Monday, April 27, 2015

My New Ham Radio Blog

This is my first post in my newly created ham radio blog. If you’re an amateur radio operator reading this blog for the first time, my call sign is WA2HXR. My main blog and web site are at where I comment on the semiconductor industry and the technologies utilized to manufacture computer microprocessors, RAM memory, hard disk drives and LED/LCD display screens (as well as the specialty chips and devices used in ham radio equipment). If you’re unfamiliar with the subject of ham radio, I’ll utilize my first blog entry to explain the fundamentals of an exciting hobby.  If you're a licensed ham you might want to review some interesting history I'm about to discuss. If my blogs appear to look visibly similar it’s because I've decided to keep the graphical format of my original blog's "global" design to reflect the international nature of a very special hobby.

My April 3, 2015 blog article reviews the SPIE Advanced Lithography conference held in February earlier this year. SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, advancing an interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light (sounds like an apt description of ham radio). The United Nations has proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light, launching a year long program of educational events on the nature of light.  As radio utilizes modulated light energy as its medium for the transmission of information, it seems appropriate we might consider including amateur radio in celebrating UNESCO's International Year of Light 2015 program of education and enlightenment.

Interestingly, the radio frequencies we use for communications are actually invisible colors of light energy within the electromagnetic spectrum, well below the frequencies of visible light. The 160 meter ham band begins at 1.8 MHz, while the visible light spectrum we can detect with our eyes approximates 400 - 800 nanometers in wavelength (deep red through violet). We can detect wavelengths below and above the visible spectrum of light with instruments (such as infrared thermometers and x-ray detectors), and with radios and television we can extract voices and images from an otherwise invisible medium of light waves. In this regard, ham operators think a bit differently about the radio spectrum.  A citizens band radio user (not to be confused with ham radio) might request you call him on CB channel 11.  A ham listening in on the conversation would tune his radio receiver dial to 27.085 MHz, the frequency the FCC has allocated as CB channel 11. For convenience, many consumer product radios, TVs and routers come preconfigured with channel designations in place of confusing frequency listings. This concept extends to many of today's more common consumer commodities.  Let's back up for a minute and review our discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Some Spectral History

In 1666 Issac Newton utilized a prism to separate sunlight into its constituent wavelengths comprising the spectrum of colors we are able to see with the human eye. Newton was the first to observe and explain this phenomenon and had in effect accounted for the humanly visible component colors of what we now know as the electromagnetic spectrum. On February 11, 1800, William Herschel discovered the existence of infrared light just below the spectral color red as extracted from a prism. While using a thermometer to record the room temperature for reference purposes during his experiments, he found that there was a large temperature increase as the thermometer was placed in the empty space below the line of red light projected by the prism. Herschel had in fact discovered the existence of infrared light, a color low enough in wavelength that it is invisible to our eyes. Herschel determined that this invisible wavelength of light transmitted heat. Perhaps more importantly, Herschel determined that the electromagnetic spectrum was comprised of the colors we can detect with our eyes, as well as invisible colors extending below the visible spectrum. Later scientific discovery would confirm there existed invisible light energy above and below the visible spectrum, only detectable with instruments. I suspect neither Newton or Herschel anticipated that future science and engineering would yield new device technologies resulting in radio, television, lasers and the Internet. 

Amateur Radio

Ham radio today is more formally known as amateur radio throughout the world.  It's an exciting hobby which enables licensed radio operator enthusiasts to globally communicate with one another by radio frequency energy, inclusive of many different modes of modulation. These modes can include AM, FM, SSB (Single Side Band) DV (Digital Voice) and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) as well as CW (Continuous Wave Morse code), ATV (slow and fast scan Amateur TeleVision), RTTY (Radio TeleTYype), and PSK31 (text messaging).  In addition, there are special Internet based amateur radio systems called ECHO Link and IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project) which can be accessed from radios, smart phones and computers, linking and extending the global reach of networked ham radio systems. D-Star is a radio repeater based digital voice and data system providing global Internet links for users of VHF and UHF radio systems. WinLink is a wireless system with which hams can access Internet email using radio links to special ham radio servers. The US military has access to an email system similar to WinLink. Hams are authorized by the FCC to operate with radio transmitter power levels up to 1,500 watts, comparable in power to many commercial broadcast stations. Global wireless communications is made possible by utilizing ionospheric propagation which reflects radio waves off the earth’s upper atmosphere over long distances. This is how you can often hear distant AM radio stations after sunset. Small VHF/UHF "handy talkies" and smart phones can also provide global communication links for use in both hobby and disaster assistance situations. There are over 738,000 FCC licensed amateur radio operators in the United States and approximately three million licensed hams world wide. Amateur radio operators in the US are collectively represented by the ARRL, the American Radio Relay League. The ARRL represents amateur radio interests before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress and also functions to promote interest in the hobby by providing training, technical references, frequency coordination and emergency communications/public relations functions. The emergency assistance arm of the ARRL becomes more visible during disaster relief operations as hams in the US and around the world frequently volunteer to provide emergency communications during times of disaster or civil emergencies (hurricanes, floods, major communications outages).  ARES, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service can be activated by government officials, FEMA, and regional volunteer Emergency Coordinators who interface with their counterparts within local governments. When requested, amateur radio operators can provide global communications capabilities should there be limited or catastrophic loss of telecommunications infrastructure in times of emergency or disaster. 

Practice Makes Perfect

During normal non-emergency operations, hams converse, chatting by radio and often compare notes on wide ranging subjects such as antenna designs, new radios and other technical interests (and often subjects other than ham radio).  However, once a year hams throughout the US and many parts of the world participate in “Field Day”.  Field Day is an annual contest event in which hams turn out by the thousands to deploy in a simulated emergency communications exercise. Coordinated with the ARRL and local Emergency Coordinators (ECs), hams mobilize to deploy in local parks and similar settings in tents, trailers and vehicles, establishing emergency communications stations complete with radio gear, antennas and emergency power generators. The objective of the Field Day contest is for operators to contact as many other participating stations as possible during the event while passing simulated emergency message traffic.  During radio contacts, ham stations exchange and log their call signs, location, signal strength reports and section IDs (a special regional identifier). This annual event sharpens operator skills and deployment technique, enabling efficient mobilization should an actual emergency occur. While emergency communications under these circumstances is serious business, other home grown skills become evident.  Abundant barbeque, food and drink are a staple during Field Day activities and vary by organizational preferences (some place emergency orders for pizza delivery).

There are many ham radio contests during the year, all concerned with logging as many contacts as possible during the events. This week end on April 25 and 26, I participated in our local club's entry in the Florida QSO Party. During this event, hams around the world are encouraged to contact as many stations as possible among the 67 counties in Florida. The Platinum Coast Amateur Radio Society (PCARS) in Melbourne, Florida is a well known (and formidable) competitor within the ham radio contest community.  The club's station's call sign is W4MLB, but during the Florida QSO party the station operated using a special event call sign, K4E.  Over the twenty hours of the two day contest, operators in our club worked over 2,000 ham radio stations from countries all over the globe, averaging about one contact per minute.  Incredibly, PCARS members in their mobile units traversed over 30 Florida counties traveling over 1,000 miles to further increase the club's score.  I shot several photos during the contest at our club station: 

Operating the CW station (Continuous Wave Morse code) are Don, AF4Z and Walter, WB5ZGA (foreground).  Don was present and operated all twenty hours of the two day contest.  Don also maintains the club's repeaters.  

Operating the Single Side Band voice mode station are Gordon, KA4JRY and Andy, K2ADA (foreground).  Several other PCARS members operated the club station on Saturday and Sunday during the contest. 

I managed to take a selfie.  It's me! WA2HXR
 I operated the SSB side of the station on Sunday. 

One of our cool new HF radios, a Yasesu FT DX-3000

Part of our antenna farm.  Descriptions from the bottom up the 60 foot plus tower.  A three element HF trap beam beaming north (fixed position).  Higher up, a rotatable four element HF trap beam with two elements on 40 meters.  Further up, a rotatable 6 meter yagi beam.  The vertical at the top of the tower is for 2 meter VHF.  There are also low band dipoles which terminate at the top of the tower. 

A note of interest.  In the first photo, the blue cabinet below the counter (directly in front of Walter) houses a vintage linear amplifier made by Harris Corporation.  It sports an Eimac 3500Z final amplifier tube with a huge power supply which permits continuous operation at 1,000 watts.  It will tune 2 through 30MHz and as the story goes was originally a commercial fixture in the radio shack of an oil rig somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.  One of the club members picked it up at an auction and it found its way to our shack.  It "loafs" at 1KW, has power to spare and heats the shack nicely during colder days.

Of all of the hobbies I can imagine, none are more exciting than amateur radio.  It combines the technology of radio electronics, the social interaction of hams from around the globe and can travel with you during other pursuits.  In addition, by its nature, ham radio can provide some unusual comic relief.  I'll be featuring a section in my blog called "Funny Ham Radio Stories"  If you have a humorous ham radio story (suitable for all ages), you're welcome to forward it (along with permission) for posting on my blog.  I have several humorous stories in mind and will use one of them to conclude this blog posting.  Here goes:

Funny Ham Radio Stories

While living in New York our ham radio club approximating 150 members had a tradition of gathering at a local restaurant after club meetings.  We usually met at a large pizza restaurant which had ample seating and could accommodate large crowds and events (like us).  As per routine, after one of our meetings approximately 50 of our "mobile units" converged on the pizza facility only to find it closed with a posted note from the owners "Closed till Monday for vacation".  Word quickly spread on our FM repeater frequency and after some FM chatter we all decided to rendezvous at a large well known diner on the other side of town.  We'd never been to this diner as a group before but we thought it large enough to accommodate our number.  Approximately twenty minutes later, our 50 mobile units converged on the diner and 50 or more hams surged into the restaurant with FM walkie talkies in hand.  It was a late hour for dining and there were only twenty or so customers seated at the time.  Upon sighting our group's rapid entry and hearing high intensity FM chatter from our hand held radios, a group of four seated at a booth and another group of two at the counter panicked and ran out the door leaving their dinners behind.  Suspecting a "bust" was in progress, the hostess turned to us shaking slightly, grimaced and asked warily, "Can I help you gentlemen?"  Before any of us could say anything, the squelch broke on someones handy talkie and loudly squawked "We need menus".  The hostess suddenly beamed a big smile and said "Right away".  The bacon cheeseburgers were excellent and a splendid time was had by all.


In closing my first ham radio blog posting, I'd like to congratulate PCARS for a great Florida QSO Party contest score and the opportunity to post this report.

Many thanks for visiting my ham radio blog. Your comments and email are welcome at If you have interest in the high technology of semiconductor manufacturing, you can visit my other web site at   In the interim, I highly recommend you visit the ARRL web site for additional information on ham radio.  If you're interested in becoming a licensed ham, email me and I'll help locate a ham radio club near you who can provide license training.  I also encourage you to visit the International Year of Light web site to learn more about the science and and educational programs scheduled throughout the year.

73 to all,
Thomas D. Day
Thomas D. Jay, YouTube Channel