CSVHFS Conference

Greetings VHF+ Operators!

As this year’s Conference President, I, along with the Conference’s host team, cordially invite you to attend the 54th annual Central States VHF Society Conference, which is being held at the Radisson Hotel located on the beautiful riverfront of the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin on July 24th and 25th, 2020.

This year’s event will have all the great activities you’ve come to expect from a CSVHFS Conference: technical presentations, antenna range, noise figure lab, rover row and dish bowl, Thursday evening social activity, Friday evening trade-fest, dealer room, hospitality suite for evening socializing, fun family activities, and a closing banquet with a guest speaker and a prize table.

If you have never been to a CSVHFS conference before, you will find it a great event where you will learn many new things, meet new people, and connect with others you have talked to on-the-air. If you are new to VHF-and-above operating, you will want to be sure to attend the perennial favorite, VHF 101, an alternate track talk designed to get new VHFers successfully on the air. One thing we are certain of: if you attend the CSVHFS conference, you will go home reinvigorated about operating and experimenting on the bands above 50 MHz!

We are sending this letter out early in the new year so that you can make time in your busy summer schedule to attend. From past experience, most attendees arrive on Thursday (July 23rd) and depart on Sunday (July 26th). La Crosse, Wisconsin is easy to get to either by car or air. Interstate 90 passes directly through the city, and the La Crosse Airport (LSE) has direct connections with 3 major airports: Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), and Detroit (DTW). Hotel accommodations at the special conference rate will be available beginning around February 1st.

Registration for the conference will open around May 1st. Be sure to visit the conference website at http://2020.csvhfs.org/ for ongoing updates and further information. Please direct any questions you may have about the Conference to registration@csvhfs.org

We look forward to seeing you in La Crosse in late July!

73,

Bruce Richardson, W9FZ

CSVHFS President

ARRL Stumbles

The practically new ARRL CEO has been shown the (revolving) door. According to the terse announcement from Newington:

At its meeting this weekend, the ARRL Board of Directors did not elect Howard Michel, WB2ITX, as the ARRL Chief Executive Officer. Beginning Monday, January 20, Barry Shelley, N1VXY, will become interim CEO. Mr. Shelley was ARRL’s Chief Financial Officer for 28 years and CEO during 2018 before his retirement. The board has created a search committee to select the next CEO. More details on this and other matters which took place at the board meeting will be released shortly.

http://www.arrl.org/news/barry-shelley-n1vxy-to-become-arrl-interim-ceo

This one will be difficult, if not impossible, for the ARRL to explain to members. If it was a personnel issue we will never hear it as those are not disclosed. If it was a lack of confidence by the BoD for the CEO’s bold new direction, then there’s so much uncomfortable explaining to do that no one at HQ will be likely to do that either.

It’s no secret that members have been generally impressed with the new direction proposed during Michel’s short tenure to grow the organization by enhancing member services. Apparently, he’s also been busy trying to mend rifts between the crusty old dudes (who members won’t stop electing) and newer Board members who have ascended out of growing member frustration.

Whatever the reason, and whether members ever hear the truth about it, this is a massive failure for ARRL. Particularly, for the Board of Directors who only recently were “shaken up” and mandated to “fix” the many problems facing a century-old organization that appears to be shrinking right in front of a great cloud of witnesses. 

Hobby Money

Editors note: I wrote this a few weeks ago intended to be a resolution for the New Year. The irony that I would publish it today, mere hours after ordering a GPSDO for my IC-9700, hasn’t escaped me. My only defense being that one-off equipment purchases will continue, it’s only the recurring charges getting the stink eye in this treatise…

Retirement appears larger in the viewfinder in 2020 and that’s got me paying closer attention to the budget as we adjust spending in preparation for the eventual retired life. There’s certainly a lot of low-hanging fruit in our discretionary spending that can be cut. 

Brenda and I chuckle when discussing the fees for mobile phone service, cable TV, and Internet access. That’s because none of these even existed when we got married! My expectation is that the three-hundred dollar a month Verizon and Comcast bills will be slashed as we either opt for lower tiers of service, or eliminate them altogether when we retire.

Multiple, individual streaming services, magazine and book subscriptions; all these little “ankle biters” seem like pocket change on their own, but when tallied together they begin to look more like the national debt.  

And it’s not just household items on the chopping block. When confronted with it on paper, I’m forced to admit that I spend too much on ham radio subscriptions and memberships.

I’m going to drop several of those as they expire this year, and the rest next year. I’m a Life Member of ARRL so that will persist along with QST, but everything else is subject to cancellation. I’m not particularly happy to end my decades long membership with AMSAT but the shenanigans of the current leadership team have made this a little easier.

And while it never amounted to much, I closed my Patreon account. No more tipping or donating to blogs, podcasts or YouTube creators. If you want to make interesting ham radio content that’s great, but you’ll have to bankroll it yourself, or at least without me. 

Of course a placeholder remains in the budget for ham radio. Equipment will need to be added and replaced on occasion and we look forward to retirement to allow us more time to travel to visit more hamfests and conventions every year.

But the non-essential fees and recurring subscriptions are going to be eliminated. Then perhaps at some later date I’ll discover something that adds so much value to my radio experience that I can’t live without it and will be happy to resume whatever that might be. 

The Pause

Progress in converting the station to VHF has ground to a halt. The Diamond Tri-Plexer that I ordered around the first of December has been further delayed.

At first, I was told to expect it around Christmas. Now they tell me it’s not expected to ship until mid-March. This thing must be made of pure Unobtanium and frankly, it puts me off Diamond. I’ve started looking for an alternative, but that unit has the precise pairings I’m looking for. 144, 432, and 1.2G with 12-inch tails and fittings that match the three different antenna connectors on the IC-9700 and the incoming feedline connector.

ICOM IC-9700

If I can find another unit that meets my requirements, I’ll buy it and at least get the new transceiver on the air using FM. It’s nearly three months old and has yet to be used!

But everything else is on hold. We’re having a new roof installed sometime over the next 6 weeks. The mild winter weather has emboldened our contractor and now he’d like to do the work during his off-season and will give us a discount to do it sooner rather than later. So, I’m not keen to install any aerials overhead in the work space over the house until that’s complete.

By the end of March, I should have a new roof and the beginnings of an aluminum antenna garden. But for the moment, my radio life has hit the pause button. Not that there still isn’t plenty of other things to be done. My QSL backlog is impressive, even by my own standards and I should be working on that. 

It’s not all bad. The pause has given me time to better plan and prepare for the new and improved ham radio shack. I’ve created some drawings that document all the connections and cable routings. All the IP addresses and network settings have been recorded and I’ve created a detailed bill of materials for everything in the hope that it will make replacement easier if ever needed.

I’ve even labeled all the power lines and cables and scanned all the manuals and receipts so I can access them in an instant, wherever I roam.

I guess the moral of the story is patience, and that radio downtime can be valuable, if you use the time wisely.

NAQP Indoors

The CW version of the North America QSO Party took place yesterday. I’ve always enjoyed the NAQP because of the 100 watt power limit and the easy exchange. But at this particular moment in the transition state of my shack and antenna garden, there’s nary an aerial installed on my property right now. Nada. Zip.

So while I was aware that the contest was taking place, I busied myself with other tasks. But then I got to thinking that I do have the new portable AX1 antenna for the KX3. It’s a short and stubby little fellow that covers 20/17 and with the addition of the AXE1 extender, it’s supposed to cover 40 as well. Hmmmm…

Out comes the KX3 from the protective pouched I stored it in a few months ago. The 12V/6Ah (LiFePO4) battery from Bioenno had held its last charge. I unpacked the AX1 and extender, stretched a single counterpoise wire across the floor from the kitchen into the living room. Things setup on the kitchen table and with the telescoping antenna fully extended and the KX3 on the table, the antenna was just a few inches from the ceiling.

I turned the transceiver on, fairly certain that I would be able to hear stations using an indoor antenna, but had very low-expectations of being heard. Fifteen minutes later I had five stations in the log. All on 40 CW with just 5 watts out using the small antenna. An hour or so later I went back to the well and worked five more. Later in the evening I went back a final time hoping to work another five and call it quits. But signals were much weaker now and I only managed three more.

I ended the day with 13 stations in the log. Six different states (PA, FL, MD, VA, NC, MN) plus one Canadian (ON). The SFI was 73 and I thought conditions on 40 were a little better than normal.

And mind you, this wasn’t an effort where I had to call and call to be heard. All told I had less than an hour of time at the table. Most answered my first call, only a few required a single repeat.

I’m still grinning about the performance of the AX1 with the extender for 40 meters. Surely a wire antenna would easily outperform it, but I bought it specifically for those times when I just want to walk into a park or the backyard, plop the KX3 on a picnic table and make a few contacts without having to install another antenna. 

This combo sure seemed to work admirably, from inside my house and now I’m anxious to get it outside to see if it can drop my jaw again. Maybe on Winter Field Day

Building Stuff

It would be easy to declare that the weather has been “weird” around here. But that’s lost all meaning since it’s been this way for much of the last decade. And then there’s the weather in Australia that makes our anomalies seem tame.

But lots of rain and temperatures in the 50-60F range during most of December and January in Central Indiana isn’t normal. A lot of folks seem to be loving it. Those who whine at the first appearance of a snowflake. Weak humans. Me, I enjoy winter weather and am disappointed, but it’s more than that.

It would be like if all the birds fell out of the sky dead one day and local residents celebrated the reduction of bird poop to scrape off their automobiles, without considering for even a moment, why the birds died. I don’t think these warm winters without snow are anything to celebrate, I think it means something bad is brewing…

No matter, 50F and nearly constant rain has kept me in the house more than I would like and that has triggered the desire to build something, like maybe a new kit. Here’s one that’s created a lot of buzz so I ordered one to give me something to do on these long, sickly warm, and nearly always moist winter evenings when the sun goes down at 5:30pm.

Like most hams, I’ve become an appliance operator. The excuse for not building things anymore is much the same all over, it’s become too difficult to find parts so why not just purchase commercially manufactured equipment? And that lame excuse has prevented me (and maybe you?) from taking part in one of the more interesting facets of the hobby that I used to enjoy, building stuff.

But it’s not only the excess indoor time that has me anxious to fire up the soldering tools. The January 2020 edition of the Cheese Bits newsletter included an article by Rick Campbell, KK7B entitled Hot-Rodding Radio Gear – a bit of nostalgia AND some observations on current trends in RF design. Campbell has gone back to educating students in an “attempt to pass along skills and attitudes that will help the next generation of Analog/RF/Microwave engineers progress into the mid-21st century”

It’s a great article and I recommend you read it, but it includes rather pointed commentary that hits home:

In the Sputnik era, every radio amateur knew how to start with a CW transmitter and modulate the final amplifier to put a voice signal on the air. Those questions were on the exam. Then came SSB and VHF-FM, and endless editorials about how radio amateurs need to embrace new technology and abandon outdated modes. Yes, SSB ushered in a new era in amateur radio—the era when 100% of radio amateurs became appliance operators. A decade later, FM did the same thing to VHF. Be honest: when was the last time you made a contact with an FM or SSB transmitter you designed and built?

The latest trend in RF engineering is use of COTS, “Commercial Off The Shelf” hardware. Not only have radio amateurs become appliance operators, but professional radio “designers” just string together a set of available commercial modules. Who designs the modules?

Ouch. That hurts a little, but he’s not wrong. And while assembling a little 30 meter transceiver kit doesn’t rise to the level of RF design, anything that produces solder smoke in the shack is better than living the life of an “appliance” operator on a full-time basis.