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A few words from Rob K9RST…


When I was growing up in South Bend, I was a member of a Scouting Explorer Post at WSBT. We did all sorts of production work including helping with remote broadcasts (we had to haul those huge cables that were needed for the cameras in those days). We also produced a weekly radio show that, in retrospect, did more to prepare me for my career in video production than almost any other activity. Anyway, once a month, the station would shut down overnight for transmitter maintenance. We went once to help out and it was quite an education. Basically, they would tear the entire place down completely, clean and replace tubes and components preemptively.

Not that I am even that organized, but generally, during the holiday season, I try to do the same to my ham shack (and office). First off, you would be amazed how much dust collects amongst all of the radio gear and secondly, it gives you a chance to refresh your memory about why you installed things a particular manner (good practice #27…label cables!). My station, like most of ours, started humbly enough and then, as we acquired new radios or accessories, we quickly would add wires. Soon you have a hairball! So, I am in the process of totally re-engineering my ham shack for the umpti-umpth time. I have a new solar panel powered battery backup system I have been working on for far too long. One of my Scouting friends returned one of my boat anchor radios, the Kenwood TS520, so I have been trying to figure out how to get that installed. Also, after a season of public service work, my UHF/VHF radios are just piled high. Need to organize and build a go-kit (there’s a New Year’s resolution!). Amongst the biggest issues I need to straighten out are my coaxes. In the old days, I would use almost any piece of coax I could find and use it. As I have added radios, I am now finding I am using the wrong type of coax for the band or now it is time to replace the older cables with newer ones that might be better suited for the assignment. That is typically part of my summer maintenance program (I call it a program but really it is on a when I get to it basis.) This seems more true to the case, as I learn more about good radio and engineering practice, I re-build my humble shack.

So, call it a New Year’s resolution or whatever, but it seems to be a good practice to continue. My biggest issue is the computer that I have been using in the shack. It is a Windows XP driven PC and the time has come to move it up to the next generation of computing technology (There is always something to change).

Grandchildren filter

I often wonder if we are the last of a breed. I am speaking mostly of people who love the power of radio to beam RF to various devices and learn about new applications. It is true that the current generation of young people feed on “Apps”…perhaps that is where their passions will lie. My cousin’s son is an IT engineer and has been working for the past three summers with Microsoft building Apps. Apparently, he has a real knack for the skill as they are offering him a very nice job (with a commensurate salary) when he graduates. You don’t hear about those opportunities in the radio field so much. Building a career in commercial radio is very bleak these days. Cell phones might be the closest field to radio, but those have become small computers and with phones as an afterthought. Clearly, the engineering passion for the younger generations definitely is computer driven. So, that’s why I wonder if we will ever get the numbers of young people into ham radio? Seems to me that when I was younger (and couldn’t afford much), I caught the fire for radio. That early interest was fueled when I finally could devote more time and resources (meaning money) to the hobby. I watch my own grand children. Every day they come down to play with my iPad…oh, they do enjoy pretend to talk on the radio and messing with all of the buttons in my shack, but largely they are obsessed with the interactive experiences they can enjoy on an iPad. Something to ponder while the temperatures outside are so frightening!

For me, I am grateful to get my ham shack back in operation and have renewed my vow to make at least one contact per day. I wish one and all a healthy and joyous New Year.

73 Rob K9RST

Tornado Alley

My son answered a request for a truck to pick up and deliver some clothes for the relief effort in Washington, IL. Having spent several years helping the Red Cross do just this very thing, I warned him that it might be tricky.  But I am getting ahead of the story.

So, there was this lady in Hammond, Indiana, apparently unemployed and on disability with lots of time on her hands. She decided to start a legitimate charity for various causes and had already done quite a bit of work helping individual families around this area.  Hammond is not known for its charitable organizations…in fact, the place is downright bleak, so I was very skeptical. When the tornadoes hit Illinois, she rallied her 4000 Facebook Friends to donate what turned out to be a garage full of stuff in just two days! The problem was she had no way of getting the collection to Washington, IL.  She had been talking to the minister at the local Lutheran Church in Washington, who had posted their recovery needs: clothing, food, water.  This was also posted on their Facebook page! That seemed like a reasonable enough connection to me, so I shelved my skepticism and told my son I would accompany him to Hammond and then to Washington.

Before we left, I shot a quick note off to my ham radio buddies in Peoria and told them what we were doing.  They were already working at the relief shelter at the very church to which we were headed, so that had me feeling more comfortable – at least we would have someone on the inside to help.

When we got to the lady’s garage, it was indeed stuffed with bags of clothing, largely not inventoried or organized.  It seemed like lots of junk – but the charity lady had expectations of sorting all of the stuff at the church when they arrived. We loaded the truck up because her crew of helpers never did show up and off we went.  Before leaving town, however, we decided to stop by Wal-Mart to purchase some bottled water, something that all relief efforts almost never have enough in supply.

Driving was pleasant enough. It was a beautiful Fall day, perfect blue skies and crisp temperatures as we headed southwest. All of the cornfields had already been harvested, so the landscape was rather bleak, but the blue sky brightened the day.  Our first sense of anything odd wasn’t until we started getting close to the tornado’s path, about 20 miles from Washington.  We passed a large collection of power company workers, heading south.  Then we noticed the debris fields…and it was impressive.  The high voltage power lines and steel poles where ripped from their supports and tossed around like little toys.  Repair crews were working on the lines.  As we got closer to the town, the mess was even more apparent…parts of buildings strewn everywhere, metal wrapped around trees, large trees just sheared apart, and thousands of smaller shredded items strewn everywhere.  It was reported that someone found a cancelled check in Bolingbrook that was a from someone’s home in Washington IL…transported by this storm!  As we made the final approach to the church destination, we could see the steeple on the hill in front of us.  There wasn’t much out there but barren corn fields…so the church really stood out.  Oh, and there was an occasional flattened farm house along the way.  It seemed odd that from our vantage point, everything looked more or less normal, but as we got closer, we realized the church and its massive buildings were untouched…but just to the south of it, hundreds of homes were completely flattened.  That was the most powerful image of all…whatever was in the way of the storm, was destroyed. The local Ford car dealer across from the housing subdivision was completely untouched.  It all seemed so random and very decisive.  It was all or nothing! 

We were directed by our ham radio buddies to approach the church from the east side and to drop our load.  We had arrived early, but the church was already a hive of activity. It was the shelter, the relief operation and the focal point for everything, or so it seemed.  Volunteers stood outside the church, eager to unload our truck.  I ran in to see the ham folks and was a little dismayed to learn that the powers to be suddenly didn’t want our truck unloaded yet. (Apparently the people running the relief operation were in Peoria…the minister was being replaced by a relief professional).  They were adjusting strategies. In fact the church was already overloaded with food and clothing, two days after the event. I reported back to my son, only to find that the truck had already been emptied!  We had to re-pack all of our stuff and much of the other stuff that had since arrived.  We were told to report to another facility.   So, just before we left, I called the lady in charge of the next location and she said, “No.  Please do not drop the clothes off here….we just got two semi-loads of clothing and we have no room!”  Two semi-loads.  Really?  I could see my son was getting a little frustrated with this now.  So, here we were with a load of clothes and no place to drop them.  I called back to our ham friends on the radio and asked where should we go now? He suggested another facility…so we headed off and found an official in a car waiting for us!  But then he asked, “Where are the other trucks?” We looked at him quizzically and learned that he was expecting two semi-trucks with clothes on pallets and could not accept our bags of clothes in this facility!  Obviously, the semis went to the wrong place.  The fog of war was in full force.

I called back to net control on the radio and asked them what to do now?  Net control suggested the Goodwill Store we passed down the road…so we back-tracked and unloaded.  At first they were grateful, but as we continued to unload more and more, they were visibly concerned. This was too much stuff for even them.  They accepted the load, but said that if the churches don’t claim it all in two weeks, they would have to let it go.

We were grateful to get our truck emptied and felt good about what we had done…but many, many lessons were learned.  For one, I violated the first rule of relief response…don’t self deploy.  But hey! I was not travelling under the guise of any served agency…just a concerned citizen working for the church’s relief effort at the time.  Secondly, I don’t think we fully understand the power of social media to solve problems.  The difficulty becomes how to control the response.  People are not satisfied with an appeal to send money, especially when many of those agencies don’t seem to spend the money appropriately. The issue is magnified when you may not have the money yourself to give!  But still, you want to help?! People want to see where their gifts go.  I don’t blame them.  People want to do something to help. So, two days into the disaster relief, the bigger agencies were just beginning to establish a response plan.  We heard on the way back that they had collected all of the clothing they needed (and I learned from another friend that those semis loaded with clothes were meant for the Philippine Island typhoon relief but never got there because of problems securing a plane.)

Yes, there are great organizations out there that do this work…but there is a moment in time when chaos reigns and everyone/no one is in charge.  That is a tough time for the people and the immediate community affected by the disaster.  In time, the Feds stepped in and declared it a disaster. This releases all the resources of FEMA and the relief effort resets.

Because of the strange random nature of the tornado destruction, many services were still working…cell phones, electrical power were functioning for the most part.  Still, ham radio had a small presence, largely to connect the shelter at the church with the main operations in Peoria.  This was the result of the close ties that had been developed between the local hams and the Red Cross.  Both groups were ready to do their part. Still, what I learned is that there are huge numbers of new groups who have come along to provide aid as well…not just the traditional Salvation Army, Red Cross and church groups.  Now there were other ad hoc groups as well.  Coordinating the work of all these folks is becoming a rather interesting challenge for whatever agency runs the relief effort.

Still, we felt good about what we had done.  We did something.  I enjoyed seeing my ham friends in action but as we drove back to Chicago, I think it really hit both of us that the scale and depth of the problem goes way beyond providing food or clothing.  A thousand people have to rebuild their lives and that process is going to take years.  Not sure what we can do to help that process.  What to do when the TV trucks leave. I also resolved to finish building my go kit and keep my batteries charged.  My radio died as we were leaving town. Lesson learned.



Marriage...or 10 meters

In the 50’s, I was an avid shortwave listener as a youth. I didn’t realize then that I was living through what was to be one of the hottest DX seasons in modern times because of the timing of the sun cycle. I was just young and loved listening to the world on the radio. Then, life got complicated. We moved. My radios got lost in the many family transitions and shortwave/ham radio was not part of my life until my Physics professor in college rekindled my interest in radio. To jump start me, he gave me his old rig when he was upgrading…and so my second career in ham radio was born.

When I finally did get licensed, 10 meters was good…and I suspect I took it for granted back then. I didn’t realize how fleeting and elusive radio could be. I worked the world chasing all sorts of stations in Europe and Russia, all without much effort. I even got a 10-10 number. Then we went to a solar minimum and the bottom dropped out…for a long, long time. Like no 10 meters for years. It was a dark uncertain place…but one that I had somehow gotten used to. Flash forward to about a week or two ago…

There was this little contest…CQ WW SSB…and I had a little problem. Seems that this contest fell exactly on the same weekend as my 34th wedding anniversary! So, I didn’t really expect to do much operating, like none…and off we headed for a weekend retreat in a hotel in Wisconsin. That is when I first learned of the most spectacular 10 meter event that was unfolding before us all.

My smart phone was buzzing with reports of the incredible band openings on 10 and 15. I tried to put all of that out of my mind until I got home early on Sunday morning. First thing I did was turn on the HF rig…and to my absolute amazement, I heard too what others had been saying. I started working at the farthest end of 10 meters, 28,999 and worked my way slowly back. I have never heard so many signals from so many stations up and down that band. I was simply amazed. I was just searching and pouncing, but I worked all sorts of new countries. I am still a little overwhelmed by the experience…and I only had a small taste of the fun. I hope you had a chance to participate or at least listen to the opening. I don’t know what was happening that weekend that caused all of this excitement (although it does make one wonder how many other days there are similar opening and no one is there to take advantage of it.)

For a few hours on Sunday, the magic was back in a big way…and then the contest died, work called (deadlines don’t seem to go away) and the 10 meter band was silent again, but the memory and excitement was there. Kind of keeps you going!

Hope you had a great weekend…get on the radio and have a terrific Thanksgiving. Be grateful that we have a little RF in our lives!


Reflections on Public Service

Coming ‘round the corner. This past month has been a total blur for me. I was asked to make a presentation at the Peoria Ham Fest (a really wonderful Fest, by the way…unfortunately it conflicts with the W9DXCC convention…we will have to work on that!!). My talk was to discuss the impact that the Boston Marathon has had on ham radio. You should know that every single American Marathon uses ham radio teams in one form or another. The older ones, like NY and Boston, even the Marine Corps have well defined roles that the hams have played for years. Some people within the ham radio community think that we should not be doing this work. Chicago has only utilized hams in the past 5 years and because of that, we have navigated the legal complexities of serving these public/private events pretty well. For us, we work very closely with the other 12,000 volunteers who help make this event run. We report directly to the medical director and our traffic is only medical dispatch and related calls. We don’t do event logistics…we only provide medical support. There is still quite a bit of disagreement within our community about exactly what our place is in events like this…and to be sure, it is good to have this discussion. We are not allowed to accept money or to support for-profit organizations. This point has been drilled home pretty clearly recently with discussions about how ham radio has supported hospitals. Basically, if you are a ham employed by a for-profit hospital, you have to go off the clock to do your ham radio work. This has been well defined by the FCC and has cleaned up many relationships where hams have been used to support organizations that really should not have used us in the first place (the Rose Bowl parade, for instance).

Now, once you allow us to the table, then it is up to us to act professionally and perform. Frankly, I cannot think of a better training ground for our up and coming hams or even our experienced teams, to practice our skills and talent under stressful conditions. I really don’t see many other opportunities for us to do this work…an added advantage is that this gives ham radio a public face, especially with the Police and Fire Departments, who in the past have often had bad experiences with some ham groups. I know when I came to the Red Cross to work, I was told that the local Chapter would not use hams ever again for their communications because the group that had been supporting them walked out of the building with all of their gear and quit! Needless to say, during the 10 years I worked with the local Chapter, we bridged that gap, but the point is well made: as a group we can be our own worst enemies. Our egos, our demands or attention, do not play well with a group that is looking for you to protect their backs. While we have a history of offering service, we don’t always perform that service in a manner that those agencies might prefer. Too often I have heard stories about hams who assumed space in facilities and behaved liked they owned the place…rather than being respectful of the agency and taking a true subservient role. The organizers of the Chicago Marathon have often heard that many of the other marathons struggle with the hams on their team because they are not serving the mission of the group. This message plays well for any of us who aspire to do public service work, through ARES, RACES or any ad hoc group. Be humble and serve should be our motto…and let’s face it, we are not the hottest technology heap. We are not the only game in town, even though many of us think we are. These are things to reflect upon.

27 of us served the Evanston Bike Club’s North Shore Century…and they had a record year with our 2600 bikers. This is another event where our work with them has improved every year and they have been extraordinarily grateful for our service. In this case, we do a bit more than what is strictly allowed by law, but this is a true charitable event where all the money goes back to good causes. Thanks to all who have help make our participation over the years such a success.

So, come Oct 13, when the Chicago Marathon ends, I hope to get my life back again!!


Marathon Hams

What caught my eye in my college’s Alumni magazine was the headline, ″Boston Alumni Share Bombing Stories.″ There are many folks who have been writing about their perspective on the infamous attack on innocent people at the Boston Marathon. What was interesting about this story was that it was from a ham radio operator – N9JBT, Bruce Tinkler, a Lake Forest College alum from 1987. Turns out he was one of several hundred hams who volunteered their time to support the event. (You may have seen the two-part article in the July and August issues of CQ magazine).

As some of you know, I have taken on the responsibility to lead a team of hams who will do the same for the Chicago Marathon; in fact this will be our fifth year. We have about 120 hams signed up again this year. As these things go, we are relatively new to this game. The folks who lead the Boston ham teams have been there almost from the beginning…well, at least a long time. The event grew around their skills and capabilities. For us in Chicago, we have carefully defined our role to provide primary communication for the medical teams in the field. This is no small task. They have nearly 1500 licensed medical personnel along the course and we provide the link for them to the main medical tent in Balbo Park and the ambulance company that provides most of the medical support for the 21 aid stations. I am just beginning to get myself engaged with this project again, but was struck by Bruce’s single line…″once we realized that we were all safe and ok, we continued to do what we were trained to do: communicate.″

As we move into our busiest public service season of the year (the NSRC supports the Evanston Century Bike Ride and the Chicago Marathon) we are reminded that these can be much more than a simple day in the sun. Often people’s safety, even their lives, can be at stake. So, we take these events seriously. These activities are great ways for us to train for even larger roles, if we are ever needed. They are also terrific, high profile events for our hobby. We are presenting the public face of ham radio - a technology that many assumed died with their parents Zenith television! Yes, Virginia, ham radio is alive and actually doing pretty well. And yes, we are getting older (at least I am!) But it feels pretty darn good to be able to provide a valuable service to our community. Since the Chicagoland area is so well represented by professional first responders, these events really are the closest we get to providing urgent communication services. And, frankly, we are fortunate, because serving in real disaster events is not fun.

I would like to thank all who have dragged your gear out of your shacks and helped out with one of these events. It is good to know that we are still needed.

Antenna party

I have said this before, but it bears repeating. When I started with this club, there were almost weekly antenna parties. Mostly, they were excuses to get together, but we got work done too. Well, I was thrilled to participate in another raising event recently at Hap Holly’s (KC9RP). As most of you know, Hap is legally blind, so there is almost no way he could have built his incredible antenna array without the help of many people over the years. So a group of us headed out on Sunday to work on several projects.

As you know from your own shacks, stuff happens. Well, his beam was 90 degrees out of sync; he wanted to add a newly purchased CB antenna to his farm and move several other antennas around. Mark WA9IVH, Kate KC9IQF, Al K9EAA, Dave N3BXY, Troy K9TOW and Gary WD9HDM all took part. We broke up into swat teams and really did a lot of work in the four hours we had as a window, before Hap had to leave. And like almost every project, one turn leads to another. Bolts that were rusted frozen needed to be replaced; cables that worked before we moved things don’t now, so we need to do some additional follow up work.

One of our best mistakes was a tricky problem. I found out that when you are on top of a tower looking up at a Yagi, it is very difficult to tell which end is the reflector. Hap has a TA-36. It is a beautiful beam and whoever did the initial installation work did a fine job. However, after some time, something is slipping. I asked the folks on the ground which end needed to point north and I followed their directions. However, after reviewing the literature, it looks like the beam is now 180 degrees off! So, back to work we go. At least now I know what to fix. It does raise an issue worth considering - how do you keep a beam from slipping in the rotor? The manufacturer specifically states that you should not use through-bolts, which would seem to make the most sense to me. On the other hand, better to let it slip than to shear it off the pin and have no control. Anyway, the point is, we need to go back. The one thing I totally dislike is folks who start a project like this and not get it done, or do not finish it properly.

One of the issues we discovered is that others didn’t always label their cables. When you have a shack where others need to work, labeling may be the most important factor guiding success. To Hap’s credit, and to our amazement, Hap can tell you what connectors are on the ends of all his antennas, when they were installed and by whom! Pretty good for a guy who can’t see! It is always a delight to work on Hap’s station, not only because it keeps him on the air, but he gives back so much more to us all. He supports our weekly nets, both as a net control station and as a contributor through his well produced RAIN Reports. It is also great to see so many volunteers to help. We did what would have taken any one person a week to do, and we did it in four hours! So, thank you to the folks who helped, but I really want to encourage others of you to spend some time helping at one of our upcoming projects or helping a neighbor. The investment pays double!

Meanwhile, I recently brought our gear back from Boy Scout Camp, where we had set up a HF station for the boys to use to teach the Radio Merit badge. As I understand it, 53 scouts earned their Radio Merit Badge this summer. Remarkable. Now it is up to us to follow up with the scouts and build on this success for next year. The main station was an Icom 7200 that was donated to the National BSA for use at summer camps. Next year, we won’t have that radio, but we are seriously considering purchasing a radio for use at camp and for other training opportunities. We need to do much more to help get young people into this hobby. I think you will all agree.

Field Day and other thoughts

Field Day 2013 is packed up and our scores have been submitted. This in many ways was an extraordinary year for us, no matter what the final score may indicate. We had a terrific team setting up on Friday, which included erecting two towers and most of the tents by the end of day Friday, a feat we have never done before. The Saturday operation had all stations working, our VE exams in session, food on the grill and some fascinating discussions on satellite operations. There truly was much to see and do and, from the various reports so far, we all seemed to have had a great time. The ink wasn’t even dry on the scoreboard when we were already discussing improvements for next year and talking about some of the real trouble spots. One issue this year was that we had encountered much more noise than usual. Certainly, operating as we have just under the huge power lines presents some challenges, but we have not noticed much impact in years past. No question the noise floor kept us from really getting some of the weaker stations, still there seemed to be plenty of loud stations to work. The key, as we all know, is to hold a band and just keep calling for stations. CQ Field Day is still emblazed in my brain! Still the noise on 80 was terrible.

I did do some preliminary driving around the sit the day after Field Day and I found a huge amount of noise from some local power lines, but it seemed greatly diminished as we got closer to our site. What I could not duplicate was the impact our generators, long power runs and feed lines had on the stations. So, more than in most years, we have some issues to sort through. 6 meters had a beautiful opening Sunday morning…and while we could hear many, we could not work them. That is always frustrating and seems to indicate that we could benefit from a real beam on transmit. We learned that there is real power in PSK…we garnered almost 200 points from this station alone, so between RTTY and PSK, there are some opportunities to get more points.

Time will tell if we were able to keep our winning position from last year. We know we are down about 700 points from last year, but in many ways, the points are not the only measure of a good Field Day. I don’t know how many local clubs decided not to have a Field Day. That is even more disappointing, so I am very grateful to our group that we still have the interest, energy and manpower to pull off a real Field Day. There are too many people to thank than I have space here. All I can say is it takes each and every one of you making your own special contribution to make the NSRC Field Day the success it has become.

From a PR point of view, it was very rewarding for me to show the FEMA coordinator from DuPage County, Dave Adler, our operation and discuss the purpose of this event. He asked many hard questions but I think he walked away thinking there truly is a place for ham radio in the lexicon of response tools for emergencies and disasters. In the end, that is the purpose of all of this effort and to have him walk away with the impression that ham radio can deliver when the going gets tough was exactly what we were hoping to show.

So, thank you all for making FD 2013 so much fun. I know I had a couple of fabulous 40 meter runs that were my personal best. Like golf, you get a couple of runs like that and you want to come back for more. Of course, soon as I took a break from my last run and came back to the tent to keep the rush going, the band died and the Q’s stopped flowing in…so I left in frustration and started to focus instead on the final stages of clean up and wrap up. Because of the extraordinary effort of a few people, we had put Field Day 2013 back to its resting place in our storage locker by Tuesday that next week. Another first!

Thanks all.


Changing Times - Hams and Scouting + Field Day

Times, they are a changing. That is even more true lately if you have been keeping up with the Boy Scouts (I am not going to talk about the membership issues that have been in the news lately, so don’t worry!!). On the program side, they have been really pushing programs that support the STEM initiatives, so popular in many schools these days. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It is the way that schools have organized their science programs…and to try to keep pace, scouting has adopted many of the same programs themselves. It used to be that Scouting was all about learning “Outdoor” skills – camping, hiking, fire building, cooking, self reliance. And to be sure, these are still strong parts of the program, but I was kind of surprised when they asked if we would be willing to build a ham radio program for summer camp.

(The summer camp discussed here is MaKajawan in Pearson, Wisconsin, 30 miles north of Antigo.)

Summer camp to me always was filled with many outdoor activities…and in fact, radios and cell phones were banned! Ok, so times have changed. Newly installed cell towers just outside of camp allow parents to have instant access to their boys. As a former Scoutmaster, I loved the notion that there was limited home access. To get to the camp phone meant taking a long walk to the camp office and standing outside in line with others trying to call home. Many times the walk to the phone was enough to convince the young man not to call home. For many, this was their first experience away from their parents. So I understand, it can be tough on both. So, I can adjust to modern times. Still seems odd to me to have cell phones in camp.

I accepted the offer to build the station at Camp. Many of you helped test the equipment and we went up this past weekend with Greg Karlove (Mr. Solder Presentation, who turns out has been very active at camp for years!). We very quickly set up a VHF base station and two HF stations. Makajawan is blessed with many trees so finding a couple to handle our antennas was not difficult. The biggest issue was finding something to put the radios on or into. They wanted to use a portion of their camp store and Quartermaster area for the ham station. Turns out, there were no tables…so Greg and I went to the big equipment barn and went rummaging for stuff. We borrowed a couple of self standing cook kitchens - basically, boxes with shelves that were prefect for the job. Greg found an old AV table and cut the legs down a bit so that we could put the radio on one shelf and the PC on another.

So, the plan is for the older camp counselors to get their ham tickets to merit a radio badge to the younger scouts. We have suggested that the Scouts pursue the requirement for the listening portions of the badge. Transmitting has to be handled by a licensed operator. Almost every week, there will be hams in camp (these are adult “Scouters” who are hams and can be control operators).  This is our first year, so we shall see how it goes. I am very excited about the potential…and will keep you posted as to their progress.

Meanwhile, we are all getting ready for Field Day. My garage is completely filled with goodies, ready to roll. We have two towers this year, and we have simplified our wire antenna layout. We will have our usual picnic at 4:30 or so. Please feel free to bring a side dish or dessert. And this year, we will be doing VE testing. If that is of interest to you, please register in advance. You can send a note to me or Mike W9MJD.

If you have not been active on HF, please come to Field Day and get on our GOTA station. We can make a lot of points if we really work that station. This year we will make digital QSO’s on the GOTA station easier than previously.

Thanks all for all you do to support ham radio.

Elmers...and Skywarn

Elmers…how on earth they got that name, I don’t know, but without Elmers where would this hobby be? Elmers come in all shapes and sizes and their impact may be short or long term. It seems we don’t often think about these wonderful, sharing people until they pass away. My first Elmer was my former physics professor – I don’t even remember his call sign! Al Shatzel used to love working 40 meter CW at night from his humble home in Glenview. He knew of my life-long interest in the hobby and encouraged me to get my ticket and get on the air. At one point, he gave me his TS-520S radio as further incentive to get going! With the radio on my desk, I had little option but to get my ticket. Well, there has been no looking back from those heady days. Al died several years back, but his spirit lives, and his radio recently was returned to me. I had loaned it to a young man who aspired to get into ham radio and needed a radio.  It is part of the Circle of Life…we give so others can enjoy the hobby…and so it goes.

When I learned that Joe Schroeder, W9JUV, was ill and then suddenly passed away this past week, I felt I had lost another Elmer. Joe’s influence was not as direct…we did not interact that often, but I got to know him enough to understand his passion for DX and ham radio. His amazing DX record has been recognized by many, including this past month’s QST. So while we mourn the loss of some of our greatest Elmers, the pressure grows for us to carry the torch on our own. Maybe that is the best way to honor our Elmers - become one. Who have you Elmered lately?

For many years, I have sat on the sidelines hearing about the wonderful work done by the ham radio Skywarn teams. To be honest, some of the dialogue was more about the frustrations experienced by this loose group of volunteers. In some ways, we are all a loose group of volunteers. Some want more stringent procedures, or discipline or support. There always seemed to be room for improvement. Fact is, even as they discussed these matters amongst themselves, they still got the job done - providing timely reports of weather conditions to the National Weather Service. They have benefited from the incredible work done by Mike Swiatkowski, AA9VI, who built web sites and brought order to the process. He was soon joined by Craig Dieckman, KC9HWK, who took the project a little deeper…and then, both found they could not continue the work they started. Babies, work, teenagers, life….something always seems to get in the way. Well, fortunately, there continues to be another group willing to do what is necessary to keep the Skywarn net together here. Scott Irwin, W8UFO, has agreed to be the Northern Cook County Skywarn Net Coordinator and your NSRC is helping provide some financial support and leadership continuity.

While this service is not as visible to the public as some of our other public service events, it is, none the less, exactly what I think a major part of this hobby should be. We need to give back to the public that so graciously has allowed us to use valuable frequencies. So, you will see many more Skywarn nets and discussion on our repeaters in the coming months. You can help by taking some of the many Skywarn courses available so that you can be knowledgeable and provide effective reports when the time comes.

Storm season is here - and something new at Radio Shack

Radio for me lately has been reduced to preparing to organize several public service events, taking Skywarn classes and preparing for various NSRC presentations. Occasionally, I turn on the HF rig! Still, this has been a terrific, enriching time. I attended the very popular DuPage Advanced weather seminar last month and found the experience most satisfying. They had several college professors as presenters and offered some top notch topics. Many of the presentations focused on the structure of super cell storm systems, the kind that produce potentially dangerous tornados. The pictures of the storms taken on various storm chasing expeditions were simply spectacular, very dramatic but also quite informative. There has been a tremendous amount of on the ground research done by these brave souls during storm events in recent years. Of course, they said that these storms are not isolated to farmland in Kansas, that big cities can also be hit…and that Chicago is due, if you follow climatological trends.

One very interesting discovery for me - they had data on some of the biggest storms in history…and there was one series of storm tracks over Illinois and Indiana in 1965. It was one of the biggest storm events in recent times. I was a Boy Scout in South Bend and I remember being mobilized by our Troop to help clean up after the tornados hit. The damage was amazing.the ground had scars where the tornados touched the earth. You could follow that path to a demolished building or uprooted tree. It was a very visible display of the power at work there. So, with that as a backdrop, I am boning up my ham gear to support our Skywarn team, now that we are approaching storm season.

In preparing to do my class on kit building, I was absolutely thrilled to discover the new “Radio Shack” now called the Shack, I think. Anyway, I have been very dismissive of them in recent times, but this time I went in to seek out some robotic toys that I thought I could build for my grandson. Of course, the toys were sold out, but I discovered a whole new initiative at my local store to offer electronic building block kits. Most of this is created around the Arduino breadboard projects that enable people to experiment or build all sorts of new devices. The young man who helped me was amazing. His eyes lit up and he got very animated when he talked about all that these little things could do. I don’t think I have ever been in a Radio Shack store where I could make that statement. Of course, before I left, they did try to sell me a cell phone! So I nibbled…seems like the least I could do to accommodate his welcome advice.

Finally, several of us are going to be helping with the Shamrock Shuffle. This is the world’s largest 8K event. Nearly 35,000 runners. I used to run this event myself, but now I am stuck in a cold tent, helping provide radio support to the medical teams in the field. It has been a great partnership for ham radio and fun to be involved with something on this scale. This event is not nearly the size of the Chicago Marathon, so we only have 19 hams helping out…the Marathon requires close to 119. These events have become very good ways for ham radio to be of use to our communities and serve the public good. It has been more difficult to find consistent public service roles with served agencies for ham radio, since so much depends on waiting for events to occur. In the Chicago area, we are blessed with many, many professional service agencies. As a result, it is not an easy sell to offer ham radio operators as a volunteer force. No one wants a volunteer…well, until they need one. One place where there is a connection for hams has been the CERT courses that are being offered. The notion being that you and your neighbors should be prepared to serve as first responders in your neighborhood in the event of a true disaster, since most public service might be overwhelmed. There has been an increase in interest in ham radio among this population and I think it is a welcome trend.

So, see you around the block, if not on the air.