Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Things related to Amateur Radio, ham radio, the civil service, and similar hobbies and activities.

First QSO, First DX

So today was a crap day, but what happened when I left work and raised my antenna was a soothing balm that made everything alright. The good news is that today I made my very first HF contact (called a QSO) on the 20-meter band with my good radio. That’s a first. Also, on the very same contact, I made my first international contact (called a DX). On the same call!

Here’s a shout out to Gil VE2MAM from Quebec, Canada, who was calling CQ/DX to collect American counties. His signal was coming in strong and clear with a little bit of fading, so I decided to give it a try. I turned up my amp power, keyed up my mic, and responded with my callsign. He eventually heard me in the noise and we had an exchange of signal reports and a few other things like my location and county. I gave him a “59” signal report, meaning he was readable and had a strong signal. He gave me a “555”, meaning I was readable, my signal was fairly good, but there was some modulation on my signal (these can be dealt with).

I’m just happy that I’m finally learning how to make it happen. As it turns out, the modular vertical antenna I’ve been using (which is ultra-portable) isn’t so good for making anything other than regional contacts. It’s easy to set up and tune, but it’s just not that efficient at putting out a radio signal. What i did tonight was string my 20-meter dipole between two trees in Mueller park. It took me a little bit of trial and error to throw the ropes high enough and get enough distance between trees so the antenna wasn’t in the branches, but I figured it out.

Gil, I certainly hope your log of our QSO doesn’t need me to submit a log from my end for you to get credit, but it was nice talking with you. 73, good sir. Merci!

First QSO, 14.289MHz 20170609 0:00 UTC

20-meter dipole strung between two trees

One Hand, No Other

I almost made a contact today on 40-meters. I set up my rig and my vertical antenna on the bleachers at Brentwood Park and got everything tuned and warmed up. Listened all over the band and decided to actually key down and try to make contacts.I tromped right into a silent pause of a regular net and got a quick, terse reply when I asked if the frequency was in use. So, at least the SnowbirdNet controller in Mississippi heard me, but no proper 2-way contact was established.

Later, I heard a CQ from a station W4UDX in Kentucky; had a lot of static on my end, but I tried to answer anyway at 100 watts. He wasn’t able to get all of my callsign due to the interference of a nearby shortwave music broadcast station, so the contact didn’t complete.

Radio is hard.

Also, today I learned: even if you have plenty of waiting time at the auto dealership to do so, if you set up your rig at the edge of the parking lot next to the train tracks that run parallel to a massive haul of high-tension power lines from the nearby substation, you will get swamped with power-induced noise all over any band you try. So don’t bother. Just stay away from power lines. Not even moving my counterpoise to be perpendicular to the lines helped.

This is starting to look like work; difficult, solitary work. I’m afraid I’ll lose interest if I can’t get any of those rewarding dopamine dumps from having things go right. I’m done with only talking about it; I want to actually do it, but doing it isn’t easy.

Radio is hard.

Future Propagation

It’s massively unfortunate that amateur radio puts me in close proximity with doomsday conservatives and people who talk about zombie apocalypses as if movies were real. They talk as if knowing how to use a radio is a vital survival skill, right up there with firearms, hunting, and shelter.

When unlicensed people talk to me in the park while I’m operating, chances are that at some point they’ll mention the end times. Even some of my friends say, “when they come for all of us, you’ll be allowed in my bunker because you know radio.” They laugh, I oblige, but deep down, i still bristle at the connotation.

Believe it or not, I’m not so fatalistic. I like radio for its technical, atmospheric, and super-national communications aspects. It’s a series of puzzles to solve, not a preparation for the end of days. I raised myself up in a religion that continually talked about the end times, about Armageddon, about rapture, and fervently prayed that the end would come to fruition in our lifetime (can you believe that?). So I’ve had my fill of that talk. No thanks.

I’m in the hobby for the pure pursuit of the hobby. Why does everyone see it differently?

Dead Bands

As a holder of a Technician class license for amateur radio, I have full privileges on the 6-meter band and partial voice privileges on 10-meter (and Morse code privileges everywhere else, even though I don’t know code).

Unfortunately, due to being in the minimum part of the 11-year sunspot cycle, these are dead bands (sunspots ionize the atmosphere and increase radio wave bounce for longer distances). When a band is not able to sustain long-distance propagation, it’s not an attractive place for other hams to operate. That’s what makes it dead; nobody to talk to. It’s a lot like fishing; if a lake’s condition isn’t good (livestock, season, tide, etc.), it won’t have many fishermen on boats, and instead of little boat lights dotting the surface at night, it’s a dark lake. You’ll only see that one guy trolling for bottom-feeders.

6-meter dipole antenna, ready for use

Today’s experiment with my handmade 6-meter dipole antenna (and last weekend’s experiment with a 10-meter dipole) proves these are dead bands. That’s unfortunate for me. So, it behooves me to get my General license for full privileges on all the other bands, because the 40-meter band is where it’s at. It’s very, very active. Morse code everywhere, and lots and lots of Canadian and spanish-speaking conversations among the US and foreign contacts I listened to.

Time to study and upgrade.

Contact Points

So let’s start out with a little edit of my previous post. Seems I spoke a moment too soon — this morning around lunch, I punched Refresh on my FCC license search tab and kaboom my callsign has been published! Finally!

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the ham bands I am now known as: KG5RHR. Hello!

I made my first contact tonight on the Austin ARC repeater 146.940 MHz. Was some cool cat named Kevin who lives out in far east Travis County. We chewed the rag a bit, he gave me good advice, talked about Chinese radios. He now has the magnanimous honor of being my first contact. 73’s!

From my side of town, 3 watts and my mag-mount groundplane car antenna is enough for my Baofeng HT to get into the repeater mounted on the KXAN tower in Westlake. I need to try from other areas of town to see what my reach is (my apartment balcony has a direct line of sight to the tower, so I can probably work it with just my rubber ducky antenna). Apparently that club’s repeater is pretty sensitive, and its location and elevation is great, so it’s tough to be in a dark location in this town.

I can’t wait to make my first simplex contact; that’s when I know I’ve arrived.

Also, this is the annual AARL VHF contest weekend where hams can try to make as many contacts as possible above 50MHz within certain time, power, and location limits. It looks like it’s a little too late for me to get in on this, but it’ll be interesting to tune in and see if I can monitor any contacts. Should be fun!