Category Archives: Ham Radio

Idaho Rally

A car crosses the stage 15 finish line at the 2010 Idaho Rally

Very few people know that Idaho has a rally race, it’s somewhat new, but gaining in popularity. This was the first year that my schedule allowed me to work this event, but I hope I can make it again. For me this was another dual purpose event as the safety communications were provided by area ham radio operators (i.e. me). So much like my yearly trek to the Jet Boat races, I’m there primarily to handle communications. That dictates where I’m at and what I’m doing, safety and communications always comes first. But, it’s hard to talk on the radio when a loud car (or jet boat) goes by so usually communications and photography coexist nicely. For this event I was at the finish line for stage 15, the last of the mountain stages, only one stage remained at the fair grounds.
As for the radio communications side of things, this one was tough, the finish line was a dead area, the nearest spot I could get a radio signal out was a mile away. So I had to turn my truck radio into a repeater, park and walk the mile back up the creek to the finish. (So much for having my truck at the finish with the AC running waiting after we closed the road). I used my handheld through my truck repeater, through the main repeater and back down to the start line on the other side of the mountain — a bit of a pain, but it worked. One of the cars (a non competing rally car) was nice enough to give me a ride back to my truck afterwards.

Also posted in PhotoBlog

7 QSO Party

For the last couple of years we’ve been going on a short camping trip the first weekend in may, this happens to be on or near Joy’s Birthday. Its about time to get the camper our and get it on the road, though usually it’s already been with me up to the Jet Boat Races a couple weeks prior. But the first weekend of may the bulk of Joy’s classes are over and before the onslaught of her having to grade portfolios begins. This trip is just to hide… Get a little time away from everything and relax around a campfire for three days. No backpacking, hiking, fishing, photography or any of the normal work that accompanies a camping trip, just relaxing. Eat, Sleep, kick the fire, eat, sleep, read, kick the fire, eat, sleep… Last year it rained the entire weekend, it was great! This year, it rained, snowed and just about everything else.

This weekend also happens to be a ham radio contest, the 7th area call district QSO Party (7QP). I only worked the contest for a couple of hours total, but had some good contacts. It was also a great chance to think about and plan for Field Day.

I had planned to work until I got a contact in every 7-land state; Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana. I thought I was done after making a contact into Wyoming which was a tough find, I even shut off the radio and power to get ready for bed. But I wanted to count states and contacts before so my wife and I read through the list, both realizing that I hadn’t made a contact with another Idaho station. It wasn’t going to be very easy either, most of the folks I had talked to told me I was the first Idaho station they heard. But I turned everything back on and searched 80 meters for a local. Eventually I heard KE7ADU from up in Boundary County (350 miles north). He was replying to stations calling CQ and working his way up the band, I went a few khz up the and started calling him, thankfully he found me and I got my own state. With Idaho on the log, it really was time for bed. As it is now. Keep reading for station/log info >>

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Field Day 2009

I’m putting some finishing touches on my packing for field day 2009. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a yearly amateur (ham) radio event. To the American Radio Relay League, our primary US club, it’s an “operating event.” To some it’s a contest, to some it’s a public relations opportunity, to some it’s a emergency drill, to some it’s a chance to make a lot of contacts, to some it’s a social event, to some it’s just a day to go hang out in the mountains and “play” ham radio.

This year I fall more toward the last option. In years past I’ve run field day for an emergency communications team, some years I was operating to for points, one year I did VHF only… This year? Well, this year me and my 6 month old border collie are going to head up in the mountains somewhere, park the trailer and enjoy the weekend. Joy couldn’t go this year due to work, I didn’t have any prior commitments with any team or club so jasper and I will be flying solo.

I’ve got a spot picked out in Boise county (no the city of Boise is in Ada county) it’s not as remote as I’d like to be but given time constraints it’ll do. For you VHFers it’s on the grid line of DN23 and DN24. I’ll be operating as “W7ATC 1B ID” I’ll be operating 100% QRP (5 watts) too. I’ve done some QRP Field day work in the past, but never the whole event. Mostly PSK31. To get the computer ASUS EeePC and radio within my battery/solar power budget for 24 hours I have to run low power. Actually I will probably only work about 16 hours of the event, technically looking at my power budget I could run 20 watts but dropping down to 5 gets me a higher points multiplier.

For those of you who are ham radio operators. I’m trying to set up a schedule with a couple people, here is my plan for

(all times mountain)

Friday night:

7.285mhz SSB at 8:30pm
14.285mhz SSB at 9:00pm
14.070 PSK31 at 9:30pm

Saturday Morning:

Saturday morning before field day starts I’ll be monitoring 7.268.5mhz SSB from 10am till 11:30am it’s the “Noon Net” frequency.

It should be fun, always is. Operating at QRP power levels this year is going to be a challenge.

Seven Three

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When I really needed it

So I mentioned elsewhere on the site we had an adventure filled trip back from Salmon on Saturday night. I just finished sending an email saying thanks to KE7KQB a ham radio operator in Oregon. The email explains what happend and how Ham Radio really came though (for me this time). So… I’ll just post the email and let it explain. 


Just wanted to say a big thanks for you help the other night/morning…   My wife (KD7VKY) and I were driving back from Salmon, ID to Boise, had been visiting my parents for Christmas. We’ve driven those roads millions of times in all sorts of weather and on several occasions have had to stop and help other people who broke down or got stuck. That night the roads weren’t especially bad, Banner summit had a foot of snow in the road since it has been plowed and an icy base under that, I was surprised the road was open from the number of avalanches we saw, none really big, but a lot of them. By the time we got down to lowman and turned onto the banks-lowman road, the road was a lot better and were out of the avalanches (so we thought). 

About half way between Lowman and Garden Valley we went around a curve and there was a small avalanche on the right side of the road. I moved to the left but not far enough apparently (the stereotypical it happened so fast I’m not 100% sure what happened applies here) the next thing I know is we’d been turned and sent over to the ditch on the right side of the road. Both right wheels were off in the ditch and while I was still had momentum I tried to pull back out of the ditch, but it didn’t work. To make maters worse, there had been another avalanche into the ditch and we nosed right into it. When I got out I found the hood of my Ford Ranger was buried in snow, both right side tires were off in the ditch and the road under the left two tires was solid ice. 

It was around 10:15pm when this happened. We always call my parents when get to cell service back in Boise, they would have been expecting our call no later than midnight. At this point I figured we’d dig out and still make it to a phone in Garden Valley to call them so they wouldn’t be worried or call the police.
I was fairly confident I could get out of it, but it’d take time. We hadn’t seen another vehicle since back in Stanley, so I didn’t expect to have help anytime soon. I always stress being prepared for anything. I always have food, water, warm clothes and everything needed to survive 72 hours in my truck no matter the season. I also have plenty of tools; shovel, hand winch, saw, tow straps, flashlights etc. “Just in case.” 

I guess I had been working for over an hour before I decided to turn the radio on and see if I could get anyone. Obviously we were no where near cell coverage. I have an HF radio in my truck but my antenna for it is disassembled for repair at the moment. I had a portable antenna kit that I could have put together if I really needed to. I turned on the 2m rig and tried all the repeaters and simplex. I’ve got a pretty nice 2m antenna that’s served me well in the back country, I’m always amazed what I can get from where. I figured Shaffer Butte was my only chance, from previous experience while driving this road, and it was spotty at best. I knew the Cinnabar machine was out of the question, but tried it anyway, as well as every other memory in my radio, Simplex and even the Shaffer reverse pair. I finally dialed around to the Snowbank repeater surprised to say the least to hear it back. I know I can hit it in other places between Stanley and Boise but I really didn’t expect to hit it from here. It had to take at least two bounces to make that path, especially considering I was up against a steep mountain blocking me in that direction. I’m sure the weather helped  

It was around 10 or 15 degrees and snowing pretty hard, so I was cold from the weather and hot from all the work… Needless to say I was really happy when I heard you answer my call (not sure if you were on the .62 or if the link was up and you were on the .84). I was still 51% sure I could dig out, but wanted to let someone know where we were and to let my parents know we were ok. Given the number of avalanches we’d seen, I did have a thought in the back of my mind of a larger avalanche coming down the mountain and burying the truck. I know it wasn’t the best signal and you had a hard time understanding me, it probably didn’t help that I was a tad stressed, but you were great. I can’t tell you how reassuring it was once I knew that we had a link to help if we needed it and you had called my parents to tell them know where we were and that we were ok. Just knowing someone knew where we were made an incredible difference.  

It still took a LOT longer to dig/winch out than I would have thought. Apparently you gave your phone number to my parents, when you tried to call us for an update, both my wife and I were outside the truck and our new puppy (just picked him up that day) had stepped on the remote mic for the radio and turned it off). Given the lack of radio contact, this is probably when they left 3 messages on each phone we have, plus email and text messages, thinking we may have gotten out without letting them know. As I understand it, this is the point where my parents called the Boise County Sheriff’s Office to report us missing in the area to see if anyone could drive out to check on us; The dispatcher told my parents no one was on duty and they didn’t want to wake anyone up. (reassuring isn’t it?)  Wonder if they would have regretted that had another avalanche buried us and they found us dead the next morning? 

I don’t recall exactly but I guess it was around 2am when we finally got the truck back up onto the road and were able to get word out to you that we were moving again. We stopped in Garden Valley to change into warm clothes and made the rest of the trip uneventful. We did see one other avalanche on the banks-lowman road which had about eight to ten feet of snow across most of the road but were able ease around it. Glad we weren’t involved with that one. 

Again, I just wanted to say thanks. I’ve been working in or volunteering with emergency communications since I was 14, but this is the first time my rear end has been the one on the line, and I’m very thankful you were on the other end. It might not have been a life or death emergency at the moment, but who know what could have happened… Having someone know our location could have made the difference had something else gone wrong. 

I’d also like to thank the Voice of Idaho Amateur Radio Club tech team as some of the upgrades made to the snowbank repeater in the last few years made it sensitive enough to pick up my weak signal where it wouldn’t have in the past. 

Zeb Palmer
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Yaesu ATAS 120 Antenna (unfixed)

Some of you may remember this post about me fixing my ATAS 120… Yeah, well, that didn’t last long.

It works better, but the thing is already starting to die on the lower bands again. Twenty meters seems to be working ok still, and everything above is tuning fine. But 40 meters is near impossible, and if it does tune, if you breath on the thing it’ll lose it. I’m tired of taking the thing apart only to make it work for a few days or a month at best.

I’ve had a couple people suggest a grounding issue; yes that’s the first thing I thought a way back when I first started having troubles with it. But the troubles were sudden, and nothing changed in the grounding I’ve done. I’ve double checked all grounds and bonds and nothing is out of the norm. Second, when I’ve taken it apart, I haven’t changed any of the grounding and it starts working for a while. Lastly, I have a mulitband tuned counterpoise (40m-6m) that I use portable and stationary mobile sometimes. If it were a gound issue I would expect to see *some* (at least minor) improvement when using that counterpoise attached to the mount point of the antenna. I’ve also tried several sorts of baluns/ununs/chokes just for kicks. At one point I thought the new choke was helping but it was my imagination.

My experiences aren’t uncommon for this antenna apparently. Thankfully I don’t have money invested in it, it was a package deal with a radio I bought.

I guess I’ll be saving money for a new antenna; probably a tarheel or similar. we’ll see.

I’ll probably be on 20m or 17m for my coming trip to Glacier, M since 40m mobile isn’t going to happen. I’ll post freqs next week.

de w7atc/m

HF APRS on the air

Occasionally I run APRS (automatic position reporting system) on VHF Ham Radio. If you’re not familiar with APRS it takes a gps signal and formulates it into a packet and transmits it via radio to be picked up by other stations and or gateways which put the packet onto an internet server for all to see. Most APRS traffic runs on VHF so it’s range is limited to VHF propagation. Digital packet repeaters (digipeaters) work the same way as normal VHF repeaters do except they’re smarter and on the same simplex frequency. Anyway, I don’t do a ton of APRS cause there aren’t to many digipeaters out in the boonies where I’d want to use it anyway. Lately though, I’ve decided to start using APRS on the 30m HF band I finished rewiring my APRS equipment to run on my truck’s HF systems.

I fought with the wiring just a bit, but today I finally got everything up and running. The big test will be this weekend I’ll be spending the next four days where there isn’t any VHF APRS infrastructure. So aside from when I’m using my HF on voice or psk31 I’ll be on 30m APRS. Should get my position in there every hour or so. The time between transmissions varies with my speed but should hit the system at least once an hour. Click the link below to see my position (see the time it was received at the very top of the page)

W7ATC’s Last Known Position

Yaesu ATAS 120 Antenna Fixed (for now)

With a trip coming up this weekend and it being ham radio’s field day, I decided it’s time to take the second attempt at fixing my ATAS 120 automatic HF mobile antenna. Last time I took the base off and cleaned some corrosion out of it reseated some grounding screws and tried it. It worked slightly better but was still getting inconsistent SWR on 30m and 40m. Sitting still I’d tune it then with a slight breeze (or not) suddenly it’d be 10:1. Occasionally it wouldn’t even tune on 40m. Of course the first thing you check with any HF issue is grounding, but everything was intact I even improved a few ground points replacing old braid that had been in place for ever. Still no luck.

Last night I pulled the ATAS off my truck and in the house for major surgery. I disassembled the thing into as many parts as possible, cleaned everything and started reassembly.
As I put the thing back together I checked everything for any anomaly. I cleaned the circuit board on the base; retwisted the power leads on the motor and cleaned the coil. Cleaned bit of corrosion off of several screws and connections. Finally as had everything almost back together I decided to tighten the metal clips that hold the ball bearings against the coils. I took each clip off bent it slightly to put more pressure on the bearing and put the clip back on. (I think this may have had more effect than anything.

I’ve got the thing back on my truck and will finish redoing my after market water proofing tonight. But I’ve done sweeps on every band and it seems to be fixed. The unit will easily tune any band and once tuned I can drive down at 65mph, putting out 100 CW and the SWR needle barely moves.

Lets just hope it stays this way for a while, if not, that Tarheel 100 will look great on my truck.

Southwest Idaho Hamfest 07

I made it over to the Hamfest yesterday. Had a great time saw a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I almost made it out without buying anything. Seems like vendors were down a bit from previous years but that might have been my imagination. I spent about two hours making the rounds and chatting with everyone before I even thought about buying anything. The first item of interest was a pile of aluminum on the ground in front of a table. Had I not tripped over it I wouldn’t have noticed it. It was a HF vertical. The guy didn’t know what band it was but guessed “20m or maybe cb.” For five bucks I could make it work somewhere or at least use it as scrap.

Walking out I saw KF7CQ with an Isopole 144. He’d already tried to talk me into it once but it didn’t work. As we were walking out another guy asked how much he wanted for it; $10. Funny, thats what I had left in my pocket. I’m already impressed with the Isopole, though I haven’t had much time to test it.

Once home I got to work on the $5 HF vertical. I replaced the SO-239 coax connection which was badly corroded, I usually have an extra one sitting around. Aside from that, I replaced a nut or two and it was ready for a test. The wife and I went for a hike in the foot hills, afterward we found a nice shade tree up around the 6,000 foot mark on Lower Deer point. I had the antenna assembled in 10 minutes and a few more to get it up on three sections of my mobile mast, about 18′.

I’ll have to post pictures later in the week, I forgot my camera but for a quick mental image…. The antenna is somewhere around 20′ (didn’t have my tape measure either). The top hat consists of three radials roughtly a foot each while the three ground radials are around 8 or 9′. I’ll post better specs later too.

I did a couple of quick swr sweeps on the unit as assembled. On 10m the vertical was 1.1:1 across as much of the band as I could ever care about. 12m was pretty low swr on the one freq I checked. 15m and 17m weren’t useable without a tuner. 20m was the band I really cared about. In the higher portion of the band the SWR was about a bit less than 2:1 and in the lower portion it was about 3:1. I’m sure I could have adjusted the radials and whip to get a solid match but given my limited time and it being at 18′, I pegged the tuner at 1:1.

Heard a VP2 From the Brisith Virgin Islands just long enough for him to go QRT. Then heard and worked stations in the Florida QSO party. Having accomplished what I told my wife I wanted to do (make at least one contact on it) I took everything down and we headed home. Not bad for $5 and a dollar or two for the SO-239.

Next time the weather is good I’m going back to the same spot with a picnic and the camera.

Actually, I had the camera this time, I just forgot the memory card.

ARRLWeb: Ham Radio Readiness Provides Safety Margin in New Mexico Tornado Outbreak

It’s stories like these that make me wish I still lived in Tornado country, or could visit more often. Classic example of how cooperation between NWS, Skywarn and local authorities is supposed to happen.

Dozens of Amateur Radio volunteers in New Mexico did what they do best Friday, March, 23, when nasty weather threatening eastern New Mexico eventually spawned 13 tornados, from Tatum to Logan. A day before the storms, SKYWARN Coordinator and National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Keith Hayes, KC5KH, at the Albuquerque NWS office (WX5ABQ) warned New Mexico’s Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) district emergency coordinators and county emergency managers of the potential for severe weather. ARES teams and SKYWARN weather spotters consequently were already in the field and ready for action when the string of tornados struck. The early warning, aided by trained spotters’ accurate minute-by-minute reports to the NWS and local authorities, provided an additional margin of safety for residents. Full story @ ARRL

Project Enclosures; Altoids Tin Alternatives

Many of us Hams build small projects into common altoids tins. There a great size for many projects ranging from qrp radios to data radios. They’re cheap, easy to work with lightweight all metal/RF shielded and well, cute. I have, well, I don’t want to count how many projects I’ve built in altoids tins. I can see three from my seat and I’m not even in my radio/network room.

Though just about any small project will fit in an altoids tin, sometimes you wish you had a different size or shape of tin to house a particular project. Over the years I’ve found several alternatives some in good shapes and sizes, others not. One of my best finds so far is a audio/keying interface I made to run packet off my Yaesu VX-1R in a ultra small Everest tin roughly 1″ x 1″ x 1/2″.

Starbucks Tin

I had to make a run to radio shack earlier tonight to get a part. My closest Rat Shack is in the Boise Mall a half mile away. I had to bribe my wife (also a ham) to go with me by promising her a stop at the Starbucks in the mall near the shack. Radio shack didn’t have what I needed (surprise) but I had to hold up my end of the deal anyway.

I hate coffee.

Well, that’s not 100% true, I haven’t had good coffee since I lived in New Orleans.

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