign about a million times and have never stopped to take a look. With time to spare, I turned right and headed for the museum.

The museum is dedicated to the history of Wyandotte County from the earliest days of the indigenous Native Americans through Kansas statehood and into the 20th Century. While not a large museum, it did have several hands-on exhibits that are perfect for elementary school students. Now that I know it is there, it is a location I want to return to in order to do a bit more exploring. This place would make a great field trip destination.

Pearl Harbor



Getting the Message Through: A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps” by Rebecca Robbins Raines
CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY, UNITED STATES ARMY, WASHINGTON, D.C., 1996 (pgs 242-244)

During 1940 President Roosevelt had transferred the Pacific Fleet from bases on the West Coast of the United States to Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, hoping that its presence might act as a deterrent upon Japanese ambitions. Yet the move also made the fleet more vulnerable. Despite Oahu’s strategic importance, the air warning system on the island had not become fully operational by December 1941. The Signal Corps had provided SCR-270 and 271 radar sets earlier in the year, but the construction of fixed sites had been delayed, and radar protection was limited to six mobile stations operating on a part-time basis to test the equipment and train the crews. Though aware of the dangers of war, the Army and Navy commanders on Oahu, Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, did not anticipate that Pearl Harbor would be the target; a Japanese strike against American bases in the Philippines appeared more probable. In Hawaii, sabotage and subversive acts by Japanese inhabitants seemed to pose more immediate threats, and precautions were taken. The Japanese-American population of Hawaii proved, however, to be overwhelmingly loyal to the United States.

Because the Signal Corps’ plans to modernize its strategic communications during the previous decade had been stymied, the Army had only a limited ability to communicate with the garrison in Hawaii. In 1930 the Corps had moved WAR’s transmitter to Fort Myer, Virginia, and had constructed a building to house its new, high-frequency equipment. Four years later it added a new diamond antenna, which enabled faster transmission. But in 1939, when the Corps wished to further expand its facilities at Fort Myer to include a rhombic antenna for point-to-point communication with Seattle, it ran into difficulty. The post commander, Col. George S. Patton, Jr., objected to the Signal Corps’ plans. The new antenna would encroach upon the turf he used as a polo field and the radio towers would obstruct the view. Patton held his ground and prevented the Signal Corps from installing the new equipment. At the same time, the Navy was about to abandon its Arlington radio station located adjacent to Fort Myer and offered it to the Army. Patton, wishing instead to use the Navy’s buildings to house his enlisted personnel, opposed the station’s transfer. As a result of the controversy, the Navy withdrew its offer and the Signal Corps lost the opportunity to improve its facilities.

Though a seemingly minor bureaucratic battle, the situation had serious con­sequences two years later. Early in the afternoon of 6 December 1941, the Signal Intelligence Service began receiving a long dispatch in fourteen parts from Tokyo addressed to the Japanese embassy in Washington. The Japanese deliberately delayed sending the final portion of the message until the next day, in which they announced that the Japanese government would sever diplomatic relations with the United States effective at one o’clock that afternoon. At that hour, it would be early morning in Pearl Harbor.

Upon receiving the decoded message on the morning of 7 December, Chief of Staff Marshall recognized its importance. Although he could have called Short directly, Marshall did not do so because the scrambler telephone was not considered secure. Instead, he decided to send a written message through the War Department Message Center. Unfortunately, the center’s radio encountered heavy static and could not get through to Honolulu. Expanded facilities at Fort Myer could perhaps have eliminated this problem. The signal officer on duty, Lt. Col. Edward F French, therefore sent the message via commercial telegraph to San Francisco, where it was relayed by radio to the RCA office in Honolulu. That office had installed a teletype connection with Fort Shafter, but the teletypewriter was not yet functional. An RCA messenger was carrying the news to Fort Shafter by motorcycle when Japanese bombs began falling; a huge traffic jam developed because of the attack, and General Short did not receive the message until that afternoon.