Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Handiham World for 18 April 2007

40 years of the Courage Handiham SystemIn this issue you will find:

  • 2 m yawn
  • Avery gives you two chances
  • In AT: Jerry gets a new computer!
  • Blind ARDF event gains publicity
  • N1BLF has Worldradio digest ready for May
  • New! Virtual photo tour of Courage North Radio Camp setting!
  • Elmer goofs off this week
  • In RekkyTec: Send us links... Please!
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

2 m mobile operation proves challenging, disappointing

The Heil Sound Hummer at Dayton in 2005Picture: The Heil Sound Humvee with antennas in the parking lot at Dayton Hamvention 2005. Now THIS is a mobile setup! Maybe the extra work to go HF mobile is worth it after all.

Last week I told you about some of the HF operation I did while on my family's "Spring Break" vacation in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The operation was done entirely by remote control using Ham Radio Deluxe from a laptop computer with a DSL connection. Using the Internet made it possible for me to check into a regional HF net and stay in touch with my friends, something that would not have been possible from that distance on 75 m had I carried my ICOM 706 M2G along and tried to use an end-fed wire. The band simply would not be open for distances over a few hundred miles, even under the best conditions during the daytime. The Internet, coupled with physical radio equipment, enhances the amateur radio experience and gives us a chance to try new technology.

This week I'm going to talk a little bit about the VHF operation I attempted during the same vacation week. After all, we have plenty of frequency bands, so why not use them? Besides, VHF operation from a moving vehicle is much easier to accomplish than HF operation. The equipment and antennas are smaller and more manageable. My Honda CRV has plenty of room, so I mounted an ICOM IC 2100H at the front of the center console and simply powered it using the vehicle's accessory socket. Yes, I know that this is not the best and most highly recommended way to power a mobile rig. However, it really works quite well when the rig is not going to be permanently mounted in the vehicle provided you stick to medium or low power settings. It is almost never necessary to operate at the high power setting, but you can do so to put out a call if you feel that that may reel in a station for you. A mag mount antenna on the roof of the SUV completes the installation easily and works very well. As it happens, my 2 m mobile experience over four solid days of driving during the week and a half was rather disappointing.

It's not that my mobile station was deficient. I think it was perfectly adequate. No, what was lacking was activity on the 2 m band, at least on FM repeaters. A check of the repeater directory shows plenty of repeater resources in cities large and small. The problem is that there is almost no one using them during the daytime, and if anyone is even listening to them, they are not coming back to a call. But wait, folks... that's not all!

Anyone who travels with a 2 m mobile rig in unfamiliar territory has encountered the frustration of being unable to access repeaters because the owners have not conveyed frequency and sub audible tone encoding changes to the editors of various repeater directories, including the ARRL Repeater Directory -- always a "must-have" for me. One example was a repeater that I had used before on several previous trips. Although the frequency and tone have been programmed into the ICOM per the ARRL Repeater Directory settings, I could not bring the repeater up. Either the repeater was off the air or, more likely, the tone encoding had been changed but this information was not in my 2007 edition of the directory. Even though most rigs can scan for tones at the push of a button, there has to be some actual on the air activity on that repeater for a traveler passing through to be able to take advantage of that function. The end result is that the repeater sits idle, unused, and might as well not even be on the air.

Sometimes repeater owners take to experimenting with tones and fail to convey this information to users. A repeater that transmits a tone so that users can take advantage of tone-encoded squelch needs to transmit that tone to open up users' receivers. If the tone is suddenly removed, users will never hear activity on the repeater. This is really a problem if the repeater needs to be used in an emergency. Although local users will eventually figure out changes in tone encoding for both the input and output frequencies of a given repeater, this is not going to be the case for a traveler visiting the area.

I cannot stress strongly enough how annoying this situation is. Yes, I certainly understand that changes to frequencies and tones will be necessary from time to time. The installation of new repeaters or other services on the same repeater tower can cause interference that had not been present at the time the original repeater information was recorded in the repeater directory. But give me a break -- when information is not updated from year to year, someone is dropping the ball. Furthermore, sometimes changes are simply made because the repeater owner wants to make a change. Fine. If you own a repeater, that is your privilege. However, I do have to stress that the airwaves are a shared resource and we will really get the most out of this resource if we follow "best practices", both in engineering and in communicating technical requirements to users. A trip across the country need not be in "radio silence".

Of course 2 m repeaters are not everything. There is always the national calling frequency 146.52 MHz. In fact, I had more success there on the trip than I did on repeaters. Be sure to set 146.52 MHz simplex as one of your rig's memory channels so that when you are using the scan function you will be less likely to miss a simplex call. It doesn't hurt to leave the radio on 146.52 and put out a call periodically. You may be surprised who is listening! Best of all, no tone encoding is required. I seem to remember that once upon a time, someone designed an automated device to put out a voice identification periodically from a mobile rig. It was used to put out the user's callsign at intervals, while one was driving and monitoring 146.52 simplex. Does anyone remember that article, and can you share that information with us?

Finally, before I close on this topic, I want to mention how much fun I had on EchoLink through the week. I was able to check into the Handiham noontime net and talk to other stations from time to time using my laptop computer. EchoLink or IRLP can really enhance the functionality of a repeater. I sure wish more repeater owners would take the steps necessary to bring this new technology online with their machines.

"Use it or lose it." Repeater owners, that applies to the valuable frequency spectrum your machines sit on. I hope those frequencies are being used wisely. Or used at all. Let's try making things a little easier for users!

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager