Oregon ARES District 1

Each Night 7:30PM-8:00PM

ARES District 1 Net Meets Daily

ARES District 1 Net meets daily for the purpose of preparation and coordination of District 1 ARES communications in the event of an actual emergency.

Net Information: Meets Daily 7:30-PM-8:00PM on the linked K7RPT Repeaters, Our primary repeaters are the 147.32, 442.325, 444.400 and 147.04 megahertz linked repeaters all having a 100hZ tone, also the 146.72 megahertz repeater on Wickiup Mountain with a 114.8 hz tone. We also have an alternate repeater on 146.84 megahertz.

We meet 7 days a week 365 days a year. There are 7 Regular Net Control Stations and 14 active Alternate Net Control Stations. We also have an additional 13 inactive alternates that can be activated at anytime.

The D1 Net Control Schedule is updated and maintained by Mark, KC7NYR the Assistant Net Manager and Net Secretary and also Hal, KC7ZZB the Net Manager. If your interested in becoming an Alternate Net Control Station, just contact KC7NYR or KC7ZZB and we will get you set up.

2022 ARRL Field Day – June 25-26

Objective-

To contact as many stations as possible on the 160, 80, 40, 20,15 and 10 Meter HF bands, as well as all bands 50 MHz and above, and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions.

Field Day is open to all amateurs in the areas covered by the ARRL/RAC Field Organizations and countries within IARU Region 2. DX stations residing in other regions may be contacted for credit, but are not eligible to submit entries.

Each claimed contact must include contemporaneous direct initiation by the operator on both sides of the contact. Initiation of a contact may be either locally or by remote.

How Many Antennas Do I Need

Recently a student in our Technician License Class realized that it may take quite a few antennas to cover all of the available ham bands. He asked, “So how many antennas do I need?”

Of course, my answer was “you can never have too many antennas.”

This is a very valid question. Radio amateurs have so many bands available to them, it does present a challenge to figure out the antenna situation. Someone recently said to me, “getting the radio is the easy part — figuring out the antennas is the real challenge.” So true.

A new Technician often decides to just focus on VHF/UHF with an emphasis on FM simplex and repeater operation. The focus of this article is broader than that, with the addition of HF operation. Keep in mind that a Technician Class license gives you access to all of the VHF/UHF bands and a relatively small slice of the HF bands (10 meter phone plus 80m, 40m, 15m and 10m CW). The General Class license provides greatly expanded privileges on HF. Imagine that you just bought one of those “do everything rigs” that cover all of the HF bands, 6m, 2m and 70 cm (e.g., Yaesu FT-857, FT-991, Kenwood TS-2000, or Icom IC-7100). That’s a lot of spectrum to cover and no single antenna will do it all efficiently.

DIamond X-50A Dual-Band Antenna (2m+70cm)

DIamond X-50A Dual-Band Antenna (2m+70cm)

A basic antenna setup for such a station is to use a dualband VHF/UHF antenna to cover 2m and 70cm, along with a multi-band HF antenna. This won’t actually result in an antenna system that covers all of the ham bands, but it can be a good start.

The dual-band VHF/UHF antenna could be a Diamond X-50A, a Comet GP-3, or similar antenna. Another popular design is the Arrow Open Stub J-Pole antenna. These antennas are vertically polarized, covering basic 2m and 70 cm simplex and repeater operating. They won’t do a good job with weak-signal SSB or CW operating, where horizontal polarization is preferred. Some folks may argue for just putting up a single-band antenna for 2m only, which is the most popular VHF band.

For operating on the HF bands, you’ll want an efficient antenna that covers multiple bands. You could put up single-band antennas for every band, but that gets complicated and typically results lots of antennas and lots of cable runs back to the ham shack. Focusing on the new ham, it makes sense to go for a multiband antenna and keep the number of individual coaxial cable runs to just a couple.

The first question that pops up is “which bands?” Well, that depends. My biases are towards the higher bands (20m and up) because I like to work other countries around the world during daylight hours. If you are more interested in North American contacts, especially in the evening hours, you might want to cover the 40m and 80m bands. For a new ham, this may be difficult to figure out, until you get some experience and discover your preferred ham bands.

So, a good compromise for the new HF operator is a multiband antenna that allows operations on a couple of higher bands (perhaps 20-meters, 15-meters, and/or 10-meters), and operation on at least one lower band (perhaps 40-meters and/or 80-meters). Some reasonably inexpensive commercial options with such band allowances are readily available as horizontal wire fan dipoles or trap dipoles. Let’s consider these options:

Fan Dipole (also known as a parallel dipole) – This is a half-wave dipole with additional elements added to cover additional bands. While there is some interaction between the different dipole elements, they are normally fed by a common coaxial cable, avoiding the need for multiple cable runs.

Fan dipole diagram

A fan dipole configures multiple dipoles trimmed to different bands using a single feedline. (Not to scale)

Trap Dipole – This antenna uses tuned circuits (“traps”) to enable a single dipole to operate on multiple bands. The dipole length is determined by the lowest frequency band and the traps are used to electrically shorten the dipole for higher bands. Trap antennas can usually be designed to work well with two or three different HF bands, and designs combining fan and trap dipole features can provide more, with some trade-offs in efficiency and performance.

A trap dipole diagram for 10m and 20m ops

A trap antenna has resonant circuits inserted in the radiating element that electrically shorten the antenna for use at higher frequencies. (Not to scale)

End Fed Half Wave (multiband) – This half-wave antenna is similar to a dipole but the coaxial cable is connected to one end of the half wave wire, allowed easier mounting than the typical center-fed dipole. A well designed matching transformer at the end feed point facilitates this antenna configuration. Multiband versions of this antenna exist and are a convenient way to enable several bands at once. The popular Vibroplex Par EndFedZ® product line offers several multiband options.

End Fed half-wave antenna with matching transformer connection.

The Vibroplex EndFedZ EF-Quad antenna operates well on 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m bands. It is 65 feet long, uses three short stub extensions along the length, and has an end-of-wire feed point transformer with coaxial connector. (Courtesy Vibroplex, Inc.)

Multiband vertical – Quite a few different vertical antenna designs support multiple bands. For example, see the

Cushcraft R9 vertical multiband antenna

Cushcraft R9 Multiband Vertical Antenna (Courtesy Cushcraft, Inc.)

or R9, GAP Challenger DX, Butternut HF9V and the Hustler 4BTV. When considering a vertical antenna, pay attention to whether the design requires ground radials to be installed. Nothing wrong with them, but radials can be critical to achieving efficient antenna performance. If you have restrictive covenants, you might consider a vertical antenna that is also a flag pole (really!). Take a look at ZeroFive Antennas for examples.

Antenna Tuners – When trying to cover lots of bands with just a few antennas, an antenna tuner will be really handy. This may be built into your radio or it may be a separate box inserted into the feedline between the transmitter and antenna.

An antenna tuner does not actually “tune your antenna” but it will tweak up the SWR of the antenna and allow it to be used across a broader range of frequencies. It also will keep your transmitter happily perceiving a nice 50-ohm feedline impedance that circumvents automatic power reductions that come with high SWR from an impedance mismatch.

Other Bands and Modes I’ve focused on the most popular ham bands, but there are many other frequencies to consider. The 6-meter band is a lot of fun and is accessible to Technicians. Most of the time, this band is good for local communication but it often opens up for over-the-horizon skip by sporadic-e propagation, especially during the summer months. Some of the multiband HF antennas mentioned above also cover 6 meters, or you can put up a separate 6m dipole to get started. The more serious 6m operators use a Yagi antenna to produce gain and a big signal. In most station configurations, a separate 6-meter antenna will dictate another dedicated coaxial cable run.

Another fun mode is 2m single sideband (SSB), the workhorse band for weak-signal VHF. You’ll need a horizontally-polarized 2-meter antenna, preferably with some gain. The most common antenna used is a Yagi with many elements, such as the M2 2M9SSB antenna or the portable Arrow models.

So, How Many? – You can make a lot of contacts and construct a superb HF to UHF station with just two quite simple antennas. The VHF/UHF vertical dual-band antenna paired with a multiband horizontal wire dipole is a cost-efficient, easy-to-erect combination providing FM simplex and repeater ops for local communications as well as long-distance HF skip on several bands. It’s a very good way to start.

Putting together an antenna system can seem like an overwhelming task for the beginner, so don’t get too freaked out about it. The main thing is to get something usable up in the air and make some contacts. Over time, you will probably add or change your antennas to get just what you want. That is part of the fun of amateur radio.

Bob K0NR

Ground Wave Propagation

Ground wave propagation is a form of signal propagation where the signal travels over the surface of the ground, and as a result it is used to provide regional coverage on the long and medium wave bands.

Ground wave propagation is particularly important on the LF and MF portion of the radio spectrum. Ground wave radio propagation is used to provide relatively local radio communications coverage, especially by radio broadcast stations that require to cover a particular locality.

Ground wave radio signal propagation is ideal for relatively short distance propagation on these frequencies during the daytime. Sky-wave ionospheric propagation is not possible during the day because of the attenuation of the signals on these frequencies caused by the D region in the ionosphere. In view of this, radio communications stations need to rely on the ground-wave propagation to achieve their coverage.

A ground wave radio signal is made up from a number of constituents. If the antennas are in the line of sight then there will be a direct wave as well as a reflected signal. As the names suggest the direct signal is one that travels directly between the two antenna and is not affected by the locality. There will also be a reflected signal as the transmission will be reflected by a number of objects including the earth’s surface and any hills, or large buildings. That may be present.

In addition to this there is surface wave. This tends to follow the curvature of the Earth and enables coverage to be achieved beyond the horizon. It is the sum of all these components that is known as the ground wave.

Beyond the horizon the direct and reflected waves are blocked by the curvature of the Earth, and the signal is purely made up from the diffracted surface wave. It is for this reason that surface wave is commonly called ground wave propagation.


Surface wave

The radio signal spreads out from the transmitter along the surface of the Earth. Instead of just traveling in a straight line the radio signals tend to follow the curvature of the Earth. This is because currents are induced in the surface of the earth and this action slows down the wave-front in this region, causing the wave-front of the radio communications signal to tilt downwards towards the Earth. With the wave-front tilted in this direction it is able to curve around the Earth and be received well beyond the horizon.

Effect of frequency on ground wave propagation

As the wavefront of the ground wave travels along the Earth’s surface it is attenuated. The degree of attenuation is dependent upon a variety of factors. Frequency of the radio signal is one of the major determining factor as losses rise with increasing frequency. As a result it makes this form of propagation impracticable above the bottom end of the HF portion of the spectrum (3 MHz). Typically a signal at 3.0 MHz will suffer an attenuation that may be in the region of 20 to 60 dB more than one at 0.5 MHz dependent upon a variety of factors in the signal path including the distance. In view of this it can be seen why even high power HF radio broadcast stations may only be audible for a few miles from the transmitting site via the ground wave.

Effect of the ground

The surface wave is also very dependent upon the nature of the ground over which the signal travels. Ground conductivity, terrain roughness and the dielectric constant all affect the signal attenuation. In addition to this the ground penetration varies, becoming greater at lower frequencies, and this means that it is not just the surface conductivity that is of interest. At the higher frequencies this is not of great importance, but at lower frequencies penetration means that ground strata down to 100 metres may have an effect.

Despite all these variables, it is found that terrain with good conductivity gives the best result. Thus soil type and the moisture content are of importance. Salty sea water is the best, and rich agricultural, or marshy land is also good. Dry sandy terrain and city centres are by far the worst. This means sea paths are optimum, although even these are subject to variations due to the roughness of the sea, resulting on path losses being slightly dependent upon the weather! It should also be noted that in view of the fact that signal penetration has an effect, the water table may have an effect dependent upon the frequency in use.

Polarisation & ground wave propagation

The type of antenna and its polarisation has a major effect on ground wave propagation. Vertical polarisation is subject to considerably less attenuation than horizontally polarised signals. In some cases the difference can amount to several tens of decibels. It is for this reason that medium wave broadcast stations use vertical antennas, even if they have to be made physically short by adding inductive loading. Ships making use of the MF marine bands often use inverted L antennas as these are able to radiate a significant proportion of the signal that is vertically polarised.

At distances that are typically towards the edge of the ground wave coverage area, some sky-wave signal may also be present, especially at night when the D layer attenuation is reduced. This may serve to reinforce or cancel the overall signal resulting in figures that will differ from those that may be expected.

Antenna Q Factor

You’ve probably heard the term “Q factor” tossed around in describing antennas, but maybe you haven’t quite yet picked up on exactly what it means from a practical standpoint. Let’s see if we can get at Q, or quality factor, as it relates to antenna circuits and amateur radio operations without reviewing any college level physics or higher math. When we’re done, you’ll have an intuitive understanding of Q that likely far exceeds that of the average ham.

In the grander picture beyond ham radio, the quality factor is a value that describes some characteristics of an oscillating or resonating system. In radio we’re mostly interested in electric circuits that do the oscillating, and an antenna circuit is of particular interest as oscillating circuits go. We’ll get to the practical upshot of an antenna’s Q factor shortly, but we can get a good sense of Q factor by thinking about some other kinds of oscillators, like a simple pendulum – a hefty weight hanging on the end of a long string, able to swing back and forth. Stick with me and we’ll get back to antennas with your exclamation of “Ahhhhhhh! I get it!” in just a moment.

Q factor defines the damping of a resonator. The pendulum in water is damped more than the same pendulum swinging in air.

Two hanging bowling balls, on swinging in air, the other in water.

Q factor defines the damping of a resonator. The pendulum in water is damped more than the same pendulum swinging in air.

Damping: Q factor defines the damping of a resonator. You may think of damping as how long it takes for an oscillator’s action to die out. Suppose with a single push you swing a lengthy and weighty pendulum that’s hanging in air from a high anchor point. Imagine a bowling ball strung up from the ceiling by a nylon cord. You push the ball up and then release it, and you count 200 back-and-forth swinging cycles until the bowling ball is perfectly still again. This pendulum oscillator is not damped very much, but the resistance of the air against the ball and perhaps a little friction at the anchor point delete a fraction of the initial energy you supplied with each cycle until the pendulum is again unmoving. The energy is lost slowly.

Suddenly, the plumbing fails dramatically and the room fills with water. Fortunately, you’re a good swimmer and you displace the bowling ball again to the exact same location as before and then release it. You count only a handful of back-and-forth swinging cycles before the bowling ball is stationary in its watery surrounding. The pendulum oscillator is now highly damped by the water’s resistance. It loses the imparted energy very rapidly.

Resonance: Suppose you want to keep the pendulum oscillating with its natural frequency of resonance. You have to add just enough energy each cycle to overcome the energy lost to the resistance. With the bowling ball suspended in air you could easily make up for the lost energy each cycle by providing just a tiny little push at a convenient spot in the swinging cycle, perhaps just as the ball peaks in height and begins downward along its arced path. It’s easy to maintain resonant oscillations this way. But in the water you would have to issue a rather forceful shove each cycle to make up for all the energy lost in a single back-and-forth swing! Reinforcing resonance ain’t so easy with a highly damped oscillator!

Q Defined: Q factor is defined as the ratio of the energy stored in the oscillator to the energy that must be imparted per cycle to keep the oscillator swinging consistently. That is, the energy of the initial lift and shove of the bowling ball compared to the energy of just one of your regular reinforcing shoves to keep the ball swinging to the exact same height (amplitude) each cycle. The energy you add with a shove each cycle is exactly the same as the energy lost to resistance each cycle. So, in an equation form it looks like this:

Q = 2π x Energy Stored / Energy Lost Per Cycle

(The 2π term is a mathematical convenience that keeps things simple, so we won’t worry with it.)

From this simple equation you can see that our bowling ball suspended in air is a high Q oscillator – the energy lost per cycle is quite small compared to the energy stored from that initial shove, so Q will be a relatively high value. On the other hand, the bowling ball pendulum in water is a very low Q oscillator since gobs of energy are lost per cycle as compared with the initial stored energy, resulting in a lower comparative value for Q.

Now, enough of this bowling ball absurdity and back to some serious antenna talk!

A loaded mobile antenna with inductive coil and swirly capacitance hat.

Loading coil and capacitance hat. Compliments Hi-Q-Antennas.

Back to Antennas: Energized antennas are oscillators too. Current surges back and forth in radiating elements and, just like a bowling ball dangling from your ceiling and flying back-and-forth, there is a natural resonant frequency for an antenna. When you trim an antenna’s length you are adjusting the resonant frequency by changing the distance that current has to flow from end to end of the element, and hence, the time required for it to do so!

The time required for current to surge back and forth along the element’s length can also be impacted by inserting components like coils (inductors) or capacitors. It’s sort of like cheating; inserting the components to make the antenna act like a much longer antenna than its true physical length. You may hear terms such as “loading coils” and “capacitance hats,” or a “loaded antenna,” simply meaning that such tricks have been used to fool the antenna into thinking it’s a bigger boy than its diminutive height or length indicates.

“So,” you now ask, “why are some antennas still really long if we can just load them up with coils and hats and keep them shorter?” Good question, and the answer is Q.

Q and SWR Bandwidth: Q factor has no units – no ohms or henry or amps or anything – just a number. And there’s more than one way to calculate Q for an antenna. We can’t practically use the equation listed earlier, but magical mathematical transformations provide us the following more practical definition of Q when applied to oscillators that have relatively high Q values (>>1), like most antennas:

Q = ƒc ÷ (ƒ2 – ƒ1)

…where ƒc is the frequency of resonance (the center frequency to which the antenna is trimmed), and …ƒ1 and ƒ2 are the frequencies above and below the center frequency to which the antenna will operate, or achieve and acceptable value of SWR. (Properly, this is where the frequency results in 3 dB of power loss compared to the center frequency power transfer, but you can also use the frequencies where SWR increases to 2:1 as a practical comparison measure between antenna systems.)

You’re probably starting to feel that “Ahhhhhh!” well up in your throat.

You see now, as in the SWR curve diagram below, that an antenna that operates well over a broad band of frequencies (ƒ2 – ƒ1) is going to result in a relatively low Q value. An antenna that operates well across only a very narrow range of frequencies is going to generate a relatively high Q value. Thinking back to our bowling ball pendulums, the high Q antenna (bowling ball in air) is going to oscillate very efficiently and requires only a little reinforcing energy from the transmitter when it is functioning near its resonant frequency. But if you tune away from the resonant frequency only slightly you are going to see rapidly rising SWR and reduced efficiency. That freely swinging bowling ball doesn’t like to be stopped or changed from its natural swinging frequency. Don’t try and reverse its path before it’s ready to do so!

On the other hand, while a low Q antenna is somewhat more damped and may require slightly more reinforcing energy, it can oscillate well across a much broader range of frequencies. Note, the bowling ball in water is an over-the-top extreme illustration of low Q. However, you can imagine that because the bowling ball loses energy so rapidly in the water, it would not be difficult to get it to move back-and-forth at frequencies other than its natural resonant frequency, given the force to drive it. Just shove it back and forth with a little greater effort at any rate you wish! It won’t be stubborn or knock you over with a high store of energy like the air pendulum.

A wide, low Q swr curve compared with a narrow, high Q swr curve, on a 20-meter band segment.

Comparison SWR curves for a Low Q and a High Q antenna system. The 2:1 SWR bandwidth is used for comparison computations using associated frequencies.

Q, Physically Shortened, and Full Length Antennas: Again, our bowling ball illustrations are extreme cases, and with antennas the difference between high Q and low Q is not quite so starkly exhibited, but the effects are important! Here’s why, and here’s why every antenna is not loaded up with coils and hats to keep it short and convenient.

When an antenna is physically shortened for the desired operating frequency and a loading coil is added to help it resonate at that desired frequency anyway, the Q factor is increased. You may consider that the inductive coil’s effect is to reduce damping in the antenna circuit at the desired operating frequency. Generally, the greater the antenna loading the higher the Q factor, and thus, the narrower the SWR bandwidth of the antenna. But greater loading (higher Q) also allows physically shorter antennas for a given frequency.

The advantage of the low Q antenna is its efficient operation across a broad bandwidth, so a full length antenna is simple and effective and large, and great for home shack use. A full length half-wave dipole is an example, or a ¼-wave vertical with ground plane. For the HF bands these antennas may be many dozens of feet long, so mounting one atop the family van probably is not an option.

The advantage of a high Q antenna is its shortened length, so you’ll often see these mounted on vehicles for mobile HF operations. A loading coil and perhaps a disk, spoke, or swirly capacitance hat is the telltale sign of a vertical high-Q loaded antenna. They get the job done at or very near the resonant frequency of the loaded antenna.

Finally, you ask: “What good is a high Q antenna if you’re limited to only one amateur band and perhaps only a very narrow range of frequencies in that one band?” Yea, that would be sort of a drag, huh? Driving cross-country never able to leave 14.313 MHz. Never fear, there are common solutions.

Many high-Q mobile antenna manufacturers implement mechanized antennas that change the antenna’s resonant frequency itself! Although the SWR bandwidth is very narrow, the tuned operating frequency is made to always be the centered resonant frequency by changing the size of the loading coil as you tune from frequency to frequency, or band to band. Think of that sharp, V-shaped high Q SWR curve in the diagram above moving quickly up and down the band as you tune, or jumping to another band altogether to slide along with your tuning whim.

Usually this is implemented by using a movable tap on a large loading coil so that the number of turns used by the antenna changes commensurately with the desired operating frequency. The amount of loading is changed in this way depending on the operating frequency selected, thereby altering the antenna’s center resonant frequency. It’s a clever solution, if substantially more complex than a static wire or vertical radiator. Sometimes you’ll hear these referred to generically as “screwdriver antennas” due to a seminal design that employed an electric screwdriver motor component to move the tap up and down the coil. But several varieties are found on the amateur market by a variety of names.

High Q, low Q, and 10Q for reading. 10Q very much! I hope this helps you understand the world of loaded antennas a little better through the nature of Q. Good luck, 73,

Stu WØSTU

FT8—What Is It & How Can I Get Started

I am guessing that most of you reading this have either heard about FT8 from fellow Hams or heard it on air as that strange repetitive buzzing sound between the CW and SSB portions of the bands. As one of the fastest growing modes of Amateur Radio it has been hard to miss, but you may be wondering how to get started and why you would want to?

First, what is it? FT8 is one of the many digital modes often referred to as sound card modes (SCM) because they utilize a computer’s sound card to bring in audio from your radio to be processed by software to decode the information embedded in the signal. Conversely, when you want to transmit, the software encodes your message into audio tones that are sent out via your sound card to your radio’s audio or Mic input.

For years there have been a variety of these new software modes including Phase-shift keying (PSK31 & PSK 65), Hellschreiber, Olivia, Pactor, etc. and even older hardware-based modes such as RTTY that we now use our computers to encode and decode. FT8 is one of a group of Multiple Frequency-Shift Keying (MFSK) modes that include JT9, JT65 and MSK144 created by Joe Taylor, K1JT and co-developers.

Why would I want to operate FT8?

FT8 is designed to maximize communication even when signals are very weak (as low as -24dB). This means that even low-powered stations and stations with sub-optimal antennas can make contacts worldwide. With its popularity, quickly working DXCC or WAS with FT8 is easily within reach of almost any station. With FT8, activity is limited to a narrow band of frequencies, so it is ideal for use with loop antennas that require retuning when changing frequency, such as CHAMELEON ANTENNA F-Loop 2.0 Portable HF Antenna (CHA-F-LOOP-2-0). FT8 is also extremely popular on the 6 meter band, so there are many opportunities for long-distance communication even with a Technician Class License.

Getting started with FT8

To use FT8 you need four things:

  1. An HF transceiver with data or SSB capability
  2. An audio interface, a way to get receive audio from the radio into a computer and audio output of the computer into the radio, typically a sound card interface
  3. A computer capable of running the FT8 software and time synchronization
  4. FT8 software

Radios

Although you can operate FT8 with older transceivers, the best experience will come by using a transceiver capable of both computer control and dedicated data mode. Fortunately, most modern radios have both of these. The extra feature that many of today’s radios have is a built-in sound card, eliminating the need for the extra sound card interface. Many reasonably priced popular radios have this feature, including the ICOM 7300 (ICO-IC-7300), Yaesu Ft-991A (YSU-FT-991A) and Kenwood TS-590SG (KWD-TS-590SG). If you are looking for a mobile/base radio, the ICOM IC-7100 HF/VHF/UHF (ICO-IC-7100) also has these features at a bargain price.

Audio Interface

If your current radio does not have a built-in sound card interface, there are a few easy to use commercial devices available. The Tigertronics SignalLink™ USB Interface Unit is very popular. DX Engineering can provide you a SignalLink™ unit with a prebuilt cable to match most existing radios. Just choose one of the 16 part numbers for the combo designed for your radio, attach the interface cable to your radio, and connect a single USB cable to your computer. You are then ready to go not only for FT8 but also PSK31, JT65, JT9, FSK441, MSK144, WSPR, RTTY, SSTV, CW, Olivia, EchoLink Node and many more with appropriate software.

Another option is the MFJ 1204 Series USB Digital Mode Interfaces. Again, choose one of five part numbers for interface and cable combos from DX Engineering to match your rig, connect to the radio, connect a single USB cable to your computer, and you are ready to go.

Computer and Software

WSJT-X is the most popular software for FT8. This great program is not only free but versions are available for Windows-based PCs and Macintosh OS, Linux (with pre-compiled Debian, Fedora and Raspbian distros). For details on installing and configuring the software, follow the onlineWSJT-X User Guide. Do not ignore the information on making sure your computer’s time is synchronized as this is vital to making contacts! After you install the software, you may also need to configure your radio’s settings.

There are a number of great guides available for most models of radios. Examples include:

Operating

An excellent guide on operating is “FT8 Operating Guide Weak Signal HF DXing … Enhanced by Gary Hinson ZL2iFB. Don’t forget to join the WSJT Meteor Scatter and Weak Signal Yahoo Group for up-to-minute information on FT8. Free helper software programsJTAlert (or for Linux AlarmeJT) provide many additional features for FT8 operations. For additional information on a wide variety of digital modes and software visit www.k8zt.com/digital.

Source Credit: On All Bands

Get Started with FT8 – An Introduction for Beginners

FT8 Digital Amateur Radio: A Complete Website with step by step Instructions with pictures.

Hints For Being Net Control

There are three types of nets that you may be asked to run. First is the regular weekly net held by ARES®/RACES. This is the easiest one for you to learn to be NCS at because you have a script to follow. On that subject, remember, the script is a guideline of the material to be covered in the weekly net and may be altered for any good reason. The purpose of the script is to make it easier to keep track of where you are in the net and help you not forget any of the regular items covered in those weekly nets.  SUGGESTION: Have more than one copy of the script so you can mark it up as you go. That simplifies keeping track of where you are in the net. It also makes it easier to maintain the essential – LOG – of who checked in and who had business.

The second type of net is the Public Service event net. These are seldom, if ever, scripted and as such it is far better for you to have run some weekly nets before attempting one of these. They range from very simple with a length of one or two hours, to extremely complex, running several hours to multiple days. Logs of the net activity are very important to smooth operation of this type of net.

The third type of net is the incident or emergency net. These range from complex to very complex and tend to be much more fast paced than they should be (SLOW DOWN – you pass more information faster that way). It is recommended that you have run many event nets, if at all possible, before attempting an incident net. Maintaining accurate logs for these nets is critical to effective net operation.

The weekly net or very simple events net are the only nets that can be run effectively by one person.  All others require at least two people at NCS to run efficiently – one person to talk and one to log. In long term or very complex nets, a third operator is strongly recommended. This third person can handle messages, runner tasks, and relieve the other two operators at regular intervals so all can operate at higher efficiency.

1. To begin a scheduled weekly net you will:
** Get the latest copy of the Net Script.
** READ it before you start.
** Start the net on time. Remember, there will likely be people waiting for the net. Don’t waste their time by being late.
** Be as concise as possible as you conduct the net.
** If you tumble or mumble, unkey, take a deep breath and go at it again. The extra few seconds will do wonders for your composure.
** SMILE your ability to be friendly helps these nets run more smoothly.

2. To begin a scheduled event net you will need:
** A list of the participants
** The time and frequency you will start operating on.
** A description of what we are to accomplish.
** You will then:
* Open the net with a description of the event and how long it is anticipated to run.
* Be as concise as possible as you conduct the net.
* Keep good logs!
* Handle traffic.

3. To begin an incident net you will:
** Get a description of the incident and what support is needed.
** Find out from your DEC, EC or AEC where and when the net is to be run.
** Find out what resources are needed to support the incident. Remember, you will probably be the staffing net for the first period of time for this incident.
** Open the net with a description of the incident and a statement of what help is needed.
** Be as concise as possible as you conduct the net.
** Keep detailed logs!
** Follow your DEC, EC’s instructions.
** Handle traffic.

4. Two important items:
** If NCS cannot be heard by all stations on a given repeater system and there are qualified NCS operators who can be heard by all — NCS duty should immediately be turned over to the station that can be heard.
** For all nets – Do your best to remain as calm and relaxed as possible, give it an honest try and ask for help if you need it. Nothing more will ever be asked of you. One last hint – ask for a mentor for your first few nets of each type. This helps you learn faster and assures someone can help you pick things up, should you fumble anything significant.
The following are suggestions for forms that may be of use to you:
1.    Mobilization/Demobilization
2.    Communications Log

These forms are available on the K7YCA website.

NCS QUESTIONS…..
The following is a list of questions an NCS operator needs to ask of themselves BEFORE starting a net. If you cannot answer at least two thirds of the questions in the affirmative, you should seriously consider having some one else run the net.  Exceptions to these are daily to weekly scheduled nets and those should still consider many of the items.


1. Is the NCS location away from the Command Post (CP) or EOC?
If not, it should be.  The noise and commotion at CP/EOC degrades your ability to run a good net and the noise you generate only adds to the confusion there.


2. Are you using a headset with noise canceling microphone?
You really should. Even from home the background noise will affect h well you can hear and be heard.


3. Do you have the best performing antenna for the conditions?
A “rubber duck is not adequate unless you can see the repeater antenna. That does not mean see the mountain the repeater is on, it means see the antenna.


4. If you are running from battery: Do you have at least enough charge on the battery to run more than one hour? You should have a battery with 90+% charge but if you are the only choice for NCS then make sure you can run the net long enough to have someone else get ready.


5. Do you have pencil/pen and paper sufficient to run the net for a full shift?
You will NOT be able to remember enough of the information to be effective unless you
write it down. It is up to you to maintain the log for the event/incident unless you have an assistant to handle that assignment.


6. For VHF/UHF: Do you know the characteristics of the repeater system you are on?
Your effectiveness as NCS will be adversely affected if you do not.


7. Do you have a runner- liaison or logging person to support you?
For large scale events three people are needed. You cannot handle the net, log and run messages.  These positions may be rotated to eliminate fatigue.


8. Do you have a designated relief operator?
Everyone gets tired and the NCS must be the most alert operator on the net.

ATTRIBUTES OF A GOOD NCS OPERATOR…..
1.  Good communications skills and fluent command of our language
2.  Good voice quality
3.  Good hearing capabilities
4.  Good listening capabilities
5.  Good ear-to-hand copying skills
6.  Understands what SERVICE means
7.  Has good knowledge of the Incident Command System
8.  Willing to take and carry out direct orders
9.  Is a strong team player
10. Is Self-assured but not overbearing
11. Decisive, with the maturity to make good judgment calls
12. Physically able to tolerate high stress for extended periods
13, Constant concern for the safety of participants
14. Organizer
15. Sense of humor
16. Ability to absorb new terminologies quickly
17. Decent (readable) penmanship
18. Generally neat of appearance
19. Consistently demonstrates above average operating techniques.

LEARNING TO BE A NET CONTROL STATION (NCS)…..
Many of the skills used in contesting are applicable to NCS. Both activities involve coordinating several stations on the same frequency at the same time. The similarity ends there.  Where the contester is in a hurry, NCS is calm and almost seems to be going very slowly.  The extra time NCS uses actually speeds information flow by minimizing repeats and ensuring that priority information has access to the net without needing the largest signal on the net.


NCS techniques include:

>>>  Have the best performing antenna for conditions. A ‘rubber duck is not adequate unless you can see the repeater antenna. That does not mean see the mountain the repeater is on, it means see the antenna.

>>>  A good log is critical to an efficient operation. Create and use a good log.  A few calls scribbled on a sheet of paper, in no real order, becomes useless in a few seconds. Make sure your log includes:  1) Time of the entry  2) Call / Tactical call  3) Summary of what was said or requested. Be sure not to kill yourself with excessive details.  The log is an overview of who did what, where and when.

>>>  Plan what you are about to say as if you will be quoted.- PTT does not mean Push Then Think.

>>>  DO NOT make editorial comments about the business or information being passed unless it will speed or enhance the information flow!   Chattiness, especially early in the net, degrades the effectiveness of the net.

>>>  Be as concise as possible.  Use the fewest words that will completely say what you mean. This will minimize the need for the repeating of instructions.

>>>  Slow Down!  Wait three or four seconds before you answer any call. This assures any emergency or priority traffic has access to the net without requiring the largest signal.

>>>  When asking for reports or soliciting traffic, listen!  Take down as many calls as you can identify before you acknowledge anyone!

>>>  When there is a double, try to get something unique from one or more of the stations. Then call for clarification from those stations ONLY. The alternative approach is to acknowledge the check-ins you could understand and then call for checkins that tried in the last round but were not acknowledged. The very worst thing you can do is to say “The station that doubled with ..??  How are they to know who they doubled with?!

>>>  When acknowledging checkins, list the call signs as letters (not phonetically). The purpose of this acknowledgment is to confirm to each check in that his/her call was heard.  Phonetics used on all acknowledgments simply slows the net.  NOTE: Phonetics are an excellent way to clarify questions about the call received (was that a B or a D, etc.). Reciting all of the check in information beyond the call simply wastes time.

>>>  Acknowledge all stations that you heard, then yield the frequency to a single station.  When that station is finished, hand the frequency to the next station on the priority list, without soliciting more traffic. Follow this pattern until you’ve completed your list, then repeat.  The exception to this is when handling routine traffic during an emergency.  With routine traffic during an incident net, break between messages to solicit any emergency/priority traffic and handle that first.

>>>  The NCS callsign, should be announced several times at the beginning of the net and every eight to ten minutes during an exchange.  Many NCS’s use the repeater ID’er to track the time to identity.

>>>  For scheduled nets, NCS’s goal should be to run the script top to bottom and handle all of the listed business, announcements and traffic as quickly as possible, without rushing.

>>>  Most participants will catch on quickly to the pattern. If they do not, take the time to explain. Things get done much faster if everyone uses the same techniques.

>>>  Take frequent breaks.  While you may not recognize the stress that being an NCS produces, it will become evident in your voice.  If you are asking yourself when your last break was, you know it is time for one.  Turn over the net to your backup at least every two hours and REST. Do not listen to the net. Rest.  Then, when rested, listen to the net for a few minutes before resuming your station.

>>>  Control the tone of your voice.  Be as calm as possible.  Tension tends to make our voices raise in pitch and this change will be picked up by the net. Use a calm tone and members of the net will tend to remain calm.

Last and FAR from least …

The ability to remain cool, calm and collected will buy you more than anything else. There is no doubt that being an NCS is a high pressure assignment and it is easy to become frustrated or angry. If you have a frustrating problem, ask for help from other members of the net.

Credit Reference: K7YCA

RATPAC Defined

Radio Amateur Training Planning and Activities Committee (RATPAC). Although not affiliated with the ARRL, RATPAC is made up of ARRL Section Managers, appointed ARRL field leaders, and other members of the amateur radio community.

We hosts Zoom presentations twice weekly for amateur radio operators worldwide, Wednesdays on general radio topics, and Thursdays on amateur radio emergency communications.

The presentation audience participates directly in the Zoom sessions and/or indirectly with video links (including YouTube) and related documentation sent out after each session.


The Storied History of the Ham Radio Callsign


RATPAC Youtube Videos

RATPAC Video Presentations Lists

RATPAC Website