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.


Last week was busy – I spent the whole time down in Seoul attending meeting after meeting with my evenings spent on a bunk bed in a communal room (trying to save a little cash for Uncle Sam). The week was productive, but tiring. The main US military garrison in Seoul, Yongsan, has a lot of amenities that you will not find up at my camp. I got to enjoy many of the various restaurants located there as well as venturing off into Seoul itself, located just outside the gates. Two key finds in Seoul: a restaurant that serves American Chinese food and an Irish pub that serves Guinness from the tap. I enjoy Korean food quite a bit, but also like a variety. Most people know that Chinese food in the US does not come close to resembling the actual cuisine of China… and I have no problem with that. Serve me up some Orange Chicken or General Tsao and I am a happy man. Top it off with a fresh pint of Guinness… now you’re talking.

However, by Saturday morning I was still tired and unmotivated to put up my Buddipole… despite the lure of the 10M contest. I did have a QSO with my dad via EchoLink. He used an app on his Android cell phone and connected through my EchoIRLP node (EchoLink Node #496698 and IRLP Node #3370). My friend brought by some freshly made Hotteok. These pancakes are delicious and I enjoyed them while they were still hot with some coffee. Still wasn’t motivated to put up the Buddipole.

Sunday – the Buddipole went up. A 10M dipole with the Buddipole consists of only the 9.5ft whips on either side of the VersaTee. 10M was not really cooperating. In all I had only nine contacts: Australia, Malaysia, The Philippines, and Guam. Surprisingly, I only heard one JA and he couldn’t hear me. No stations from Asiatic Russia either.

After sunset, I switched the antenna from a 10M dipole to a 40M vertical. I thought I might look for some JA stations to practice my CW. I have yet to understand how the JA’s use 40M. The JAs can use phone down to 7.030 MHz. This compacts the CW to between 7.000 and 7.030 MHz. PSK-31 is suppose to be around 7.038, but I have never seen any PSK-31 traffic on 40M over here. I must be looking in the wrong place. Shortwave stations still come in at 7.100 MHz and above. So after sunset, all the 40M action is wedged between 7.000 and 7.100 MHz. So far I have not found any one band location where the QRS folks hang out (like the old Novice band in the US). Maybe with a bit more listening I can crack the code on how the JAs manage 40M.

As for the HLs… I’ve only heard two on the air. Where are all the HLs?

Here’s the good news… cue Bing Crosby… I am heading back to Kansas for leave this coming Friday! Christmas at home with the XYL and harmonics!!

A little DX

I spent Saturday filling out QSL cards, stuffing them in envelopes, and putting on $0.98 worth of postage for the USPS first class international air mail rate. To make life easier I ran both the return envelopes and main envelopes through the printer to get my address on. It would be easier to get some kind of mailing label sheets, which I think I will try to find when I get home for Christmas. Any way you slice it, filling out QSL cards and getting them in the mail takes a while. Keeping me entertained during the QSL card envelope stuffing session was the Insomniac Net through my IRLP node.

Sunday I woke up early and put up my Buddipole antenna, configuring it as a dipole for 20M. Exceptional DX catches for the day were:
UN7FU – Kazakhstan
WH0/WH7C – Northern Mariana Islands
FK8GX – New Caledonia Island
CW3TD – Timoteo Dominguez Island, Uruguay

I am continually surprised by my ability to work stations in South America. I’m not sure what path I am getting the propagation from. There is no one single time of day for my South American contacts – some are in the morning, others in the afternoon.

Today was the first day using my MicroHam USB III. The device is small, just larger than a pack of cards. The radio cable, which comes with the interface, is very well shielded. I used the USB III for both CW and PSK – the device worked well in both modes. Is the MicroHam USB III better than the West Mountain Radio USB PnP RIGBlaster? From a performance standpoint, I think it does a better. With PSK streams, I was able to detect and have QSOs with much weaker signals using the USB III. The fact that the USB III has its own soundcard is a big plus.

Almost done reading A Year of DX by Bob Locher, W9KNI. Bob details his year-long run in the CQ DX Marathon. The reader gets to sit side-by-side with Bob as he uses his Elecraft K3 and DX cluster alarm to work country after country. Bob demonstrates the importance of researching the various rare entities, determining when they might become active and how best to work them. The book is divided month by month, detailing the QSO with each new entity. Between the month chapters are useful chapters concerned with amplifiers, SSB phone techniques, and an amusing Walter Mitty-esque short story themed around DX contacts. I’m enjoying the book and recommend it (…potential stocking stuffer!).

Buddipole to the rescue

Spinning & Grinning has been quiet for too long. Life here in Korea has been really quite busy. But I can’t complain about the commute, with my quarters only a short three minute hike to the bunker where I work. I don’t go off the camp here nearly as much as I should. By the time I get to my room after work, I am usually just too tired to make the effort. Summers in Korea are HOT. Not Iraq hot, but more of a Georgia heat… with all the humidity. I don’t have a car here, so all my movement is on foot and using public transit. The summer made it fairly uncomfortable to go out and explore. Now the summer is gone and the weather is just right, in my opinion.

My quarters here in Korea are not conducive for amateur radio operations. There are low-lying power lines everywhere and not many trees. It is also impossible to establish a permanent feedline exiting my room as there is no existing access and I can’t drill a hole through the wall without incurring the wrath of the garrison commander.

The answer: the Buddipole. I’ve read NE1RD’s blog on his 100lbs DXpedition and am well acquainted with the virtues of the Buddipole. With a Buddipole, I would be able to quickly set up and take down an antenna that would let me get on the HF bands. For a feedline, I would be able to support a short run out of my window and out to the Buddipole that would have to be located nearby.

Coinciding with the CQ WW DX Contest, I decided to set up the Buddipole and give it a try. I’ve used Hamstick dipoles before without much success. I didn’t have high hopes for the Buddipole, simply for the fact that it is a compromise antenna and I had it set up right next to a three story building. I should have had much more confidence. When I fired up the rig, 20M was alive with activity and I had a 1:1.0 SWR. It was a great feeling to be behind the mike again and I enjoyed logging the contacts.

Now I need to go get some QSL cards printed up for HL2/AD7MI.

Learning the code

When I learned Morse Code, I learned just enough to pass the 5wpm exam. My approach back then has not set me up for success with CW now. I can function at the 5wpm level, but I really want to do better. I am trying to shed myself of some bad habits… counting dits and dahs or thinking “A Light is Lit” for “L” or “Kiss a Ewe” for “U”…. don’t get me started on “Dog Did It”.

Starting from ground zero I am trying the Koch Method. There is a Linux program called Aldo that works well and I just discovered a website called Learn CW Online. Learn CW Online does a great job of tracking your progress and keeping you motivated. With Koch, you start fast and stay fast.

My goal is to try and work exclusively CW for Field Day 2009.

To prep I can take advantage of the ARRL code practice and upcoming contests.

Contesting… the thrill of victory!

I posted this picture last year – but as we are in the midst of football (and contest) season again, I thought it would do some good to post it again.

From the ASU website:

(Seated: KC7MOD and KD7LGH. Background: Six members of the Sun Devil Dance Team.)

While gathering before the upcoming football game, a group of ladies from the ASU Sun Devil Dance Team stopped by to watch W7ASU operate in the 2004 Collegiate QSO Party. No doubt impressed by our smooth (contest) operating techniques, we expect these ladies will be licensed in the near future. We just can’t wait until they join our club!

…. ..- -… -… .- …. ..- -… -… .-

note the expression on the face of KD7LGH – you can tell he is enjoying the contest!

Chicks dig amateur radio!

From the ASU website:

(Seated: KC7MOD and KD7LGH. Background: Six members of the Sun Devil Dance Team.)

While gathering before the upcoming football game, a group of ladies from the ASU Sun Devil Dance Team stopped by to watch W7ASU operate in the 2004 Collegiate QSO Party. No doubt impressed by our smooth (contest) operating techniques, we expect these ladies will be licensed in the near future. We just can’t wait until they join our club!

…. ..- -… -… .- …. ..- -… -… .-

note the expression on the face of KD7LGH – you can tell he is enjoying the contest!

Post Christmas Wrap Up

Christmas was good to me. I received a NorCal 40A kit along with David B. Rutledge’s The Electronics of Radio. Together these items make up a basic analog electronics’s course and my hope is to build the kit and learn more about electronics and radio.

Notes from the budding brewmaster: The final bottles of my first batch of beer were actually quite good. It worked out to the following: 2 weeks in the keg, 2 weeks in the bottle, 3 days in the fridge. Very tasty. Also – I’m sticking to regular white sugar for the carbonation.

I’ve also been spending way to much time playing Age of Empires III on my laptop.

I need to get in the radio room, tidy up, catch up on logging in a stack of QSL cards, and prepare for Straight Key Night.

Already the 19th of November!

I’ve been falling behind on my updates…

(1) W4V – Veterans’ Day Special Event Station. I got a late start on Saturday… took a while to pack the truck. Setup at Fort Story took longer than expected – my biggest challenge was tying down the center mast after I’d gotten it vertical. It’s really a two person job and hard to do alone. But once I got the antenna up, the rest was easy. A beautiful day as well, low 70s and clear skies. The QSOs rolled in, as long as I was calling “CQ” I was getting QSOs. Sunday was a different story. The forecast called for rain, but I thought I could weather it out. I arrived at Fort Story but the winds became too extreme – no chance of getting the center pole up. I threw in the towel for a portable operation and headed home to operate. Not the same satisfaction running a special event from home, but I still enjoyed the QSOs. Even got Wyoming… which completes my Worked All States Award!

(2) Kenwood TS-930S…. my “new to me rig”. I picked this up from a local ham at a bargain. What a radio!

This piece of electronics perfection is over 20 years old, but it performs like a dream. The receiver is amazing. Also getting great reception reports on both SSB and CW. This rig is now the centerpiece of my shack.

(3) I didn’t work the Sweepstakes this weekend, but did have a QSO with a special event station celebrating Oklahoma statehood. However, I did work a sweepstakes station on 15M who was operating from the Santa Clara Valley.

(4) Also a few CW QSOs – I’ve hooked up my Logikey CMOS4 Keyer. Amazing little device, lots of features – but does a great job as a basic keyer.

An Enticement for Contest Newbies
Some of you have expressed an interest in CW and Contesting, and upcoming is a great weekend (for 2003 it’s Nov1 – Nov2 local) for US and Canadian hams to practice it. The annual ARRL CW Sweepstakes runs 1PM Saturday to 7PM Sunday PST (or 4PM Sat to 10PM Sun EST) on 80 through 10 meters (not on 30, 17, or 12-meters). While you might recoil in horror at the high code speeds, tune wayyyyyyy up in the bands and there will be some folks going nice and slow. The Novice bands on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters often have a number of slow-speed stations hanging out up there. Don’t be afraid to jump in there and give ’em a call. I *guarantee* your code speed will double with just a few hours at the key.

Here’s how it works…

1) You hear somebody calling “CQ SS CQ SS de N0AX”
2) Send your call ONCE – “W7VMI” – don’t send their call and don’t send yours twice or three times. If they don’t copy your call on the first try, they’ll send “AGN” or “?” or just CQ again. So call ’em again. If they’re going too fast, send “QRS W7VMI” and they’ll slow down.
3) If they hear you, they’ll send something like this – “W7VMI 107 A N0AX 53 CO” What the heck does that mean?
– W7VMI is your call to let you know they’re talking to you
– 107 is the number of the contact in the contest for them (their next contact will be 108, etc.)
– A is their entry class (low power) – there are A, B, M, Q, S, and U classes
– Then they send their call
– 53 is the last two digits of the first year they were licensed – it’s called a “check”
– CO means Colorado, their ARRL/RAC Section (there are 80 – some are states, others aren’t, all are two or three letters)
4) If you don’t get it all, it’s perfectly OK to send “QRS PSE, AGN” – which means “Slow down, send it again, please”
5) If you do get it – way to go! Here’s what you send…
– Their call
– The number this contact is in the contest for you – if it’s your first send “1” and pat yourself on the back
– Your class (QRP is Q, <150W is A, >150W is B, M is multioperator, S is a school club, and U is unlimited…don’t ask)
– Your call
– The last two digits of the first year you were licensed – if you got your license in 2001, it’s “01”, for example
– Your section, “WWA” for Western Washington, maybe, or “IL” for Illinois, or “PQ” for Province Quebec – ah, but oui!
6) If they don’t get it, they may say…with a question mark, maybe…
– “AGN” – send everything all over again
– “NR” – repeat just the number a couple of times
– “PREC” or just “PR” – repeat your class (power) letter, it’s called “precedence” for a number of reasons you don’t care about
– “CALL” – repeat your call (this is rare)
– “CK” – repeat the two digits of the year, your check
– “SEC” or “QTH” – repeat your section
7) They may ask YOU to QRS, you speed demon, so do it with a smile!
8) If they copy everything, they’ll say a short “TU” (for thanks) or “R” (for Roger) or “QSL” (for received OK) and then just send their CQ or maybe just their call and away you both may go.
9) Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out – QRM (interference) or QRN (static) or QSB (fading) or the cat could cough up a hairball on the rug requiring immediate action. Don’t take it personally; just go find somebody else to call. It’s a no-fault deal.
10) If you get tired of “Searching and Pouncing”, then tighten your belt, mop your brow, cock your hat at a jaunty angle and call CQ! It’s easy – don’t have a cow, man, just call “CQ SS CQ SS de W7VMI W7VMI” and listen, repeat if necessary. Soon you’ll get an answer. Just play back the above steps with you as the call-ee.

What’s the object? Make as many contacts as you can. Try to contact as many different sections (there’s usually some kind of trophy for making a “Clean Sweep”!) as you can. Try to spell your name from the last letters of the calls you work. Work your home state. Work your brother’s state. Nobody can stop at just one QSO…

It’s a lot of fun – the hours will fly by. Keep a simple paper log the first time out to make it easy – you can worry about entering it on a computer later. There are complete rules and instructions for operating and scoring and sending in the log on the ARRL Web site Come next spring, you can click on over to the contest results on the ARRL website (Click here for last year’s write-up)

and wonder-of-wonders, there your call will be with the mighty titans in the very same font size just a few lines away. Woo-hoo!!

Go for it!

Phone SweepstakesAdded by N2MG

There are a few obvious and not-so-obvious differences between the CW Sweepstakes and the Phone Sweepstakes.

First, quite obviously, is the Phone SS uses voice (say what?) and second, it is held on a different weekend…historically two weeks after the CW weekend. Like the CW weekend, it runs 1PM Saturday to 7PM Sunday PST (or 4PM Sat to 10PM Sun EST).

Many of us might say, “Gee, Phone SS must be easier to operate than CW.” Well, yes and no. Certainly it’s more natural to use one’s voice than the paddle, and the rules are the same, so Phone should be a snap, right, all other things being equal… but they are not. Phone operation has a distinct set of characteristics.

The phone bands are considerably more crowded than CW – first there’s the bandwidth issue – a phone QSO takes up more band than a CW QSO does. Also, there tends to be more casual (non-contest) phone operating (nets, rag chews, etc.) of which you need to be aware and coexist. Please be courteous to other band occupants – whether contesters or not.

Unlike CW, some folks seem to be enamoured with using “the last two” to call. Please use your entire callsign. Nine times out of ten, the other station will copy it right the first time. And use phonetics – NORMAL phonetics. (Willie Billie Five Willie Billie Willie might seem funny to your friends, but not here!)

Signal quality is much more of an issue on phone. Before the contest, have a friend check your signal at full power – is the audio clear and splatter-free? If not, take steps to make it so – you will make more contacts and have fewer problems on adjacent frequencies.

And a tip – having a noise blanker or preamp turned on will likely lead to severe intermodulation and overload problems in your receiver. Turn them off whenever possible – doing so may also work for a non-contester. In fact, cranking in some attenuation or turning down the RF Gain control will improve receiver performance dramatically under the strong-signal tractor-pull known as Phone Sweepstakes.

All that said, Phone SS can be a blast. Let’s rumble!