Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Handiham World for 19 October 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

IC-7200 transceiver tuned to DX station on 28.397 MHz.
The 10 meter band is back!
We are starting to hear excited reports from amateurs on the regular VHF and HF nets about how the 10 m band is really hot, and that stations from all over the place are being heard really well. You know there is something going on when you start hearing people sing the praises of 10 m while they are checked into a 75 m phone net. Most of us have gotten out of the habit of tuning around 10 m unless there happens to be a local HF net that meets there, operating in a small geographic area by the use of ground wave propagation. We have had such nets here in the Twin Cities area off and on for many years. During a sunspot minimum there is very little activity on 10 m most of the time because the ionosphere is not sufficiently energized to allow for worldwide propagation conditions. As the sunspot maximum approaches, conditions change and long distance contacts on 10 m are not only possible, they are very common and can be completed with simple antennas and low power.  
This creates a a wonderful opportunity for amateur radio operators who have never experienced a sunspot maximum and the excellent band conditions that come along with it. Technician class operators now have lots of privileges on the 10 m band, and this is a perfect time to start using HF, especially for those operators who have never tried single side band or who have never operated anything but FM repeaters. This is a whole new ballgame!
Consider these facts about 10 m operation:
  1. Novice and Technician licensees may operate using single side band: between 28.300 and 28.500 MHz using up to 200 W.
  2. When the 10 m band is open as it is lately, high power is not necessary. Excellent contacts can be made even using very low power. Many stations will be using 100 W or less – in fact, I will amend that to say that MOST stations will be using 100 W or less. High power is simply not necessary, which puts Novice and Technician operators on a level playing field with other operators. Experience tells those of us who have been in amateur radio a long time that we are not going to bother turning on a linear amplifier to operate on the 10 m band.
  3. 10 m antennas are small and almost everyone can fit this kind of antenna into the space that they have available.  Using our formula for a half wave dipole, 468 divided by 28.4 MHz (the middle of the Novice/Tech segment of the band), yields an antenna about 16 and one half feet long.  That is a pretty manageable length! You would make each leg of a dipole 8 feet three inches long and feed it with 50 Ohm coax, such as RG-8X low loss if you must use a thinner cable or the standard size cable RG-213.  Keep the coax run as short as possible in any case, because loss in the feedline increases as the operating frequency goes up.  There is more loss per foot on 10 meters than on 75 meters.  A quarter wave vertical antenna for 10 m is only a little over 8 feet high.  If you want to construct a quad or Yagi antenna for 10 m, they are much smaller than 20 m directional antennas and thus have a smaller turning radius.  A 10 m antenna is lighter and easier to handle, too.
  4. For our Technician Class Handiham members who have already purchased HF transceivers but who have never used them for anything but receiving, this is your chance to press that push to talk switch and enjoy operating SSB.  Yes, I know that you have CW privileges on other HF bands, but this is PHONE, and conditions are so good that it is easy to make contacts.  Of course Morse code contacts are easier and better during good band conditions, but the window for SSB is open right now. 
  5. RF safety is a concern if you use indoor antennas on the 10 m band.  Be sure to perform an RF safety evaluation and locate the antenna as far away from people as possible. Adjust the power level to achieve compliance. For more on how to do this, visit the ARRL website and check the TIS, or Technical Information Service.  If you are a Technician Class operator who is studying for General, there is information both in your study materials and in the question pool.  
Okay, so that brings us up to speed on 10 meters.  There is another important thing that I would like to discuss with our readers and listeners: Access to the Handiham Internet Remote Base stations.  In general (and that's not meant as a pun), we have restricted the access to our stations to General, Advanced, and Extra Class licensees.  However, now that the 10 meter band is open, perhaps it is time to consider opening the stations to our Novice and Technician licensees as well.  There is no need to worry about RF safety, antennas, or transceivers since all of that equipment resides far from the control point, your computer. There are pros and cons to this idea. 
On the pro side: 
It would be nice to extend these excellent Handiham resources to more members at a time when band conditions are so good. 
Getting a taste of HF operation would surely make Techs excited about earning their General tickets. 
The 10 m band is also a good place to learn more about HF operation because it is not as crowded and competitive a place to operate as bands like 20 m. 
We are now hosting the software downloads for the W4MQ software. 
On the con side:
The HF remote base stations do require some additional technical expertise to operate. Novice and Technician operators are usually the least experienced and need the most help getting things to work. Lyle, K0LR, and I don't do much, if any, "tech support" on these stations because we simply do not have the time and most of the problems are located at the user's own home computer anyway.  My biggest fear is opening up a floodgate of emails and phone calls about how to install the software and get it to work.  This is not an insignificant problem.  An installation requires opening a free Skype account, getting audio settings correct, and then installing the W4MQ software and a required W4MQ update.  After that, the software must be configured with the IP address of each station and the log in credentials. This is not a problem for a computer user with at least an intermediate skill level, but it is quite challenging for a user who does not know their way around a computer.  
Technician users may get frustrated by operating practices on HF, which are much different than what they have experienced on FM repeaters. Of course you have to learn somewhere, but are we really ready to do a "sink or swim" exercise here?  Maybe we need some training ahead of time, but we have none set up.
So what do you think?  Is this a topic for discussion on the Handiham Radio Club list, or do we need a specialized list set up for Remote Base discussions only?  When Bob, N2JEU, became a silent key last summer his discussion board went away.  A discussion board on a website or a mailing list might be the best way to provide a forum for users to get their questions answered. 
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager