Tag Archives: radio

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

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!

Futile Callsign Checking

Getting impatient. Seems the FCC is taking their sweet time granting me my ham license. I took and passed my Technician exam almost 2 weeks ago, and the examiner said I could have it as early as the following Thursday. The docs I’ve read said if it’s been over two weeks, feel free to call the FCC. Guh.

I know we’re in the perfect storm of events that are slowing down the licensing process. Yeah, I know. They just got off a Christmas shutdown and are catching up. They’re in an Administration change-over. There are no less than two federal holidays this week — Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and today is the presidential inauguration. I’m pretty sure the FCC offices won’t be open to process my CESC form.

I just wanna be able to transmit, dammit! From what I hear, this weekend is a national contesting event on VHF, everybody working the simplex frequencies to make as many contacts as possible over three days. Damn, that sounds like fun. Sure, VHF doesn’t go far past the horizon, but I’m sure there’s a good many hams in Austin that are playing. I wanna play!

I guess I’ll keep clicking “refresh” on the ULS page to see if my name and callsign show up. Le sigh.

Hemisphere

There is still magic in the air. One must be a receiver to pick up on it. Right?

Shortwave Radio tuned to 6060KHz

Shortwave Radio

For what it’s worth, 6060KHz is also known as Radio Habana Cuba.

The magic of shortwave radio is that its broadcasts carry a long, long way. I’m able to hear broadcasts that happen in certain spots in this hemisphere. IN. THIS. HEMISPHERE. MAGICAL. So, yeah, I’ve always wanted a world radio, and now I have one. Okeechobee, FL, I got ya. Nashville, TN? Listening. North Carolina? Sure, talk to me about your god. Argentina? Yo no comprendo, pero yo escucho.

What’s interesting to note is that commercial shortwave radio in the USA is kinda boring. It’s mostly beacons and religious programming. How unfortunate! But hey, at least I can listen to WWV and get the exact time in places where my devices can’t pick up NTP (in this era of widespread cellular coverage, is that really a concern?).

Be that as it may, even if it’s boring here, I can take this radio into most countries and pick up something. Heck, the other night I picked up Radio NHK Japan, which was being simulcast from France. That’s a helluva DX, right? France!

If anything, I think buying this shortwave radio has ignited my latent desire to get a ham license. Who knows what the future holds? It’s not like I need a new hobby, but novelty is sorely missing from my life sometimes, right? Maybe I’ll find a new passion in the 2meter band.

Protip: WWV broadcasts on 2.5Mhz, 5MHz, 10MHz, 15MHz, 20MHz, and sometimes on 25MHz. I’ve successfully picked up 2.5, 5, 10, and 15 on Mount Bonnell in Austin. 20 is always fuzzy, if even detectable, and 25 is completely out on this radio set. It’s just not sensitive enough on the shorter wavelength bands.

Protip: Mount Bonnell isn’t the greatest vantage point for picking up SW broadcasts. Sure, it’s one of the highest elevations in Austin, but it’s in direct line of sight of the nearby radio tower range in Westlake where the local AM channels broadcast, so their signals interfere and bleed into SW broadcasts. Ah well.

Sounds of the Earth

During my downtime the past few nights, I’ve been listening to and reading up on a pair of phenomena that involve strange radio transmissions.

Have you ever heard of Numbers Stations? These are radio stations on the shortwave band whose only job is to transmit a random-sounding series of numbers either by voice, Morse code, or noises. It is theorized that they are used by governments to send coded messages to their operatives out in the field, yet no single government will admit to using them. A Ham listener can use signal triangulation to locate the transmitting antenna, but there’s no clear way of knowing who the station serves and what its message is.

The use of Numbers Stations is actually growing even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War (some would argue that the Cold War never actually ended). Even in this day and age of high-speed communications and strong encryption, the fact that clandestine activities still happen with this antiquated technology bears testament to the fact that this is probably the only truely anonymous form of communication.

Since the last few decades of last century, there’s been growing public awareness and concern regarding Numbers Stations, and various researchers, Ham operators, and writers have taken to the cause of documenting these stations, logging their existence, writing down the patterns of numbers, and making audio recordings for a wider distribution outside the amateur radio realm. One such collection was compiled by the Irdial netlabel of England on a 4-CD set called the “The Conet Project – Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations“. Irdial has been kind enough to release this collection for public download at Archive.org. I suggest you read the Wikipedia article, grab the collection, and take a listen. It’s chilling, haunting, and a thrill to hear.

The next phenomenon, though not as clandestine, is still sharply related to the first. Mankind has been hearing strange noises ever since the first 20-mile telegraph line. Operators would hear clicks, pops, whistles and chirps coming out of their receiver sets in between all of the buzzer noises of the telegraph transmission. What they didn’t know at the time, and what we’ve discovered over the last century since the telegraph, is that they were hearing electromagnetic noises generated by the Earth. Every lightning strike, every Aurora Borealis, every solar particle, cosmic ray, burst of energy that strikes the Earth, emits a broad range of electromagnetic noise across the whole frequency spectrum, from DC current up to visible light.

But the electromagnetic frequencies clustered within our human range of hearing (called VLF, or Very Low Frequency) are the most interesting. With the right radio receiver — essentially a large antenna to pick up the noise, an amplifier, an audio filter, and an amp to power a speaker or headphones  — you can listen to these pops and whistles yourself. Researchers have been building these radios and studying the noises for decades, making years-worth of audio recordings. Irdial published a collection of recordings called “Electric Enigma: The VLF Recordings of Stephen P. McGreevy” (also found on Archive.org), gathered by McGreevy on his outings around the Northern hemisphere using equipment he built himself. I suggest you grab it too; the sounds are incredible.

These restore my faith that, even at my age, there still might be some wonder left in this world.

Three. One. Seven. Five. Nine.