Tag Archives: ham radio

A Day In the Field

If anybody’s keeping tabs on my good decisions for this year, you can add another to the list: I participated in the ARRL Field Day exercise this past weekend, and it was time well-spent.

Lighted sign and knife switch, ready to burn like an Olympic flame during the event.

Field Day is a 24-hour contest where amateur radio clubs and ad-hoc groups go into the field (or anywhere that’s not their permanent operating station) to raise their antennas and run their radios on emergency power while making as many contacts as possible for points. The goal of Field Day is to help hams stretch their legs and train to operate in adverse conditions, ostensibly to prepare for emergency communications. One of the benefits of amateur radio is reaching into or out of disaster areas in times of crisis, and Field Day is among the best ways to prove that you’re up to the task before you ever have to need it.

The Austin Amateur Radio Club set up operations in the American Red Cross office near the Mueller district in Austin. We had 3 radios running under the W5KA station callsign, all powered by the Austin Energy solar demo trailer. Overall, we made just over 300 contacts, working almost all 50 states, half of the Canadian provinces, and even some Caribbean countries like the Virgin Islands. It’s not as many contacts as most clubs, but it was a herculean effort considering the modest turnout by club members and visitors alike.

Vertical antenna for CW in white on left, 40M inverted V dipole for digital in black on right.

Primary mast on trailer with 2M Yagi, 6M Yagi, and 40M dipole which carried the bulk of our voice contacts.

Austin Energy solar demo trailer, with voice antenna mast in the background.

On a personal note, the benefit of the weekend was in the effect it had on me. It started by just showing up. I got there Saturday morning to help raise the antennas and set up the radios, and I spent the rest of the day on-site to work a handful of contacts and be with others to share knowledge with my fellow new hams and to learn a massive amount of material from the elmers running the event. I went home for a few hours overnight to sleep off the exhaustion, but came back later the following morning to continue with the group and help break down at the end of the contest.

I’ll go on record to say that the event was transformative. I participated and learned. I volunteered and helped as often as possible. I got my hands dirty and paid in sweat equity. I worked holes into my leather gloves and made use of hard hats and hammers. I got exposure to new antenna designs and learned how to jump into an on-air pileup and get a contact in the noise. I had a great opportunity to work with a body of people that was neither a corporation nor a church camp. This group serves some other purpose, and that’s a refreshing change. It’s new air to breathe.

The lessons I’m learning are paying off. Today I took my radio to the park and worked 6 contacts where usually I’d get only 1. I’m honing the craft. I’m growing. That is its own profit.

I look forward to next year’s Field Day, and hope I can get some of you to join in too.

A big and heartfelt thank you to members Jeff, Lew, Stu, Bob, and everybody else whose names and calls I can’t remember who ran the event and made it work fabulously despite the hardships. Finding creative solutions to difficult problems is the soul of engineering, and you people are filled with that living spirit. Thank you.

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.

First Listen with KD5RCA

This weekend, I had my first experience with a VHF repeater. Looked up the repeater operated by the Four States Amateur Radio Club in Texarkana at 146.620 MHz. Didn’t make any contacts (because I don’t have a license, obviously), but I did get to hear some actual chatter and get a better sense for the protocol of on-air contacts. Even managed to listen in on their club meeting held on-air — a total happenstance discovery, but there’s no reason why radio clubs shouldn’t have their meetings on-air. Neato!

Aside from the club meeting on Thanksgiving night (I assume that’s because it’s a Thursday), there was a little bit of chatter during the day and early evening, but after night-night time for these old grempers, the repeater’s pretty quiet except for the automated Morse and voice announcements.

I hope the radio clubs in Austin are a little more…active.