2016 Colorado QSO Party–Next Weekend

  As the long, dog-days of summer begin to come to an end it marks one of my favorite operating activities and that is the Colorado QSO Party.  While I’m not a native to the Centennial State, I am always proud to represent Colorado and this year marks the 140th anniversary of statehood.

The 2016 Colorado QSO Party takes place on  Saturday, 3 September beginning at 0400 UTC (7 AM to 10 PM MDT).  I have a few mid morning commitments which I need to take care of, but KDØBIK should be on the air shortly after the lunch hour. 

Perhaps it is naïve to anticipate better band conditions for next Saturday.  After all…..

image

But I for one will be giving it a solid effort from the basement ham shack located in grid square DM79np.  I hope to work you in the 2016 Colorado QSO Party. 

Until then…

73 de KDØBIK

P.S.  Episode 71 of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast will release Saturday, 27 August.  Thank you for listening!

Posted in Amateur Radio, Radio Sport Tagged ,

RFinder Lifetime Membership

Some very welcome news popped into my inbox this morning from my friend Bob Greenberg, W2CYK.  Bob is the owner and founder of RFinder the Worldwide Repeater Directory.  

I had the opportunity to meet Bob via social media many years ago when RFinder first launched and have been a fan and supporter of RFinder ever since.  I even discussed RFinder in episode 55 of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast back in May of 2012.  

For several years I used the ARRL repeater directory along with their TravelPlus digital version to search for and program my transceivers.  While this solution worked very well, it was limited to just the ARRL database.   For the traveling ham, this meant being at the mercy of the internet to find information on repeaters in the region and countries visited and this information was not always accurate.

In the time I’ve known Bob and been a user of RFinder, it’s grown to become a truly worldwide solution with partnerships with many national radio societies including the Radio Society of Great Britain, Amateur Radio Society Italia, Deutscher Amateur Radio Club, Radio Amateurs of Canada and the American Radio Relay League (just to name a few).  Finally, the current database contains current and validated repeater information from over 175 countries. 

RFinder the Worldwide Repeater Directory is available in app form for both the iOS and Android platforms and is also supported by both RTSystems and CHIRP radio programming software.  Normally the cost for an annual subscription is $9.95 USD, but for a VERY limited time an RFinder Lifetime Membership is available for $99.99 USD.   When I say VERY limited time, I truly mean this offer will not last long.  It’s a very good deal.

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK (Jerry)

Posted in Amateur Radio Tagged , ,

WØC/FR-030 (Chief Mountain) 3569m / 11709ft

On Sunday, 7 August 2016 I completed my 9th SOTA activation.  Which I realize doesn’t sound like very many considering I completed my very first SOTA activation in November of 2011.  Between November 2011 and November 2012 I added seven more to the list.   Then I got sick, got busy, had some personal issues and before I knew it the summer of 2016 was quickly slipping away.

For those who have followed my other blog and my podcast (Practical Amateur Radio Podcast), you are aware I started exercising and eating better to get in better shape and lose weight.  While I’ve taken over 10 million steps, walked just short of 5,000 miles and climbed 22,000 floors since I started wearing my Fitbit in the summer of 2013, today was the first SOTA activation I had attempted since losing over 50 pounds.   While I’m presently in a weight holding pattern, I still make every effort to complete 10,000 steps per day.  This walking has kept me in pretty good shape considering where I was just a few years ago.   Best I can remember, it took me over 2 hours to hike to the summit of Chief Mountain in 2013.

The trailhead of Chief Mountain is about 40 minute drive from my QTH.  As Chief Mountain is extremely popular with hikers/peak baggers I wanted to get an early start.  I arrived at the trailhead just after 6:30 AM.  With my boots tightly laced and my pack strapped to my back, I hit the trail at 6:45 AM.

20160807_070530_resized

The above trail sign is approx. 1 mile from the trailhead parking area and 2 miles below the summit.

One hour and five minutes later I’m standing on the summit of Chief Mountain.  The total trail length is approx. 3 miles with a total elevation gain of just under 1,000.  This is a great hike and I highly recommend it.

My SOTA HF setup hasn’t changed since 2012.  If it works, why mess with it?  I use a Buddipole vertical setup with a single wire counterpoise.  For this activation I setup for the 20 meter band.  I pack enough hardware to create a full-size 1/4 wave length vertical (no coil) along with a 1/4 wave length elevated counterpoise.   With band conditions being less than desirable, I believe the extra weight of the two aluminum arms (versus the coil) was worth the effort.

20160807_082535_resized

My Buddipole vertical setup with my SOTA flag flying proudly.

Of course, my Elecraft Kx3 (serial number 057) running 10 watts  is still very much my pride and joy of my QRP setup and I power it all with my 4+ year old Buddipole A123 Nanophosphate Battery Pack (13.2v, 9.2Ah).   However, I must admit I was a little worried if my A123 battery pack would still work after all this time.  But I would not be disappointed.  They performed just as expected.

HF Contacts (20m SSB)

In just a little over 45 minutes I worked 24 stations from across the US and Canada.   Many stations were familiar from previous activations along with many new ones.  New Hampshire was the furthest QSO made during this activation.

Thanks to W0MOS, AD1C, N1CC, N1KB, NE4TN, KG3W, K7ZO, VE2JCW, WG0AT, W9MRH, KI4SVM, K2JB, N9FZV, W0MNA, NS7P, VA6FUN, K3SAE, W9RCJ, KK6GMN, KB5IMK, WA9BNZ, N1RCQ, KX3DX, KD0HRM.

20160807_092813_resized

A quick “selfie” from my operating position.

VHF Contacts (2m FM)

I don’t always pack along the Elk 2m/440 5 element log-periodic antenna.  But as this was the 25th Annual Colorado 14er and SOTA weekend, I wanted a chance to make as many summit to summit (S2S) QSO’s as possible.  Again, the added weight paid off.  I made an additional six VHF QSO’s with four of those being S2S QSO’s.

Thanks to KD0WHB, WB9KPT, N0BCB, KK6JQV, KC1EPN

Summit to Summit (S2S)

As an activator, we often have the opportunity to work other mountaintop stations in what are known as Summit to Summit (S2S) QSO’s.  As this was the 25th annual Colorado 14er and SOTA weekend, I knew my chances of working several Colorado mountain top stations would be good.  During the 90 minutes I spent on Chief Mountain I managed to work eight stations on seven different mountain tops.  Including two stations out of state (California and Oregon).

All-in-all this was very much a successful SOTA activation.  While the HF band conditions were not perfect, the time spent on the air from almost 12,000 ASL was certainly worth it.  Anytime I take amateur radio outdoors it always ends up being about the experience and not about anything else.  Just the way it should be….

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

Posted in SOTA Tagged ,

The Baofeng Experience

Last week I cleared the dust out of my blog and podcast websites and briefly discussed ordering the Baofeng UV5RA HT from Amazon.  While this model was released several years ago, Amazon has them available brand new for $26.06.  This includes the HT, charging stand and hands-free kit.  Here’s the link to the Amazon product page for the Baofeng UV5RA HT.

I guess it’s been several years now since these cheaper (I guess less expensive might be the more PC way of describing these) Chinese made hand-held radios came onto the market here in the US.   Fellow hams began showing these off at local club meetings and I began reading reviews of these radios on various amateur radio blog sites from around the world. 

For the most part, the opinions expressed all seemed to have a common theme around pricing, ease of use and durability/reliability.  Many viewed the low cost of ownership to be favorable over any durability issues.  I guess the idea of use it, abuse it and toss it comes to mind.  I also seem to remember a strong sentiment of “steer clear” when discussing these units. 

I could see all sides of the argument.  But I also fully understand some folks just getting into the hobby may be on a limited budget and may not have the resources to afford the latest and greatest from ICOM, Kenwood or Yaesu.  As time went by, I really didn’t hear complaints regarding the durability/reliability of the radios.  But certainly most everyone I spoke to all said that the programming of the radio was often a challenge and the provided user manual was of little to no help.

As for me and my reasons for not entertaining the idea of these cheaper Chinese made radios all boiled down to the fact that I really didn’t need another HT.  I already own more HT’s than I have hands, so I just didn’t see the need.

So what changed?

Last week I was thinking about future topics to discuss on the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast and was researching just how many different HT models were available and the price range.  This research led me to all the usual amateur radio dealers as well as a quick check of Amazon.  I simply searched for Baofeng and that’s when the UV5RA popped up.   With my Amazon Prime membership and a $3.00 credit, I could actually get this HT home for less than $25.00.  Deal! 

I decided I would gain some first hand experience with at least one of these cheaper Chinese made HT’s and share my knowledge with all of you reading this blog and later on the podcast.

Reverse Bait and Switch???

So my package shipped from Amazon as expected and was delivered on Saturday.  I opened the package and inspected the contents.  Immediately I noticed something was different. 

If you look at the Amazon product page for the Baofeng UV5RA you’ll see the photo below.  This is the Baofeng UV5RA.  However, the HT shipped to me looked nothing like this.

image

Instead of receiving the UV5RA (as shown above), I received the UV-82 (shown below). 

image

Initially I was slightly upset.  We’ve ordered a lot of items from Amazon.  While this was my first amateur radio purchase, it was also the first time I didn’t receive exactly what I believed I ordered.  However, after doing a little more research I discovered the following:

First, while the Amazon store page for the Baofeng UV5RA doesn’t match what I actually received.  If you carefully read the product description, under the section “What’s in the Box?” you’ll see the Baofeng UV-82 listed.

Second, from what I understand…the UV-82 is an upgraded (newer) Baofeng hand-held.  If I read this Baofeng product comparison chart correctly, the UV-82 includes an updated PCB, commercial grade case and other enhancements as compared to the UV-5R models.

Third, the UV-5RA is a 4 watt model with the UV-82 offering 5 watts output.

Did I get what I paid for?  Well…not really….but advantage appears to be all mine.  I can’t guarantee what will happen if you order the same model I ordered…but from all appearances you’ll also receive the UV-82.  Just no guarantees.  Alternatively, you can purchase the UV-82 via Amazon (listed as UV-82) for $28.80.  It’s a few dollars more than what is listed on the UV5RA product page, but you’ll be guaranteed to receive the UV-82 if that is the model you desire.

How I plan to use the new radio

Before I go into my initial thoughts/review/feedback (what ever you want to call it), I think I should clarify exactly how I plan to use this new Baofeng UV-82 transceiver. 

This radio is not replacing anything I currently own.  My main go-to HT is the Yaesu VX-8 which I have the GPS module installed.  I also own an older Yaesu VX-6 (which I should probably sell) and also the ICOM IC-92 D-STAR HT which I also rarely use. 

I actually plan to program a few local repeaters, simplex and NOAA weather frequencies into the Baofeng and leave it at my office.  For less than $25.00 I am really just considering this a weather radio that will do a little bit more. 

Initial Thoughts

I’ve had the UV-82 now a few days and feel comfortable in sharing some of my initial thoughts on just what I think of this radio.   I’ll break my thoughts down under a few different categories.

Over all Design

The overall design of the radio (my opinion) is fine.  The radio fits nicely in my hand (not too small, not too big).  It sort of reminds me of an older Nokia cell phone from the time when cell phones weren’t smart.  

Channel Mode/Frequency Mode

If I’m honest, I really dislike having to power the radio off to switch from channel mode back to frequency mode.  While it’s simple enough, just hold down the Menu button while you switch on the radio.   All my other HT’s have a button which toggles between the two modes.  However, as previously stated…this radio will be programmed with a few local repeaters, simplex and NOAA weather frequencies.  For the most part, the radio will be used to listen to weather information from the national weather service. 

Case Quality

While I’ve not taken a hammer to the case (nor do I plan to) and I’ve not performed a drop comparison from the top of my building (I don’t plan to do that either).  The overall case quality appears to match that of my Yaesu rigs.  As I’ve previously stated, the radio fits nicely in my hand.  It’s easy to grip and the included belt clip has a nice firm spring.   While I don’t plan to use this HT as I use  my Yaesu, I also wouldn’t have an issue clipping this onto my belt or pack and heading down the trail. 

Stock Rubber Duck Antenna

What’s In Your Rubber Duck?  Well this was answered by Bob, KØNR and I would highly recommend reading his excellent review where he reveals the “inner workings” of several popular stock rubber duck antennas (including the Baofeng UV-5R). 

But what can really be said about ANY stock rubber duck antenna?  Regardless if the radio brand is Yaesu, ICOM or Baofeng, you will greatly improve the radio by installing an aftermarket antenna.  I use the Diamond SRH77CA on my Yaesu VX-8 and it works great.  But at the moment, I have no plans to replace or upgrade the Baofeng rubber duck. 

Screen

The LCD screen on the UV-82 is slightly smaller than what I’m used to on the Yaesu VX-8.  But to be honest, if I don’t have my reading glasses with me 24×7 these days…and the screen size doesn’t rival the Dallas Cowboys Jumbotron, I’m not able to see anything.  

Dual PTT functionality

The UV-82 features dual PTT switch functionality.  This is a bit odd (compared to my other HT’s).  I suppose in time I will get used to it. 

FM Broadcast Band

If this is something you care about, the UV-82 features a button on the side which switches the radio to the FM Broadcast band. 

Built in Flashlight

If you are in the need of a hand-held amateur radio transceiver WITH a built-in flashlight, then the UV-82 is the rig for you.  A conveniently placed button on the side will turn on/off the flashlight. 

User manual

This is the radios weakest link and is perhaps not worth the paper they used to print it.  It could be written in Chinese and even non-Chinese speakers would obtain as much knowledge by reading it. 

But seriously, the entire user manual is 29 pages long.  Not one page actually covers how to program the radio.  Thankfully YouTube exists and many others before me figured it all out and shared their knowledge.

Ease of Programming

The UV-82 offers 182 different channels which can be programmed (once you figure out how to program them).  Unfortunately, Baofeng (in their infinite wisdom) pre-programmed 20 channels (1-21).  As you can’t edit a pre-programmed channel, you’ll need to delete these which can be done one-by-one in the menu. 

While I believe it might be a daunting task for any brand new ham (or soon-to-be brand new ham) to sit down with an HT, User Manual and Repeater Directory and successfully program the radio.  The Baofeng (unfortunately) really makes it impossible.  This is part of what I was talking about during the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast (episode 70).  As I’ve always recommended the Nifty Ham Radio Guides for ALL radios, I think it is a must have for the Baofeng

Alternatively, if the UV-82 is going to be your primary hand-held and you’ll want/need to reprogram often.  I would highly recommend purchasing the programming software and cable from RT Systems.  While I don’t plan to purchase the the cable/software for the Baofeng, I do own the software and cables for all my other rigs. 

In Summary

While I’ve not discussed each and every feature/benefit of the Baofeng UV-82 in this blog article.  I’ve identified a few key areas which I’ve discovered and most importantly have feedback/opinions on regarding.  More importantly, as I’ve previously mentioned…I don’t plan to heavily use this radio.  But having said that, I also wouldn’t have an issue with clipping it to my belt and heading down the trail either. 

The opinions within our hobby of what makes a great first radio for a beginning ham are strong.  Some are pro the HT and some are against the HT.  If you are just starting out in our wonderful hobby, on a tight budget and looking to pickup a radio which won’t break the budget and allow you to enjoy the hobby…then I certainly recommend the Baofeng UV-82.  After all, the package contains everything (transceiver, antenna and power source) you’ll need to get on the air.  Get your ham radio license and join the fun of the worlds best hobby.

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

Posted in Amateur Radio, Gadgets Tagged , , , , ,

Activation Alert: WØC/FR-030 (Chief Mountain)–3569m / 11709ft

Date:            7 August 2016
Time:           Approx.    1500 UTC – 1800 UTC
Region:        CO-Front Range
Elevation:    3569 m / 11,709 ft – 6 Points
Call Sign:     KDØBIK
Frequencies:     14.342.5-ssb, 18.157.5-ssb, 28.327.5-ssb,  +/-  147.42-fm

Equipment: Elecraft KX3 / Buddipole versatee vertical & Yaesu VX-8 / Elk Log-Periodic Antenna

APRS Track: On Road / On Trail

Can you believe it?  It’s been almost four years since my last Summits on the Air activation.  I’ve really missed it.  The last SOTA activation was a multi-activation of both Chief Mountain (yes, I’m repeating) and the nearby Squaw Mountain (WØC/PR-082).

Of course the really big news is not the fact that I’m doing my first SOTA activation in almost four years, it truly is the fact that this year is the 25th Annual Colorado 14er Radio Event.  A few years ago the event was slightly modified to also include all the SOTA summits which of course are not always 14,000 foot summits. 

While band conditions in recent days have been really poor, the fact my operating position will be almost 12,000 feet in altitude is of course encouraging me to go ahead and pack all my gear.  So I do plan to setup for HF operations, but I will also spend more time (more time than usual) working hams on neighboring peaks on 2m and 70cm FM frequencies.

At the present time, 23 hams have posted their plans for operating over the two day weekend.   I’m sure over the next 24-36 hours even more will post their intentions. 

I’m really looking forward to combining my love of hiking, radio and even geocaching (there is a geocache on the summit of Chief).  Please point your antennas towards Colorado this weekend.  I hope to work you from the summit of Chief Mountain WØC/FR-030.

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

Posted in SOTA Tagged , ,