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A few words from Rob K9RST…

 

The Wheaton Community Radio Association or WCRA’s ham fest has always held a special place in my heart. For one, it was the first ham fest I had been to in modern times (got serious about the hobby again in the early 90’s).  Back then, they had taken over the Odeon…I’m told it was a two hockey rings, but to me the space seemed massive. It was filled with vendors, exhibits and people. Lots of people.  I took my first Tech exam at their ham fest and passed!  It was painful to see how the event has dramatically shrunk in recent times.  Held at the Kane county Fairgrounds, it is a mere shadow of its predecsor.  I spent most of my time seeking out people, not gear. There just wasn’t that much gear to purchase (and perhaps that is my own perspective because how many radios can one have? Answer: never enough!)

The seminars were terrific.  There were two on ARES and Emergency Management. I do get tired of hearing the laments of some ARES folks about the disorganization and countless re-orgs planned.  I personally think the current ARES leadership is doing a great job of bringing this group back to life. They have appointed a huge number of new people and shook up some old traditions.  I give Ron Morgan and Fritz Bock some real credit for getting this organization up and moving. 

Our next big event is our winter dinner. Saturday night, February 24, 2018, Chevy Chase Country Club.  This is always a great time…Open to all. We try to bring in a program speaker who can talk about something other than ham radio and that plays to the general intellectual curiosity of our audience.  Over the years, we have had some terrific speakers and this year will be no different. Skip Talbot is an honest to goodness storm chaser. He is the real thing.  This is not a hobby but a serious pursuit; a true intellectual, scientific and personal passion.  I think you will enjoy the program. I have heard him talk to a group of certified weather geeks (ok, I am one of them) and he had us all spellbound.  Now, even if you don’t like listening to presentations, come for the food! The food is always terrific at Chevy plus you have the opportunity to just visit with friends. We try to encourage folks to bring their husbands, wives, adult kids. Go to our web site to get information about how to sign up.

Some of you may have heard that we started a campaign to interview some of our newest members as a way to find out more about them and to better understand how we can better serve them.  I just completed my first month and a half interviewing the new candidates and writing a short bio for the Board to review before they vote. This has been one of the best things I have done while at this club.  I have had so many delightful conversations with such a diverse group of people.  It is thrilling to meet them and hear about their ham radio journeys. I am always amazed how many people came to this hobby as a short wave listener (SWL for short).  Makes me wonder how the next generation will discover this great hobby?  Some discovered ham radio after seeing the shortcomings of CB radio. They quickly converted.  Some just knew about this for years and finally had the time and money to get into things.  I would say a larger percentage of our new hams are active only on VHF or UHF (the digital modes, D-Star, Fusion, and DMR), all for various reasons, but antenna restrictions plays an important part.  Anyway, I have loved the experience and now other board members will take on the duties moving forward.  This has been so successful, we are thinking about going back to meet up with some of our most recent new members who did not get a chance to go through this process.  We want to be a responsive club…and we can only do that when we know what brings you here and what you want from this club.

Talking to these new hams has resurrected some fond memories of my own ham radio journey.  I did start out as a SLWer.  I had a wonderful Hallicrafters SX101 that sat behind my head in bedroom and I would roam the bands to hear the world.  It was a magical world to me…and alphabet soup of call signs and mysterious locations.   Through my headset, the world was in my head (eh, to my younger friends, there were not televisions yet…not in my house anyway).  Ham radio didn’t get me fully motivated until I went to college, when my physics professor, knowing of my interest in the hobby, gave me his Kenwood TS520.  Well, that was quite a clever trick!  Now, I had no excuse and I had to get my ticket.  It still took me a while to find the time, as I was totally focused on family raising and building a career. Eventually, it all came together and what a journey it has been.  I will admit that being on the Board, which I did almost from the beginning, has impeded my progress toward DXCC, but I have learned so much along the way.  Everyday there is more to discover and new modes to explore.

This has been a very supportive club, one that has allowed me to grow and expand my interest in the hobby.  The credit belongs to the truly remarkable people who belong to this organization. I hope you find that to be the case as well.

73 

Rob

K9RST

 

January Blog

Happy New Year to all my radio friends.  It is good to be on the other side of 2017!  Now, let’s see what happens in 2018! 

I know I will continue one of my pet peeves into the New Year!  Finding Parts.  Oh my, what have we done to ourselves?  I happen to be one of the few remaining on the planet who enjoys ripping into broken things and trying to fix them.  I recently tackled my dryer. The thing was not drying clothes properly.  Thanks to the web, you can get all sorts of reasonable advice for free.  Getting the proper parts was another issue, however. I successfully diagnosed the problem… looked like a bad thermistor.  I could not find the part I needed online…trying Goggling thermistor! Even with the model and serial number etc. It is incredible how many variations there can be.  So, I resorted to an online chat with Sears Parts Depot.  It actually went very smoothly, especially when you consider he was having multiple “chats” at the same time. In fact, at one point, I wondered if the he was a real person.  I threw a couple of trick questions into the mix, just to double check. “What’s the weather like by you!?” “Do you get a break for the Holidays?”  Took about 30 minutes to do the entire exchange.  He shot me some schematics so we could make sure we were getting the right part and ordered it right there.  Then he asked when I wanted it? Well, like now!  He said his best shot was shipping it next week sometime unless I came out to get it. Sure. When?  Where? Still, he said I had to wait to make sure they had the part. He promised to call and he took all of my numbers. I repeated my preference for the cell phone, which I monitored carefully all day. Well, I never got the call.  Next morning, I got a call on my business line saying the part was in!  In fact, it had been available the day before at 9 am!  They called the business line and not the cell.  Problem now was I could not pick the part up. So I asked my wife if she could zip out.  She did great. She found the place and got the part, but managed to find a few additional stores to visit along the way! So the $20 part cost me probably 15 times more in delivery!! I never heard of the stores, but she was thrilled!  Whatever, the dryer works. 

In the same vein, I have discovered I missed the boat.  I should have been investing in shipping companies.  Man.  I have been working on multi-meter kit off and on for a while.  I am almost done. It was one of the build club projects and I was stuck at one circuit check point because I could not get a verifiable response on my “known” meter.  Finally, I learned that the fuse on my “Known” meter was broken.  Now, keep in mind this is cheapie $24 multi-meter that I got from Lowe’s just to throw around in my travel kits.  I went online and found what I thought was the right fuse…from Lowes! They shipped it to me and all was good till it arrived and I found it was the wrong size.  The picture looked right, but the dimensions were way off.  I needed a 5 x 20 mm ceramic fuse.  I tried Mouser…8,000,000,000,000 possibilities and prices.  I was totally lost.  I finally found a place that had the right specs, the right size and the price…like $1.10 for the fuse, but the shipping was $8.00! I know, my son swears by Amazon Prime – free shipping.  I should have, but I didn’t.  I was willing to drive to the edge of Chicagoland to get the part in my hot little hand, but modern retailing does not allow that.  Everything must be shipped. Yes, I miss Radio Shack or Tri-State Electronics or any number of places you can walk in, look for your parts and buy it. It will take me a long time to surrender my right to purchase from a real personal, at a real store. Sorry, Amazon.  And yes, I will admit that we did our fare share of Holiday shopping online, but I did most of it walking into a store someplace.  Call me crazy! Meanwhile, I ask you all to consider stock in transport companies.  They are quietly making all of the money in this modern economy.

Meanwhile, the meter is not done, but my Fusion radio is upgraded and ready to be installed.  Happy New Year.   

73’s

Rob, K9RST

Of auctions and automation

I would not call ham radio folks hoarders, but as a group we seem to have a disproportionate pile of seemingly useless stuff.  I know my wife often scans my ham shack and storage area with a critical eye, often followed with this ominous question: “What’s this?  Do you ever use it?”  Whereupon I typically respond, well not every day, but when I need it… you know the required response!  The other day I needed a common resistor…and while I have a drawer full of them, I did not have the one I needed.  Now what? Eventually I will buy a replacement…but will buy a small bag and then I will have a small stock pile…and so it goes!  Fact is, with Radio Shack all but gone; there is no just running out for parts anymore.  Keeping parts on hand is one thing but holding on to radios and collecting older gear is another.

 

For various reasons, I helped collect gear from several hams this year that were either leaving the hobby or downsizing.  They all had the same issue.  ‘This was my dad’s or my brother’s or it was given to me…and I just could not give it up.”  And so it collects.  I now have a fairly large collection of my own vintage gear that someday I am going to have to release.  I have the old Kenwood TS520 that really got me started in the hobby.  It was given to me by my Physics professor as an incentive for me to get my ticket. It worked.  I have the old Hallicrafter’s SX100 receiver that I used as a kid.  These aren’t collector items like Collins or Drake gear but they both meant a great deal to me.   I lost the Hallicrafters when my wife was cleaning the attic. She tossed it out after asking, “Do you ever use this?” And I reluctantly agreed figuring marital bliss was more important than my old childhood memories.  Fortunately, I was able to get a very sweet deal for a replacement at Dayton and so it has come back home.  Maybe we are just sentimental?  I don’t know what it is, but hams seem to love collecting stuff.  The really good part of this story is that we keep feeding this urge. 

 

All of the gear we collect from hams has been donated to the Club to sell at our auction.  Ron Harroff hasca basement loaded with gear ready for our coming Winter Classic sales event. He also spends countless hours inspecting, checking and pricing everything that is sold.  His passion for this process is inspiring and I am sure it is taxing.  His basement is stuffed with equipment.  The auction and the proceeds from these sales benefit the club. In fact, as you no doubt learned from Warren Pugh’s excellent presentation on our budget, this little auction helps us fill an annual shortfall in revenues. This “recycling” program helps us balance our books and gives Hams the opportunity to walk away with some classic gems or gear that is needed.  Plus, it is just fun! 

 

Support your Club…add to your collections…enjoy our Winter auction.

 

Growing pains. When I started with this club 80 million years ago, everything was done on paper. We published a paper newsletter, stuffed it into paper envelopes, added stamps and did monthly mailings.  We did our membership renewals by mail and most of our events required mail in paper registrations. How times have changed!  Everything has moved to an online environment. For better or worse, we have embraced the newer ways of doing things and like any transition, there are tradeoffs.  We current accept PayPal for on-line membership…but for all of its convenience, it does often cause back office headaches sometimes.   People nowadays don’t often use their real names in email addresses, so when we get to reconciling these accounts, it is not always clear who sent us the money!  Often we have to write back and ask them to identify themselves.  Ever gotten a text from someone not in your address book?  It can be disconcerting and embarrassing sometimes.  Who the heck is writing to me?  Let’s keep a few time-honored ideas alive…let’s sign documents with our real names and contact information.  It is a simple idea that seems to work pretty well.

 

Happy Holidays to all!

Rob

K9RST

Rob Orr 

rob@roborrproductions.com

 


Service our middle name 

From the very beginning of my re-involvement with ham radio, I have been impressed with the service ethic that is a serious part of the ham community. Somehow, it is imbedded in our DNA from our history of passing traffic to our collective dedication to serve when and where we might be needed. Hams radio operators have a reputation as problem solvers.  When I worked as a volunteer for the Red Cross, the largest cadre of volunteers came from ham radio operators, even though the communication truck we were supporting largely was a mobile satellite truck. Most of the time, our work involved creating computer connectivity.  Almost no radios!

 

This month, I worked the Chicago Marathon with 145 ham radio volunteers.  We had amateur radio ops from 5 states and several distant cities to serve this event.  We have become an integral part of the medical operation and it has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my ham radio life, partly because of the dedication shown by our hams to do their part. Public service has many faces and they are not just at events. Look at the folks who serve on your NSRC Board.

 

It takes a village 

Your Board is well served with dedicated members who offer their expertise and time to help manage this club. We are very fortunate to this group of selfless individuals, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  Many have served for many years and have moved into other support positions, like Ron Harroff, who now focuses entirely on our auction.  Ron not only collects the gear, writes letters to the donors, but thoroughly inspects all of the gear to make sure it works as described. Warren Pugh has been our treasurer for a number of years and brought a level of professionalism to our record keeping and fiscal management.  Partly because of his efforts, we now have a solid financial foundation and some reserves to help us weather difficult times.  Our membership numbers have increased thanks to the diligence of Mike Simmons, who helps us find and secure new members.  Burt Krain has taken over from Randy Brothers, who managed many of our behind the scenes records and helped develop our web site.  We call his position internal communication director and basically that involves managing the web site, Facebook, and the eMitter.  He has been working on a program to help do mass e-mailings to our membership. Mark Klocksin has been our net director for several years now and because of his leadership, we have a strong team of net control operators who work our weekly nets.  Ron Settle is the first real honest to heaven radio engineer this club has ever had and he has had his hands full.  We now have four working repeaters, all with daily challenges to keep them in fine working condition.  Ron’s work might be the most invisible to the average club member. We all use the repeaters one way or another.  He is happiest when nothing goes wrong!  Derick Bonewitz is our Secretary and has taken over many of the registration processes that Randy used to manage.  He keeps our business meeting records and all of our membership data.  Derick also have been critical in helping us find better ways to manage our business systems and keeps he keeps us all thinking straight with thoughtful questions and insights.   Don Whiteman has been our Public Service chair this past year, but has also served as our Treasurer, Vice President, and President. He currently is also our repeater trustee and is the most frequent provider of helpful information on almost any question presented on the club’s reflector.  Rich Davidson has been on the board longer than I have and I lost track of how many years.  He is our Education Director and has run a successful educational program.  He also manages our VE sessions.  Dave Hewitt is currently our Vice President and is adding Program Director to his duties.  Dave had been our Program Director in the past and will return this coming year. Robert Landgren serves as one of our weekly net control operators but is also our current Program Director.  Unfortunately, Robert must leave the Board due to family obligations. Al Hovey comes to Board meetings when he is not in Florida! He has served many key positions here: Public Service Director, Field Day GOTA chair and Field Day Hospitality chair. Vic Maiewski is new to the Board and serves as our IT Director, really advising us on our D-Star network and some of the many computer platforms that we have come to rely on. Jeff Kraft is our Publicity Director but as a retired lawyer, he is also doubling as a sounding board for all manner of issues.   Me? I have been President for 8 years, took a break for two years and found myself back on the NSRC bus.  I have been on the Board almost from the time I became a ham. Service is in my blood. It has been my privilege and honor to serve this club.

 

My point is this is what is needed to run an operation like this and it takes both time and talent.  We have been blessed from the very beginning to have people willing to serve. And make sacrifices.  I am taking the time to write this note to you and not programming my Fusion radio to put in my car!  I am sure many members of the board are in the same spot with other projects they would like to tackle.  We enjoy serving. That is why we are here.  But we cannot continue serving forever. We need new folks to help carry on this club’s traditions. 

 

In this next year, we will be looking to define and create more working groups.  This effort is to help spread the work load and to help tease out some new leadership. Meanwhile, if you see any of the people mentioned above, please say thank you to them for serving us well.

 

 


Between now and then

For me personally, this has been a period of total insanity.  I have been able to garner a few more work projects than I normally handle in the fall and this in combination with our busiest public service events makes life around here more than interesting (oh, yes, throw in a total redo of the driveway and all of the work to prepare for the work!)

Still, life goes on…I have gotten a large number of emails from concerned folks looking to see what ham radio is doing to support Puerto Rico.  I personally was not aware of anything but did ask around.  Most of the people who wrote, I passed their names on to the ARRL, because I figured they would have a more global picture.  I did hear that many companies were using hams in their place of business to set up health and welfare traffic from PR to us…but with no power and no infrastructure, communications have been strained.  I was heartened to see that the ARRL is deploying 50 hams to stay in PR for up to 3 weeks.  To my knowledge this is the first time that has every happened. Generally hams deploy through a served agency (Red Cross or Salvation Army or some other entity.)  What has happened to that island is hard to watch. They are on the verge of a true disaster in the making. Being an island, there are no quick solutions – not that there ever are…but the amount of support they need will take years to recover.  It is an unfortunate fact, that too many people have come to totally rely on cell phone for their communication and I am not sure what ham radio support there is in PR right now (I abbreviate PR because I can’t spell Puerto Rico very well!).  You have to have people in the disaster area and a systematic way of managing the traffic to help get the word out.  Social media isn’t working when the entire infrastructure is destroyed.  There is more that ham radio can do for people caught in these circumstances. As a group, we need to do better, but I am glad that we are doing something.  I know there are several nets here in the US that have been handling hurricane relief traffic, some of them have been monitoring internet sites for information. 

Meanwhile, we did successfully complete our support of the Evanston North Shore Century. We had 36 hams help out…and not all from the NSRC.  We deployed lots of technology and actually pulled some new faces into the mix.  It was great to see all of the new people who got involved.  This is a great event and a terrific partnership for our club.  The Evanston Bike Club runs this event for charity and pulls in as much as $40,000 which they in turn return to the biking community.  They are a great organization.

This event will be a major part of our upcoming meeting…which I will not be able to attend because of an out of town video project.  So, you will get to hear from new folks who helped make the event a success.

My garage is still loaded with Bike event equipment and now I have to make room for the Chicago Marathon.  We have 135 hams supporting this event from 5 states; 12 radio club groups, some from as far away as Peoria and Madison Wisconsin. This has become the premiere ham radio public service event…serving one of the world’s top marathon’s.  I have been proud to have been part of this great event and ever proud of the number of fellow hams who have stepped up to help.  Our club is well represented.  NSRC folks are the leaders in many of the aid stations, but we are not the largest club represented!  There is a group from the Southside, WillCom, lead by Jerry Watts, who double the number of folks we bring. We also get strong support from Dane County, Wheaton Community Radio Association, York Radio Club, Lake County and several others… who routine bring 6 or more radio ops to the event.  Not only is working the Marathon intense fun, it is also great practice for real world events.

So, if you are not on the team this year, please consider joining us next year.

There was a recent QST articles that suggested we tackle what we learned from Field Day and put it to practice.  Well, your fellow NSRCers are doing just that…there were at least two groups who took to the parks and set up some impromptu events.  I was part of a team that met near my house.  With a simple canopy, table and a few chairs, we had three stations up and running in a matter of minutes and worked people across the US.  I would love to see us do many more of these events and build on this momentum. 

Well, I have got to get back to preparing for my role at the marathon (and work)

73, Rob K9RST

K9RST Blog- A few words from our club President

As I watch with mystifying horror, the devastation in Texas unfold, I am reminded of just how vulnerable we all are in times of natural disaster.  This monster storm has just been amazing to watch. Day after day, the rain continues to pour in. They are talking about it being a once in a 1000 year rain! (what does that really mean?!!)   And because this has been more of a flooding event, much of the infrastructure is still in place, so cell phones and radio networks still function well.  What is not working are the roads and usual transportation routes.  And the scale is hard for me to fathom. Some have said the affected area is the size of Lake Michigan. I am moved by the number of people reaching out to assist in any way they can…got a kick out of the folks from the Cajun Navy (bunch of random folks with swamp boats) who came to people’s assistance.   Disasters truly can bring out the best in us…and also the worst. So far, however, things have been reasonably well managed.  The issue will come when people return to their homes and work places to begin re-construction. I spent three years working on a team to rebuild houses in Biloxi.  It has taken years for people to return to normal down there and now we are talking about an urban area many, many times larger.  It is going to be a mess.

 

Seeing this event also triggered my own desire to respond.  Having served on the Red Cross Emergency Communication Truck (ECRV) for almost 10 years that pull to help never really goes away. Alas, for me now, it is more a matter of just making a donation of money and not time or resources.  I always said to my team of 50 volunteers who served on 4711, the truck assigned to our region, the folks from the Midwest are often the best poised to help.  Generally, we are spared huge catastrophic events like this…although we have had our share of flooding and tornadoes as well.  The call for help is a powerful siren.  And as ham radio operators, we have a special place in this environment.  Maybe not with this Texas disaster, but there will be other places and times when we will be called.  Are you prepared?

 

We have spoken about this often in our club meetings.  All disasters are local.  So, to be prepared means having your own house in order.  I asked my wife this morning, if we had to leave right now, what one thing would she grab?  What would you grab?  It is an interesting question to think about.  Once important lesson my Florida cousin taught me during the hurricanes they often faced, in a real disaster have cash.  Often credit cards will not work because power is out, pumps don’t work for gas and water is a premium.  So, being  prepared yourself is a key first step.

 

Beyond that, volunteer.  But here is the key: if you want to volunteer, it is almost too late!  Most disasters do not allow people to self deploy. It is always best to be part of a recognized group that responds and get credentialed and trained.   The other point worth considering is that the real need starts tomorrow. When the storm final relents and people need to rebuild, that is when people will really need your help.  This call will go on for years to come!

 

Where does ham radio fit into this picture?   I am currently working on a planned event called the North Shore Century and the Chicago Marathon.   These two events teach us how to work as a team and be prepared to deliver a product (communication messages).  These are live event but they are also great training grounds for other events.  It is more likely that our services will be needed for this sort of response than for a natural disaster…but it could happen.

 

In fact, as I am typing this note, I just got an email from the Red Cross looking for volunteers to go to Texas.  I can’t deploy this time…as I will be working the Chicago marathon (and business deadlines!).  Readiness partly means being prepared to serve or to lead.  Responding – volunteering – giving of your time and talent is not a singularity.  You need to make it an everyday practice so that when you truly are needed, you can deliver.  Meanwhile, my heart goes out to the people of Texas. 

Field Day

We just ended our club’s 2017 Field Day effort. Once again, we did a great job as a team. Our score seemed to be right in line with past years and we discovered some new talent. Greg Karlove built this amazing satellite set up and worked the skies with authority. Casey Diers served as our safety director, but really spent more time deeply studying the CW and SSB stations. I loved his eagerness to learn all that he can about ham radio. The weather was perfect. It threatened to rain Saturday night and we dug out our tarps and tied down the tents. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the threat of rain went away. Operators magically appeared to do their duties at the CW and SSB tents. Overnight, the SSB tent got a little quiet, but I had fun running on 40 meters with Jerry Weiss, former NSRC President. I hadn’t worked with Jerry in years…and interestingly, he was Prez of the club when I joined and he was the one who asked if I would mind running for president upon his retirement. Well, I had just become licensed and I had no idea what being president meant so I declined. I did serve as program director for 4 years, a position I greatly enjoyed. I loved seeking out speakers and programs that fed the issues that I was passionate about discovering. It was a great way to learn. Along the way, I was asked to be the Field Day chair. Again, I had no clue what to do, and I said yes! At first, I followed the template set by the older guard. For a couple of years, I never deviated from the basic model – radios in the Village Green gazebo and antennas in the trees…all in a line. Everything worked well, and I felt like a hero!

Well, times and locations changed. We left the Village Green when the Park district in Northbrook wanted close to $2000 for the overnight use of the park. It was a great public park and we hated to leave. Several of us embarked on a long search for new venues. We scoured the north shore. Finally, we found a place that seemed possible: Northcroft Park in Lake Forest. In the early days, we did not have enough people to do Field Day and so we partnered with the good folks at the MAC club. They provided necessary manpower, but we had differing philosophies about tactics and we ended our partnership. We slowly built our own team…and it has taken years to recruit the talent and hone our skills. Then one year, the Lake Forest Park District double booked us…and we got bounced. They offered us the Grove Cultural center, where we have been for the past eight years. It is a great place, but totally hidden from the public. In fact, this year when I couldn’t lock the doors to the building, I had to call the Lake Forest police for assistance. The cop told me that even the police weren’t sure where the place was! It was a total shift away from the Village Green…where we often ran into crowds of people who said, “Hey, I’m a ham…I should be out here with you guys (and gals).” We saw much more of the curious public at the Village Green than we have ever seen in the other parks.

Still, we focused on our operating and build up a solid team and have been a consistent and productive operation. We always ranked very high in the state and in the nation. When Randy Brothers came on board, he became the champion contester coach. He stressed valuable skills that have helped us see our scores soar. I continue to focus on logistics and securing the potential 2000 bonus points.

One of the ARRL bonus points asks us to invite elected officials. Well, I asked my Glenview Village President to stop by and to my surprise, he did. He showed up at 7:30 a.m. Sunday! He caught me stuffing pancakes into my face and just recovering from my overnight operating. I grabbed about 30 minutes of sleep and was still groggy. Still no coffee. He hit me with a zillion great questions, many of which I am still trying to figure how to answer: “Would ham radio work if we got hit with a Pulse bomb?” “How long would it take for you guys to get set up, if we did need you?” “Why do you do this?” “Who are all of these people?” “How many points do you think you will score?” On and on…it was fabulous. I had another elected gentleman from Glenview show up around 11:00 p.m. He was amazed. He loved seeing the satellite station work and attentively watched as Greg Karlove made several contacts right there. The whole idea caught his imagination and suddenly he got it. He understand what value ham radio could be to a nation and a community. So, from this point of view alone, Field Day was a success. If we can get a few public officials to at least top to think about what we do and how we could be of service, the next time one of those antenna covenant bills comes up, or they find themselves in need of supportive volunteers, they might stop to reflect on what we mean to the community.

Thanks to all who helped serve our Field Day. Please feel free to drop me note to tell me what you think we can do better to serve the membership and this event. We need a public face…and this is a good one.

73, Rob K9RST

Dayton (Xenia) Report

For me, my Dayton trip has evolved into a small odyssey. It starts a couple days before, running through the shack looking for items to sell. Strangely, I have been trying to sell the same boat anchors for a number of years now and I might have to surrender this effort to the web. I typically head off on Wednesday for the QRP seminar on Thursday.

For the past couple of years, I have partnered up with Bill Steffey, NY9H, who used to live around here but now lives in Prosperity, PA. (Yes, that is the name of the town!). If you know Bill at all, you know he is a tireless advocate for the hobby and a great promoter. He seems to have single handedly invigorated the ham community in his town and often brings along a couple of his new hams for their initial tour of Hamvention. We take a dorm suite at the University of Dayton, which can easily accommodate 6. So, Bill brought some folks from PA and I brought a few folks from Chicago: Greg Karlove, Ron Steinberg, Casey Diers and Randy Brothers.

The QRP event is always a highlight of the trip. The all day seminar is not only about operating QRP, but it is about building, electronics, new inventions, and some good practical ideas for the hobby. This year, every single topic was terrific…from Ed Hare’s (W1RFI) talk on the impact of man-made noise on the hobby to proper ways to tackle rebuilding those old boat anchor radios safely to learning about some of the newest WSRP strategies out there. The best talk was Howard Zehr’s (K4LXY) discussion on some experimental builds on his own magnetic loop antennas. Loops seem to be all the rage these days, as the QRP flea market at the conference was loaded with several commercial offerings. As an aside, I picked up a loop that was donated to the club a few years ago and dragged it over to Greg Karlove’s place. We tore it apart and cleaned out the zillions of bees that made the hollow tube a welcome home. In fact, it was so packed with bees; their nest prevented any of the tuning capacitors to work. Greg did some testing with the refurbished loop and we found it had similar characteristic as was described in this talk. Directional, extremely narrow banded but effective. The loop was one of the antennas of choice for Joe Everhart, N2CX, who activated several national parks, as part of the NPOTA program this past year. He demonstrated some of his successes for the 200 QRP attendees.

The QRP seminar is one of many pre-Dayton seminars you can join. Randy Brothers, for instance, went to Contest University…he must be working on his PhD! I have never gone, but for those who have, this seminar garners equal rave reviews.

Friday is the Hamvention itself. I was filled with anxiety about access and parking…and my anxiety was quickly realized. The turn lane to get off Route 35 to Trebien Road was back up for miles. The light, unaccustomed to this much traffic, was only allowing 3 or 4 cars through at each change. Once through the light, heavy traffic led us to the various country road turns to the new location. There were police cars at every turn, but there wasn’t much traffic control. And one member of our party had an accident with someone who did not stop for the light. Once we got closer to the actual site itself, parking traffic seemed to flow better. We pulled into the larger flea market area…all freshly lined out and nicely marked with the smallest flags. You had to get out of the car to find you flag and slot. I ended up walking until I found our spot.

It was a bit chaotic, but not unlike any event that is setting up for the day. There were disputes over territory and grumpy people who just abandoned their car and blocked others from getting it etc. Unfortunately, the person bringing our tents, tables and chairs was late to arrive. So, we threw our wares on the ground over a tarp and tried to stay out of the blazing and steamy morning sun. We discovered later that Bill’s buddy had a serious accident on the way over and arrived about 10 a.m….well past when they allowed vehicles to enter the park. Fortunately, the organizer escorted him to our site without fuss! Selling in the morning was slow. Seemed like no one was in the park. I learned later that the parking was a very long hike from where our booth stood. We were at the opposite ends. People would go to the convention buildings first and then come to the flea market. The afternoon was much more robust and I sold most of the smaller things I had hoped to release. I was not able to walk around much until Saturday. I did see an issue, however. Since parking was such a long hike, people seemed reluctant to buy boat anchors….anything heavy. Although, we all learned that Dayton provided cart pickup for folks who needed to transport heavy gear, dragging heavy stuff still seemed a tough sell. Eventually, the grass field turned into mud. It rained both Friday and Saturday, only compounding the mess.

Saturday, I stopped selling to focus on my own journey. I went to the NSRC booth. Nice location and terrific set up by Al Hovey and Robert Landgren. The new Hamvention location is a marked improvement over Hara…it is smaller, so the vender buildings were tightly packed, and when it rained, they were jammed with people. The seminar building was air conditioned and a huge improvement over Hara. Clean, comfortable seats and decent sound systems. I only went to a couple of seminars, as I wanted to check out some of my favorite venders. Of course, all of the major radio manufacturers were there. All with new toys to show off.

On Saturday, I caught up with a young man I know from the video business who decided he wanted to get into ham radio. So, I showed him around the place and armed him with some books. It was great to see new folks entering into the hobby. His reactions to the place reminded me of my own very first days coming to Dayton and the feeling of being totally overwhelmed by all of the technology and options.
In general, Dayton was terrific. Muddy, yes! Hot, yes. Cold, yes! It is a place of great contrasts!! But great fun seeing old friends and making new ones. I only ran into a few NSRCers…but I know we were well represented. I agree with Mark Klocksin. Kudos to the Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA) for making the quick switch to a decent location. Of course, there were issues, but they will work out the kinks and hopefully the grass will recover! It is a good venue, if not somewhat smaller than what we have grown used to in the past. Still the old sure fire ingredients were in place: old friends, new friends and lots of toys to examine.

The drive home almost became harrowing. I was merrily playing loud music when the radio erupted with those annoying weather bulletin announcements. Well, turns out I was within 4 miles of a sited tornado. I pulled off the road and sought shelter in the nearest gas station. The rain came down in curtains. The wind rocked the canopy over the gas pumps. It was a little frightening…but it left as quickly as it came…and I arrived home safely. Sign me up for Dayton next year. It is a great adventure.

73, Rob
K9RST

May musings

March and April flew by in a buzz…or maybe I am just getting old? (I won’t admit that if pressed.) In the past couple of weeks, I have been working on a number of grant proposals on behalf of our club and we are often asked to describe what the North Shore Radio club does. On the one hand, there is a simple answer. I often turn to a statement in our By-Laws: “The Club is organized primarily for public service; educational and scientific purposes to advance the art and science of amateur radio communication provide educational programs of interest in the technical aspects of amateur radio and provide disaster, emergency or public service amateur communications without pecuniary gain.” That about says it all! Right? Or does it? I have always been intrigued by the line “scientific purposes” because we don’t discuss that very much and I have been told that phrase was included to satisfy some legal requirement to qualify us as a not-for-profit (sidebar…I have to tell you, I am forever grateful for the incredible work done by our club’s forefathers. They did things right for us…and we enjoy the benefits. To apply for not-for-profit status today is a rigorous course.) So, back to that science line, I have been reflecting back on some of the things that Kermit Carlson mentioned about how we will be inheriting some new frequencies that will soon be made available. For years, hams have pioneered new ways to use some of the frequencies that others have discarded or the world felt was useless. Of course, because of that, we are now seeing some of our more valuable real estate being deeded back for commercial products. Fact is, this is one aspect of our heritage that we can be most proud, and one that I am eager for us to do more. I enjoy exploring various ways to test or create new communication modes… makes me wonder, if we should teach the scientific process along the way? I have benefited greatly from the Elmering others have shown me on how to trace down a bad circuit or try out some new software. There is a method to all of this stuff.

Exactly what is amateur radio? Now that is the more complicated part of the question. I re-Tweeted a post recently about the difference between an amateur and a professional. We seem generally nagged by the “amateur” in our collective name, even though it is meant to suggest the name for an unpaid devotee. The passion for our work generally is no different from a pro, and perhaps that is why so many of us use the term, “ham radio” instead of amateur radio? I don’t know. I am heartened to see that many of the official public service organizations have come around to really giving ham radio a seat at the table again. FEMA and others have acknowledged the potential benefits of supporting the ham community – it is up to us to do the work to earn a place at the table. Fortunately, today, there are many more opportunities for those inclined to public service. Still, I get the question often, what is ham radio? Do you still do ham radio? Is it valuable even in these times with such robust cell phone coverage? (Well, you all know the answer to that, I hope). Explain what this hobby is to someone who is not a techie (and that might be almost anyone) and you quickly realize it is not easy. It is a hobby, a public service, a way to learn, a way to spend excess money…but it is also a great way to meet smart, engaged people from all walks of life. What other activities bring people from so many different walks of life together? Doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, police officers, heck, even rock stars all enjoy ham radio? What is the attraction to this hobby? I suspect we all have our own answer to that question, but, I would love to know. Drop me a line and tell me what makes this hobby work for you.

73, Rob K9RST

Public service - our public face

April Blog

Working Public Service

A friend of mine advertised his blog on Twitter recently outlining the differences between serving as a ham radio operator at an event like the Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon. Essentially, he said that to prepare for the marathon took time and to work the event took skill.  Brian McDaniel should know, he has been working both of those events with us for several years now and has demonstrated his skill admirably. 

Well, you say, what is the big deal?  It is just a public service event! How hard can that be?  Well, allow me to provide some insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for a single 4 hour event. Even before we begin working the Shamrock Shuffle, I personally have gone through at least six Public Service Courses to prepare to be a communicator for events like these. The courses were both ARRL and FEMA sponsored courses that teach you how to work in a multi-disciplinary environment. The Shamrock and the Chicago Marathon blend their own professional management teams with thousands of volunteers, Police, Fire, City Services and Chicago’s Office of Event Management.   In January, we had our first meeting with the medical team to which the ham radio group is a part. This is a group of 20 leaders who gather to discuss strategy for the upcoming event.  We did some talking about what performed well at the last event and how we would prepare for the next.   Most of our meetings since that one have been on-line, but we have been focused largely on organizational issues.  For the hams, it was finding and developing a team.  The Shamrock is a much smaller event and does not need the man power of the Marathon (where we can use up to 145 ham radio operators).  For both, our jobs are the same: we provide communication support for the volunteer medical teams…at each of the aid stations and those who roam around Grant Park.  Doctors want to treat patients…not communicate over radios, so that is where we come in. We are the link between the field teams and the Command staff, including the ambulance company hired for the event.

About 45 days out, the radio team is invited to sign up and assignments are made.  Next, we begin to lay out the plans for our work…band plans, assignments, roles and duties.  We confirm our work with the event organizers and discuss back-up strategies and contingency plans.  About 10 days out, the teams are locked in place, credentials are established and we begin in earnest the real work of preparing for the event. For me personally, I am about the last person to deal with my own personal gear, since I am pretty busy helping all of the other teams get ready. For some, it means buying gear for the assignment. For me, it is assembling what we need for the project. Since no public service project is ever the same, every event requires careful planning and assembling of the equipment. Even though, we have done this event for about 10 years, it is a new experience every time. So today, for instance, I pulled out all of the radios and double checked the frequencies against the band plan.  Murphy always shows up. My tried and true Kenwood TH-F6 has been programmed many, many times using an ancient Toshiba laptop with an older XP operating system.  It was old reliable.  I could fire up the computer and re-image my radio in minutes.  Well, not this time.  Something went wrong and I spent about 4 hours trying every trick in the book.  It is a long story, but there is not a simple answer. Finally, Mark Klocksin, WA9IVC came over with his computer and we could verify that the frequencies were right…and didn’t need to be re-programmed, but still, I am left with a radio I cannot program if I need to make changes.  Tomorrow I will write up the equipment inventory, collect computers, antennas and transport cases. For me, this is a mini- Field Day exercise.

Set up begins this week. Friday we install some local repeaters.  Saturday we set up 3 radios for net control at the event’s command facility downtown.  By 2 p.m. on Saturday, we will be ready to roll.  At 5 a.m. Sunday morning of the race, I need to be in my post, in the temporary tent they have built for Forward command.  About 60 -70 other people work in this facility to help manage the event. At 6:30 a.m. our other teams set up their stations and get their final instructions.  It is usually a very busy time making sure medical teams are ready, supplies are in place  and everything is  setup  and in place for the race.  At 8:30, the event begins and our work begins in earnest.

By noon, we are done.  Tear down takes about an hour and I am generally home by 3:30…ready to unpack and clean up from the event.  That usually takes another day.

So, my point?  Doing public service work is a discipline.  It is great fun…but no matter where you stand on the plan…as Aid Station team or a rover with an imbedded medical team or at Forward Command, everyone has to make sure they have prepared properly for their job.  It takes some effort.

For me, I would conservatively estimate that I have put in about 40 hours of preparation…many other would have done much less…and some have done none.  We know who those folks are because of the complaints we hear about people who have not read the briefs or don’t know their assignments or don’t have their equipment readied.  Some don’t even know how to use their own radios. It is at events like this that you learn the discipline involved.  It is great fun to work with a large team and it is reward when everything goes right.

So, this note is a nod of appreciation to the many ham radio operators who have devoted some portion of their ham radio time to give back to their communities. Public Service is our public face. That is about all the world sees of ham radio.  For that reason alone, it is important stuff.

73, 

Rob, K9RST